Xi Jinping could not have wished for better optics
Last week, German news magazine Der Spiegel said what many people around the world are thinking with an editorial titled “Donald Trump’s triumph of stupidity.” Based on minutes of the meeting where “German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other G-7 leaders did all they could to convince Trump to remain part of the Paris Agreement,” Der Spiegel recounts the moment when it became “clear to the rest of those seated around the table that they had lost,” and French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Now China leads.”
Macron’s remark reflects a widely held view that Trump has gifted China moral leadership when it comes to climate change, and made it much more likely that China will dominate and set future standards for clean energy technologies. The New York Times says (paywall) that “China has already started an expensive campaign at home and abroad to solidify its considerable hold on solar, wind and other energy-saving businesses.” These efforts may allow China to “win the economic and diplomatic spoils that the United States and some European countries have long enjoyed from dominating businesses like software, computer chips and airplanes.”
Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement is also stressing an already understaffed State Department: On June 5, SupChina editor-at-large John Pomfret broke the news on Twitter that David Rank, the second most senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, had resigned. The Washington Post says he told staff that “his conscience would not permit him to formally notify the Chinese that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.”
Meanwhile, California governor Jerry Brown is on a high-profile tour of China with the major aim of ensuring that at least one American state cooperates with Beijing on climate change. Reuters reports that the government of California and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology have announced that they “will work together to develop and commercialize know-how on carbon capture and storage, clean energy, and information technology to rein in greenhouse gases.” During his visit, Brown met Xi Jinping, who, according to Xinhua, urged California “to play a bigger role in promoting exchange and cooperation between China and the United States.”
Is combustible ice going to be a thing?
In May, the Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming 姜大明 said that researchers in China had “succeeded in collecting samples of combustible ice in the South China Sea, a major breakthrough that may lead to a global energy revolution.” But that revolution will not be a dinner party: Caixin reports (paywall) that researchers say that “a variety of technical hurdles must be overcome before the process of mining combustible ice and extracting its methane is commercially viable.” Furthermore, mining operations could cause ecological disasters such as underwater landslides and methane contamination of seawater. Nonetheless, according to Caixin, officials say their “ultimate goal is to begin commercial mining of combustible ice by around 2030.”
Correction: Party, state, and military website list
Yesterday, we noted the Jamestown Foundation’s useful new list of websites of Communist Party, state, and military organizations and news sources, but the link was corrupted: you can find the document here.
—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief
Can China relieve rural poverty with All-for-one Tourism Zones?
Struggling communities throughout China are hopeful that a new initiative will allow poor residents of scenic areas to benefit from tourism. But when implementation means waiving ticket fees for attractions and evicting villagers, local governments and residents balk. Matt DeButts reports.
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:
Apple releases Chinese tweaks to iOS
At an event for developers of software for Apple products on Monday, Apple previewed the new mobile operating system iOS 11 set for release to iPhone and iPad this fall. Apple says that Siri is to get new male and female voices that “are more natural and expressive, adjusting intonation, pitch, emphasis and tempo while speaking, and can translate English words and phrases into Chinese.” TechNode notes that Apple “completely glossed over…some very interesting feature additions…for Chinese customers,” such as:
- Traffic camera alerts: This feature is very popular in China, and it exists in almost all Chinese map and navigation tools.
- Phone number as Apple ID: Due to the popularity of WeChat, many Chinese people don’t use email as much as Americans do. In China, people can use phone numbers to register for almost any online service and also to verify accounts, for both registration and security.
- Shanghainese dictation: Voice recognition now works for Shanghai dialect as well as Mandarin and Cantonese.
- QR code support: The barcode-like images you can scan to create a WeChat connection or visit a website are very popular in China.
Will these Chinese tweaks help restore Apple’s sales to health in China after the company’s revenue fell 14 percent year-on-year to $10.7 billion in the March quarter? Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said, perhaps predictably, that the company is still “very enthusiastic” about the opportunity in the world’s largest smartphone market.
See the Society and Culture section below for more Apple news from China.
- Aging China sees direct-sales health-product sector boom amid regulatory uncertainty / Caixin (paywall)
Several “major companies” that sell health and diet supplements are “reporting that at least 20% of their incomes were generated” in China. However, many of them depend on direct and online selling, which Caixin says “Chinese regulators have deemed prone to abuse.”
- P2P lenders to face tighter disclosure rules / Caixin
“Efforts to clean up China’s scandal-plagued peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sector are taking another step forward with a pilot program that imposes tighter information disclosure requirements to protect customers from being swindled.”
- China’s Twitter comes back from the dead / Bloomberg
“Unlike Twitter, which is valued at $13 billion, Weibo is profitable; its share price is hovering around $75, more than quadruple the IPO price.”
