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China should worry less about old enemies, more about ex-friends

Economist - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 16:44

TO FIELDMICE, rabbits and voles, every shadow overhead is a hawk until proved otherwise, condemning them to lives of needless panic. Chinese nationalists seem intent on ignoring that lesson from nature. Behind rising tensions with the West, they see dangerous anti-China hawks everywhere. Specifically they feel under attack from hardliners with President Donald Trump’s ear, who are intent on keeping a rising China down.

Rather than hawks scheming to contain China, jumpy nationalists should be worrying about a different group: Americans and Europeans who were once advocates of engagement, but have been disappointed by illiberal, aggressive choices made by Chinese rulers. They are not so much hawks as unhappy ex-doves.

That runs counter to an official Chinese narrative that casts China as the peace-loving victim of Americans with a cold-war mindset. In the words of a Chinese speaker at a recent policy forum: “[Cold-...

Categories: China News

The West once flooded China with opium. China is returning the favour

Economist - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 16:44

WHEN POLICE raided an apartment used by a chemicals exporter in the northern city of Xingtai just over a year ago, they found a team of English-speaking saleswomen hired to advertise illegal wares on foreign websites. Last month their boss was among nine people who pleaded guilty in a Chinese court to producing and mailing narcotics to America. The drugs included fentanyl, a potent opioid painkiller that has killed tens of thousands of people. The investigation began with a tip-off from American police, who were investigating one of the gang’s customers. They said the joint Chinese-American effort had prevented 20m doses of fentanyl from being sent abroad.

On December 1st China gave another hint that it was getting tougher on the drug that has blighted America (see article). The country’s president, Xi Jinping, agreed to close loopholes that allow some...

Categories: China News

To curb pollution, China has appointed over 1m “river chiefs”

Economist - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 16:44

In proud fulfilment of a great, noble call

HUO YAN, the Communist Party boss of a small district in north-east Beijing, was recently ordered by her bosses to take on a second job. Now Ms Huo must find time in her busy schedule to conduct weekly patrols along the Bahe river—an ancient canal that flows through her patch. She is responsible for protecting the waterway, scooping out garbage (or hiring others to do so) and keeping an eye out for pollution-causing activities on its banks. The side gig comes without extra pay.

The “river chief” system began more than a decade ago in the eastern province of Jiangsu. In 2016 the central government decreed that every lake and river, or segment thereof in the case of larger ones, must have someone tasked with keeping them free of visible pollutants. By the end of June every river had at least one local official designated as its supervisor.

There...

Categories: China News

How Russians and Chinese see each other

Economist - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 16:42

THE HIGH SPEED train from Changchun to Vladivostok would be a fine symbol of Sino-Russian friendship, if someone would finish it. The line’s Chinese leg is a modern marvel: a silk-smooth ride through a blur of birch trees and red-roofed farms. Then the line ends at buffers in Hunchun, a border city near Russia.

At first Hunchun’s residents are wary of discussing why their home town—a drab but friendly city of fewer than 230,000 people—is the terminus of a high-speed rail line from Changchun, the nearest provincial capital. The line, which cost 42bn yuan ($6bn), opened in 2015. Public records show that the surrounding province, Jilin, invited Russia to help lay the track as far as Vladivostok, the Russian Far East’s largest port. Russian selfishness scotched that plan, Hunchun’s residents mutter. “Russia said, ‘If you want it, you can build it,’” alleges a Chinese business owner. It will take 20 years for high-speed trains to...

Categories: China News

Forty years after Deng opened China, reformists are cowed

Economist - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 16:42

THOUGH IT DOES not believe in saints, the Communist Party of China came close to canonising its former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, back in 2004. On the centenary of his birth, Deng—who died in 1997—was hailed as the immortal “chief architect” of reforms that had made China prosperous and strong. The eulogies had some basis. Thanks to his support for policies dubbed “reform and opening up”, Deng can take credit for a secular miracle: the greatest economic recovery in history.

With cunning and pragmatism, Deng and his aides dismantled a broken economy and dystopian society left behind by Mao Zedong. They re-awoke the country’s slumbering genius for capitalism and found a way to call it socialism, albeit “with Chinese characteristics”. By 2004 the economy was 44 times larger than it was on December 18th 1978 (see chart 1). It was on that date that party leaders began a meeting that is now officially called the start of the era...

