Barack and Michelle Obama’s ‘American Factory’

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Dear Access member,

Sidney Rittenberg was an American soldier who stayed in China after the Second World War and became the first American member of the Chinese Communist Party and an advisor to the Party. He also spent 16 years in solitary confinement. He died over the weekend aged 98. 

Kaiser and I did a two-part Sinica Podcast interview with Rittenberg in 2017: Listen here: An interview with a revolutionary and Sidney Rittenberg on solitary confinement and more

Our word of the day is “American Factory” (美国工厂 měiguó gōngchǎng).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


1. Barack and Michelle Obama’s ‘American Factory’ 

Released on August 21, American Factory is the first documentary produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground. It’s an absolute must-see for anyone interested in the state of U.S.-China relations, American economic competitiveness, or the future of work. 

Following over three years the vicissitudes of Fuyao Glass America — opened on the grounds of a shuttered GM plant outside Dayton, Ohio, by a Chinese auto glass maker — American Factory is a superbly done documentary. In its even-handed, meticulously fair approach it manages to surface all the complexity of the endeavor — the good intentions of so many parties, the yawning cultural chasm dividing Chinese and American enterprise culture and workers, the massive blindspots on both sides. It’s not to be missed.

See also: ‘American Factory’: What Chinese see when they watch China go to Ohio on Inkstone.

—Kaiser Kuo

2. A weekend of street clashes in Hong Kong

Protests continued today: “Hong Kong riot police dispersed anti-government protesters who had gathered and pointed laser beams at a police station late on Monday,” reports the South China Morning Post

This came after a weekend of what one observer called “urban warfare” as police brandished firearms, and shot teargas and water cannons at crowds of demonstrators armed with cudgels and Molotov cocktails (see video from the Guardian, photos from Hong Kong Free Press, or in text: Hong Kong government warns of great danger after weekend of violence from Reuters.)

Other news you should know: 

“Beijing has sent its strongest warning yet that it could deal directly with the protests in Hong Kong, calling them ‘colour revolutions’ and amplifying warnings from senior advisers that the city is engulfed in a battle that would defend or destroy ‘one country, two systems,’” reports the South China Morning Post

“Color revolution” is a favorite word Beijing uses to indicate that a popular protest, allegedly supported by foreign “black hands,” will lead to chaos. The rhetoric continues in a People’s Daily opinion piece published today (in Chinese) which asks how much money Hong Kong protesters have received from the American National Endowment for Democracy (NED), one of Beijing’s preferred bogeymen. Here is more propaganda on NED from English State broadcaster CGTN

China continues to pressure companies to pressure their staff to toe the line, and to go public with support for Beijing. See reports from the Wall Street Journal (paywall, but there is a free video) and Hong Kong Free Press. On the other side, Beijing seems to be making increasing use of mouth-frothing nationalist tabloid Global Times to threaten private enterprises; see for example a story published yesterday titled EY two-faced about stance on China’s territory.  

Border phone searches: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China “has received multiple reports in recent days and weeks of Chinese border officials detaining journalists and searching their digital devices when travelling between the mainland and Hong Kong.”

Journalists travelling through Beijing and Shenzhen have been subjected to such searches, which have in some cases involved detention of several hours. Officials have searched phones, cameras and laptops belonging to journalists who work for at least five organizations headquartered in North America, Europe and Australia. In at least one instance, a correspondent was barred from using a phone to notify others of the detention. 

Tear gas boom for Chinese companies? “China is expected to increase its production of tear gas and other crowd control weapons because of higher demand from domestic law enforcement and from abroad,” says the South China Morning Post

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. From ‘enemy’ to ‘great leader’ in less than 60 hours — trade war update

The American president spent much of Friday tweeting incoherent statements about himself and China. He also announced new tariffs and returned to his regular criticism of previous presidents for allowing the U.S. to be “ripped off” (see Friday’s newsletter for a summary).

On Sunday, August 25, at the Group of 7 leaders meeting, CNBC reports that Trump said that he “could declare the escalating U.S.-China trade war as a national emergency, although he added he has no plans at the moment to do so.” He added: “Actually we are getting along very well with China right now, we are talking. I think they want to make a deal much more than I do.” 

Trump completely reversed Friday’s aggressive tone — when he called Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 an “enemy” —  in this morning’s presidential tweets:

Great respect for the fact that President Xi & his Representatives want “calm resolution.” So impressed that they are willing to come out & state the facts so accurately. This is why he is a great leader & representing a great country. Talks are continuing!

