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Hong Kong democracy means Beijing-friendly ballots


Dear Access member,

Our word of the day is undemocratic (不民主的 bù mínzhǔ de).

If you are in New York on November 21, come to our NEXT China conference. A coupon for $150 off the admission fee can be used by Access members with the code NCAccess. Click here for more information about the conference and its breakout sessions on topics such as healthcare, supply chains, corporate philanthropy, legal services, digital marketing, and more. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to journalists after being disqualified from running in district council elections in Hong Kong. October 29, 2019 / Tyrone Siu / Reuters

1. Joshua Wong is disqualified from elections in Hong Kong

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong (黃之鋒 Huáng Zhīfēng) has been disqualified from running in the November 24 district council elections in Hong Kong. The Washington Post reports:

Explaining her decision in a letter Tuesday, Laura Aron, an official who manages elections, said there was a “consistent case” that Wong and his party believe “the independence of Hong Kong is an option” for the self-determination of its people. She added that it was “questionable whether Mr. Wong accepted the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty” over Hong Kong…

Wong, the only candidate to be disqualified, has said he does not support Hong Kong’s independence, nor is it the official line of his party, Demosisto.

Hong Kong government officials appear to be taking the line that “self-determination,” as Wong and his political party, Demosistō, advocate for the city, is just a coded way to refer to support for independence. However, South China Morning Post reporting indicates that this standard is not being applied consistently, as one “pro-democracy lawmaker previously barred from running in a village representative election due to advocacy of self-determination, was given the green light last week to run in the district council elections.”

“This disqualification is because my name is Joshua Wong. Unless I change my name, they will continue disqualifying me,” Wong quipped in a press conference after the decision. 

For more about the complexities of pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong, and the increasing importance of a genuine pro-independence movement led by people far more radical than Joshua Wong, see our piece published on SupChina today: The panda in the room: Hong Kong’s independence movement

More news about Hong Kong:

“Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denied a report that she will be replaced by Beijing next March. When asked about a Financial Times report during a press briefing on Tuesday, Lam dismissed the claim as a rumor and said the Chinese Foreign Ministry had already denied it,” the Hong Kong Free Press says

“Police have warned the organizers of a running activity that they may bear legal responsibilities should their events exceed 30 people,” according to the Hong Kong Free Press. The organizers of the “long run” say their event is only a fitness event, and is “neither a rally nor a march.” 

Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge has withdrawn an honorary degree to Junius Ho, a “polarizing pro-Beijing lawmaker,” after controversies about his connections to thug attacks in Yuen Long on July 21 and accusations that he has made death threats against rival law makers, the Hong Kong Free Press reports

“Taiwan has deported a second mainland Chinese traveler this month for tearing down posters supporting Hong Kong’s anti-government protests from a ‘Lennon Wall’ display,” the South China Morning Post reports. “The businessman, identified by his surname Hu, was expelled from Taiwan on Monday evening and prevented from re-entering the island for five years. Prosecutors found he had ‘damaged property’ by removing posters on Sunday at an underpass in Taichung, in the island’s west.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. Jared Kushner’s fabulous deal 

White House “adviser” Jared Kushner is in Saudi Arabia today, where he “told a panel at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ‘have made a fabulous deal’ with Beijing,” reports Reuters

The reality distortion field is strong. As we noted yesterday, the deal is a nothingburger. China made some vague IPR commitments, a promise to buy agricultural goods that would have been purchased anyway if Trump had not launched a tariff war, and both countries promised a suspension of new tariffs, and to not manipulate their currencies. 

The so-called “phase one” deal, whether fabulous or horrid, may not even get signed soon: While the South China Morning Post says Donald Trump and Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 are set for a November 17 meeting in Chile to sign an interim trade war deal, Reuters reports that a U.S. official warned the agreement “may not be completed in time for the U.S. and Chinese leaders to sign it in Chile next month.” 

More uncertainty: “The United States Trade Representative is studying whether to extend tariff suspensions on $34 billion of Chinese goods set to expire on December 28 this year,” reports Reuters. In other words, the U.S. will levy tariffs on goods that are currently exempted, unless another suspension is put in place. 

