China and the high price of American garlic – China’s latest top news

A roundup of the top China news for June 7, 2017. Get this free daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at

Garlic wars

Prices of garlic in the U.S. are amongst the highest in the world. This is partly because of an American anti-dumping (AD) regulation that has required levies on imports of fresh garlic from China since 1994, even though domestic farms are only able to supply 30 to 40 percent of the 260,000 tons of fresh garlic Americans eat every year. One Chinese company, Zhengzhou Harmoni Spice, “has been able to maintain an exemption from AD duties,” according to China Law Blog, because they “worked out a deal with the California garlic growers” whereby Harmoni would supply garlic to the Californian trade group.

However, China Law Blog says, “the cozy arrangement…is now at risk of falling apart, depending on [the Department of Commerce’s] upcoming final decision in the latest garlic administrative review.”

The land of soft openings

Andrew Batson, an astute observer of China and its economy, has a blog where he calls Ian Johnson’s The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao “the China book of the year,” adding, “Not just because the subject matter is fascinating and undercovered, but also because it is packed with insights about all aspects of contemporary China.” As an example, Batson points to a passage, “which despite being more or less tossed off as an aside is a fairly profound insight into how China works”:

China is the land of soft openings: projects are first announced to big fanfare, structures erected as declarations of intent, and only then filled with content. In this sense, developing a new ideology to unify China is similar to building a shopping mall: the deal is publicized, the building goes up, a few stores open, but only years later are all the shops and restaurants open for business, and only after a number of anchor tenants have gone bankrupt. This makeshift model differs from how Westerns like to see projects — envisioned and planned thoroughly, then completed according to that design. But it has its own logic. If viable, the project goes ahead; if not, backing out is easier.

Batson notes that “keeping this pattern in mind is a good way to maintain a clear head when dealing with the latest grandiose Chinese announcement,” but that the “frenzy of commentary on China’s Belt and Road Initiative” has not applied such restraint.

South Korea suspends THAAD deployment

South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, has suspended the deployment of THAAD, an American missile defense system intended to protect South Korea from North Korean guided rockets. The BBC reports that “four recently arrived” THAAD launchers “will not be deployed” while “two already installed will stay in place.”

The Chinese government has seen the THAAD system as an unwelcome agent of change to the regional security balance. The New York Times calls (paywall) the suspension of the program “an apparent concession to China and a significant break with the United States on policy toward North Korea.”

A thuggish MMA fighter demystifies Chinese Kung Fu

The excellent blog Chublic Opinion has published a piece on the controversy over mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Xu Xiaodong 徐晓冬, who challenged a tai chi master to a duel, and beat him to submission in seconds in a public demonstration of his accusations that traditional Chinese martial arts have been corrupted. Xu has since been attacked, not just for his fighting skills but also for his political attitudes as a traitor whose actions have undermined a proud Chinese tradition.


We’re upgrading, so the website may be down some of the time on June 7 and 8. Thank you for your patience!

 —Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

The gaokao: China’s most grueling school examinations

Jiayun Feng brings you a short history of the most famous feature of China’s educational system on its 40th anniversary.

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.


Good credit = visa to Japan or Luxembourg  

Alibaba’s Ant Financial, the world’s largest third-party payments platform, which runs Alipay and Yu’e Bao, will apply its Sesame Credit scores to fast-track visa applications for individuals deemed “financially reliable,” Caixin reports (paywall). Any of the 100 million users ranked on Sesame Credit with a score of at least 750 for Japan, or 700 for Luxembourg — the scale ranges from 350 to 900 — will be “exempt from the normally required process of submitting bank records when applying through the e-commerce giant’s travel-booking arm for visas.”

The move is the latest of a series of experiments by the payments platform: Ant Financial originally applied a similar exemption for visas to Singapore in 2015, and recently used Sesame Credit’s data to “waive shared bike deposits.” The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), though it handpicked Sesame Credit as one of a few companies to “tentatively open the country’s private-sector personal credit-reporting system,” has been unimpressed by results so far, Caixin reports. “Banks and private lenders are dubious about the reliability of the assessments made by firms like Sesame,” Caixin says, and “[Wan Cunzhi of the PBOC’s Credit Information System Bureau] told Caixin that often the scores are a poor reference for an individual’s actual financial trustworthiness.”


U.S.: China wants to build military bases, warplanes, and quantum communications technologies

The U.S. Department of Defense released its annual report on Chinese military power on June 5, which you can read in full here. The U.S. estimates that China spent more than $180 billion on its military in 2016, although China reported only $140 billion. Media outlets highlighted three other points in the report:

  • China will build more military bases following its first overseas naval base currently under construction in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. CNBC noted that “the report repeatedly cited China’s construction of its first overseas naval base in Djibouti,” and that Pakistan is a likely location for a future Chinese military base due to “a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests.”
  • China may aim to base warplanes on islands in the South China Sea, the report says. The Financial Times noted (paywall) the part of the report on how “China’s efforts are focused on building infrastructure, including aircraft hangars, on its three largest outposts in the Spratlys — the Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs — which will give it the capacity to house ‘up to three regiments of fighters’ when complete.”
  • China made a high-tech military advance with the launch of the world’s “first experimental quantum communications satellite” in 2016, Reuters notes from the report. The satellite was a “notable advance in cryptography research,” the report says, with “enormous prospects” for moving China toward more secure communications.

China dismissed the prospect of a military base in Pakistan as pure “speculation,” and accused the report of representing a “Cold War mentality,” the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall). The Journal also notes the importance of information in the report on China’s so-called “maritime militia,” a “growing civilian fleet staffed by military-trained fishermen that Beijing uses for ‘low-intensity coercion’ in defending its vast maritime claims.”


Gaokao celebrates its 40th anniversary with 9.4 million test takers this year

Starting June 7, millions of Chinese high-school students will take the gaokao (高考 gāokǎo), the nationwide college entrance examination. This year, according to Xinhua (in Chinese), close to 9.4 million candidates have signed up to participate in the high-stakes examination. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the resumption of the gaokao after the end of the Cultural Revolution. For more on China’s examination from hell, see SupChina’s primer on the gaokao.