Bullish on beng bengs

Access Archive

Dear reader,

We’ve got four things at the top for you today and the usual links below.

Our next Slack chat will feature Darren Byler, an anthropologist who studies Uyghur culture and the ways that China is criminalizing it. We hope you will join us on our Slack channel on Tuesday, October 23, at 12 noon EST. Ahead of time, check out Darren’s website, The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, which features fascinating writing from him and other scholars of Xinjiang.

Have we ever linked to an article that was a waste of time? Today I am requesting feedback from Access members on a particular question:

Have you ever clicked through to an article we linked, and thought it was a waste of time? If you have, please let me know: I spend a non-trivial amount of time DELETING links from our daily newsletter if I think they are not worth you reading. If that is not working, I’d love to know.

All the best for the fortnight before Halloween,

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

1. Niu scooters — bullish on beng bengs  

In the late 1990s, one of my favorite innovations from China’s urban grassroots was the bèng bèng chē 蹦蹦车, a three-wheeled motorcycle often licensed as a mobility aid for disabled persons but used as an unlicensed taxi.

China’s densely populated, congested cities make a natural laboratory for personal transportation tools. Within living memory, most urban adults commuted on bicycles — still, for my money, the best personal transportation device ever invented. Which is perhaps partly why electric bicycles became popular in China over the last ten years despite government attempts to regulate them out of existence in many cities.

With the growing capacity of lithium batteries, and fast-developing self-balancing technologies reminiscent of and sometimes copied from the Segway, I expect companies that make personal mobility machines to thrive in the coming years.

That’s one reason why I scripted a hoverboard into the science-fiction film I made as a farewell gift to myself when I left Beijing in 2015. It’s also why I am not surprised to see this news, via TechCrunch:

Chinese electric scooter startup Niu files for $150M U.S. public offering

Chinese electric scooter startup Niu Technologies has filed for an initial public offering on Nasdaq to raise up to $150 million. In its form, Niu said it is “the largest lithium-ion battery-powered e-scooters company in China,” according to data from China Insights Consultancy, and also a market leader in Europe based on sales volume.

Founded in 2014 and based in Beijing, Niu says it currently holds a market share of 26% in China based on sales volume. Niu’s debut will the latest in a string of recent Chinese tech IPOs, the most prominent of which include the recent Hong Kong listings of Xiaomi and Meituan.

Niu’s scooters connect with an app that give drivers maintenance and performance data and also delivers firmware updates. As of the end of June, Niu claims it had sold more than 431,500 smart electric scooters in China, Europe and other markets.

Niu’s Chinese name is 牛 niú, which means “cow” or “bull.” It’s also in the Chinese words for “bull market” 牛市 niúshì and “show off” 吹牛 chuīniú, as well as other words I won’t mention in a family newsletter.

See also: Niu Technologies IPO: 116.83 percent revenue growth and undervalued, on Seeking Alpha.

In other news of Chinese vehicle innovation: “Chinese electric carmaker NIO said on Monday it delivered 3,268 electric SUVs in the third quarter, exceeding its own target of 2,900-3,000 vehicles,” reports Reuters.

2. ‘You tell me’ — Ambassador Cui Tiankai

Cuī Tiānkǎi 崔天凯, China’s ambassador in Washington, gave an interview to Chris Wallace of Fox News. The Chinese embassy published a transcript of the interview, “including contents not being broadcasted.”

Wallace opened with a question about U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s allegation in his October 4 speech that China is meddling in American elections. Much of the Chinese state media coverage of the interview focused on Cui’s denial of this — in my opinion, laughable — allegation.

Wallace also pressed Cui on trade issues, intellectual property, espionage, North Korea, and China and America’s behavior in the South China Sea, but not the Xinjiang re-education/concentration camps, which the government calls “vocational centers.” Cui dismissed, denied, and defended China against all accusations. He comes off as a competent diplomat, but his performance is unlikely to win any converts to the Party’s cause.

Perhaps the only amusing exchange of the interview:

Wallace: Are you clear who President Trump listens to on trade issues, whether it’s moderates like Kudlow or Mnuchin, or hardliners like Navarro?

Cui: You tell me.

Wallace: You have confusion about this? I mean, that’s obviously part of your job, as the Chinese Ambassador, to be able to report back to Beijing who has the President’s ear?

Cui: Honestly, I’ve been talking to Ambassadors of other countries in Washington, D.C. This is also part of their problem.

Wallace: What?

Cui: They don’t know who is the final decision-maker. Of course, presumably, the President will take the final decision. But who is playing what role? Sometimes it could be very confusing.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Xinjiang concentration camps: Five years until ‘total stability’

Chris Buckley at the New York Times has another landmark report on the mass internment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in concentration camps in the Xinjiang region (recall his last report made the front page of the Times on September 9). The new piece is titled “The Leaders Who Unleashed China’s Mass Detention of Muslims” (porous paywall) — here are a few excerpts:

Beijing says the facilities provide job training and legal education for Uighurs and has denied carrying out mass detentions.

