Posts tagged ‘China’

09/12/2016

China has gained hugely from globalisation | The Economist

LI DONGSHENG, who is 35, says he is too old to learn new skills and too old to get married. Construction and factory work used to be plentiful, he says, as he eats his lunch from a yellow plastic container while sitting on a wall outside a job centre in Hangzhou, a city on China’s wealthy eastern seaboard. But these days he can rarely find even odd jobs. He sleeps rough and has not visited his parents, who live hundreds of kilometres inland, for two years.

Millions of people like Mr Li have powered China’s rise over the past three decades, working in the boom-towns that have prospered thanks to China’s enthusiastic embrace of globalisation. Yet many are anxious and angry.Factory workers in America and Europe often blame China for stealing their jobs. There is no doubt that China has benefited enormously from its vast pool of people, like Mr Li, who are willing to work for a fraction of what Western counterparts might earn. Since 1979 China’s transformation into the workshop of the world has helped lift hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty.

Yet many of the worries that have recently animated Western voters are common in China, too. Working-class Chinese, as well as members of the new middle class, fret about rising inequality, the impact of mass migration from the countryside into cities and job losses. “China will not shut the door to the outside world but open more,” said the president, Xi Jinping, in November. But even globalisation is occasionally attacked. On December 6th Global Times, a jingoistic newspaper published in Beijing, ran an opinion piece blaming globalisation for China’s income inequality, housing bubbles and the ravaging of its environment.

China’s own policy failures are much to blame, too. But the government has sensed the danger of rising public anger created by the divide between rich and poor (in the 1980s China was among the most equal societies in the world; now it is one of the least so). A decade ago it switched its “chief task” from “economic construction” to establishing a “harmonious society”—ie, one with a more even distribution of wealth (as well as a beefed-up police force to keep malcontents in check). China is now becoming slightly fairer overall: thanks to a dwindling supply of cheap labour and government efforts to boost the minimum wage, blue-collar salaries are rising faster than white-collar ones.But many people feel that inequality and social mobility are getting worse in other respects. For example, members of the fast-growing middle class complain about the emergence of a new plutocracy. They say that the wealthiest owe their fortunes to corruption and personal relationships, not hard work. Mr Xi’s waging of the longest and most intense campaign against graft since the party came to power in 1949 is partly (as he admits) a sign of fear that anger over widespread and egregious corruption might imperil the party’s rule.

 

Among blue-collar workers, a structural shift in China’s economy, from labour-intensive manufacturing to higher-tech industries and services, is fuelling job insecurity. In 2013, for the first time, the contribution to GDP from services, such as transport, shops, restaurants and finance, pulled ahead of industry, including manufacturing, mining and construction (see chart).

In the past couple of years, jobs in manufacturing have been declining, partly because globalisation is beginning to play the same sort of role in China as it does in developed countries. Some factories have been moving to cheaper locations abroad.The impact is pronounced in many of the hundreds of towns that specialise in making certain products. Datang, China’s “sock city” near Hangzhou, is a good example: in 2014 it made 26bn pairs of socks, some 70% of China’s production, but many factories are closing as garment-making moves to cheaper countries in Asia. As a local boss explains, “People simply won’t pay more for a pair of socks.”

Millions more jobs are threatened by efforts to reduce overcapacity in bloated and heavily indebted state-owned enterprises (SOEs), such as steelmakers and mining companies. Nervous officials often prefer to prop up such businesses rather than risk an explosion of unrest among laid-off urban-born workers. The government worries more about such people than it does about unemployed migrants from rural areas: they stay in the cities rather than return to the countryside.

The official unemployment rate in urban areas has remained remarkably steady at around 4% for years, even during the worst of the global financial crisis. But those figures are highly misleading. For one thing they exclude migrants from the countryside, who often suffer the worst labour abuses, such as long periods of unpaid leave as well as of unpaid work: bosses often suffer the worst labour abuses, such as long periods of unpaid leave as well as of unpaid work: bosses often hold back wages for months. About 40 construction workers in Beijing protested last month to demand unpaid wages from a project three years ago (pictured above).

Many of those who used to work in factories, such as Mr Li in Hangzhou, are ill-equipped to find new jobs in service industries. Official data show that more than two-thirds of workers laid off in recent years were poorly educated and around half were aged 40 or older. Those are big handicaps. The government has assigned 100bn yuan ($14.5bn) to pay for the resettling and retraining of workers laid off in the steel and coal industries. But the scheme’s details are unclear. Migrants, usually first out of the door, often cannot afford to stay in a city without a job. Those who do find work in service industries are not necessarily happier. In the third quarter of 2016, for the first time, labour unrest in such firms was more common than in manufacturing, according to China Labour Bulletin. The Hong Kong-based NGO recorded 2,271 protests by workers in all industries between January and November (see map). That is more than 14 times as many as in the same period of 2011.

Drawbridge up

As anxieties grow, migrants are likely to suffer. Like those in the West who resent foreign immigrants, Chinese urbanites often blame their cities’ problems on outsiders, albeit on people from other parts of the country (who often speak very different dialects and lack “civilised” city ways). The 280m such migrants in urban China feel marginalised and resented. Weibo, a microblogging site, has accounts dedicated to subjects such as “Beijingers safeguarding the city of Beijing”. In May, 12 city and provincial governments tried to broaden their pool of university entrants by reducing quotas for local students. Parents in three cities staged demonstrations, worried their children would lose a precious advantage (pictured is one such protest in the eastern city of Nanjing).

More often, migrants are subjected to a kind of apartheid, in effect excluded from subsidised urban health care and other public services because they have no urban hukou, or residence permit. Urban schools commonly (and illegally) require that parents of migrant children pay extra fees and produce documents such as rental or job contracts that few of them can supply. Children who do get places are sometimes taught separately from those of urban-born parents. The central government is making it easier for migrants to obtain hukou in small towns and cities where apartment blocks often lie empty but jobs are scarce. But it is getting harder for people from the countryside to settle in megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai, owing to measures such as the demolition of ramshackle housing where many of them live and stricter qualifications for local hukou.

