China is denying that the $1.2 billion in aid that Vice President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Cambodia yesterday had anything to do with the fact that just hours earlier, the country deported 20 Uighur asylum speakers -- a move that Xi praised during the very same visit:
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman defended the deportations Tuesday, called the handling of the Uighurs an "internal affair" and said there were "no strings attached" to the aid package.
"According to my knowledge, some are suspected of criminal cases," Jiang Yu told a regularly scheduled news briefing. "Public security forces will handle the relevant outlaws. Their whereabouts, I have no information to offer you."
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images
The editor of one of China's most independent newspapers is being punished for an interview with visiting President Barack Obama:
Xiang Xi, the top editor of the Southern Weekend weekly newspaper who interviewed Obama during his visit to China in mid-November, has been named as "executive" editor-in-chief and placed under a new top editor this week after pressure from the ruling Communist Party's propaganda department, said three employees of the paper.
They all requested anonymity, saying they feared punishment for speaking about the move, which has also been discussed on Chinese-language Internet sites.
Xiang's demotion could revive debate in Washington about the impact of Obama's visit. It underscored the contention between Washington and Beijing over censorship and access during Obama's visit, when U.S. officials' pressed for opportunities for him to speak directly to the Chinese public.
"The propaganda department was certainly unhappy about the interview," said Michael Anti, a Chinese blogger and media commentator based in Beijing who follows censorship.
The White House had specifically requested an interview with the paper, which is known for its investigative reports on social problems and official corruption. They got the okay from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but apparently not the Party Propaganda Department, which forced the paper to cut most of the interview, leaving a blank space on their front page.
None of the articles I've read have suggested what Obama might have said in the interview to draw the censors' ire.
While speaking to Chinese university students during his trip to China in November, the president declared himself a "big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information." Ironically, that event was also partially censored after Chiense authorities denied the White House request that it be broadcast nationwide.
The Democratic Party of Japan apparently doesn't travel light. Mainichi Shimbun reports:
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa won't be lonely when he heads to China and South Korea on Thursday, as he's taking an entourage of about 630 people with him.
The group, including DPJ supporters and 143 fellow DPJ Diet members, will accompany Ozawa while he's in China to meet with President Hu Jintao. Ozawa will continue on to South Korea alone for a dinner meeting with President Lee Myung-bak on Friday, but overall the trip looks to solidify the impression of Japan's regime change both in and outside the country, as well as emphasize Ozawa's political power.
143 Diet members is about a third of the party's entire delegation. Imagine 100 Democratic members of congress all going on one foreign trip. Ozawa apparently also hopes to discuss an exchange program between the DPJ and the Chinese Communist Party during the visit.
The DPJ came into power promising a closer relationship with China and a Japanese foreign policy that was more oriented toward the country's Asian neighbors. Ozawa's mega-junket certainly seems like a pretty big statement to that end.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
This afternoon in Shanghai, U.S. President Barack Obama held a townhall-style meeting with university students. It was an event that his staff had worked hard to include on his China trip itinerary. After a brief speech extolling the importance of core values to the success of the United States as a nation and Americans as individuals, Obama took questions from the audience and online.
It has since come to light that not all of the questions came from bonafide students. One questioner was a vice director of daily affairs for the Communist Youth League; another was a young-looking teacher. Obama's answers about Internet freedom weren't heard by most remote audiences because several networks, including CNN, mysteriously cut away for commentary at that moment. The response among expats in China was, by and large, negative -- with many complaining Obama had minced his words, talking for instance of "universal rights" rather than "human rights." If one is looking to be cynical, there's plenty of fodder.
On the other hand, from the point of view of most Chinese I've spoken, these official efforts at censorship might have been silly, or nefarious, but they didn't have much impact. The notion of a president taking questions, not a frequent occurrence in China, was itself the point. The symbolism was more arresting, to them, than the content. "Why does he want to talk to Chinese students?" one 29-year-old Chinese woman asked me, without irony. She was puzzled, impressed, and a bit amused at the spectacle.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
No cabinet-level U.S. official has visited Taiwan since Clinton administration Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater in 2000, but Taipei is hoping to change that with an invitation to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki:
Representatives of Taiwan's Veterans Affairs Commission recently met Shinseki in the United States to extend the invitation, said Hans Song, the commission's overseas liaison department director.
