A deal with the devil, or good news for China’s Catholics?

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Dear Access member,

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, and may your stomach survive the mooncakes.

We have eight things at the top for you today. As always, drop me an email anytime at jeremy@supchina.com to give feedback, request coverage of a certain topic, or just rant!

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

1. The Vatican’s deal with Beijing

The New York Times reports (porous paywall) that the Vatican on Saturday announced that “it had reached a provisional deal with the Chinese government to end a decades-old power struggle over the right to appoint bishops in China. It was the Communist country’s first formal recognition of the pope’s authority within the Roman Catholic Church.”

In a separate New York Times article, Ian Johnson explains why Beijing did the deal:

With Vatican talks and bulldozers, China aims to control Christianity

Over the last two years, China’s estimated 60 million Christians have felt the power of a newly assertive government eager to bring their faith to heel. The authorities have demolished hundreds of Protestant churches across the country, knocking crosses off steeples and evicting congregations, part of a broad campaign to tighten control over religion. Roman Catholics in China have faced similar measures, but the government took a different approach this past weekend, striking a diplomatic deal that Vatican officials said was a historic breakthrough — the first formal acknowledgment by Beijing of the pope’s authority in Catholic churches in China.

Beijing’s goal in the agreement, however, is the same as with the church demolitions: getting a grip on the rapid spread of Christianity, the only foreign faith to gain a permanent foothold in China since the arrival of Buddhism two millenniums ago.

See also:

2. Agriculture ‘top priority of the Party’s work’  

In November 2016, the government promulgated new rural land right rules intended to allow the Communist Party to maintain the collective land ownership system while transitioning to modern industrial farming (see this SupChina article for more). In December 2016, the Party convened (in Chinese) a Rural Work Conference, signaling the government’s determination to reform the country’s agricultural system and ameliorate what are officially known as the “three countryside problems” — the issues facing the management of rural areas, the poverty of many peasant farmers, and the modernization of China’s agriculture.

As Xinhua News Agency put it in a short English summary, the government’s intention was to “promote intensive agricultural development to help reduce poverty and facilitate urbanization to benefit ordinary rural households.”

Xi Jinping returns to these themes today. Featured prominently in state media is this story:

Chinese President Xi Jinping has congratulated Chinese farmers for their first harvest festival…which falls on September 23, the Autumnal Equinox of this year.

The CPC Central Committee’s decision to create the Chinese farmers’ harvest festival further demonstrates that work related to agriculture, rural areas and farmers is a top priority and holds a fundamental position.

See also: Xi stresses rural vitalization strategy on Xinhua, in which the Chinese president says that “rural vitalization strategy is a major strategy put forward at the 19th CPC National Congress, and a historic task of overall importance which concerns fully building a modern socialist country.” Xi also called for “always making resolving issues concerning agriculture, the countryside and farmers the top priority of the Party’s work.”

3. Hong Kong bans pro-independence party

Today, after a little over two months of threatening to do so, the Hong Kong government formally banned the Hong Kong National Party, a pro-independence group founded by Andy Chan 陈浩天. Channel NewsAsia reports:

The city’s Secretary for Security John Lee announced the ban on the Hong Kong National Party in a brief statement published in the government’s gazette, 10 days after the party submitted arguments against the move. Lee ordered the ban under Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance, a previously little noticed colonial-era law that requires all social groups and organisations to register with the police.

4. A turn against China in Zambia and the Maldives

Reuters reports:

The opposition was awarded victory in the Maldives presidential election on Monday, in a possible setback for China as the new leaders of the Indian Ocean archipelago nation aim to review major projects agreed with the outgoing administration.

Dhruva Jaishankar of the Brookings Institution’s India Center tweeted:

I shouldn’t have to spell this out, but the pattern is becoming more evident:

– Myanmar (2011–2015)
– Sri Lanka (2015)
– Malaysia (2018)
– The Maldives (2018)

It also bears repeating that these developments do not mean that all past issues will be resolved any time soon.