The Communist Party has treated the presidential election in America and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as propaganda victories. People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, gleefully reported on the “dark, chaotic and negative” election campaign that had revealed the “ill” state of America’s “so-called democracy”. China Daily called the Brexit vote a “political earthquake”. Its message was clear: giving people the freedom to make such momentous decisions can have dangerous consequences. With the West plunged into uncertainty, China has seized the chance to present itself as a beacon of stability.

Yet the party knows that in China, too, the rise of inequality and loss of manufacturing jobs present big challenges. Mr Xi may talk confidently of keeping China open, but the case for doing so is not clear to many of China’s citizens, nor even to the government (ask foreign businesses in China about the difficulties they face). Since the country first launched its “reform and opening” policy in the late 1970s, arguments have never ceased over how far to go. In the 1990s, when the party launched its first wave of SOE closures, resulting in millions of lay-offs, some angry workers even began to embrace a neo-Maoist movement that harked back to the days of guaranteed jobs (and far firmer controls on internal migration). As he prepared to take over in 2012, Mr Xi engaged in a fierce struggle with another leader, Bo Xilai, who had gained huge popularity partly thanks to his Maoist rhetoric. Mr Bo is now in jail, but Mr Xi has adopted his Mao-loving style and has lashed out at Mao’s critics.

Parents want to take back control

Anti-elite sentiment, such as Britain and America are experiencing, is the party’s worst fear. Mr Xi is a member of the party’s upper class: his father was Mao’s deputy prime minister until he was purged. Many of his closest allies are also “princelings”, as offspring of the party’s grandees are often called. That is why he has tried hard to portray himself as a “common man”, highlighting his experiences of living in a cave and working in the fields during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. He is appealing to popular nationalism, too, with talk of the country’s “great rejuvenation” and the “Chinese dream” (shades of Mr Trump’s “Make America Great Again”).

China does not have the complication of free elections, much less referendums. But the party feels that it needs to appear responsive to popular opinion in order to stay in power. That is becoming more difficult as economic growth slows and the main public demand—for greater wealth—becomes harder to satisfy. Even with strong institutions, rule of law and freedom of the press, Britain and America are struggling to contain popular rage. China is dealing with many of these same forces with fewer outlets for discontent. Mr Xi is trying to keep anger from spilling over by locking up dissidents with greater resolve than any Chinese leader has shown in years. He knows that global elites are under attack. That is making him all the more determined to protect China’s.

Source: China has gained hugely from globalisation | The Economist

09/12/2016

Mr Trump’s backing of an admirable but neglected country is worrisome | The Economist

WHEN President-elect Donald Trump tweeted last week that he had spoken to Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen—“The President of Taiwan CALLED ME”—almost all of Washington’s Asia hands suffered palpitations.

It was the first presidential-level contact between America and Taiwan since “normalisation” in 1979, when Jimmy Carter broke off diplomatic relations with “Free China”, as Taiwan was then often known, and recognised the Communist government in Beijing instead.

At the time Congress tried to reassure Taiwan by making provisions for continued weapons sales and hinting that America would step in should the island be attacked. But, under immense Chinese pressure, America has always kept Taiwan at diplomatic arm’s length. China regards Taiwan as one of its provinces, and refuses even to honour Ms Tsai with her title of president. It has long been assumed in Washington that any American move to alter the status quo would so infuriate China that it might wage war on the island, probably dragging in America. Didn’t Mr Trump know he was playing with fire? To Washington’s Asia experts neither possible answer to that question seemed encouraging.

But then, something strange happened: nothing. No explosion of rage issued from Beijing, as many expected. The foreign minister, Wang Yi, dismissed Ms Tsai’s call as a “small step”, or “petty” as it might also be translated—a mild response by Chinese standards. In the lull, some Asia hands allowed themselves to breathe out. Perhaps, even, the breach was not wholly without precedent—Ronald Reagan had invited senior Taiwanese officials to his inauguration, after all, and got away with it.

Perhaps, even, Mr Trump gets grudging admiration for reminding the world that Taiwan deserves more recognition as a peaceful, prosperous democracy. For too long China has controlled the narrative over the island. Far from being a renegade part of China, it has in its entire history been ruled directly from the Chinese capital for not much more than a decade: briefly in the second half of the 19th century, and from 1945-49. Never have the Communists ruled Taiwan, so shouldn’t their bullying be decried more often? As for the “one China” idea that the Communist Party insists upon, America has never agreed to it; formally, it merely “acknowledges” that both China and Taiwan hold to the principle that there is but one China. That acknowledgment was made in the 1970s, with dictatorships in Beijing and Taipei both claiming to rule all of China. Today, a democratic Taiwan has no such pretensions. Why should American policy be set in stone?

For now, many Taiwanese are basking in Mr Trump’s attention. They hope for further gestures when he is president—a free-trade deal, perhaps, which Mr Trump’s advisers say they are keen on striking with Taiwan, and more American weapons. There have been rumours that Mr Trump is mulling another possible flourish before then: a meeting in New York in January with Ms Tsai, who will be travelling to Guatemala, one of a handful of countries that officially recognise Taiwan. Ms Tsai’s office dismisses talk of this as “excessive speculation”. But were such an encounter to happen, it would cause rapture in Taiwan. It would also trigger even greater palpitations in Washington.

