Chinese tourists won’t be weapons much longer

Access Archive

Announcements for Access members:

Our Access chat with Kaiser Kuo is now archived in our Slack channel. The next chat is with incoming FT Beijing correspondent Christian Shepherd on Wednesday, February 27, at 10 a.m. New York time (11 p.m. Beijing time). Hope you can join us then!

—Jeremy Goldkorn and team


1. Chinese tourists won’t be weapons much longer

The above is the title of a Bloomberg piece (porous paywall) by Adam Minter, who notes that as “countries from Palau to South Korea have learned the hard way, the Chinese government isn’t afraid to divert its tourists and their thick pocketbooks whenever it wants to make a political point,” sometimes with devastating economic consequences. However:

As Chinese tourists become wealthier, more sophisticated and more confident, the prospects for this economic weapon are decidedly dim. The longtime preference for government-approved group tours is naturally eroding in favor of independent travel that’s not — for now — subject to government restrictions. In 2013, 37 percent of all Chinese outbound travel was independent; during the first half of 2018, it was 50 percent (as booked through International Ltd., China’s largest tour agency). And in some regions, it was even greater. In Australia, independent travelers comprise 58 percent of Chinese tourists, up from 42 percent in 2014; in the U.S., they accounted for 78 percent of Chinese tourists during the second quarter of 2018.

This is why I believe governments of countries like New Zealand that face seemingly impossible choices from Beijing should be more sanguine. London, Sydney, New York, Vancouver, Auckland: The real estate markets of these cities are never going to lose their attraction, nor will they ever lack tourists eager to visit from China.

Nothing can replace the attraction of an English-language education in the Five Eyes countries. If the Chinese government completely banned milk imports from New Zealand, there would be a run on supermarkets across the country as Chinese shoppers and their friends, relatives, and agents clear the shelves of infant formula.

2. China will just quietly laugh all the way to the bank — and other opinions

We have begun collecting op-eds and opinion pieces about China from newspapers and other publications across the globe. We’ll present them without comment from time to time in our newsletter, and develop an archive of them on our website. It’s a slow news day today, so we’ll lead with a selection of opinion pieces from the last couple of weeks:

“China will just quietly laugh all the way to the bank”

This is not an opinion piece, but a report in the South China Morning Post on some opinions from Hong Kong tycoon Ronnie Chan (陳啟宗 Chén Qǐzōng):

Ronnie Chan, chairman of Hang Lung Properties, one of the largest property developers in Hong Kong, said trade was a “tertiary issue,” a sideshow compared to the competition between China and the US in areas such as technology and currency.

In the short term, he said, China would appear to make many concessions in tariffs and related issues to satisfy US trade negotiators, but it would try to maximize its advantage in other areas.

“I don’t think in the end it’s a one-sided deal. [US President] Donald Trump will no doubt claim victory; China will just quietly laugh all the way to the bank with what it wants,” he said.

Wishful thinking on China’s capacity to change

The editor of overseas Chinese news site Mingjing, Ho Pin (何频 Hé Pín) is publishing English translations of his commentaries. Here are excerpts from two recent pieces:

On wishful thinking on changing China

But even if Trump calls off the trade war, he can still declare victory and go home, because he will get what he asks for, at least some of it. The Chinese side won’t carry out its promises to the letter. But this should come as no surprise. Most disappointed will be those who put hope in Trump to bring about fundamental changes to China. In fact, those hopes might have been wishful thinking from the very beginning.

On economic success strengthening the Party

Sometimes one’s opinion is immediately proven right or wrong. Other times, controversies surrounding one’s view continues for a long time. My thoughts on China’s “Reform and Opening Up” policies and its “Development of the Legal System” initiatives fall into the latter category.

For more than 30 years, I have maintained that if the economic reforms turn out successful, the CCP regime is likely to be strengthened: Both the ruling party and outside observers may mistakenly attribute the economic prosperity to CCP’s effective governance and may lose the enthusiasm to learn from the West, thus making the political transition to a more open and democratic regime more difficult. Over the past few years some have come to agree with my view, but many still sit there shaking their heads no.

