Manila scolds Beijing, again

Access Archive

1. South China Sea — Manila scolds Beijing, again

On April 2, Filipino President Duterte sustained the harmonious tune he has sung to Beijing since coming to power, calling China a “friend,” but on April 4, he finally went off-key.

After the island nation’s Department of Foreign Affairs called recent Chinese maritime activity around Thitu Island (a.k.a. Pag-asa, a.k.a. 中业岛 zhōng yè dǎo) “illegal” and “a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty,” Duterte himself weighed in on April 4:

I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pagasa because I have soldiers there. If you touch it, that’s a different story. I will tell the soldiers “prepare for suicide mission.”

Now in what the Philippine Star calls “another rare reproach of China,” the spokesperson for the Malacañan Palace — the equivalent of the White House — “called for a stop to harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese forces in waters within Philippine territory, warning it could sour ‘currently friendly relations’ between the two countries.”

“It is our principled stand that the peace in the West Philippine Sea should be maintained and that China should avoid performing acts that will place at risk the Filipino fishermen fishing in the disputed areas,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

He was reacting to a declaration by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lù Kāng 陆慷 that the Spratly Islands have always been part of China’s territory that it calls Nansha.

A number of Filipino officials as well as journalists and citizen protestors have criticized Beijing recently, with a noticeable uptick in April. Here are a few stories from the first two weeks of this month:

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. ‘Automated racism’ — software targets Uyghurs

In a front-page story in today’s New York Times print edition (link to newspaper front; link to story online), tech reporter Paul Mozur describes “the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling.” It is, of course, the facial recognition systems employed by security officials across China, and the race targeted is Uyghurs.

  • “Five people with direct knowledge of the systems” talked to the New York Times, which also “reviewed databases used by the police, government procurement documents and advertising materials distributed by the A.I. companies that make the systems.”

  • “Integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras,” the technology identifies Uyghurs and “keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review,” a practice that the Times says may usher in “a new era of automated racism.”

  • It’s not clear how many of China’s 11 million Uyghurs are being targeted at this stage, or where the technology has been implemented. But the Times says “police are now using facial recognition technology to target Uyghurs in wealthy eastern cities like Hangzhou and Wenzhou and across the coastal province of Fujian.” Elsewhere, authorities “in the central Chinese city of Sanmenxia, along the Yellow River, ran a system that over the course of a month this year screened whether residents were Uyghurs 500,000 times.”

  • Demand for the Uyghur identification tech is growing:

Almost two dozen police departments in 16 different provinces and regions across China sought such technology beginning in 2018, according to procurement documents. Law enforcement from the central province of Shaanxi, for example, aimed to acquire a smart camera system last year that “should support facial recognition to identify Uyghur/non-Uyghur attributes.”

  • Paul Mozur also posted a Twitter thread with some extra information on what he calls “a massive ethical leap for AI.” Besides ethnicity, he notes that facial recognition technology is being used to screen for “faces of the mentally ill, drug users, and petitioners,” among other groups.

  • SenseTime, one of five billion-dollar companies (Yitu, Megvii, SenseTime, CloudWalk, and Hikvision) mentioned in Mozur’s article that has worked on developing this technology, is now backing away from its most controversial application in Xinjiang. Commenting that this is “the first time a major Chinese technology [company] has opted out of operations in the region,” the Financial Times reports (paywall):

SenseTime, a facial recognition software company that supplies Chinese police, set up a “smart policing” company with Leon, a major supplier of data analysis and surveillance technology in Xinjiang, in November 2017.

It has now sold its 51 percent stake in the joint venture, Tangli Technology, to Leon, which said Tangli would continue with its strategy and that its research team had mastered key technologies.

Related stories:

In the confines of a cramped, dark room, Aigerim was kicked repeatedly in the stomach by a guard wearing heavy, metal-tipped boots. With her mouth taped shut and limbs chained, she couldn’t cry out in pain or block the blows.