Taiwan's commission, which was founded in 1954 when Taiwan stood on the brink of war with China, has modeled itself on its U.S. counterpart and has used U.S. money to build hospitals.
"Because the Taiwan veterans system has studied the U.S. system, we hope he can give us some suggestions," Song said.
Shinseki is also just prominent to be counted as a diplomatic victory for the KMT government, but perhas not prominent enough to anger China too much. Shinseki is still mulling the decision apparently.
It does seem a little strange that the U.S. is apparently willing to invoke China's wrath by selling $421 million in missiles to Taiwan, but a short stop-over from a high-ranking cabinet official would be considered a brazenly provocative act.
Say what you will about Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the man does not want to mislead the public about rocks. Grandpa Wen wrote this self-correcting letter to Xinhua this week:
In my article "Teachers Are the Pillars of Our Education," which was published by your agency yesterday, the categories of petrology ought to be "sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic". I wish to make this correction and to express my apologies to all readers.
Wen had originally written "volcanic" instead of "metamorphic". Danwei.org's Eric Mu writes:
Needless to say, the apology burnishes the established reputation of Wen as a humble, down-to-earth, grandfatherly leader, even if, as a graduate of the Beijing Institute of Geology, he really ought to have known such basic information.
I can think of a few things I'd rather the Chinese premier apologize for, but I guess this is a start.
Chinese President and vocal free speech advocate Hu Jintao vowed to continue safeguarding the rights of foreign media working in China, reports the state-run paper China Daily.
"It is more important than ever before that the media should establish and uphold social responsibilities," Hu said at the World Media Summit. Apparently Hu cares so much about the media doing the right thing that he employs about 30,000 "Internet Police" to discourage everything from negative news to pornography. China's Internet filtering (AKA "The Great Firewall") was especially frustrating for overseas reporters covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; the control of the Internet probably has something to do with why Freedom House ranks Chinese media the 181st least-free out of 195 countries surveyed, tied with Iran and Rwanda.
On the other hand, Hu did say, "The media should uphold the ideas of equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit and common development, and better facilitate exchanges and cooperation." And if you can't trust friends like these...
Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, the Hurun Report released the top two on its 2009 China rich list, a ranking of the wealthiest people on the mainland: Wang Chuanfu at $5.1 billion, whose company makes electric cars and batteries, and Zhang Yin at $4.9 billion, whose company produces recycled paper products. The rest of the list comes out this month.
A few things about these two titans and the rich list and its older versions interested me. First, as the United States' billionaires are getting fewer and poorer, China's are getting more plentiful and richer. There are now 131 dollar billionaires in China -- compared with around 350 in the United States.
Second, an exceedingly obvious point but one to marvel at: Rich people in China own companies which make things. The country remains the organ that produces the world's stuff -- batteries, cars, paper, widgets, tires, you name it. And these companies remain relatively undiversified, vertically, not horizontally. One member of the rich list, for instance, owns a company that produces pig feed. 20 years from now, he might own a conglomerate that makes pig feed, feeds it to pigs, slaughters them, and sells the meat. Then, 20 years from then, he might own a holding company which subcontracts out all of those functions to workers and producers in cheaper markets.
In contrast, the 10 richest people in the United States (in descending order: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, assorted Waltons, Michael Bloomberg, and Charles and David Koch) run diversified companies which trade in finance, technology, information, and real estate.
I also took a bit of interest in the producer of the Hurun Report -- one Rupert Hoogewerf. He's a Luxembourgian alumnus of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen who produced Forbes' China rich list between 1999 and 2003. At that point, it seems that Forbes fired him, possibly due to "public doubts and questions of the accuracy and authority of the wealth ranking year after year," according to state paper China Daily. It added: "It is understood that he received no compensation settlement from Forbes."
The official line is that Forbes simply decided to have a Shanghai editor manage the production of the list. But I like the idea of list-maker Hoogewerf going rogue. Does make you wonder about the accuracy of those lists, though...