While these countries have very different domestic political situations, Jaishankar is noting that each of them replaced their China-backed leaders in elections, after public concerns about debt and overwhelming Chinese influence.

In the southern African state of Zambia, popular resentment against Chinese-invested projects has simmered for many years. Agence France-Presse reports on new stirrings of discontent:

“China equals Hitler” said the sign held up in the Zambian capital Lusaka by a protester opposed to Beijing’s tightening grip on the economy of the southern African nation.

The demonstrator, James Lukuku, who leads a small political party, was picked up by police and spent several hours in a cell reflecting on his one-man protest.

But he is not alone in opposing China’s growing presence in President Edgar Lungu’s Zambia and in particular its major programme of loans to Lusaka.

In fact his criticism echoes concerns shared by many across swathes of Africa and beyond, where some fear that China’s mega-projects risk leaving already fragile economies in even worse shape.

However, Zambian President Lungu has defended his government’s relationship with China, saying, “I implore you to ignore the misleading headlines that seek to malign our relationship with China by mischaracterizing our economic cooperation to mean colonialism.”

5. Uyghurs and Xinjiang

Rian Thum, one of the scholars who has done most to expose the abuses happening in Xinjiang, tweeted:

Mijit, a Uyghur living abroad, reports that his brother, Abdu-Jalil, was arrested in Dubai five days ago and fears imminent deportation to China.

I’ve been hearing rumors of Uyghurs being sent back from Gulf states to certain internment in China. This is the 1st case I know with family willing to go public.

Journalists: I can connect you. Family fears deportation at any moment.

Other reporting:

  • “Swedish authorities said on Monday September 24 they had temporarily halted the deportation of Muslim minority Uyghurs to China due to concerns over the situation there,” according to Channel NewsAsia.

  • “Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Noorul Haq Qadri, on Saturday denied media reports that he had voiced concerns about the Muslim Uyghur community residing in China, during a meeting with Beijing’s top diplomat in Islamabad, earlier this week,” reports Arab News. The original article on Qadri’s alleged discussion of Xinjiang was published in Pakistan’s Nation newspaper.

  • “Why are U.S. companies working for a Chinese firm that’s implicated in ethnic cleansing?” asks Isaac Stone Fish in the Washington Post:

Chinese tech giant Hikvision, which supplies surveillance cameras to China’s concentration camps, gets a lot of help from its American friends. The PR giant Burson-Marsteller earns $25,000 a month by helping Hikvision’s U.S. subsidiary with tasks such as “strategic planning and guidance.” The lobbying firm Sidley Austin appointed former 14-term congressman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) to help Hikvision fight back against a U.S. ban on their cameras. Intel partners with Hikvision to boost automation at factories. And Amazon sells hundreds of Hikvision products.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

6. ‘The trade war is now a reality’ — day 81

The amount of tariffs in the U.S.-China trade war more than tripled today, CNBC reports:

  • The U.S. “levied tariffs of 10 percent on $200 billion of Chinese products that include furniture and appliances, with the rate set to increase to 25 percent by year-end.”

  • China retaliated with tariffs “worth about $60 billion. Products such as liquefied natural gas, coffee and various types of edible oil will see a 10 percent levy while a 5 percent tax will be imposed on items such as frozen vegetables, cocoa powder and chemical products.”

  • “At least 44 percent” of all Chinese goods coming into the U.S. are now being hit with tariffs, the Economist calculates (porous paywall).

  • “The trade war is now a reality,” the chief economist of Fitch credit ratings agency, Brian Coulton, said. Bloomberg reports (porous paywall) that the firm “downgraded its world growth forecast for 2019 by 0.1 percentage point to 3.1 percent and warned of further downside risks.”

  • Stocks fell today: The S&P 500 lost 0.3 percent, and the Dow lost 0.5 percent, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 1.6 percent, the AP says.