China would still play things cool. For a country that craves predictability in its external environment, a Trumpian America has suddenly become the wild card. But, Chinese officials remind themselves, using an old saying, the way to deal with 10,000 changes is not yourself to change. Some Chinese policymakers are pessimistic about relations with America under Mr Trump, noting his staunchly protectionist views and his inclination to improve ties with Russia in ways that might leave China isolated. (Anti-China tweets from Mr Trump reinforce the downbeat view.) Others are more hopeful, seeing a transactional president minded to cut deals with China, America’s essential counterpart on everything from trade to security. The appointment of the China-friendly governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, as ambassador to Beijing is a fillip. For now, the regime will bide its time.

Yet, far from diminishing, the risks will grow. One, in the near term, lies in the nature of Mr Trump’s team. Almost the entire Republican establishment of seasoned Asia experts has refused to serve under him. So those handling policy towards Asia are notable for their inexperience or for their ideological inclination to favour Taiwan over those once disparaged as “ChiComs”.

For all Taiwan’s virtues, this should be a worry. America’s relationship with China is broader, more complex and far, far more vital than its one with Taiwan. Making the running on Taiwan implies disregard for the bigger relationship. China’s help on many global issues, including counter-terrorism, is essential. And there is an urgent need for agreement over North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programme, which is developing dangerously fast. Only China can make North Korea change course. Finding the means to cajole or coerce China to act should be an American priority, from which much of the rest of Asia policy should flow. Yet Mr Trump’s team appears to be giving little thought to this.

Stop that tiger, I wanna get off

And then comes the risk of increased Chinese neuralgia over Taiwan during a Trump presidency. Years of propaganda and “patriotic education” have fuelled an irrational nationalism over Taiwan among ordinary Chinese. President Xi Jinping himself has said that the Taiwan “problem” can no longer be left to future generations. For now, the nationalism is in check. After all, officials claim that, for all the mischief by Taiwan’s splittist politicians, ordinary folk are true Chinese patriots. But should Mr Trump stir things up, it may dawn on the Chinese that the claim is not true, and that Taiwanese politicians promote de facto independence because that is what people want. If public anger grows, Mr Xi will be riding a tiger from which he will struggle to dismount. By then, it will no longer be possible to wait and see.

Source: Mr Trump’s backing of an admirable but neglected country is worrisome | The Economist

07/12/2016

The Great Wall: China takes on the world with new Matt Damon film – BBC News

Despite a long tradition of movie-making, and much critical acclaim for its directors overseas, China has never yet produced a truly global blockbuster.

But this is being billed as the moment when Chinese film finally takes on the world.

The Great Wall is one of the most lavish and expensive films ever shot in China.

Directed by the living-great of Chinese cinema, Zhang imou, it makes use of vast theatrical sets, elaborate costumes as well as great Chinese cultural icons like, er, Matt Damon.

Matt Damon?

The US superstar’s leading role in the swashbuckling Chinese showcase has already been the subject of much controversy.

“Well, ‘whitewashing’ you’ve got to define,” he tells me.”Whitewashing for me was always like Chuck Connors playing Geronimo, so I don’t know if that would even be the right term to accuse us of.

‘We never consider race first’

The accusation that a Caucasian male star has somehow been shoehorned into the piece to give the film a more direct appeal to American and European audiences is something that also rankles with Zhang Yimou.

“Matt Damon plays a foreign mercenary who comes to China to steal gun powder,” Mr Zhang tells me.

“Of course he is a foreigner. For the director, we never consider the race question first. We always think about the story first. If the story flows, if the story is good.”

Mr Damon joins the massed ranks of the Chinese army on top of perhaps the greatest cultural icon of them all, the Great Wall, built not to keep out men, according to the fantastical plot, but monsters.

The budget of at least $100m (£80m) underwrites a US-China collaboration of a kind that is becoming increasingly common nowadays.

And such collaborations align neatly with one of the political priorities of the Chinese government: to expand its international cultural influence.

The Great Wall’s director Zhang Yimou with actors Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe

Rivalling Hollywood‘s soft power

As Hollywood comes to China in desperate search of new, lucrative audiences, China is desperate to harness something of the elusive magic.

If it can build its own film industry, the argument goes, it can use it to develop its so-called “soft power”, in the same way US movies have carried American values and norms around the world for a century or more.

And that appears, on some level at least, to be what The Great Wall is trying to do.It can appeal to Chinese and international audiences alike, hence the internationalised plot line, allowing the incorporation of a Hollywood star.

And it carries a central message about time-honoured Chinese ingenuity (the gunpowder), as well as lasting cultural power (the Great Wall).

Matt Damon though is having none of it.”No, I didn’t for a second think this film was a propaganda tool,” he says.

“I think our world is a much better place when we’re talking to each other and collaborating and making art together.”

Performers promoting The Great Wall film in Beijing

‘No director has 100% freedom’For Zhang Yimou, the experience of working on such a giant US-Chinese co-production has, he says, opened his eyes.

Not to the political sensitivities of communist China, of which he is already well aware of course, but of the restrictions that commercial pressures bring to bear.

“This time I discovered that Hollywood has lots of restrictions too,” he says.”It is a system based on producers and companies… As far as creativity is concerned, I think there is not 100% freedom for any directors around the world. The job of a director is to do his best under limited circumstances.

“Whatever the truth in that, it is surely the case that American films have been such powerful vehicles for the transportation of American values for the simple reason that those values have universal appeal.

So is the first all made-in-China blockbuster finally about to be released?Zhang Yimou thinks the time has come.”The world is following Hollywood. Everyone else is absent,” he tells me.

“This is not normal.”

Source: The Great Wall: China takes on the world with new Matt Damon film – BBC News

06/12/2016

Tsai says call with Trump does not reflect US policy change | South China Morning Post

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday her phone call with US president-elect Donald Trump should not be interpreted a significant shift in American policy, and stressed that both sides saw the value of maintaining regional stability.