The Dalai Lama is in Washington this week, but he won't be meeting with Obama. This will be the first presidential snub since 1991, and as the Washington Post reports:
The U.S. decision to postpone the meeting appears to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China ... Obama administration officials have termed the new policy "strategic reassurance," which entails the U.S. government taking steps to convince China that it is not out to contain the emerging Asian power."
Recently, FP contributor Wen Liao explained the thinking:
The pragmatism that is Obama's diplomatic lodestar, it seems, comes at a price: Illusions must be abandoned. Publicly recognizing China's territorial unity is the sin qua non for effective bilateral diplomatic relations, and Obama knows it."
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
On the day of China's big 60th anniversary parade, the Beijing sky was bright blue -- thanks to some strategic short-term factory shut-downs and and a fleet of 18 aircraft equipped with rain-clouds disperal chemicals. The female militia units, clad in red mini-skirts and go-go style white boots, goose-stepped to perfection. The procession of nuclear missiles, some capable of striking Washington, went off without a hitch. China sure can put on a stellar parade.
And President Hu Jintao's ten minutes speech .... yawn. He gave no clues as to new directions or aspirations for the country, the economic or environmental crossroads China now finds itself at, his proposed solutions or looming questions. Riveting excerpts include:
It might seem odd to American audiences that Beijing's political elite would put more apparent energy into enforcing a pigeon ban within a 125-mile radius of Tiananmen Square, than into prepping the Chinese president for his 10 minutes in the global spotlight -- a chance to make a big statement about China's place in the world at this significant milestone.
At Washington Monthly magazine, where I previously worked as an editor, my boss was Paul Glastris, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton. After every State of the Union Address, a swarm of foreign news outlets, such as the BBC, would call him to dissect the meaning of particular presidential turns of phrases, exploring how each speech measured up in the canon of great presidential oratory.
But expectations are radically different in China. One of the results of a political system that doesn't hold elections is that its political leaders aren't required to kiss babies, craft compelling personal narratives, or learn how to inspire the public with speechs that exhalt the spirit or signal new directions for the country.
In a sense, public speeches in China are a bit like Madlibs; the major nouns (dates, names, countries) are duly swapped out, but the essential structure and enduring slogans remain the same.
Feng Li/Getty Images
The extraordinary efforts by governments and central banks to prevent the global economy from collapsing over the past year seem to have worked. Growth is picking up again, and optimism is in the air. The question now on many people's minds here at the G-20: Is it time for an exit strategy?
Not yet, according to China. Despite a recent bout of optimism, including from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earlier today, Chinese officials said this evening that the international economy remains "quite fragile" and that Beijing isn't ready to support the unwinding of the various stimulus measures that governments have put in place to counteract the effects of the financial crisis.
As the recovery has gained momentum, some analysts have expressed concerns that governments under budget and political pressures would begin dismantling their costly stimulus programs too early.
"We believe it is still too early to talk about an exit strategy because the world economy is not out of the woods and the U.S. economy is still on a downward trend," said Department of International Cooperation official Ma Xin in a press conference here in Pittsburgh. "If we pull out or wind down the policies completely we may undermine people’s confidence."
John Kirton, a political scientist at the University of Toronto and an expert on the G-8 and the G-20, said in an interview that his biggest worry was that the major economies would unwind their stimulus measures too soon. His hope is that world leaders will issue a "strong, unified message" on staying the course after several countries, notably Japan and Germany, recently indicated they would begin dialing their stimulus measures back.
Chinese officials also responded to questions about one of the hot-button issues hanging over this summit, the ongoing depreciation of the U.S. dollar, which has lost 11 percent in value against a basket of major currencies since January. China, which now holds at least $2 trillion dollars in reserves, has made increasing noises in recent months about its desire to eventually move away from the dollar as a global reserve currency.
Geithner had to reiterate
in his press conference today that "a strong dollar is very important
in the United States." He added that he expected the dollar to remain
the world's main reserve currency for "a very long time."
Xie Duo of the People's Bank of China said that Beijing supported "the stability of major reserve currencies," which he sees as an important condition for the health of the world economy. Nonetheless, he said, "Most experts realize that the composition of the reserve currencies is flawed," and "it is reasonable for politicians to voice their criticisms of the current system."
