An extremely stupid move

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Reactions to Trump’s tariffs  

Chief of the Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs Office — and Xi Jinping confidant — Liu He 刘鹤 is in America’s capital to talk trade. Trump welcomed him yesterday with an announcement of new import tariffs on steel and aluminum that will hit China. NBC reports that sources say that “Trump’s decision to launch a potential trade war was born out of anger at other simmering issues,” and that he became “unglued” on Wednesday when he made the announcement.

  • “What an extremely stupid move,” said Li Xinchuang 李新创, vice secretary general of the China Iron and Steel Association, according to the Washington Post. Li called the tariffs “a desperate attempt by Trump to pander to his voters.” But Li said that the impact on China “is not big,” according to Deutsche Welle. Li went on, “Nothing can be done about Trump. We are already numb to him.”

  • “China does not make the list” of the top 10 sources of U.S. steel in 2016, but “many allies and partners do,” tweeted M. Taylor Fravel, an international relations professor at MIT and China scholar. Here is data on steel imports from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

  • But the tariffs will “seriously damage the multilateral trading system represented by the WTO and have a major impact on the normal order of international trade,” according to a statement (in Chinese) from the Ministry of Commerce. The brief note also says that “if the U.S. ultimately damages the interests of China, China will work with other affected countries to take reciprocal measures to safeguard their own interests.”

  • “China’s requests for Trump seem to boil down to: figure out what the heck you want from us, and then tell us,” tweeted Shanghai-based Economist correspondent Simon Rabinovitch, in response to this Bloomberg article that quotes Liu He.

  • “China can afford to play it pretty cool and measured, as they have been doing ever since Trump took office. They take a small, really negligible, hit to their steel and aluminum exports, but strategically they come out way ahead by just letting Trump be Trump.” That’s the view of Arthur Kroeber, the managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics and a Sinica Podcast guest, quoted in the same Washington Post article.

  • “I hope, frankly, the country is a lot more solid and constructive, more sophisticated in dealing with these issues,” former U.S. ambassador in Beijing Max Baucus told CNBC. He says that “China will probably take retaliatory actions in some form,” and that we “are in dangerous times.”

  • “Donald Trump made the biggest policy blunder of his Presidency,” argues a piece by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

  • “China’s trade officials recognize that a well-targeted retaliatory strike, particularly in the agriculture sector where the U.S. actually enjoys a surplus with China, is far more effective than carpet bombing in a full-fledged trade war. That is what makes the choice of sorghum wickedly ingenious,” argues Keith Richburg in the South China Morning Post. Beijing could also target soybeans in retaliation, says CNBC, “but it’s unlikely to do that just to counter heavy U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, experts said.”

CEFC China Energy — government takes over another troubled company

Yesterday, we noted that Ye Jianming 叶简明, an entrepreneur who rose from obscurity to control China’s fourth-largest oil conglomerate, has been detained by the authorities for questioning. Last year, CEFC China Energy made headlines with an announcement of a deal to purchase 14 percent of the Russian energy company Rosneft for $9 billion.

  • “Shanghai Guosheng Group, a portfolio and investment agency controlled by the Shanghai municipal government, has taken over the management and daily operations of CEFC China Energy,” according to the South China Morning Post.

  • Anbang, the troubled insurance group whose chairman was detained last year, was taken over by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) in February.

  • An odd detail: Ye Jianming was given the Yakir of the Jewish People Award last May in Jerusalem. This award honors contributions to fundraising and overseas pro-Israel work. Thanks to William White, a Chinese-English interpreter and Access member based in Berlin, for the link.

Xi’s removal of term limits — further responses

In the Week in Review section below, we summarize and link to our analyses of the proposed changes to China’s constitution, which include the removal of term limits on the presidency. Here are a few more responses from scholars:

  • Some analysts — including us — naively hoped that Xi wanted more time to train, groom, and test a potential successor before identifying the candidate,” say Cheng Li 李成 and Ryan McElveen of the Brookings Institute. Li has been one of the most sanguine commenters on Xi Jinping’s tenure (listen, for example, to this Sinica Podcast interview), but the removal of term limits seems to have been one authoritarian move too far, even for him: The two scholars say Xi has “opted to revert the country back to the era of strongman politics and the personality cult,” and squandered “a precious opportunity to institutionalize the peaceful transfer of power in the PRC.”

  • Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations says that “an untethered Xi” will probably focus his attention on three areas: “rectifying imbalances” such as corruption, environmental degradation, and income inequality; reunifying China and Taiwan — “the use of force is not out of the question”; and remaking the world in China’s image.  

  • Term limits are “a device that over the years has allowed the Chinese government to control elite jockeying and popular expectations, two challenges that tend to be very tricky for authoritarian regimes to manage,” argues scholar Mary Gallagher in the New York Times (paywall). She says that with their removal, the Party is “risking its own survival.”  

Trademarks good, patents bad

If you do business in China, the China Law Blog is a fantastic, practical resource for learning about the legal issues with Chinese characteristics that you face as an entrepreneur or a company executive. In a new blog post, Dan Harris explains why “patents are virtually always expensive to get and virtually always expensive to protect,” while “trademarks are virtually always inexpensive to get and, a lot of the time, inexpensive to protect.”

