Will Shanghai become a swamp?

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Our word of the day is sea level rise: 海平面上升 hǎi píngmiàn shàngshēng.

Job: The Environmental Investigation Agency, a 501(c)(3) non-profit advocacy organization based in Washington D.C., wants to hire a China trade and policy analyst.

The final frontier: We published an explainer on China’s ambitious space program today. Also: the latest contribution from our science columnist Yangyang Cheng: The holy and the broken in which she reflects on the life of Abdus Salam, the first Muslim scientist to win a Nobel Prize, and his complicated relationship to his home country of Pakistan, China, and the Bomb.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

A New York Times visualization of new projections of sea level rise from climate change affecting major coastal cities like Shanghai. 

1. Rising sea levels to turn Shanghai into a swamp — study 

A new study on sea level rise due to climate change was published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications. It has major implications for Chinese coastal cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou. The study is titled New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding

The study measured land elevation from satellite data using a method that the authors claim is far more accurate than previous methods, which “struggle to differentiate the true ground level from the tops of trees or buildings,” Scott Kulp, a researcher at Climate Central and one of the paper’s authors, told the New York Times (porous paywall). 

Comparing the true elevation data to the populations of coastal cities and consensus estimates of sea level rise (from 0.5 to as much as 2 meters by the end of the century), the authors found that the number of people vulnerable to sea level rise is tens of millions higher than previously thought. China is one of the countries worst affected:

  • Approximately 43 million to 57 million people in China currently live on land that will be underwater by the end of the 21st century, according to models in the paper.

  • China alone accounts for 15 to 28 percent of the world’s total populated land that will likely be under sea level. 

  • This is largely because the Yangtze River Delta, where Shanghai is located, and the Pearl River Delta, where Guangzhou and other cities are located, have high concentrations of people in low-lying land. 

  • Besides mass relocations of people, there are defensive measures like levies that will have to be built to deal with this problem in the long term. Per the NYT:

The findings don’t have to spell the end of those areas. The new data shows that 110 million people already live in places that are below the high tide line, which [Benjamin Strauss, a paper coauthor] attributes to protective measures like seawalls and other barriers. Cities must invest vastly greater sums in such defenses, Mr. Strauss said, and they must do it quickly.

But even if that investment happens, defensive measures can go only so far. Mr. Strauss offered the example of New Orleans, a city below sea level that was devastated in 2005 when its extensive levees and other protections failed during Hurricane Katrina. “How deep a bowl do we want to live in?” he asked.

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. Dueling statements on Xinjiang at the UN 

The Associated Press reports

China and the West clashed at the U.N. human rights committee Tuesday over claims that Beijing systematically oppresses ethnic minority Muslims in far western Xinjiang province.

Belarus read a statement on behalf of 54 countries commending “China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” and taking note “that terrorism, separatism and religious extremism has caused enormous damage to people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, which has seriously infringed upon human rights, including right to life, health and development.”

Britain read a statement on behalf of 23 countries that shared concerns with the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about “credible reports” of mass detention, “efforts to restrict cultural and religious practices, mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs, and other human rights violations and abuses in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”

China issued a rather mild rebuke to the U.S. Reuters reports that China’s UN ambassador warned that “U.S. criticism at the world body of Beijing’s policy in remote Xinjiang was not ‘helpful’ for negotiations between the two countries on a trade deal.”

Back in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry condemned Australia with more vigor for remarks by that country’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, that China must be held to account for human rights abuses. Per the Global Times, Beijing seems particularly annoyed that she brought up Xinjiang.

Related stories:

“At least 150 people have died over the course of six months while detained at an internment camp for mainly ethnic Uyghurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to an official source, marking the first confirmation of mass deaths since the camps were introduced in 2017,” reports Radio Free Asia

The Chinese foreign ministry “strongly urged the United States to stop using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” according to Xinhua News Agency. This came after Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, recently met the Dalai Lama in India.   