Categories: China News

Why only 2% of Chinese pay any income tax

Economist - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 16:47

“OF COURSE NOT, I’m not an idiot,” says Liu Yongli, a chauffeur in Beijing, when asked whether he has ever paid personal income tax. Despite earning well above the tax-free threshold, Mr Liu (not his real name) breezily explains that he has never faced any consequences for tax-dodging. Cavalier views like his may help explain why personal income tax accounted for only 8% of total tax revenue in China last year, compared with an average of 24% in the OECD, a group of rich countries.

The finance ministry estimates that 187m people ought to be paying income tax. Yet a former finance official reckons that in 2015 only 28m people—just 2% of the population—did so. In theory, the income-tax reform on which the authorities are embarking, which the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main mouthpiece, is calling the most significant in the country’s history, is about narrowing the tax base, not widening it. The...

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A Chinese state broadcaster is accused of abetting human-rights abuses

Economist - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 16:47

Humphrey, uncaged

PETER HUMPHREY was a British corporate investigator living in Shanghai when he was convicted in 2014 of violating Chinese laws protecting personal data. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. The verdict was a shock but not a surprise: the previous year, viewers of Chinese state television had watched a video of Mr Humphrey confessing from jail.

At a press conference in London on November 23rd Mr Humphrey, now released and living in Britain, said that the confession was scripted and filmed under duress. He claimed the footage was not only shown to domestic audiences but also broadcast on China’s international news channel, which is available in Britain (since 2016 it has gone by the name of CGTN). He says this is forbidden by Britain’s broadcasting regulations and is asking Ofcom, Britain’s telecoms regulator, to take CGTN off air.

Televised...

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A history of China in 8m objects

Economist - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 16:47

“WE DO NOT speak. We let the cultural relics speak!” declare the ambiguously worded signs around China’s most interesting history museum: the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, a sprawling, astonishing memorial to China’s 20th century. Taken literally, the notices are a request not to be noisy. They remind elderly couples or red-scarved school groups to whisper as they wander through the 33-hectare campus with its dozens of museums housing three-dimensional recreations of life under Japanese occupation in the 1940s, or during the “Red Age”. That is the museums’ tactful name for the 1960s and 1970s—above all the Cultural Revolution, the decade after 1966 when Mao Zedong unleashed terror on his own country, pitting neighbour against neighbour, students against teachers, children against parents and Red Guard mobs against officials whom Mao despised. More than a million lives were lost, and many more ruined. Centuries-old temples and libraries were...

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The West begins to stir over China’s massive abuse of Muslims

Economist - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 16:53

FEW GOVERNMENTS send ambassadors to China to be brave about human rights. Envoys to Beijing are scholars of realism, their fine minds applied to a delicate task: managing profitable relations with a deep-pocketed, unapologetic dictatorship.

It is, therefore, a big deal that at least 14 ambassadors from Western countries, led by Canada, have come together to confront China over its mass detentions of Muslims in the far-western region of Xinjiang, most of them ethnic Uighurs. Officials say the purpose is to stamp out extremism. In a letter leaked to Reuters, a news agency, the ambassadors have asked to meet Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party’s boss in Xinjiang. A hardliner transferred from Tibet, Mr Chen oversees a gulag into which perhaps a million Uighurs have been sent for “transformation-through-education”, many for indefinite periods without trial.

Millions more endure surveillance by facial-recognition cameras,...

Categories: China News

China’s gay-rights advocates have a bit more freedom than others

Economist - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 16:53

ON A WOOD-PANELLED wall above the judge’s bench hangs a red seal featuring the scales of justice. Smaller chairs and tables, for the legal teams, face each other across the room. Another row of seats is reserved for observers. These remain empty. Justice in China is rarely open for all to see, no matter how much officials insist that proceedings are public. But restricted access to this room, on the third storey of a nondescript building in Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong province, has done nothing to diminish the attention focused on a recent hearing there. Gay-rights activists, a small but increasingly vocal group, see the case as a landmark one for their cause.

