Where does Anbang get its bucks? – China news from May 1, 2017

A roundup of today’s top China news. Get this free daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at supchina.com/subscribe.

Anbang to sue Caixin after report on ‘mystery’ structure

On Friday, April 28, Caixin published an article (English version, Chinese version) on Anbang Insurance Group, which says that in its short 13 years of history, its assets have “exploded to nearly $275 billion, giving the high-flying Chinese company deep pockets to snap up prized properties overseas, including the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York for nearly $2 billion.” But the article says that “much mystery surrounds its shareholding structure, business operations and capital flow,” and that behind its “swelling capital are a series of complicated transactions that form a maze of capital flow involving more than 100 companies, all linked to the company’s mysterious Chairman Wu Xiaohui 吴小晖.” An April 27 Caixin report had noted huge cash outflows at Anbang subsidiaries in the first quarter of this year.

On Sunday, April 30, the South China Morning Post stated that “Anbang has said it will take legal action against Chinese financial magazine Caixin and its editor-in-chief, Hu Shuli 胡舒立,” in reaction to “a ­series of reports that ‘resulted in severe damages’ to the reputation and rights of the insurance company and its chairman.”

Anbang is no stranger to controversy. In March 2016, the Chinese company dropped a bid to buy Starwood Hotels after what the Wall Street Journal called (paywall) a “curious courtship.” In March this year, Anbang backed out of a financing deal with a real estate company owned by the family of Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And aside from the Caixin reports on Anbang, last week, rumors were circulating on Chinese social media that Anbang chairman Wu Xiaohui has been detained.

Disclosure: SupChina partners with Caixin on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief podcast.

A Chinese view on North Korea from Fu Ying

Fu Ying 傅莹, the Chinese ambassador to the U.K. from 2007 to 2009 and to Australia from 2003 to 2007, is currently the director of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress. She has published an opinion piece on the website of the Brookings Institute (PDF), which attempts to answer the question “Why can’t China take greater responsibility and make North Korea stop its nuclear weapons program?” To reduce a highly detailed, footnoted 23-page article to a soundbite: Fu blames American intransigence for stalled negotiations and the deteriorating security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

In other North Korea news:

  • NK News says that satellite imagery shows two North Korean vessels that entered a Chinese port on April 20 unloading coal, suggesting that coal trade continues despite reports of Chinese blocking of North Korean coal imports. Korean news organization Meanwhile, Yonhap notes that China has “continued its imports of North Korean minerals in the first quarter of this year despite a ban imposed by the United Nations.”
  • In the U.S., Axios comments that “Trump is dead serious about telling the Chinese they’ll get a better trade deal if they help with North Korea.” But on May 1, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross contradicted Trump, insisting, “I think what the president was trying to say is that we’re trying to have an overall constructive relationship with China on a variety of topics…I don’t think he meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade away American jobs just for help on North Korea.”  
  • Other noises from the Trump administration include reports on April 30 of unsubstantiated claims that it “could have been China” that hacked the emails of Democratic officials in 2016. In addition, on April 29, a tweet about North Korea’s failed missile test read: “North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!”
  • On May 1, Bloomberg reported that “Donald Trump said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid heightened tensions over his country’s nuclear weapons program if the circumstances were right.”

Ming dynasty punk

In 2008, filmmaker Andrea Cavazzuti and pipa player Wu Man 吴蛮 began shooting a documentary about a family in Shaanxi Province who were celebrated locally for their shadow puppet opera performances in the tradition of lao qiang (老腔 lǎo qiāng), which dates back to the early Ming dynasty.

You can watch the 13-minute film on Vimeo — be prepared for some spirited sounds. In this essay, Cavazzuti talks about the family troupe, and how they have been “co-opted by the propaganda-showbiz-industrial complex of mainland China.”  

In other news about traditional Chinese opera, Agence France-Presse has profiled the Yu County Jin Opera Troupe, which is struggling to survive “after government funding was cut and interest in the art form wanes among the young.”

Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief 

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 3

Hear Kaiser Kuo and Caixin editors narrate and discuss the week’s biggest China business stories. The third installment features Coco Feng on China’s drone market and Doug Young on the booming shared workspace sector. You can also listen to the first and second episode of this new product, and send your feedback to sinica@supchina.com.

Fun facts about Labor Day in China

Labor Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, falls on May 1 in China and many other countries (but not in the U.S., which celebrates the holiday in September). But it’s not just a celebration of workers’ rights — the festival has an economic aspect, too. Watch Jia Guo’s video introduction to the holiday in China.

This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, Jia Guo, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.


Another push for electric cars in China from the visible hand

The Financial Times reports (paywall) that draft rules distributed among industry leaders at last week’s Shanghai Auto Show “would require as much as 8 percent of [all car] sales in China to be electric vehicles as early as next year.” China is already the world’s largest electric vehicle (EV) market, as more than 300,000 units were sold in the country last year on the strength of central government subsidies reaching as high as 55,000 yuan ($8,000), often doubled by local government offers. It is unclear how the prospective 2018 sales quota would be calculated or whether the final number would be as ambitious, however, the current five-year government plan sets a goal of 5 million cumulative sales of EVs by 2020.

Many Chinese automakers are vying to occupy this space in the market. On April 20, SupChina noted that the company Hybrid Kinetic plans to “produce up to 300,000 new-energy vehicles within three years,” and that the EVs in development will purportedly be capable of running for 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) on each charge. Michael Dunne, in his profile of Geely Automotive for SupChina, noted that “Beijing Automotive and Hong Kong-listed BYD are in a dogfight for leadership in electric vehicles. The two companies produce 8 of the 10 best-selling EVs in China.”


ASEAN statement: A ‘tacit’ victory for Beijing?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a statement on April 29 that avoids challenging China on any of the multiple territorial conflicts that several of its 10 member countries have with their northern neighbor. The statement, issued at the conclusion of a summit of ASEAN members, was widely interpreted as a “tacit victory” for Beijing, Bloomberg says, as China has for years intensely lobbied the organization.

A key influence at this year’s summit was Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines and current chairman of ASEAN, who reportedly made a “judgement call” to not mention the international arbitration case that ruled against China’s claims to islands near the Philippines last July. Reuters additionally noted that the term “land reclamation and militarization” was a point of contention in drafting the statement, as four member states reportedly pushed for it to be included, but the final draft omitted any such reference.

A Reuters analysis on May 1 lays out how the Trump administration’s newly accommodating posture toward China is influencing the calculus of ASEAN countries, who “are trying to gauge how far they can still rely on Washington as a shield against Chinese assertiveness.”


Chinese views on South Korea’s love-hate relationship with Chinese characters

This shouldn’t be a surprise — a two-minute video, produced by the Chinese newspaper and website Cankao Xiaoxi 参考消息, which discusses South Korea’s mixed feelings about Chinese characters, created much buzz on the Chinese social media platform Weibo over the weekend, fueling the anti-South Korea fire on the Chinese internet.

The video begins with the voice-over saying, “South Korea has been deeply influenced by Chinese culture since ancient times,” and “Chinese characters used to be mainstream texts in South Korea.” Yet after World War II, the rise of nationalism in South Korea resulted in the widespread rejection of Chinese characters. In 1970, South Korean President Park Chung-hee even banned Chinese characters from being taught in schools or used in official documents. Recently, however, as studies show that South Korean vocabularies have shrunk significantly, support for a revival of Chinese characters in the country is on the rise.

On Weibo, many Chinese internet users found pride in South Korea’s shifting attitude toward Chinese characters, while of course making fun of the neighbor’s lack of cultural legacies. “The existence of Chinese characters clearly reveals who is superior,” one commenter wrote. “Do you guys really think this is good news for China? Given its conduct in the past, South Korea will very likely claim that it invented Chinese characters,” another commenter wrote, referring to the long-existing battle between South Korea and China on the ownership of various cultural heritages.