  • “China scotched trade talks with the U.S. that were planned for the coming days,” the Wall Street Journal confirmed on Saturday (paywall). Those talks were thrown into severe doubt since last Monday, September 17, when Trump first announced September 24 to be the implementation date for the next round of tariffs.

China responded to the latest escalation with furious propaganda:

  • The Trump administration has “brazenly preached unilateralism, protectionism and economic hegemony, making false accusations against many countries and regions, particularly China, intimidating other countries through economic measures such as imposing tariffs, and attempting to impose its own interests on China through extreme pressure,” according to a white paper released by the Chinese government, Xinhua reports.

  • That white paper can be downloaded here; it is a dense, 71-page Word document with the title, “The Facts and China’s Position on China-US Trade Friction,” and contains section titles such as “Mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation between China and the US in trade and economy” and “The trade bullyism practices of the US administration.” A Chinese version was also published on Xinhua’s website.

  • The China Daily paid to insert four pages in the Des Moines Register in Iowa, a politically important farming state, which tells readers stories of “China buying soybeans from South America due to ‘trade row,’” “Xi Jinping’s ‘fun days in Iowa,’” and how “Beijing can set an example for the world,” Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Jacobs says.

As China hawks gain influence in the Trump administration, China is unsurprisingly becoming more suspicious of Washington’s broader intentions.

  • “China thinks the trade war isn’t really about trade,” Anna Fifield, a Washington Post reporter recently transferred from Tokyo to Beijing, wrote today, covering the growing trend of high-up people in Beijing concluding that the Trump administration is bent on containing China, and therefore not worth trying to deal with.

  • This is a dramatic change from early on, when Chinese leaders thought all they needed to do was give Trump a “tweetable victory,” said Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center and the most recent Sinica Podcast interviewee.

  • “Chinese scholars often observe that new American presidents usually take a hard line against China but seek cooperation after realizing how the two nations need each other. President Trump has stunned them by defying that pattern,” Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times (porous paywall).

  • Reporting out of D.C. confirms China’s suspicions: An “administration-wide” anti-China strategy is in the works, according to Axios, and it will launch “in the next few weeks.”

Where does the U.S.-China economic relationship go now? Here are two perspectives:

  • Yukon Huang, the former World Bank Director for China and “China economy contrarian,” writes in the New York Times that he still holds out hope that the World Trade Organization could be the venue of an eventual resolution to trade tensions. But the WTO needs reform first, he says, to deal with China’s unusually state-heavy economic system.

  • “The White House could…point to any thorough overhaul of the W.T.O. as a victory, and an admission on China’s part that the United States’ concerns were legitimate. It could then address any specific issues that remained in a bilateral investment treaty, which the U.S.-China Business Council has been advocating,” Huang says.

  • “As the costs of this trade war add up in the United States, too, more rational minds may prevail in Washington. And they will see that the way out of the impasse runs through the W.T.O., whether Mr. Trump likes it or not,” he predicts.

  • Or, the U.S. just trades less with China: “In 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, bilateral trade was 1.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Last year, it was 3.6 percent. This is too much for a flawed partner uninterested in economic reform…a smaller relationship is better than accepting unbalanced market access and mass intellectual property infringement,” Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argues in USA Today.

More trade war and related reporting:

  • Surveillance system being pinched?
    How tensions with the West are putting the future of China’s Skynet mass surveillance system at stake / SCMP
    “The world’s biggest video surveillance system, under construction in China, relies on critical components from the West and supplies are drying up as the United States and other nations tighten trade restrictions, according to scientists and engineers involved in the programme.”

