A sweet TV gesture, signifying nothing

Access Archive

1. A sweet TV gesture, signifying nothing

Today, New York Times reporter Li Yuan tweeted:

After the Trump-Xi phone call yesterday, China’s official broadcaster decided that the Korean War movie Battle of Triangle Hill would no longer fit the mood. It showed Lover’s Grief Over the Yellow River — an American pilot fell for a Chinese guerrilla in WWII — this morning

And at least 24 hours after Xinhua News Agency’s website put a short article about the Xi-Trump phone call as its top story (English, Chinese), the brief note remains second from the top on both English- and Chinese-language versions. The article confirms that Xi and Trump will meet at the G20 summit in Osaka, on June 28–29.

In China, such media decisions are deliberate, and seem to send a clear signal of softening, or at the least, that China is willing to talk to the U.S. But I don’t hold out much hope of an easy resolution to the trade and tech war — there are too many countervailing signals. Such as this People’s Daily opinion piece, which is currently the top story on the website of the Party’s house paper: Can China swallow the bitter fruit of “if”? (in Chinese). Excerpt:

“If we didn’t propose Made in China 2025, if we did not implement the Thousand Talents Program, if we did not defend our rights in the South China Sea…” Since the outbreak of China-U.S. economic and trade frictions, there have always been voices arguing that “if” China had still “kept a low profile,” fully respecting the leadership of the United States, and not challenging the leadership of the United States, we could live in peace and happiness.

This seems to mean: “If China does not sit at the table to eat, the United States will not smash the table. The question is: Is it only the United States that is qualified to sit at the table and chew steak and drink red wine, while China can only hide in the cold corners of the room, nibbling on crumbs?…

…No foreign country should expect us to bargain over our core interests. Don’t expect us to swallow any bitter fruit that harms China’s sovereignty, security, or development interests.

The reason is very simple. Retreating on any issue that concerns China’s core interests means giving up the future of China’s development! On this issue, history will not allow any conjecture, we have no “if”!

The emphasis on China’s core concerns is telling: China may agree to buy some stuff and keep talking, but no one should expect any significant compromise when it comes to most of the demands being made in Washington.

Here are two other commentators who aren’t expecting much from the Xi-Trump meeting and any upcoming negotiations:

Taoran Notes (陶然笔记 táorán bǐjì), a WeChat account that appears to have close ties to the government (see Bloomberg story behind porous paywall) posted a note titled “Negotiating needs to be real, sincere negotiation” (in Chinese):

We should not have high expectations for the next round of talks…

I am afraid that only when the other side feels the economic and political pain caused by the trade war will they understand the logic [of China’s position]. It will take some time, but we have endurance and we are patient.

Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone chief executive “believes there is little reason to be hopeful about the prospect of a trade deal coming to fruition before the end of the month,” reports CNBC.

More news from the trade and tech war — day 349 by our count:

If no deal, U.S. likely to impose more tariffs on China  

“U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. is ready to place more tariffs on China if it can’t agree to a new trade deal,” reports ABC.

Ethnic profiling of Chinese in the U.S.

The Guardian reports:

Technology workers of Chinese descent say that they are experiencing backlash due to the US-China trade war and fears over Huawei, according to a survey commissioned by the Guardian through Blind, an app allowing anonymous workplace communication.

“With the trade war against China and especially the Huawei case I feel like a target more and more every day,” an anonymous Amazon employee wrote in a comment on the app, which is popular among technology employees and verifies employment through work emails.

China’s levers

  • “China has signaled its intention to not ‘weaponize’ the yuan’s exchange rate as a message of good faith ahead of next week’s meeting between President Xi Jinping and US counterpart Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Japan,” says the South China Morning Post.

  • “China reduced its holdings of U.S. government debt again in April even as Beijing’s gold reserves continued to grow, diversifying away from the dollar as ties with Washington fray,” according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

  • “China is ‘rolling out the red carpet for the rest of the world’ by lowering tariffs with other countries — even as its trade war with the U.S. continues to drag on, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics,” reports CNBC.

Supply chains moving out of China

  • “Apple has asked its major suppliers to evaluate the cost implications of shifting 15 to 30 percent of their production capacity from China to Southeast Asia as it prepares for a fundamental restructuring of its supply chain,” reports the Nikkei Asian Review.

  • “China’s got more competition now as info-tech exporter to the U.S,” says Bloomberg (porous paywall), with Vietnam, Taiwan, and Korea mentioned as leading tech suppliers.

Suffering American business

  • “Proposed tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese goods would include printed materials, which would especially affect Bibles and children’s books predominantly produced in China because of the unique paper, printing technology and skills needed,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall):

“We believe the administration was unaware of the potential negative impact these proposed tariffs would have on Bibles and that it never intended to impose ‘a Bible tax’ on consumers and religious organizations,” Mark Schoenwald, chief executive officer of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, told a panel of officials at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

Lawyers, consultants and recruiters say they’re busier than ever working with global financial companies trying to make the most out of China’s unprecedented opening of its banking, insurance and securities sectors. Questions range from the mundane, like how to find office space, to the more esoteric, like how to interpret senior officials’ rhetoric…

…“Clients are trying to figure out what heightened political tensions mean, but it certainly hasn’t dampened interest,” said Andrew Polk, founding partner of Beijing-based research company Trivium China. “Firms are looking at the next decade of business opportunity, and trying to get past the noise of the trade war.”

