Beijing fumes as Batman self-censors

Access Archive


Dear Access member,

Our word of the day is Batman (蝙蝠侠 biānfú xiá). 

If you’re in New York on December 4, come to our event: The Greater Bay Area – China’s plan to build the world’s first mega city. Speakers include Anthony Lawrence of Greater Bay Insight, Chen Gui of EY, and Kevin Chen of Horizon Financial. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


DC Comics removed this image from its social media campaigns after anger from Chinese internet users who saw it as a reference to the Hong Kong protests — see story 2 below. 

1. Beijing fumes after Trump signs Hong Kong bills into law  

CNBC reports:

China threatened to retaliate after President Donald Trump signed two bills into law in support of Hong Kong protesters.

“China firmly opposes Hong Kong Act. We have made stern representations & strong protests to U.S.,” Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing Friday. “It is a stark hegemonic practice & a severe interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs. China will take strong counter-measures.”

Geng did not specify what those counter-measures would be, however.

Trump signed a bill into law on Wednesday that requires the State Department to certify annually that Hong Kong has sufficient autonomy to retain special U.S. trading consideration, which helps Hong Kong’s economy. The second measure signed by Trump bars the sale of tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police.

Both English and Chinese home pages of Xinhua News Agency today feature just two stories on Hong Kong each, and both are about Beijing’s rebuke — English: 1, 2; Chinese: 1, 2.

In Hong Kong itself, “police yesterday ended their blockade of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus after surrounding it for 12 days to try to arrest pro-democracy protesters holed up inside,” reports the Associated Press via Taipei Times:

Police removed a stash of nearly 4,000 gasoline bombs left behind by protesters, who fought pitched battles about two weeks ago with riot officers on surrounding streets.

About 100 officers first entered the campus on Thursday to collect materials and remove dangerous items.

A police statement said that over two days, they seized 3,989 gasoline bombs, 1,339 explosive items, 601 bottles of corrosive liquids and 573 weapons.

No protesters were found. 

See also on SupChina: After the champagne, a long road ahead: How Hong Kong’s Pan-Democrats can capitalize on their election wins, by Ryan Tang. 

2.  Batman ad campaign censored for China

The Guardian reports on the latest act of self-censorship by an international entertainment company: 

DC Comics has pulled an image advertising its new Batman comic on social media following an angry backlash in China, where some believed it implied support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

The since-deleted image showed Batwoman throwing a molotov cocktail against a backdrop of pink lettering reading: “The future is young.” Intended to promote Frank Miller and Rafael Grampá’s forthcoming Batman title Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, it was shared on DC’s social media earlier this week.

But, according to the Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times, Chinese internet users were quick to take offense, interpreting the image of Batwoman as a gesture of support for the protests in Hong Kong. 

3. Big Brother, brought to you by Intel, TikTok, et al. 

The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall): 

Critical pieces of China’s cutting-edge surveillance state share a connection. They came from America.

Some of the biggest names in U.S. technology have provided components, financing and know-how to China’s multibillion-dollar surveillance industry. The country’s authoritarian government uses those tools to track ethnic minorities, political dissidents and others it sees as a threat to its power—including in Xinjiang, where authorities are creating an all-seeing digital monitoring system that feeds into a network of detention camps for the area’s Muslims.

U.S. companies, including Seagate Technology PLC, Western Digital Corp., Intel Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., have nurtured, courted and profited from China’s surveillance industry. Several have been involved since the industry’s infancy.

See also this, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:  

ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre has updated the public database that maps the global expansion of key Chinese technology companies. This update adds a further 11 companies and organisations: iFlytek, Megvii, ByteDance (which owns TikTok), SenseTime, YITU, CloudWalk, DJI, Meiya Pico, Dahua, Uniview and BeiDou.

Our public database now maps 23 companies and organisations and is visualised through our interactive website, Mapping China’s Technology Giants.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • A landslide election in Hong Kong swept out establishment figures in the city’s district councils, and was widely perceived as a referendum showing residents are much more upset with the government than with the protest movement. This result not only shattered Carrie Lam’s claim that a “silent majority” of Hong Kong just wants stability and the status quo, but also caught Beijing — or at least state media — by surprise, according to James Palmer at Foreign Policy. 

  • A second major leak of Xinjiang-related documents was published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a week after the New York Times leaks. The new leaks confirmed that the Xinjiang authorities run the re-education camps like high-security prisons, and that a sophisticated predictive policing dragnet has targeted Uyghurs throughout China and beyond, among other details. Beijing chose to call the leaks fake news. 

  • U.S.-China trade talks are limping on, with no end in sight, according to reports this week. Technology tensions are not set to subside anytime soon, either, as the U.S. Commerce Department proposed establishing new review mechanisms for any technology sale involving “foreign adversaries” (read: China). However, the two sides are at least making pleasant noises, for now. 

  • TikTok has a censorship problem, as executives continued to dismiss concerns even as a 17-year-old American Muslim girl found her account suspended after posting a video criticizing the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang. The girl, Feroza Aziz, later had her account restored, but not before the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others published feature stories about the incident. TikTok is working to increase the independence of its U.S. operations from its parent company, Beijing-based Bytedance, to stem further controversy. 

