Posts tagged ‘communist party of china’

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

21/11/2016

U.S. panel urges ban on China state firms buying U.S. companies | Reuters

U.S. lawmakers should take action to ban China’s state-owned firms from acquiring U.S. companies, a congressional panel charged with monitoring security and trade links between Washington and Beijing said on Wednesday.

In its annual report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the Chinese Communist Party has used state-backed enterprises as the primary economic tool to advance and achieve its national security objectives.

The report recommended Congress prohibit U.S. acquisitions by such entities by changing the mandate of CFIUS, the U.S. government body that conducts security reviews of proposed acquisitions by foreign firms.

“The Commission recommends Congress amend the statute authorizing the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to bar Chinese state-owned enterprises from acquiring or otherwise gaining effective control of U.S. companies,” the report said.CFIUS, led by the U.S. Treasury and with representatives from eight other agencies, including the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security, now has veto power over acquisitions from foreign private and state-controlled firms if it finds that a deal would threaten U.S. national security or critical infrastructure.

If enacted, the panel’s recommendation would essentially create a blanket ban on U.S. purchases by Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The report “has again revealed the commission’s stereotypes and prejudices,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing.

“We ask that Chinese companies investing abroad abide by local laws and regulations, and we hope that relevant countries will create a level playing field,” he told a daily news briefing.

EXTRA WEIGHT

The panel’s report is purely advisory, but could carry extra weight this year because they come as President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is formulating its trade and foreign policy agenda and vetting candidates for key economic and security positions.

Congress also could be more receptive, after U.S. voter sentiment against job losses to China and Mexico helped Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate in last week’s election.

Trump strongly criticized China throughout the U.S. election campaign, grabbing headlines with his pledges to slap 45 percent tariffs on imported Chinese goods and to label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

“Chinese state owned enterprises are arms of the Chinese state,” Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told a news conference.

“We don’t want the U.S. government purchasing companies in the United States, why would we want the Chinese Communist government purchasing companies in the United States?”

The recommendation to change laws governing CFIUS was one of 20 proposals the panel made to Congress. On the military side, it called for a government investigation into how far outsourcing to China has weakened the U.S. defense industry.

The 16-year-old panel also said Congress should pass legislation that would require its pre-approval of any move by the U.S. Commerce Department to declare China a “market economy” and limit anti-dumping tariffs against the country.

The United States and U.S. businesses attracted a record $64.5 billion worth of deals involving buyers from mainland China this year, more than any other country targeted by Chinese buyers, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The push into the United States is part of a global overseas buying spree by Chinese companies that this year has seen a record $200 billion worth of deals, nearly double last year’s tally.

CFIUS has shown a higher degree of activism against Chinese buyers this year, catching some by surprise. Prominent deals that fell victim to CFIUS include Tsinghua Holdings’ $3.8 billion investment in Western Digital (WDC.O).

Overall, data do not demonstrate CFIUS has been a significant obstacle for Chinese investment in the United States. In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, China topped the list of foreign countries in CFIUS review with 24 deals reviewed out of more than 100 scrutinized by CFIUS.

Although the number of Chinese transactions reviewed rose in absolute terms, it fell as a share of overall Chinese acquisitions, the report noted, and the vast majority of deals reviewed by CFIUS were cleared.

Source: U.S. panel urges ban on China state firms buying U.S. companies | Reuters

07/11/2016

China and Taiwan struggle over Sun Yat-sen’s legacy | The Economist

FOR decades Taiwan’s rulers have paid their respects from afar to Sun Yat-sen, also known as Sun Zhongshan: “father of the nation”, founder of the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party, and first president of the Republic of China.

In a ritual called yaoji, they face towards Sun’s mausoleum in Nanjing, 800km (500 miles) to the north-west in China, and offer fruit, burn incense and recite prayers.

Now that links across the Taiwan Strait are better, Sun-worshippers may make the pilgrimage in person. On October 31st it was the turn of the KMT’s chairwoman, Hung Hsiu-chu. But not only do some Taiwanese adore Sun. Museums in his honour also exist in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Penang. He has a memorial park in Hawaii, where the great republican spent his teenage years, and a plaque in London, where he lived in exile from 1896-97. Most striking of all, he is admired by the Chinese Communists, who “liberated” China in 1949 from KMT rule.

In the Communist telling, Sun is the “forerunner of the democratic revolution”. As one visitor to his mausoleum put it this week: just as one sun and one moon hang in the sky, “there is only one father of the country.” There may be more Zhongshan Streets in China’s cities than Liberation Avenues. To mark this month’s anniversary of Sun’s birth 150 years ago, the state is minting a set of commemorative coins, including 300m five-yuan (75-cent) pieces that will go into circulation. It is a signal honour for a non-Communist. The party views Sun as a proto-revolutionary.

