BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:
Putting the newest GDP numbers into context
China’s GDP growth falls to 6.1 percent / Caixin (paywall)
China’s economic growth dipped to an almost three-decade low in 2019, although the slowdown was accompanied by a more positive milestone — annual per capita GDP rose above $10,000 for the first time.
Andy Rothman on Twitter: “I know many ledes tonight will be that 6.1 percent GDP growth in 2019 was the slowest since the Tang dynasty. Can I suggest another perspective? China’s growth has been decelerating gradually for over a decade, but the size of the economy (base)… has expanded quite a bit. GDP growth was 9.4 percent a decade ago, but the base for last year’s estimated 6.1 percent was 188 percent larger than the base 10 yrs ago. So the incremental expansion in the size of China’s economy in 2019 was 151 percent bigger than it was at the faster growth rate 10 yrs ago.”
China posts weakest growth in 29 years as trade war bites, but ends 2019 on better note / Reuters
But data on Friday also showed the world’s second-largest economy ended the rough year on a somewhat firmer note as a trade truce revived business confidence and earlier growth boosting measures finally appeared to be taking hold…
Fourth-quarter GDP rose 6.0 percent from a year earlier, steadying from the third quarter… And December industrial output, investment and retail sales all rose more than expected after an improved showing in November.
Strategic pork reserves bring meat prices down
China cracks open the pork vaults for Lunar New Year / Caixin (paywall)
China released 30,000 tons of pork from national strategic reserves on Friday, in the latest effort to ensure the country can afford to keep pork on the menu over the Lunar New Year holiday after African swine fever caused the meat’s price to more than double…
In Henan province, where several thousand tons have already been released onto the market this month from local reserves, the provincial economic planner — the Development and Reform Commission — said prices had dropped between 15 percent and 20 percent. Similar effects were observed in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.
German automakers caught in Huawei battle
In Huawei battle, China threatens Germany ‘where it hurts’: automakers / NYT (porous paywall)
“VW, Daimler and BMW sell more cars in China than anywhere else and many already cooperate with Huawei — a dependency Beijing is not shy to exploit.”
Majority takeover for WeWork China?
Temasek, Trustbridge target majority stake in WeWork China at $1 billion valuation – sources / Reuters
“Temasek Holdings and Trustbridge Partners have held talks with WeWork China over increasing their stake in the China branch of the troubled co-working startup to take majority ownership.”
Alibaba’s Ant to IPO this year?
China’s Ant aims for $200 billion price tag in private share sales – sources / Reuters
Ant Financial shares are being offered privately at levels which value the Chinese financial giant at $200 billion, two people with knowledge of the discussions said, lifting it up the ranks of the most valuable unlisted companies.
Alibaba affiliate Ant, which had an implied valuation of $150 billion during a 2018 fundraising, is preparing to step up plans for eventually going public in Hong Kong and mainland China, three other sources told Reuters.
Foxconn to make electric cars
IPhone manufacturer gets into electric cars via Fiat venture / Bloomberg via Caixin
“Hon Hai Precision Industry [the primary listed vehicle for Foxconn Technology Group], the main assembler of Apple’s iPhones, will establish a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to develop and make electric vehicles in China.”
Fintech star is not shining anymore
Investors cash out of online lender Qudian’s after guidance withdrawal / Caixin
Even a $500 million buyback wasn’t enough to save online lender Qudian Inc. from a massive selloff of its New York-listed stock and the first in what’s likely to become a flood of shareholder lawsuits.
The company was a rising star when it listed in 2017, raising nearly $1 billion and becoming one of the first firms from China’s then-hot fintech sector to go public. But times have been much tougher over the last two years as Beijing clamps down of a noisy group of high-tech financiers that often have laxer lending standards and weaker risk-prevention systems than traditional banks.
That crackdown was front and center in a company announcement issued late Thursday, in which Qudian formally withdrew its previously issued 2019 guidance, citing “uncertainty related to the recent regulatory and operating environment.”