“Of course I have to stress that one phone call does not mean a policy shift,” she told a small group of American reporters in Taipei. “The phone call was a way for us to express our respect for the US election as well as congratulate president-elect Trump on his win.”

Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen initiated phone call with Donald Trump, says island’s presidential spokesmanTrump’s phone call with Tsai broke four decades of diplomatic protocol, alarming some commentators who feared it could spark a dangerous confrontation with Beijing.

Others though, especially US Republicans, have welcomed it as a sign Trump will not be bullied by Beijing, and believe the United States should offer more support to Taiwan’s democracy.

Sources in Trump’s team said the call was planned weeks in advance to establish the incoming president as a break from the past, although vice-president-elect Mike Pence described it as a “courtesy” call, not intended to show a shift in US policy on cross-strait ties.

Tsai echoed that line. “I do not foresee major policy shifts in the near future because we all see the value of stability in the region,” she said.Beijing has reacted with relative calm to the call, lodging what it called a “solemn protest” with the US government, but also underlining that its economic and diplomatic relationship with Washington depended on the US acceptance of the one-China principle, which recognises Beijing as the sole representative of the Chinese nation.

Beijing blocks Taiwan from taking part in almost all international bodies. Tsai’s office said she had told Trump during the phone call that she hoped the United States “would continue to support more opportunities for Taiwan to participate in international issues”.

Reacting to criticism of the call, Trump himself pointed out that the United States sold billions of dollars of arms to Taiwan.

Beijing has already increased the pressure on Taiwan since Tsai’s election, upset that she has not publicly endorsed the “one China” principle – although she consistently expresses the need for dialogue.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi appeared to blame Taiwan for the phone call, calling it a “petty” move, and the nationalist Global Times tabloid initially recommended that Beijing should continue to talk to Trump but punish Taiwan.

Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior non resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, wrote that this could include renewed efforts to deny Taiwan access at various multilateral organisations, the stealing of diplomatic allies, punitive economic measures and more intense or frequent military exercises aimed at Taiwan.

If that happens, the domestic support Tsai had received for her call could be countered by greater tensions with Beijing, he said, “What remains to be seen is what kind of ally Taiwan will have in Washington if and when such a shift occurs in the Taiwan Strait,” he wrote in The National Interest.

On Tuesday, there were also signs of growing concern in Beijing that Trump’s constant criticism of Beijing in his speeches and on Twitter might actually mean something. His latest salvo – complaining about China’s currency and trade policy, and its actions in the South China Sea – sparked a frustrated response in the Global Times.What does Donald Trump’s phone call with President Tsai mean for future US arms sales to Taiwan?

“Trump’s China-bashing tweet is just a cover for his real intent, which is to treat China as a fat lamb and cut a piece of meat off it,” it wrote. “China should brace itself for the possible fluctuations of the Sino-US relationship after Trump is sworn in. We must confront Trump’s provocations head-on, and make sure he won’t take advantage of China at the beginning of his tenure.

”The Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily took a more measured line, arguing that dialogue was vital to maintaining friendly relations and correct some of Trump’s “inaccurate” criticisms of Beijing.

“Trump’s recent demeanour has proved people’s doubts on his inexperience in diplomatic relations. In fact, Trump is not that ignorant on China and China-US relations, he has some sensible understandings and his own take on matters. But the problem is that Trump’s rhetoric shows that he only knows one side of China and China-US relations,” it wrote in a front-page editorial on its overseas edition.

“At the present, the peaceful transition of China-US relations is the key task that both countries face. It depends on joint efforts, not just good wishes from one side.”

Source: Tsai says call with Trump does not reflect US policy change | South China Morning Post

06/12/2016

Beer Diplomacy: Another Investment Follows a Visit by Xi Jinping – China Real Time Report – WSJ

After pulling a pint for Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, an iconic English pub has now pulled in Chinese investors.

The Plough at Cadsden was purchased by a London-based investment company that the broker, Christie & Co., described as a Chinese company. Terms weren’t disclosed.

The purchase, by SinoFortone Investment, came after Mr. Xi shared a beer with former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron at the pub.

Unknown is how his visit may have led to the purchase. But it is the latest deal to follow the Chinese leader’s movements.

On the same day Mr. Xi visited the pub, he also joined Mr. Cameron on a visit to the Manchester City soccer club, in the north of England. The following month a Chinese consortium said it had invested $400 million for a minority stake in the successful soccer club.

Closer to home, Mr. Xi’s patronage of the state-owned Qing Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop in Beijing was followed by an announcement that the restaurant chain plans an IPO. The Plough, which describes itself as “probably the most famous pub in England,” is near Chequers, the country house retreat for British prime ministers. The pub “has become quite a tourist attraction for Chinese visitors” since Mr. Xi’s appearance, Christie & Co said.

SinoFortone Investment extolled the virtues of beer diplomacy, calling pubs “the best way culturally to link people from different countries and build friendships.” The company added that “The English pub concept is growing very fast in China.” SinoFortone has also invested £100 million ($1.28 million) in London Paramount Entertainment, a large theme park proposed for construction on the Swanscombe Peninsula in North Kent. The deal was announced while Xi Jinping was in the U.K.

Source: Beer Diplomacy: Another Investment Follows a Visit by Xi Jinping – China Real Time Report – WSJ

01/12/2016

Divorce is on the rise in China | The Economist

WITH his slick navy suit, silver watch and non-stop smoking, Yu Feng is an unlikely ambassador for Chinese family values. The office from which he operates, in Chongqing in western China, looks more like a sitting room, with grey sofas, cream curtains and large windows looking out on the city’s skyscrapers.

Women visit him here and plead for help. They want him to persuade their husbands to dump their mistresses.

