China no longer world’s most populous nation?
The South China Morning Post reports that Yi Fuxian 易富贤, a medical researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said at a symposium at Peking University on Monday that “China’s real population may have been about 1.29 billion last year, 90 million fewer people than the official figure released by the National Bureau of Statistics.” If Yi is correct, “India, with more than 1.3 billion people, is now the world’s most populous country, overtaking China five years ahead of forecasts,” according to India Today.
Yi’s book, Big Country With an Empty Nest (大国空巢 dàguó kōngcháo), argues that China needs more people, not fewer. Published in Hong Kong in 2007, it was “promptly banned on the Chinese mainland,” says the New York Times, for its arguments against the one-child policy. However, the book was published “by a high-level state publisher” in the mainland in 2013, “the same year that China relaxed the restrictions on births, allowing couples where one partner was an only child to have two children.” Birth restrictions were further relaxed in 2016 — for more on this subject, you can listen to the Sinica Podcast with Mei Fong, author of the book One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment
‘Old friend of China’ Branstad confirmed as ambassador
The U.S. Senate voted on May 22 to confirm Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Beijing. As Reuters notes, “Chinese President Xi Jinping has called Branstad, 70, an ‘old friend’ after decades of dealings on agricultural trade.” The two originally met on Xi’s first visit to the U.S. in 1985 (see this timeline of “Terry Branstad’s long relationship with China”).
Official reaction from China has been all positive. Reuters quotes Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying as saying that “Branstad had worked hard to push relations between Chinese and U.S. regions and China hoped he could play an even more positive role in increasing understanding and promoting relations once he takes office.” Meanwhile, the People’s Daily published a sympathetic article (in Chinese) about Branstad’s appointment that repeatedly calls him an “old friend of the Chinese people” and features a photograph of the new ambassador with Xi.
The Belt and Road vs. the Liberal Order
China-U.S. Focus has published an article by He Yafei 何亚非, former vice minister of China’s Foreign Ministry, on Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative to build a network of commercial and transport links between Asia and Europe. He says that Belt and Road “has nothing whatsoever to do with the decline or non-decline of the liberal order or liberal democracy.” However, the article explicitly positions Belt and Road as an alternative to “U.S.-led postwar world liberal order,” and as an answer to the question “Will the U.S. continue to provide global commons in this new era of globalization?”
In other related news, Hu Shuli 胡舒立, respected editor-in-chief of Caixin, has published an opinion piece that calls Belt and Road “a game changer that could further open China’s markets.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports, “As the global limelight fades from President Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road’ summit, the main actors — Chinese state-owned companies — are warning about the political risks they face along the route.”
—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.
BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:
Tencent: World champion of trademark applications
Tencent, China’s most powerful internet company, filed 4,100 global trademark applications in 2016, according to (paywall) the Financial Times. The company is behind China’s most popular social and messaging app, WeChat, and with a market value currently at around $106.18 billion, is often at the top of brand rankings in China. Other Chinese technology conglomerates such as LeEco and Alibaba were also among the list of top 20 trademark applicants, with 2,200 and 1,700 applications, respectively. The FT says that in November 2016, “China became the first country to secure more than one million patent applications in a single year — a record the World Intellectual Property Organization said reflected ‘extraordinary’ levels of innovation.”
- HNA’s Hainan Airlines to buy 19 planes for $4.2bn / FT (paywall)
“China’s Hainan Airlines plans to buy 19 planes for about $4.2bn, expanding its fleet to 257 aircraft as its parent company HNA Group pushes aggressively into airline services, airports and hospitality.”
- Big Brother comes for foreign firms in China / WSJ (paywall)
“Beijing aims to harness big data to monitor and rate companies.”
- China spins a global food web from Mozambique to Missouri / Bloomberg
- UrWork takes on WeWork in fight for China’s shared office spaces / Bloomberg
- China’s troubled LeEco said to plan cutting most of U.S. workers / Bloomberg
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
Indonesia signs high-speed rail deal, then conducts naval exercise
On May 19, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, for the second time in seven months, observed a massive military exercise around the Natuna Islands, a resource-rich area that verges on the South China Sea and is partly claimed by China. Though the drills, according to The Diplomat, are far more routine and much less dramatic than some reports indicated, they do emphasize Jokowi’s policy to maintain Indonesia’s presence in a disputed region where tensions have been up and down for years.
