New Zealand calls on China to respect freedom of speech

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Things are gloomy: In today’s newsletter, we suggest that a global recession is likely. But on the bright side, we published a story by Jiayun Feng on new Budweiser promotional packaging for Qīxì 七夕 — a.k.a. Chinese Valentine’s Day — that features same-sex couples. Read the whole thing on SupChina.com or in summary below. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn and team


1. Kiwi government calls on China to respect freedom of speech in New Zealand  

On August 1, China’s consulate general in Auckland released a statement praising the “spontaneous patriotism” of pro-Beijing students who reportedly manhandled a Hong Kong-supporting protester at a demonstration at the University of Auckland.

The New Zealand government “rebuked China” at an August 5 meeting between Kiwi foreign affairs officials and Chinese diplomats, according to Newsroom. The officials emphasized that “freedom of expression would be upheld and maintained, which included on university campuses.” 

Is New Zealand getting tougher on China? Newsroom suggests, “Along with New Zealand adding its name to a public letter regarding the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, this public reproach seems to signal a change” in the government’s approach to China.

Both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters have since publicly backed calls for the Chinese government to respect freedom of speech, according to the New Zealand Herald

In related and scary news from Australia: the Sydney Morning Herald reports that “Chinese authorities approached the family of an international student who participated in high-profile protests at an Australian university and warned his parents of the potential consequences of political dissent.”

2. Hope for Hong Kong? 

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office gave a press conference where he warned Hong Kong protesters that if they play with fire they will be incinerated (see yesterday’s newsletter). 

Today, as protesters continue to seethe, Zhāng Xiǎomíng 张晓明, the top official at the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, and the central government’s most senior representative in Hong Kong, and more than 550 people held a meeting in Shenzhen to discuss the situation. From Xinhua

[Zhang] said the central authorities will never sit by if the situation in Hong Kong worsens to a turmoil that the SAR government can not control.

“According to the Basic Law (of the HKSAR), the central authorities have ample methods as well as sufficient strength to promptly settle any possible turmoil should it occur,” he said.

As many people in Hong Kong have pointed out, the ordinance amendment issues have changed in their essence, and now bear the features of a “color revolution,” Zhang said.

This does not leave much room for optimism, nor does this statement from reliably pro-Beijing South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo: “My guess is that Hong Kong police have been given unconditional support and carte blanche to suppress unrest and protests without the fear of subsequent punishment.”

But here is a Hong Konger who still sees hope: Cheah Cheng Hye (謝清海 Xiè Qīnghǎi). As an enormously successful fund manager, he is certainly part of the city’s elite, but this is not the kind of argument you hear often from that quarter: In the South China Morning Post, Cheah writes that the turmoil in the city “gives Hong Kong its best chance for badly needed political and economic reforms since 1997.”

A solution would allow Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong, through a system of one man, one vote, and direct elections for the position of chief executive. Such a change would vastly strengthen stability and the government’s legitimacy, making it easier to push aside vested interests standing in the way of urgently needed social and economic reforms.

This provides a way out of the crisis, which is social, economic and political in nature. As a reminder, Beijing is not opposed to universal suffrage in Hong Kong…

We should explore anew how much further we can go with Hong Kong democracy before we reach the limits imposed by “one country, two systems”. From Beijing’s perspective, two red lines must not be crossed: a declaration of independence and the use of Hong Kong as a base for subversion on the mainland.

Finally, veteran Hong Kong commentator Lee Yee (李怡 Lǐ Yí) offers an explanation of the protest slogan “Restore Hong Kong, revolution of our times” (光復香港, 時代革命 guāngfù xiānggǎng shídài gémìng), in translation on China Heritage:

Revolution does not have to be about replacing a dynasty or overturning a political regime; nor is it necessarily about violence and bloodshed. 

‘Revolution of Our Times’ in Hong Kong is about a fundamental change in the political direction of the city, one that is presently being imposed by the Beijing and Hong Kong Communist authorities; their direction is moving against the long-agreed One Country, Two Systems political arrangements in the territory.

3. The coming Trump recession?

“Donald Trump’s trade war with China is spiraling out of control” says John Cassidy in the New Yorker (porous paywall), which seems about right. Cassidy cites a tweet from Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist who served as the director of the National Economic Council during the first Obama administration: 

We may well be at the most dangerous financial moment since the 2009 Financial Crisis with current developments between the US and China.

It’s day 398 of the U.S.-China techno-trade war by our count. No end is in sight, and a global recession is looking more likely by the day: See this summary on Barron’s of comments from analysts at big Wall Street banks. 

On that cheery note, here’s the day’s news:

  • The U.S. has slapped new tariffs on $4.4 billion of wooden cabinets imported from China, according to Bloomberg (porous paywall). The move was in response to a petition from the American Kitchen Cabinet Alliance.

  • Investments by American pension funds and college endowments into the high-growth Chinese tech sector are coming under scrutiny for “helping fund the rise” of China’s technology companies, reports Bloomberg (porous paywall). Bloomberg isn’t the first to highlight this, however: BuzzFeed News reported in May that US money is funding the technology behind China’s surveillance state

  • “New McCarthyism feared in U.S. academy” is the title of a compilation of links and reporting on racial profiling and unfair scrutiny of Chinese students, scientists, and scholars on China Digital Times. See also our own Sinophobia Tracker

  • The U.S. might sanction China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the country’s largest oil company, for buying Iranian oil, according to Oilprice.com via Yahoo.

