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Updated: 1 hour 14 min ago

Is Hong Kong moving closer to the abyss that its leaders warn about?

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 17:08

A TEN-WEEK-OLD political crisis in Hong Kong has taken a lurch for the worse. Flash-mob protests across the territory have led to a sharp increase in violence, with hardball tactics employed both by anti-government demonstrators and police. In an unprecedented move for Asia’s pre-eminent financial centre, the authorities shut down Hong Kong’s airport for two days in a row in response to large demonstrations there. The protests in the terminal culminated in ugly scenes that China was quick to describe as “terrorism”.

The escalation has fuelled speculation about how China might respond. “If the situation gets worse, and turmoil occurs that the Hong Kong government is unable to control, the central government will not sit idly by,” the head of China’s Hong Kong affairs office, Zhang Xiaoming, had warned the previous week. The unrest does not yet appear impossible to contain using Hong Kong’s police, but China’s state media have broadcast footage of the mainland’s anti-riot forces manoeuvring on the border with the territory. The threat is clear.

After three days of low-key protests at the airport, the mood changed on August 12th. Huge numbers massed at the terminal following an alleged case of police brutality, when a young woman appeared to have been shot in the eye with a beanbag round during a separate demonstration....

Categories: China News

Why Chinese officials imagine America is behind unrest in Hong Kong

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 17:08

THERE IS SOMETHING depressing about the Chinese government’s claim that foreign “black hands” are behind the protests in Hong Kong. For the claim is both nonsensical and, in mainland China, widely believed. It is a fresh lesson in the power of disinformation to see decent, patriotic Chinese sharing tales of the CIA paying gullible Hong Kongers to join marches or smuggling in foreign rioters on late-night flights (a rumour sourced to a driver at Hong Kong airport, in the version that Chaguan heard).

There is something positively alarming about signs that, at some level, Communist Party bosses believe the black-hands story. Neither evidence nor common sense supports the tale’s central charge that outsiders tricked or provoked as many as 2m Hong Kongers into joining marches. The accusations began while the protesters were still overwhelmingly peaceful, focused on a planned law that would send suspects from their city’s Western-style justice system into Communist-controlled mainland courts. To propagandists in Beijing, no free will has been marshalling those students and pensioners, doctors in hospital scrubs and black-suited lawyers, off-duty civil servants and parents with pushchairs. Instead the protesters are at best dupes, and at worst foreigner-loving race traitors, ashamed of being Chinese.

The drumbeat has...

Categories: China News

For some in China, the aim of travel is to create 15-second videos

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 17:08

PERCHED ON CLIFFS above a river, Hongyadong is a stilt-house complex in mock-traditional style in the city of Chongqing. Its bars, restaurants and golden neon lights (pictured) have been a popular draw since it was built in 2006. Last year the number of visitors surged.

The main reason, it seemed, was Hongyadong’s sudden popularity on a social-media app, Douyin, which is used for sharing photographs and 15-second videos. By the end of the year the waiting time to get in was three hours. For a while Hongyadong—a jolly enough place but hitherto on few people’s bucket lists—became the biggest attraction in China after the Forbidden City, says Mafengwo, a travel website.

Social media have transformed tourism worldwide. Instead of having fun, some people now flock to remote strawberry farms or Icelandic fjords to take photos to impress their friends on Instagram. Foreign-operated social-media sites, including Instagram, are blocked in China. But domestic ones are hugely popular. Douyin, launched in 2016, has 230m monthly active users (its owner, ByteDance, has an uncensored version of the app for users outside China, called TikTok). Unlike users of Instagram, who mainly browse feeds of pictures posted by people they follow, Douyin’s fans commonly use the app to watch hot-trending videos posted by users they do not know under...

Categories: China News

China is trying to browbeat Taiwan by keeping its tourists away

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 16:45

ON THE AFTERNOON of July 31st youngsters in dozens of Chinese cities raced to government offices, pursuing a precious commodity. Earlier that day the authorities had announced that from midnight they would no longer issue the passes that allow mainland tourists to visit Taiwan independently, without having to join a tour. A 25-year-old newlywed from the eastern province of Zhejiang, who uses the nickname Yuyi, says she got a permit just before the cut-off. Now she wonders whether, given rising tensions between China and Taiwan, it might be wiser to junk the September getaway on the island that she and her husband have been planning.

China has long used carrots and sticks to persuade Taiwan’s people to accept its demand for “peaceful reunification”. But the sudden suspension of the solo-travel programme, launched eight years ago, was still a surprise. A spokesperson for China’s government blamed Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which abhors the idea of unification. He said it had “incited hostility towards the mainland”. Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, retorted that China had made “a big strategic mistake” and that its decision would irk both mainlanders and Taiwanese.

Visitors from China accounted for just over one-quarter of Taiwan’s tourist arrivals in the first half of this year. About...

Categories: China News

In China’s old urban neighbourhoods, conservationists sometimes win

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 16:45

IN A LEAFY street close to a busy underground station in the southern city of Guangzhou, two middle-aged women sit in a booth giving out hand-drawn local maps to passers-by. These feature cartoon-style images of churches and other grand architectural relics of the city’s pre-Communist past. Nearby, giggling youngsters take pictures of each other outside one such edifice: a European-looking villa, its high garden wall topped with ornate green tiles. There are few foreign visitors. The hand-drawn maps are all in Chinese. It is young locals who are drawn to this neighbourhood of large three- or four-storey houses built in the 1920s and 1930s in Western and Chinese styles (one is pictured). Its tree-lined lanes dotted with cafés and art galleries have become fashionable hangouts.

The area, known as Dongshan, is close to central Guangzhou, the capital of the southern province of Guangdong. It was built by the families of Cantonese who moved to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many old neighbourhoods in China have been bulldozed to make way for new development. Dongshan is an example of how some are being saved, and even turning chic.

The survival of Dongshan’s old buildings owes much to growing public interest in preserving urban heritage—not merely the few structures that the government designates as...

Categories: China News

Huawei is trying to solve a hard problem

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 16:45

ON BALANCE, it seems implausible that a committee—let alone a committee run by grey-suited Communist Party commissars—could design anything as odd as the new research campus of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant. Comprising 12 replica European “towns” spread across lush subtropical hills near the southern city of Dongguan, the campus houses 18,000 scientists, designers and other boffins in turreted German castles, Spanish mansions and Italian palazzi, connected by an antique-style red train. Staff canteens include Illy espresso bars and French bistros. A herd of bronze rhinoceroses grazes by the river that divides faux Verona from ersatz Heidelberg. It is not hard to see why the campus is a stop on tours that Huawei has started offering to foreign journalists in recent months. Impressive, mad and a bit tacky, the research campus is a suggestive bit of evidence. Perhaps Huawei may just be what it claims to be, at least when it comes to decisions about architecture: a privately held company guided by the ambitions and quirks of its billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei, a former military engineer and Europhile history buff.

After 30 years spent largely shunning publicity, Huawei has turned into one of the world’s chattier high-technology firms, inviting journalists into once-secret research laboratories and smartphone assembly...

Categories: China News