After a slate of big speeches yesterday at the U.N. climate summit in New York, the jury is still divided on how significant the new carbon mitigation steps announced by China, India, Japan, and other countries are. (There's even a range of opinions on this site. But there seems to be a growing consensus on one thing: the US is increasingly seen as falling behind, isolated.
Funny that, in China, they saw this coming. This summer in Beijing, I spoke with one of the leading private-sector Chinese energy analysts, someone present at the last big round of climate negotiations held in Bonn. In between meetings, he and some of his colleagues had joked about something they called the "Chinese conspiracy." The gist was, as he put it, to view future climate talks as "an opportunity" and "to keep America off the table at Copenhagen."
He was kidding, of course, and even were he serious, he wouldn't have been speaking for the government. But as it happens, something like that scenario may be unfolding.
In the final weeks before Copenhagen, several countries, including China, are rushing to claim the mantle of leadership, to define what "success" means, and to offer their own proposals. At a press conference this morning in Washington, the director general of climate change for Mexico's ministry of the environment was talking about his country's proposal for the architecture of a redistributive "green fund," which would collect money from the world's economic leaders and then steer money toward green-friendly development in poorer countries. Next up, rumors are swirling of a coalition of Latin American countries preparing to offer their own pre-Copenhagen proposals.
Danwei.org shares this pretty adorable video from the Chinese newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily showing schoolchildren returning to class on the first day of the term. The reporter asks the children what they want to be when they grow up and most give standard answers like fireman or pilot. Around 1:55, though, one little girl goes a little off-script:
“I want to be an official”Everybody's got a dream.
?Reporter:] “What kind of official?”
“A corrupt official, because corrupt officials have a lot of things.”
China's food and drug administration has approved the world's first vaccine for the H1N1 virus and the government has announced plans to 5 percent of the Chinese population by the end of this year. Not everyone's so sure about it though:
Skeptics, however, have a hard time believing that a one-dose vaccine lacking a special substance called an adjuvant -- which primes the body to react to the dead virus and produce antigens against it more efficiently and effectively -- can work as well as a two-dose one.
"It would be hard for me to imagine a single-shot vaccine without an adjuvant," says Barry R. Bloom, the former dean of Harvard's School of Public Health. "My understanding in trials here is that you need more than one shot with just the straight virus to get a good enough immune response."
The study that preceded the vaccine's approval tested it on 1,614 participants from age three to over 60, according to Sinovac's head of investor relations, Helen Yang.
Stanford researcher David B. Lewis, who is involved in studies that test how adjuvants can improve seasonal flu vaccines, says it could be misleading to lump the results of all age groups together.
The WHO has also expressed some reservations about the size of China's vaccination plan, noting that "adverse effects that are too rare to show up in a large clinical trial could become apparent when much larger numbers of people receive the vaccine."
Given the speed at which China rushed this vaccine into production and the past record of the country's pharmaceutical industry, I think I would take my chances with the swine flu.
A disturbing report from The Telegraph suggests that China may soon cut off the world's supply of the metals needed for many modern electronics:
A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.
China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.[...]
New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.
Danger Room's Nathan Hodge comments:
[I]t’s a reminder of the role that strategic resources play, especially for the high-tech military of the United States. [...]
Of course, China is not the only country that’s figuring out how to play the mineral wealth hand in geopolitics. For several years now, Russia has used natural gas supply as a way to exert less-than-subtle pressure on its neighbors. Energy, the Kremlin found, is a more effective instrument than an aging nuclear weapons stockpile: You can actually turn the gas taps off when you feel like punishing someone.
As an old piece of wisdom from Strategic Air Command put it: “When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
For years, tourists in China have been showing friends back home amusingly bad translation of Chinese into English. The Internet has only accelerated this trend, with more and more hilarious examples being chronicled by the day.
But with next year's World Expo fast approaching, the host city Shanghai--which is spending more money than Beijing did for the 2008 Summer Olympics--is cracking down on these silly translations:
The Shanghai government, along with neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, published a 20-page guide book this week to standardise signs and eliminate notoriously bad, and sometimes amusing, English translations.
