India blocks TikTok

Access Archive

1. Worried about Chinese influence, India blocks TikTok  

The Economic Times of India reports that India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has asked Google and Apple to take down popular short-video app TikTok from their stores. TikTok is a product of Beijing-based Bytedance, more famous in China for its news aggregator app Jinri Toutiao. TikTok and another Bytedance app, Helo, are both popular in India.

  • The ban on TikTok will “stop further downloads of the application, but people who have already downloaded it will be able to continue using it on their smartphones.”

  • Media companies are prohibited from “telecasting the videos made using the application.”

  • India’s Supreme Court was not swayed last week by arguments from Bytedance’s lawyers that TikTok should “not be held liable for actions of third parties on the platform,” and that its app was “like any other social media platform,” so singling it out was “discriminatory and arbitrary.” Bytedance also claimed that the “‘disproportionate’ ban has resulted in infringement of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.”

  • Bytedance says that last week it “removed over 6 million videos that violated its terms of use and community guidelines, following an exhaustive review of content generated by its users in India.”

  • Why the ban? Some of the reporting from India focuses on fears that TikTok may be used by sexual predators to lure underage victims, but the main worry is about political interference. The South China Morning Post notes:

    [T]he Delhi state unit of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) complained to the country’s Election Commission on March 29 that ByteDance, which it identified as a Chinese company, was “interfering in the Indian election process through its social media applications.”

    The BJP cited Facebook’s takedown of 11,000 advertisements from another of the company’s apps — Helo — for violation of its rules concerning transparency in political spending. Helo’s adverts featured doctored images of politicians accompanied by sensationalized text.

    India’s move follows a similar one in Taiwan, per this March 29 report in the Nikkei Asian Review:

    Taiwan is cracking down on video streaming services of Chinese tech giants Baidu and Tencent Holdings, citing national security and propaganda concerns ahead of a presidential election next year.

    [The] deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council told the Nikkei Asian Review on Thursday that Taiwan is likely to ban Baidu’s popular iQiyi platform, and block Tencent’s plan to bring its streaming service to the island later this year.

    “We are concerned that streaming media services that have close ties with Beijing could have cultural and political influences in Taiwan…and even affect Taiwan’s elections.”

    When we linked to this story in March, we asked: “Is this the first time a democracy will try to block Chinese online media for purely political reasons?”

    Now we have example number two. The balkanization of the internet proceeds apace!

    —Jeremy Goldkorn

    2. Women in China are becoming a powerful force in home buying

    Although the gender pay gap remains a persistent problem in China, where women on average earn 16 percent less than their male counterparts, Chinese women are becoming an increasingly powerful force in the country’s housing market.

    About 46.7 percent of all homebuyers were women in 2018, according to a report (in Chinese) released by the real-estate broker platform Beike Zhaofang 贝壳找房, which surveyed thousands of women aged 18 to 50 in 12 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan. This is a dramatic increase: In 2016, women only accounted for 5 percent of all home purchases.

    The report also sheds some light on the growing purchase power of single women over 30. Among this demographic group, 47.1 percent of them have bought their own homes. More than one-third pulled off a home purchase without a loan and 23.4 percent own more than two properties.

    For details, please click through to SupChina.

    —Jiayun Feng

    3. Who owns Huawei? Not its employees, says research paper

    Huawei’s 2018 Annual Report states:

    Huawei is a private company wholly owned by its employees…we implement an Employee Shareholding Scheme that involves 96,768 employee shareholders.

    A new research paper by George Washington University professor Donald Clarke and Christopher Balding of Fulbright University Vietnam argues that this framing of Huawei’s ownership is misleading. The paper’s conclusions include:

    • Huawei technologies is “100 percent owned by a holding company, which is in turn approximately 1 percent owned [“nearly 1.14 percent” owned, according to the 2018 report] by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and 99 percent owned by an entity called a ‘trade union committee’ for the holding company.” The company ownership flowchart would then look like this:

    • The “trade union committee” is completely mysterious. But, the authors argue, this means that it is not unthinkable that Huawei is secretly state-owned: “Given the public nature of trade unions in China, if the ownership stake of the trade union committee is genuine, and if the trade union and its committee function as trade unions generally function in China, then Huawei may be deemed effectively state-owned.”

    That’s quite speculative. But the paper’s specific findings on how “employee ownership” works at Huawei are not. Clarke and Balding reviewed a variety of Chinese media reports about Huawei’s more than 20-year history, corporate records, and legal disputes concerning Huawei employees, and found a surprising amount of agreement on these points:

    Employees of companies in the Huawei group do not own actual stock either in Huawei Tech or in Huawei Holding. Instead, they possess, via contract, a kind of virtual stock that allows them a share in the profits. But this virtual stock is a contract right, not a property right; it gives the holder no voting power in either Huawei Tech or Huawei Holding, cannot be transferred, and is cancelled when the employee leaves the firm, subject to a redemption payment from Huawei Holding TUC at a low fixed price. At present, this virtual stock ownership has nothing to do with financing or control. It is purely a profit-sharing incentive scheme.

