Beijing says Australian citizen is a spy

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Dear Access member,

We have just published perhaps our most ambitious piece of content ever: The SupChina Book List: The 100 China books you have to read, ranked. The list contains a huge and diverse range of titles and genres — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and everything in between — ranked from 100 to 1. 

There are books by journalists and historians, migrant poets and politicians, Nobel Prize winners (three) and dissidents; on topics such as sex, sorcery, food, debt, Chinese medicine, gay life, and foot-binding; and books written in the 14th century and in 2019. There are canonical histories, short story collections, biographies, poetry, and more.

Forty-three people, including some who wrote a book that appears on the list, contributed blurbs for every entry. Read it all here, and let us know what you think! 

On to the news: Our word of the day is “espionage”: 间谍活动 jiàndié huódòng.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


1. Australian citizen charged with espionage

China’s grim authoritarian creep continues. As reported by the New York Times (porous paywall) and below from the BBC:

Chinese-Australian writer Yáng Héngjūn 杨恒均 has been formally arrested on espionage charges in China after months of detention, Australia has confirmed.

The Australian citizen has been held in Beijing since January under “harsh conditions”, said the foreign ministry. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was “very concerned and disappointed” to learn of the arrest.

“We have serious concerns for Dr Yang’s welfare, and about the conditions under which he is being been held,” she said.

My old website Danwei.org interviewed Yang at the 2008 Chinese Bloggers Conference — here’s the YouTube video

It’s an indication of how much things have changed since 2008 that almost everyone else we interviewed at that event has been arrested, silenced, or exiled. Yang might be the one that suffers the most: Espionage convictions can lead to the death sentence. 

2. Open night markets to stimulate consumers

“In an official policy document published on Tuesday, the State Council, China’s cabinet, listed 20 measures to help improve domestic consumption, from improving commercial pedestrian streets to encouraging night markets,” reports the South China Morning Post

The official document is here: 关于加快发展流通促进商业消费的意见. Here are some of the proposed measures:

  • Giving out licenses for night markets to operate and encouraging customers with parking facilities and other infrastructure.

  • Making comfortable pedestrian sidewalks to encourage streetside commerce. This probably won’t result in hipster-friendly urban centers; this is one of the measures: “Expand the scope of the pilot demonstration of upgrading the national demonstration pedestrian street.”

  • Accelerating the development of chain convenience stores. Measures include simplifying safety inspection procedures to cut through red tape, and making it easier to get approval to retail cigarettes and Class B non-prescription drugs. 

  • Encouraging internet companies to partner with factories to develop homegrown brands, encourage recycling, and grow “smart consumption.”

  • Renovating struggling department stores and turning old sports stadiums and factories into shopping malls and entertainment centers. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Techno-trade war: The incoherence continues

The most important news from day 418 of the U.S.-China techno-trade war: 

China has still “not heard of this situation regarding the two calls that the U.S. mentioned in the weekend,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽, who reiterated his denial of Trump’s claim that “talks are continuing!”

There is whiplash on Wall Street: “Escalating uncertainty related to Trump’s intentions regarding the year-old trade conflict is adding to pain…[as] investors are worried that tariffs could tip the U.S. economy into a recession,” Reuters reports.  

“Sorry — it’s the way I negotiate,” Trump insisted. But the AP quotes an expert in Beijing, Tu Xinquan of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics, who says:

We used to have expectations for Trump…We hoped he was a businessman, more rational and less entangled in political issues. But now it seems his degree of rationality is far below our expectations. Constantly changing. The overall situation is getting worse. Simply put, we have no expectations now and don’t expect him to make the right responses and decisions.

American farmers are also frustrated, the New York Times reports, as farm bankruptcies are up 13 percent since last year despite subsidies. Brian Thalmann, the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said, “We’re not starting to do great again… At some point we have to quit playing games and get back to the table and figure this out.” 

U.S. investment into China continues to increase, despite tensions: “US companies invested $6.8 billion into China in the first half of the year, up 1.5 percent from the average during the same period over the past two years, according to the Rhodium Group,” the FT reports

Impact on Hong Kong: “Some economists had predicted the trade war would cut 0.1 to 0.2 percent from Hong Kong’s GDP last year, but it was hit even harder,” the city’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau Tang-wah, said, the SCMP reports

For a look at which products will be hit by the next round of tariffs, see reports in the CNBC and Wall Street Journal

—Lucas Niewenhuis

4. Costco store opening creates frenzy in Shanghai 

The U.S.-China trade war might be worsening at an alarming rate, but that has not deterred Chinese customers from going crazy over American retail giant Costco. 