  • China’s major state-owned banks have been supporting the yuan to slow the currency’s decline, reports Reuters. The report cites a note from S&P Global Ratings: “We believe China will manage the pace but not the direction of change for the renminbi.” 

  • “China is ‘blackmailing’ India into using Huawei for its 5G infrastructure, an influential U.S. Congressman [Jim Banks] alleged Tuesday, even as Beijing hoped that New Delhi will not succumb to any pressure from America,” according to the Hindustan Times.

4. Chinese internet loves Budweiser packaging featuring same-sex couples

It’s Chinese Valentine’s Day or Qīxì 七夕 and we all know what that means: flowers, chocolates, and major brands trying to cash in on this highly popular holiday by putting out some lovey-dovey commercials. But this year, American beer company Budweiser has boldly refreshed the annual corporate tradition by featuring same-sex couples in its marketing messages and packaging.

The reaction online was overwhelmingly positive, with Weibo users remarking on how refreshing and encouraging it is to see ad campaigns featuring same-sex couples in this time of year. “OMG this is so cool,” one Weibo user commented (in Chinese).

5. A plea for rule of law on state-owned website

The Paper is a news website that resembles a lively current affairs site from a country with an uncensored internet, and sometimes breaks interesting stories. Like its sister English site, Sixth Tone, The Paper is ultimately controlled by the Communist Party’s Shanghai branch so there is a strict limit to how interesting the stories can get, but here is one worth reading.

First the context on Sixth Tone: A petitioner named Lǐ Xiùjuān 李秀娟 has become famous on Chinese social media, after alleging that Feng County police detained and beat her to prevent her from petitioning the central government over an injury her daughter suffered at school.

Here’s the interesting piece translated from The Paper: In a piece that describes the legal and practical dimensions of petitioning, law professor Luō Xiáng 罗翔 concludes with the hope “that the tragedies of the past are not repeated, and that one day we’ll see a rule of law that provides security and respect to all ordinary people.” 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


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BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

  • Kiwi-Chinese milk goes sour
    Dairy giant Fonterra winds down broken marriage with Beingmate / Caixin (paywall)
    “New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra said on Wednesday it will start to sell down its stake in longtime China partner Beingmate, once one of China’s most promising peers in the sector, in the final stages of a divorce between the pair over management differences.”

  • Foxconn to sell LCD plant
    Foxconn’s Terry Gou plans to sell $8.5 billion LCD production line / Caixin (paywall)
    Last week, Reuters reported that Taiwan’s Foxconn is mulling over selling its LCD production plant in China. Now Caixin confirms a sale is in the works. 

  • Record insider trading penalty
    When insider trading doesn’t pay / Caixin (paywall)
    China Securities Regulatory Commission has imposed its largest ever penalty on an individual for insider trading, Caixin reports. The investor “used the stock accounts of acquaintances to buy shares in a listed company planning a major acquisition.” He was ordered to hand over his illegal profits of 197 million yuan ($28 million) and pay a fine of the same amount.

  • Top-down tech investment in chips
    China’s AI chip startups — how many will survive? / TechNode
    Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent are investing heavily into chip startups, with long-term consequences for the industry. Technode writes, “This vertical integration is not just a threat to startups but also to traditional chip designers that previously considered internet companies their customers. This dynamic will shape the industry in both regions for years to come.”

  • Fighting fake wines with blockchain 
    VeChain tapped to provide transparency for China’s wine trade / CoinDesk
    In an effort to combat counterfeit wines, VeChain, a public blockchain project, is partnering with Shanghai Waigaoqiao Direct Imported Goods Co (D.I.G.) to create an authentication system where legitimate goods can be traced and verified. 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

A secretive Chinese nationalist group — best known for its internet trolling attacks — has stepped up its online information war in recent weeks, spreading pro-China memes and targeting supporters of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests in so-called “battle expeditions.”

In the face of mounting pressure on personal freedom, Chinese internet users appear to be trying more actively to push back against tightening digital surveillance from Beijing. 

On both Chinese and foreign websites, discussions, tips and software hacks to combat the government’s grip over cyberspace have picked up in recent months. 

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

  • Breastfeeding in Hong Kong
    We know breastfeeding is a good thing – so why does Hong Kong need to dedicate a week to it? / HKFP
    The benefits of breastfeeding are well established, but only 27.9 percent of mothers in Hong Kong give their babies the “recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding.” Reasons for the low number include the formula milk industry, which “has spent decades undermining breastfeeding,” and lack of acceptance by society: “UNICEF says some 40 percent of women nursing in public in Hong Kong endure complaints or unpleasant experiences.”

  • A very un-filial affair
    China tycoon fights daughter in lawsuits depicting knife violence, fraud / SCMP
    Lǐ Jiànhuá 李建华, a former Chinese politician and head of Guangdong Weihua Group, is battling his daughter in Canadian courts over a vast real estate fortune in Vancouver. She’s alleging her father committed fraud and “attacked her while brandishing a knife, as he ‘forcefully’ prevented his cancer-stricken wife…from writing a will in [her] favor in May 2013.”

  • China’s child models
    China’s child modeling industry booms amid controversy / AFP via Yahoo
    The kids’ apparel market in China was worth more than $40.5 billion in 2018. Marketing all those clothes requires vast numbers of photos of child models. The demand feeds a growing industry, which “insiders warn leaves minors vulnerable to physical abuse, 12-hour days and unrelenting pressure from pushy parents.” 


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