What do Xi Jinping’s ‘toughest public comments yet’ on Hong Kong mean?

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Dear Access member,

I am asking for your help with a reader inquiry:

“We always need to plan ahead for Chinese New Year for our business in China. We are hearing that the official holiday for Spring Festival in 2020 will be extended, and that ports may even be closed for a month. Can you verify?” 

I have not found anything online about this. Have any other Access members heard such talk? The officially scheduled holiday is from January 24 to January 30. 

Our word of the day is from a Xinhua News Agency Chinese-language headline and graphic (linked in the top story below): 

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Xí Jìnpíng 习近平:

Stopping violence, controlling chaos, and restoring order are Hong Kong’s most urgent duties

止暴制乱 恢复秩序是香港当前最紧迫的任务

zhǐbào zhìluàn huīfù zhìxù shì xiānggǎng dāngqián zuì jǐnpò de rènwù

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Hong Kong’s Temple Street Night Market is usually bustling, but the protests have kept both tourists and locals away. Photograph by Lau Chi Chung for the California Sunday Magazine’s compilation of photos and interviews focused on the generational divide of the Hong Kong protests, reproduced with kind permission. 

1. What do Xi Jinping’s ‘toughest public comments yet’ on Hong Kong mean?

Another day of violence in Hong Kong — the New York Times reports (porous paywall): 

Protesters armed with bows and arrows on Thursday reinforced the siege-like fortifications they had built on Hong Kong university campuses in anticipation of clashes with the police, and a 70-year-old man died after being struck in the head, possibly by a thrown brick. 

President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 also gave his toughest public comments yet about the protests that have roiled Hong Kong since June, saying China supported the police “in sternly enforcing the law.”

Xi not only gave the comments publicly, but they are also the top story on major state media websites today, in the form of this Xinhua article (English, Chinese): 

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the most pressing task for Hong Kong at present is to bring violence and chaos to an end and restore order. Xi made this clear stance of the Chinese government on Hong Kong’s situation while he was attending the 11th BRICS summit in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, on Thursday…

“We will continue to firmly support the chief executive in leading the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to govern in accordance with the law, firmly support the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing the law, and firmly support the Hong Kong judicial bodies in severely punishing the violent criminals in accordance with the law,” Xi said.

This is the first time Xinhua has featured the Hong Kong protests as top story on its website, if my memory serves.

What does this mean? 

The South China Morning Post asks: Is Beijing ready to step in to stop Hong Kong protests? The answer, in a word, is “No!” In bullet points, per the SCMP: 

  • Despite the escalating chaos this week, observers do not think the central government is ready for such a drastic step.

  • One analyst believes that the cost to China’s international reputation is still too high while another questions whether it has an effective plan.

If Beijing does not send in the tanks, what can they do? 

Here’s one clue: In comments circulating widely on Chinese websites, Zhāng Xiǎomíng 张晓明, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, says (my translation): 

Fully establishing the legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security, and strengthening the powers of law enforcement have become urgent duties facing people from all walks of life in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Xi spoke of “severely punishing the violent criminals,” Zhang of the necessity for Hong Kong to enact a national security law. (Listen to this podcast with Jerome Cohen for an explanation of the national security law issue, or see this South China Morning Post article for more on Zhang’s remarks).

So, rather than sending tanks in, the plan seems to be to enact laws that harshly punish people accused of threatening national security. If Beijing has its way, the definition of “threatening national security” will be like it is in the mainland, where the wrong kind of public assembly or online speech — or pretty much anything the Party chooses — can be deemed a security threat. 

Perhaps this is confirmed by the publication of an unusual number of Hong Kong stories on Xinhua News Agency’s home page today, all focusing on law, crime, and punishment: This one says the protesters’ “crimes cannot be tolerated”; here, they are “one step closer to terrorism”; and in this opinion piece, students are advised that university campuses are “not outside the law” (all in Chinese). 

If this is correct, we can expect more arrests of protesters in the short term. In the coming months, it looks like Beijing will pressure the Hong Kong government to pass laws that can be used to target protesters and their supporters. 

What else went on in Hong Kong today? 

“Hong Kong was left crippled for a fourth straight day, as protests paralyzed parts of the city and residents questioned how much longer they could endure the disruptions,” says Bloomberg (porous paywall): 

The unrest on Thursday prompted companies to tell employees to work from home while some train lines were suspended, major events were canceled and public schools were closed through Sunday.  

Some office workers joined protests instead of staying at home, part of what the Hong Kong Free Press called “an increasingly emboldened white-collar support base for the protest movement.” As activist and pop star Denise Ho (何韻詩 Hé Yùnshī) put it in a tweet with a photo

The infamous supplies human chain making its first appearance in Central, consisting of office ladies and business men in suits.

Lunch protests are on for the four consecutive day, with more than one thousand HKers gathering on the streets of the financial center.

