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Friday, July 19, 2024

MEDIA COMMENT ON CHINA ISSUE #503

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Graham Perry
Graham Perry
Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer.

GOOD MORNING FROM LONDON

#1  CHINA’S ECONOMIC PRIORITIES

#2  CHINA MEETS HAMAS

#3  WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY IN CHINA

#1  SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

CHINA’S ECONOMICS PRIORITIES

Xie Maosong, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Strategic Studies at Tsinghua University, said Xi’s panel discussions had become the “most important window” during the two sessions to get an understanding of China’s direction as the top leader spoke about the tech development goals three times.

Xie added that Beijing’s top leadership had reached a consensus on making breakthroughs in critical technologies the “single most important” determinant in China’s long-term economic and military competition with the US.

“All the leaders know that China cannot be like South Korea or Japan, relying on the US to provide core civilian and military technologies,” he said.

According to Xie, Xi hoped to see China consolidate its leading edge in electric vehicles, lithium batteries and solar cells while continuing research in revolutionary fields such as quantum technology and accelerating the research and development of emerging hydrogen energy, new materials, pharmaceuticals and domestic commercial liners.

He added that China has an “incredibly compliant and adaptive” private sector that does not push back too hard against state regulations while Chinese people have vast savings, which is very different from the US.

But he warned that given the long-standing low productivity and efficiency within Chinese state-owned enterprises, Beijing must let the private sector have a bigger say over “where the resources should be allocated and what innovations the market likes”.

GRAHAM PERRY COMMENTS;-

The US led response to the Two Sessions of China’s National People’s Congress has been quite predictable with much talk of the omnipotence of Xi Jinping from on high, and manufactured consent from the delegates below. The West is usually quite dismissive of the agenda and what it refers to as “the appearance of unanimity”. The impression that critics of China like to convey is of hand-picked delegates falling into line with the Party leadership with sanctions against any delegate that challenges Party orthodoxy. After all, say the critics, China turns its back on Western democracy and has to be on the wrong side of history. China will fail, they say.

To an extent China is responsible for such outcomes because the Sessions have the appearance of being stage managed with set speeches from the rostrum being greeted with applause and acclaim. All appears to be pre-ordained with no one speaking out of turn. Is that the reality? Or is a truer explanation that thorough-going debate and discussion takes place – not in the public Sessions in the Great Hall of the People but in the long run up to the NPC when all members of the Party are expected to contribute comment and opinion? How does a country lift 1bn people out of poverty without initiative, ingenuity, creativity and the wholehearted enthusiasm of the people. And that is without China’s $1 trillion of Belt and Road aid to 130 countries. The World has never witnessed such achievement. 

China’s critics always uphold the liberal democratic model of government with the emphasis on the right to engage in public debate in full view of the media. Set against the 4/5/6 year periodic cycle of elections and universal suffrage, this model, say the critics, is free, open, democratic and the only guarantee against authoritarianism and totalitarianism, which the China critics contend is the hallmark of the Chinese system of government. This, they say, is the only guarantee of freedom from arbitrary and oppressive government. The Westminster Model of Government – one man one vote and a free press (so long as you are a multi-millionaire) is, they claim, the best available system that upholds freedom and democracy.

The Chinese system is quite different. Politics begins at the County level where leaders are chosen by the people and those who impress with their leadership are appointed to higher levels of government in the Cities and Provinces before being moving to the central government institutions in Beijing. By the time China’s leaders reach Ministerial level they are tried and tested by constantly being exposed to the furnace of intense debate and argument. Most succeed but some fail and are removed – not because a tightly knit group of members around Xi require it but because those who fall short have lost the support of the People and the Party.

Coming back to the Two Sessions, the leaders have had the debates that precede the introduction of new policies and the Sessions announce the outcome of a continuous process of trial and error.

Turning to policy and initiative specifics Xie Maosong, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Strategic Studies at Tsinghua University Xi Jinping’s focus is on  China’s consolidation of “its leading edge in electric vehicles, lithium batteries and solar cells while continuing research in revolutionary fields such as quantum technology and accelerating the research and development of emerging hydrogen energy, new materials, pharmaceuticals and domestic commercial liners.”