Fear of a Chinese planet

“Exaggerated fears about growing Chinese power are counter-productive,” according to a piece in the Financial Times (paywall) by Joseph Nye, the scholar who popularized the term soft power:

Mr Trump’s weakening of alliances is a self-inflicted wound that poses as much of a threat to American interests as the rise of China does. If the US were to maintain its alliances, the prospects are slight that China could drive it from the western Pacific, much less dominate the world.

“China is now Pakistan’s partner in Jihadist terror”

In Haaretz, Shrenik Rao writes: “Beijing blocks international efforts to sanction Pakistan’s Islamist terrorists, who foment insurgencies on India’s borders and export their violent, deeply anti-Semitic jihad to the West.”

For context, see Why is China shielding the Jaish-e-Mohammad? in the Indian Express:

Soon after a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility. The terrorist organization has carried out multiple attacks on India over the last nearly two decades, but its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, eludes international sanctions.

The reason is China. Beijing has refused to lift its “technical hold” on a proposal to declare Azhar a global terrorist under UN Security Council Resolution 1267, which prescribes a sanctions regime against designated terrorists and terrorist groups.

Russia is a rogue, not a peer; China is a peer, not a rogue

The above is the title of a new piece from James Dobbins, Howard J. Shatz, and Ali Wyne at the RAND Corporation:

Russia and China represent distinct challenges to U.S. national security. Russia is not a peer or near-peer competitor but rather a well-armed rogue state that seeks to subvert an international order it can never hope to dominate. In contrast, China is a peer competitor that wants to shape an international order that it can aspire to dominate. Both countries seek to alter the status quo, but only Russia has attacked neighboring states, annexed conquered territory, and supported insurgent forces seeking to detach yet more territory. Russia assassinates its opponents at home and abroad, interferes in foreign elections, subverts foreign democracies, and works to undermine European and Atlantic institutions. In contrast, China’s growing influence is based largely on more-positive measures: trade, investment, and development assistance. These attributes make China a less immediate threat but a much greater long-term challenge.

For more from Ali Wyne, listen to this Sinica Podcast. My first question to him is about just how sinister the RAND Corporation actually is.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Pacific Reset update: Trump considers intervening in Huawei cases

The AP reports that a couple of hours ago, “President Donald Trump [said] the possibility of dropping criminal charges against Huawei would be discussed with U.S. attorneys and with Attorney General Bill Barr in coming weeks.”

Obviously, if that were to happen, it would be massive news. The U.S. backing down on its intense pressure campaign on Huawei in any of the cases — the extradition request for Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟, or any of the 23 Justice Department charges against Meng and the company — would severely hamper the already faltering effort to convince allies to also crack down on Huawei. Also, China-watcher Bill Bishop points out that even Trump’s suggestion of looking into the cases against Huawei is really not a good look for U.S. judicial independence.

But like the other pieces of Pacific Reset news today, the final result of this development is yet to be seen. Here is a rundown of the most important things to read:

—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 Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • A terrorist attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir by a group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), that China refuses to call “terrorist,” threatened the stability of China’s relations with countries in South Asia. China later downplayed the significance of a UN Security Council statement condemning the attack and naming the group.

  • The U.K. and Germany are not aligned with the U.S. on Huawei, as they signaled that they are leaning toward “mitigating” risk rather than banning Huawei outright. Also see in the WSJ: In Rebuke to U.S., Germany Considers Letting Huawei In.

  • The U.S. and China are drawing up memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on as many as six areas of economic tensions, Reuters and Bloomberg reported. The issue of subsidies for state-owned enterprises is notably absent. Meanwhile, cyber security company CrowdStrike says that China-based cyber espionage on foreign telecoms companies have returned to pre-2015 levels.

  • At least 2,565,724 people in Xinjiang are being tracked with facial recognition technology, a data leak from SenseNets showed.