Rumors that a weekend curfew would be imposed on Hong Kong “swept the city and cyberspace on Tuesday fueling tensions after five months of unrest,” reports the South China Morning Post. The rumors were fueled by a since-deleted tweet from nationalist rag Global Times, and an article on that publication’s English website. 

Hong Kong police denied they “had been asked to enforce a possible curfew this weekend,” according to the Associated Press. A police spokesperson, however, made remarks using similar language to Chinese state media articles: 

In unusually harsh language, he said students were turning university campuses into “weapons factories” and a “hotbed” of crime.

“Their acts are another step closer to terrorism,” Tse said, warning of a major disaster if gasoline bombs stored on campuses were to catch fire.

He said violence that broke out this week at Chinese University of Hong Kong is spreading to other campuses “like a cancer cell,” mentioning specifically Hong Kong University and Baptist University.

International and mainland students continue to leave the city as more universities have announced a premature end to the fall term. There are reports of departing South Koreans and Taiwanese, while Reuters says that with “campuses turned into blazing battlegrounds, courses canceled and anti-China sentiment growing more virulent, students from mainland China are getting out of Hong Kong with little idea if they will ever go back.”

The generational divide of the Hong Kong protests is the focus of this compilation in the California Sunday Magazine of brief interviews by Karen Cheung and photos by Lau Chi Chung. 

Back in the P.R.C. proper, a “Chinese professor has become the latest target of an online nationalist backlash on the mainland after his chat messages that appeared to support the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters were leaked online,” according to the South China Morning Post

2. Still no agreement on tariffs and agricultural purchases 

“China reiterated Thursday that canceling tariff hikes is an important condition for China and the United States to reach a trade agreement, noting that the degree of tariff cancelation should fully reflect the importance of a ‘phase one’ deal,” says Xinhua today:

China has repeatedly stressed that the trade war was triggered by tariff hikes and should be ended by canceling them, said Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gāo Fēng 高峰 at a press conference…

If China and the United States reach a “phase one” deal, the degree of the tariff cancelation should fully reflect the importance of the “phase one” agreement.

Another problem is a U.S. demand “that China spell out how it plans to reach as much as $50 billion in agricultural imports annually [which] has become a sticking point in negotiations on a phase one trade deal,” according to Bloomberg (porous paywall).

Other news from various fronts of the U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 497:

China is not actually stealing American jobs and wealth, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review by John L. Graham and Benjamin Leffel, which says: 

Data collected by the Long U.S.-China Institute suggest that China is far less guilty of these crimes than many policymakers and commentators would have us believe.

Graham and Leffel conclude that despite the problems in the two countries’ relationship, “the data of the last 25 years portray U.S.-China commerce as the most synergistic bi-lateral relationship in world history, bringing peace along with mutual prosperity.”

That’s a much sunnier view than you find in the U.S.-China Commission’s annual report, which “advises Congress to get tough on Beijing,” per the Washington Post:

In an annual report released Thursday, the influential U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission advised Congress to restrict some Chinese companies’ access to U.S. stock markets, heighten oversight of university research to prevent academic espionage and pass legislation to discourage mainland China’s military or police from engaging in an armed intervention in Hong Kong.

The commission also advised Congress to take steps to ensure the security of medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients imported from China, warning that growing U.S. reliance on these imports poses “economic and national security risks.”

The report is nearly 600 pages long and spells out a huge range of concerns from space and artificial intelligence to China’s relations with Russia, the environment for American companies in China, and intellectual property theft. The executive summary of the report also explains:

If there were glimmers of political opening in China, they have been firmly extinguished. It is for this reason that this year the Commission made the decision to start referring to Xi Jinping using the title by which he derives his authority: General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Nonetheless, “multinationals are still pouring cash into China,”according to Bloomberg (porous paywall):

Companies from Tesla Inc. to Walmart Inc. are expanding operations in the world’s second-biggest economy, joined by counterparts from Korea, Japan and Europe. That’s helping offset the departure of goods manufacturers that have had to rethink supply chains after U.S. tariffs made their products more expensive.

Foreign direct investment into China rose nearly 3 percent in the first nine months of 2019 from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Commerce, the same pace as 2018’s increase.  

3. Xi, the Parthenon marbles, and schmoozing Latin America

During the November 10–12 state visit of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 to Greece, we noted the upbeat noises in Athens as the Chinese leader schmoozed the Greek prime minister, which Greek leaders hailed as the start of a “new era,” per this report from Athens-based John Psaropoulos. The two countries signed a bunch of memorandums of cooperation, “the most important of which outline new Chinese energy investments in Greece.” 

Xi also made an emotional connection to his Greek counterpart: He offered to help Greece retrieve the contested Parthenon Marbles from the U.K., where they are kept at the British Museum, despite decades of Greek complaints, according to CNN.  The Chinese government is similarly trying to have relics looted by European and American countries and individuals returned. Beijing, and Chinese history textbooks, are particularly sensitive about the British role in the sacking of the Summer Palace, which led to the departure of many culturally significant objects from China’s shores.  