The Western doubters are missing the message. China is not for turning. Stimulated by having in its population the world’s largest number of STEM graduates, China approaches the future with considerable confidence 

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#2    CHINA MEETS HAMAS

        SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

“China’s foreign ministry envoy Wang Kejian has met the head of Hamas’ political bureau in the first known meeting between a Chinese official and the militant group since the Gaza conflict broke out last year.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, the foreign ministry said Wang met Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar on Sunday and “exchanged views on the Gaza conflict and other issues”, without further elaboration.

The Jerusalem Post, citing Hamas, reported that Haniyeh told the Chinese envoy that the war needed to end quickly. He also said Israel must withdraw its forces from Gaza and an independent Palestinian state should be established.

According to the report, Wang said China was “keen on relations” with Hamas, which he called a “part of the Palestinian national fabric”. Wang is the first diplomat China has sent to Palestine and Israel since the war erupted in October. Last week, he visited the West Bank and met the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki. There, he said China was renewing its call for an immediate ceasefire and a “two-state” solution as a political settlement.

Wang also held talks with Hagai Shagrir, head of the Israeli foreign ministry’s Asia and Pacific bureau, and Rachel Feinmesser, the head of the ministry’s policy research centre.

Since the conflict began, China has sought to play a role by releasing its own five-point position paper on the crisis, which urged the United Nations Security Council to draw up a “concrete” timeline and road map for a two-state solution.

Its foreign minister, Wang Yi, last year held separate calls with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts while other Chinese officials have discussed the situation with various countries in the Middle East.

But China has not condemned Hamas or referred to the group as a terrorist organisation, which analysts earlier suggested might prompt countries, including Israel, to view Beijing’s efforts as unbalanced.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian on Tuesday reiterated Beijing’s willingness to work with “all parties” to ease mounting tensions and again called for a “two-state” solution.

Asked about Israel’s recent raid on Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, Lin described the humanitarian situation as “extremely severe”, saying an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians and avoid more casualties was the “top priority”.

Separately, Chinese state media reported that while in Qatar, Wang Kejian also met Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi. The pair discussed bilateral ties and the Gaza conflict.

Wang said China was willing to deepen communication and coordination with regional countries, including Qatar to promote a ceasefire and an end to the war.

Al-Khulaifi added that Qatar appreciated China’s “objective and fair” stance, and that it looked forward to China playing a greater role in the conflict, the report said.

GRAHAM PERRY COMMENTS;-

This Column did say in Issue #502 that the intention was to address two problems facing China as it builds its future. The first was the effect of China’s progress in building up the largest number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates and the second was the future for Chinese labourers who have slipped through the educational net.

The intention has yielded to the announcement today – 19 March 2024 – that a meeting has taken place between China’s Government officials and Hamas. This is a significant development of interest to readers of this Column – hence the decision to go with the China/ Hamas meeting in this issue with a commitment to address the above Two Problems in Issue #504

China has acquired considerable Mediation experience in recent years – most noticeably its achievement in mediating, in Beijing, the long standing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is against this background that China has addressed the Israel/Hamas War  – as a mediator and not as a participant in the War.

China’s experience in mediating acute political tensions has been acquired in the course of its Civil War with the Kuomintang and, separately, the World War II Invasion of China by Japan. In the heat of battle there were many occasions when hostilities gave way to negotiations and that experience is held in great respect in China. It has also been recognised by the governments of the two Middle East giants – Saudi Arabia and Iran.

China has developed close relations with Israel and trade and investment has developed between the two countries. Interestingly, Israel did not follow the example of the Jewish leaders in the UK who fell into line with the US  in making genocide allegations against China in relation to the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. The Israeli Government made no such allegations.

At the same time China has always supported the Two-State Solution and stated repeatedly that the present Israel/Hamas conflict has its origins in History – back beyond even the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The 7th October 2023 attack by Hamas is not the starting point for discussions intended to bring about an end to current hostilities.