The plaintiff is a 32-year-old teacher who claims he was unjustly fired by the kindergarten in Qingdao where he worked. He goes by the pseudonym Ming Jue. Mr Ming says his bosses confronted him after seeing a message he had posted on social media about a gay-pride...

Categories: China News

China’s first privately run research university is a risky venture

Economist - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 16:53

Chasing Caltech

HANGZHOU, A CITY south-west of Shanghai, is freighted with meaning for Shi Yigong. His grandmother, a Communist, was jailed there by the Nationalist government in the 1930s and died 18 days after giving birth to his father in prison.

Personal links drew Mr Shi to Hangzhou when he chose a location for the first private research university in China. He called it Westlake, after the scenic body of water for which the city is famed. The local government’s enthusiasm also helped. Hangzhou, though rich and historic, compares unfavourably with Beijing and Shanghai in terms of its intellectual endowment. Keen to host a top-class university, it offered Mr Shi tempting terms. Last month he presided over Westlake’s founding ceremony. The university’s first cohort of research students is around 140 strong. It hopes, eventually, to have thousands of students, including undergraduates.

...
Categories: China News

China’s internet, despite controls, offers fame and fortune to some

Economist - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 16:49

BEFORE HU JINZHOU began his climb into the foothills of fame, as a professional player of computer games in China’s multi-billion-dollar livestream industry, he was a schoolboy tearaway. He got into playground fights, tried to sell his textbooks to classmates and sneaked out after dark for some online gaming.

Back then, Mr Hu’s reluctance to conform was a drama played out on a small stage. “Our hair went white trying to straighten him out,” sighs his stepfather, Cai Hongbo, recalling nights spent hunting for the boy in the internet cafés of Dangyang, a factory town in Hubei, a central province. Quick-witted and popular, if not with teachers, Mr Hu shrugged off efforts to control him. “We’d get him to kneel...” recalls his mother, Zhao Aiying. “...To write letters of apology,” chips in her husband at their foot-massage parlour on a busy market street, where traders sell roasted nuts, vegetables of the brightest green and fish from the nearby Yangzi river. Their...

Categories: China News

Tsinghua University may soon top the world league in science research

Economist - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 16:49

TSINGHUA UNIVERSITY was born out of national humiliation. It was founded in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion—an anti-foreign uprising in 1900—and paid for with the reparations exacted from China by America. Now Tsinghua is a major source of Chinese pride as it contends for accolades for research in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In 2013-16 it produced more of the top 1% most highly cited papers in maths and computing, and more of the 10% most highly cited papers in STEM, than any other university in the world, reckons Simon Marginson of Oxford University (see chart). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) still leads in the top 1% of STEM papers, but Mr Marginson says Tsinghua is on track to be “number one in five years or less”.

...

Categories: China News

In China, political screening of university entrants causes an uproar

Economist - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 16:49

“ARE THEY retarded or just plain evil?” So asked a scathing commentary that was circulated recently through China’s social media. The author was referring to officials at the education bureau in Chongqing, a south-western region. On November 2nd they had published a document saying that students wishing to take the university-entrance exam must undergo zheng shen, or political vetting. Those who failed this screening would be barred from taking the test.

 What was striking was not so much Chongqing’s reminder that students must toe the Communist Party’s line, but the outcry this triggered in spite of strenuous efforts by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to keep dissent in check. Parents in Chongqing and farther afield expressed incredulity. The term zhengshen briefly lit up Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, before references to it were scrubbed by censors.

Zhengshen has a long history. During Mao’s rule, those...

Categories: China News

In Macau, the old colonial tongue is back in vogue

Economist - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:03

THESE DAYS Manuel Machado has a spring in his step. The school of which he is headmaster, Escola Portuguesa de Macau, is the only one in the southern Chinese city that still follows the curriculum taught in Portugal, which until 1999 had held sway in Macau, more or less, for nearly four-and-a-half centuries. What gives Mr Machado cheer is that enrolment has been rising for the past three years. The school now has more than 600 pupils. He predicts the trend will continue.

