Is China’s economy really slowing down?

Access Archive

The annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing is nearly over. What are its implications for China in 2019, and the Xi Jinping administration? Click here to learn more about our SupChina DIRECT conference-call dialogue series, the first of which, to be held on March 14, will focus on the NPC with Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution.

Access members get an exclusive free trial of this first conference call — please let me know if you would like to join at jeremy@supchina.com.


1. Maybe the economy is not slowing down

The figures of China’s electricity output — a more reliable indicator of economic conditions than GDP numbers — rose 6.7 percent in February. That was one of a few signs mentioned in a speech today by the head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Níng Jízhé 宁吉喆. The South China Morning Post notes:

Cinema box office revenue during the Lunar New Year holiday reached a record high, indicating strong consumer spending. In the first 10 days of March the average daily electricity output also rose 11 percent compared to the same period last year, Ning added.

  • However, mobile phone sales in China “plunged 19.9 percent in February, while total vehicle sales fell for an eighth straight month,” as the SCMP points out. CNBC reports that auto sales “declined by 1.48 million vehicles in February from the same month in 2018, marking a drop of 13.8 percent.”

  • Another negative sign: “Worldwide corporate sentiment has dropped the most since 2014 in Fidelity International’s survey, with pessimism among China’s entrepreneurs the stand-out feature in a year where prospects have been blighted by a trade war and a slowing economy,” according to the South China Morning Post.

2. Huawei in the European Union

“The European Parliament plans to add its voice to growing concerns in the Western world about alleged security threats posed by Chinese telecommunications companies such as Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall).

Part of the pressure no doubt comes from the U.S. The South China Morning Post reports:

In the latest flare-up, U.S. ambassador to Berlin Richard Grenell sent a letter to the German minister for economic affairs and energy, Peter Altmaier, warning that Washington would scale back its intelligence sharing with long-time ally Germany if Huawei’s technology and equipment were used for its 5G network…. In neighboring Poland, Chinese ambassador to Warsaw Liu Guangyuan warned that abandoning Huawei would come at a steep cost to the country.

3. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation abandons the Uyghurs

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), founded in 1969, has 57 member states. The OIC says it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and “endeavors to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.” In early December, the OIC finally heard testimony about the plight of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, and issued a statement on December 11 that “expressed concern on these disturbing reports on the treatment of Uighur Muslims and expressed hope that China…would address the legitimate concerns of Muslims around the world.”

But after a meeting in Abu Dhabi in early March, the OIC released a new, and very different, resolution “on safeguarding the rights of Muslim communities and minorities in non-OIC member states.” There is no mention of Xinjiang, or of the well-documented system of concentration camps there.

Instead, the OIC actually praises Beijing, saying that the organization “welcomes the outcomes of the visit conducted by the General Secretariat’s delegation upon invitation from the People’s Republic of China; commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens; and looks forward to further cooperation between the OIC and the People’s Republic of China.”

More on Xinjiang

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

4. Is Chinese TV’s ban on bright hair color back?

青春有你, a Chinese boy group survival reality show, made a comeback on March 8 after skipping the scheduled airing of its seventh episode at the end of February.

In the two weeks since its disappearance, the show has released a short announcement on March 1, saying that the delay is a result of its production team wanting to create “better stage effects.” The lack of valid explanation in the notice puzzled its audience, leaving ample room for speculation as to whether a cancellation is imminent.

To the delight of its viewers, the show is back. But the promised fancy effects turned out to be odd and perplexing. In the episode, all the contestants who dyed their hair bright colors were given special treatment in post-production, which made their hair look black or dark brown.

Click through to SupChina for more details.

—Jiayun Feng

—–

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


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

  • All the tea going to China
    China’s demand for tea is boiling over / Caixin (paywall)
    “Imports of tea were up by 33.9% in 2017 to a total value of $1.49 billion, according to a report released in November by the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs.”

  • Meituan feels hangover from Mobike binge
    Meituan to take ‘more disciplined approach’ to new businesses as Mobike racks up losses / Caixin (paywall)
    “Meituan Dianping said it will take a ‘more disciplined approach’ to entering new businesses, after its latest financial report said that its shared-bike unit lost billions of yuan last year. The cautious tone came in a report released Monday which revealed a net loss of 8.5 billion yuan ($1.26 billion) last year, up nearly 200% from 2.85 billion yuan in 2017.”
    Super app Meituan promises prudence after Mobike bill hits home / TechNode
    “Operating losses at Chinese food delivery and services platform Meituan-Dianping surged 57% year-on-year to 3.7 billion yuan (around $557 million) in the fourth quarter of last year, amid rising costs for its core food delivery business and as a foray into shared bikes via Mobike took its toll.”

