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Alipay opens mobile payment platform to foreign visitors


Dear Access member,

Thanks to many of you for feedback on our Voices From China section. Some of you love the idea, some hate it, and some have given me very useful feedback, which I’ll return to tomorrow. For today, we have plenty of news of the loudest voice in China: Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.

The report or “decision” of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which ended on October 31, has been published (in Chinese). The plenary is an annual meeting of China’s more than 300 most senior leaders. 

There’s nothing surprising in the document: Much of it is about the importance of Party leadership of everything, Xi’s leadership of everything in the Party, and all Party members staying true to Marxism and CPC tradition. But there’s also plenty of verbiage on poverty alleviation, social stability, “eco-civilization,” ethnic unity, the importance of developing cutting-edge technology, and other favorite Xi Jinping topics. 

Our word of the day is Alipay (支付宝 zhī fù bǎo).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Xi’s global village: The French, Jamaican, Greek, and Serbian first couples join Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 and his wife Péng Lìyuàn 彭丽媛 for a banquet in Shanghai on November 4, 2019. Source: Xinhua.

1. Alipay opens mobile payment platform to foreigners 

In the last four years, China has gone almost cashless — even beggars accept alms given by mobile phone payment. This has made travel quite inconvenient for people who don’t have a Chinese bank account because getting a mobile payment account is difficult without one. 

Tencent’s WeChat Pay, one of the two popular mobile payment systems, already supports credit cards issued by foreign providers, but the functionality of the payment service is limited compared to what local users get. Now TechNode reports that Alibaba-affiliated fintech giant Ant Financial “has introduced an international version of its mobile payment app, Alipay, allowing travelers to link foreign bank cards to the service for use in China.”

To access the international version, users need to download the Alipay app and register with their overseas mobile phone number. Through the “Tour Pass” mini-program, international users can use the prepaid card service provided by the Bank of Shanghai that allows them to use QR code payment and online payment.

International users can link their debit or credit cards with the prepaid card within the mini program.

The minimum top-up for each card is 100 yuan ($14) and the balance is capped at 2,000 yuan ($285). The prepaid card is valid for 90 days. The remaining funds will be automatically refunded when the card expires.

The international version is now available on both iOS and Android devices. 

2. Xi preaches openness in Shanghai

When the Communist Party has a big event, the home pages of state media organizations get red headlines and red graphics to celebrate. A different message is pushed today: that China is open to the world for trade, and so it’s blue-letter-day blue on the People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency websites. 

The “rushing waves” of China’s opening up is the topic of today’s top story (in Chinese) from the People’s Daily, while Xinhua focuses (in Chinese) on a dinner hosted by Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 and his wife, Péng Lìyuàn 彭丽媛, for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, in Shanghai (English report here). 

Schmoozing Macron was just one of Xi’s many activities in Shanghai during the last two days. He also gave a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the second China International Import Expo (the top story on Xinhua News Agency’s English website today) and wined and dined the Jamaican, Greek, and Serbian first couples (see photo above). The message is clear: China is open, smiling, and friendly. 

See also in the New York Times: China’s Xi praises free trade. A U.S. deal goes unmentioned. (porous paywall):

A setback with India and continuing negotiations with the United States test Beijing’s talk of lowering global barriers.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Bye-bye, Beijing Bookworm

For more than a decade, the Beijing Bookworm — an English-language bookstore, library, café, and host of the capital’s only real international literary festival — has been a public hub of intellectual life, fostering dialogue and bridging cultures.

Yet despite its popularity, The Bookworm announced its closure today, citing the city’s “ongoing cleanup of ‘illegal structures’” and an inability to “secure an extension of our lease.” Details remain vague. The bookstore has faced financial difficulty for a while now, having closed down its Suzhou and Chengdu locations within the past year, but no matter the exact reason for its impending closure (November 11 will be its final day), what’s clear is that Beijing will be poorer for The Bookworm’s absence.

For details on this sad turn of events, please click through to SupChina

—Anthony Tao

4. China to Trump: Drop the tariffs!

“China is setting its price for signing an interim trade deal with the United States: drop the tariffs,” says Bloomberg via Yahoo Finance:

The question is whether President Donald Trump will pay it…

People familiar with the deliberations say Beijing has asked the Trump administration to pledge not only to withdraw threats of new tariffs but also to eliminate duties on about $110 billion in goods imposed in September. Negotiators are also discussing lowering the 25% duty on about $250 billion that Trump imposed last year, the people said. On the U.S. side, people say it’s not clear if Trump, who will have the final say, will be willing to cut any duties.

The reporting on China’s demands seems accurate, judging from tweets by the editor of nationalist rag Global Times, and the latest posting (in Chinese) from highly connected WeChat blogger Taoran Notes. 