Mr Yu worked in family law and then marriage counselling before starting his business in 2007. He charges scorned wives 100,000-500,000 yuan ($15,000-75,000); cases usually take 7-8 months. He befriends both the two-timing husband and the mistress, encouraging them to find fault with each other, and gradually reveals that he has messed up his own life by being unfaithful. He claims a 90% success rate with clients, most of whom are in their 30s and early 40s. “This is the want, buy, get generation,” he says; sex is a part of China’s new materialism. But changing sexual mores and a rocketing divorce rate have prompted soul-searching about the decline of family ties.

The ernai, literally meaning “second wife”, is increasingly common. So many rich men indulge that Chinese media sometimes blame extramarital relationships for helping to inflate property prices: some city apartment complexes are notorious for housing clusters of mistresses, paid for by their lovers, who often provide a living allowance too.

It is not just businessmen who keep mistresses: President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has revealed that many government officials do too. According to news reports Zhou Yongkang, the most senior person toppled by the current anti-graft crusade, had multiple paramours; former railways minister Liu Zhijun is rumoured to have kept 18.

China has a long history of adultery. In imperial times wealthy men kept multiple concubines as well as a wife; prostitution was mostly tolerated, both by the state and by wives (who had little choice). Married women, in contrast, were expected to be chaste. After 1950 concubines were outlawed and infidelity deemed a bourgeois vice. Even in the 1980s few people had sex with anyone other than their spouse or spouse-to-be.

Over the past 30 years, however, sexual mores have loosened and more young Chinese are having sex, with more partners and at a younger age. Some clearly continue to wander after marriage. Some 20% of married men and women are unfaithful, according to a survey of 80,000 people in 2015 by researchers at Peking University.

In many respects growing infidelity is a predictable consequence of economic development. Individuals are increasingly willing to put their own emotions or desires above familial obligations or reputation. Improved education and living standards mean they have more financial freedom to do so. Most Chinese couples previously had few chances to meet members of the opposite sex in social situations after marriage, but migration means that many couples live apart. Even if they live together, the pool of temptation has grown larger and easier to dip into, thanks partly to social media.

Businesses like Mr Yu’s indicate that not all spouses see affairs as an unpardonable offence. But surveys also suggest that infidelity is the “number one marriage killer”. Last year 3.8m couples split, more than double the number a decade earlier. China’s annual divorce rate is 2.8 per 1,000 people (also double a decade ago). That is not quite as high as America’s 3.2, but higher than in most of Europe. Chinese families are fraying fast.

Source: Divorce is on the rise in China | The Economist

01/12/2016

As Trump retreats, Xi Jinping moves to upgrade China’s global power play | South China Morning Post

With US president-elect Donald Trump threatening to build a wall on the Mexican border and force Asian allies to increase defence spending, Beijing is busy luring countries across the eastern hemisphere into its orbit.

President Xi Jinping, who is consolidating his power at home, is planning to host a big “One Belt, One Road” summit in China next year, sources close to the central government told the South China Morning Post, adding that the event would match, if not exceed, the scale of this year’s G20 summit in Hangzhou, which attracted about 30 state leaders.

China plans US$2 billion film studio and ‘One Belt, One Road’ theme park

At a time when established world powers are struggling with domestic problems, Xi sees a chance to push ahead with his oddly worded brainchild, a geopolitical push to extend Beijing’s influence to remote corners of the globe.

The belt and road initiative encompasses 65 countries including China, stretching through Southeast, South, Central and West Asia to the Middle East, Africa and East and Central Europe.

However, with globalisation facing increasing scrutiny and electoral scepticism in developed countries, it’s doubtful whether a one-party state with its own deep-rooted economic woes will be able to bind countries together through a programme viewed by critics as a Chinese plot to export its infrastructure and influence.

In addition, China’s shrinking foreign exchange reserves, the falling value of its currency and a tightening of central government control on big overseas investments have raised questions about whether there will be sufficient funds to grease China’s ambitions.

Hong Kong trade presence needed in ‘One Belt, One Road’ cities

The belt and road initiative was launched by Xi in 2013 as an attempt to boost connectivity between China and other countries along the ancient land-based and maritime Silk Roads through trade and infrastructure projects, including high-speed railway lines and energy pipelines. But the wave of populist, anti-globalisation reflected in Trump’s stunning victory in last month’s US presidential election has put its smooth implementation in doubt.

Previous Chinese infrastructure projects overseas, including energy- and resource-related ones in Africa, have triggered resentment in local communities, with Beijing accused of exploitation and failing to benefit local workers.

Even though an increasing number of key US allies, such as Canada and Britain, have joined the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), set up as part of the belt and road initiative, mistrust over Beijing’s efforts to extend its geopolitical influence are mounting.

James McGregor, greater China chairman of APCO Worldwide, a public relations and consulting firm, said the level of cooperation between Beijing and the incoming Trump administration would be crucial in determining the success of the belt and road initiative.

One of Trump’s policy advisers, former CIA director James Woolsey, has described the current Obama administration’s opposition to the AIIB as a “strategic mistake”.

How One Belt, One Road is guiding China’s football strategy

“Through OBOR and various diplomatic initiatives, China is seeking to lead peacekeeping and economic development efforts in the region,” McGregor said, referring to the belt and road initiative. “But this will be very difficult if the US and China are not aligned and working together in the region to help provide security and promote peace.“

So if Trump pushes an agenda of confrontation with China in regard to trade and security arrangements in Asia, China will have a more difficult time managing its investments in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.”

But Professor Wang Yiwei, from the school of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said Trump’s protectionist agenda, most notably with his vow to withdraw the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, would provide an opportunity for the belt and road initiative to “fill the gap in the market”.

“For a long time, countries around the world have been following America’s standards and development model. But now even the US itself has suffered from its system,” he said. “The US has not learned its lesson from the financial crisis – it has failed to adjust and reform its industries – and it is now blaming the problem on globalisation.”

