China Politics Weekly

China Politics Weekly aims to keep business leaders, investors, diplomats, scholars and other China hands up to date on important trends in China. It is produced by Trey McArver, a London-based consultant providing advice and intelligence to firms and investors engaged in China and the region. You can find out more about Trey and CPW in this interview.

Issue No. 54 – May 17, 2015

Growing pains

April economic data released last week was not pretty. Of particular concern is the fact that nominal GDP growth appears to have dropped below the average lending rate, meaning that servicing existing debt will become more difficult, increasing the risk of instability in the financial sector.

Premier Li acknowledged the weakness in the economy and promised more robust government actions to combat the slowdown, saying, “we must take more forceful actions to stabilize growth and combat difficulties”.

Targeted monetary easing will continue, but will have little success in increasing credit or stimulating the economy (though it may help sustain the bull run in the stock markets). More aggressive spending may help to give the economy a boost at the end of Q2 and into Q3, but will not stop the economy’s overall downward trajectory. Instead of looking for the economy to bottom out before bouncing back to 7% growth, companies and investors should prepare for a continued slowdown and focus their energies on how to succeed under conditions of slower growth.

I spy

The slowing economy makes structural reforms more urgent than ever. As Li said this week, “Our country is in a crucial period with challenges that need to be overcome and problems that need to be resolved”.

At the heart of the government’s reform agenda is reducing state intervention in the economy. On Tuesday, the government held a dedicated nationwide videoconference on administrative reform. Wednesday’s State Council meeting also focused on the issue, and Thursday saw promulgation of a State Council circular setting out government reform objectives.

The plan lists 65 tasks, complete with timelines and responsible bodies for implementation. It is a thoroughly pro-market, pro-business plan that seeks to:

  • cancel over 200 items of government approvals and cancel all non-administrative reviews;
  • reduce the number of investment projects that require review;
  • further cancel verifications and approvals of vocational qualifications;
  • eliminate charges on business that violate the law or are excessive;
  • simplify the process for capital registration;
  • integrate the business license, the certificate of organization codes, and the certificate of taxation registration into one certificate; and
  • overhaul and regulate intermediary services.

The plan looks good on paper, and there is every reason to believe that central government technocrats believe in cutting red tape. The problem, as always, will be in implementation at the local level. As I argue in a recent editorial, “imposing discipline upon local party officials is arguably the most important — and most challenging — task facing Beijing’s leaders. Many of the key problems facing the country, from corruption to pollution, overcapacity to unsustainable debt levels, have been caused in large part by local leaders acting in contradiction to the wants of Beijing. China’s future, and the party’s legitimacy, rest on being able to impose discipline on wayward officials.”

There is reason for (guarded) optimism here. Li has ordered the government to set up a “comprehensive platform for supervision” that will use big data, cloud computing and “Internet plus” technologies. As the government becomes more sophisticated in employing these technologies, there is every reason to believe that they should aid the center in its efforts to rein in local governments.

Indian optics

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in China this week, making good on his pledge to visit the country during his first year in office. The optics looked good, with Xi’s offer to meet Modi in his home province of Shaanxi (mirroring Modi’s reception of Xi in Gujurat last year) showing that both sides are trying to put the best foot forward. Talks between the two leaders ran long by over an hour- another good sign.

The friendly tone, however, is not backed up by much practical cooperation. The reported USD 10 billion in deals signed during Modi’s visit pales in comparison with the USD 46 billion in deals reported during Xi’s recent visit to Pakistan. The gap looks even larger when you factor in that India’s economy is nine times the size of Pakistan’s. It’s good to see that China and India are working towards better relations, but there is no question as to who is China’s preferred partner in South Asia.