The chain’s first store in China opened in Shanghai on August 27, to enormous crowds of consumers lining up to get in. There were three-hour waiting times just to get into the parking lot. Before long, the store was forced to shut down over safety concerns.

The American bulk-selling supermarket chain uses the same membership model it does in other countries — the annual fee for membership is 299 yuan ($42).

For details and photos of the Costco frenzy, please click through to SupChina.

—Jiayun Feng

5. Former Hong Kong chief executive offers bounty for protesters

“A website has been launched promising cash rewards for anyone who provides information on ‘wanted’ anti-government protesters. The rewards range from HK$200,000 to HK$1 million for information on key protesters,” reports the Hong Kong Free Press

The man behind the website is Leung Chun-ying (梁振英 Liáng Zhènyīng), who, per Bloomberg (porous paywall), “governed the former British colony between 2012 and 2017 and was in power during earlier pro-democracy protests in 2014.”

[Leung] posted a link on his personal Facebook page that promised a crowd-funded bounty and anonymity to potential tipsters.

The website, 803.hk, is named after an Aug. 3 incident in which a demonstrator flung the Chinese flag into the water of Hong Kong’s harbor. 

In other news from the troubled Pearl of the Orient (one of them): 

Hong Kong’s chief executive met with “moderate young protesters” on Monday, says the South China Morning Post:

Most of the young people who on Monday spoke with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor [林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é] in a landmark dialogue session had taken part in anti-government marches, organisers of the meeting have told the Post.

Government officials stuck to its plan to meet first with moderate young protesters before reaching out to more vocal and radical activists, a source familiar with plans to start a citywide dialogue platform said on Tuesday.

Beijing is using the “Fujian Hometown Association, which represents immigrants to Hong Kong from Fujian,” and other civic groups that are closely tied to the Party, to press its agenda in Hong Kong, according to a New York Times article titled From the shadows, China’s Communist Party mobilizes against Hong Kong protests (porous paywall). 

“Hong Kong students abroad have described an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and vitriol in dealing with ultra-nationalistic mainland Chinese since the city’s anti-government protests broke out,” according to the South China Morning Post

“Hong Kong has been added to YouTube’s list of regions where information panels are included on news channels that receive government funding,” reports the South China Morning Post:

Videos on YouTube from Chinese state media outlets now appear in Hong Kong with an information panel that says they are “funded in whole or in part by the Chinese government”.The label was applied to content from state broadcaster CCTV and its English-language arm CGTN, as well as clips posted by state-run tabloid Global Times, state newspaper China Daily, and state news agency Xinhua.

“Beijing on Tuesday voiced “strong dissatisfaction” with a joint statement issued by the G7 leaders, who backed Hong Kong’s autonomy and called for calm after months of civil unrest,” reports the Hong Kong Free Press.  

6. TikTok’s American users don’t know it’s Chinese

“The social media app TikTok has been downloaded more than 80 million times in the United States,” according to China Books Review, which conducted a survey of 200 Americans to see how many of them knew TikTok was owned by a Chinese company. 

Only 24 percent of respondents correctly answered that the app’s owners were based in China, worse than had the respondents answered at random. 

33 percent of respondents said they would be somewhat or significantly less likely to use the app if they knew the app was made by a Chinese company, compared to 21 percent if they knew it was by an American company, just within the margin of error.

7. Austrian United Front in Beijing

ChinaFile reports (most links in Chinese):

The Austria-China Peaceful Reunification Promotion Association registered a representative office in China on May 29, 2019. 

This is particularly noteworthy not only because it is the first Austrian group to register an office under the auspices of the Foreign NGO Law, but also because it is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party’s (C.C.P.’s) United Front Work Department. The United Front is the C.C.P. agency responsible for managing relationships with elite Chinese individuals and organizations inside and outside of China.

According to information on the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) website, the Association’s office in China works to “unite Chinese in Austria with Austrians friendly to China and promote the peaceful reunification of the motherland.” 