He makes an unlikely hero. Sun spent much of his life not in the thick of action but abroad. Half-a-dozen revolts that he helped organise against an ossified Qing dynasty were failures. As for the Wuchang uprising of October 1911, the catalyst for the end of three centuries of Manchu domination, he learnt of it from a Denver newspaper. He was back at the head of China’s first republican government early the following year, but merely as “provisional” president. Lacking the military strength to pull a fractured country together, he said he was the place-warmer for a strongman, Yuan Shikai. The nascent republic soon shattered and Yuan crowned himself emperor. Pressure from Western powers and Japan exacerbated China’s bleak situation. By 1916 Sun was back in exile again, in Japan.

For all that, Sun had brought down a rotten empire. For years he had raised the alarm over China’s direction, denouncing the Manchus and the rapaciousness of external powers. All his life, Sun had strived for a new republican order to turn a stricken China into a modern nation-state.

His ideas were hardly systematic, but he never deviated from the priorities of fostering national unity among Chinese, promoting democracy and improving people’s livelihoods—his “Three Principles of the People”. While railing against foreign depredations, he called for Chinese to embrace Western freedoms and rights (Sun’s messianic drive may have derived from his version of Christianity). His was an astonishingly more cosmopolitan world-view than that displayed by today’s Chinese leaders.Yet the longest-lasting impact of Sun on Chinese political life derives from something different. In the early 1920s he listened to advisers from the Soviet Union, which had won his admiration by renouncing territorial claims in China. He reorganised the KMT along Leninist lines, giving himself almost dictatorial powers (in Leninspeak: “democratic centralism”). The immediate effects were striking: an alliance between the KMT and the young Communist Party and a northward military advance in 1926 under Chiang Kai-shek, Sun’s heir, that toppled the warlords who were then wreaking havoc. Sun had died of liver failure the year before. He did not live to experience the brief national unity that Chiang imposed, nor the parties’ fatal split and descent into bloodshed, nor their struggle over Sun’s mantle.

Follow the Sun

And his legacy today? Consider that among his three principles, the two 20th-century dictators, Mao Zedong in mainland China and Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan, gave a damn only about the first, national unity, on which, by their standards, they must be judged poorly. Sun’s Leninist party organisation—never one of his hallowed principles—had a far more profound impact on the two autocrats, and still does on China’s rulers today.

In Taiwan dictatorial KMT rule began crumbling a few years after Chiang’s death in 1975. Democratic development since then, including within the KMT, and the growth of a prosperous civil society, seem in line with Sun’s second and third principles relating to democracy and prosperity. But as for the first, a Chinese nationalism: forget it. Sun’s portrait still hangs in schools and government offices, and looks serenely down on the frequent fisticuffs in Taiwan’s parliament. But after resounding defeat in elections early this year, the KMT struggles for relevance on an island that is proud of its separateness from China. If there is any echo of Sun’s idealism, it is in the student “Sunflower Movement”, which wants to keep China at bay. For many Taiwanese, the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, is a figleaf for independence; Sun is an old ineffectual ghost. The current president, Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, performed no yaoji this year.

And China? Democratic centralism still prevails—exemplified by the party’s monopoly on power, Xi Jinping’s autocratic rule and the suppression of dissent. Were Sun to speak from his tomb, he might remind Mr Xi how, under the Communist Party, national unity, real democracy and even broad-based prosperity remain elusive. He might point out, too, that when Sun adopted Leninism it was to advance rather than trump his beloved principles. In his final will, Sun wrote: “The work of the revolution is not done yet.” “Blimey,” he might now say: “Couldn’t you think of trying something different?”

Source: China and Taiwan struggle over Sun Yat-sen’s legacy | The Economist

04/11/2016

Xi Jinping gets a new title | The Economist

COMMUNIST leaders relish weird and wonderful titles. Kim Jong Il, the late father of North Korea’s current “Great Leader”, was, on special occasions, “Dear Leader who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have” (it doesn’t sound much better in Korean). China’s rulers like a more prosaic, mysterious epithet: hexin, meaning “the core”.

Xi Jinping—China’s president, commander-in-chief, Communist Party boss and so forth—is now also officially “the core”, having been called that in a report issued by the party’s Central Committee after a recent annual meeting.

The term was made up in 1989 by Deng Xiaoping, apparently to give his anointed successor, Jiang Zemin, greater credibility after the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests. Just as Mao had been the core of the first generation of party leaders and Deng himself of the second, so Mr Jiang was of the third. (Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor, was supposedly offered the title of fourth-generation core but modestly turned it down.)

Being core confers no extra powers. Mr Xi has little need of those; he is chairman of everything anyway. Status, though, is what really matters in China (Deng ruled the country for a while with no other title than honorary chairman of the China Bridge Association). And Mr Xi seems to be finding that all his formal power does not convey enough. Early this year, in what looked like a testing of the waters, a succession of provincial party leaders kowtowed verbally to Xi-the-core. But the term soon disappeared from public discourse. Its revival makes it look as if Mr Xi has won a struggle to claim it.

