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Gene-edited babies: lead scientist suspended without pay


Dear Access members,

From January 1, our full newsletter will be members-only four days a week. The price will stay the same. If there’s a China nerd in your life, please give them an Access membership!

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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


1. Chinese scientists condemn baby gene-editing experiment

A Chinese research team at a lab at Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen led by Hè Jiànkuí 贺建奎 “claims that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies — twin girls born this month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life,” reports the Associated Press.

China famously gives scientists a freer hand with healthcare experimentation than most Western countries. The backlash from He Jiankui’s peers, and his university, is an indication that there may be limits to that freedom. For now.

2. Will CCTV lose its U.K. broadcast license?

Peter Humphrey and Yú Yīngzéng 虞英曾, the husband-and-wife British corporate investigators, spent two years in a Chinese prison after being convicted of illegally acquiring personal information of Chinese citizens while working for pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline.

  • The case was highly politicized. Humphrey and Yu were treated like pawns. One of the abuses Humphrey endured was being sedated, locked in a cage, and forced to read a scripted “confession” televised on state-owned broadcaster CCTV — see Humphrey’s prison diary in the Financial Times (porous paywall).

  • Now Humphrey is fighting back. He has filed a complaint with Ofcom, the British communications regulator, against China Central Television and its international division, China Global Television, for violating British broadcasting rules. You can read the whole complaint here. The complaint was prepared together with the NGO Safeguard Defenders, founded by activist Peter Dahlin, who was also forced into a televised “confession” by Chinese security agents working with CCTV.

  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽 made China’s crew of foreign correspondents laugh at his press briefing today with this reaction to the news of Humphrey’s complaint: “I hope Britain can support and facilitate the reporting work of international media in the U.K.”

3. China’s most respected think tank ceases public activities

The Unirule Institute of Economics is a Beijing-based independent think tank founded in 1993 by Shèng Hóng 盛洪, Máo Yúshì 茅于轼, and other free-market-oriented scholars.

  • In July, Unirule was evicted from its offices, apparently under government pressure. Workmen welded the doors closed, temporarily imprisoning some staff members who were still inside.

  • In October, authorities revoked the organization’s operating license. Earlier this month, Sheng Hong and a colleague were barred from leaving China to attend a seminar at Harvard University on the grounds that they would “endanger national security.”

  • Today, Unirule announced on its website that “in the current institutional environment in China, unless normal protection by the Constitution and laws is confirmed, Unirule Institute of Economics will cease public activities under its name temporarily.”

Unirule’s troubles don’t seem to be discouraging Mao Yushi from speaking out: Here is his latest attack on the state sector and the follies of Party management of the economy.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

4. Trade war, day 144: Low expectations despite insurance sector opening

Chinese Vice Premier and chief trade negotiator Liu He is in Germany ahead of the much-anticipated Xi-Trump meeting in Buenos Aires later this week, and Beijing is making another effort to show it is opening up its restricted markets by granting Germany’s Allianz Group permission to establish China’s first wholly foreign-owned insurance holding company.

The Chinese banking and insurance regulator said it had also approved plans for banks and insurance companies from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea to set up local units.

  • Allowing a foreign insurer to own a holding company in China is significant, says the Wall Street Journal (paywall). This will allow broader access to the market, and is “a step toward consolidating units offering various types of insurance,” such as life insurance.

  • However, “Beijing’s announcements over the past year of further openings in financial services and autos have been shrugged off by the U.S. ‘China is trying to show the world it is opening up, but whether the world will believe that with this move is another question,’ said Jonas Short, head of the Beijing office at securities firm Everbright Sun Hung Kai Co.”

  • Expectations for the G20 still remain fairly low. In an interview with the WSJ (paywall), Beijing’s ambassador to the U.S., Cuī Tiānkǎi 崔天凯, emphasized that the two sides would “review the overall situation of the bilateral relations” and hoped that “this meeting will enable us to make further progress on many fronts, including on the economic and trade issues.” However, he also chastised the Trump administration’s internal conflicts:

For a negotiation like this, people have to make their position clear and consistent. If their position is shifting all the time, I don’t think it’s helpful for any negotiation.

Number two, if there is some agreement, people have to remain committed to this agreement and try to make further progress. You cannot have some tentative agreement one day and reject it next day.

We fully understand that the U.S. side, the current administration, they love the principle of mutual respect, fairness, and reciprocity. Then people make all of these comments and statements without any sense of mutual respect, without any indication of fairness.  How can we have mutual confidence to proceed with a negotiation?

More trade-war-related news:

  • Bleak G20 outlook
    Expect a photo op and a ‘mock deal’ at the Trump-Xi meeting — not a long-term truce, says economist / CNBC
    US-China trade fight will still be a problem for markets after G-20 summit, economist says / CNBC

  • India and other potential Chinese allies
    China courts potential allies in trade war with US / FT (paywall)
    “Rather than seek a grand bargain, analysts believe Beijing will try to peel away would-be US allies, in part by pointing to China’s shrinking current account surplus, a frequent complaint among trading partners in the 2000s.”
    Souring US ties prompt China to seek sweeter trade with India / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “China’s refiners are considering the purchase of unprecedented amounts of Indian raw sugar, with a delegation visiting the South Asian nation next month to meet mill officials and inspect logistics infrastructure, according to an Indian official.”
    China and India agree to boost trade and lower the temperature on shared border / SCMP
    “Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said China needs more stable relations with its neighbors while it is still locked in a series of confrontations with Washington. ‘China will be facing a lot of pressure at the negotiating table with Trump if tensions with its neighbors are rising,’ he said. ‘India is the only nation that has a land dispute with China, and China has to calm down its tensions with India.’”