    Other Huawei news today:

    “Until today, only one commercial contract for 5G is from China, and that’s in Hong Kong,” said Yang Chaobin, president of Huawei’s 5G product line. “In the mainland, although we’ve done a lot of trials . . . these are not commercial contracts.”

    Huawei said 23 of its 5G contracts were from Europe, 10 from the Middle East, six from Asia and one from Africa.

    —Lucas Niewenhuis

    4. One in seven top U.S.-based AI researchers are from China

    At MacroPolo, Joy Dantong Ma compiles some interesting numbers on the race for talent in artificial intelligence research. She finds that when it comes to the very top researchers in the field — as represented by the attendees of the 2018 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, which is “arguably the most selective and prestigious academic conference in the AI field” — U.S.-based researchers absolutely dominate the list.

    • However, “more than half of the top AI talent pool in America (38 out of 68) is composed of foreign nationals who chose to work in the United States.”

    • And a quarter of those are Chinese: “Most interestingly, when examining the country of origin of these immigrant scientists, the largest supply comes from none other than America’s supposed rival in the AI race: China. In fact, of the 10 Chinese nationals who were awarded oral presentations at NIPS 2018, nine are already in the United States and the last one is coming in a matter of months to attend graduate school.”

    That means about one in seven of the top 68 AI researchers in the United States right now are from China. Who are they, and what does this mean? Ma concludes her analysis:

    Out of this group of 10 Chinese nationals, five have already earned their graduate degrees and have all decided to stay in America. The strong preference for staying in America applies beyond Chinese AI scientists: among all foreign nationals in this cohort of top AI scientists, 87% began work for an American institution after earning their PhDs.

    America’s longstanding ability to import top global talent — in this case AI scientists — is built on maintaining an open economy and society. That openness is a clear advantage rarely mentioned amid the drumbeat of “US-China tech cold war” rhetoric. It is a testament to America’s deep reserve of soft power that no other country comes even close…

    If America loses its openness edge, then what used to be the final destination for global AI talent will turn into a way station that pushes them right back into the arms of the country’s competitors in the AI race, including China.

    —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


    BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

    Chinese short video app Kuaishou on Tuesday launched its new research arm, Kuaishou Social Impact Institute, that will explore the potential of internet technology in alleviating poverty…

    …The company said rural users of the short video app, which now has 160 million daily active users (DAUs), generated around $2.8 billion in revenue in 2018. Overall, 16 million users have earned an income on the platform.

    The value of medical and healthcare products China imported last year decreased for the first time in “many years” to about $50.43 billion, down by 9.75 percent year-on-year, according to a report released by the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicine and Health Products.

    Business insiders said the cause of the decrease is mainly the lower average price of imported medicine due to intensified competition among pharmaceutical companies, rather than changes in import volume.

    Sixty years ago, a group of the then Soviet experts arrived in Beijing to help dig the first metro railway in China. Today, Chinese construction workers are in Moscow helping build the city’s newest underground line. The project is being undertaken by China Railway Construction Corp, a State-owned construction firm, which won the bids for building the southwestern sector of the Moscow metro railway and station projects in 2017.

    SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

    • Sichuan forest fire is finally extinguished
      After rekindling, forest fire put out in Liangshan, SW China / CGTN
      The forest fire that killed 30 firefighters in Muli County in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, has been extinguished, according to the local fire department.

    • Gene-edited babies
      Gene-edited babies: What a Chinese scientist told an American mentor / NYT (porous paywall)
      “Stanford is investigating Stephen Quake, a professor of biotechnology, because of his interaction with Hè Jiànkuí 贺建奎, the scientist behind the first gene-edited babies. ‘I hold myself to high ethical standards,’ said Dr. Quake, who was once Dr. He’s academic adviser.”

    • Addicted to coal
      China adds coal capacity despite pledge to cut / Radio Free Asia
      “After years of cutting overcapacity in the coal industry, China appears to be reversing course, raising environmental concerns as the government spurs economic growth. On March 26, Reuters reported that China added 194 million metric tons of coal production capacity last year.”

    • Fertility treatments
      Mainland’s first test-tube baby now a mother / Xinhua

    Thirty-one years after her birth via external fertilization and embryo transplantation, Zhèng Méngzhū 郑萌珠, who was China’s first test-tube baby, gave birth yesterday in a Beijing hospital… Zheng was born on March 10, 1988, in the same hospital…10 years after the first such baby was born in Britain.

