HONG KONG: A FIGHT AGAINST SUBORDINATION

The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

Sanjana Dhar, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Hong Kongers are known for mass protests whenever they have been pushed to a corner by their government. The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, or the Extradition law of Hong Kong has garnered widespread attention. The proposed law deals with the extradition of fugitives from Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. It was initiated by Carrie Lam in February 2019 and the motivation for it was due to a murder case, where a man from Hong Kong murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled back home. Extradition requests made by Taiwanese officials could not be carried forward due to the absence of an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Carrie Lam proposed this law in the hopes of filling a “legal loophole” because without a prior treaty in place, extradition cannot be carried out. With the formulation of a new extradition treaty, criminals cannot evade punishments for crimes committed in a different country.

The present situation of mass protests in Hong Kong is driven by the fact that the extradition law will give Beijing more leeway in matters of suppressing democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Central authorities could arbitrarily arrest individuals who oppose their authority and bring them to justice under the opaque and politicised judicial system in the mainland. This is in contrast with the judicial system in Hong Kong, which is guided by rule of law. Beijing’s overbearing involvement in Hong Kong is in contradiction to the “one country, two systems” policy, which allows Hong Kong to maintain its partial democracy and free market within the territory of China. Fear of erosion of this policy has shaken the minds of the public and they are choosing to express this fear in the form of fierce protests.

Amidst popular discontent for the law, Carrie Lam initially had a strong position and vouched that the proposed law would in no way compromise human rights principles of Hong Kong. The final say in the granting of extradition requests would rest with Hong Kong and religious and political matters would be kept out of the purview. Yet, growing public dissatisfaction against the bill has undermined her image and created demands for her resignation.

The mass protests of 9 and 12 June is evidence of the dissatisfaction among Hong Kong citizens with the turn of events. It is testimony that Hong Kongers are ready for what has been touted as the “last fight” for safeguarding their democracy and freedom.

The protests on 12 June gave the people a temporary relief as the second round of discussions of the bill was cancelled due to blockades by protesters near the government headquarters. However, the protests took an unprecedented turn as the police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at the protesters. Media outlets have dubbed it as violence which has never been witnessed in the history of Hong Kong and the police force is being held accountable by the public for such a blatant act. Rising protests after such violence has forced Carrie Lam to suspend discussions on the law indefinitely. Her apology for the negligence on her part in involving the opinions of the society in making the law and expediting the passing of the law at the cost of peace in Hong Kong has brought temporary relief, but the people do not intend to stop until the bill is entirely withdrawn.

Undoubtedly, these events have drawn the attention of the international community. Leaders all over the world have come out in support of the anti-extradition protests and voiced their concerns of Hong Kong transforming into an illiberal region, not suitable for its once reputed liberal, market oriented society. Multiple rallies have taken place worldwide in support of the protesters. Hong Kongers have also urged foreign leaders to discuss the situation in the G-20 Summit and back demands of withdrawal of the bill.

China is at the center of this issue, although its direct involvement in the matter is not clear. Regardless, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang initially came out in full support of the administration in Hong Kong. Beijing believed the involvement of “foreign forces” was aggravating the situation and filling the public with animosity towards the law, which would not jeopardise the rule of law and justice in Hong Kong. But Beijing has now backtracked and is in support of the suspension of the bill.

The shift in Beijing’s stance reflects the precarious condition China is presently in, due to the trade war with the USA and the slowing economy. Can Xi Jinping afford to counter the situation in Hong Kong through force and add another tragedy in China’s history or could the protests in Hong Kong further attenuate Beijing’s vulnerabilities, are some of the questions which are yet to be answered. But at the moment, Hong Kongers seem to have gotten the better of Beijing.

The black clad protests of 16 June of nearly two million people sent a strong message to the administration over the people’s demands of complete withdrawal of the bill. Protesters won’t be satisfied only with the suspension of the bill because they speculate the administration will bring back discussions once the protesters have calmed down.

The situation in Hong Kong demonstrates the resolution of the protesters and their concerns about erosion of the “one country two systems” and its eventual merging with the system present in mainland China. Fierce resistance of the people is not just against the extradition law, but this upheaval is critical for Hong Kongers to safeguard their prized rights and freedoms in the face of arbitrariness and subordination from Beijing.

The dance of dualities in the Chinese Social Credit

Unlike the conflicting nature of dual forces in western philosophy, traditional Chinese philosophy manifests this duality in the form of complementary and balancing forces exemplified in the Yin-Yang.