That may augur well for him in his forthcoming battles over the appointment of a new generation of lesser officials (the peel?) at a party congress next year. Mr Xi wants to replace some of the 350-odd members of the central committee with his own people, while keeping as many of his allies as he can. In a sign that he might be able to do that, officials have started dismissing as “folklore” an unwritten rule that members of the Politburo have to retire at 68. The rule is commonly known as “seven up, eight down” (qi shang, ba xia), meaning 67 is fine, 68 is over the hill. Getting rid of it would seem to open the way to the non-retirement of several of Mr Xi’s close allies, notably 68-year-old Wang Qishan, who is in charge of fighting graft. It might even pave the way for Mr Xi’s own refusal to collect his pension when his second (and supposedly final) term as party chief is up in 2022, and he will be 69.

There is another parallel between political language now and in 1989. The recent meeting eschewed the party’s usual practice of tying current events to the triumphs of earlier Communist history and instead set the scene by referring mostly to the congress in 2012, when Mr Xi became leader. Another time when the party ignored history in this way was after the Tiananmen killings, when it wanted to draw a veil over what had just occurred and signal a fresh, dictatorial start. Mr Xi seems to be saying, implicitly, that a new era has begun with him, core among equals.

Source: Xi Jinping gets a new title | The Economist

01/11/2016

For China’s Leaders, Age Cap Is but a Moving Number – China Real Time Report – WSJ

The past three turnovers in the inner circle of China’s Communist Party leadership have come with an age guideline for retirement: Those 67 years old or younger could stay; those 68 or older had to go.

Now, comments from a senior party functionary are adding fuel to speculation that President Xi Jinping may break with the norm at a once-every-five-years party congress late next year.Speaking to reporters Monday, Deng Maosheng, a director at the party’s Central Policy Research Office, dismissed the qishang baxia (“seven up, eight down”) retirement convention as a “popular saying” that “isn’t trustworthy.”

“The strict boundaries of ‘seven up, eight down’ don’t exist,” said Mr. Deng, whose office is headed by one of Mr. Xi’s top policy advisers. Rather, he said, retirement rules are “flexible” and subject to revision as circumstances require.

His comments were the most public expression to date of what some party insiders have been saying privately for months. The age norm is a burden to Mr. Xi as he works to sideline rivals and hold on to allies in the next leadership lineup in the party’s Politburo and its standing committee, the inner sanctum of Chinese political power.

Political observers say one of those allies is 68-year-old Wang Qishan, who has directed the president’s withering crackdown on graft and, increasingly, political disloyalty. Under the qishang baxia norm, Mr. Wang is among five members of the Politburo Standing Committee, which currently numbers seven, due to retire at the next party congress.Party insiders have also speculated that the 63-year-old Mr. Xi may try to defy another recent convention, by not promoting a potential successor to the Standing Committee next year. That could set him up to remain in power after the expiration in 2022 of his second—and by recent custom, final—term. He would be 69 by then.Mr. Deng’s comments send “a clear signal that Xi will be a ‘rule modifier’ rather than a strict rule follower,” said Jude Blanchette, a Beijing-based researcher who is writing a book on Mao Zedong’s legacy. The rules are merely norms, and not well settled, he said.

As for the age norm, China politics experts say it was introduced by Jiang Zemin, then the outgoing party chief, to push a rival into retirement at the 2002 congress. According to Mr. Blanchette, that episode showed that Chinese leaders have “readjusted” malleable party norms “to fit political exigencies.”Or, as Mr. Deng put it in a news briefing in Beijing, the “strict organizational procedures and sufficient democratic processes” used in selecting top party leaders are “subject to adjustments in accordance with practical conditions.”

Mr. Xi’s growing clout may represent just such a practical condition. A top-level party conclave last week designated him as the party leadership’s “core,” an arcane title that political observers say signified his pre-eminent status. It was previously applied to Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Mr. Jiang but not Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.

At Monday’s briefing, Mr. Deng of the party’s policy research office said the designation reflects Mr. Xi’s unanimous support within the party and broad public acclaim, but doesn’t threaten a return of a Mao-style “cult of personality”—which the party has explicitly banned—or contradict the party’s principles of collective leadership. Rather, the title was necessary to help the party and the country overcome new economic and political challenges, he said.

Mr. Hu, according to Mr. Deng, repeatedly declined to be designated as a “core” leader.“That time had its own circumstances,” he said. “The present has its own needs.”

Source: For China’s Leaders, Age Cap Is but a Moving Number – China Real Time Report – WSJ

06/10/2016

Chinese people optimistic about the future, says Pew survey – BBC News

At a time of Brexit and talk of a wall between the United States and Mexico, it seems the Chinese are embracing international engagement.