  • Hong Kong is experiencing the “death throes of a great city,”veteran journalist Ian Johnson wrote, stoking some controversy, but also placing blame at Beijing’s feet for appointing leaders who were consistently “more like colonial governors than autonomous rulers of a dynamic metropolis.” 

  • The man who claims to be a defected Chinese spy appears to have some holes in his story, several Australian scholars said of “William” Wáng Lìqiáng 王立强. 

  • A U.S. NGO, Asia Catalyst, was accused of breaking a new law governing the activities of foreign NGOs for the first time

  • Shocking homophobic comments were made by the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing’s Dongcheng District, who was subsequently lambasted on social media. 

  • South Africa hosted the Chinese and Russian navies for a multinational maritime exercise this week


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

A cross-border syndicate smuggling frozen meat from Hong Kong to mainland China was dealt a heavy blow when customs officers seized 540 tonnes of produce worth HK$50 million [$6.39 million], the city’s largest bust of its kind in a decade. 

From rural bank runs to surging consumer indebtedness and an unprecedented bond restructuring, mounting signs of financial stress in China are putting the nation’s policymakers to the test. The Chinese government is facing an increasingly difficult balancing act as it tries to support the world’s second-largest economy without encouraging moral hazard and reckless spending…

China’s economic growth could fall as low as 5.7 percent in 2020: UBS / Caixin 

  • GM electric
    General Motors’ Chinese venture to sink $4.3 billion into electric vehicles by 2024 / Caixin
    General Motors’ Chinese joint venture said it will invest about 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) in electric-vehicle production over the next five years, becoming the latest global automaker to ramp up its output of new-energy vehicles in China.
    SAIC General Motors will roll out at least nine hybrid or pure-electric models by 2024, company president Wang Yongqing said in an interview with Caixin.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

A rodent-like mammal that lived 120 million years ago had a weird ear shape that may have evolved as a result of its unique chewing style. 

Wáng Yuánqīng 王元青 of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, China and his colleagues discovered an almost complete skeleton of a previously unknown creature – named Jeholbaatar kielana – in the Jiufotang Formation in the Liaoning province of China.

Ke is the founder of Hangzhou Careline Health Management, one of a wave of companies that have appeared to help Chinese patients buy cheap generic drugs from overseas. For many of its clients, Careline provided a life-saving service, helping them access market-leading medication that was unavailable or unaffordable on the Chinese mainland.

“I haven’t done anything that goes against my conscience or my country,” Ke tells Sixth Tone.

Chinese law enforcement, however, sees things differently. The country’s drug laws classify medication imported without the approval of domestic regulators as “fake drugs,” and anyone involved in their sale can face severe penalties.

Last year, police in the eastern city of Hangzhou arrested Ke and four of her employees at Careline. At the August trial, prosecutors pushed for the entrepreneur to receive a 12-year prison sentence for assisting with the sale of “fake drugs” worth 7.6 million yuan ($1.1 million), a charge she denies.

China’s space program recently staged a show test of its first Mars lander on a nearly 460 feet (140-meter) tower at a site near Beijing, looking ahead to the program’s launch next summer. But an equally crucial mission component faces a different kind of test in December.

That’s when the country’s largest rocket will resume to flight, blasting off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island in southern China. The Long March 5, with a length of 184 feet (56 meters) and a mass at liftoff of nearly 2 million lbs. (867,000 kilograms), is one of the biggest active rockets in the world, comparable to the European Ariane 5 or the American Delta IV Heavy, earning it the nickname “fat five” in Chinese.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Authorities in the eastern province of Jiangxi have forced a Catholic church to replace a painting of the Virgin Mary with her child with one of President Xi Jinping, as well as hang up the Chinese flag and nationalist slogans in support of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. 

Earlier this week: China’s religion chiefs to double down on bringing doctrine in line with socialist dogma / SCMP

Residents of Wenlou in Guangdong Province — about 100 km (60 miles) from Hong Kong — said several hundred people tried to march to the township government offices on Thursday after they found out that a crematorium would be built on land they thought was set aside for a park.

But police stopped the marchers before they reached the township offices, with witnesses claiming that a number of people, including teenagers and at least one elderly person, were wounded as officers in anti-riot gear fired tear gas, beat protesters and detained them.

Residents also said police raided homes to arrest protesters on Thursday night and early Friday.

About 200 people took to the streets again on Friday in opposition to the plan, residents said.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

A court in eastern China’s Zhejiang province has ruled against a resort company accused of discriminating against a job applicant from Henan province, local newspaper Henan Business Daily reported [in Chinese] Wednesday.

In an official statement Tuesday, the Hangzhou Internet Court ordered the defendant, Zhejiang Sheraton Resort Co. Ltd. — no affiliation with the U.S. company Sheraton Hotels and Resorts — to compensate the 23-year-old plaintiff, surnamed Yan, with 10,000 yuan ($1,400), mostly for “mental anguish.” The court further ordered the company to publish a public apology to the woman in domestic newspaper Legal Daily.

According to the court’s verdict, Yan applied for two roles with the company in early July: legal specialist and personal assistant to the chairman. On two notices she later received from the company, “Henanese” was written as the reason she was rejected.


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