"A number of the English translations are quite baffling, others are simply awkward," Xue Mingyang, director of the Shanghai Education Commission, was quoted as telling the China Daily.
As the AP article notes, Beijing also tried this in 2008, but had to give up, as the task was too big. Interestingly, while poor translations will always be incorrect, Asian phonetic differences, such as the non-distinction between Ls and Rs, could be the next big changes in the English language: last year, researchers suggested that the next century will see English be replaced in many countries by "Panglish," combining English with phonetic and grammatical structures from languages such as Tamil,
Singaporean Malay, and Mandarin.
The Financial Times reports that an essay posted on a Chinese defense Website caused some controversy in India during recent Beijing-New Dehli border talks:
“China can dismember the so-called ‘Indian Union’ with one little move!” claimed the essay posted last week on China International Strategy Net, a patriotic website focused on strategic issues. The writer, under the pseudonym Zhanlue (strategy in Chinese), argued that India’s sense of national unity was weak and Beijing’s best option to remove an emerging rival and security threat would be to support separatist forces, like those in Assam, to bring about a collapse of the Indian federal state.
“There cannot be two suns in the sky,” wrote Zhanlue. “China and India cannot really deal with each other harmoniously.” The article suggested that India should be divided into 20 to 30 sovereign states.
Such was the outcry about the article that the Indian government issued a statement reassuring the country that relations with China were calm.
“The article in question appears to be an expression of individual opinion and does not accord with the officially stated position of China on India-China relations conveyed to us on several occasions, including at the highest level, most recently by State Councillor Dai Bingguo during his visit to India last week,” the foreign ministry in New Delhi said in a statement, referring to mutual pledges to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty. [...]
DS Rajan, director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, brought the essay to his countrymen’s attention. “It has generally been seen that China is speaking in two voices,” he said. “Its diplomatic interlocutors have always shown understanding during their dealings with their Indian counterparts, but its selected media is pouring venom on India in their reporting.”
According to Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei.org, the essay has actually been floating around the Chinese blogosphere in various forms since at least 2005, a fact not mentioned in the FT article or, presumably, by Rajan.
It seems odd at first that one essay on a nationalist Website could cause such an uproar. (Imagine if someone tried a draw conclusions about U.S. foreign policy from a glance at, say, WorldNetDaily.) But given the extent to which the Chinese government censors content it doesn't approve of online, they can hardly complain when articles that do appear on the Chinese Internet are assumed to have tacit government approval.
China appears to be modeling three UAVs on the same V-tail configuration of the U.S.-made RQ-4 Global Hawk: the Chengdu Aircraft Corp.'s Xianglong (Sour Dragon) UAV and Yilong UAV, and the Guizhou Aviation Industry Group's WZ-2000 UAV.
One mystery is why the plethora of UAV models on display at Zhuhai do not go into production, said Andrei Chang, a Chinese military analyst with the Kanwa Information Center in Toronto. China is having difficulty mastering the technical complexity of operating UAVs in real time, he said.
"The companies displaying these are probably trying to elicit foreign investment and probably do not have an actual prototype," Chang said.
China also conducted a massive war game this week as part of a campaign to improve its "long-distance mobility" using new high-speed rail networks to move troops and equipment. Eyebrows were raised in New Delhi.
Beijing appears to be following the Kremlin's lead in a campaign to sever NGO's from foreign sources of funding. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
It began with a tax notice for $200,000. Three days later, on July 17, officials raided the group's Beijing office and seized its computers. Then, just before dawn on July 29, police detained its founder, Xu Zhiyong at his home
On the same day, government officials went to the office of Yi Ren Ping, another nongovernmental organization, and confiscated copies of its newsletter on the grounds that it didn't have a publishing license.[...] The two NGOs are among a growing number here using the law to hold authorities to account on issues such as food safety, patient rights, and illegal detention.
But they share another common thread: Both received grants from American and other foreign donors. The tax fine for Open Constitution Initiative, the group headed by Mr. Xu, was assessed largely on a donation from Yale Law School. Xu, a lawyer and elected legislator, is being detained on suspicion of tax evasion, according to an OCI official.