We really appreciate your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at You can reach our whole editorial team at We love feedback!

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


  • China’s Xi Jinping set to abolish term limits, rule indefinitely
    With the extraordinary announcement that China would eliminate term limits for its presidency, Xi Jinping is returning the country to the way it was during the Mao era and millennia of empire: no formal system for leadership succession. Signs that this would happen had been building for months (some would argue years), but the timing still caught many by surprise.

  • Don’t talk about the constitution in ChinaChina continued to grapple with the momentous news that Xi Jinping is set to have his term limits as president removed. While state media defended the move, a few public figures put out quickly deleted messages of protest, while censors tried to pluck social media clean of even passing references to the planned extension of Xi’s grip on power.

  • Why the removal of presidential term limits shocked so many in China
    The proposed scrapping of term limits on the Chinese presidency continues to generate commentary in China and abroad. We rounded up some of the new reactions, in particular an essay by a Chinese writer on why, though no one was surprised by the proposal, it has led to “universal shock and lamentation.”



  • China’s national medical hotline apologizes on Weibo for discrediting donkey-hide gelatin
    National Health 12320, the official Weibo account of China’s medical hotline operated by the country’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, apologized on Monday, February 26, after it made a since-deleted post to dispel the myths surrounding donkey-hide gelatin. Known as ejiao (阿胶 ējiāo) in Chinese, it is a popular product in China, where many people believe in its health benefits.




Introducing Studio Mandarin 橘子中文

In partnership with the China Institute, we’re delighted to launch Studio Mandarin 橘子中文, a show that teaches you Chinese based on our news and cultural reporting.


China Sports Column: First there was panda diplomacy — now could there be panda Olympics?

Lawmakers in Chengdu — which one forecast says will be among the world’s top 30 cities by 2035 — have targeted hosting the 2036 Olympics. Also: The Chinese Super League kicks off this weekend, and Guangzhou Evergrande — league champions for the past seven seasons — might not be the favorites, thanks to Wanda’s Wang Jianlin and his newly promoted Dalian franchise.

A very special ‘review’ page for a new propaganda film

Today, March 2, is the release day for Amazing China (厉害了,我的国 lìhàile, wǒdeguó), and, a website that hosts one of China’s best film-rating platforms, created a special review page for it to filter out potential bad reviews.

Introducing: Mingbai, common Chinese knowledge for the non-Chinese

We’re excited to be partnering with Mingbai (明白 míngbai, meaning “understand”), a recently founded daily newsletter that provides an important window into the mental storeroom of the average Chinese. Mingbai authors Christian Føhrby and Deng Jie will swing by every Wednesday to present a deeper look at one of their weekly topics. But today, as an introduction, here’s a roundup of five representative posts: what every Chinese person knows — and what you will know soon as well.

‘Find the thing you love and stick with it’: Xi Jinping and the perfect meme

On Sunday, Xinhua announced a proposal to remove term limits for the president and vice president from the Chinese constitution, clearing the way for Xi Jinping to stay on as paramount leader beyond a second term. Chinese internet users reacted with a Winnie the Pooh meme, which has since been censored.

Kuora: Cao Cao was a magnificently cruel bastard

This week, we take our subject from one of Kaiser Kuo’s favorite things in the world, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In fact, we suspect his whole affect — the long hair, his new facial hair, the swords — is all about him wanting to be a Three Kingdoms-era warlord.

EXO blew up social media during the Winter Olympics closing ceremony

Popular Korean-Chinese boy band EXO was one of the star attractions at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics closing ceremony. It took over the official Olympics Twitter account, with all tweets hashtagged #Olympics_EXO receiving unprecedented bumps in engagement and impressions as a result.

Hole-in-the-wall 2.0: How China’s food delivery industry is changing the restaurant business

Ever wonder why ordering delivery food is so cheap in China? While Alibaba and Tencent jostle for dominance in the waimai market, small family-owned restaurants are feeling the pinch.

Video: Who is Chinese President Xi Jinping?

On February 25, the Communist Party announced that it will abolish constitutional limits on presidential terms, allowing President Xi to stay in power indefinitely. How much do you know about the man whose rule of China may have just begun?

Sinica Podcast: Courts & torts: Driving the Chinese legal system

Two veteran observers of Chinese law discuss what the settlement of a range of traffic violations — from fender benders to cases where drivers intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit — in China tell us about the country’s legal system and the role of courts in society.

996 Podcast with GGV Capital: Yi Wang of Liulishuo on teaching English with AI

Yi Wang, the founder and CEO of Liulishuo (a.k.a. LingoChamp), talks about his app, which 70 million Chinese people are using to improve their spoken English. The app uses speech recognition technology to enhance the learning experience and provide learners with measurable and proven results.


Lantern Festival celebration

Villagers jump over a fire to bring good luck for the new year on the Lantern Festival, which falls today — the 15th day in the first month of the traditional Chinese calendar. Learn all the vocabulary you need for the holiday in the first episode of our new language-learning show, Studio Mandarin.

Jia Guo