PBSC Week in Review
Xi Jinping  May 17 Xi met with United States Secretary of State John Kerry. 
  May 14 Xi met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Xi’an, Shaanxi. 
    Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured Xi’an. 
  May 12 Xi flew to Beijing from Belarus. 
  May 11 Xi met with Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov of Belarus. 
    Xi attended and addressed the opening ceremony of a China-Belarus economic and trade forum for local governments. 
    Xi visited the China-Belarus Industrial Park.Largest foreign investment project in Belarus. 
    Xi met with Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich and Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vladimir Andreichenko. 
    Xi met with Belarusian veterans of the Second World War. 
  May 10 Xi held talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.Signed bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation. 
    Xi planted a spruce tree together with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. 
Li Keqiang  May 17 Li left Beijing for South America.Will visit Brazil, Chile, Peru and Columbia. 
    Li stopped in Ireland and held talks with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. 
    Li visited a farm with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. 
    Li held a joint press conference with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. 
  May 16 Li met with United States Secretary of State John Kerry. 
    Li sent instructions to National Science and Technology Week. 
  May 15 Li held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
    Li held a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
    Li attended the China-India Forum for Provincial and State Leaders. 
    Li attended an event celebrating yoga and tai-chi with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
    Li held a welcome ceremony for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
    Li met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. 
  May 14 Li spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron by telephone. 
  May 13 Li chaired an executive meeting of the State Council.Meeting focused on promoting public-private partnerships (PPP), improving internet speeds, promoting securitization of assets and creating a system to supervise the government. 
  May 12 Li attended and spoke at a work conference on administrative reform.Full text of his speech is here (in Chinese). 
  May 10 Li sent instructions to the opening ceremony of Vocational Education Week. 
Zhang Dejiang May 15 Zhang met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
Yu Zhengsheng May 16 Yu attended a symposium for ministerial and provincial level authorities on ethnic minorities work. 
  May 14 Yu chaired a CPPCC chairperson’s meeting. 
  May 12 Yu chaired a CPPCC seminar on judicial system reform. 
Liu Yunshan May 13 Liu attended and spoke at the opening ceremony for the second Spring term advanced studies class at the Central Party School.A text of Liu’s speech (in Chinese). 
  May 8-11 Liu went on inspection tour to Hunan. 
Wang Qishan  May 8-10 Wang made an inspection tour to Zhejiang. 
Zhang Gaoli May 12 Zhang chaired a work conference on administrative reform. 

 

 

Issue No. 55 – May 25, 2015

A different kind of trans-Pacific partnership

China’s active diplomacy turned itself towards Latin America this week, where Premier Li Keqiang is in the midst of a nine-day tour that will take him to Brazil, Columbia, Peru and Chile. China has pursued closer ties with the Latin America under this administration. While this is Li’s first trip to the region, President Xi Jinping has already visited twice. China has also created the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which held its first ministerial meeting in Beijing earlier this year. The group noticeably excludes the United States.

So far the trip has displayed all the hallmarks of the typical overseas visit of a Chinese leader: lots of rhetoric about a “community of common destiny” coupled with pledges for massive amounts of investment. In Brazil, Li and his coterie of 200 Chinese businessmen signed investment pledges of over USD 50 billion. Such deals are only the tip of the iceberg. In addition, it was announced that China Investment Corporation (CIC) has set up a company to manage overseas equity investments; the company will manage a fund that is expected to be over USD 40 billion. A USD 20 billion line of credit for infrastructure funding was also established, and Li also announced plans for a USD 30 billion fund to support industrial production capacity in the region. The China-Latin America Cooperation Fund also appears to have grown; when announced last year it was described as a USD 5 billion fund; on Li’s trip it is now said to have USD 50 billion.

China’s domestic economic agenda is very much at the heart of these deals, particularly when it comes to cooperation on “production capacity”. China wants to upgrade its economy, which means creating world-leading firms, increasing the export of Chinese technologies and moving “sunset industries” overseas. Li summed it up in Brazil, when he said, “we hope to export not only advanced technologies and equipment to Brazil, but also to set up factories and production streamlines to help create jobs”.

Li is doing more to promote Chinese industry abroad than simply acting as their chief salesperson to foreign governments. On May 16 the State Council issued a guideline that said “the government will work to help Chinese companies ‘go abroad’” by offering tax breaks and concessionary financing.

The growing footprint of Chinese industry abroad is a good thing for the world economy. Although Chinese overseas investment is sometimes met with skepticism, it often creates jobs and provides much needed investment in recipient countries.

However, Chinese investment abroad presents dangers for foreign companies. As Chinese companies gain more experience operating in foreign countries, they will increasingly challenge MNCs in more and more markets around the world. Companies that can assess the risk and prepare accordingly will be more successful in protecting market share.

 

Fronting

Li’s visit to Latin America attempted to portray a friendly and open China. Meanwhile, back in Beijing Xi Jinping struck a much different tone, warning again of the dangers of foreign influences. The forum for these admonitions was the Central United Front Work Conference, held for the first time since 2006.

The United Front was designed to let non-Party organizations input into China’s policymaking process. United Front work has grown in importance under Xi. This can be seen by the fact that the Party’s United Front Work Department is fronted by a Politburo member (Sun Chunlan) for the first time in over two decades.