They think their country’s power is rising, that their living standards will keep improving, that corruption is being cleaned up and that air pollution should be fixed even if it means slowing down economic growth.

These are the views which have emerged from a broad survey from Washington-based the Pew Research Center.

Elsewhere there is fear and uncertainty. Here optimism trumps all.

When asked about economic globalisation, 60% of people said it is a good thing and only 23% think it is bad for China.

While some China watchers are warning that this country’s mounting local government debt could mean that a hard landing is on the way, Chinese people don’t appear to share this pessimism.

Nearly 90% of respondents amongst this group of 3,154, interviewed face-to-face in China earlier this year, think that the state of their country’s economy is either “very good” or “somewhat good”.

GETTY IMAGES – Chinese people seem to remain optimistic

Looking into the future things will apparently get even better: 76% of people think the economy will improve over the next 12 months, 70% said their personal financial situation will improve and eight out of 10 people believe that their children will have a better standard of living than they do.

Bread and butter issues

It’s not that people are without concerns.

“Corrupt officials” is at the top of the table when it comes to people’s worries (83% said this was a “very big” or “moderately big” problem) and yet here too we see optimism.

Some 64% of them said that President Xi Jinping‘s massive anti-corruption drive would improve the situation over the next five years.

Running down the concern list, an alarmingly high number of people see income inequality and the safety of food and medicine as “very big” problems.

This should give the Chinese Communist Party pause for concern.

If you enjoy monopoly power on the basis that you are delivering “socialism with Chinese characteristics” then a small group of ultra-rich driving around in their sports cars and showing off their wealth while most struggle to pay the rent is surely at odds with your central message.

Then, if ordinary Chinese people can’t even trust the food and medicine they are giving their children, the possibility for social unrest over bread and butter issues is looming large.

The environment also emerges as a massive challenge with water and air pollution at the front of people’s minds.

Air pollution is so bad in China that half of those polled said their country should fight air pollution harder even if it means sacrificing economic growth.

GETTY IMAGES – Emissions from coal-powered industries, cars and heating systems generate the smog

Only 24% saw air deterioration as a necessary price to pay.

When it comes to the war of ideas in the top echelons of power here, those ministers in favour of tougher environmental protection measures could do worse than table this research.

A “major threat” to China?

The South China Sea and other geo-strategic tensions offer some of the most bleak opinions.

Nearly six out of 10 people think that territorial pressures with neighbours could lead to military conflict; 77% say their way of life needs to be protected from “foreign influence” (up by 13 percentage points since 2002) and only 22% say China should help other nations.

Regarding relations with rival superpower the United States people views are complex and, at times, seemingly contradictory.

Around half of Chinese respondents rated the US favourably but more than half think that Washington is trying to prevent China from becoming an equal power.

About 45% said that US power and influence poses a “major threat” to China. In fact the US came in at number one as the top international threat to the country.

GETTY IMAGES – More than half of Chinese people think that Washington is trying to prevent China from becoming an equal power

It’s interesting that some would see the Obama administration’s so-called “pivot to Asia” as a greater threat than say jihadist extremist groups just across the western border promoting bloody conflict in China’s vast Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Either way, whatever the perceived threat, China is seen as becoming ever more important and with ever more power at its disposal.Information is being controlled here ever more tightly – whether it is coming from the traditional media or sources online – so some analysts will see these views as the inevitable result of messages being delivered to the Chinese people by their government.

This may the be case but, in a world where politicians in various countries are accused of exploiting people’s fear and insecurity, could it be that a quarter of the globe’s population are going around with a smile on their dial because every day they look out the window and to them it just gets better and better?

Source: Chinese people optimistic about the future, says Pew survey – BBC News

30/09/2016

Rich province, poor province | The Economist

EARLY in the summer Xi Jinping, China’s president, toured one of the country’s poorest provinces, Ningxia in the west. “No region or ethnic group can be left behind,” he insisted, echoing an egalitarian view to which the Communist Party claims to be wedded.

In the 1990s, as China’s economy boomed, inland provinces such as Ningxia fell far behind the prosperous coast, but Mr Xi said there had since been a “gradual reversal” of this trend. He failed to mention that this is no longer happening. As China’s economy slows, convergence between rich and poor provinces is stalling. One of the party’s much-vaunted goals for the country’s development, “common prosperity”, is looking far harder to attain.

This matters to Mr Xi (pictured, in Ningxia). In recent years the party’s leaders have placed considerable emphasis on the need to narrow regional income gaps. They say China will be a “moderately prosperous society” by the end of the decade. It will only be partly so if growth fails to pick up again inland. Debate has started to emerge in China about whether the party has been using the right methods to bring prosperity to backward provinces.

China is very unequal. Shanghai, which is counted as a province, is five times wealthier than the poorest one, Gansu, which has a similar-sized population (see map). That is a wider spread than in notoriously unequal Brazil, where the richest state, São Paulo, is four times richer than the poorest, Piauí (these comparisons exclude the special cases of Hong Kong and Brasília).