Domestic oil production increases
Chinese oil production grows for first time in four years / Caixin (paywall)
“Domestic oil output grew 0.8 percent to 190 million tons in 2019, the first annual increase since it peaked in 2015 at 214.55 million.”
China tops 2019 list for blockchain financing
China the top market for blockchain financing in 2019: report / TechNode
Blockchain-related financing was most active in China and the U.S. in 2019, which together accounted for roughly 60 percent of total deals in the industry according to a report published Thursday…
Global blockchain financing trends last year were heavily influenced by major events in China and a shift in sentiment from the country’s regulators…
Globally, 653 blockchain-related financing deals took place last year, with approximately $4.7 billion flowing into the nascent yet volatile market, according to the report [in Chinese] by media and consultancy firm PANews.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:
Facial recognition rolled out at Shanghai pharmacies
Shanghai introduces facial recognition drug collection terminals to combat abuse by patients and pharmacists / SCMP
- New terminals being trialled at 31 health care organisations require people buying controlled medicines to verify their identities through face scans.
- The system is expected to prevent potential abusers from obtaining prescription medicines and turning them into materials for illegal drugs.
Moves to curb water pollution from agriculture
China to curb farming near rivers in push to reverse water pollution, official says / SCMP
- Beijing planning to restrict farming that encroaches on major rivers, restore wetlands and ecosystems, and tackle excess water consumption, environment ministry official says.
- China is in the middle of a campaign to restore the environment of the Yangtze River, which has been damaged by decades of land reclamation, water diversion and the dumping of toxic waste.
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
China’s spy in the EU
EU’s former ambassador to South Korea suspect in China spy probe / SCMP
Gerhard Sabathil, the European Union’s former ambassador to South Korea, has been identified as the subject of a German probe into alleged spying activities for China’s Ministry of State Security, according to three European sources.
The investigation, which has sent shock waves through Beijing, Berlin and Brussels, came to light after German authorities raided the flats and offices of Sabathil and two other individuals on Wednesday. German police have made no arrests.
India asks China to drop Kashmir issue…
India asks China to avoid raising Kashmir dispute at U.N. / Washington Post (porous paywall)
[In response to China’s U.N. ambassador expressing hope that a Security Council meeting called by Beijing might help India and Pakistan seek a solution through dialogue] India on Thursday asked China to avoid raising the Kashmir dispute at the United Nations Security Council, insisting it is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan.
The government issued a statement Thursday, a day after China requested a review by the U.N. Security Council of the U.N. observer mission in Kashmir.
“China should reflect on a global consensus on Kashmir and avoid raising it at the United Nations,” India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.
…While Maldives sides with India over Indian Ocean
India and the U.S. over China: Maldives picks a side in the Indian Ocean / SCMP
- Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid tells the Post the islands back Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy and share India’s ‘security concerns.’
- Interview comes as President Xí Jìnpíng’s 习近平 is in Myanmar to finalize port deal that will boost China’s presence in the Indian Ocean.
Xi in Myanmar
China turns to Myanmar as the ‘friendly giant in the neighborhood’ / SCMP
- When Xí Jìnpíng’s 习近平 arrives in the Southeast Asian nation for the first state visit in 19 years, he will come bearing gifts — billions of dollars of investment projects.
- China has been its closest ally for two decades, and the country presents a particular opportunity for Xi and Beijing’s broader ambitions.
Chinese president heads to Myanmar for crucial state visit / Washington Post (porous paywall)
When Xi met Suu Kyi: China embraces Myanmar as Western nations pull back / Washington Post (porous paywall)
As China’s Xi visits Myanmar, ethnic groups rue ‘disrespectful’ investment / Reuters
See also last week’s note about the extraordinary leverage China has over Myanmar: China talks to rebel leaders just before Xi’s Myanmar visit.
Kansas researcher: Espionage, double dipping, or sloppy form-filling?
