Beijing opens Daxing airport

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Our word of the day is Beijing Daxing International Airport (北京大兴国际机场 běijīng dàxīng guójì jīchǎng), the full name of the $63 billion transportation hub that opened today 46 kilometers (29 miles) south of central Beijing. 

—Lucas Niewenhuis, Associate Editor


1. Beijing opens Daxing airport

Xinhua reports:

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday announced the official opening of the Beijing Daxing International Airport… 

Xi stressed that the new airport, which was built in less than five years and put into operation smoothly, has shown China’s prowess in engineering construction.

It is also a display of the political advantages of the CPC leadership and China’s socialist system that can mobilize all sources to make great achievements, said Xi.

More details on the new air hub, per Reuters:

  • It “cost $63 billion to build [and] is roughly the size of 100 football fields.”

  • It is supposed to be “shaped like a phoenix — though to some observers it is more reminiscent of a starfish.” 

  • It “boasts four runways and is expected to handle up to 72 million passengers a year by 2025, eventually reaching 100 million.” It will be nearly neck-and-neck with Atlanta for world’s busiest at that point. 

  • Daxing will help “ease pressure on Capital International Airport in the city’s northeast,” however, the “new airport is…about 46 km (29 miles) away from central Beijing, almost twice the distance of Capital airport. An express train from Daxing will take about 20 minutes to reach the south of Beijing.”

  • “About 50 foreign airlines, including British Airways and Finnair, plan to move all or part of their operations in the next few quarters. The relocation of all airlines is due to be completed by the winter of 2021.”

2. Christian Uyghurs also detained in Xinjiang

The re-education campaign in Xinjiang is ostensibly about stamping out islamic extremism. But Nathan Vanderklippe of the Globe and Mail reports that some who have been detained have nothing to do with Islam:

Six accounts from people who have recently lived in the region or have family there – three Christian Westerners, a lawyer, a Chinese petitioner and a Uyghur family living in France – reveal that others are also being incarcerated.

Some are Uyghurs who have converted to Christianity. Others are Han Chinese – the ethnic group that comprises more than 90 per cent of China’s population – who have challenged local authorities by petitioning for official redress, as well as people considered politically unreliable.

Other Xinjiang related news:

“The world has been noticeably quiet about Xinjiang,” reports Jane Perlez of the New York Times. “Backed by its diplomatic and economic might, China has largely succeeded in quashing criticism. Chinese officials have convinced countries to support Beijing publicly on the issue, most notably Muslim ones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They have played to the discord within the West over China. And they have waged an aggressive campaign to prevent discussion of Xinjiang at the United Nations.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he had a “Sobering discussion with survivors of China’s reeducation camps in Xinjiang. China’s brutal campaign of repression against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities is appalling and the international community must demand an end to this blatant assault on Religious Freedom and Human Rights.” 

John Sullivan, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, urged that “The UN must seek the immediate, unhindered and unmonitored access for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights” to Xinjiang, the SCMP reported. He also accused China of hosting “Potemkin” tours of camps in the past. 

ChinaFile published a list of European companies that are working in Xinjiang. The list identifies 68 companies, from Volkswagen, to Carrefour, to UBS, to BASF. It’s likely that at least some of the companies are benefiting from forced labor — see Darren Byler’s earlier column, How companies profit from forced labor in Xinjiang

3. TikTok’s censorship confirmed

The Guardian obtained “leaked documents detailing [TikTok’s] moderation guidelines”, confirming what many had suspected (including us, just yesterday, in this newsletter): Bytedance censors political content on its app closely and in line with Beijing’s priorities, just like Tencent and any other major China-based social media company. 

The guidelines divide banned material into two categories: some content is marked as a “violation”, which sees it deleted from the site entirely, and can lead to a user being banned from the service. But lesser infringements are marked as “visible to self”, which leaves the content up but limits its distribution through TikTok’s algorithmically-curated feed.

This latter enforcement technique means that it can be unclear to users whether they have posted infringing content, or if their post simply has not been deemed compelling enough to be shared widely by the notoriously unpredictable algorithm.

The bulk of the guidelines covering China are contained in a section governing “hate speech and religion”.

