Voices from China

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Several readers have complained in recent weeks that our coverage has become too one-sided, and that we do not go deep enough into Chinese realities, or present a range of views greater than what is found the “Western media.”

I have to disagree. If you look at all of what we do, from a podcast interview with a scholar urging the U.S. to reconsider its antagonistic relationship with China to an explainer on why Chinese people don’t hate their government, an article on how America can learn from China’s amazing high-speed rail network, and a debunking of the “debt trap diplomacy” criticism that is frequently made of China’s Belt and Road: we offer plenty of perspectives that are sympathetic to Beijing. In fact, we offer so many perspectives that are sympathetic to Beijing that we are called Party stooges or apologists at least as often as we are called tools of Western neoliberalism. 

Nonetheless, as the arguments about China in the U.S. — and just about everywhere else — get more heated, I believe it is worth doing a gut check of our prejudices and biases. We cannot hope to inform you properly about China, dear reader, if we do not understand the way Beijing thinks. 

So from now on, we will regularly include a Voices from China story in the top section of our newsletter, where we will link to and summarize views and arguments that back Beijing’s point of view, or offer a way of thinking about China different from what is typically in the English-language press. 

We will not link to mere propaganda, or to articles that deny well-documented realities such as the surveillance and internment camp system in Xinjiang that has swept up more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. But we will highlight arguments that are reality-based, and present a point of view that we must understand if we want to understand China as it is, not as we may wish it to be. 

Our word of the day is Voices from China or Chinese voices: 中国声音 zhōngguó shēngyīn.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Illustration by pseudonymous Hong Kong artist Kai Lan Egg: see interview on China Underground or Kai Lan Egg’s Instagram.

1. Lam meets Xi after another weekend of clashes in Hong Kong

The South China Morning Post reports

Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 expressed “high trust” in Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é) in a meeting with Lam on Monday in Shanghai and “fully affirmed” the chief executive’s response to unrest that has rattled the city since June, according to official media.

The formal sit-down was the first official meeting between the two since anti-government protests began in early June.

Back in Hong Kong, “aggressive police tactics” failed to stop “radical protesters,” according to the South China Morning Post:  

Once again, police battled protesters on the bustling streets of Hong Kong. The clashes took place mainly in the densely populated commercial districts of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Central, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.

Police’s use of water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and batons were met with flaming barricades and petrol bombs from protesters as the two sides played cat-and-mouse throughout the night.

More than 200 people were arrested on Saturday for protest-related offences including unlawful assembly and violating the mask ban, police said at 1am on Sunday…

The office of Xinhua News Agency in Wan Chai was attacked for the first time, with its glass doors and windows smashed.

Radicals also tried to torch the building by throwing petrol bombs into the lobby — when some Xinhua staff were still working inside. Fortunately the fire was contained and did not cause any extensive damage.

Other news from the City of Protest:

Internet censorship in Hong Kong? “The Hong Kong government threw one more log on its bonfire of Hong Kong’s rule of law last week, with another injunction obtained in the courts, this time to prevent the dissemination online of any information that ‘promotes, encourages or incites the use or threat of violence’ to person or property,” writes Hong Kong based corporate lawyer and author Anthony Dapiran in his newsletter on the protests.

A very Hong Kong headline in the South China Morning Post: Hong Kong surgeons reattach part of district councillor Andrew Chiu’s ear, bitten off by knifeman near Cityplaza mall

Surgeons have reconstructed a district councillor’s ear after part of it was bitten off by a knife-wielding man outside a Hong Kong shopping centre. Andrew Chiu Ka-yin [趙家賢 Zhào Jiāxián], who was recovering on Monday after an overnight operation, was among four people seriously injured in the frenzied attack, launched on Sunday night following an argument over politics outside Cityplaza in Tai Koo.  

2. Voices from China: Alex Lo on democracy in Hong Kong

For our first Voices from China, we present the views of a writer from Hong Kong who is generally very defensive of both the city’s government and of Beijing: Alex Lo. 

Last week we noted that Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong (黃之鋒 Huáng Zhīfēng) was disqualified from running in the November 24 district council elections in Hong Kong. This is Lo’s take: 

Joshua Wong’s disqualification is well-earned

The real significance of Wong’s foregone disqualification from this month’s district council elections is that everyone else, including candidates more radical-sounding than him, have been allowed to proceed.

3. Macron in China, delegation includes EU officials 

The South China Morning Post reports

With major economies locked in disputes over trade, France’s president started a visit to China by announcing that the EU had struck a deal with the country to better protect agricultural products like wine and cheese from counterfeiting.