The harassment of these and other foreign-funded NGOs in Beijing has raised fears of a Russian-style squeeze on civil society. Since 2006, Russia has stripped the tax-free status of many foreign foundations and forced NGOs to report their activities in exhaustive detail, while accusing foreign-funded human rights groups of being Trojan horses for Western powers. It recently amended its NGO law, easing some of these controls.
The Wall Street Journal's Sky Canaves reports on some of the festivities in store as China gets ready to celebrate the current government's founding:
As part of the myriad activities planned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, the normally staid National Bureau of Statistics is letting its hair down a bit.The NBS has launched a call for submissions of writings celebrating the PRC’s big birthday as part of campaign called “Statistical Feelings: Together We Go – Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of New China.” The campaign is intended to boost the patriotic feelings and confidence of statisticians in their work, according to the bureau’s Web site.
Excited yet? Canaves and the WSJ team translate and provide a look inside the minds and patriotism of Chinese statisticians:
So far, about a dozen entries have been posted, encompassing the genres of prose, poetry and song. One essay, submitted by an employee of the NBS industrial division, is titled “I Am Proud to Be a Brick in the Statistics Building of the PRC,” and reads like a prose poem, each paragraph leading with the title’s refrain.
A poem, “Love the Homeland, Love Statistics,” includes the following stanza:
Some mock me for doing statistics
Some loathe me and statistics
Some don’t understand what statistics are
Why is it that statistics
Put a calm smile on my face?
Because of statistics
I can solve the deepest mysteries
Because of statistics
I will not be lonely again, playing in the data
Because of statistics
I can rearrange the stars in the skies above
Because of statistics
My life is different, more meaningful
I love my life, my statistics
I have a sudden thirst for data.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Two days ago, the Chinese government expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the visit of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer to Japan. The Japanese government (whose record on Chinese human rights issues is not particulary strong) chose to let the visit go ahead anyways, despite China's assertions that Kadeer helped spark the riots in Urumqi earlier this month (an accusation Kadeer has denied).
What China probably feared most has happened: Kadeer said today in Tokyo that "The nearly 10,000 (Uighur) people who were at the protest, they disappeared from Urumqi in one night." Kadeer called for an internation investigation to uncover more about the riots. China claims that 197 people died in the riots, with a further 1,000 detained.
While China's attempts to pressure other countries (and a movie festival in Australia) over the Uighurs have been pathetic, one point should be made in its favor: the Western media response has been rather curious - numerous publications are carrying the quotes, but none that I've seen mention any further proof, even from Kadeer herself, whereas the AP account before her visit to Japan noted that "China has not provided evidence" of Kadeer's alleged role in the riots. This is not to question Kadeer's account (China's reputation for forging the facts when advantageous is well-established), but to ask: why merely repeat her words? 10,000 people in one night is a serious accusation by any country's standards, and similar claims about other countries would not (and do not) get the same benefit of the doubt.
TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
This past week, Vitaliy Katsenelson wrote a great Foreign Policy web feature on the big old asset-price bubble developing in the Chinese economy, called "The China Bubble's Coming -- But Not the One You Think."
Recent news seems to bear the theory out.
The Financial Times reports:
Chinese regulators on Monday ordered banks to ensure unprecedented volumes of new loans are channelled into the real economy and not diverted into equity or real estate markets where officials say fresh asset bubbles are forming.
The new policy requires banks to monitor how their loans are spent and comes amid warnings that banks ignored basic lending standards in the first half of this year as they rushed to extend [around $1 trillion] in new loans, more than twice the amount lent in the same period a year earlier.
I feel a bit strange saying this.
But, over the past year, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I've really come to admire the Chinese central bank.
This fall, it recognized the need for massive stimulus -- and did it. Then it realized it was pushing too much money into the economy, creating bubbles and distorting the lending market -- and so it stopped. The central bank will raise reserve requirements for lenders. And presto, they'll stop lending so much. The bubble will ease, rather than popping.
Of course, I'm wary of my own oversimplification here. The Chinese economy has some very trying issues ahead of it, particularly as related to its currency, its U.S. reserves, and the quality of its economic growth. Plus, the impact of the lending spree (and its halting) obviously won't be clear for some time.
But, for the moment, this move just seems really prudent. Another way of thinking of it? Being a command economy has its advantages when there's need for a whole lot of emergency economic commands.