“This fall will be remembered in Kazakhstan for a wave of anti-China protests there. Kazakhstan’s increasing debt to China, the growing presence of Chinese enterprises and goods, the inevitable scheme of trading oil for technology, and the persecution of Muslim Uighurs in neighboring Xinjiang are serving to strengthen Kazakh society’s fear of Chinese expansion,” according to the Carnegie Moscow Center

3. Chile meetings canceled as trade deal doubts persist

“Chile has canceled a pair of major global summits on the economy and environment in the coming weeks amid unrest in Santiago, scrambling President Trump’s hopes of signing a first-step trade deal with China at one of the events,” reports the Washington Post.

It’s not even certain a deal would have been signed. “U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand that Beijing commit to big purchases of American farm products has become a major sticking point in talks to end the Sino-U.S. trade war, according to several people briefed on the negotiations,” reports Reuters.

Other news of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 482:

The Eastman Philharmonia, a group of more than 80 student musicians at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, “canceled a planned tour of China after three South Korean members of the orchestra were unable to obtain visas, apparently in retaliation for South Korea agreeing in 2016 to deploy an American missile defense system,” reports the New York Times (porous paywall).

“The world’s largest online shopping event may be in the grips of a nationalistic fervor, as three in four Chinese consumers say they will avoid U.S. labels, opting for local brands,” during the ecommerce promotion of Singles’ Day on November 11, according to the South China Morning Post.  

A recording of a former American official who now lobbies for Chinese AI firm Hikvision “provides a rare glimpse into what former U.S. elected officials say behind closed doors when they choose to lobby for foreign entities after leaving office,” says Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian in the Washington Post: David “Vitter’s comments reveal a stark about-face from some of the positions he championed while in office.”

4. Should a 13-year-old boy get the death sentence for killing a 10-year-old girl? 

A 13-year-old boy in Dalian, Liaoning Province, has been sent to a juvenile correctional facility for a three-year term — the maximum allowed under Chinese law — after sexually assaulting and killing a 10-year-old girl last week. 

The victim’s parents were interviewed (in Chinese) by the Huashang Daily, and said that they had hired a lawyer and rejected a settlement offer suggested by Cai’s family, who have avoided meeting them, and have never delivered an apology for Cai’s crime. “We have no desire for money. All we want is the death penalty for Cai,” the girl’s uncle told the publication.

That’s a sentiment shared by many internet users, who argue (in Chinese) that Cai should be held accountable for his conduct because he had the ability to understand that murder was morally wrong. But much to their chagrin, Dalian’s Public Security Bureau announced on October 24 that Cai would not face criminal charges because existing Chinese law stipulates that minors under 14 are not held to be criminally responsible. Instead, Cai would spend the next three years in enforced rehabilitation, which was the harshest punishment allowed by the justice system.

For more on this story, please click through to SupChina.   

5. Fear and loathing — anti-mainlander sentiment in Hong Kong

As anti-government protests simmer in Hong Kong, some demonstrators are increasingly focusing their anger on mainland Chinese in the city, hurling abuse and, in some cases, beating them, according to Reuters via CNA:

More than one million mainland Chinese live and work in Hong Kong, according to official figures, many of them in the city’s bustling finance industry that serves as an entry point into China for global investors. Some of these mainlanders say they are looking to relocate while others say they dare not go out at the weekends, when the protests regularly escalate.

Put another way, “South Asians and Africans are no longer Hong Kong’s ‘ethnic other’ – now it’s the mainland Chinese,” according to Gordon Mathews, chair of the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

If you’re following the protests closely, you might want to sign up for new daily newsletter about the protests in Hong Kong from a resident American scholar: Rubber Bullets and Resistance. Today’s issue is: Joshua Wong and Carrie Lam, protest updates, and HK’s press rebels

Other news from Hong Kong:

“The central government on Wednesday expressed support for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) decision to disqualify Joshua Wong [黃之鋒 Huáng Zhīfēng], the leader of a political group advocating ‘Hong Kong independence,’ from the 2019 District Council Ordinary Election of the HKSAR,” according to Xinhua. As we noted yesterday, Wong is not actually advocating for independence.  