The country’s money markets have been shuddering since regulators took over Baoshang Bank Co. last month, despite initial assurances from the central bank and other authorities that they would maintain ample liquidity. While there has been little direct contagion, the seizure of the small commercial lender has hurt confidence. Funding costs for companies have shot up as large banks flinch from lending to some counterparties in the interbank market. For the first time in more than two decades, lenders face the prospect of defaults and haircuts on loans to other financial institutions, according to the Rhodium Group.

  • More on Baoshang in the May 31 Access newsletter: Who’s next after Baoshang Bank?

  • Samsung to move production out of China?
    Chinese fret as Samsung, other giants leave / Asia Times
    “Local officials and workers in China’s Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces may have to brace for lost revenue and jobs as Korean tech giant Samsung has reportedly decided to wind up its last production lines and leave the country for good…
    Statistics published by Huizhou’s municipal government give an insight into the impact of Samsung’s decision to relocate their factory: the city’s local fiscal revenue grew by a mere 2.8% in 2018, down from the 10% level a year earlier.”

  • Mini Harleys
    Harley-Davidson finds partner to make small motorcycles in China / WSJ (paywall)
    “Harley-Davidson Inc. is partnering with a manufacturer in China to make its smallest bike in decades for that fast-growing market, extending a strategy to build more motorcycles outside the U.S… Harley said Wednesday that the new bike will be manufactured by Qianjiang Motorcycle Co.”

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Another casualty of the crackdown is a proposed sequel to China’s all-time top-grossing domestic film, Wolf Warrior 2, about a Chinese mercenary whose advertising tagline was “whoever offends China will be hunted down wherever they are”.

In addition to military topics, government officials are worried by content that could be perceived as excessively patriotic, which could unnerve foreign audiences and damage China’s reputation abroad, according to three industry executives.

Aboriginal native title holders have staged a protest at a remote Kimberley cattle station, claiming the Chinese owners of the lease have destroyed their cultural sites in a major land-clearing operation.
The small group of Nyikina people, who have shared rights to the area, are blockading the entrance to Yakka Munga station, south of Derby, preventing contractors from entering. The protest follows concern over land clearing at the site by the owners of the pastoral lease, Shanghai Zenith (the Australian arm of Shanghai CRED) Investment Holding Pty Ltd.

  • Canadian vessel in Taiwan Strait
    Canadian warship makes rare passage through Taiwan Strait / Focus Taiwan
    “Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed Wednesday that a Canadian warship recently sailed through the Taiwan Strait, a rare move by a non-U.S. military vessel through the waterway that separates Taiwan and China.”

  • Taiwan: Harsher sentences for Chinese spies
    Taiwan strengthens security law under renewed Chinese threats / Deutsche Presse-Agentur via Straits Times
    “Taiwan on Wednesday (June 19) strengthened its national security law to give heavier punishments to those who undermine the self-governing island’s democracy under renewed threats from China. Under the amendment to the National Security Act, anyone assisting in the development of espionage rings for Beijing will be sentenced to prison for at least seven years and a fine of up to NT$100 million (S$4.3 million).”

  • The language of power
    The power to instruct / China Media Project

The new norm now is for the general secretary to issue “important instructions,” and for the premier to “make written comments.” The issuing of “important instructions” has now fully become a special right and privilege of Xi Jinping himself.

Frivolous though it may seem to some, this is much more than a word game. It reflects the political norms of Xi Jinping, and it goes to the very heart of Chinese politics today.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Yu Xiaodong was arrested after his wife told police that her husband had pushed her over the edge at a beauty spot in northeast Thailand Woman suffered multiple broken bones after falling 34 metres, but her unborn child survived the fall…

Charnchai said one line of inquiry was heavy debts Yu had incurred. His wife comes from a well-to-do family and holds all the couple’s assets in her name, but officers believe that she had upset her husband by only agreeing to pay off half his debts.

  • A blogger named Big Sister Ah in Thailand (阿姐在泰国 Ā Jiě zài tàiguó) notes (in Chinese):

This is not the first murder case [of this kind] in Thailand.

Last year’s sensational killing involved a man from Tianjin, Zhang Yifan, who bought life insurance for his wife for more than 30 million yuan. He took his wife and daughter to Phuket, Thailand, and killed his wife in a hotel. He lied to his in-laws that she drowned.

Why did they choose Thailand to commit their crimes? [Yu Xiaodong’s wife] said it herself: There are few people in Thailand, and there are fewer cameras. There are no witnesses. There is no death penalty. This has led to bringing your wife to Thailand to kill her becoming a thing.  


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