Scary pork prices, and the Solomon Islands

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

“Honest question: Americans who are in China and have lived there for a while (~5-years-plus), have you actually felt any added hostility/discrimination in your day-to-day life lately?” tweeted author and occasional SupChina contributor Eric Fish. 

The answers are overwhelmingly “No!” It is reassuring that the greatest bilateral tensions since I started living in and watching China in 1995 have not led to popular anti-Americanism. Yet. I’d like to do a similar poll of Chinese living in the United States. 

If you’re in New York on September 12, you might enjoy Silicon Dragon’s annual forum on the theme: How China’s tech sector is challenging the world by innovating faster, working harder & going global. Use the promo code SDNY2019SupChina for a 20 percent discount. 

Our word of the day is Solomon Islands (所罗门群岛 suǒluómén qúndǎo).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


1. Will the Solomon Islands abandon Taiwan? 

As we noted last week, “the Solomon Islands is said to be considering breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to establish formal ties with China, a move that comes as American officials accuse Beijing of destabilizing the Pacific as its influence in the region grows,” reports the New York Times (porous paywall). 

If that happens, Taiwan would only have 16 countries that recognize it diplomatically. As one of the larger South Pacific nations, the Solomon Islands making a switch could inspire smaller neighbors to make the same decision. 

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) is on the case. This morning, she tweeted

It was a pleasure to welcome a delegation of friends from the Solomon Islands today, led by Minister Manele. Based on our shared values & past successes, Taiwan looks forward to expanding bilateral cooperation for mutual benefit in agriculture, healthcare, and education. 

The government of the Solomon Islands seems conflicted, torn between the practical benefits that cozying up to China can bring, but reluctant to abandon an old ally. The Little Red Podcast has published a superb and timely show, recorded in the Solomon Islands, where co-host Graeme Smith interviews the prime minister and other major players: Should I stay or should I go now? Inside the Solomons’ big switch.

2. Scary pork prices and stimulus

The South China Morning Post reports that consumers are starting to become “scared” about the high price of pork, which reached record highs of 30 yuan ($4.20) to 33 yuan per kilogram, more than double the price in July 2018. As the SCMP puts it:

Prices for food products, especially pork, are one of the major indicators used by Chinese citizens to informally gauge their financial well-being, and at the moment, that well-being is being eroded rapidly.

Further bad economic news from Bloomberg (porous paywall):

Data released Sunday showed that exports decreased one percent in dollar terms from a year earlier last month, a period when companies could have been expected to try to increase cargoes to the U.S. ahead of higher tariffs that kicked in September 1. Instead, a 16 percent contraction in shipments to the U.S. highlighted the damage that the trade war is doing…

That makes the injection of $126 billion into the economy announced by the central bank on Friday look more like a cautious move that will need to be followed by further steps if the government wants to keep economic growth above the key 6 percent level. Yet the fear of a bubble in the property market could still preclude larger-scale action.

3. Trespassing trial of Chinese woman stalls over underwear

The above is the rather unusual headline of a Washington Post article about Zhang Yujing, the Chinese citizen found trespassing at Mar-a-Lago. The trial was delayed today:

The bizarre case took a weird turn before the potential jurors were brought into the courtroom, when defendant Yujing Zhang told Judge Roy Altman that she was wearing brown jail garb instead of civilian clothing because she had not been provided any underwear. Defendants generally wear civilian clothing during trials to not prejudice jurors against them.

After some discussion about which agency was supposed to provide Zhang with underwear, she was taken to a holding cell and changed into a copper-colored blouse and khaki slacks found in her hotel room after her March arrest.

4. Plastic restrictions coming? Xi on ‘reform’

“Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), presided over the 10th meeting of the Central Committee for Deepening Overall Reform Monday,” according to a five-line English report from Xinhua. The Chinese version is more detailed, and also makes it clear that “reform” has nothing to do with political liberalization. 

It does, however, list some interesting “reform” priorities, summarized below. Noteworthy is the inclusion of plastic waste as a key issue.

  • Actively responding to plastic pollution by restricting the production, sale, and use of some plastic products, actively promoting recyclable and biodegradable substitute products, and regulating plastic waste. (Note: In July, Shanghai began a citywide recycling program that seems to have serious government backing.)

  • Promoting the orderly social mobility of labor (although no mention is made of the hùkǒu 户口 or residence permit system, which prevents exactly this).

  • Safeguarding food safety and security. 

  • Promoting the deep integration of advanced manufacturing and the service sector; promoting innovation and “high-quality development of trade, building the Belt and Road,” and “vigorously optimizing the trade structure.”

  • Focusing on “the main responsibility of the teachers, education, and the education of the people.”

  • Promoting “a simple, moderate, green and low-carbon lifestyle” by establishing “conservation-oriented institutions, green families, green schools, green communities, green tourism, and green shopping malls.”