Trump also apparently repeated a lie “that Chinese officials had contacted U.S. trade counterparts overnight and offered to resume negotiations, a claim China declined to confirm,” reports Reuters: “In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽 said he had not heard that a phone call between the two sides had taken place.” 

More on the above: Trump offers contradictory signals on China trade war (porous paywall) in the New York Times.

News from other fronts if the U.S.-China techno trade war, day 417: 

“U.S. companies are concerned about President Donald Trump’s threats to ban them from doing business in China, and they’re poised to halt new investments if the trade war escalates, the leader of group of top chief executive officers said,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall). See also U.S. companies on China: Breaking up is hard (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal. 

Will tariffs cause a meltdown in the American South? Autoblog points to the many auto plants south of the Mason-Dixon line that depend on exports for a significant chunk of their revenue. These plants are not just producing cars with American brands: BMW and Mercedes Benz are there, as are Nissan, Volkwagen, Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia, and Volvo.  

“A quarter of Chinese production capacity used by global sportswear brands is lying idle, according to a manufacturing executive, as the protracted trade war pushes the biggest sports labels out of the Asian nation’s factories,” says Bloomberg via Straits Times

“China’s spies are waging an intensifying espionage offensive against the United States,” argues Mike Giglio in the Atlantic, providing a wide selection of quotes to back up his case.

“Tesla will raise prices in China on Friday, earlier than planned, and is considering increasing prices again in December should Chinese tariffs on U.S.-made cars take effect,” reports Reuters.

“Buttigieg has the strongest, clearest message on the current situation in China of anyone in the Democratic field and most sitting members of Congress,” tweeted law and security scholar Susan Hennessey, referring to this ‘Meet the Press’ TV interview in which the Democratic candidate succinctly sets out his views

“China bad! I smash!” is the substance of most American politicians’ publicly-expressed views on China right now, so it’s almost shocking to hear one talk about China with even a measure of intelligence. 

4. American visa issues and sinophobia

The South China Morning Post reports:

It seems the ripple effect of Donald Trump’s trade war with China is now being felt at the upcoming New York Fashion Week, which starts on September 6.

Chinese designer Xiaojuan Yang [aka Yáng Juān 杨娟], founder of independent label I Love Pretty, and her team have been denied visas to travel to the United States next month. According to various reports, Yang applied for a visa at the American Consulate in Guangzhou, China, but the application was turned down and no specific reason was given for the denial.

It’s unclear if American visa and immigration officers are particularly targeting Chinese citizens, or just responding to the Trump administration’s undisguised hostility to immigrants, foreigners, and journalists. It’s not just Chinese, Muslims, and Mexicans: for example, a Canadian reporter was refused entry at the U.S. border over the weekend. 

In other news of American sinophobia, Marc Magnier of the South China Morning Post reports on the new “Red Scare” targeting Chinese-American scientists and scholars, and the organizations, such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice, that are fighting back. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn

5. Turkey deports Uyghur family to China

The latest news from and about the crisis in Xinjiang: 

Turkey has deported a Uyghur family to China, and the case “has stoked alarm among the sizeable Uyghur diaspora in Turkey that the country is no longer the haven it has been for decades,” the Financial Times reports.  

The Chinese ambassador to Nigeria is trumpeting the Xinjiang counterterrorism narrative in local media, scholar Lina Benabdallah notes on Twitter

The Irish Times published an in-depth report on Xinjiang, titled Inside China’s detention centres: War on terror or cultural genocide?

Olsi Jazexhi, a Canadian-Albanian professor at the European University Institute who recently returned from a trip to Xinjiang, uploaded two half-hour videos to Youtube (part 1, part 2) describing his experience. Jazexhi earlier uploaded a series of interviews with Uyghur detainees. 

—Lucas Niewenhuis


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China-based provider of information and communications technology Huawei has proposed to the Serbian government a possible cooperation on establishing 5G network in the country, the Serbian finance ministry announced on August 21.

This was announced after Serbia’s Finance Minister Sinisa Mali met Huawei representatives to discuss long-term cooperation in the implementation of joint projects, as part of the Belt and Road initiative. 

India’s decision on whether to allow Huawei in upcoming 5G trials could be negatively influenced by the aggressive posturing by China in recent weeks, which has heightened the possibility that an all-clear for the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker could be seen as New Delhi “pandering” to threats, a senior government official told The Indian Express.

  • Publishers from Australia and New Zealand hit by delays and cancellations because of need for printing firms to comply with local laws.