Emmanuel Macron’s visit is timed to ease some of the tensions that are stifling global commerce, with the European Union asking China to open its markets further and the US and China in a bitter fight over tariffs.

Macron arrived late on Monday in Shanghai, where he visited a sprawling import fair before he is expected to travel to Beijing for a state visit on Wednesday.

“Macron will not shy away from ‘taboo’ topics including Hong Kong and the mass detention of Muslims in China’s northwest Xinjiang region,” say French officials cited by Agence France-Presse

“The French delegation consists of French officials and business people, but also the new EU commissioner for trade Phil Hogan, the German minister for education and research, Anja Karliczek, as well as German business leaders,” according to the EU Observer, which says that according to the Elysée (the official residence of the President of France), “the message to Beijing is a united Europe that does not want to be involved in a US-China trade war.”

However, other observers have drawn a different conclusion: “The idea is to fight China’s divide-and-conquer approach by showing cohesion,” tweeted European security scholar Ulrike E Franke.

4. Friendly noises from both sides of U.S-China trade war 

Regular readers know that we remain pessimistic for hopes of a significant trade deal between the U.S. and China, but today there are friendly noises from both sides: 

“The ‘Phase One’ trade deal with China, once completed, will be signed somewhere in the U.S., President Donald Trump told reporters on Sunday at the White House,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall):

Trump had previously suggested Iowa, the largest U.S. corn and hog producing state, as a natural setting for the trade agreement to be formalized.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Sunday in Bangkok that Alaska and Hawaii, as well as locations in China, were all possible locations for Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign the deal.

“Chinese Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 on Monday urged the United States to meet China halfway to push the two countries’ relations to move forward along the right track,” reports Xinhua.

Li made the remarks when meeting with Robert O’Brien, national security adviser for U.S. President Donald Trump here on the sidelines of the 35th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and related meetings in Thai capital Bangkok.

State-owned China Daily is positive, saying that “China and the United States are expected to wrap up their phase-one trade agreement soon, a step toward ending the yearlong trade dispute and stimulating the global economy.”

Over on Wall Street, “Goldman Sachs economists think the U.S. is at peak tariffs on China,” reports Yahoo Finance: “‘We believe that tariffs on imports from China have likely peaked,’ wrote the bank’s chief U.S. political economist, Alec Phillips, in a note to clients.”

News from other fronts of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 487:

“Executives from the Chinese-owned video app TikTok have declined to testify at a congressional hearing set for Tuesday that aims to explore the tech industry and its ties to China, a move that threatens to worsen the social-media company’s woes in Washington at a moment when it’s under investigation,” reports the Washington Post.

How to stop pernicious influence from Beijing? Orville Schell and Larry Diamond write:

China has lately been infiltrating a wide range of US institutions — from universities and think tanks to the mass media and state and local governments — as well as the Chinese-American community. The only way to stop it is with a strategy of “constructive vigilance.”

“The World Trade Organization has for the first time authorised China to impose punitive tariffs against the US, allowing Beijing to slap $3.6bn in levies on American goods after ruling that US duties on steel and other products were illegally inflated,” according to the Financial Times (paywall). 

“Fitbit Inc., soon to be acquired by Google, says it’s shifting manufacturing operations out of China for its health trackers and smartwatches to avoid U.S. tariffs,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall). “But until then, it wants relief from President Donald Trump’s duties.”

A “vast dragnet” is targeting the theft of biomedical secrets by scientists in the U.S. with links to China, reports the New York Times (porous paywall). “Nearly 200 investigations are underway at major academic centers [but] critics fear that researchers of Chinese descent are being unfairly targeted.”
See also SupChina’s Sinophobia Tracker.

“U.S. urges Taiwan to curb chip exports to China” is the headline of a Financial Times story (paywall) published yesterday:

Washington has over the past year repeatedly asked the government of president Tsai Ing-wen [ 蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén] to restrain Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, from selling chips to Huawei, according to Taiwanese and US government officials.

5. India pulls out of China-backed RIMPAC trade deal 

Reuters reports

China joined 14 countries on Monday in agreeing terms for what could be the world’s biggest trade pact, but India pulled out at the last minute on the grounds that the deal would hurt its farmers, businesses, workers and consumers.

The Sino-U.S. trade war and rising protectionism have given new impetus to years of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which brings together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Members said the deal would be signed next year after the 15 countries without India reached agreement in Bangkok on the text and market access issues.

6. New Zealand and China upgrade free trade agreement

TVNZ reports:

After years of negotiations, New Zealand and China have struck a deal on the long-awaited upgrade to their free trade deal.