  • Realities of shifting supply chains
    Trump’s tariffs may hurt, but quitting China is hard to do / NYT (porous paywall)
    “From zippers and rivets on jackets and jeans to the minerals used in iPhones, China makes or processes many of the ingredients that go into today’s consumer goods. It has a dependable source of workers who know how to hold down factory jobs. It has reliable roads and rail lines connecting suppliers to assembly plants to ports.”
    “Countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, by contrast, lack China’s vast supplier base and dependable roads. More workers have to be trained. Many companies have to start from scratch.”
    Trade war casts shadow over tech manufacturers / FT (paywall)
    “Taiwan electronics groups forced to consider quitting China to escape Trump’s tariffs.”

  • Great power competition
    US to set up $60bn investment agency to counter China / FT (paywall)
    “In what observers say is the biggest shake-up of US commercial lending to developing countries in 50 years, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation will be folded into the new agency and allowed to invest in equity. At present Opic can invest only in debt, putting it at a disadvantage to European development finance institutions (DFIs).”
    Stop obsessing about China / Foreign Affairs (paywall)
    Michael Beckley, of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, argues, “China is not about to overtake the United States economically or militarily — quite to the contrary. By the most important measures of national wealth and power, China is struggling to keep up and will probably fall further behind in the coming decades.”
    China fills a Trump-sized vacuum at the UN / Politico
    “Full-time diplomats in New York tell a different story. Chinese officials, they note, are suddenly very confident and active…in the long term, diplomats see China using the U.N. to legitimize a vision of international development and cooperation that rivals the American-led global order…[but] nobody believes China is close to overhauling the U.S. as the top power in the U.N. system in the immediate term.”

  • Competition in technology
    He’s one of the only humans at work — and he loves it / Washington Post
    Keith Bradsher, the New York Times Shanghai bureau chief, asks, “Is China already ahead of the United States in warehouse robotics, even without Made in China 2025? This WaPo article, with video, suggests it might be.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis

7. Marxist Society closed for practicing Marxism?

The Financial Times reports (paywall):

Peking University’s Marxist Society was not able to re-register for the new academic year because it did not have the backing required from teachers, the society said. “Everyone can see what the Peking University Marxist Society has done over the past few years to speak out for marginalized groups on campus,” it added.

The threat to close the society follows a summer of student and worker unrest in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzhen. Students from Peking and other elite Chinese universities were detained for supporting workers trying to organize a trade union at a Jasic Technology factory.

One of the FT report’s co-authors, Yuan Yang, comments: “China’s Communist Party preaches Marxist theory, but is now anxious that students are taking it seriously.”

In other news of students in trouble: A Chinese college in Hunan Province has expelled a first-year student who made remarks critical of patriotism on social media and in person on campus. Chauncy Jung and Jiayun Feng have details on SupChina, or see state broadcaster CGTN’s report: Chinese university student expelled over insulting China.

8. Former LA Times bureau chief speaks up on sexual misconduct accusations

Jonathan Kaiman, the former Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, who resigned after sexual misconduct accusations, has told his side of the story to the podcast In Their Words.


Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@supchina.com.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


With the Chinese billionaire Richard Liu at her Minneapolis area apartment, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student sent a WeChat message to a friend in the middle of the night. She wrote that Liu had forced her to have sex with him.

“I was not willing,” she wrote in Chinese on the messaging application around 2 a.m. on August 31. “Tomorrow I will think of a way to escape,” she wrote, as she begged the friend not to call police.

“He will suppress it,” she wrote, referring to Liu. “You underestimate his power.”


  • Sweden-China relations — badly behaved tourists and racist TV show
    Satirical Swedish TV show making fun of Chinese adds fuel to fire after tourist row / What’s on Weibo
    A satirical show called Swedish News showed a racist image advising Chinese tourists not to defecate in public, among other bits that provoked outrage among Chinese internet users and officials. What’s on Weibo also provides, at the bottom of this article, a helpful “overview of the incidents” that led to the current strain in the Sweden-China relationship.
    China demands apology over Swedish broadcaster’s comedy show on tourist spat / SCMP
    “China’s embassy in Stockholm has lashed out at Sweden’s national television broadcaster, demanding an apology for ‘insulting China’ in a comedy show referring to a controversial case involving three Chinese tourists.”
    Debate rages over treatment of Chinese tourists / China Media Project
    David Bandurski covers the reaction to the tourist row, linking to several widely shared WeChat articles, as part of a roundup of five key stories in Chinese media last week.
    On SupChina: An undiplomatic diplomat in Sweden.