There is at least a little U.S. enthusiasm for cutting tariffs, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall):

U.S. and Chinese officials are actively considering rolling back some tariffs to clinch the partial trade deal under negotiation, according to people familiar with the talks. “If there’s a deal, [removing] tariffs will be part of it,” a senior administration official said late Monday. 

Today, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said “that very good progress was being made toward completing a phase one trade agreement with China and he was hopeful that it would be a precursor to a much more robust agreement,” reports Reuters.

5. Is the clock ticking on TikTok America?

“American leaders…have cast their fearful gaze on a new Chinese target: the dancing and singing teens and tweens of TikTok,” says the New York Times (porous paywall)

A secretive federal panel with a national security focus is reviewing the purchase of TikTok two years ago by a Chinese company called Bytedance, The New York Times and others reported last week. Three senators have asked the Trump administration to review potential national security and privacy threats posed by the app, warning that Bytedance could strip out content that displeases the Communist Party, such as videos of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong…

TikTok’s popularity — if you’re the parent of a teenager, that teenager probably has it on her phone — blazes uncharted territory. Its unexpected rise is forcing Americans for the first time to consider living in a world influenced by a Chinese-backed social media network.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that former TikTok staff confirm that the company censors content, despite denials from Bytedance:

[Tik Tok’s] happy-go-lucky rise was largely shaped by its Beijing-based parent company, which imposed strict rules on what could appear on the app in keeping with China’s restrictive view of acceptable speech.

Following those rules often sparked clashes within the organization, former U.S. employees of the company told The Washington Post. American workers, accustomed to unrestrained expression online, bristled at commands to restrict videos that Beijing-based teams had deemed subversive or controversial, including heavy kissing, heated debates and the kinds of political discussions seen widely across the Web.

6. U.K.: ‘Alarming evidence’ of threat to academic freedom from Beijing

The Guardian reports:

Universities are not adequately responding to the growing risk of China and other “autocracies” influencing academic freedom in the UK, the foreign affairs select committee has said.

The report, rushed out before parliament is suspended pending the election, finds “alarming evidence” of Chinese interference on UK campuses, adding some of the activity seeking to restrict academic freedom appears to be coordinated by the Chinese embassy in London.

Counterpoint from scholar Mike Gow on Twitter

Reports from foreign affairs committees which identify students as a threat make this task much more difficult, if not impossible. 

Discourse has an impact – alters attitudes towards our students and contributes to United Front Work Department objectives to alienate overseas Chinese.

Related: A Chinese student association at a Canadian university “that was stripped of its club status over concerns it had monitored campus activities for the Chinese government failed on Sunday to reverse the club’s decertification,” reports the South China Morning Post:

The student representative assembly at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, deratified the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) in September following allegations that it had endangered students by leading a campaign to report an on-campus talk by a Uygur activist to the Chinese consulate in New York.

See also this conversation on ChinaFile: How should universities respond to China’s growing presence on their campuses?

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

New anti-addiction guidelines for minors that set out limits for time and money spent on mobile games have been introduced by China’s state censor, following previous calls to curb excessive gaming. 

State media published the new rules [in Chinese] on Tuesday, which introduced a stricter real-name registration system and, for the first time, an age rating system. The State Administration of Press and Publications (SAPP) guidelines also include limiting gaming to between 8am and 10pm, with no more than 1.5 hours each day — or three hours on holidays — and no more than 400 yuan (US$57) to be spent each month on in-game purchases.

“The introduction of a stricter real-name registration and age rating system is certainly new and will have a larger impact given that these systems will be harder for minors to hack or cheat,” said Ahmad, who works for gaming consultancy Niko Partners.

Minors make up around 20 percent of China’s internet users and a smaller percentage of online game players, according to Ahmad.  

A New Zealand telecom provider has announced the trial of a localized, private 5G network that uses equipment manufactured by Huawei Technologies, calling into question the extent to which the Chinese tech giant is blocked from supplying the country’s next-generation mobile networks.

Despite being blocked a year ago from deploying Huawei gear in its 5G networks, mobile carrier Spark New Zealand announced Saturday that is providing a Huawei-powered 5G offering for the exclusive use of Emirates Team New Zealand, a sailing team, which aims to use the network in designated parts of Auckland Harbor to gather real-time data on a new boat it is testing.

On his maiden trip to China as the incoming European Commission’s trade commissioner this week, Phil Hogan has prioritized advancing talks on a bilateral investment treaty that have dragged on for six years. However, those familiar with the negotiations say that a major sticking point has emerged that did not exist in 2013: China’s corporate social credit system.

An offshoot of the much-discussed social credit system for individuals, the loosely defined and poorly understood scorecard for businesses in China — according to a recent report by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China — is now a major irritant for international business and trade officials, as it nears implementation.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

—Scholars warn of ‘recontamination risks’ for those using public toilets, with 87 percent of Staphylococcus species found resistant to at least one first-line antibiotic.

—Internal door handles have most bacteria, with 148 bacterial cells per square centimetre, followed by jet air dryers with 142 cells.