Attorney: Kansas researcher denies concealing Chinese work / Washington Post (porous paywall)
An attorney for a Kansas researcher accused of concealing work he was doing for China while employed at the University of Kansas hit back on Thursday against a new indictment, saying the case has nothing to do with the Chinese government’s alleged attempts obtain U.S. intellectual property.
Feng “Franklin” Tao [陶丰 Táo Fēng], 47, of Lawrence, was charged in a superseding indictment Wednesday with two counts of wire fraud and one count of program fraud for failing to disclose on conflict-of-interest forms the work he was doing for China while employed as a full-time associate professor at the University of Kansas.
#MeToo activist released
China releases #MeToo activist who covered Hong Kong protests / NYT (porous paywall)
The Chinese authorities have released a prominent #MeToo activist and journalist whose detention nearly three months ago prompted an outcry from human rights groups, her friends said on Friday.
The activist, Huáng Xuěqín 黄雪琴, 32, was detained by the police in October in the southern city of Guangzhou on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague accusation that the government often uses to silence activists.
Ms. Huang gained prominence as a #MeToo activist who confronted China’s patriarchal culture, helping dozens of women report cases of sexual harassment.
Peace Corps to withdraw from China
Rubio statement on Peace Corps’ withdrawal from China / Senator Marco Rubio
Today’s decision by the Peace Corps to withdraw its volunteers from China confirms what we all know — China is no longer a developing country. For too long, Beijing has fooled organizations such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization into believing otherwise so it could exploit our global institutions. It is time for these organizations, both U.S. and multilateral, to change the way they deal with China.
- From Zhaoyin Feng on Twitter: “Peace Corps formally notified Congress it will be withdrawing its volunteers from China beginning in June 2020. Its China program has facilitated valuable exchanges in classrooms and given a start to many China writers such as Rob Schmitz, Peter Hessler, and Michael Meyer.”
North Korea tightens control over workers abroad
North Korea dispatches more security agents to control and monitor workers in China / Radio Free Asia
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
Chinese Queer Eye clone panned
The empty consumerism of China’s ‘Queer Eye’ clone / Sixth Tone
A critical take on Mango TV’s makeover show You Are So Beautiful, which draws inspiration from Queer Eye:
I tuned into “You Are So Beautiful” [YASB] with high hopes. Four episodes in, I switched it off, feeling both disappointed and provoked. It wasn’t just that the show’s producers had ripped off “Queer Eye,” or even that they had done so while simultaneously scrubbing it of all traces of outward LGBT representation — none of the show’s experts are openly gay — but that YASB had scrapped the fundamentally humanist celebration of diversity in “Queer Eye” for a crude paean to consumerism and upper middle-class cultural privilege.
The life of a Chinese truck driver
On the road with a Chinese trucker / Chinanarrative
A journalist’s account of life on the road with one of many of China’s long-distance truck drivers:
China had built over 4.5 million kilometers of roads by the end of 2014, enough to circle the world more than 40 times, while 30 million truck drivers bear the burden of transporting 75 percent of China’s cargo. But they do more than drive. They eat, sleep, play cards, make love and even tangle with robbers on the road. I knew their stories would be fascinating. I had often imagined myself teaming up with a truck driver and setting off for the distant unknown. Still, my friends reminded me that they might not want a stranger tagging along, given how regularly they encounter thieves.
Smuggling breast milk?
Chinese customs seizes 23kg of frozen breast milk from woman returning from Singapore / SCMP
- Traveler told them it was for her own baby but could not explain its source and did not have quarantine approval for it.
- It was found in a large insulated bag when it was passed through an X-ray machine at the Quanzhou airport in Fujian Province.
More university students told to study math
China seeks more students to study maths and science subjects to ‘serve country’s strategic demands’ / SCMP
- Education ministry’s [new] Strong Base Plan aims to boost numbers taking courses that will help boost country’s development and security.
- ‘Basic’ subjects [such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology] have been unpopular with students, who want degrees that will boost their future earning potential.