- Chinese cell therapy effective in small multiple myeloma trial / Reuters
“A small trial conducted in China found that an experimental therapy using altered cells to recruit the body’s immune system to attack cancer can induce remission in most patients with advanced multiple myeloma, a blood plasma cancer.”
- Land prices soar 800 percent in Chinese backwater where Xi Jinping started his political career / SCMP
- China to create a US$265 billion industrial giant in Shenhua-Guodian merger / SCMP
- Why China’s wasting huge amounts of cleanly-produced electricity and how to fix it / The Guardian
- Ivanka Trump’s firm seeks new trademarks in China, reviving ethical concerns / CNN
- Greece approves $8 billion Chinese-backed resort project outside Athens / The Guardian
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
Xi Jinping on the Bright Road to Kazakhstan
Xi Jinping is not a man who stays in one place for a long time. Xinhua News Agency reports that from June 7 to 10, Xi will pay a state visit to Kazakhstan and attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security and political grouping established by China whose members now include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan. In advance of the visit, Xi gave Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev “a picture album on the two countries’ scenery and cooperation under China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and Kazakhstan’s Bright Road new economic plan.”
This means there is a new buzzword to learn: Bright Road (光明之路 guāngmíng zhī lù), a Kazakh government plan — very similar to China’s Belt and Road — to bring prosperity to the country through transport and infrastructure projects.
The Belt and Road plan, initially called the New Silk Road, was first proposed by Xi Jinping in 2013 during a visit to Kazakhstan, and Xinhua says (in Chinese) that promoting Belt and Road at its birthplace will be one of three aspects of Xi’s visit this week that readers “should not miss.” The other two aspects are Xi’s chairing of the SCO meeting, and the “deep friendship” between China and Kazakhstan.
- Australia warns China to keep out of its affairs / Financial Times (paywall)
On June 5, we noted a story in the Canberra Times about what it called China’s “covert campaign of influence in Australia,” which rewards Chinese living Down Under who are loyal to the Party and seeks to intimidate dissenters. On June 6, the Financial Times reports, “Australia is reviewing its espionage laws and banning foreign political donations over concerns that China is buying influence by using rich businessmen to funnel millions of dollars in donations to political parties.”
- Prominent Chinese rights activist charged with subversion after being held six months / Reuters
“Jiang Tianyong 江天勇 defended high-profile dissidents and practitioners of Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, before being disbarred in 2009. He continued to speak out against government crackdowns on rights lawyers. Jiang disappeared in November 2016 after traveling to central China’s Changsha city to provide advice and support to a fellow rights lawyer, Xie Yang 谢阳.”
- China, India and the clash of two great civilizations / Financial Times (paywall)
India is now probably the most populous country in the world, and its economy is currently growing slightly faster than China in percentage terms — the article argues that the two countries are likely to find themselves increasingly at odds in the years to come.
- Russia and China are bulking up in the U.S.’s backyard / Bloomberg
“Putin and Xi are working to win over small, poor countries with promises of aid, military support, and investment, even as Trump scales back.”
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
Many Chinese will ‘throw away’ their iPhones if WeChat stops working
Rumors have been circulating in China that WeChat, China’s largest social app, might be removed from the Apple App Store. The speculation began in April after Apple informed a host of Chinese app developers, including WeChat, that they would need to disable in-app tipping functions unless they agreed to let Apple collect 30 percent of all money transfers. WeChat announced that it “regrettably” had to abolish its tipping feature in order to comply with Apple’s new terms.
Apple has a decade-long tradition of sharing revenues on all purchases with app developers, with a 70-30 split in most cases. However, the extension of the model to in-app tipping has triggered outrage from many app developers, who argued that tipping only allows money transfers between two parties using the platform, while the app creators don’t make any money off the tip.
On the social media platform Weibo, internet users are debating (in Chinese) over which one they would like to keep, Apple or WeChat, if the latter stops working on iPhones. The overwhelming majority of commenters said that they will “throw away their iPhones immediately” if WeChat becomes unavailable.
- Soup and prayers soothe apprehensive Chinese test takers / Reuters
“The air crackles with anticipation in China’s tiny eastern town of Maotanchang ahead of the ‘gaokao,’ the annual national college entrance exam more than 9 million students are taking this year.”
- China’s brightest at college entrance exams get tough new competition — from a robot / Caixin
- Middle Eastern migrants live the Chinese dream / Sixth Tone
- Canadian women’s hockey league to add a team from China / NYT (paywall)
- Shocked visitors see live donkey fed to tigers at Chinese zoo / SCMP