  • Supporting the development of private enterprises, but only by “upholding and improving the basic economic system of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and at the same time “strengthening the management of state-owned companies and assets.”

5. U.S.-China techno-trade war — they ‘have a document’ 

Last week, the American and Chinese governments agreed to meet in Washington, D.C., in early October, for the 13th (!) round of trade talks since large-scale import taxes were implemented on July 6, 2018. 

It’s hard to be optimistic that the talks will make progress — last week, we called them “placebo trade talks,” which we believe Beijing hopes will halt the deterioration of the relationship and keep Trump smiling, but not lead to any real breakthroughs. But some Trump administration officials have a rosier view:

“We have a document, we’ve made a lot of progress, they’re coming here, I take that as a sign of good faith that they want to continue to negotiate,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a TV interview reported by Reuters

Furthermore, “China made a peace proposal in a phone call this week with top U.S. trade officials with an offer to buy a modest amount of U.S. agricultural goods,” according to Politico:  

That offer, however, could be contingent on the United States easing up export restrictions on Chinese tech giant Huawei and delaying an Oct. 1 tariff escalation on roughly $250 billion in goods.

But China seems to be preparing for a future without U.S. agricultural goods. Oantaganista.com reports (in Portuguese) that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 will visit Brazil in November, while Trumpish Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro will visit Beijing in December. Bloomberg correspondent David Fickling tweeted

This is a really astonishing love-in. Bolsonaro has done more than perhaps any other world leader (tied with Trump) to anger the Chinese. But Xi is desperate to make nice with him. Those predicting U.S. farm exports will come surging back some time soon should be nervous.  

Meanwhile, most of the Democratic presidential candidates have no idea what to say about China, says Reuters. “That has led to a scrambled and sometimes incoherent message from Trump’s rivals even as global markets gyrate, U.S. consumer prices of Chinese imports rise and farmers lose their biggest export market as a result.” See also SupChina’s 2020 U.S. presidential election China tracker, which we regularly update with new comments and proposals on China from Democratic candidates.

Huawei: “U.S. prosecutors have charged a Chinese professor, Bo Mao (Máo Bō 毛波), with fraud for allegedly taking technology from a California company to benefit Huawei, in another shot at the embattled Chinese telecommunications equipment maker,” per Reuters:  

Huawei itself has not been charged, but “the company said it views the case against Mao as the U.S. government’s latest instance of ‘selective prosecution.’” 

6. Hong Kong high-school students form human chains again

High-school students “once again formed human chains Monday in Hong Kong in support of the anti-extradition and pro-democracy activists,” reports ABC. “Many of the students wore masks while holding yellow helmets, umbrellas, and stuffed animals with eye patches, which are symbols of the pro-democracy protests.”

Other news from Hong Kong: 

“At least a dozen mainlanders…have been held or threatened by authorities after having participated in the Hong Kong demonstrations or shared information online that deviates from the government line concerning the semiautonomous territory,” reports the Los Angeles Times (porous paywall). The Washington Post has a similar story: With threats and propaganda, China tries to silence support for Hong Kong protests.

“Chinese covert social media propaganda and disinformation related to Hong Kong” is a piece from the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief that ties together what we know about Beijing’s astroturfing campaign aimed at Hong Kong. 

Mooncake wars: “A week after the director of a Hong Kong mooncake manufacturer was pilloried for expressing his support for the city’s protesters, the head of a rival brand has become the darling of China’s state media for doing the opposite,” reports the South China Morning Post.

7. Xinjiang: The story China wants the world to forget

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera has produced a TV package called “Xinjiang: The story China wants the world to forget.” The comprehensive piece draws on a variety of sources and interviews with specialists, most of which are critical. But reliable Party praise singer Victor Gao (高志凯 Gāo Zhìkǎi) also makes an appearance. In one of the most shameful performances of his career, Gao calls critical media reports about the vast internment camp system in Xinjiang “fake news.” 

Also from Al Jazeera (in text): How China spins the Xinjiang story to the Chinese. Al Jazeera’s Arabic platforms do not seem to have published anything equivalent in the last week or so (although please let us know if we missed it). 

Other Xinjiang stories today:

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States would use the United Nations General Assembly this month to persuade countries to help ‘call out’ China over treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority,” reports Reuters

The roots of the Xinjiang surveillance system are explored in this paper by Emile Dirks for the Jamestown Foundation. Here is an excerpt:

Previous research has illustrated how such policies have their roots in earlier (and ongoing) repression campaigns against Falun Gong and other religious groups. However, evidence now suggests that these systems of social surveillance and repression also originated in programs directed at wider groups of Chinese citizens, identified as “key individuals” (重点人员 zhòngdiǎn rényuán). 