—Gender also played a role in the bacterial count discovered…the women’s washrooms researched had better overall cleanliness.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said on Tuesday that concerns were mounting among European businesses and leaders over the lack of progress on an investment treaty between Beijing and Brussels, which had already taken seven years of talks.

China fired warning flares at Philippine military planes conducting maritime patrols near the artificial islands controlled by China in the West Philippine Sea early this year, the military said Tuesday. 

Maj. Gen. Reuben Basiao, deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told lawmakers at a security briefing at the House of Representatives that the flares, which originated from China-held military outposts, were meant to warn Filipino pilots to stay away from the disputed waters.

The first use of the term ‘West Philippine Sea’ by the Philippine government was as early as 2011 during the administration of then-President Benigno Aquino III… In September 2012, the Philippine government announced that it would start using the name to refer to waters west of the Philippines as ‘West Philippine Sea’ in government maps, other forms of communication and documents.

  • China “confirms status as the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom”
    Freedom on the net 2019: The crisis of social media / Freedom House
    “What was once a liberating technology has become a conduit for surveillance and electoral manipulation,” according to this year’s annual report from Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization Freedom House.
    “China confirmed its status as the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year,” says the report (although North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Eritrea are not included in the ranking). The link above is a summary of the report; the whole thing is in a PDF here

  • India looks to Europe instead of China for trade deal?
    After refusing to join China-led trade deal, India supports talks with EU / Hindustan Times

India should hold talks with the European Union for a free trade agreement, the government said on Tuesday, a day after it refused to join a China-backed regional trade pact for fear of a flood of cheap Chinese imports. 

Asked for China’s comments on India not joining the RCEP deal over concern of cheap Chinese products potentially harming its domestic industry, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽 told the media [in Beijing] on Tuesday that China welcomes India joining the deal.

“The RCEP is open. We will follow the principle of mutual understanding and accommodation to negotiate and resolve those outstanding problems raised by India and we welcome an early joining by India,” he said.

Vietnam will fine a Volkswagen local distributor and an importer for showcasing a car with a navigation app reflecting Chinese territorial claims rejected by Hanoi…

VW Vietnam Auto faces a penalty of 20 million to 40 million dong ($864-$1,727), while World Auto will be fined 40 million-60 million dong ($1,727-$2,575) and suspended from operating for six to nine months.

  • China and the Indo-Pacific Strategy
    United States’ report on the implementation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy / U.S. Department of State
    A progress report that “details two years of diplomatic, economic, governance, and security initiatives that show the United States’ continuing commitment to the Indo-Pacific and how we have strengthened people-to-people and bilateral ties.” There is some strong language on China:

PRC maritime claims in the South China Sea, exemplified by the preposterous “nine-dash line,” are unfounded, unlawful, and unreasonable.  These claims, which are without legal, historic, or geographic merit, impose real costs on other countries…

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) practices repression at home and abroad… We have called on the PRC publicly to halt its brutal repression of yighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang. We urge that the selection of religious leaders by the Tibetan community be free of interference by the Chinese Communist Party. With respect to Hong Kong, we have cautioned Beijing that it must uphold its commitments to maintaining Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil liberties under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. 

Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 has lent his full support to Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é), quashing speculation for now she would be replaced even as he signalled that her government must quell the social unrest that has now roiled the city for five months.

In a meeting with the chief executive on Monday night, Xi also took a measured approach in giving his assessment of the political crisis roiling the city, analysts said. While he demanded “unswerving efforts to stop and punish violent activities” in accordance with the law, the president also called for more dialogue with different sectors of society.

“Xi expressed his hope that people from all walks of life in Hong Kong fully and faithfully implement the principle of ‘one country, two systems,’” state news agency Xinhua reported.

New research by the Journalism and Media Studies Center of the Hong Kong University unveiled that disinformation spread on social media by China framed the 2019 Hong Kong protests as a separatist movement.

Radicals wearing Guy Fawkes masks to mark one-month anniversary of government ban on face coverings, smash up shops and block roads.

Hong Kong’s food and beverage businesses posted the steepest fall in the third quarter of this year since the 2003 SARS outbreak due to the ongoing anti-government protests. 

These days I spend more time in Beijing than in Berlin, and this is what I foresee: The social credit system, with its technology of 24/7 surveillance, will not prevent China from succumbing, over the next 10 or 20 years, to the combination of a slowing economy, a rising and expectant middle class, a chronically corrupt political system, a corrosive culture of dissembling, and a fragmentation that has already begun on the periphery.

The Great Firewall of China is crumbling. And, as with the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, pressure from outside is going to accelerate the process.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Alex Fong Lik-sun [方力申 Fāng Lìshēn], the former Olympian and Canto-pop star, swam clockwise around Hong Kong Island on Tuesday, setting an unofficial record for the 45km journey at 10 hours, 43 minutes and six seconds. 


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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.