There is certainly plenty of room for catch-up growth. When the school was founded in 1998, a year before Portugal handed Macau back to China, it had nearly twice as many students (and there were at least three other such schools through much of the 1990s). The vast majority of pupils were children of Portuguese expatriates, who then dominated the senior ranks of Macau’s public sector. Today the school’s fastest-growing ethnic group is Chinese. 

 Only 2.3% of the city’s 660,000...

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China is struggling to explain Xi Jinping Thought

Economist - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:03

A slog, but it’s the thought that counts

THE INSTITUTE of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era occupies several rooms in the Marxism department of Renmin University in north Beijing. Qin Xuan, the institute’s director, says it is one of ten similar centres for the study of the philosophy that is attributed to China’s president. The institute has only a small administrative staff but about 70 affiliated academics. It produces research, offers advice to policymakers and organises seminars.

Mr Qin says that part of his team’s job is to explain Xi Thought to journalists, foreign diplomats and Chinese youngsters. In October he and researchers at other such institutes, all founded in the past year, appeared as judges and commentators on a youth-targeted game-show called “Studying the New Era”. It involved students who stood on the bridge of a starship and answered...

Categories: China News

Old-age homes boost Japan’s soft power in China

Economist - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:48

AMID THE stress and sadness of choosing an old-age home for her husband, it took Li Wangke, a retired academic, a while to realise why one facility was so good at reawakening his playful, chatty side. She had visited other homes that had fine food and lavish amenities, reflecting the affluence of the couple’s southern Chinese home town, Guangzhou. But one newly opened home stood out for easing—at least somewhat—the symptoms of the disease ravaging his brain. Rather than pampering her 83-year-old husband, its staff assessed his rare neuro-degenerative illness, then with warmth and firmness pushed him to do as much for himself as possible. They cajoled him to talk, exercise and even play ping-pong. He seems a “different person”, says Ms Li.

After several visits she discovered that the home’s methods had been imported from Japan, a former wartime foe that older Chinese are commonly thought to detest. Her husband, also a retired...

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Think of China as a giant sub-prime lender in Latin America

Economist - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 17:40

SINCE ITS emperors first wrangled with distant barbarians, China has practised unsentimental diplomacy. Not much has changed, to go by its dealings with Brazil and Venezuela as the two Latin American countries struggle with political crises.

On his noisy, populist path to victory, Brazil’s hard-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, cast China as a menace. “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil, they are buying Brazil,” the former army officer growled on the stump. He was referring to China’s snapping up of oilfields, mines, ports, giant dams and power grids. Since 2000 Chinese direct investment in Brazil has amounted to nearly $50bn. At times, Mr Bolsonaro’s gripes echoed those of the Trump administration, far to the north. In October Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, accused Chinese state-owned firms of “predatory economic activity” in the region. Mr Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, had urged Latin Americans to...

Categories: China News

China’s public worries pointlessly about GM food

Economist - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 17:40

AMID AN ESCALATING trade war with America, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has tried to reassure a nervous public by insisting that his country can go it alone in its pursuit of tech supremacy. The Chinese people must “cast aside illusions and rely on ourselves”, he said in April soon after the first shots were fired. But in one technological realm, China appears less eager to surpass America: the development of genetically modified (GM) food crops. China was once a world leader in the field, but in the face of public opposition it now lags far behind (see chart). Unlike America, China restricts the commercial use of GM strains largely to non-food farming.

In 2016, after years of vacillation, the government looked ready to allow wider introduction of GM food crops. In a five-year planning document, released that year, it said that certain GM maize and soyabean varieties would be in commercial use by the end of the decade (an...

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China waters down its ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts

Economist - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 17:40

Poached for a placebo

“IT’S GOOD news for my patients,” says Zhu Meng, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing. Ms Zhu is cheering a government directive, which took effect on October 29th, allowing the medical use of tiger bone and rhinoceros horn after a 25-year ban. Although evidence of their curative properties is sorely lacking, Ms Zhu insists that tiger bone mixed with alcohol can cure arthritis and that rhino-horn powder can help in the treatment of cerebrovascular disease, among other things.

In 1993, when the previous ban was declared, tiger bone and rhino horn were also removed from the officially approved list of Chinese medicines. In 2010 the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, based in Beijing, told its members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species. Astonishingly, however, the new directive implies that tiger and rhino parts may have...

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