A bedtime story about massive infrastructure projects – China news from May 9, 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.

OBOR the friendly ogre

OBOR might sound like the name of a fairy tale ogre, but it is of course the acronym for One Belt, One Road — Xi Jinping’s signature initiative to connect Asia and Europe with commerce, infrastructure, and new trade routes. Now OBOR is the star of its own video “bedtime story” in English, featuring a foreign man explaining the Chinese government project to his daughter right before she goes to sleep. You can watch it on Youtube: episode 1, episode 2.

For more fun propaganda, see this rap video about the “six things close to Xi Jinping’s heart,” and this infomercial urging Beijingers to report on suspected spies in exchange for large cash rewards.

Over the Moon in Beijing and Pyongyang?

The Associated Press reports: “Moon Jae-in declared victory in South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday after his two main rivals conceded.” Writing in the Washington Post, SupChina editor-at-large John Pomfret writes that “Moon has pledged…to soften South Korea’s tough stance towards North Korea and seek closer ties with China,” and that his electoral success will be seen in Beijing and Pyongyang “as evidence that their hard-line policies toward South Korea have succeeded.”

Xinhua News Agency has reported on Moon’s victory, but not yet offered formal comment. Xinhua has however already noted Xi Jinping’s congratulatory phone call to Emmanuel Macron, winner of this week’s French presidential election.

Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: correct link

Dear reader, a thousand apologies — our website was down when some of you clicked yesterday through to the most recent episode of the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief. It should be working fine now.

We are still finalizing the format and some technical details — as soon as we’re happy with it, we’ll roll out the podcast to iTunes and other online venues so you can subscribe using your regular podcast software.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

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.

SupChina’s conference in New York on May 18 will feature 20 women leaders in Chinese technology, business, and culture. Buy your tickets here.


What people did on Mobikes over the May 1 holiday weekend

Technode reports on data released by bike share company Mobike analyzing user behavior during the Labor Day holiday weekend from April 29 to May 1. Some of the findings are:

  • Usage of Mobikes was up 17.2 percent from the weekend before nationwide.
  • The largest spikes in usage were in tourist destinations: bike use in the pleasant coastal city of Xiamen shot up 51 percent, while in scenic Hangzhou, it increased by 47 percent.
  • The five places that attracted the most Mobike users were Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chengdu.
  • Many Mobike users who live in Beijing and Shanghai headed to Chengdu for the holiday weekend, while Guangzhou and Shenzhen residents head to Haikou and Xiamen.  

In March, SupChina published “Bike sharing done right: A real Chinese innovation” together with a video showing how the bikes work.  


Taiwan fights for inclusion at World Health Assembly

On May 9, Reuters reports that despite China’s objection, Taiwan will send a delegation to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva on May 22–31 without an invitation from the World Health Organization (WHO). Taiwan is not recognized as a member of the United Nations and has not taken part in any UN meetings since 1971, when the UN declared the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.”

In the past few years, the island was, with Beijing’s acquiescence, granted observer status at some conferences. Last year, Beijing warned Taiwan that it can reserve its observer status only if it complies with the “one China” policy, which current Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 has not clearly supported. To exert pressure on Taiwan, Beijing has taken other measures over the past months, including sending an aircraft carrier for a sail around the island, cutting back on tourist numbers from the P.R.C., and extraditing Taiwanese criminal suspects from other countries to the mainland.  

In response, Taiwan’s top China policymaking officials said that Beijing’s approach to exclude it is “rigid and confrontational,” and may cause serious consequences. Meanwhile, to support its assertive stand on the issue, Taiwan is rallying other countries. The South China Morning Post reports that Japan has indicated some support.


Tsinghua loses star molecular biologist to Princeton

Nieng Yan (颜宁 Yan Ning) is one of China’s leading research talents in the life sciences whose work, according to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “combines structural biology, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics.” The South China Morning Post reports that she has decided to leave Tsinghua University, where she has worked for more than a decade, to take up a professorship at Princeton University, where she did her doctoral and postdoctoral studies at the department of molecular biology. Yan began her academic career with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tsinghua University, graduating in 2000. In 2007, she received a teaching offer from Tsinghua University and became one of the school’s youngest professors. During her time at Tsinghua, Yan led a research team that made groundbreaking discoveries about the physical structure of a protein related to several diseases, including cancer and diabetes. That same year, Yan posted an article on her personal blog about how the government-run National Natural Science Foundation turned down her team’s grant application, indicating that it is difficult in China to get funds for high-risk yet important research projects.

In an interview (in Chinese) with the Guangming Daily, Yan explained that she had received the job offer from Princeton in 2015. Asked why she wanted to relocate, she replied, “I am afraid of being in the same environment for too long and getting used to it. Changing to a new environment will give me pressure, inspire me, and help me to make more achievements.” Yan also added that she will help to promote collaborations between the two schools.

On the social media platform Weibo, many internet users linked Yan’s departure with her unpleasant experience with fund management officials. One commenter wrote (in Chinese), “Whether or not you can get research funding in China all depends on connections. Those who are doing real stuff don’t necessarily get money for their research.” However, other netizens blamed Yan for placing self-interest above the country. “Those who are unwilling to make contributions to their home countries can’t call themselves scientists,” another commenter stated (in Chinese).