Systems of “key population management” (重点人口管理 zhòngdiǎn rénkǒu guǎnlǐ) possess many of the features associated with Xinjiang’s security state: profiling, extensive personal and biometric data collection, and location-based tracking.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

  • Apple and Foxconn in hot water for worker treatment again
    Apple and Foxconn violated Chinese worker laws, China Labor Watch says / Washington Post
    “Apple denied most of the allegations, but acknowledged that it exceeded the number of contract workers allowed by Chinese law.”

  • Investors pile into plant-based meat startups
    Inside the battle for China’s meatless future / Sixth Tone
    “Chinese food companies like Whole Perfect…are trying to replicate the uncannily meaty flavor of the U.S.-made burgers and think they can beat the Americans with lower prices and a better understanding of Chinese tastes.”

  • Flying taxis by 2022?
    Chinese auto giant invests in flying-car startup Volocopter / Bloomberg via Caixin Live
    Geely Holding Group — the owner of Volvo Cars, a top shareholder in Daimler, and one of China’s biggest carmakers — led a  $55 million round of investment in flying-car developer Volocopter. The goal is to launch an air taxi service within the next three years.

  • Why BAT has failed to develop “smart cities”
    Waking up from BAT’s smart city dream / ChinAI
    Jeffrey Ding translates (and comments on) a Chinese-language article from “Intellectual Things” (智东西 zhì dōngxī), a Chinese-language news platform that covers industry and innovation news. The article focuses on BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) and the companies’ efforts to invest and develop Chinese smart cities. The original writer describes their performance as “tepid,” and explains why.

  • Airlines: China Eastern and Juneyao 
    Two of Shanghai’s top three airlines tie-up to create regional juggernaut / Caixin (paywall)
    China Eastern Airlines and Juneyao Airlines have completed their formation of a “strategic alliance, including an equity tie-up, creating a dominant force in the nation’s financial hub.”

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

Chinese security officials have been accused of targeting a whistleblower’s family and friends in a campaign to force a theatre to abandon a play based on her case.

Dr Wáng Shūpíng 王淑平, who exposed the spread of hepatitis and HIV infection through contaminated blood and plasma in China two decades ago, has said her relatives and former colleagues in Henan province are being told they should persuade her to drop the show at the London’s Hampstead Theatre.

She said the incident had revived memories of the original whistleblowing, but was determined that the show, The King of Hell’s Palace, should go ahead. “The only thing harder than standing up to the government and their security police is not giving in to pressure from friends and relatives who are threatened with their livelihoods, all because you are speaking out,” she said. “But even after all this time, I will still not be silenced, even though I am deeply sad that this intimidation is happening yet again.”

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Monday criticized China for what he described as one-sided trade policies, casting doubt over the progress of negotiations for a pan-Asian free trade agreement.

Speaking during a panel discussion in Singapore, the minister said India remained sceptical over “unfair” market access and “Chinese protectionist policies” that have created a significant trade deficit between the two nations. India’s trade deficit with China was $53.6 billion in the financial year that ended earlier in March this year.

“The big concerns of India are of course, one, its relationship with China because we have an enormous trade deficit with China,” Jaishankar said in response to a question regarding the ongoing negotiations for the world’s biggest trade deal, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

  • Pakistan goes slow on Chinese projects
    Squeezed by debt and the US, Pakistan slows Belt and Road projects / Nikkei Asian Review
    “Even Beijing knows that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)  is on hold at the moment,” said one Pakistani official as his government faces “a prolonged financial crisis, and [tries] to balance ties between China and the U.S.”:

Pakistan’s policymakers are slowing the pace of multibillion dollar projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative…

According to Hassan Daud Butt, project director for the Pakistani government, many Phase-1 projects, including improvements to the port of Gwadar, power plants and road construction, are unfinished despite deadlines set for last year by the previous government. Nor has there been progress on Phase-2 projects, which include setting up special economic zones and industrial estates. The initial time table called for the zones to be up and running by 2020.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Sitting behind a desk and dressed in a loud tartan jacket and a skinny blue tie, Taiwan’s answer to Stephen Colbert has the audience eating out of his hand. “China loves to fuck us over. I don’t even know if I have an STD because China won’t let us join the [World Health Assembly].” There’s a big round of applause and Brian Tseng [曾博恩 Zēng Bó’ēn ], the country’s bravest comedian, beams for the cameras. 

  • See also: BrianTseng on YouTube (in Chinese). 

  • Taylor Swift more popular in China than in U.S.?
    Taylor Swift album hits 1 million in China sales, beating U.S. / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    Lover, the 29-year-old pop star’s seventh album, sold 1 million in China in its first week of release, Universal Music Group said Aug. 29. U.S. sales are expected to reach 850,000 in the period.”

  • Tofu in New York
    The heir to a tofu dynasty finally learns to make tofu / NYT (porous paywall)
    Paul Eng reopened his family’s Chinatown establishment that served tofu and soy milk to hungry immigrants from the 1930s until 2017. But he first had to learn how to make his family’s traditional recipes that no one had ever written down. 


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