Nishant Dilip Sharma, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Dualities have always held a prominent place in traditional Chinese philosophy. Unlike the conflicting nature of dual forces in western philosophy, traditional Chinese philosophy manifests this duality in the form of complementary and balancing forces exemplified in the Yin-Yang. The way in which the Chinese government has gone about experimenting and implementing the infamous Social Credit System in China is another duality at play.

What is being seen as the emergence of an Orwellian “Big Brother” age in China, is being carried out in several cities through a number of pilot projects running on a dual ‘carrots & sticks’ model. Just like any other ‘reward-punishment’ scheme, this programme offers certain incentives (carrots) to people complying with the expectations of the governing body and at the same time, has punitive sanctions (sticks) in place for non-compliance. Interestingly, the quality of the carrots and the size of the sticks has not been uniform across all pilots.

This arises from the fact that the implementation of pilot programmes is being undertaken in a two-pronged approach. At one end are the Government run mandatory SCS programmes that are operational in more than 43 Chinese cities. At the other end, there are the corporate-run Social credit systems. Unlike the Government SCS programmes (GSCS), the corporate ones (CSCS) are not mandatory. The CSC pilots do offer virtual and monetary rewards to their customers, however the real intent is to eventually become incorporated with the government’s plans. This way the corporate in question remains in the forefront when SCS is rolled out in a more comprehensive measure. Speaking of the sticks, punishments are harsher in GSCS than under CSCS. The carrots and sticks in the GSCS are in the form of ‘red-lists’ and ‘black-lists’ respectively. While one’s name in the ‘red-list’ would mean a special honor and privileged/subsidized access to public services, a name in the ‘black-list’ would mean lesser privileges or denial of certain privileges. This could mean low internet speed, ban from traveling, denial of bank loans, public naming and shaming, etc. In short, one’s social credit scores could have a great impact on his/her routine life and social reputation.

In a country which bears the tag of the most populous nation on Earth, such measurement of reputation scores for each individual is no small undertaking. This is accomplished through the creation of a systematic surveillance state where big data and artificial intelligence play a major role. Each camera captures the movement of every face and small offenses like jaywalking or walking your dog without a leash could result in an immediate fine from the government. Thus, surveillance in the eastern industrialized towns is associated more with governance and has helped bring down law enforcement costs and many governance issues.

In contrast, state surveillance in Xinjiang and Tibet is employed to address security concerns. Surveillance cameras here snoop into the personal lives of the inhabitants to stamp out any cultural expression. Any sign of resistance opens up the gates of re-education camps, the insides of which many have seen but few have come out to tell the story. Here state security is a priority while separatism is viewed as evil and surveillance becomes a tool. This dual nature of surveillance, that of governance in the eastern region and that of security in the western region, is another duality present in the Chinese system. This duality, however, begs to question the coherence of what China plans to achieve with a full-scale rollout of the SCS model in the entire Mainland China, which could be up and running as early as 2021.

These dual objectives, dual implementation models, dual outcome conditioning, raise multiple questions: Will China be successful at creating a reputation state amidst the incongruities that exist in China? The answer seems to be hooked to a second question: Will China be willing to respect the socio-geographic disparity present between the historically separatist western regions and the presently thriving eastern industrial hubs?

One way of doing so would be to prevent any punitive sanctions and credit reductions on the grounds of cultural suppression. A conundrum in the eastern region could be credit rating reductions caused due to systemic failures, human errors, or corrupt bureaucracy. As remediation mechanisms, legislations are being put in place to prevent such reputation harms. Shanghai’s local credit legislation passed in 2017 on the “right to be forgotten” provides a much-needed right to credit restoration and a reasonable requirement on administrative agencies’ query over citizens’ social credit information.

Such remediation mechanisms are also extended to cover data protection and norms for safe collection, processing and storage of personal data. These measures are limited to eastern cities like Hubei, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. The lack of such legal remedies in the GSCS pilots being run in the western region calls for a systemic shift in the way the pilots are being conducted. More polarized developments in the way the pilots are conducted could likely leave the western inhabitants estranged and brew discontent if the policy is applied without systemic planning and West-specific trials. Perhaps it’s time for the policymakers to take a hint from their traditional philosophies and create more balancing dualities than conflicting ones.

SME Financing: The need for Concrete Reforms in China’s Financial Sector

“As China plans loan boost for small companies, technology firms could be the answer”

The annual meeting of China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC) came to an end on 15 March 2019 with Premier Li Keqiang expressing commitment towards several reforms in China’s banking and financial sector. Apropos the reforms, the large state-owned commercial banks have been instructed to increase their lending by 30 per cent to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Economists, analysts and bankers remain sceptical however, owing to the vague character of the declarations. Detailed and clarified reforms are required in order to encourage truly productive lending.

