Links for Tuesday, May 26, 2020

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China’s move to double down on a pivot away from export-led growth in favour of developing its domestic market reflects a strategic shift by Beijing to prepare for the “worst case scenario” after the coronavirus pandemic, according to analysts.

President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 told dozens of top economic advisers in Beijing at the weekend that China was pursuing a new development plan in which “domestic circulation plays the dominant role.”

The government’s plan to raise its fiscal deficit and sell anti-virus government bonds are “special measures” in response to an unprecedented environment, and the scale of the borrowings takes into account both the economic impact and the need to control debt-related risks, according to Cóng Liàng 丛亮, a senior official at the National Development and Reform Commission.

China set a reference rate for the yuan at its weakest point in 12 years, a signal that Beijing sees the benefits of a weaker currency as it grapples with an economic slowdown and rising tensions with Washington.

On Tuesday, the People’s Bank of China set a daily midpoint for the yuan at 7.1293 per dollar, the lowest level since February 2008.

According to the annual update of the ‘China’s Global Energy Finance database’ at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, China’s overseas development finance from the China Development Bank and the Export Import Bank of China in the energy sector dropped to a lowest level in a decade. This may seem surprising given that overseas finance was a centerpiece at the Second Belt and Road Forum in 2019, but there are [a] number of demand and supply side factors that led to the dimming of such prospects for 2019.

A mix of pandemic-based problems for China’s urban rich, including the sudden uncertainty over future incomes, the health risks of living abroad, and China’s deteriorating image in Western countries, have forced many to reconsider, if not totally give up, plans to send their kids to American or British schools, or to buy property in Canada or Australia.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

China this year will be able to absorb 52% more new wind and solar power capacity than in it added 2019. The world’s biggest energy consumer has space on its grids to add 36.65 gigawatts of wind and 48.45 gigawatts of solar, according to a transmission analysis report [in Chinese] by the National New Energy Absorption Monitoring and Warning Center.

Liú Bǐngjiāng 刘炳江, director of the Department of Atmospheric Environment at China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said [in Chinese] the country still faces challenges in cleaning up its smog-choked cities, rebutting claims that the government was seeking to relax the environmental threshold so companies could boost production.

The head of a top Chinese laboratory dogged by coronavirus conspiracy theories has again rejected suggestions that it leaked the pathogen, saying the institute “had never discovered or kept” the virus before it erupted in central China late last year.

In an interview with state media on Saturday, Wáng Yányì 王延轶, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said it was “pure fabrication” that the coronavirus leaked from the lab, leading to the global pandemic.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Tensions at the border between India and China have spiked in recent weeks amid a flurry of media reports pointing to a series of skirmishes and military build-up by both sides.

Neither countries’ leadership has issued an official comment on the stand-offs so far, which analysts say points to a shared desire not to heighten tensions further.

Yet speculation has still been rife into the other side’s motives, with both trading allegations of attempted military incursions, bringing the seven-decade old border dispute between the two Asian giants firmly back into focus.

Recent events, however, suggest that escalations are highly possible. Both sides have substantial — and growing — military deployments along a mostly disputed border. And for more than a decade, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been testing India’s military readiness and political resolve along several strategic areas. Peace can no longer be taken for granted.

  • Tanvi Madan in a thread on Twitter: “THREAD. On the rhetoric we’ve seen — or not seen — from China & India during the ongoing boundary tensions. Bottom line: thus far, both govts have largely been restrained in their rhetoric. This is a good thing & a contrast from Doklam/2017 when Beijing’s stmts were v heated 1/.”
    Dhruva Jaishankar in a thread on Twitter: “THREAD: Over the coming days and weeks, we are likely to see a lot of idle speculation about what is going on in the China-India border region. Here are 5 QUESTIONS that people should be asking themselves as they consume and analyze reports. 1/18.”
    Nathan Ruser on Twitter: “In the last 2 days Ajai Shukla has increased his estimate of PLA soldiers on Indian soil by 5,000. As of Friday, this was contradicted by satellite evidence. This is the current position of forces in the Galwan valley, with the LAC shown here from India’s Ministry of Environment.”
    Deliberations on to resolve LAC tensions / The Hindu
    Ananth Krishnan on Twitter: “Deliberations are continuing on a daily basis between military commanders of India and China on the ground in addition to other channels of communication to resolve the situation along the LAC, official sources said.”
  • Hangzhou’s plan for permanent virtual health passports triggers uproar
  • City’s plan for permanent ‘health codes’ sparks online backlash / Sixth Tone

Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou have announced plans to launch a health-tracking QR code for monitoring people’s health status at all times — regardless of whether there is a public health emergency.

