Nuclear espionage, or racial profiling? – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on August 29, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

The case of Allan Ho

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Allan Szuhsiung Ho 何則雄, a Taiwan-born, naturalized American citizen, is to be sentenced in a U.S. District Court in Tennessee “for using China’s money to buy information about American nuclear power generation the country was forbidden to have,” and calls Ho “a key catch for the U.S. intelligence community.”

Ho and a Chinese company named China General Nuclear Power were indicted in April 2016; the Chinese company has not acknowledged the charge. The facts of his case are rather murky:

  • The Knoxville News Sentinel says “every document associated with Ho’s sentencing has been sealed.”
  • Ho apparently pleaded guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. As part of the bargain, his defense — that he was simply interested in profit and helping make cheaper nuclear energy available in China — was included in official court records.
  • In January, the Washington Post reported that nuclear energy experts were “baffled that the government pursued the case at all,” and said the government was using a Cold War–era anti-proliferation statute and “applying it to an export licensing matter involving commercial reactor technology used around the world — activity that had nothing to do with bombmaking.”
  • The U.S. has a history of wrongfully indicting ethnically Chinese scientists and engineers on espionage charges, the most famous of which is the case of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee 李文和.
  • Because of the frequency of such cases, the Chinese-American advocacy organization Committee of 100 launched a Legal Defense and Educational Fund “to educate and support individuals facing civil rights violations and to promote due process.”

Big business in legal weed, but not for smoking

In 1996 at Beijing’s Silk Alley market, I was surprised to see vendors selling shirts in boxes decorated with large marijuana leaves. The shirts were made from hemp, a fiber extracted from the marijuana plant, which has now become a big industry in China.

  • The South China Morning Post reports that parts of northern China and of the southern Yunnan Province currently “account for about half of the world’s legal commercial cropland under hemp cannabis cultivation,” and that this “has in part been made possible by government-funded scientists who study the plant’s military uses, including as medication and fabric for uniforms.”
  • In 2014, The Independent reported that “Chinese firms had filed 309 of the 606 patents” based on the cannabis plant.
  • Growing hemp for commercial purposes in China is legal but requires a permit. Processing the plant into a narcotic or selling it as such is not legal: Anyone found in possession of five kilograms of processed leaves can be sentenced to death under Chinese law.
  • Police in Beijing occasionally raid bars and force patrons to take urine tests for marijuana — those who test positive may be arrested and charged.
  • Cannabis has been used as a medicine and narcotic for thousands of years in China.
  • In 2016, researchers found cannabis plants in a tomb in northern China, suggesting “ritualistic or medicinal uses” of the plant dating back at least 2,000 years.  

The ‘online goddess’ who earns $450,000 a year live streaming

As we noted in April, the number of Chinese people on live-streaming services reached 344 million at the end of last year. Hosts, usually girls, live-stream their performances online. The content varies from singing to dancing to video games and doing other random stuff. The audiences are mostly male, and they spend a lot of money on virtual gifts for their favorite stars.

The BBC has produced a three-part documentary focusing on the successes and tribulations of one successful live streamer — well worth watching if you have half an hour to spare.

For China politics nerds: On Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan

Historian Zhang Lifan 章立凡 has written several memoirs that draw on firsthand knowledge of friends and acquaintances of his father, Zhang Naiqi 章乃器, who served in several positions in the central government before being persecuted during the Anti-Rightist purge of the 1950s. Zhang is one of the more perspicacious observers of elite politics in China.

Zhang recently commented (in Chinese) on a media story about the future of Wang Qishan 王岐山 — the man in charge of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign and whose future as a member of the Communist Party’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee after this fall’s 19th Party Congress is often seen as a way of understanding how powerful Xi has become. Here is a translation:

I believe that the relationship between Xi and Wang is currently very difficult to define, but you can be sure that it is as close as lips and teeth. If Wang is eliminated, that would be a negation of Xi’s five-year anti-corruption campaign, and it would be difficult for Xi to be the big boss of the 19th Party Congress. If Wang stays, the future of the Shanghai clique is not bright and they would not accept it. If Wang does not stay on the Politburo Standing Committee, but stays as head of the CCDI [anti-corruption watchdog] — well, that’s not likely. If Wang retires completely, that would weaken Xi, and make difficulties for his dictatorship and centralization of power.