Links for Thursday, February 13, 2020

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the country’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has declared force majeure on deliveries of LNG cargoes and will not be honoring some of the deliveries because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, Bloomberg reported (porous paywall) on Thursday, quoting a notice that the Chinese firm had sent to suppliers.

CNOOC has declared force majeure on prompt LNG supplies from at least three sellers for purchases this month and next, sources told Reuters.

A week ago, the China Council for The Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) announced that it would issue force majeure certificates to Chinese companies that have difficulties in meeting contract obligations with overseas partners amid the coronavirus outbreak and its fallout on the Chinese industrial activity and economy.

The founder of Chinese tech giant Xiaomi has urged the country’s smartphone industry to return to work.

Analysts predict smartphone shipments within China will drop by around 40% in the first quarter as the coronavirus disrupts the country’s supply chain.

Major automakers sold fewer than 2 million cars in the country last month, an 18% plunge from a year earlier, according to China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The group compiles its monthly tally by collecting data from carmakers in China.

As the coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc on China’s economy, small and midsized businesses that are the backbone of the nation’s private sector and major employers are quickly emerging as one of the biggest casualties.

  • With the outbreak wreaking havoc on economic activities, firms are faced with tough decision whether to reduce staff levels and wages to be able to survive.
  • President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 said this week that local governments must work hard to ‘ensure the general stability of the job market.’

Chinese visitors accounted for 150 million overseas trips in 2019, according to official figures, while Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018, up 13% from the previous year, China Tourism Academy found… China’s ministry of transport said that 73% fewer trips were taken by Chinese tourists over the lunar new year holiday in 2020 compared with 2019.

Alibaba-owned online video platform Youku has clinched a drama content deal with BBC Studios, making it the largest library of British drama shows in China, according to a press release.

  • Fuel cell vehicles production number reached an all-time high but fell short from market expectation…
  • There is a looming policy risk, as MoF [Ministry of Finance] signals to limit national subsidy…
  • China’s hydrogen deals in 2019 registered a total 100 billion yuan (14.33) investment (based only on public announced deals).

Israeli startup Innoviz is teaming up with a large Chinese truck maker [Shaanxi Heavy Duty Automobile, known outside of China as Shacman Trucks] on self-driving container transport on ports, as the country pushes industrial upgrades for freight deliveries using driverless technologies.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

China is in the midst of an unprecedented economic shutdown, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the gray skies in Beijing.

Pollution in the capital has soared to the highest level in three years, and will likely worsen [in Chinese] Thursday before starting to improve on Friday, according to the National Meteorological Center…

So what’s the cause? Experts pointed to several possibilities, including residue from natural gas burned at power plants and home heaters, the emissions from what little activity remains at nearby steel mills and industrial facilities, and perhaps the most ordinary of all reasons: the weather.

Beijing will cut smog levels further this year by putting more new energy vehicles (NEV) on its roads, reducing diesel-fuelled truck numbers and tightening its supervision of vehicle emissions and refined oil products, the city said on Thursday.

The Beijing Municipality government also said it will aim to cut emissions in the petrochemical industry.

China is nudging insurers to work on cheaper medical cover linked to the coronavirus and is assuring them of fast-track approval for these new products, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The move will mark a shift in the Chinese insurance market where the bulk of existing products are essentially investment schemes and pure healthcare coverage accounts for only about a fifth of the total life insurance premium.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

WhatsApp and WeChat are used to intimidate and surveil Uyghurs…

The messages kept coming every few days, and soon their tone changed. “You are a smart man,” one said. “You need to think about your family. You are there, but they are here, and if you refuse to do this, you could put them in a very dangerous situation.”

The head of New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) reiterated the country had not imposed bans on any telecoms vendors, noting it makes an independent assessment of network security risks on a case-by-case basis…

In November 2018, the government turned down operator Spark’s bid to deploy Huawei 5G infrastructure, citing significant national security risks.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in February 2019 raised the possibility Huawei could still play a role in building a next-generation mobile network in the country, after stating it would independently evaluate the risk of using the vendor’s gear.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Hú Huáibāng 胡怀邦, a former chief of policy lender China Development Bank (CDB), who is under suspicion for taking bribes, the country’s top prosecutor said (link in Chinese) Thursday.

The arrest order comes half a year after the veteran banker was placed under investigation in one of the most notable anti-corruption cases in China’s financial sector in recent years.

Hu, 64, retired from his position as CDB chairman in September 2018 after working there for over five years. During his tenure, Hu used his position to help two former highflying giants — CEFC China Energy Co. Ltd. and HNA Group Co. Ltd. — obtain billions of dollars in dubious credit that helped fuel their meteoric rises, Caixin previously reported.

The Education Department opened investigations into Harvard and Yale as part of a continuing review that it says has found U.S. universities failed to report at least $6.5 billion in foreign funding from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, according to department materials reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Industry leaders privately warned the Trump administration that the U.S. will struggle to produce the oil, gas and other energy products that China has committed to buy in a new trade deal, raising additional questions about one of the president’s signature economic achievements.

  • Admiral Philip Davidson said Communist Party ‘seeks to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics and the way of life in the Indo-Pacific.’
  • Davidson made his remarks while visiting Australia, which has launched a U.S.$2 billion fund to offer Pacific countries grants and cheap loans for infrastructure.

The Peace Corps’ abrupt decision to end its program in China has spurred confusion, including from lawmakers who question whether the agency is caving to political pressure from Florida’s two Republican senators.

Congress was informed of the decision on January 16, when the agency sent a note to the appropriations committees that it would be withdrawing from China, ending a program where volunteers teach English to university students in some of the nation’s poorest interior provinces…

Steve Hess, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in China from 2006 to 2008 and is now a political science professor at Transylvania University, is leading a Change.org petition pushing the Peace Corps to reverse its decision.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

As millions of people are finding different ways to help the frontline medical workers battling COVID-19, a new campaign is solely focused on delivering something that’s been largely missing: feminine hygiene products.

The campaign, Coronavirus Sister Support, collected over 2 million yuan ($280,000) in under 24 hours after launching Tuesday, according to its founder…The money will be used to provide period panties and sanitary pads for female frontline doctors and nurses in Hubei province, the center of the COVID-19 outbreak that has so far killed over 1,300 people in China and infected more than 60,000 globally.

Chinese people in the UK say they are facing increasing levels of racist abuse — and some have had “coronavirus” shouted at them in the street.

Zhou Xuefeng has a serious problem — he is from Hubei, the Chinese province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, and now no one wants to employ him.

The fact he has been working without incident in the city of Suzhou near Shanghai and not been back home for years does not matter.  

Last week, the US-based Royal Caribbean Cruises issued a statement saying: “Any guests holding a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passport, regardless of when they were there last, will not be allowed to board our ships.”

The company has now reversed its policy, which it said was made because of “governments around the world restricting travel for Chinese passport holders.”