The military exercise took place right after Jokowi returned from attending the Belt and Road summit in Beijing on May 14 and 15. During a bilateral meeting between Jokowi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a consortium of Indonesian companies and China Railway International Company signed a $4.5 billion deal with China Development Bank.
- Reading between the lines of a party boss’ speech as China’s power reshuffle looms / SCMP
“Guangdong Communist Party boss Hu Chunhua 胡春华 made a high-profile declaration of his political loyalty in front of the provincial party congress on Monday. He repeatedly mentioned President Xi Jinping in his nearly 100-minute speech.”
- Xi Jinping is ‘putting the house in order.’ Or is China facing destabilizing changes? / Washington Post
An opinion piece that makes a case for expecting “the CCP regime to last for some years to come, with Xi as its leader, either formally or behind the scenes.”
- China’s imports from North Korea sink as coal ban bites / Reuters
- Indian fighter jet missing in region claimed by China / Bloomberg
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
Go master defeated by Google software, mocked by silver spoon boy
Ke Jie 柯洁 is a 19-year-old from Lishui in Zhejiang Province. He is also the world’s best player of the ancient Chinese board game Go (围棋 wéiqí), per an algorithmic ranking of historical performances by computer scientist Rémi Coulom. On May 22, Ke lost the first game of a three-part match this week against Google’s Go-playing machine, AlphaGo. Ke was defeated by a narrow margin of half a point. According to The Verge, the software “doesn’t appear to care about the margin of victory, instead choosing moves that it has determined are the most likely to lead to a win.”
AlphaGo first enjoyed the limelight when it trounced the Korean 18-time world champion Lee Sedol four games to one in March 2016, which makes it the first machine to beat a professional human Go player. Although Ke initially declined to have a one-on-one match against AlphaGo after its victory against Lee, the young player nevertheless boasted (in Chinese) on his Weibo account that “AlphaGo may defeat Lee, but it can’t beat me.” In a press conference after his first encounter with his machine rival, Ke explained his defeat by saying that “AlphaGo is improving too fast” and seemed “like a different player this year.”
One reaction to Ke’s loss came from Wang Sicong 王思聪, son of billionaire Dalian Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin 王健林, who wrote: “After your boasting when Lee lost to AlphaGo, where has your cockiness gone now?” The comment has since been deleted from Wang’s Weibo account, but has been widely copied (in Chinese) and roundly condemned by Chinese internet users. Wang’s antics are a regular subject of derision: In 2015, he posted photos of his dog wearing two gold Apple iWatches, enraging many commenters on social media.
The contest was held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, as part of the Future of Go Summit co-sponsored by the Chinese Go Association and Google. The other two games will take place on May 25 and 27. But Chinese Go fans are unable to watch the tournament amid the long-lasting rift between the Chinese government and Google. Three journalists told Quartz that higher authorities had ordered them not to broadcast the match live or even mention Google’s name in their reporting of the event.
- ‘Proud of China’ campaign begins at University of Maryland after controversial commencement speech / People’s Daily
Yesterday, we noted the social media firestorm caused by a video of a Chinese student’s speech at her graduation ceremony at the University of Maryland in which she contrasts the fresh air and freedom of expression she has enjoyed in America with the lack of those things in China. The reaction has continued, with the People’s Daily reporting — in English (linked above) but not in Chinese — on a group of Chinese students at the university who have made a video about being proud of China. You can watch the video on YouTube.
- Beijing’s property crackdown puts owners in limbo / Caixin
“Desperate to get on the housing ladder, Pang Fei shelled out more than 1.1 million yuan ($160,000) last year for a 38-square-meter (409-square-feet) loft apartment under construction on the outskirts of Beijing” that was classified for commercial use and in a legal gray area. The city’s tightened real estate regulations, intended to stop the market from overheating, mean that people like Pang have little hope of being able to sell their apartments.
- China’s drug addicts call for divine intervention / Sixth Tone
- ‘Dangal’ becomes China’s biggest non-Hollywood foreign film / Bloomberg
- Chinese star claims she wore national flag dress at Cannes to show support for Belt and Road / Shanghaiist
- China’s wild geese are dying because they’re too well-behaved for their own good / The Verge
- Chinese Journeys: A special issue on new Chinese writing featuring poetry, prose, translations and commentary / Stand
- Chinese merchants thrive in Senegal, where people ‘needed stuff’ / NYT (paywall)