It includes new rules to make exporting to China cheaper and easier, the highest level of commitment to environmental standards China has made in any free trade deal, and giving the vast majority of wood and paper trade to China preferential access over the next 10 years.

That will include some processed wood products, for which the forestry sector had been seeking tariff cuts.

In return, New Zealand will adjust visa rules for some jobs here, including tour guides and Mandarin language teachers, but the overall number of visas allocated will not change.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

Yet another Chinese tech firm is hoping to float its shares in the U.S., riding a wave of recent listings that are decidedly smaller than many mega-offerings seen over the last two years. 

This time it’s a company called EHang, maker of futuristic-looking autonomous “air taxis” that are basically drones that can ferry people back and forth through the skies. The company was founded in 2014, and unveiled its first products a couple of years later.

Beijing-based Smartisan, along with its founder and former CEO Luō Yǒnghào 罗永浩, were put on the blacklist for defaulting on payments toward 3.7 million yuan (around $527,000) of debt owed to Jiangsu-based electronics suppliers, according to a consumption restriction order by a local court published on September 24…

The order also bars Luo from spending at luxury hotels, night clubs, and golf clubs, or going on vacation. Any violation will lead to fines or detention, according to the order.

In a statement posted on his social media account, Luo apologized to his creditors and promised to pay off all his debt in the future.

The serial entrepreneur, who is also known for his stand-up comedy episodes that earned him early popularity, vowed that he would become a street performer to clear his debt if he had to.

Based on what I’ve read, Qianzhan’s (a consultancy/research institute) 50-page slide deck is the best open-source, overview-style report on China’s AI industry. I’d wager it’s probably better than the closed-source reports from Goldman, government departments, etc. I’m going to keep harping on this point: If you’re following China’s tech sector, you will miss a lot if you’re not looking at the output of orgs like Qianzhan, CCID, and other Chinese research firms, as these places are only going to scale up and get better.

Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 and his wife Péng Lìyuàn 彭丽媛 hosted a banquet Monday evening in Shanghai to welcome distinguished guests from around the world, who are here to attend the second China International Import Expo (CIIE).

The CIIE is designed to trade goods and services, exchange culture and ideas, welcome visitors from across the globe, benefit the whole world and respond to the aspirations of people from various countries to live a better life, Xi said.

There is no promise “fatigue” about China’s efforts to open its economy to foreign businesses, the government said on Monday on the eve of week-long import fair, after the European Union said China needed to make rapid and substantial improvements.

Societe Generale SA is considering a fully-owned brokerage in China, joining a rush by the world’s biggest banks as the country speeds up the liberalization of ownership restrictions in the financial sector.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

China has given a conditional nod to its first homegrown therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, a field where no new drugs have been approved globally since 2003. 

China’s National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) granted conditional approval for Green Valley Pharmaceuticals’ Oligomannate (GV-971), the drug regulator said in a statement on its website on Saturday.

Hanyuan County in China’s southwest Sichuan province is rich in lead-zinc deposits and dozens of mines are scattered along the Dadu River to extract the ore. The arrival of the mines offered well-paying jobs to locals, many of whom had been poor farmers who jumped at a chance to lift their families out of poverty. 

But years of work in the mines without proper protection gear has taken a deadly toll in the form of silicosis. Former miners say thousands from their ranks have contracted the deadly lung disease, and are left fighting for medical care and compensation from the local government. 

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

A high-ranking ruling Chinese Communist Party leader in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing has died in murky circumstances…

Rèn Xuéfēng 任学锋 was deputy party secretary of Chongqing, a city of more than 30 million residents that reports directly to the leadership in Beijing, when he died at the age of 54, official media reported on Sunday…

A political source in Chongqing surnamed Zhao said he had been told that the “No. 3” official in the city had committed suicide.

Chinese Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 said yesterday that he hopes all sides will actively carry forward consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea according to the previously agreed timetable.

Li made the comment at the 22nd China-ASEAN (10+1) leaders’ meeting in Bangkok.

China is hopeful for “new progress” to be made in ongoing talks with the Asean bloc for a code of conduct governing the disputed South China Sea, Premier Li Keqiang said at a summit on Sunday, as other regional leaders called for countries to exercise restraint over the row.

Li’s comments at the twice-yearly Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting comes amid flaring tensions between Vietnam and Beijing over the dispute triggered by a Chinese oil survey vessel that remained within waters claimed by the Southeast Asian country for more than three months.

A US envoy has denounced Chinese “intimidation” in the South China Sea at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders, as he conveyed an invitation from President Donald Trump for the leaders to attend a special summit in the United States.