To iron out living standards, the government has used numerous strategies. They include a “Go West” plan involving the building of roads, railways, pipelines and other investment inland; Mr Xi’s signature “Belt and Road” policy aimed partly at boosting economic ties with Central Asia and South-East Asia and thereby stimulating the economies of provinces adjoining those areas; a twinning arrangement whereby provinces and cities in rich coastal areas dole out aid and advice to inland counterparts; and a project to beef up China’s rustbelt provinces in the north-east bordering Russia and North Korea. The central government also gives extra money to poorer provinces. Ten out of China’s 33 provinces get more than half their budgets from the centre’s coffers. Prosperous Guangdong on the coast gets only 10%.

The number, range and cost of these policies suggest the party sees its legitimacy rooted not only in the creation of wealth but the ability to spread it around. Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, launched in the late 1970s, helped seaboard provinces, which were then poorer than inland ones, to catch up by making things and shipping them abroad. (Mao had discouraged investment in coastal areas, fearing they were vulnerable to attack.) In the 1990s the coast pulled ahead. Then, after 2000, the gap began to narrow again as the worldwide commodity boom—a product of China’s rapid growth—increased demand for raw materials produced in the interior (see chart).

That was a blessing for Mr Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao, who made “rebalancing” a priority after he became party chief in 2002. It also boosted many economists’ optimism about China’s ability to sustain rapid growth. Even if richer provinces were to slow down, they reckoned, the high growth potential of inland regions would compensate for that.

But convergence is ending. GDP growth slowed across the country last year, but especially in poorer regions. Seven inland provinces had nominal growth below 2%, a recession by Chinese standards (in 2014 only one province reported growth below that level). In contrast, the rich provincial-level municipalities of Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, plus a clutch of other coastal provinces including Guangdong, grew between 5% and 8%. Though there were exceptions, the rule of thumb in 2015 was that the poorer the region, the slower the growth. Most of the provinces with below-average growth were poor.

Of course, 2015 was just one year. But a longer period confirms the pattern. Of 31 provinces, 21 had an income below 40,000 yuan ($6,200) per person in 2011. Andrew Batson of Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm, says that of these 21, 13 (almost two-thirds) saw their real GDP growth slow down by more than 4 points between 2011 and 2014. In contrast, only three of the ten richer provinces (those with income per person above the 40,000 yuan mark) slowed that much. In 2007 all of China’s provinces were narrowing their income gap with Shanghai. In 2015 barely a third of them were. In other words, China’s slowdown has been much sharper in poorer areas than richer ones.

There are three reasons why convergence has stalled. The main one is that the commodity boom is over. Both coal and steel prices fell by two-thirds between 2011 and the end of 2015, before recovering somewhat this year. Commodity-producing provinces have been hammered. Gansu produces 90% of the country’s nickel. Inner Mongolia and Shanxi account for half of coal production. In all but four of the 21 inland provinces, mining and metals account for a higher share of GDP than the national average.

Commodity-influenced slowdowns are often made worse by policy mistakes. This is the second reason for the halt in convergence. Inland provinces built a housing boom on the back of the commodity one, creating what seemed at the time like a perpetual-motion machine: high raw-material prices financed construction which increased demand for raw materials. When commodity prices fell, the boom began to look unsustainable.

The pace of inland growth was evident in dizzying levels of investment in physical assets such as buildings and roads. Between 2008 and last year, as a share of provincial GDP, it rose from 48% to 73% in Shanxi, 64% to 78% in Inner Mongolia, and from 54% to an astonishing 104% in Xinjiang. In the country as a whole, investment as a share of GDP rose only slightly in that period, to 43%. In Shanghai it fell.

This would be fine if the investments were productive, but provinces in the west are notorious for waste. In the coal-rich city of Ordos in Inner Mongolia, on the edge of the Gobi desert, a new district was built, designed for 1m people. It stood empty for years, a symbol of ill-planned extravagance (people are at last moving in).

Investment by the government is keeping some places afloat. Tibet, for example, logged 10.6% growth in the first half of this year, thanks to net fiscal transfers from the central government amounting to a stunning 112% of GDP last year. Given the region’s political significance and strategic location, such handouts will continue—Tibet’s planners admit there is no chance of the region getting by without them for the foreseeable future.

Tibet is an extreme example of the third reason why convergence is ending. Despite oodles of aid, both it and other poor provinces cannot compete with rich coastal ones. In theory, poorer places should eventually converge with rich areas because they will attract businesses with their cheaper labour and land. But it turns out that in China (as elsewhere) these advantages are outweighed by the assets of richer places: better skills and education, more reliable legal institutions, and so-called “network effects”—that is, the clustering of similar businesses in one place, which then benefit from the swapping of ideas and people. A recent study by Ryan Monarch, an economist at America’s Federal Reserve Board, showed that American importers of Chinese goods were very reluctant to change suppliers. When they do, they usually switch to another company in the same city. This makes it hard for inland competitors to break into export markets.