  • There is a secret Chinese military base in Tajikistan, according to a highly credible report by Gerry Shih at the Washington Post. This follows denials from multiple officials and military commanders of the existence of Chinese training bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.

  • The Greater Bay Area is the latest Communist Party pet project, like Belt and Road and the Xiongan New Area, to get heavily promoted and met with the very reasonable question: What actually is this thing?

  • Agricultural plans in “Document No. 1” were widely highlighted in state media, and it’s worth taking a look at its main points.

  • An 18-month-old Uyghur Australian citizen is trapped in Xinjiang, and his father in Sydney is fighting to get him out before he is sent to a state-run orphanage.

  • China is recruiting professional firefighters, separate from the military for the first time, but only 20 out of 18,655 slots are allotted for women.

  • The notorious Internet Addiction Treatment Center in Linyi, Shandong Province, has finally shut its doors for good.

  • The internet police in Maoming, Guangdong Province, decided that a seven-month-old video posted by a female bodybuilder was “pornographic” and suddenly accused her of posting “obscene” content on Weibo. She wasn’t happy.



China is developing a non-lethal weapon system based on microwave radar technology, which the chief engineer of the project said improves the country’s counter-terrorist and land and maritime border defense capabilities…

…Su said the project, officially named Microwave Active Denial System, works by shooting millimeter microwaves at targets, which can cause the pain nerve under the skin to ache in a bid to effectively halt the objective’s violent actions and disperse targets…

…The potential customers of the product are the police and the country’s Coast Guard…Overseas customers in countries and regions along the Belt and Road have shown great interest in the product.



We published the following videos this week:


China Business Corner: The difficulty of ascending the socioeconomic ladder

China Business Corner is a weekly window into Chinese-language coverage of business, technology, and the broader economy. This week: A story about the difficulty of changing one’s fate in China;’s disastrous 2018 is spilling over to 2019, as it plans to lay off 10 percent of its vice presidents; and Xiaomi’s flagship phone will no longer be known for its cheapness.

Friday Song: Yali Da — Big Pressure — from The Wu-Force

The Wu-Force was formed in Beijing in 2013 between Wú Fēi 吴非, the banjo player Abigail Washburn, and Kai Welch, a man who has never seen an instrument he can’t play. The song Big Pressure — Yālì Dà 压力大 — was arranged for The Wu-Force to perform with the alt-classical ensemble Chatterbird. If you’re feeling under pressure, turn up the volume and sing along at the top of your lungs!

Introducing Middle Earth — China’s cultural industry podcast

Yes, China has thousands of years of history and culture, but, no, today’s Chinese middle class doesn’t read Confucius while drinking tea with erhu music in the background. The Middle Earth podcast gives you an in-depth look at the media that real Chinese people consume, and how it’s made in the world’s second-largest culture industry.

‘To be a Chinese mother, you need a strong heart’

“Chinese mothers are great in our ability to endure any hardship, overcome any obstacle on our own. We can’t rely on the men.” China may have abolished its one-child policy, but contemporary motherhood remains fraught with obstacles in the country. Frankie Huang speaks with a young mother in China about responsibility, pressure, bribing preschools, postpartum depression, and more

‘The Wandering Earth’: China’s futuristic blockbuster rehashes Hollywood-style nationalism, clichés, and schmaltz

The much-anticipated sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth 流浪地球 premiered on February 5, the first day of the Lunar New Year, to immense commercial success. But beyond the oversized CGI and cool visuals, The Wandering Earth has problems, namely: disaster movie tropes, overplayed sentimentalism, and graceless nationalism. A film of just disaster clichés is empty, but a film that tries to fill that void with sentimentality is actively annoying.

Forget Seamless: The best Chinese food in NYC is on Yunbanbao

Yunbanbao is a bulk-ordering service popular with Chinese expats in New York, with more than 100 partner restaurants, all of them Chinese and many of them located in Flushing in Queens or Manhattan’s Chinatown. Users place their orders at least a day in advance via the Yunbanbao mini-program within WeChat, and then are given a reference number. The next day, restaurant minivans arrive in specified pickup spots, and users get their meals — without a delivery fee — using their reference numbers.