At present, there are 38.82 million MSMEs in China. MSMEs in China are defined as firms with less than 300 employees, an average revenue of RMB 30 million and RMB 40 million in assets. Market liberalisation and reform policies in various sectors and industries have been beneficial for MSMEs. MSMEs have emerged as a crucial component of China’s economy as they account for 75 per cent of total jobs, alleviate poverty and facilitate rural development. However, vulnerabilities remain due to poor execution of reforms.

For example, reforms have been inadequate with respect to the property rights of the SMEs, leading to the discouragement of private investors. Investors face problems in administrative procedures like taxation due to vague definitions. In particular, firms find it difficult to predict the level of tax they will face owing to the ambiguity regarding whether they qualify as a state-owned or collective owned enterprise. Raising lending targets of banks without addressing this ambiguity, therefore, is not adequate to empower MSMEs.

While the Chinese government expects total loans made to MSMEs to increase by RMB 300 billion on account of the raised lending requirements, this may not materialise due to lack of clarity in the NPC report. Although it instructs banks to lend to “small companies,” it is uncertain whether this term is defined the same as MSMEs or whether it refers to a subset of these. These will exacerbate existing confusions – only 63.1 per cent of the total SMEs in China applied for loans from the institutions as of 2018. Moreover, the creation of too many administrative stages in lending procedures for Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs) has made the entire affair more time-consuming.

Nor has the recently expressed reform commitment adequately addressed shortcomings in the Credit Guarantee System (CGS) – an institutionalised service offered by specialised agencies that help SMEs obtain loans from non-banking financial institutions. The CGS is intended to solve the problem of high financing cost for SMEs, reducing the bank’s management and operational risks, while developing the credit rating agency market in the country. It suffers from notable shortfalls that are in need of resolution. Firstly, the seven thousand credit guarantee subsidiaries that currently exist are still not catering to the problem of asymmetric information between the banks and enterprises. Enterprises are not adequately aware of collateral management, ways of repaying previous loans and other finance related technical details (like credit score) that the banks can mentor to the SMEs.

Secondly, there are no specific changes in the collateral requirements by the government, which is of significant concern for the banks. Even though the CGS Policy is well defined in official papers, it is not very efficient at the grass root level as the bank managers are still reluctant to invest in SMEs. This is also owing to the rising non-performing loan ratio – banks are, thus, resorting to fulfilling their annual loan targets by lending largely to small State-owned enterprises (SOEs) on the grounds that the state guarantees repayment. For example, the famous InnoFund government program that supports R&D activities does not fund the MSMEs at opening stages as the preference is for state-backed companies.

Chinese Steel Industry: How Did the World’s Largest Steel Producer Protect Itself from Global Slowdown and a Trade War?

The US-China trade war and rising environmental concerns have led to a slowdown in global infrastructural projects in 2018. The objective of this short piece is to understand the impact of these global phenomena on the Chinese steel industry.

Vidushi R Singh, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

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How Did the World’s Largest Steel Producer Protect Itself from Global Slowdown and a Trade War?

China has been the world leader in steel production since 2008, with about half of the total world steel exports originating in China. The US-China trade war and rising environmental concerns have led to a slowdown in global infrastructural projects in 2018. The objective of this short piece is to understand the impact of these global phenomena on the Chinese steel industry.

Economic logic follows that excess supply and reduced demand, as have been observed in recent times, would lead to falling prices. The inelasticity of supply should have meant low prices for the Chinese steel market. As can be observed in the following graph, prices dipped following the first steel tariff announcement from the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) office on 1 March 2018. However, while prices did fall, they also rebounded much sooner than initially predicted. This trend can also be observed in the graph, with prices rising back up April 2018 onwards. However, the prices crashed again in November 2018, due to falling demand in downstream sectors, such as infrastructure and manufacturing industries, as a speculative response to rising tariffs between the US and China. Chinese steel manufacturers also registered losses for the first time in the last three years, in November 2018. Despite this, the Chinese steel economy remained largely immune to economic shocks.

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Source: Trading Economics

The Chinese conduit to coming out unscathed lies in the supply side reforms, initiated by the government in 2015. The end of the Chinese construction boom in 2014 had instigated the government to carry out reforms to cut down on steel production. As the growth rate of the construction industry fell from 10% in 2014 to just 2% in 2015, steel production was reigned in, with the growth rate actually falling to a negative value in 2015 (National Bureau of Statistics of China). The government decided to intervene at this point so as to ensure the survival of the steel industry and avoid mass layoffs that would have resulted from a slowdown in the industry. The goal decided in 2015 was to reduce capacity by 45 million tonnes, a target that was attained by the latter half of 2017, much before the set deadline of 2020.