According to an official announcement reported [in Chinese] by local media, the code would be displayed as a color and a numerical score out of 100, based on individuals’ medical records, physical exam results, and lifestyle choices such as smoking and general activity level…

Hangzhou’s move to “normalize the health code practice,” as the city’s health authorities described it, has sparked intense backlash online, with many raising privacy concerns over their health information potentially becoming public knowledge. In a poll [in Chinese] on microblogging platform Weibo, 86% of some 6,600 users voted against the proposal.

U.S. officials have debated whether to carry out the first U.S. nuclear tests in 28 years as a way to pressure Russia and China into making a trilateral arms control deal, according congressional aides and former officials.

They said the discussion took place at a “deputies meeting” of senior national security officials at the White House on 15 May, but that the proposal was shelved for the time being.

A six-decade legislative marathon is coming to a close, with China’s lawmakers preparing to vote on a draft civil code that observers said would reaffirm Beijing’s commitment to people’s property rights.

On Monday, nearly 3,000 deputies of the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislature, assembled at the Great Hall of the People to scrutinise the draft legislation described as a centrepiece of the legal reforms undertaken by President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平. The NPC deputies will cast their votes on the draft at the closing session of their annual meeting on Thursday…

The new law, which covers property, contracts, personal rights, marriage and family, inheritance and torts, has received nearly 900,000 public comments since the NPC started its annual session last week. Most comments focused on issues such as renewal of land leases and how to handle divorces.

A Chinese lawmaker from the initial epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic is proposing changes to national legislation to remedy reporting and privacy flaws exposed by the crisis.

[A] National People’s Congress deputy from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, will submit a motion to the legislature to amend the infectious disease prevention and treatment law, according to a report by news site ThePaper.cn.

The U.S. should give up its “wishful thinking” of changing China, Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 said, warning that some in America were pushing relations to a “new Cold War.”

“China has no intention to change the U.S., nor to replace the U.S. It is also wishful thinking for the U.S. to change China,” Wang said Sunday during his annual news briefing on the sidelines of National People’s Congress meetings in Beijing. He also criticized the U.S. for slowing its nuclear negotiations with North Korea and warned it not to cross Beijing’s “red line” on Taiwan.

Celebrating the Muslim holiday is a freedom Gül and her four children did not have at home in the northwestern Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland, where over the last few years the authorities have suffocated the ethnic minority’s cultural practices and turned the entire region into a police state subject to strict surveillance even inside their homes.

The White House on Sunday accused China of a cover-up that will “go down in history along with Chernobyl”, ramping up efforts to deflect attention from a COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. fast closing on 100,000.

Robert O’Brien, Donald Trump’s national security adviser, made the claim on two political talk shows, saying Beijing gave “false information” to the World Health Organization (WHO) at the start of the year and alleging that stonewalling of an investigation into the origins of the pandemic has cost “many, many thousands of lives in America and around the world.”

Imagine the surprise in the U.S. state department and in the halls of power in Australia, then, when Pompeo appeared to leave open the possibility of suspending some forms of information sharing with Australia, a steadfast American ally, over the state of Victoria’s possible future involvement with Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.

A young businesswoman has emerged as a key figure behind the controversial trade deal between Victoria and China.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been widely criticised for joining the Belt and Road Initiative, which provides loans and investment in infrastructure projects from the Chinese government.

Victoria is the only Australian state to sign up, and did so despite the disapproval of the federal government and warnings from security agencies.

As the chief executive of the Australia-China Belt and Road Initiative company, Jean Dong, 33, had a big part to play in securing the deal.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told a gathering of German ambassadors on Monday that “analysts have long talked about the end of an American-led system and the arrival of an Asian century. This is now happening in front of our eyes.”

Borrell said the COVID-19 pandemic could be seen as a turning point in the power shift from West to East, and that for the EU the “pressure to choose sides is growing.”

China is warning Canada to release Huawei executive Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 to avoid “any continuous harm” to relations between the two countries one day before the British Columbia Supreme Court is set to issue a key decision in her extradition case.

“The Canadian side should immediately correct its mistake, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date so as to avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 said Tuesday.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

A motion that would effectively keep single women from having their eggs frozen has sparked intense discussion after being put forward at China’s congressional meetings.

Sūn Wěi 孙伟, a fertility doctor in the eastern Shandong province and a delegate of the National People’s Congress, proposed the motion Monday during the ongoing “two sessions” — high-profile meetings of China’s top legislative and political advisory bodies — in Beijing. According to the motion, hospitals would be barred from providing egg-freezing services to single women.

Like their peers in the West, young people in China are often stereotyped as lavish spenders, and research indicates [in Chinese] that those born after 1990 are less focused on stability and more concerned with self-expression and getting the most out of life. But the younger generations have also been hit hardest by the economic fallout from COVID-19 — and this is leading many to reassess their priorities.