When Chinese state authorities prepared to release Gulbahar Jelil, an ethnic Uyghur woman born and raised in Kazakhstan, they told her that she was forbidden to tell anyone about what she had experienced over the one year, three months, and 10 days in which she was detained…

She didn’t listen.

About 3,000 Uyghurs have found sanctuary in Australia. But as some of them draw attention to China’s camps, they are putting their adopted homeland in an awkward position, pressing it to speak out against its largest trading partner. More than a dozen Uyghurs who are Australian permanent residents are missing in China and presumed to be in detention, activists say.

—Lucas Niewenhuis

3. Trade war, day 284 — is the American line softening?

“I think we’re hopeful that we’re getting close to the final round of concluding issues,” Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said on Saturday, according to Reuters. The note of optimism had its desired effect, as “Asian equities began the week on a positive note…[and the] S&P 500 advanced 0.7% to take its year-to-date rally to 16%,” the Nikkei Asian Review reports (paywall).

But ever since Mnuchin was swiftly contradicted by President Trump in May 2018 on what was then supposed to be a deal to put a trade war “on hold,” Mnuchin has been considered an unreliable communicator on trade. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, possibly the most straight-talking official on the U.S. side, has avoided public comment in recent weeks, but has made “at least two phone conversations in recent days” with Liú Hè 刘鹤 to push for more concessions, the Financial Times reports. That pressure led to China proposing easing up some restrictions on foreign cloud-service providers.

Now multiple reports indicate that the American line is softening, or even becoming desperate for a deal that maximizes the gains from Trump’s perspective.

  • An enforcement mechanism for the deal “works in both directions,” Mnuchin specified this weekend, indicating that the Trump administration relented on its hardline demand that China allow the U.S. to unilaterally impose penalties without retaliation. Last week, he had only said that the mechanism was “pretty much agreed,” without going into details.

  • Demands to reduce state subsidies are being watered down: “U.S. negotiators have become resigned to securing less than they would like,” Reuters reports, and are instead focusing on issues that “include ending forced technology transfers, improving intellectual property protection and widening access to China’s markets.”

  • And China may shift tariffs away from farm goods, and toward other goods that hit constituencies less sensitive for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, Bloomberg reports (paywall). This U.S. request came as the Trump administration “doesn’t intend to lift its own duties on $50 billion of Chinese imports even if an agreement to resolve the trade war between the two nations is reached.”

Other news in U.S.-China relations:

The F.B.I. has mounted a counterintelligence operation that aims to bar Chinese academics from the United States if they are suspected of having links to Chinese intelligence agencies. As many as 30 Chinese professors in the social sciences, heads of academic institutes, and experts who help explain government policies have had their visas to the United States canceled in the past year, or put on administrative review, according to Chinese academics and their American counterparts.

  • Ankit Panda on Twitter: “We’re in a bad place for intellectual exchange between American and Chinese scholars/experts on American/Chinese soil right now… What we’ll increasingly see is track-two US-China exchanges move off American/Chinese soil entirely to neutral-ish third party country hosts.”

  • IP theft and the silence of American companies
    As China hacked, U.S. businesses turned a blind eye / NPR

An investigation by NPR and the PBS television show Frontline into why three successive administrations failed to stop cyberhacking from China found an unlikely obstacle for the government — the victims themselves.

In dozens of interviews with U.S. government and business representatives, officials involved in commerce with China said hacking and theft were an open secret for almost two decades, allowed to quietly continue because U.S. companies had too much money at stake to make waves.

—Lucas Niewenhuis

4. No short skirts on campus?  

A college in Jilin has enforced a dress code (in Chinese) that bans students from wearing skirts above the knees and sleeveless tops on campus. The rules sparked a heated debate online about whether the school went too far in regulating students’ attire and whether the ban unfairly targets female students.