  • Too many wind farms in Xinjiang and Gansu
    Wind power projects halted in northwest China / Sixth Tone
    “China’s energy regulator has suspended the construction of wind farms in two northwest areas with the country’s highest energy waste. The National Energy Administration, or NEA, issued red alerts for Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Gansu province, prohibiting the approval of new wind farms or additional construction on existing farms.”

  • Discrimination allegations at Foxconn
    iPhone maker distances itself from ‘unauthorised’ agency discriminating against China’s ethnic minorities / SCMP
    “The world’s largest maker of iPhones has distanced itself from an ‘unauthorised’ recruitment agency near its factory in Zhengzhou that was excluding [Tibetan and Uyghur] jobseekers from applying for jobs.”

  • Xiaomi: Not just phones
    Xiaomi-backed trading firm Tiger Brokers to raise $91 million in US IPO / TechNode  
    “Xiaomi-backed online trading platform Tiger Brokers plans to raise up to $91 million in its U.S. initial public offering (IPO), issuing 13 million American Depository Shares (ADS) at $5 to $7 per share, according to the prospectus updated on Monday.”

  • Pawn shops are big shadow finance players
    China scrutinises $58 billion pawn-shop lending boom / Bloomberg via Straits Times  
    “These are not the small-dollar lending, used-guitar selling pawnbrokers of middle America. In China, pawn shops have evolved into big shadow-finance industry players — lending the equivalent of $43 billion in 2017, often to small businesses and at much higher interest rates than banks. The number of Chinese pawn shops has doubled since 2010 to more than 8,500 and their average loan size exceeds $26,000, versus around $100 in the US.”

  • Junk food at gas stations
    Yum China to open KFC outlets at Chinese gas stations / Reuters via Channel NewsAsia
    “Yum China Holdings is partnering with China’s two biggest state oil giants to open franchise fast-food outlets at gas stations in the country…More than 100 outlets, likely KFC restaurants, will be opened at gas stations owned by Sinopec Corp and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) over the next three years.”

  • Sportswear: Anta goes global
    China sports brand Anta goes global, taking on Nike and Adidas / Nikkei Asian Review
    “Anta Sports Products, a minor leaguer outside of China, is buying the Finnish owner of athletic brands such as Wilson for 4.6 billion euros ($5.17 billion), looking to compete with Nike and Adidas in both home and away markets.”

  • Gold
    China doubles down on gold in shift from dollar / Financial Times (paywall)
    “Aggressive buying by People’s Bank of China will be a support for prices this year.”

  • Online education
    New Oriental online education subsidiary files for Hong Kong IPO / TechNode
    “Koolearn, an online education company under New Oriental, is planning to file for a Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO) in April.”

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

  • Japanese vessels in the East China Sea
    Japan to build new warships in ‘message to China’ over Diaoyu Islands / SCMP
    “Japan is to begin building a new class of light patrol ships for the Maritime Self-Defence Forces in 2020, the defence ministry has confirmed to the South China Morning Post. The new warships will be designed to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions within Japan’s territorial waters, freeing up the destroyers that have been used in recent years to patrol waters close to the  Diaoyu archipelago, which Japan controls and refers to as the Senkaku Islands but which both Beijing and Taipei claim sovereignty over.”
    China sells weapons to more countries, biggest exporter of armed drones / SCMP

  • Refugees from Myanmar
    China urges Kachins to return to Myanmar and join peace process / Radio Free Asia
    “Officials from the southwestern Chinese province that borders Myanmar have offered cash to entice ethnic Kachin refugees to return to their war-torn homeland and threatened a blockade if the group’s armed forces refuse to sign a peace deal, a Kachin religious leader told RFA’s Myanmar Service after talks in China last week.”

  • South African English teacher detentions
    Dirco planning visa awareness drive after SA teacher detentions in China / News24 (South Africa)
    South Africa’s foreign ministry “is planning a massive awareness drive around visa requirements for teaching English in China as South African Sasha Redman goes into her second month in detention over an alleged immigration violation.”

  • Cambodian attitudes on China
    What do Cambodians think about China? / Scholars Stage

I have spent the last month in Cambodia. During my time here I have taken a keen interest in what everyday Cambodians think about the torrent of things Chinese that has flooded into their country over the last few years…

…Most of what we hear in the West comes from anecdote laden journalism. I have been a bit skeptical of a lot of this reporting — it seemed to fit almost too well into the sort of journalistic narrative that is pleasing to center-left sentiments. Just because Westerners see China as a corrupting, anti-liberal boogeyman is no guarantee that the man on the street in the developing world sees the same thing.

My skepticism was unfounded. In conversation after conversation with the Khmer I meet, China’s influence on this country is reviled. I have been taken aback with how vehement anti-Chinese sentiment can get (though I will not pretend the most vehement voices represent the majority position).