There is no certainty that China will emerge as the Mediator and be able to bring an end to hostilities. China has to be acceptable to Israel and Hamas and both sides have to have a mindset of negotiation. The issue is not China’s view on the dispute – their credentials for playing the role of Mediator depend not on their assessment of the rights and wrongs of both sides but on China’s patient negotiating ability to find common ground between two parties that are at war. 

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#3   CHINA CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY

       NIKKEI ASIA

China Consumer Rights Day

China is expected to mark World Consumer Rights Day with the “315 Gala,” an annual live TV program by national broadcaster CCTV. It follows a regular format, with undercover reporters on hidden cameras investigating defective products and services based on complaints from consumers. In the past, foreign brands including Ford Motor and Muji were named and shamed, sending company executives scrambling into damage control mode.

The annual World Consumer Rights Day, on March 15, has become a major television and social media event in China, with domestic as well as foreign brands singled out for high-profile and sometimes damaging criticism. World Consumer Rights Day began in 1983, and China began observing it three years later, shortly after the establishment of the China Consumers Association

In recent years, the run-up to March 15 is marked by various consumer education campaigns, with both government-backed groups and brands dispensing consumer rights information.

The highlight is a two-hour prime-time show broadcast by state-run China Central Television (CCTV). Known as the “315 Show”, the programme names and shames brands for issues ranging from poor-quality products, robocalls and illegal collection of personal information to aggressive sales of beauty salon memberships.

Big brands, fearful of being featured, are known to prepare responses ahead of time, just in case.

FOREIGN NAMES SINGLED OUT

Last year, in a broadcast delayed to July because of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. fast food chain Burger King and a car manufactured by a General Motors joint venture drew criticism.

In previous years, big-ticket foreign businesses that have come in for criticism have included Starbucks, for charging higher prices in China than they did in the United States, while Apple was bashed for a then one-year service warranty in China, shorter than in other markets.

Others scolded in the past include Volkswagen, for engine defects on an SUV; Nike, for misleading advertising; and Japan’s Muji, which came under fire for selling food products allegedly sourced from part of Japan affected by radiation.

Most of the criticism has been of Chinese brands.

In 2016, the programme criticised what it said was the widespread practice of sellers on Alibaba Group’s Taobao online marketplace to pump up sales figures to boost their credibility on the platform.

Food-delivery company Ele.me, now owned by Alibaba, was once singled-out for working with restaurants that operate without licenses or proper kitchens.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF BEING NAMED?

The brand reputations of named companies, and their share prices, can suffer.

Qutoutiao, an app that delivers customised feeds of articles and short videos to users based on algorithms, was criticised last year for its advertising practices. New York-listed shares in the company, backed by Tencent, plunged 23% in the trading session following the show.

Named companies typically issue prompt responses, usually via their official accounts on social media platforms Weibo and WeChat, expressing gratitude for the oversight and criticism, and willingness to correct their behavior.

GRAHAM PERRY COMMENTS;-

It is refreshing for Westerners to read of the searching analysis that China’s media engages in on behalf of the Chinese consumer. The article conveys the tension and excitement as the spokespeople for the Chinese buyers vent their frustrations on manufacturers who fall short in the competitive consumer market. This is the time of the year when producers, manufacturers and retailers shiver as they wait to see whether their shortcomings have caught the attention of the people in the media who speak up for the consumer.

The naming and shaming by the media is part of the democratic process. The people have a voice and the hard work undertaken by consumer investigators keeps business on its toes. There are consequences, as the article makes clear, and companies – big and small, national and international – worry if they are to be the focus of exposure and accountability.

This initiative will increase. The media is instructed to pursue, investigate and challenge and the outcome is higher standards in production, marketing and customer service.

THE NEXT ISSUE – #504 – WILL LOOK AT TWO PROBLEMS AS CHINA MOVES FORWARD – THE FIRST IS TO ENSURE THE AVAILABILITY OF EMPLOYMENT FOR CHINA’S LARGE NUMBER OF STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ELECTRONICS AND MATHEMATICS)  GRADUATES. THE SECOND IS TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF CHINESE WORKERS WHO SLIPPED THROUGH THE EDUCATIONAL NET AND WHO LACK SKILLS FOR EMPLOYMENT IN AN INCREASINGLY MODERNISED CHINESE ECONOMY.

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