According to many anonymous internet users who contacted the media to complain about the policies, the dress code was introduced by the School of International Business at Jilin International Studies University. In addition to the ban on miniskirts and sleeveless tops, the school barred students from dying and coloring their hair, wearing nail polish, putting on accessories like earrings, and being dressed in ripped jeans.

“How could such policies exist?” one person wrote in a private message sent to btime.com, a Beijing-based online news outlet. “Should we female students start binding our feet?”

For more on this, please click through to SupChina.

—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:

  • Women and video games
    Chinese women in video games leveling up / Jing Daily
    If not half the sky, women apparently hold half of the joysticks in China:

    • Nearly half of all players in China’s $16.4 billion mobile gaming industry are women.

    • “China’s video game industry has recognized the purchasing power and potential of women as a driving force and has been proactive in gender inclusivity across areas such as game design, storylines and social media advertising.”

    • Two of China’s most popular mobile games in the last year are Love and Producer and Travel Frog, both targeted at women.

  • Electric vehicles and batteries
    Volkswagen plans to take on Tesla’s Model X in China / CNBC
    “Volkswagen plans to build a fully electric sports utility vehicle (SUV) for China from 2021, taking on the Chinese market leader Tesla’s Model X as the German carmaker ramps up production of zero emissions vehicles.”
    Nissan Leaf’s battery supplier builds first China factory / Bloomberg (porous paywall)

The battery maker for Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf vehicles is adding a factory in China to more than triple its global capacity and lure more customers in the world’s biggest electric-vehicle market.

Automotive Energy Supply Corp. began construction of the factory in Wuxi in China’s eastern Jiangsu Province this year with a planned annual capacity of 20 gigawatt-hours, enough to power 400,000 electric cars a year.

Richard Liu (刘强东 Liú Qiángdōng), the founder and CEO of JD.com, sent a note to JD Logistics employees early Monday, calling for unity and cooperation from delivery drivers at a crucial time for the company.

According to an internal letter obtained by Chinese media, the e-commerce firm’s logistics arm recorded net losses exceeding 2.3 billion yuan ($343 million) in 2018. If costs from internal platform, JD mall, are included, that widens to RMB 2.8 billion ($420 million).

China’s next tech star is already a darling in Africa. Little-known Shenzhen Transsion [传音 chuán yīn] stands out among those waiting to list on Shanghai’s new board. The Chinese handset-maker has strong Belt and Road credentials as the top brand in the last frontier. With striking similarities to the $40 billion Xiaomi, there’s plenty to get excited about.

The company founded by Zhú Zhàojiāng 竺兆江 has quietly emerged as Africa’s top handset seller, besting the likes of South Korea’s $272 billion titan, Samsung Electronics, as well as Chinese compatriots from Huawei to Xiaomi. Known for cut-price entry-level devices costing as little as $10, Transsion accounted for nearly half of Africa’s 215 million mobile phone shipments last year, according to research firm IDC.

At a recent AI conference in Hefei, Anhui Province, selfie and social app-maker Meitu unveiled a new open platform targeted at individual developers and enterprises. The move is line with Meitu’s recent efforts to focus on software development and move away from a loss-making smartphone business.

The services will be targeted at cosmetics retailers, a sector Meitu has partnered with in the past, as well as enterprise and internet services businesses.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

One of the world’s rarest turtles, a Yangtze giant softshell, has died in China, leaving just three known survivors of the species.

The female turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) died in Suzhou zoo in southern China.

Experts had tried to artificially inseminate the creature, which was over 90 years old, for a fifth time shortly before she died.

One male, estimated to be more than 100 years old, is left in the Chinese zoo while two other turtles live in the wild in Vietnam. The elusive nature of the turtle means it has been difficult to identify the gender of the pair…

…The Yangtze giant softshell turtles thrive in muddy water and can weigh up to 90 kg (200 pounds).

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

The Communist Youth League (CYL) announced this week that more than 10 million young volunteers will be “mobilized” to help “promote cultural, technological and medical development in rural areas by 2020” and to fill in the vacuum in villages created by the outflow of “talented and young workers.”