Since implementation thirty years ago, China's one-child policy has been criticized both in and outside of the country, and its record is somewhat mixed. The government claims that the policy has prevented over 400 million births, but many also blame the policy for leaving China with one of the most imbalanced populations in the world: heavily male and quickly ageing.
In Shanghai, then, where the over-65 population is expected to grow to 12 percent in the next 11 years, the government will begin encouraging some couples to have a second child. This is not the first step for the Chinese government relaxing the policy, nor is it a surprise: propaganda campaigns were already de-emphasizing the strict rule two years ago, and numerous exemptions for different groups have been added over the years. In addition, the policy change in Shanghai will only apply to couples who are both only children, no doubt with the "four-two-one" problem in mind. Still, bringing this initiative to one of China's biggest cities will be a major step, and it will be interesting to see how much more China relaxes the (still-popular) policy.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
In the last two weeks, two senior Chinese officials have been hospitalized for binge drinking, one of them fatally:
Jin Guoqing, a district deputy director of water resources in Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province, fell unconscious while entertaining guests at an official banquet last week and died on the way to the hospital, the official China Daily said.
Hospital records indicated the 47-year-old's excessive drinking triggered a fatal heart attack, the English-language newspaper said.
Also last week, Lu Yanpeng, a district chief in southern Guangdong province, fell into a coma after drinking heavily while having dinner with a local Communist Party chief. Lu was rushed to a hospital, where he remains unconscious, the paper said.
"Drinking with official guests or other officials at alcohol-soaked events is considered part of the job," Professor Li Changyan of Peking University was quoted as saying. Li said banquets are a mandatory exercise in welcoming VIPs and are usually covered by government funds.
I'd be curious to see some data -- though I suspect it would be near impossible to come by -- on the relationship between quality of governance and alchoholism among government officials. The fact that this level of excess is tolerated -- and in some cases even encouraged -- is not a promising sign for the Communist Party's professionalism.
This is not what you call good P.R.:
The fate of four signed basketballs given by NBA great Shaquille O'Neal to Sichuan earthquake survivors sparked an Internet storm in China this week.
The 15-times All Star doled out the balls to four children on Tuesday when he was visiting a school in Mianyang, the city worst affected by the earthquake which killed more than 80,000 people last year.
The boys were devastated when the balls were subsequently confiscated by school staff and China's increasingly assertive Internet community rallied to their cause.[...]
O'Neal, who is hugely popular in basketball-mad China, later dispatched replacement balls to the students.
"I never thought it would be like this. I can imagine how disappointed the boys must be," O'Neal told the paper.
If these officials had ever played Shaq Fu on SNES they would know what happens when you get between Shaq and his charity work.
Yeah, "electro-convulsive therapy" doesn't quite sit well with me, either:
China's ministry of health has banned the use of electric shock treatment to cure internet addiction. [...]
An earlier report by the Information Times claimed patients received electroconvulsive therapy if they broke any of the centre's rules, which included eating chocolate, locking the bathroom door, taking pills before a meal and sitting on Yang's chair without permission. It said parents had to sign a contract acknowledging their child would be given ECT before admission.
Seems like this Yang fellow was on something of a power trip (no pun intended). Does this make for two cases in which Beijing's intervention was a good thing?
I suppose not abusing one's patients is a step forward, of sorts.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems pretty quick to throw the g-word at China, considering his own country's historical sensitivities:
"The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There's no point in interpreting this otherwise," Erdogan said.
It's not exactly that simple. There's a case to be made that China's suppression of the Uighurs combined with it's efforts to build the Han population in Xinjiang constitute genocide under the 1948 convention, which includes "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" as part of the definition. But this is a pretty broad interpretation, especially considering that the local Han population has been suffering attacks as well.
It's also surprising to see a Turkish president so willing to use the word genocide this freely. Turkey has charged quite a few people over the years -- including the country's most famous author -- with insulting Turkishness for saying similar things about the massacre of Armenians after World War I or the killing of Kurds in more recent years. Erdogan himself has attacked proposals that Turkey apologize for historical wrongdoings.
Is this really a conversation he wants to start?
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.