Why would the foreign branch of a Chinese Communist Party organization register as a foreign NGO in China? Two possible reasons:

  • To boost the numbers of “foreign NGOs” operating in China, allowing Beijing to give an impression of greater openness, despite the worsening conditions for real foreign NGOs in recent years

  • To provide “foreign experts” who back the Party line: See for example this Xinhua article citing the the Shanghainese Association of Australia as urging “an end to the blatant violence perpetrated by radical demonstrators in Hong Kong.”

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

  • Artificial intelligence unicorn to IPO in Hong Kong
    Chinese AI unicorn Megvii files for Hong Kong IPO / CNN
    Confirming reports from last week, Megvii Technology — China’s largest AI company — is officially filing for a listing on Hong Kong’s stock exchange. If approved, it would gain the distinction of being the only Chinese AI stock in the market, with similar companies wary of the effect Hong Kong’s protests might have on investor sentiment. 

  • Corruption at Deutsche Bank
    ‘We must do it’: Deutsche Bank allegedly hired children of Russian, Chinese officials to win work / Washington Post
    “Last week, Deutsche Bank settled the SEC charges that it violated foreign bribery laws between 2006 and 2014 by providing valuable jobs to the relatives of foreign government officials it wanted to work with.” Aside from highly questionable dealings with Russian oligarchs and Donald Trump, the SEC also described “several cases” involving Chinese princelings. 

  • Tencent music under antitrust investigation
    Watchdog probes Tencent’s grip on China’s giant music industry / Caixin
    “The State Administration of Market Regulation launched the probe in January and is scrutinizing the Shenzhen-based company’s dealings with music labels including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group.”

  • Tencent in cars and cartoons
    WeChat for cars has arrived / Caixin
    Still rudimentary, the app would allow “users to make calls as well as receive and dictate messages via a button embedded in the steering wheel of a specially designed car.”
    Tencent taps teen market with anime investment / China Film Insider
    “Tencent has invested in $125 million in online anime platform Kuaikan, as part of the internet behemoth’s long-term push to monetize platforms popular with younger users.”

  • Profitable dating app
    Dating app Momo reports strong Q2 revenues / Caixin
    Chinese dating app Momo reported strong Q2 revenues, which it owes in part to an increase in paying users. A new live video feature is popular.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

China said it would reduce the penalties for the sale and import of unapproved drugs, effectively giving poor and critically ill patients the green light to access cheaper generic pharmaceuticals from other countries…

For years, Chinese patients and their relatives risked the threat of heavy criminal penalties in their hunt for affordable drugs in a country increasingly suffering from chronic diseases like cancer.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

We are the modern version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the 19th-century tale of an experimenting scientist who brought a dead body to life using that era’s technology: the electric shock. The resurrected creature became a murderous monster.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

  • Dirty tricks in private education
    The Chinese students stuck in fake majors / Sixth Tone
    Some of the more creative criminal schemes in China are to be found at privately run language schools and vocational schools. Sixth Tone looks at one of the scams: a bait and switch from schools offering courses they do not actually teach: 

Zhao knew something was wrong when she arrived to pay the tuition fees for her final year at Mingda Polytechnic Institute, a private vocational school on the outskirts of her hometown Sheyang, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. Instead of allowing her to register like usual, the receptionists told Zhao that the school wanted her to transfer her program from high-speed rail attendant to tourism management. 

One Child Nation, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is part investigative report, part family history. [The film follows a Chinese family that is jailed for human trafficking after they moved thousands of abandoned Chinese babies — almost all of them girls — into state-run orphanages, and an American couple who started a foundation to help track down the girls’ biological families


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The 100 China Books You Have to Read

This is the SupChina Book List, 100 books about China across all genres — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and everything in between — ranked from 100 to 1. We sourced broadly, in an attempt to create a unique, inclusive list that has something for everyone, neither catering to a specific taste nor pandering to any preconceived idea of what such a list should look like. There was no criteria except availability in English. Yes, this was more mad than methodical — but we’re proud of the result. We hope it will spur conversation and debate.


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BE京jing No. 27: Trellis

This photo from Liulitun in March 2017 is part of BE京jing, a 30-part photo essay project by Gregorio Soravito