On to Brazil, where Xi has been schmoozing President Jair Bolsonaro, who yesterday said “‘China is becoming more and more part of Brazil’s future,’ after the two men signed largely non-binding agreements on transport, services and investment ahead of a summit of BRICS countries,” according to Agence France-Presse. Reuters also reports: 

China will make a billion-dollar investment in the Brazilian port of Sao Luis via China Communications Construction Company (601800.SS), two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday…

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said on Wednesday that Brazil is seeking closer integration with China, its largest trading partner, involving not only trade but also investments.

Bolsonaro has done a complete turnaround from his campaign rhetoric last year. Journalist and author Richard McGregor commented by tweet on the above news: 

Along with [Foreign Minister] Wáng Yì’s 王毅 recent trips to South America, a trend the U.S., Canada, Australia etc should be watching. And amazing given how Bolsonaro talked about China during the election

4. Trade war, schmade war: Chinese companies still want to IPO in U.S.

“Ucommune, the largest rival to WeWork in China, plans an initial public offering in the U.S. in December even as the better-known competitor still recovers from its botched IPO,” reports Bloomberg (porous paywall). 

“Oneconnect, the fintech arm of Chinese financial conglomerate Ping An, has chosen New York over Hong Kong for the launch of its initial public offering (IPO),” reports City AM.

Another IPO in the works: Podcasting app Ximalaya, which claims 600 million users, “is seeking to raise funds at about $3.5 billion valuation,” reports Bloomberg via Caixin. However, there does not seem to be any indication of where the company intends to file.  

—Jeremy Goldkorn


The owners of stockbroker Goodbody have agreed a deal to sell the company to Bank of China. It is understood the Chinese buyer will pay around €150 million ($165 million) for the firm, provided competition and regulatory approval is received.

China’s factory output growth slowed significantly more than expected in October, as weakness in global and domestic demand and the drawn-out Sino-U.S. trade war weighed on broad segments of the world’s second-largest economy.

China’s central bank said it had neither issued any digital currency nor authorized asset-trading platforms to deal in one, as rumors swirled about its mooted issuance of a state-backed digital currency.


Protecting the Yangtze has become a priority for China after President Xi Jinping promised to end big and “destructive” development along the river, which stretches 6,000 kilometres from Tibet to Shanghai, supplies water to 400 million people and irrigates a quarter of the country’s arable land.

China’s emissions of the climate-warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from its energy sector are expected to increase this year and next, driven by rising oil and gas consumption instead of by coal, a team of industry experts warned on Thursday. 

Two people in Beijing have been diagnosed with the pneumonic plague, a rare instance of the highly-contagious disease that is fatal if left untreated…

The patients are from the northwestern Inner Mongolia province, district officials said in an online statement, adding that the “relevant prevention and control measures have been implemented.”


Tourists visiting Myanmar from China are entering the country more and more in groups set up to keep money in the hands of their Chinese guides and travel agencies, creating a growing problem for locals working in the tourism and hospitality industry, sources say. 

Thirty years ago homeless people were a rare sight in China’s cities. Strict controls on internal migration made it difficult for rural residents to move to urban areas. Most city-dwellers lived in housing supplied by the government, for which they paid peppercorn rents. Since then much has changed.  

A Canadian delegation that included former cabinet ministers John Baird and Allan Rock seemed to make headway with top Chinese officials last week by warning that public opinion about China here has “plummeted,” said the mission’s leader.

A Vancouver conference promoting business links between Canada and China is under fire for inviting [SenseTime] a company that’s blacklisted in the U.S. for its work monitoring the Uyghur ethnic group in China.

Australia unveiled new guidelines for universities to guard against foreign interference on Thursday, amid growing scrutiny of the national security and human rights implications of academic partnerships and collaboration with China. 

Prague’s Charles University has closed its Czech-Chinese Centre, rector Tomas Zima said on Wednesday, after local media reports that some of its staff had failed to declare payments from the Chinese embassy intended to support its programmes.

The reports, published in October, prompted the secretary of the center to resign.


“A Chinese education ministry official called for efforts to prevent school bullying after a seven-year-old girl’s eyes were stuffed with paper by classmates, which the school principal said “meant no harm.” 

Better Days (少年的你 shàonián de nǐ) shines a spotlight on what the state-run China Daily called “a nationwide problem which has existed for years,” but is rarely broached in Chinese films.


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Chinese deals approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) seem to clear at a rate of 50–60 percent under the Trump administration, whereas the percentage was over 95 percent when Obama was in office. Interested in learning more about how to navigate CFIUS’s review process and what new opportunities might arise in the landscape of cross-border investment? Global law firm King & Wood Mallesons will be at our NEXT China conference to answer your questions.


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