Eminent historian of modern China Zhāng Lìfán 章立凡 said while speaking to the Hindustan Times that the new decision — like the decision taken by Mao five decades ago — could have been prompted by the economic situation.

“I commented during the Two Sessions (Parliament session in March) this year that the biggest problem in China at the moment is employment. The Sino-US trade war and changes in economic structure have led to the collapse of a large number of enterprises. The so-called ‘farmers returning to the countryside to start a business’ argument is to cover up unemployment,” Zhang, considered an outspoken critic, said.

“This year’s college graduates of 8.6 million (the number was 8.2 million last year) were unable to find employment and have to get to the countryside. In the Cultural Revolution, it was also because of the fact that there were tens of millions who could not find employment,” he added.

More than 300 people gathered in a city in eastern China on Monday to pay their respects to Hú Yàobāng 胡耀邦, the former Communist Party leader whose life, and death 30 years ago, transformed the nation. While there were no official commemorative events for the icon of political reform, whose death sparked the 1989 pro-democracy movement and subsequent military crackdown, the anniversary was marked in a memorial in Gongqingcheng, Jiangxi Province.

Is it possible that China has military designs on the Arctic?…

Available evidence and simple deductive logic suggest that skepticism is warranted concerning the…question above. And yet it must be admitted now that Beijing’s interest in the Arctic is something more than a passing fancy. Two announcements from Beijing during the course of 2018 implied that the issue was assuming new significance within China’s overall foreign policy. First, there was the “White Paper” on China’s Arctic policy that elevated the approach to the “Polar Silk Road” strategy. Next, came the “bombshell” that China intends to build a nuclear icebreaker.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

The ancients who proclaimed “the young never come to Sichuan, the old never leave” (少不入川老不出蜀 shào bù rùchuān lǎo bù chūshǔ) clearly predated an era of all-night raves and high-rise buildings. The proud, open-minded capital Chengdu is both spicy and sincere, and now, in an era of immense mobility and connectivity, the city has become a bubbling hotbed of creative music culture.

A seven-year-old boy with cerebral palsy was abandoned at a hospital in eastern China last week, with cash and a letter from his mother sewn into his coat. In the unsigned letter, his mother said she had abandoned her son because she could no longer bear the financial and psychological stress of raising him.

  • More on the “Trump on Show” opera in Hong Kong
    Donald Trump takes center stage — as star of new Cantonese opera / SCMP
    The article contains a video with clips from the show.

  • Photos: Mountains of Guizhou
    A photo visit to Mount Fanjing / The Atlantic
    “Fanjingshan is part of the Wuling mountain range in southwestern China’s Guizhou Province. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site last year, the mountain is home to a conservation area, a nature reserve, and a number of Buddhist temples.”


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Kuora: Stereotypes of China’s provinces: A poem by Kaiser Kuo

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Friday Song: Erguna Band, the Inner Mongolian folk band that went mainstream

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Sinica Early Access: Mark Rowswell a.k.a. Dashan Live at the Bookworm Literary Festival

China’s most famous Canadian, Mark Rowswell, became famous – or at least “feimerse” – after appearing in the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV in 1990. In recent years, he’s pioneered a hybrid between the xiangsheng (相声 xiàngsheng; crosstalk) for which he’s known and Western-style stand-up comedy. Mark joined Anthony Tao and David Moser at the storied Bookworm on the final night of the Bookworm Literary Festival on March 30 to talk about the Chinese language, comedy, and the difficulties of Chinese soft power.

  • Sinica Early Access is an ad-free, full-length preview of this week’s Sinica Podcast, exclusively for SupChina Access members. Listen by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app.

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 83

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: U.S.-China trade talks, China’s relaxation of hukou rules, Hong Kong’s expensive housing market, a libel case filed by developer SOHO China, Doug Young on some IPO news from China, and more.