“Masked protester or trick-or-treater? Hong Kong’s police may soon have to spot the difference to enforce a recent ban on face masks intended to end months of civil unrest,” says the South China Morning Post

“A charity fund of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing [李嘉诚 Lǐ Jiāchéng] will donate HK$200 million ($25.5 million) to help local small and medium restaurants,” reports Caixin

—Jeremy Goldkorn


Its app attracts users by having the ability to unlock nearly all bikes from other existing platforms, including the Mobike and the now-defunct Ofo. The problem, however, was that Quannengche did so without the knowledge and consent of the other companies whose bikes it unlocks. 

Instead, it first breaches the servers of other bike sharing companies, retrieves key info on their existing subscribers, then intercepts the data transmission when its own users are unlocking bikes, and add those stolen info into the data package to trick the servers into believing that the user unlocking the bikes are legitimate, when in fact they’re most likely not.

At stores, shoppers are increasingly purchasing goods with just a turn of their heads, while commuters “pay with their face” at subway stations…

The Seven-Eleven convenience store chain introduced facial payment technology in May for its stores, mainly in southern parts of China including Guangdong Province. Some 1,000 Seven-Eleven outlets already use the system, which allows customers to make purchases only by having their faces scanned by point-of-sale tablets.

Construction has largely stalled at the three towers of Oceanwide Plaza across from Staples Center where the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers and the NHL’s Kings play their home games…

The developer, Beijing-based Oceanwide Holdings Co., offered few details on the future of the $1 billion-plus project — other than to insist that it has financing and work is continuing. The lawsuits by unpaid subcontractors, on the other hand, give a glimpse of the developer’s struggle to come up with needed money to finish the project.

Shanghai police have seized one million fake toys after raiding a factory in the city of Dongguan. According to Chinese site The Paper, included among the fakes were Pokémon, Dragon Ball, One Piece and Gundam items.

The massive raid took place this past August and netted over 1,200 toy-making tools and equipment. China News reports that in total the goods are worth over $42 million dollars. Over twenty suspects were arrested.

Two of China’s biggest high-tech names, smartphone-maker Xiaomi and on-demand services platform Meituan Dianping, are finally available to stock buyers on the Chinese mainland. On Saturday the pair were officially included in a stock connect scheme that makes Hong Kong-traded stocks available to mainland-based investors, according to a statement [in Chinese] on Shenzhen Stock Exchange website. 



A Chinese professor who headed a Confucius Institute in Brussels has been barred from entering the Schengen Area for eight years after being accused of espionage, amid growing scrutiny of the Beijing-run cultural offices that have been established at universities around the world.

Sòng Xīnníng 宋新宁, former director of the institute at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), said he had been accused by authorities in Belgium of supporting Chinese intelligence activities in the city — an accusation he denied.

The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries that have abolished passport and other types of controls at their mutual borders.

Two pro-Beijing politicians in Taiwan have been charged with accepting funds from the Chinese mainland. Observers said the decision to charge the pair, from the Chinese Democratic Progressive Party, reflected the authorities’ determination to counter alleged inference in the island’s political process ahead of the presidential election in January.

  • People behind the banned Malaysian comic book
    Malaysian finance minister admits writing foreword for banned pro-China comic / SCMP
    “Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng [林冠英 Lín Guānyīng] has chosen to remain tight-lipped over the foreword that he penned in the controversial and now-banned pro-China comic book, Belt & Road Initiative for Win-Winism.”
    Malaysia banned the comic after a controversy because it “suggested that Malays who supported China’s Muslim Uygurs were radicals.”


China’s education ministry has urged universities to improve the way they handle allegations of sexual harassment, such as special committees to tackle the problem, according to state media reports.

Since the #MeToo feminist movement gained global momentum, several high-profile cases of sexual harassment and assault have come to light in China.


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China’s space program is taking off

In 2018, China conducted 39 orbital launches, more than any other country in the world. However, China has a long march ahead to catch up with the U.S., as Chinese official space exploration only began in earnest around the turn of the 21st century.


Click Here

The Holy and the Broken

“Salam: the First ****** Nobel Laureate” is a documentary currently available on Netflix that looks at the life of Abdus Salam, the first Muslim scientist to win a Nobel Prize. In learning about his story — which included multiple visits to China, and a complicated relationship with his home country of Pakistan — Yangyang Cheng reflects on her own. When science is primarily funded by the state, what is a scientist’s civic duty — to the profession, to one’s country, and to fundamental values?