  • Winners and losers
    Mexico is the winner in this corner of Trump’s China trade war / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “Sweden’s Dometic AB, a maker of cooling systems and air conditioners for recreational vehicles and trucks, is opening a plant in Mexico in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war on China. The company, which gets 57 percent of its sales in the Americas, aims to open the Mexico plant in March and is moving some production from China to evade new tariffs, Chief Executive Officer Juan Vargues said in an interview.”
    Thai rubber farms stretched as US-China trade war saps demand / AFP
    “The price of rubber has slumped 20 percent since June, as those same tariffs bite hard on demand from factories in China — the market for more than half its latex exports.”
    The chipmaker caught in US assault on China’s tech ambitions / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. built a $6 billion plant to produce semiconductors as part of China’s goal of making the country a self-sufficient technology powerhouse. But after the U.S. President barred exports to the company, its dream is now in tatters with consultants from American suppliers gone, the factories silent and workers rattled.”
    The US, China and Wall Street’s man in the middle / FT (paywall)
    “The most prominent — and controversial — of the potential next-generation Kissingers is Blackstone co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, who has long-standing commercial interests in China and a close personal relationship with Mr. Trump.”

  • What tariffs?
    A winter-coat heavyweight gives Trump’s trade war the cold shoulder / NYT (porous paywall)
    “At Columbia, the response is to lean heavily on the company’s long experience in navigating the thicket of trade restrictions it has faced in the United States and abroad. Every fleece vest and waterproof glove stamped with the Columbia logo is manufactured abroad, and the company has come to rely on a system of pairing its designers with its team of trade experts, who recommend work-arounds that can help an item of clothing circumvent tariffs.”

—Sky Canaves

5. Xinjiang: Footage of internment camps

It’s been only three months since we compiled our explainer on the Chinese state’s attempt to wipe out Uyghur culture with a vast system of internment camps, and it’s already out of date. The bad news from Xinjiang does not stop:

  • Xinjiang’s “vocational training centers” look exactly like prisons: Bitter Winter has obtained video from an internment camp in Xinjiang, which shows cameras in washrooms, rooms sealed with metal bars, locked prison cells, and enough space to imprison several thousand people.

  • A Han Chinese documentary photographer named Lú Guǎng 卢广 has disappeared in Xinjiang, according to his wife’s Twitter account. She has not heard from him since November 6.

  • The CCP is destroying businesses in Xinjiang, reports Bitter Winter. “In its zeal to ‘maintain stability’ in the Muslim majority province, the authorities have plunged to ridiculous depths and are effectively crippling business owners.”

The world is slowly waking up to the abuses: The Washington Post published this editorial on the weekend: China is creating concentration camps in Xinjiang. Here’s how we hold it accountable.

Meanwhile, exiled Uyghurs in Turkey are opening language centers in Istanbul, hoping to preserve their culture and their children’s Uyghur identity — see this South China Morning Post report.

6. Using foreign citizens as hostages is a ‘normal practice in China’

Liú Chāngmíng 刘昌明, former executive at the state-owned Bank of Communications, is a key suspect in a $1.4 billion fraud and corruption case, and one of China’s most wanted fugitives. He disappeared in 2007.

  • His wife and two twentysomething children, American citizens, have been living in the U.S., apparently in a great deal of comfort. That ended in June when they flew back to China to visit an ailing grandfather on Hainan Island, according to a New York Times story (porous paywall) by crack reporters Edward Wong and Michael Forsythe.

  • The government detained the Liu children and their mother, Sandra Han, and then slapped an exit ban on them. “By holding the family hostage…the police are trying to force the siblings’ father to return to China to face criminal charges,” according to the Times, even though the Liu children say their father cut off contact with his family in 2012.

  • The police have assured Liu’s family that they are not being investigated for any crime — they’re just bait for Liu Changming.

  • “The Chinese Foreign Ministry defended the holding of the three family members,” says the Times: “The people you mentioned all own legal and valid identity documents as Chinese citizens,” said a spokesperson. “Because they are suspected of economic crimes, they are restricted from exiting the country by the Chinese police in accordance with the law.”

  • The Global Times has assured us that it is completely normal to hold the families of criminal suspects as hostages — see Interrogation and investigation over families of fugitive suspects involved in serious crimes a normal practice in China: experts.

7. Jack Ma, expedientist

“China’s most famous capitalist is a Communist,” says the Wall Street Journal (paywall): “Alibaba’s Mǎ Yún 马云 is identified by the People’s Daily as a Party member, casting light on an issue previously unclear.”

Joining the Chinese Communist Party is not something actual communists do any more, as some Marxist students of Peking University could tell you if they weren’t being kidnapped or harassed into silence, so perhaps I can correct the Wall Street Journal opening sentence: “China’s most famous capitalist needs to keep the Communist Party happy if he wants to keep his billions and stay out of jail so like many other business people in China will do anything necessary to keep his business.”

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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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.