  • Reactions to U.S. sanctions from arms trade
    China cancels military talks with U.S. in protest at sanctions over Russia military equipment / Reuters
    “China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing and postponed joint military talks in protest against a U.S. decision to sanction a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.”
    美国制裁中国军方意欲何为 / People’s Daily
    Alexander Gabuev, the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, tweeted: “Important piece in [People’s Daily] by Zhong Sheng 钟声 outlining Chinese leadership’s view on Russia-related sanctions against PLA. This move has cemented Beijing’s suspicions that US is trying to clip China’s wings on all fronts, and it should brace for long confrontation.”
    According to the People’s Daily itself, Zhong Sheng is “a homonym in Chinese for ‘voice of China’ that is often used to express the paper’s views on foreign policy.” Editorials signed Zhong Sheng are always worth noting.

  • Taiwan
    Taiwan scraps plan to send defense minister to US security conference / SCMP
    “Taiwan’s defense minister will skip an annual security conference in the United States and send a deputy instead, a move that could avoid inflaming already tense relations between Washington and Beijing, observers said.”
    Taiwan to expand citizenship to Asean / SCMP
    “Taiwan plans to offer citizenship to students and skilled workers from Southeast Asian nations to fight brain drain and the declining working-age population.”

  • China-Africa relations
    The week in China-Africa news / China Africa Project
    A weekly newsletter that rounds up reporting on Africa and China.
    The interracial couple championing China’s soft power in Africa / SCMP
    “College run by Ugandan-Chinese couple is training students and educators to speak Chinese, so that they can spread the word about China in Africa.”



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What is the Mid-Autumn Festival?

Today, September 24, is the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 (zhōngqiūjié). It’s a holiday for families to get together and enjoy the first full moon of the fall. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!


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College student expelled after making negative remarks about Chinese patriotism

Wang Dong 王栋, an 18-year-old freshman student attending the civil engineering program at Hunan City University 湖南城市学院, found himself in trouble after internet users filed complaints about a series of since-deleted unpatriotic posts on his personal Weibo.

Chinese government imposes limit on foreign television programming

The National Radio and Television Administration released a draft of new regulations regarding the airing of foreign programming. According to the draft, which will be open to public discussion for 30 days, foreign shows will be banned from prime time, or from 7 to 10 p.m.

Kuora: Censorship of American tech companies in China, and the question of reciprocity

The sensitivities that give rise to the censorship effectively preventing many global tech companies from competing in China aren’t commercial but political. The CCP fears that social media sites and services in particular are dangerous. But reciprocity — hitting back at private-sector Chinese internet companies — is hardly the answer.

Sinica Podcast Early Access: Xi Jinping’s long hot summer

This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Jude Blanchette of the Crumpton Group, a keen observer of the CCP leadership. We pick his brain on the rumors swirling around Beijing this summer, about public criticisms of Xi’s leadership, about the lack of any real succession plan in the eventuality that Xi is somehow incapacitated or steps down, and an emerging political science literature on authoritarianism.

  • Subscribe to Sinica Early Access by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app.

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 64

This week on the Business Brief: A wild ride for China stocks, the director of the National Energy Administration goes down for corruption, China cancels trade talks with U.S., David Kirton on the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, and more:


Bungee jump

A local resident is pulled back up to a platform after bungee jumping from a construction crane on Baiyun Mountain, Guangzhou, in June 2018.

Kayla Blomquist

Click here to view another photo from Kayla on SupChina.com, along with other entries from our photo contest.