Some love and some meh for Xi’s speech on trade and tariffs


Below are the five top stories worth your time today. For more on today’s news from elsewhere, see our collection of links at the bottom of the newsletter.

1. Love and meh for Xi’s speech on trade and tariffs

Speaking at the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island, Xi Jinping vowed “to open the country’s economy further and lower import tariffs on products including cars, in a speech seen as an attempt to defuse an escalating trade dispute with the United States,” according to Reuters.

  • The markets loved Xi’s speech: “Stocks are rising sharply on Wall Street Tuesday after Chinese President Xi Jinping offered possible concessions in a trade dispute with the U.S.,” says the Washington Post.
  • Elon Musk, whose Tesla cars will benefit if import tariffs fall, loved Xi’s speech and tweeted: “This is a very important action by China. Avoiding a trade war will benefit all countries.”
  • Some cold water for investors, if not for Musk, in a tweet thread from Bloomberg correspondent Michael McKee: “Lots of talk about Xi Jinping calming markets. Reality: investors are hearing what they want to hear. We’re months away from the possible imposition of tariffs. We’re years away from implementation of Xi’s promised reforms.”
  • Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles already have plants in China, so tariff reductions will not affect them. McKee notes: “Lower tariffs primarily would benefit Mercedes, BMW, which export U.S.-built large and luxury cars to China, and Tesla.”
  • Neither side is ready to stand down” was the conclusion drawn from Xi’s speech and tweeted by Shawn Donnan, world trade editor at the Financial Times.
  • Trump heard a different message and tweeted: “Very thankful for President Xi of China’s kind words on tarrifs [sic] and automobile barriers…also, his enlightenment on intellectual property and technology transfers. We will make great progress together!”
  • Xi’s whole speech in Chinese is available on Xinhua.

2. How the police produce forced TV confessions

Chinese police have worked with state broadcaster CCTV regularly since 2013 to air “confessions” by people accused of a variety of crimes. A nonprofit organization called Safeguard Defenders has published the first detailed report on the phenomenon: Scripted and staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions.

  • The stars of this horrible reality show include the son of actor Jackie Chan (marijuana charges), internet celebrity Guo Meimei 郭美美 (organizing illegal gambling and charging for sexual services), Gui Minhai 桂敏海 (arrested for selling gossipy books about Chinese leaders, confessed to drunk driving charges), students of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti (guilty of being “misled”) and a number of rights lawyers, journalists, and other malcontents.
  • Forty-five confessions broadcast between 2013 and 2018 are examined in the report, which also includes interviews with several victims of this police tactic.
  • Every single interview subject in the report said they had been forced to confess, through threats, torture, fear, and even the administration of narcotics. All of the confessions were made before a trial, sometimes even before a formal arrest.

3. Hot stocks and the military industrial complex

Last year, Chinese official media began talking up the concept of “civil-military integration” (军民融合 jūnmín rónghé). This refers to the creation of a military industrial complex similar to America’s, which would allow the People’s Liberation Army to exploit the fruits of China’s private sector innovation.

  • “Military reform” is one of Xi Jinping’s key themes, and civil-military integration has been pronounced an important part of those reforms.
  • “The PLA has traditionally dealt with large, state-owned enterprises for procurement and R&D needs,” but the Chinese military is now looking to new partners, such as ecommerce giant, according to Lorand Laskai in this piece on civil-military integration and the PLA’s pursuit of dominance in emerging technologies.
  • “Innovation challenges” and dual-use technology competitions have been organized by the Central Military Commission to develop “ties with private enterprises and research institutes.”
  • “Asia’s hottest stock is a bet on China’s military expansion,” says Bloomberg in a related story. The share price of AviChina Industry & Technology, which makes training jets, transport helicopters, and airplane electronics systems, has jumped 40 percent in Hong Kong since the start of February.

4. China wants scientific data submitted to govt. before publication

Science Magazine reports: “In a move few scientists anticipated, the Chinese government has decreed that all scientific data generated in China must be submitted to government-sanctioned data centers before appearing in publications. At the same time, the regulations, posted last week, call for open access and data sharing.”

  • Some researchers are confused by the “possibly conflicting directives,” and it seems that “the yet-to-be-established data centers will have latitude in interpreting the rules.”
  • Some researchers are optimistic. Science quotes a Chinese radio-astronomer: “My understanding is that the impact on my own research will be positive… It explicitly emphasizes the role of a science data center to be ‘promoting open access to and sharing of science data.’”
  • The American National Science Foundation (NSF) wrote an email to Science expressing unease: “NSF bases its funding and its international collaboration on the principle of the freedom for scientists to publish all of the data they generate with U.S. funding, regardless of where the data are collected… We would be concerned about any potential impact to this principle.”

5. Cold-blooded animals and facial recognition

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