Other news of the U.S.-China techno-trade war:

Eric Schmidt, “Google’s former chief executive officer and currently a top technical adviser to the Pentagon, argued on Monday that U.S. restrictions on hiring from China and sharing technology with the country are counterproductive,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall). 

“I think the China problem is solvable with the following insight: we need access to their top scientists,” Schmidt said at an event on artificial intelligence and ethics at Stanford University.

Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury “has become an unexpected victim of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China,” reports the BBC. “Nigel Newton, chief executive of the firm, which publishes Harry Potter among other titles, said books printed in China for the USA became 15 percent more expensive overnight on 1 September.”

3. Belgian Confucius Institute head expelled for spying 

The EU Observer reports:

Professor Sòng Xīnníng 宋新宁, director of the Confucius Institute at the Brussels University (VUB), can no longer enter Belgium after being accused of espionage for China, De Morgen writes [in Flemish]. He had a 10-year tenure. Previously, there were complaints at the French part of the Brussels university (ULB) about Chinese pressure on academics working on China.

This is not going to reassure universities and politicians in the U.S. and other countries where Confucius Institutes are already under a great deal of scrutiny. 

4. Xi Jinping’s new model citizens

In the Globe and Mail, Nathan Vanderklippe reports:

China’s Communist Party has unveiled a new definition of a model citizen — a person no longer ideologically beholden to domestic forefathers such as Máo Zédōng 毛泽东 or the sway of foreign influence, but possessed instead of a steadfast allegiance to national self-confidence, traditional virtue and, above all, President Xíjìnpíng 习近平.

The guide to the moral construction of citizens [in Chinese], whose standards are likely to be most keenly felt in schools already delivering ideological instruction, bears the hallmarks of a Chinese doctrine document, permeated with modern buzzwords and abstractions, as it seeks to define “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

But its publication Sunday, on the eve of a plenary session by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, sends an unmistakable message to its citizens and the world as the country’s leadership grapples with a slowing economy, fractious international relations and unrest in Hong Kong: Beijing has no plans to loosen its grip on the public and private life of its people, and has grown more overt in its rejection of Western models.

See also: ‘Defend China’s honour’: Beijing releases new morality guidelines for citizens by Lily Kuo in the Guardian.

5. More weak tea from Canadian government on detained citizens 

The South China Morning Post reports:

Canada’s new ambassador to Beijing Dominic Barton will face an uphill struggle to improve relations between the two sides, a senior Chinese diplomatic adviser has warned, after a year in which the arrest of a senior Huawei executive and the subsequent detention of two Canadians caused a significant deterioration in relations.

The adviser also said that already chilly relationship between the two counties may worsen further if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to calls to take a tougher stance on Hong Kong — a move that would further anger Beijing.

Barton, who was appointed to the post last month, was able to meet the two detained Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on Friday and Sunday respectively, according to the national broadcaster CBC.

Judging from the Canadian government’s spineless response to extra-legal detentions, Kovrig and Spavor can expect to be behind bars in horrible conditions for a long, long time. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn

6. Hospital workers suspended for selling pop star’s medical waste

Staff at a hospital in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province, have been suspended for allegedly selling medical products used by Singaporean Mandopop singer-songwriter JJ Lin (林俊傑 Lín Jùnjié) during his stay at the facility.

Per the Modern Express (in Chinese), 11 employees at Zhenjiang’s First People’s Hospital, including nurses, have been suspended from their jobs after an anonymous WeChat post went viral on the Chinese internet. The post showed a photo of a drip bag and syringe said to have been used by Lin, and offered the items for sale by online auction. 

For details, please click through to SupChina

—Jiayun Feng


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China has found a way to get the Canadian vegetable oil it needs, after shunning direct imports from the country earlier this year…canola exports to the United Arab Emirates jumped 533 percent from last year to 93,100 tons. Canola from Canada is getting crushed there, and then the oil is being exported to China.

Western policymakers are focused on the reach of China in other countries’ 5G networks, but for many Chinese companies, that ignores the action back home. GSMA, a London-based trade body for mobile network operators, estimates that by 2025 China may have some 600 million 5G subscribers — or about 40 percent of the global total.

American drama series Why Women Kill: Season 1 just won over audiences around the world… As to the backers of the show, few people realized that Chinese company CMC (China Media Capital) is involved. Compared to the increasingly common model of Sino-Hollywood collaborations in film co-productions, it is still rare that a Chinese company taps into TV production in the U.S.