There are exceptions. The south-western region of Chongqing has emerged as the world’s largest exporter of laptops. Chengdu, the capital of neighbouring Sichuan province, is becoming a financial hub. But by and large China’s export industry is not migrating inland. In 2002 six big coastal provinces accounted for 80% of manufactured exports. They still do.

This contrast is worrying. Though income gaps did narrow after 2000 and only stopped doing so recently, provinces have not become alike in other respects. Rich ones continue to depend on world markets and foreign investment. Poor provinces increasingly depend on support from the central government.

A divergence of views

Officials bicker about this. Mr Xi asserted the Robin-Hood view in Ningxia that regional gaps matter and that redistribution is needed. “The first to prosper,” he said, “should help the latecomers.” But three months earlier, an anonymous “authoritative person” (widely believed to be Mr Xi’s own adviser, Liu He) took a more relaxed view, telling the party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, that “divergence is a necessity of economic development,” and “the faster divergence happens, the better.”

It is unclear how this difference will be resolved, though the money must surely be on Mr Xi. Economically, though, Mr Liu is right. Regional-aid programmes have had little impact on the narrowing of income gaps. More of them will not stop those gaps widening. Socially, a slowdown in poorer provinces should not be a problem so long as jobs are still being created in richer ones, enabling migrants from inland to find work there and send money home. But politically the end of convergence is a challenge to Mr Xi, who has been trying to appeal to traditionalists in the party who extol Mao as a champion of equality. Wasteful and ineffective measures to achieve it will remain in place.

Source: Rich province, poor province | The Economist

17/09/2016

The plateau, unpacified | The Economist

AN ELDERLY woman with long, grey plaits, wearing a traditional Tibetan apron of wool in colourful stripes, has spent her day weaving thread outside her home near the southern end of Qinghai Lake, high on the Tibetan plateau. She is among hundreds of thousands of Tibetan nomads who have been forced by the government in recent years to settle in newly built villages. She now lives in one of them with her extended family and two goats. Every few months one of her sons, a red-robed monk, visits from his monastery, a place so cut off from the world that he has never heard of Donald Trump. Her grandson, a 23-year-old with slick hair and a turquoise rain jacket, is more clued in. He is training to be a motorcycle mechanic in a nearby town. Theirs is a disorienting world of social transformation, sometimes resented, sometimes welcome.Chinese and foreigners alike have long been fascinated by Tibet, romanticising its impoverished vastness as a haven of spirituality and tranquillity. Its brand of Buddhism is alluring to many Chinese—even, it is rumoured, to Peng Liyuan, the wife of China’s president, Xi Jinping. Many Tibetans, however, see their world differently. It has been shattered by China’s campaign to crush separatism and eradicate support for the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader who fled to India after an uprising in 1959. The economic transformation of the rest of China and its cities’ brash modernity are seductive, but frustratingly elusive.

The story of political repression in Tibet is a familiar one. The Dalai Lama accuses China’s government of “cultural genocide”, a fear echoed by a tour guide in Qinghai, one of five provinces across which most of the country’s 6m Tibetans are scattered (the others are Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and the Tibet Autonomous Region, or TAR—see map). “We know what happened to the Jews,” he says. “We are fighting for our existence.” Less commonly told is the despair felt by many young Tibetans who feel shut out of China’s boom. They are victims of Tibet’s remote and forbidding topography as well as of racial prejudice and the party’s anti-separatist zeal. They often cannot migrate to coastal factories, and few factories will come to them. Even fluent Mandarin speakers rarely find jobs outside their region.

Yet Tibetans are not cut off from the rapidly evolving culture of the rest of China, where more than 90% of the population is ethnic Han. Mayong Gasong Qiuding, a 26-year-old hotel worker in Yushu in southern Qinghai, listens to Mandarin, Tibetan and Western pop music in tandem. He can rattle off official slogans but can recite only short Tibetan prayers. His greatest wish, he says, is to go to the Maldives to see the sea. Tibetan women in Qinghai use skin-whitening products, following a widespread fashion among their Han counterparts; a teenager roller-skates anticlockwise around a Buddhist stupa, ignoring a cultural taboo. Young nomads frustrate their elders by forsaking locally-made black, yak-hair tents for cheaper, lighter canvas ones produced in far-off factories.

Han migration, encouraged by a splurge of spending on infrastructure, is hastening such change. Although Tibetans still make up 90% of the permanent population of the TAR, its capital Lhasa is now 22% Han, compared with 17% in 2000. Many Tibetans resent the influx. Yet they are far more likely to marry Han Chinese than are members of some of China’s other ethnic groups. Around 10% of Tibetan households have at least one member who is non-Tibetan, according to a census in 2010. That compares with 1% of households among Uighurs, another ethnic minority whose members often chafe at rule by a Han-dominated government.