Australia and China have committed to improving their strained relationship, as the two nations prepare to engage in trade talks at an international summit in Thailand.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison sat down with Chinese Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit soon after touching down in Bangkok on Sunday night.

Premier Li offered to help get the China-Australia relationship “on the right track” during their bilateral meeting.

The U.S. is aiming to capitalize on growing unease in Asia about the risks and costs of China’s Belt and Road Initiative by unveiling a certification scheme that will set international standards for big infrastructure projects. 

The American-led Blue Dot Network will, its organisers said on Monday, vet and certify projects to promote “market-driven, transparent, and financially sustainable” infrastructure development in Asia and around the world. 

The Blue Dot Network — named after the astronomer Carl Sagan’s observation that Earth looked like a “pale blue dot” when viewed from space — will initially be led by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, in cooperation with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The plan was announced by OPIC, the US agency that promotes investment in emerging markets, at an American-sponsored Indo-Pacific Business Forum held alongside the south-east Asian regional grouping Asean’s annual leaders’ summit.

In China, every day is Kristallnacht.

Eighty-one years ago this week, in what is also known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” hundreds of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Nazi Germany were damaged or destroyed, along with thousands of Jewish-owned businesses. It was in a sense the starting gun for the genocide that culminated in the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka.

In western China, the demolition of mosques and bulldozing of cemeteries is a continuing, relentless process…

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

Mr. Xú Xuéchéng 徐学成, one of the first-generation type designers after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, passed away on November 1, 2019, at the age of 91…

He co-directed the design of Heiti №1 & №2 (黑一, 黑二, similar to sans-serif/grotesque style). Often regarded as the archetypes of the later sans-serif Chinese typefaces, these two types were used in mass circulation, such as Cihai (“Sea of Words”, an encyclopaedic Chinese dictionary) and Selected Works of Mao Zedong. His other designs include Songhei (宋黑, hybrid of serif and sans-serif), Songti №7 (宋七, a classical style serif type), and many display typefaces. 

In August of 1968, China was suddenly gripped by a mania for mangoes. The fruit was praised in poems, worshipped on altars, and toured across the country like a celebrity…

On July 27, 1968, Mao ordered 30,000 factory workers to occupy Qinghua University in Beijing, which had devolved into a battleground between two student militias. Although the workers outnumbered the 400 or so students, they were grossly unprepared. Armed only with pictures of Mao, the workers faced a barrage of bricks, spears, sulfuric acid, and homemade bombs. They suffered casualties and sustained hundreds of serious injuries. But, with the assistance of the People’s Liberation Army, they prevailed.

As a token of his gratitude, Mao sent the workers stationed at Qinghua a case of mangoes, which he’d received from Pakistan’s foreign minister. The gift was accompanied by a message that declared the workers were now in charge of the revolution.


VIDEO ON SUPCHINA

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Chinese reactions to the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry

As President Donald Trump faces the possibility of impeachment, we were naturally curious about how China might view this news, and also get an update on what Chinese people think of Trump himself. We asked around.


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World Military Games draws to a close in Wuhan while Jeremy Lin set to make CBA debut

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With elections on November 5 in many U.S. states and cities, international security specialist Colin Krainin asks if Beijing-style “thought work” is coming to America.

No Party for Cao Dong’s title song for ‘Devotion,’ like the game itself, deserved better

“Devotion,” the video game, is a first-person horror title by the Taiwanese developer Red Candle that was on its way to becoming a crossover hit. And then someone discovered an Easter egg within the game, a scrap of paper that invoked a curse on Winnie the Pooh. All hell broke loose.

China embraced Western classical music because it was superior

While Chinese music was, like Chinese painting, capable of quite subtle expressiveness, it had become rather rarified and too abstracted. Western classical music was high culture, rich, and complex, and seemed to many to embody all the things that had given the West the edge over China in the 19th century: Its combination of individualism and of talent working in concert, its professionalism, its seemingly scientific basis.


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This week on Sinica, Kaiser talks about the state of charitable giving in China with Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Has philanthropy kept pace with the growth of wealth? And how have charities fared under Xi Jinping and China’s new laws governing NGOs and charity?

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China rolls out 5G service, Switzerland gives Huawei the green light, and Alibaba eyes a second IPO after a glowing earnings report.


PHOTO OF THE DAY

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‘Tik Tok is strictly prohibited’

Found at the Jama Masjid (“World-reflecting Mosque”) in Delhi, India: “Tik Tok is strictly prohibited inside the mosque.”