Hangzhou-based crypto mining equipment manufacturer Canaan Inc. is looking to raise $400 million in a US initial public offering (IPO), according to the company’s filing on Monday…

This is the mining equipment giant’s third attempt to go public. The company previously attempted to float shares in Shanghai and Hong Kong, but both attempts fell through largely due to market uncertainties.

Regulation for blockchain needs to be improved as the technology is still at an early stage, according to the People’s Daily commentary [in Chinese], which was published on the WeChat account of the paper’s opinion department. Technical innovations on blockchain aren’t the same as speculative trading of virtual currencies, it said.

“The message is clear — companies should focus on their main business and not jump on the blockchain bandwagon,” said Sun Jianbo, president of China Vision Capital Management. “It’s a warning that support for the sector does not equal an endorsement of speculative trading.”

  • “The capital markets are closed for mining investment in the west”
    Robert Friedland, China and the rush for copper in the DRC / FT (paywall)
    A look at a copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo founded by billionaire mining magnate Robert Friedland (aka Toxic Bob) and funded by China’s state-owned Citic Metals. Key takeaways:

    • Copper demand is growing rapidly because it’s a vital component of electric vehicles.

    • It seems only Chinese state-owned companies are willing to bear the risks of investing in unstable countries like the DRC.

    • “The capital markets are closed for mining investment in the west,” one analyst told the Financial Times. “[In effect] we have decided that we are conceding control of industrial production to China.” 

  • Electric car gloom
    BYD earnings drop 89 percent as China’s electric-car market goes sour / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “BYD Co., China’s biggest maker of new energy vehicles, reported a 89% slump in quarterly net income as slowing demand in the world’s largest car market continues to erode its bottom line.”

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

The amount of waste dumped into China’s coastal waters increased to its highest level in at least a decade in 2018, to a total of 200.7 million cubic meters — a 27 percent rise on the previous year, the country’s environment ministry said on Tuesday.

Most of the waste was dumped in the delta regions of the Yangtze and Pearl rivers, both major industrial zones on China’s eastern coast.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

The ruling Chinese Communist Party on Monday kicked off a three-day plenary session of its Central Committee, with police placing many outspoken critics of the regime under house arrest or close surveillance. 

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts held in Dharamsala — seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile — U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback hit out at what he called China’s “persecution of the Tibetan people’s faith.”

The Tibetan people have the right to choose their own religious leaders, Brownback said.

A young Uyghur man who authorities claimed had suffered a fatal heart attack while held in an internment camp in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was in fact beaten to death by an inebriated police officer, according to sources.

The United States has welcomed China’s proposal to host a fresh meeting bringing together Afghan officials and the Taliban, after President Donald Trump abruptly ended talks with the insurgents.

The Taliban last week said that China had invited a delegation to talks in Beijing, the second such meeting after a dialogue in Qatar in July that jointly arranged with Germany.

  • Commentary: Is China weak and dangerous?
    Beware a faltering China / Foreign Affairs
    Political scientist Michael Beckley argues that Beijing’s assertiveness is a sign of weakness and desperation. He concludes:

Perhaps in a few decades, Chinese power will gradually mellow. Now, however, is a moment of maximum danger, because China is too weak to feel secure or satisfied with its place in the world order but strong enough to destroy it. As China’s economic miracle comes to an end, and Xi’s much-touted Chinese Dream slips away, the United States must contain China’s outbursts with a careful blend of deterrence, reassurance, and damage limitation. Compared to gearing up for a whole-of-society throwdown against a rising superpower, this mission may seem uninspiring. But it would be smarter — and ultimately more effective. 

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

After the global success of 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Chinese film industry exploded, and multibillion-dollar mega studios were built to house and shoot these productions. In Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, the photographer Mark Parascandola has documented the industry’s boom.


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The panda in the room: Hong Kong’s independence movement

Some Hong Kong activists, faced with diminishing prospects for political liberalization and a government in Beijing that’s taken a marked authoritarian turn, have responded by considering hitherto taboo alternatives — including advocating for full independence. It’s time we talked about what this means for Hong Kong

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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.