  • Maps need special approval and changes have been ordered to book to comply with Beijing’s official line on sensitive topics even if they are only going to be sold abroad.

[Chinese scientists] spoke of the hacking-resistant communications networks they are building across China, the sensors they are designing to see through smog and around corners, and the prototype computers that may someday smash the computational power of any existing machine.

All the gear is based on quantum technology — an emerging field that could transform information processing and confer big economic and national-security advantages to countries that dominate it. To the dismay of some scientists and officials in the United States, China’s formidable investment is helping it catch up with Western research in the field and, in a few areas, pull ahead.

China’s smart-speaker market leader Baidu overtook Google as the second-largest player by shipments in the second quarter of 2019, market analysis firm Canalys said in a report published Monday. According to the report, Baidu shipped 4.5 million units during the period, while Google shipped 4.3 million. Amazon remained the top player, shipping 6.6 million smart-speakers across the globe.  

It’s suddenly springtime for several of China’s most profit-challenged internet companies.

First it was food delivery and local services giant Meituan Dianping reporting its first quarterly net profit since going public a year ago. Now another internet-driven company has delivered similar good news.

This time it’s internet-only insurer ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co. Ltd. that has just reported its first-ever profit since its 2017 IPO. 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

  • Schizophrenia drug approved
    Pharmadax schizophrenia drug approved in China / Taipei Times
    Taiwanese drug company Pharmadax “said it has gained marketing approval in China for its generic schizophrenia drug and expects to grab 20 percent of the market within three years.”

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

China is trying to influence public officials and manipulate the U.K. media through British universities, critics say.

A centre at the University of Leeds offering language classes and lessons on Chinese culture to local businesses secretly aims to foster close links with British bureaucrats, a newly released document suggests.

A media research centre at the University of Westminster with links to the Chinese government has provided training to more than 600 spokesmen from Chinese government departments on how to handle the British media. 

China’s former No 2 diplomat in Pakistan, known for taking to Twitter to defend his government in bellicose terms, has been handed a senior role in Beijing’s foreign ministry.

Recently updated records on the foreign ministry’s website indicate that Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚, who left his position as deputy chief of mission in Islamabad earlier this month, now serves as deputy director general of the ministry’s information department.

An associate professor has been suspended by his university in southwestern China for causing “vicious social impact” by belittling the four great ancient Chinese inventions of papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass.

Zhèng Wénfēng 郑文峰 was suspended from teaching for 24 months by the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan province, for his comments in June to a student in an online group discussion on Chinese social media platform WeChat.

  • Pacific passports for sale
    Nauru government creating new citizens to boost electoral numbers? / ABC Radio Australia
    Citizens of Nauru have accused the government’s ruling party “of handing out citizenships in order to boost its voter numbers ahead of the national election in less than three weeks’ time.” One critic complained that “these new citizens are mainly Chinese.”
    See also this from last week’s Vanuatu Daily Post: “Revenues from citizenship sales is the single largest source of revenue in Vanuatu today…Passport sales to the PRC now Vanuatu’s biggest source of revenue.”

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Since the 1990s, Lǚ Pín 吕频 has been a pioneering advocate for women’s rights in China as well as a prolific writer on gender issues and a mentor to a group of activists known as the “young feminist activists.” In part one of our 3-part interview of her, Lü Pin traces her upbringing, the 1989 movement, her journalism career at China Women’s News, and her recollections of the 1995 World Conference on Women.

See also on SupChina: 


FEATURED ON SUPCHINA

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Chinese state media’s videos are slick and compelling. Don’t believe them

What does an “influence operation” video look like? It is essentially propaganda, by the textbook definition of the word, and looks much like this video published by the Chinese network CGTN, titled “Who’s behind Hong Kong protest?”

What’s in a Chinese name?

Kaiser Kuo writes about how Chinese names are chosen, and the ways the process can get complicated

Is it fans or followers? And how many does Manchester United have in China, again?

In the China sports sphere, one club is in a different league when it comes to peddling propaganda: Manchester United. According to the club, one in seven people on the planet — rising to almost one in five people in China — follow the club


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Sinica Early Access: Making the world safe for autocracy: Jessica Chen Weiss on what Beijing wants

Jessica Chen Weiss is Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University and a prolific writer on Chinese nationalism and China’s international relations. Kaiser sat down with her recently to hear her ideas on how we should understand what it is that Beijing ultimately wants, on how to right-size the challenges that China poses to the liberal world order, and about the CCP’s relationship with its own nationalistic populace.

  • 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. 


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