In every case, they are placed in a context designed to make the rules seem general purpose, rather than specific exceptions. A ban on criticism of China’s socialist system, for instance, comes under a general ban of “criticism/attack towards policies, social rules of any country, such as constitutional monarchy, monarchy, parliamentary system, separation of powers, socialism system, etc”.

Another ban covers “demonisation or distortion of local or other countries’ history such as May 1998 riots of Indonesia, Cambodian genocide, Tiananmen Square incidents”.

A more general purpose rule bans “highly controversial topics, such as separatism, religion sects conflicts, conflicts between ethnic groups, for instance exaggerating the Islamic sects conflicts, inciting the independence of Northern Ireland, Republic of Chechnya, Tibet and Taiwan and exaggerating the ethnic conflict between black and white”.

4. Swine fever has cost at least 1 trillion yuan

Caixin reports (paywall):

The widespread outbreak of African swine fever that has prompted China to slaughter millions of pigs has caused 1 trillion yuan ($140 billion) of direct losses, an industry expert estimates.

Li Defa, who heads the College of Animal Science and Technology at China Agricultural University, made the remarks at a pig industry forum on Tuesday. The upstream and downstream of the pork industry chain — such as pig feed and catering industry — are not included in the calculation, he said.

—Lucas Niewenhuis


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

Alibaba Group introduced its first AI inference chip today, a neural processing unit called Hanguang 800 that it says makes performing machine learning tasks dramatically faster and more energy efficient. The chip, announced today during Alibaba Cloud’s annual Apsara Computing Conference in Hangzhou, is already being used to power features on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites, including product search and personalized recommendations. It will be made available to Alibaba Cloud customers later.

Chinese social e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo announced on Wednesday it is planning to offer convertible debt up to $1 billion as it seeks to fund a rapid expansion into higher-tier domestic markets.

Why it matters: The fast-growing e-commerce platform is looking to raise more cash to cover rising expenditures amid intensifying competition, China’s slowing economy, and trade tensions with the US.

China’s economic numbers in the last few months have disappointed expectations but the worst is not over — analysts are expecting third quarter data to come in even weaker than than before.

A quarterly survey by China Beige Book released Wednesday showed that growth slowed in the third quarter while debt levels soared.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

Ahead of the summit, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued a position paper that was noticeably missing the word “torchbearer.” China used the term to describe its international climate leadership after the US announced it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017. Instead, China is now referring to itself merely as an “active participant.”

China’s position at the summit reflected its rhetorical shift. During his allotted three-minute speaking slot, foreign minister Wang Yi reaffirmed China’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and to delivering on existing commitments. Crucially, he stopped short of mentioning any new plans to up China’s targets. He did not repeat the commitment China and France made in a joint statement in July on the sidelines of the G20 to update their national commitments by 2020. And on overseas investments, Wang Yi committed only to “jointly greening the Belt and Road.”

“She is a poor girl kidnapped by the thought of white leftists and she herself doesn’t know that,” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform…

The Weibo topic “16-year-old Swedish girl accusing at UN” had been viewed more than 44 million times, and attracted about 4,000 comments by Wednesday morning, most of them similarly negative.

A new irrigation technology, developed by Chinese scientists, that can cut farmers’ water use by a quarter in arid areas has won an international conservation award.

Tian Fuqiang, an associate professor who heads the research team at Tsinghua University, was recognized for his contribution to the development and mass application of a water and salt regulation technology for mulching and drip irrigation… He was presented with the WatSave Technology Award in Bali, Indonesia on September 4.  

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

A Chinese government official [Zhongsan Liu] and his allies allegedly tried to convince at least seven U.S. universities to sponsor visas for purported Chinese research scholars who in reality aimed to recruit American science talent, according to a recently unsealed criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department. They succeeded at least once, the complaint says.

The Wall Street Journal has identified two of the targeted institutions as the University of Georgia and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“Decoupling from China’s economy would be to decouple from opportunities, and the future,” said [Foreign Minister Wang Yi], who in the past has called the U.S.’s and China’s interests “inseparable.”