Wang said that with the belt and road initiative, China was becoming more resistant to the risk posed by the incoming Trump administration and the anti-globalisation trend sweeping the West.“

[The belt and road initiative] is designed to counter the risk posed by the market in the West,” Wang said.

Long-term planning: China’s 21st century Silk Road strategy will take time to reap rewards

The decrease in America’s purchasing power in the wake of the financial crisis had caused the surplus production capacity in China, he said, and the belt and road initiative was a new way to boost China’s exports.

AIIB president Jin Liqun said in early November that the AIIB was “on track” to meet its big first-year targets, including lending US$1.2 billion by the end of this year. So far it has lent US$829 million to six projects in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

China invested about US$14.8 billion in 49 countries of the 64 other countries along the Silk Road last year, or 12.6 per cent of the country’s total outbound investment, according to the Ministry of Commerce. The US and the European Union remain the top destinations for Chinese outbound investment, which totalled US$146 billion in the first 10 months of this year.

Whether Chinese companies will be as enthusiastic as they used to be about pouring money into overseas projects remains to be seen, with Beijing banning overseas investment deals of more than US$10 billion until September next year and cracking down on overseas mergers, acquisitions and real estate deals involving more than US$1 billion because of concerns about capital flight.

But economists, citing the unsustainability of a strong US dollar, uncertainty about Trump’s policies and China’s need to push ahead with economic reforms, said the restrictions were more of a short-term constraint than a permanent hurdle.

“Restricting outflows is a step back, but it will not alter China’s long-term direction of capital opening,” said Tim Condon, chief Asian economist at ING.

Professor Zhang Jiadong, a belt and road specialist at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said the impact of foreign exchange controls on the belt and road initiative would be limited.

“Forex controls will mainly affect the speed of approval, but will have little impact on infrastructure investments, which usually involve lengthy preparations for feasibility studies and financing arrangements,” he said.

State-owned enterprises, with their capital size and building expertise, are major participants in the initiative. Foreign exchange clearance is just one of many long regulatory procedures they have to navigate, and they usually needed approval from the state asset watchdog and financial backing from state-owned banks.

“Overall, OBOR investment represents only a small proportion [of their activities],” Zhang said.

Chen Fengying, an economist at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the foreign exchange regulator did not cover belt and road projects.

“Investment in OBOR countries is groundbreaking and needs more government support,” Chen said. “They should be encouraged, rather than regulated.”

The biggest difficulty faced by the belt and road initiative is the need to ease suspicions among countries such as India and Japan, another big investor in Asian development projects, about Beijing’s strategic intentions.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a forum in Beijing on Wednesday that China would be accommodative to the needs of different nations in pushing ahead with the belt and road initiative. The AIIB is regarded as a rival to the Japan-led Asian Development Bank and the US-headquartered International Monetary Fund.

Zhang Jianping, an expert on belt and road policy at the National Development and Reform Commission’s Institute for International Economic Research, said mistrust remained a hurdle for China.

“Just because the US withdrew from the TPP doesn’t necessarily mean that its economic power is in decline,” he said. “All the major global financial and investment standards and institutions are still led by the US and Europe. Any attempt by China to rewrite those rules is bound to meet scepticism from the West.”

Observers said investors’ top concerns were returns on investment and safety, and that made developed countries the top destination for market, technology and management expertise, rather than developing countries . They faced bottlenecks in terms of capital, talent and management expertise in belt and road investment, which usually involved labour-intensive manufacturing or resource projects.

Beijing is pushing to build dozens of economic cooperation zones, which will be used to facilitate bilateral trade and investment and potentially draw more private firms. However, more government guidance in terms of policy and financing is needed to help private Chinese firms better integrate into economic development plans in other countries.

Liang Haiming, chief economist at the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute, said opportunities were opening up for China.

“The yuan’s depreciation against the US dollar will not affect China’s investment plans in OBOR countries,” he said. “The Chinese currency is actually strengthening against major Southeast Asian currencies.

“The capital flowing from emerging economies to the US will leave a good opportunity for Chinese capital to enter those countries.”

The Post’s annual China Conference in Hong Kong on Friday will bring business leaders and policy advisers together to share their latest insights on the business opportunities and challenges brought about by the belt and road strategy.

Source: As Trump retreats, Xi Jinping moves to upgrade China’s global power play | South China Morning Post

29/11/2016

Digital payment firms cash in on India’s money mess, but can it last? | Reuters

Digital payment providers in India have mobilised hundreds of extra workers to enrol small merchants and offered their services for free, betting that severe cash shortages will prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Signing people up, however, may be the easy part.

Getting shops and customers to change their reliance on cash permanently will involve convincing people like Mohammad Javed, a 36-year-old meat shop owner in New Delhi.

Working out of a bustling market in the capital, he is surrounded by banks and ATM machines, but says he does not know how to use a credit card machine, let alone a mobile wallet.

He says business has dropped since Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s shock move on Nov. 8 to ditch higher value banknotes, but Javed does not believe mobile app providers offer a solution to his problem – or to his customers.

“We don’t have knowledge or resources to open a mobile wallet or card-swipe machine, and our customers who pay 100-200 rupees ($1.46-$2.92) are not interested either,” he said.

Javed’s reluctance is a reality check for the likes of Paytm and smaller rival MobiKwik, which have gone into promotional overdrive since Modi’s announcement.

The prime minister, whose government supports digital payments, brought in demonetisation to crack down on the shadow economy and improve tax collection.

“Why should India not make a beginning in creating a ‘less-cash society?’,” he said on Sunday, “Once we embark on our journey to create a ‘less-cash society’, the goal of ‘cashless society’ will not remain very far.”P

ROMISING SIGNS

The companies say results have been promising so far.

Paytm, backed by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), has added 700 sales representatives since Nov. 8, taking its number of agents to 5,000.

