Introducing Asia Communique, a weekly newsletter about China that digs into the minds of China’s leaders, scholars, thinkers, business tycoons and Chinese people. Every week, we will bring you the latest developments from China, and the direction the country is taking.
China over the week
CAC is a powerful government body leading President Xi Jinping’s regulatory action against tech companies. Though in a draft stage, the guideline has suggested sweeping control of the algorithms used in tech platforms. Kendra Schaefer, a China technology expert, suggested these regulations even surpass the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law.
More than personal data protection, there is a political angle to the regulations.
“Algorithm recommendation service providers shall not use recommendation services to engage in activities prohibited by law or administrative regulations such as endangering national security, disrupting economic and social order, or infringing on the legitimate rights and interests of others,” says Article 6 of the draft document.
Some experts frame the regulatory actions as an attempt by China to control the messy technology sector. But other experts believe the party is trying to impose control on the spread of sensitive topics by regulating the algorithms. In some instances, Beijing has lost control of the public narrative on social media, as we know from the case of speculation over the number of PLA soldiers who died in the Galwan clash.
In a separate notification on the same day, CAC announced the regulation of celebrity ranking lists on social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat. The notice seeks to “rectify celebrity lists, hot trends, fan communities, and interactive comments related to celebrities”. The action is part of Beijing’s new campaign against celebrity culture in China. The target of this campaign also includes the fans of the celebrities.
CAC also announced the body would investigate social media accounts and blogs that “maliciously” write bad things about China’s financial market.
Two other celebrity-related controversies have rocked Chinese social media.
Beijing has handed a fine of US$ 46.1 million to Chinese actress Zheng Shuang for tax evasion. The action drew comparison to the 2018 tax evasion case of famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing.
“The Zheng Shuang tax evasion case involves multiple regions, multiple companies and multiple performing arts projects across the country, and the case is complicated,” said a spokesperson from China’s State Tax Administration.
The works of Zhao Wei, a Chinese film star and entrepreneur, were mysteriously removed from streaming platforms such as Tencent Video, iQiyi, and Youku. The precise reason for the action is unknown. The first speculation is about Zhao Wei’s activities in the securities market. Wei and her husband are banned from the securities market for five years. The other speculation is her links to Hangzhou Party chief Zhou Jiangyong, who is under bribery investigation. “What has Zhao Wei been doing in the capital markets all these years?” was the third trend on Baidu.
There is some speculation that the actress has fled to France on a charter flight where she owns a winery in Bordeaux. Her husband is known to live in France.
We will have to see which celebrity Beijing will next target.
The celebrity culture in China can be very competitive. On 24 August, Weibo announced they had suspended 2,150 accounts, deleted 1,300 comments, and permanently removed 140 accounts belonging to fans of Zanilia Zhao Liying and Wang Yibo. The controversy was over a rumoured collaboration between the two celebrities.
China’s Celebrity Culture Is Raucous. The Authorities Want to Change That — The New York Times
Xi Jinping attended the Central Ethnic Work Conference on Saturday. Xi spoke about promoting exchanges and integration of all ethnic groups.
“It is necessary to improve the development and opening-up policy system along the border, and further promote the action of solidifying the border and rejuvenating the border and enriching the people,” said Xi Jinping. One of the key focusses of the ethnic work policy in China is Tibet.
According to The Wall Street Journal, China plans to ban companies with “large amounts of sensitive consumer data” from listing in the US. “The new rules are likely to help Beijing exert more control over the complex corporate structure that China’s biggest tech companies use to sidestep restrictions on foreign investment,” reported The Wall Street Journal.
Jack Ma and the Chinese tech titans’ mission to give away billions – Financial Times
On 26 August, China’s Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security published an extended essay about labour violations and excessive overtime called ‘996’. The ‘996’ culture is the practice of working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. The workers in the technology companies have criticised the work culture in the past.
Tibet Military Region of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held a “joint three-dimensional offensive and defensive” operational exercise called “Snow Mission-2021”. According to one report, the exercise involved ten bridge groups and 10,000 elite troops of the PLA. The PLA daily called for annihilating the “blue army”, which references the mock army the PLA fights against in the exercise.