Chinese Corner: Three billboards across China — to fight gay conversion therapy

In order to raise public awareness about the unchecked proliferation of gay conversion therapy, in January, three Chinese men — artist Wu Laobai, curator Zheng Hongbin, and policeman Lin He — together launched a crowdfunded campaign in which three trucks have hit the road, each bearing a message. Also in this week’s column: millennial hermits, an entertainer who chooses to “sacrifice” herself for others, the myth of young adults in small Chinese towns, and more.

Kuora: Explaining China’s Warlord Period, which splintered the country

China’s Warlord Period is generally dated from 1916 to 1928, though it could be argued that warlordism continued in parts of China all the way up to 1949 and even beyond. The event that inaugurated it was the death of Yuan Shikai — cliques and factions proliferated, in shifting patterns of alliance, fracturing China. On May 4, 1919, patriotic students poured into the streets in rage and opposition to warlordism and imperialism, and it was out of this that the Communist Party really began to coalesce.

Tiananmen protester Hou Deijian composes patriotic song ‘Chinese Dream’

On December 31, 2018, a song called “Chinese Dream” 中国梦 was performed at a “release ceremony” at a high school in Zhengding, Hebei Province, the city where President Xi Jinping served as Party secretary for three years beginning in 1983. While nationalistic songs extolling the Chinese Communist Party and Xi’s Chinese Dream are not uncommon, one would most certainly not have expected one coming from Hou Dejian 侯德健, a Taiwan-born songwriter who once protested at Tiananmen Square.


Sinica Live with Zha Jianying: Dealing with the troublemakers

This week, Sinica is live from Fordham Law School in New York City! This episode features Zhā Jiànyīng 查建英, journalist and author of China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, who joined Jeremy and Kaiser at a Sinica live podcast event on January 14. The three discuss the experiences of Zha’s half-brother, Zhā Jiànguó 查建国, a democracy activist in China who was charged with subversion of state power and subsequently jailed for nine years. In addition, they pore over the political realities of contemporary China, the likelihood of reform, and the pressures that “moderate liberals” encounter in the face of rising suppression of political freedoms in the country.

Introducing the Middle Earth podcast

We’re proud to launch the Middle Earth podcast, which discusses China’s culture industry. In this debut episode on the Sinica Network, host Aladin Farré chats with three individuals who have all hit the big time and become internet celebrities in China: Erman, whose musings on love and relationships turned into a viral success and a full-time job; Ben Johnson, an Australian English teacher, whose short videos on cultural differences have attracted millions of views and 3 million followers; and Tang Yiqing, who started Juzi Video and has a venture-backed company with 30 million young fans. Learn their secrets for how to become a wanghong (网红 wǎnghóng; internet celebrity)!

TechBuzz China: Battle of the Red Packets

Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma dive into this year’s Battle of the Red Packets. The name refers to the custom of money-giving, which is an important part of the Chinese New Year experience. It has also been taken over by Chinese internet companies like WeChat and Alibaba as one of their main user acquisition events of the year.

ChinaEconTalk: Diplomatic bookkeeping with Ryan Hass

On this week’s ChinaEconTalk, Ryan Hass of the Brookings Institution — and Obama’s NSC director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia before that — gives his perspective on current U.S.-China relations. Why is the relationship’s future more uncertain now than at any time since 1979?

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 76

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: the seemingly never-ending trade talks between China and the U.S., Didi Chuxing’s mass layoffs, China’s trade surplus, Huawei, Doug Young on the wine scene in China, and more.


A Beijing street in the snow

Here’s another photo, taken by Beimeng Fu, of that one real snowfall that Beijing got earlier this month.

If you have photos to share of your Year of the Pig festivities, or even just a daily scene in China, we would love to see and feature them! Just send your pictures and descriptions to — to have the photo posted on our website, also include a bio for yourself and a headshot.