Advertisement boards of Paytm, a digital wallet company, are seen placed at stalls of roadside vegetable vendors as they wait for customers in Mumbai, India, November 19, 2016.

The company, which has 4,500 full-time employees, plans to double the number of agents to more than 10,000, as it aggressively expands its network.

It says it has nearly doubled the number of small merchants signed up to its services to 1.5 million in the last few weeks and added eight million clients to the 150 million it had before the banknote ban.

MobiKwik, whose backers include U.S. venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and American Express (AXP.N), said it had increased its agent base to more than 10,000 from about 1,000 before the Modi move.

Merchants on its platform have risen to 250,000 from 150,000 previously, and chief executive Bipin Preet Singh said they were aiming for a million in up to two months. It has added 5 million accounts since Nov. 8, bringing the total to 40 million.

But challenges loom.

Credit Suisse estimates more than 90 percent of consumer purchases are made in cash, as millions still do not have bank accounts. Those who do have bank cards mainly use them to withdraw from cash machines.

Sales of cheap smartphones have boomed in recent years, but internet networks remain patchy, especially in rural India. Financial literacy and technology usage also remain low.

Dillip Kumar Agrahari, a vegetable seller in a Mumbai suburb, recently signed up to Paytm but does not know how to operate a smartphone.

He hopes switching to digital payments will improve his business as the cash crunch drags on, but says he will have to depend on a cousin to help with accounts.

Many businesses have traditionally opted for cash transactions because they are hard for the tax man to trace, given sales taxes are typically at least 10 percent.

Mangal Singh, a furniture store owner, said nearly 80 percent of his business was transacted in cash, even though he accepts credit card payments.

“We are working on wafer-thin margins,” he said. “If we are asked to pay 12.5 percent tax and other charges, we will have to close down our shops.”

Concerns also remain about the infrastructure for mobile payments, as customers or merchants from one platform cannot transfer payments to another.

MobiKwik said it had started offering wallet-to-wallet transfers, though not all rivals were on board.

WHEN WILL PROFITS COME?

The challenges raise questions about whether the business models of mobile payments providers are sustainable.

Paytm recently slashed fees until Dec. 31, from a system of fees that ranged from 1 to 4 percent, with the most lucrative coming from telephone and utility bill payments.

MobiKwik is not charging fees until March 2017.The closely-held companies are loss-making.

Paytm Chief Executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma said the company expected to reach profitability in two years, without giving details. MobiKwik’s co-founder Upasana Taku said they hoped to become profitable in mid-2018.

Fitch Ratings believes that once the cash crunch subsides, some merchants and customers will go back to business as usual, using notes to pay for transactions.

“I would expect some amount of behavioural changes,” said Fitch analyst Saswata Guha. “We’re still not sure if this shock per se is incentive enough for them to completely change the way they do things.”

($1 = 68.1384 Indian rupees)

Source: Digital payment firms cash in on India’s money mess, but can it last? | Reuters

25/11/2016

China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

CHINA has long oscillated between the urge to equip its elite with foreign knowledge and skills, and an opposing instinct to turn inward and rebuff such influences.

In the 1870s the Qing imperial court ended centuries of educational isolation by sending young men to America, only for the Communist regime to shut out the world again a few decades later. Today record numbers of Chinese study abroad: over half a million people left in 2015 alone, many for America (see chart).

The Communist Party officially endorses international exchanges in education while at the same time preaching the dangers of Western ideas on Chinese campuses. A new front in this battlefield is emerging, as the government cracks down on international schools catering to Chinese citizens.

Only holders of foreign passports used to be allowed to go to international schools in China: children of expat workers or the foreign-born offspring of Chinese returnees. Chinese citizens are still forbidden from attending such outfits, but more recently a new type of school has proliferated on the mainland, offering an international curriculum to Chinese nationals planning to study at foreign universities. Their number has more than doubled since 2011, to over 500. Many are clustered on the wealthy eastern seaboard, but even poor interior provinces such as Gansu, Guizhou and Yunnan have them.

Some international schools are privately run, including offshoots of famous foreign institutions such as Dulwich College in Britain or Haileybury in Australia. Even wholly Chinese ventures often adopt foreign-sounding names to increase their appeal: witness “Etonkids”, a Beijing-based chain which has no link with the illustrious British boarding school. Since 2003 some 90 state schools have opened international programmes too, many of them at the top high schools in China, including those affiliated with Peking University and Renmin University in Beijing.

New laws are making it harder for such schools to operate. In 2014 Beijing’s education authorities stopped approving new international programmes at public high schools. Several other cities, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan, have also tightened their policies on such institutions. Some have capped fees for international programmes. The Ministry of Education says it is pondering a law that would require public high schools to run their international programmes as private entities (fearing this event, a few schools have already begun doing so).

Earlier this month a new law banned for-profit private schools from teaching the first nine years of compulsory education. That came only days after Shanghai started to enforce an existing ban on international schools using “foreign curriculums”. Some such institutions already offer a mixture: Wycombe Abbey International, which is based in Changzhou in eastern China and affiliated to a British girls’ boarding school, teaches “political education”, a form of government propaganda, and follows a Chinese curriculum for maths. But the new regulations threaten to nullify the very point of such institutions for most parents, which is to offer an alternative to the mainstream Chinese system, in which students spend years cramming for extremely competitive university-entrance exams that prize rote learning over critical or lateral thinking.

Lawmakers say the rules are prompted by concerns about the quality of international schools. The expansion of international programmes within regular Chinese schools also spurred a popular backlash against the use of public facilities and funds to teach pupils who plan to leave China. Since the number of people attending public schools is fixed, the elite high schools are accused of squeezing out regular students to feed their lucrative international stream. Local governments often provide capital for private schools, too.

