Links for Tuesday, January 14, 2020


A distressed Chinese fertilizer company said it may report one of the nation’s biggest-ever annual losses, sparking a slump in its shares and underscoring the challenges faced by some pockets of corporate China as the economy slows.

State-owned Qinghai Salt Lake Industry Co. expects to record a 2019 net loss of as much as 47.2 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) largely due to asset writedowns, an amount that’s nearly twice as big as the company’s market value and one-seventh the size of its home province in northwest China.  

A database containing the personal details of 56.25 million U.S. residents — from names and home addresses to phone numbers and ages — has been found on the public internet, served from a computer with a Chinese IP address, bizarrely enough.

WeChat users relied on the “facepalm” emoji above all others and were most fascinated by black holes in 2019, according to the company’s report on the past year’s trends.

The report (link in Chinese), released Thursday, unveiled findings based on what the social media platform described as “anonymized data” collected from its 1.15 billion users in the first nine months of 2019. The company said its total users grew 6 percent in 2019.

China’s auto sales fell 8.2 percent in 2019, the second straight year of decline, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The wheels have even come off electric cars, which used to be a bright spot, since the government slashed subsidies in June. Sales of so-called new-energy vehicles, which include plug-in hybrids, dropped 4 percent in 2019, compared with a 62 percent rise the year before.

Shares of electric-vehicle makers including Tesla Inc. and Warren Buffett-backed BYD Co. jumped after the government signaled it won’t continue reducing subsidies for the industry at the same pace this year.

Geely’s hip European car collection is getting a bit too eclectic. The Chinese carmaker, rescuer of Volvo, Lotus and London black cabs, might now inject funds into struggling Aston Martin — James Bond’s favored ride…

For Aston investors, who have watched the share price drop 73 percent since the company’s debut in October 2018, a lifeline would be welcome.

  • The operator of Pizza Hut and KFC restaurants in China is working with the banks on the share sale, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • The listing could take place as soon as this year, following closely after Alibaba Group Holding’s November listing.

The American athletic apparel company has won the hearts of its Chinese customers with an advertisement that many say seems to understand, rather than patronize, Chinese tradition. Nike released the video on January 6, weeks ahead of Spring Festival, when family and friends gift each other cash-filled red envelopes — the premise of the ad.

Relx, one of China’s leading vape startups, launched two flagship stores in Shanghai and Beijing on Saturday, following a national ban on online sales of e-cigarette products in November.


A new virus from the same family as the deadly SARS disease has spread beyond China’s borders for the first time with a case emerging in Thailand, UN and Thai officials said on Monday.

  • Woman, 61, could have caught the virus in Wuhan at other markets, as her infection has no relation to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
  • Chinese researchers released the genome sequence of the coronavirus over the weekend and one researcher said it was ‘not particularly close to SARS.’

Since 2017, China’s environmental authorities have been toughening up requirements for incinerators to monitor and publish pollution data, in hopes of improving the sector’s image. There will be further tightening in 2020, with stricter oversight by both regulators and the public…

In 2019, around 600 incinerators of various sizes were planned or under construction in China. But variable construction quality and poor waste sorting means these plants are regarded as polluting, and opposed by local residents. The protests are a major headache for those choosing sites for new facilities…

Announcing the new regulations for 2020, a Ministry of Ecology and Environment official said that while it used to be necessary to manually confirm breaches identified through automatic monitoring, there is now good enough data to do without this step. In short, the authorities can now use online monitoring to impose offline consequences. This will deter polluters, according to the official.


Earlier in the week, the navies of China and Pakistan began their sixth bilateral naval exercise, titled Sea Guardians-2020, in the northern Arabian Sea. Such military exercises are expected to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, who are already “iron brothers.” According to Chinese media reports, the naval drills are aimed at exploring new methods of conducting China-Pakistan joint naval drills while stepping up the capabilities to jointly addresses issues such as maritime terrorism and crime.

China’s efforts go far beyond spreading disinformation and stale state propaganda. Beijing’s ambition is to shape the production, dissemination, and consumption of information in Taiwan. And as my colleagues and I argue in a forthcoming Brookings report, these efforts foreshadow a sophisticated strategy to influence every stage of the global information supply chain, from the people who produce content to the institutions that publish it and the platforms that deliver it directly to consumers. Democracies around the world should pay close attention to what happens in Taiwan’s election — for their own journalists, media companies, and platforms are fast becoming the focus of similar efforts by Beijing.

  • First Chinese coastguard ship to visit the Philippines docks in Manila.
  • Visit is touted as an opportunity to talk — but there’ll be no discussion of claims fishing ships are doing Beijing’s dirty work in the South China Sea.

Over the last few years, the public narrative about the New Silk Road rail route has become increasingly grand…

Today, there are two routes out of northern China, which head via Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia to European terminal stations like Duisburg or Hamburg. China’s western region, home to the megacity of Chongqing and its 30 million people, is also connected to the northern routes…

How significant are these rail links for logistics? In 2017, 2,400 trains moved about 145,000 TEU between China and Central Europe. This corresponds roughly to the cargo of seven large container ships. The International Union of Railways (UIC) expects this to grow to 670,000 TEU — equivalent to 33 container ships — in ten years’ time.

Despite this forecast growth, the existing rail links between China and Europe are likely to remain niche options. Steve Saxon, a logistics expert from McKinsey in Shanghai, summarizes it nicely: “Compared to sea freight, the volume of goods transported to Europe overland will always remain small”… This is primarily a matter of cost.  

Given its heavy reliance on the region’s energy supplies and its growing investment portfolio in Arab countries, Beijing seeks above all to maintain the status quo. A stable Middle East is better for China than a war that will put at risk its growing portfolio of interests in the region. In short, 2020 is not 2001, and the expansion of China’s global interests and investments mean that instability in the Middle East would come at a great cost, even if it weakens U.S. capacity to engage in rivalry with China.

  • Foreign ministry calls it a ‘wrongful action’ and says trade with Iran is legitimate and ‘should be respected.’
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday said China was ‘subject to sanctions just like everybody else.’

Last month, during a conference on China’s maritime ambitions, I [Gregory B. Poling] was asked a question I often get about Beijing’s artificial island bases in the South China Sea. That question goes something like this: Couldn’t the United States easily neutralize these remote outposts in a conflict, negating their value? The assumption is understandable given how seemingly remote the facilities are and how accustomed Americans have become to uncontested dominance over the sea and air. But it is flawed.

In fact, China, not the United States, would control the sea and airspace of the South China Sea at the outbreak of hostilities thanks to its artificial island bases. And given current American force posture in the region, it would be prohibitively costly for the United States to neutralize those outposts during the early stages of a conflict. That would make the South China Sea a no-man’s land for most U.S. forces (submarines excepted) during the critical early stages of any conflict — giving the islands considerable military value for Beijing.


Many discussions on Weibo this weekend over a guy from Anhui being detained over a WeChat Moments post, in which he complained about getting a parking ticket. He used the expression ‘grandma’s legs’ (奶奶的腿 nǎinai de tuǐ) to do so, generally considered a ‘gentle’ swearing word. Weibo commenters are expressing their concern: if such a common cuss could get one trouble, virtually anything could.

Pronounced innocent after serving 14 years in prison for rape and murder charges, Zhāng Zhìchāo 张志超 tells The Paper that he doesn’t want to live with hatred. Though he once hate those who hurt him, his mom told him that he had his whole life ahead of him.