  • Pollution and diabetes
    Diabetes related to pollution, says 11-year China study on 88,000 people / Hindustan Times
    “Long-term exposure to the major air pollutant PM2.5 increases the risk of diabetes, an international study conducted in China has found, linking pollution to a health risk rarely talked about.”

  • Taiwan, Tibet, and religious freedom
    Taiwan urged to be more vocal in support of China-oppressed minorities / Focus Taiwan
    “Human rights activists from Uyghur and Tibet on Tuesday urged the Taiwanese government to engage more in public conversation about their struggle and offer tangible programs to support their democratic efforts.”
    Taiwan to donate $1 million to U.S. Religious Freedom Fund / Focus Taiwan
    “Taiwan announced Tuesday that it will donate US$1 million to a U.S.-initiated fund to help persecuted religious minorities around the world. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hsu Szu-chien (徐斯儉 Xú Sījiǎn) said at the conclusion of the first regional religious freedom forum co-organized by Taiwan and the U.S. that the government will donate US$200,000 each year over five years to help persecuted religious minorities around the world.”

  • Crushing Christianity
    Official head of China’s Protestant churches says religions must be purged of ‘Western influences’ / SCMP
    “The senior Chinese official who oversees state-sanctioned Christian churches has pledged to rid the faith in China of any Western ‘imprint’ and called for further ‘Sinicisation’ of religion.”

  • Beijing water shortage  
    Beijing’s thirst may be too much for water diversion project, adviser says / Caixin
    “Reliance on supplementary water from a major diversion project has slowed depletion of the capital’s reserves but threatens the supplies of other cities.”

  • Eating bitterness from the iron rice bowl
    Disillusioned bureaucrats are fleeing China’s ministries / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “Interviews with eight officials in China’s ministries and regional governments show growing dissatisfaction as the party tightens restrictions on its 7 million civil servants, traditionally known as cadres. All these officials either recently quit or plan to do so, and all requested anonymity to speak about sensitive matters.”

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

  • Visual arts
    Mapping Chinese memories / World of Chinese
    “Paper maps may sound antiquated in the digital era, but Qiū Zhìjié’s 邱志杰 attempt to map the world’s knowledge in his new solo exhibit at Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is anything but.”

  • Sexism on TV
    TV drama highlights gender discrimination in Chinese families / China Film Insider  
    “‘You’re a girl,’ the mother says, her tone dripping with bitterness. ‘How can you compare with your two elder brothers?’ Lines like this are why so many people in China are talking about ‘All Is Well’ [都挺好 dōu tǐng hǎo], a drama series whose sexist slights and subplots are all too relatable to female viewers.”


VIDEO ON SUPCHINA

A Chinese policeman dressed as a woman in a video goes viral

The 20-second video clip, released by police in Shunde, Guangdong, shows a police officer using makeup and women’s clothing to turn himself into a beautiful woman before he is arrested. The video was intended to raise awareness of online dating scams.

Hop on! Freeline skating is the new street sport

Skateboarding is a popular street sport among Chinese youngsters. It’s no surprise to see college kids traveling on campus with a four-wheel board anymore, but this girl from Guangdong Province is not an average skateboarder. June has gained more than 260K followers on Kuaishou, a Chinese social video platform, by showcasing her above-average freeline skating skills. She is capable of hopping, switching boards, and skating with one foot — watch all these impressive tricks yourself!  


FEATURED ON SUPCHINA

Chinese people don’t need to be saved from their English names

As a Singaporean with a Chinese name who’s spent half of her life living in places where most people don’t speak Chinese, Jing Xuan Teng has had a strange relationship with her name. She’s also given lots of thought to the practice, common for many Asians abroad, of adopting an English name. In this op-ed, Teng argues: Don’t assume that those who do it are seeking Western approval, don’t assume that people who use English names to assimilate don’t know the worth of their own culture, and don’t assume that unusual English names are the result of insufficient knowledge.


SINICA PODCAST NETWORK

Middle Earth: Episode #4: Movie co-production in China

Until the 1990s, Hollywood movies were making the vast majority of their revenue in English-speaking countries. Nowadays, these countries comprise only half the market. The main reason for the change is the appearance of new markets, including the most important one of all: China. What problems do foreign film professionals and their teams face while vying to tap into the Chinese market? How do cultural disparities and regulations fit into the equation? What is the current lay of the land in the Chinese film industry from the perspective of a director or a producer? In this episode, our guests provide their firsthand experience to answer these questions.


PHOTO OF THE DAY

Mini karaoke booths in Beijing

The Beijing Capital International Airport has installed many mini karaoke booths in the last few years. Customers scan a QR code via their mobile phone to activate the booths and sing. It usually costs around 58 yuan ($8.65) to 80 yuan ($12) for one hour of singing.

Jia Guo