Liberals had hoped that the elevated status of the United Front would signal a larger voice for interest groups outside the Party. These hopes were misplaced; instead the new prominence of the United Front means exactly the opposite. The Party is not interested in what those outside the Party think- it wants those outside the Party to think what the Party tells them to think.

The work conference enumerated a slew of conservative goals, including indoctrinating non-Party intellectuals, co-opting new media sources to “cleanse” the internet and indigenizing religion within China, among others. It is not a good time to be a free thinker in China.

 

AIIB AOA OKed, to be signed ASAP

Preparations for establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) took an important step forward this past week. The 5th Chief Negotiators’ Meeting was held in Singapore this week, and saw agreement on the bank’s Articles of Agreement (AOA). The AOA are scheduled to be signed next month.

Shi Yaobin, vice minister of Chinese Ministry of Finance and permanent chair of the Chief Negotiators’ Meeting, said “we will establish the AIIB by the end of the year, and start its operation as soon as possible, after legal ratification in certain number of countries”.

The Chinese are wasting no effort in ensuring the bank’s success. In and of itself, the AIIB is not a game changer, but it is part of a larger constellation of events that have signaled China’s growing influence in Asia and the world. I talked about these issues and more on a recent episode of the Sinica podcast, which can be found here:http://popupchinese.com/lessons/sinica/the-furor-and-the-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank.

 

PBSC Week in Review
Xi Jinping  May 23 Xi attended and spoke at the China-Japan Friendship Exchange Meeting.Japanese delegation of over 3,000 led by Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council. Generally a positive sign that Xi decided to meet and address the delegation. Said some encouraging things, such as “History has proved that the China-Japan friendship benefits not only the two countries and the two peoples, but also Asia and the world at large,” and “peace and friendly cooperation between China and Japan is the common will of the people, and the general trend of events”.No Japan-related event would be complete without an admonition on history, and Xi reminded his audience that, “efforts of anyone seeking to distort or beautify the facts of Japan’s acts of militaristic invasion will not be accepted by the people of China”. 
    Xi sent a congratulatory letter to the International Conference on ICT and Post-2015 Education. 
  May 21 Xi sent instructions to the People’s Daily Overseas Edition in advance of its 30th anniversary. 
  May 20 Xi attended and spoke at the Central United Front Work Conference.Conference took place from the 18th-20th, but it’s not clear whether Xi attended all three days or only the last one. 
    Xi sent condolences to Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos for the landslide there.
  May 19 Xi met with representatives from various agencies involved in national security. 
Li Keqiang May 23 Li chaired a discussion with Chinese-funded enterprises in Peru. 
    Li attended a series of cultural exchange activities between China and Latin America. 
  May 22 Li held talks with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala. 
    Li held a joint press conference with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala. 
    Li flew from Colombia to Lima, Peru. 
    Li attended and spoke at a discussion of China-Latin American cultural exchanges in Bogota, Columbia. 
  May 21 Li held talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.China and Colombia have agreed to start a feasibility study of Sino-Colombian free trade agreement (FTA). 
    Li held a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. 
    Li flew from Brazil to Bogota, Colombia. 
  May 20 Li met with Rio de Janeiro Governor Luiz Fernando de Souza. 
    Li met with Chinese and Brazilian business leaders aboard a Chinese-made ferry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 
    Li met with Mayor of Rio de Janeiro Eduardo da Costa Paes.Received key to the city. 
    Li attended a Chinese equipment and manufacturing exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 
    Li rode in a Chinese-made subway car on the Rio de Janeiro subway.
  May 19 Li held talks with President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff. 
    Li held a joint press conference with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. 
    Li attended and addressed the China-Brazil Business Summit.Full text of his speech (in Chinese). 
    Li met with Brazilian Senate President Renan Calheiros. 
    Li met with Brazilian Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha. 
    Li sent instructions to a national conference on employment and entrepreneurship. 
  May 18 Li arrived in Brasilia, Brazil. 
Zhang Dejiang May 18 Zhang met with Kenyan National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi.  
Yu Zhengsheng May 20 Attended Central United Front Work Conference. 
  May 19 Yu chaired a biweekly CPPCC symposium.Focused on protecting wetlands in the Yangtze River Economic Belt. 
Liu Yunshan May 21 Liu sent instructions to the People’s Daily Overseas Edition in advance of its 30th anniversary. 
Wang Qishan     
Zhang Gaoli May 19 Zhang attended a meeting on coordinated prevention of air pollution in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. 

 

 

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China Politics Weekly – May 17-25, 2015
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