Core features of Tibetan culture are in flux. Monasteries, which long ago played a central role in Tibetan society, are losing whatever influence China has allowed them to retain. In recent years, some have been shut or ordered to reduce their populations (monks and nuns have often been at the forefront of separatist unrest). In July buildings at Larung Gar in Sichuan, a sprawling centre of Tibetan Buddhist learning, were destroyed and thousands of monks and nuns evicted. Three nuns have reportedly committed suicide since. Of the more than 140 Tibetans who have set fire to themselves since 2011 in protest against Chinese rule, many were spurred to do so by repressive measures at their own monastery or nunnery.

Cloistered life is threatened by social change, too. Families often used to send their second son to a monastery, a good source of schooling. Now all children receive nine years of free education. “The young think there are better things to do,” says a monk at Rongwo monastery in Tongren, a town in Qinghai, who spends his days “praying, teaching [and] cleaning”. New recruits often come from poorly educated rural families.

Mind your language

In the TAR (which is closed to foreign journalists most of the time), the Tibetan language is under particular threat. Even nursery schools often teach entirely in Mandarin. A generation is now graduating from universities there who barely speak Tibetan. Some people have been arrested for continuing to teach in the language. In April last year Gonpo Tenzin, a singer, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for his album, “No New Year for Tibet”, encouraging Tibetans to preserve their language and culture.

In some areas outside the TAR, however, the government is less hostile to Tibetan. Since the early 2000s, in much of Qinghai, the number of secondary schools that teach in Tibetan has risen, according to research there by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology at Korntal, Germany. The range of degrees taught in Tibetan has expanded too. Unlike elsewhere, someone who has studied mainly in Tibetan can still get a good job in Qinghai. A third of all government roles advertised there between 2011 and 2015 required the language. Despite this, many parents and students chose to be taught in Mandarin anyway, Mr Zenz found. They thought it would improve job prospects.

Karma chameleon

But work can be difficult to get, despite years of huge government aid that has helped to boost growth. Government subsidies for the TAR amounted to 111% of GDP in 2014 (see chart), according to Andrew Fischer of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Eleven airports serve Qinghai and the TAR—they will have three more by 2020. A 156-mile train line from Lhasa (population 560,000) to Shigatse (population 120,000), which was completed in 2014, cost 13.3 billion yuan ($2.16 billion). A second track to Lhasa is being laid from Sichuan, priced at 105 billion yuan.

Better infrastructure has fuelled a tourism boom—domestic visitors to the TAR increased fivefold between 2007 and 2015—but most income flows to travel agents elsewhere. Tourists stay in Han-run hotels and largely eat in non-Tibetan restaurants (KFC opened its first Lhasa branch in March). Tibetan resentment at exclusion from tourism- and construction-related jobs was a big cause of rioting in Lhasa in 2008 that sparked plateau-wide protests. Other big money-spinners—hydropower and the extraction of minerals and timber—are controlled by state-owned firms that employ relatively few Tibetans. The Chinese name for Tibet, Xizang, means “western treasure house”. But Tibetans have little share in its spoils. The rehousing of nomads has helped provide some with building jobs, but has also brought suffering: those relocated sometimes find it harder to make a living from herding.

In most other parts of China, villages have been rapidly emptying as people flock to work in cities. In the country as a whole, the agricultural population dropped from 65% to 48% as a share of the total between 2000 and 2010. On the plateau it fell only slightly, from 87% to 83%. It is hard for Tibetans to migrate to places where there are more opportunities. Police and employers treat them as potential troublemakers. In 2010 only about 1% of Tibetans had settled outside the plateau, says Ma Rong of Peking University. They cannot move abroad either. In 2012 Tibetans in the TAR had to surrender their passports (to prevent them joining the Dalai Lama); in parts of Qinghai officials went house-to-house confiscating them.

Karma chameleon

For university graduates, the prospects are somewhat better. There are few prospects for secure work in private firms on the plateau. But to help them, the government has been on a hiring spree since 2011. Almost all educated Tibetans now work for the state. A government job is a pretty good one: salaries have been rising fast. Few Tibetans see such work as traitorous to their cause or culture. But the government may not be able to keep providing enough jobs for graduates, especially if a slowdown in China’s economy, which is crimping demand for commodities, has a knock-on effect on the plateau.

Many of the problems faced by Tibetans are common in traditional pastoral cultures as they modernise. But those of Tibetans are compounded by repression. They are only likely to increase when the Dalai Lama, now 81, dies. The central government will try to rig the selection of his successor, and no doubt persecute Tibetans who publicly object.