Speaking before more than 100 business and political leaders, Mr. Wang criticized those who depict China as an adversary of the U.S. He said the U.S. should “avoid picking a misguided fight with the wrong country,” and lamented the impact of the trade war as “losses that shouldn’t have happened.”

“China’s activities are in many ways aggressive in space,” said Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration… 

Some suspect that China and Russia are developing satellites to attack other satellites or disrupt their operations. 

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the [Taiwan Affairs Office], said Tsai Jin-shu had been under investigation on the mainland since July 2018, without giving further details… 

Earlier this month, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) in Taiwan said that Tsai, chairman of the Federation of Southern Taiwan Cross-Strait Associations, had not been seen since July 21, 2018, when he travelled to Xiamen, in the mainland province of Fujian, to attend a food fair… 

News of Tsai Jin-shu’s detention came days after confirmation that another Taiwanese, Lee meng-chu, was being investigated for engaging in activities that endangered state security.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also said the Sino-British Joint Declaration should not be used as “an excuse” to interfere in the city’s affairs… 

Song Ruan, from the Chinese foreign ministry commissioner’s office in Hong Kong, on Wednesday called for the bill [the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act] to be scrapped.

“If the act is passed, it will undermine the confidence of international investors in Hong Kong, and stakeholders — including American businesses — will suffer,” said Song, deputy commissioner at the office, at a briefing with foreign media.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is pressing [private] companies to bid for defense contracts as part of a “military-civil fusion” drive to upgrade an arms industry long dominated by a handful of inefficient state-run contractors and research institutes.

The initiative, highlighted in a new report by nonprofit C4ADS, is alarming U.S. officials, who fear it is a central plank in Beijing’s attempt to build a world-class military capable of challenging the U.S. in Asia and beyond.

East China University Australia studies director Chen Hong said despite some improvements under Mr Morrison, Australian-Chinese relations had entered a freeze, “which in Chinese means a very cold period,” and that Australia had played a “pioneering role in an anti-China campaign.”

“The two-way exchanges have been going very well until 2017, when Australia launched this attack on China,” he said. “If other countries follow suit that is going to be recognised as extremely unfriendly.”

  • Workers’ rights activists detained
    Anti-discrimination activists detained for two months in widening crackdown / China Labour Bulletin
    “Prominent anti-discrimination activist Cheng Yuan, and his two colleagues, Liu Dazhi and Wu Gejianxiong, have been held incommunicado at the Hunan Provincial State Security Department Detention Centre in Changsha for two months now.”

  • Opium in Afghanistan
    Afghanistan’s relentless opium woes have a ‘new seed in town,’ and it comes from China / CNBC
    “Last week, Afghanistan released new data showing opium production is surging, information that dovetailed with a widely circulated 2016 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report that showed similar findings. The primary problem is a new strain of genetically modified seed that comes from China, which allows poppies to be grown year round. The so-called Chinese seeds began appearing in 2015, according to the UNODC, leading to a massive 43 percent surge in production last year.”

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

  • The surrogate pregnancy business
    My American surrogate / NYT (porous paywall)
    A 24-minute video documentary about Qiqi, who has “reinvented herself as Chinese social media’s most sought-after China-U.S. surrogacy broker,” which entails “supplying Chinese prospective parents with American surrogates, creating jobs for Americans while helping Chinese create families.”
    “Commercial surrogacy, which is illegal in China and most places in the world, enjoys full legal protection in California,” where Qiqi is based. 

  • China-Africa people-to-people relations
    Chinese vloggers change how China’s middle class sees Africa / Quartz
    A profile of China-born vloggers like Fyjo Molly, based in South Africa, and Zhao Huiling, based in Ghana, who both see “overwhelmingly positive reception” of their videos from Chinese people. 

  • Bad airline passengers
    Chinese woman opens plane’s emergency exit for some fresh air, delaying flight / SCMP
    “A flight was delayed for an hour and a woman detained by police after she opened the emergency exit for ‘a breath of fresh air’ before the flight took off in central China’s Hubei province on Monday, mainland media reported.The incident happened on Xiamen Air flight MF8215 from Wuhan to Lanzhou.”


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