“The video aimed to warn the Indian side that the mountain brigades in the Tibet Military District, especially the Baiyunshan regiment, are all well-trained and combat-ready,” a Chinese researcher told South China Morning Post.
A video of the exercise was widely shared by Chinese state media.
On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Education announced the introduction of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the curriculum of middle and primary schools.
English tutors loved teaching kids in China. Now Beijing won’t let them — The Protocol
China in world news
A pentagon official held talks with Major General Huang Xueping on August 27. The talks are the first contact between the US Army and the PLA since President Biden took office in January, reported Reuters.
“A new assessment by US spy agencies of the origins of Covid-19 that was delivered to the White House Tuesday didn’t yield a definitive conclusion on whether the new coronavirus jumped to humans naturally, or via a lab leak, in part because of the lack of detailed information from China, two senior US officials said,” reported The Wall Street Journal.
American business tycoon John L Thornton was in Beijing for an unofficial China-U.S. Financial Roundtable with senior Chinese officials such as Vice Premier Liu He.
Wall Street and Washington DC don’t always agree on China.
“Beijing…continues to hinder the global investigation, resist information sharing and blame other countries, including the United States,” said the summary prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on COVID origins report, reported The Washington Post.
According to a statement by the Pentagon on Friday, China’s nuclear weapons buildup could surpass Russia’s arsenal.
A look at Singapore’s Mandarin media coverage of China – Kirsten Han
Beijing’s American Hustle – Matt Pottinger
The fog of words: Kabul 2021, Beijing 1949 – Geremie R. Barmé
How Will China Deal with the Taliban? – Ian Johnson
Analysis: US Vice President’s ‘Softened’ Rhetoric on China in Southeast Asia Is ‘Deceptive’ — Caixin
Zhao Wei controversy and the crackdown on celebrity culture generated the most interest on Chinese social media.
The hashtag “What’s wrong with Zhao Wei” was viewed 1.12 billion times and had 93,000 comments on Weibo.
The hashtag “Supreme law is clear 996 is a serious offence” was viewed 410 million times on Weibo. A trend related to ‘996’ culture being declared illegal.
An Afghan named Jalal Bazwan, who blogs in Chinese on Weibo, was attacked by nationalist trolls over his critical remarks about the Taliban. “Some Chinese threatened me that if I come back to China, they will beat me. I’m not scared of anyone like that,” Bazwan told Bloomberg in an interview.
US climate envoy John F. Kerry is likely to travel to China next month for climate change talks, according to Reuters.
Experts this week
“Therefore, the explosion at the Kabul Airport made the Taliban’s guarantee seem a little unreliable, and they seem unresponsive to some extent. Whether it is the United States, Russia or China, they will seriously raise this question to the Taliban because an important prerequisite for all parties to maintain communication with the Taliban is that the Taliban must ensure that Afghanistan will never become a base for terrorist activities in other countries” wrote Pan Guang who is Director of Shanghai Cooperation Organization Research Center of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
India in China
“Colonization has brought unity to India, so after independence, India inherited the colonial legacy; the goal of colonization is to split China, so modern China must decolonize. The different attitudes towards colonialism affected the formation of the political culture of modern India and modern China and laid the foundation for the political and cultural conflict between the two,” said Wu Qina in a video blog. Wu’s blog looked at the history of India-China relations and particularly examined the role Buddhism played in the relationship. Wu is a columnist and an associate professor at National Taiwan University.
India, South Korea and some other Southeast Asian countries are experiencing a boom of initial public offerings because of the technology crackdown in China, wrote Julia Fioretti and Ishika Mookerjee for Bloomberg.
India Mapmaker Powering Apple Maps, Amazon Alexa Looks to IPO – Bloomberg
Burning the British mission in Beijing – China stories (Sinica)
On September 5, China will commemorate the 76th anniversary of the war with Japan. China calls the conflict with Japan “War of Resistance”.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
This is a weekly newsletter that Aadil Brar will write about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscriber’s only product.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)