But speeches, reports and other documents online offer a clearer account than previously reported of how China’s top leaders set in motion and escalated the indoctrination campaign, which aims to eradicate all but the mildest expressions of Islamic faith and any yearning for an independent Uighur homeland.

Mr. Xi has not publicly endorsed or commented on the camps, but he ordered a major shift in policy soon after visiting Xinjiang in 2014 to weaken Uighurs’ separate identity and assimilate them into a society dominated by the Han majority, according to the documents…

The public has been told to prepare for a long offensive, which one local official last week called a “campaign of intellectual emancipation.” The Xinjiang government decreed late last year that the security drive would last five years before achieving “total stability.”

In other news from Xinjiang, a “Chinese official says ‘sinicization’ of religion in Xinjiang must go on,” Reuters reports.

The “sinicization” of religion must be upheld to promote ethnic solidarity and religious harmony, a senior Chinese official has said in the troubled western region of Xinjiang, which is home to a large Muslim population.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency on Saturday quoted You Quan, head of the ruling Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, which oversees ethnic and religious affairs, as making the remarks on a visit to Xinjiang this week.

The original report from Xinhua is here: 尤权:大力促进民族团结和宗教和谐 努力实现新疆社会稳定和长治久安

4. Trade war, day 102: Bolton endorses strategy of China containment

Besides Cui Tiankai, several other important players in U.S.-China relations spoke to the press over the weekend. One of them, of course, was Donald Trump. In an interview with CBS, the U.S. president:

  • Said he “might” impose more tariffs on the Chinese, but “they wanna negotiate” first.

  • Reemphasized he has “great chemistry” with Xi Jinping, but he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.”

  • Denied that American consumers are paying more for tariffed products from China.

  • Conflated the Chinese stock market — “they’re down 32 percent in four months, which is 1929,” he said — with the Chinese economy.

  • Rebranded the trade war as a “skirmish,” or a “battle.”

  • Accused China of election interference in the 2016 campaign, not just the upcoming 2018 midterms.

  • Said China is “a bigger problem” than Russia when it comes to election interference.

John Bolton, the national security adviser and important China hawk reportedly advising Trump on his increasingly adversarial position toward Beijing, was also interviewed on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Bolton’s most interesting answer is a full-throated endorsement of a strategy of containing Chinese power:

We were being taken to the cleaners for decades. Ever since China came into the World Trade Organization, they have pursued a mercantilist economic policy in what should be a free trade environment. And they’ve gone well beyond that. They’ve violated rule after rule after rule. And they’ve defied the prediction of those who advocated admitting China to the WTO, that if they came in, international pressure would make China conform to these rules and norms of behavior. They’ve done the opposite. They’ve gotten worse. They steal our intellectual property so they’re able to compete with us without the investment that’s required in research and development. They force technology transfers from American and European companies. They discriminate against us in terms of their domestic policies. And because of the economic growth that they’ve sustained, not only by abandoning their Marxist principles, but basically by violating the international norms we expected them to comply with, they’ve gained substantial economic strength. And on the basis of that economic strength, they’ve built military strength. I think what the president’s doing, because of his business background among other things, is he’s challenging them on the economic grounds. And if they’re put back in the proper place they would be if they weren’t allowed to steal our technology, their military capabilities would be substantially reduced. And a lot of the tensions we see caused by China would be reduced.

  • Also, on the South China Sea, Bolton indicates there will be continued challenges to Chinese claims: “They need to know they have not achieved a fait accompli here.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and People’s Bank of China governor Yì Gāng 易纲 were also quoted over the weekend:

  • Mnuchin denied that Trump and Xi are committed to meet at the G20 at the end of November, casting doubt on a Wall Street Journal report last week that indicated the White House was “moving ahead with” such a meeting, the SCMP reports.

  • However, Mnuchin received assurances from Chinese officials that they did not want the yuan to depreciate further, which has been an oft-cited concern of his for months. Bloomberg says (porous paywall) that the strong majority of market analysts they surveyed on October 10-11 do not expect the yuan to depreciate past the 7-to-the-dollar threshold, as had been earlier feared by some.

  • Yi Gang, meanwhile, said that China has a “prudent and neutral stance monetary policy,” but that there are tools available for the country to absorb the impact of the trade war: “We still have plenty of monetary instruments in terms of interest rate policy, in terms of required reserve ratio. We have plenty of room for adjustment, in case we need it,” he said, according to CNBC.

More U.S.-China, trade war, and related news:

Speaking to people in China nowadays about Trump, the extraordinary thing is that so often there is barely concealed admiration for what the 45th president is doing — even at the same time as people are decrying his actions. He is showing to Chinese, people seem to be saying, that the United States still really has power, and that it can still prosecute its ideas with consequences and clout.

Ah Q, for those who have forgotten, was a figure created by great writer Lu Xun in the 1920s to lambast the national character – sycophantic to those more powerful, and harsh and bullying to those who were weaker. The Chinese today have to do everything they can to kick this habit – and one such step would be to use the Trump fight to show they no longer have this complicated, half-envious, half-admiring attitude toward the United States. In that sense, Trump could really do China a favor.

—Lucas Niewenhuis


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





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