In private, officials say they are playing a waiting game: they expect the “Tibetan problem” to be more easily solved when he is gone. They are deluding themselves. They ignore his impact as a voice of moderation: he does not demand outright independence and he condemns violence. Tibetan culture may be under duress, but adoration of the Dalai Lama shows no sign of diminishing. Poverty, alienation and the loss of a beloved figurehead may prove an incendiary cocktail.

Source: The plateau, unpacified | The Economist

19/08/2016

The return of the Xia | The Economist

CHINA’S leaders are immensely proud of their country’s ancient origins. President Xi Jinping peppers his speeches with references to China’s “5,000 years of history”. The problem is that archaeological evidence of a political entity in China going back that far is scant.

There is some, including engravings on animal bones, that shows the second dynasty, the Shang, really did control an area in the Yellow river basin about 3,500 years ago. But no such confirmation exists for the legendary first ruling house, the Xia. Even inside China, some historians have long suspected that the country’s founding story—in which Emperor Yu tames flooding on the Yellow river (with the help of a magic black-shelled turtle, pictured), earns for himself the “mandate of heaven” and establishes the first dynasty—was either a Noah’s-Ark flood-myth or perhaps propaganda invented later to justify centralised state power. This month, however, state-controlled media have been crowing over newly published evidence in Science, an American journal, that at least the flooding was real. This, they say, has made it more credible that the Xia was, too. Not everyone is so convinced.

Catastrophic floods leave their mark on soil and rocks. Qinglong Wu of Peking University and others have examined the geology of the upper reaches of the Yellow river. In the journal, they conclude that a vast flood did take place in the right area and not long after the right time for the supposed founding of the Xia. Although their evidence does not prove the existence of an Emperor Yu or of the dynasty he founded, it does provide a historical context in which someone might have gained power with the help of flood-taming exploits.

According to Mr Wu, a vast landslide, probably caused by an earthquake, blocked the course of the Yellow river as it flowed through the Jishi gorge on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. For six to nine months as much as 16 cubic kilometres (3.8 cubic miles) of water built up behind the accidental dam, which, when it finally burst, produced one of the biggest floods ever. At its peak, the authors calculate, the flow was 500 times the normal discharge at Jishi Gorge. Mr Wu reckons the ancient flood could easily have been felt 2,000km downstream in the area of the Yellow river said by Chinese historians to have been the realm of the Xia.

At about this time, either coincidentally or (more probably) because of the flood, the river changed its course, carving out its vast loop across the north China plain. The significance is that, while the river was finding its new course, it would have flooded repeatedly. This is consistent with old folk tales about Emperor Yu taming the river not through one dramatic action, but by decades of dredging.

The ancient flood can be dated because the earthquake that set the catastrophic events in motion also destroyed a settlement in the Jishi gorge. Radiocarbon dating of inhabitants’ bones puts the earthquake at about 1920BC—not 5,000 years ago but close-ish. Xinhua, a state news agency, lauded the study as “important support” for the Xia’s existence. Xu Hong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences challenged this, saying the scholars’ findings had not proved their conclusions. The first dynasty has gone from myth to controversy.

Source: The return of the Xia | The Economist

04/08/2016

Poland in talks with Chinese buyers over LOT airline stake | Reuters

Poland is in talks with potential investors from China over selling a stake in the state airline LOT [LOT.UL], Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday.

Poland’s euroskeptic, conservative government has been looking to tighten its relations with China since coming to power last year. The two countries pledged deeper co-operation during the visit of China’s leader Xi Jinping to Warsaw in June.”LOT is our national carrier, which we are trying to save no matter the cost. It is deeply in debt,” Morawiecki told state news agency PAP on Wednesday, adding that without a national carrier Poland would become a more peripheral country.

LOT, one of the world’s oldest airlines, has for years struggled to compete against low-cost competitors like Ryanair (RYA.I) and bigger rivals. The state-owned airline was saved from bankruptcy in 2012 thanks to public aid of more than 500 million zlotys ($130 million).

“The previous government has already granted public support for LOT, we cannot grant another and we are looking for an investor,” Morawiecki said.

“According to EU law a carrier from outside the EU cannot take over more than 49 percent of a carrier from the EU, hence we are in talks with potential investors, among others, from China,” he said.Morawiecki also said that usually it is a very long road to finalize such a transaction.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Polish local newspaper reported that Chinese carrier Air China (601111.SS) is interested in buying a 49-percent stake in LOT with a delegation from the Chinese firm expected to arrive in Warsaw over the coming days.

However, a LOT spokesman said he had no knowledge of any plans for a capital tie-up between LOT and Air China.

“I have no knowledge regarding any planned capital co-operation between LOT and Air China,” Adrian Kubicki, LOT spokesman said. “We have commercial co-operation with Air China, which we want to develop, regarding the Warsaw-Beijing route.”

Air China was not immediately available for comment.

Source: Poland in talks with Chinese buyers over LOT airline stake | Reuters

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