    Now about one to two babies in every 100 newborns [in China] are born with assisted reproductive technology.

    POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

    Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜 Hán Guóyú), a once–washed-up former legislator, shocked this island of 23 million last year by beating out the early favorite to become the mayor of Kaohsiung — an office that, in American terms, has the same political currency as that of the governor of Texas or Florida…

    Han has not officially said that he will run, but he has already enchanted much of the Taiwanese electorate, and has a good chance of becoming Taiwan’s next president…

    In Han, Beijing appears to have found its preferred candidate for Taiwan’s presidency.

    In early 1970, Isa Yusuf Alptekin, a prominent Uyghur Muslim exile who left China in 1949 following the Communist takeover, began a global campaign to raise awareness about the plight of Xinjiang’s people. Alptekin found a staunch ally in John M. Murphy, a Democratic congressman from New York…

    …Encouraged by this initial burst of American support, Alptekin wrote a letter to President Richard Nixon that described the “embarrassing and urgent” situation in Xinjiang and requested U.S. assistance. Claiming that China was intent on the “annihilation and assimilation of non-Chinese peoples” in Xinjiang, Alptekin stated that the Uyghur people “expect support for their righteous cause from the free nations of the world in general and the United States of America in particular.”…

    …Although Murphy transmitted the letter to the White House on Alptekin’s behalf (along with a broader appeal by Alptekin addressed to the “nations of the free world”), it is doubtful that it ever reached Nixon’s desk. State Department officials, and likely national security adviser Henry Kissinger, saw Alptekin’s requests as unfeasible to fulfill.

    • Thought control in the classroom, and behind bars
      Beijing announces monthly ‘political reform day’ for prisoners / Sixth Tone
      “On the first Saturday of each month…inmates in the capital will watch news broadcasts, participate in flag-raising ceremonies, sing patriotic songs, read ‘Red classics,’ discuss current events, and attend at least three hours’ worth of lectures.”
      The article was taken down, but Sixth Tone editor David Paulk posted a screenshot on Twitter.
      Military study at colleges to be reinforced / China Daily
      “China’s education and defense authorities have revised a set of guidelines on military courses for university students to improve their knowledge and skills, the Ministry of Education announced on Friday.”
      Security education day extended to more students / China Daily
      “Schools across China launched programs to raise awareness of national security issues on the country’s fourth National Security Education Day on Monday.”

    • Twitter crackdown
      Chinese authorities step up crackdown on Twitter users / FT (paywall)
      “Dozens of citizens have been contacted since last year and have been threatened, detained or warned for their Twitter posts. Recent cases suggest that the Chinese authorities are punishing users for even minor actions, such as having an account or retweeting content.”

    • Censorship in Ireland
      Council offered to censor politically sensitive Chinese New Year events / Irish Times

    Dublin City Council offered to censor topics politically sensitive to Beijing from its Chinese New Year festival last year, following pressure from the Chinese embassy.

    The embassy raised objections with the council over a talk on the Chinese famine of 1959 by a Trinity College Dublin academic.

    Following lobbying from the embassy, council staff had the name of the lecture changed to remove a reference to Chairman Mao.

    SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

    In his 2009 exhibition Waste Not, artist Sòng Dōng 宋冬 packed two shipping containers with over 10,000 seemingly useless items his mother had hoarded in her Beijing apartment to exhibit in London’s Barbican and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

    Quoting a Chinese proverb, 物盡其用 (wùjìnqíyòng, “make exhaustive use of everything”), Song said he believed hoarding was not only “the guideline of my mother’s life, but it is also the portrayal of a whole generation of Chinese people” deeply affected by the scarcities of the 1960s and 70s.

    Six years on, Zhengyang is now just one of 14 children aged 5 to 11 that train, perform, and live together as members of Li’s acrobatic troupe. China’s globe-trotting state acrobatic troupes are internationally renowned, but the country is also home to many small, family-based troupes such as Li’s — which were how acrobats passed on their skills for centuries — that still train and perform in rural areas…

    …Troupe heads such as Li maintain that their groups serve as a free, self-sustaining means for disadvantaged children to secure glittering livelihoods as acrobats — as well as a caring home. But such groups have become increasingly controversial as China has modernized: Critics argue they are exploitative, unprofessional, dangerous, and offer rural children a less effective career path than school


    SINICA PODCAST NETWORK

    Middle Earth, episode 7: Modern-day Chinese fortune-telling

    In case traveling to the nearest Chinese temple may be a bit inconvenient, modern-day Chinese astrologers still have you covered — inevitably, there’s an app for that! In this episode, astrologer Wen Jun explains how she works, the kinds of clients who seek her out, the differences between Chinese and Western astrology, and other aspects of fortune-telling in the modern age.