The move to control international schools is “the next logical iteration” of a wider campaign against Western influences, reckons Carl Minzner of Fordham University in America. In 2015 China’s education minister called for a ban on “textbooks promoting Western values” in higher education.

This mission extends far beyond the educational realm: the government has called for artists and architects to serve socialism, clamped down on video-streaming sites that carry lots of foreign content and even proposed renaming housing developments that carry “over-the-top, West-worshipping” names. Chinese organisations that receive foreign funding, particularly non-governmental ones, face increasing scrutiny.

The Communist Party is instead seeking to inculcate young Chinese with its own ideological values: the new directive on for-profit schools calls on them to “strengthen Party-building”. After pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, nationalistic “patriotic education” classes were stepped up in schools, a move that Xi Jinping, the president, has taken to new levels since 2012, seeking to infuse every possible field with “patriotic spirit”. “Morals, language, history, geography, sport and arts” are all part of the campaign now. Unusually, he also seeks to include students abroad in this “patriotic energy”.

But lashing out against international schools could prove risky. Any attack aimed at them essentially targets China’s growing middle class, a group that the ruling Communist Party is keen to keep onside. Chinese have long seen education as a passport to success, and it is not just the super-rich who have the aspiration or means to send their offspring abroad to attend university. Some 57% of Chinese parents would like to do so if they could afford it, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Even Mr Xi sent his daughter to Harvard, where she studied under a pseudonym.

Since school is optional after 15, and parents must pay for it, even at public institutions, the state will find it tricky to prevent high schools from teaching what they want. Moreover, constraints on international schooling in China are likely to swell the growing flow of Chinese students leaving to study abroad at ever younger ages. This trend is the theme of a 30-episode television series, “A love for separation”, about three families who send their children to private school in America.

Restricting for-profit schooling also risks hitting another growing educational market: urban private schools that cater to migrant children who cannot get places in regular state schools because they do not have the required residence permits. A law that undermines educational opportunities for the privileged and the underprivileged at once could prove far more incendiary than a little foreign influence.

Source: China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

21/11/2016

A victory for China? | The Economist

THE relationship between China and America, as diplomats often intone, is more important than any other between two countries. But that did not help China understand the election of Donald Trump any better than anyone else. The government’s initial reaction was one of confusion, verging on denial. Many ordinary citizens expressed horror, but even more voiced admiration. Mr Trump, it seems, has a remarkable following in a country he blames for America’s malaise.

When news broke of Mr Trump’s victory, official media buried it. That evening, the flagship news programme on state television informed viewers of events in America in the final four minutes of a half-hour broadcast. While the rest of the world was glued to Mr Trump’s victory speech, Chinese viewers had to make do with Xi Jinping, China’s president, talking to Chinese astronauts orbiting the planet.

Chinese officials pay obsessive attention to ensuring the Communist Party’s line is reflected accurately by the country’s main media. But Mr Trump’s victory caught them in a muddle. Several outlets said Mr Xi had telephoned his compliments to Mr Trump. But Mr Trump said he had spoken to or heard from most foreign leaders—except Mr Xi. The phone call did not take place until six days after the vote. In most countries such a mistake would be insignificant, the result of sloppy reporting or ambiguous phrasing (in Mandarin, the phrase “sent a congratulatory note” can also mean “congratulate by phone”). In China it suggested that media overlords were not sure what line to take.

They had hoped the message from the election would be clear: that American democracy is in disarray and that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the best choice for China. For the first time, an American election was given extensive coverage (the third presidential debate was broadcast in its entirety). The authorities may have made the right call, as they would see it. “Thank God we don’t use this voting system,” said one blogger.

Unlikely hero

But if some netizens disliked what they saw of the process, many more were captivated by the electoral drama and, especially, by one of the candidates. Ordinary citizens followed the campaign with unprecedented interest. Online, 20 times more posts referred to Mr Trump in the past year than to Barack Obama in the past eight years. One blogger compared Telangpu, as Mr Trump’s name is commonly rendered in Chinese, to the late Deng Xiaoping. Both, apparently, are visionary dealmakers. In China’s online world, wrote another netizen, “Trump has this almost untouchable presence.”

Having digested the news of the victory, Chinese officials have begun to see possible benefits in a Trump presidency (see Banyan). But Ma Tianjie, who runs a website called Chublic Opinion, argues that support for the president-elect is based on culture and values, not calculation. This suggests it has three significant things to say about Chinese society.

First, younger Chinese are not so dissimilar to Mr Trump’s American supporters. As one user wrote on Zhihu, a question and answer site: “Most Chinese born after the 1980s are from a working-class background, who can still sympathise with the uneducated ignorance demonstrated by the less refined.” Anti-elitism retains a broad appeal. “Trump won because he truly spoke in the people’s voice,” wrote one microblogger.

Next, decades of unbridled economic growth have created a Trump-like worship of money and winners. As Lao Lingmin argued on the Financial Times’s Chinese-language website, support for Mr Trump reflected China’s “law of the jungle”. Chinese society, he wrote, “does not exist for the protection of vulnerable groups”.

Thirdly, says Mr Ma, pro-Trump sentiments in China show how far views can be swayed by zealotry, fanned by social media. On Zhihu, a supporter of Mr Trump repeated the president-elect’s falsehood that “there are towns in Britain that are completely under the control of Muslim extremists, who are openly using white girls as sex slaves.” The post got 18,000 likes.Yet online reactions also showed that Chinese opinions are sharply divided. A well-known blogger on Weibo called Chinese Trump supporters “spiritual rednecks”. Another pointed out that China may suffer: “Don’t they know his policies will give China a really hard time?” Intellectuals were aghast.

A news website in Shanghai, however, published an article by an academic who said Mr Trump’s win revealed America’s “ever greater decline”. Official opinion is closer to this view than to Mr Trump’s Chinese cheerleaders.

Source: A victory for China? | The Economist

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