Thus, when the demand growth rate fell, the Chinese steel industry had already moved on to capacity optimization and did not face grave overutilization. This allowed for the industry to shift supply rapidly, and safeguard itself from future tariffs as well. This success of the Chinese steel industry is evident in the fact that since 1 January 2019, Chinese steel prices have increased consistently. The shift from high-grade iron ore to lower grades has also allowed manufacturers to increase margins by cutting costs.

One interesting factor in this situation is the ability of the Chinese steel manufacturers to divert inventory to Chinese infrastructural projects under the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative and the Belt and Road initiative. While it is hard to ascertain the exact amount of steel inventory being fed into these initiatives, they do provide the steel industry with a reliable sink to use up inventory, while cutting down on any overutilization, thus stabilizing prices in the short run. The government’s plans to expand on infrastructure development in the coming years also provides support to investor speculations and have played a role in stabilizing the Chinese steel economy.

The 25 per cent tariffs imposed on steel imports by President Trump, thus, fall short of having a real impact on the Chinese steel industry, in part due to China’s relatively unimportant position in US steel imports (China is the 25th largest exporter of steel to the USA), and in part because of the foresight of the Chinese government.

So while the Chinese steel industry did face multiple shocks over the course of the 2018 trade war and global infrastructural slowdown, the government’s preemptive measures of securing a strategic sector allowed it to come out of the tussle relatively unharmed. While the opacity of government and industrial operations make it tough to analyze the situation in greater depth, one can say that the Chinese steel industry has been able to cope with the changing world geopolitical scenario with ease.

The Many Ironies of India-China Economic Relations

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Pickpockets are not uncommon in crowded places in India. Victims are generally realists and tend to resign themselves to their misfortune quickly often not even bothering to go to the police. Not so, however, actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari, head of the Delhi unit of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. When he lost his iPhone Seven Plus at a demonstration, he promptly complained at the local police station. Politicians in India are often able to get the police to expend extra effort on their behalf, so Tiwari’s response was not really surprising.

What was surprising was the fact that the politician had lost his phone at a protest against Chinese-made goods organized by an affiliate of the BJP’s parent organization, the right-wing hyper-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And as American as Steve Jobs might have been, the iPhone is the quintessential made-in-China product.

Such ironies are a dime a dozen in the India-China relationship. Continue reading “The Many Ironies of India-China Economic Relations”

Work and Workplaces in the ‘New Era’: Labour Issues at the 19th Party Congress

P. K. Anand, PhD, Research Associate, ICS

In the week preceding the beginning of the 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), state-run media trumpeted the increase in minimum wage levels in 17 regions & cities in China in 2017. Out of these, four major cities namely, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin, have set the minimum wage levels at 2,000 RMB per month. The increase in the minimum wage levels does not carry a linear narrative, however. Some provinces have expressed reluctance to implement minimum wages, wages are also not commensurate with rising house rents, increasing costs of travel from home to the workplace, etc. On the other hand, the increase in wages also adds to the rising labour costs for investors and enterprise managements. In this scenario, the Party-state has the task of striking a fine balance between maintaining economic growth and encouraging investments, while also increasing the material wealth and ensuring the well-being of the workforce.

Xi Jinping’s political report to the 19th Party Congress is reflective of the apprehensions and disquiet of the Party-state in the need to undertake this balancing act Continue reading “Work and Workplaces in the ‘New Era’: Labour Issues at the 19th Party Congress”

Tibet, the 19th Party Congress and China’s United Front Work

Tshering Chonzom, PhD, Associate  Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

What does a powerful Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China mean for the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) various minority nationalities, especially the Tibetans? The nature and extent of authority accorded to the United Front Works Department (UFWD) that handles nationality, religious and overseas Chinese affairs, during Xi’s second term is an important starting point for analysis.

The UFWD organized a press conference on 21 October 2017 on the sidelines of the 19th Party Congress, in which its leadership saw the organization as an important player in Xi’s new formulation of ‘new era’. For instance, the various conferences held under its aegis in the past five years – such as the Second Central Xinjiang Work Conference (May 2014), Central Nationalities Work Conference (September 2014), 6th Tibet Work Forum (August 2015), National Religious Work Conference (April 2016) – are retroactively characterised as work convened ‘under the guidance of the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics’. Indeed, at the national religious work conference that was held from 22-23 April 2016, Xi called upon the UFWD to take the lead in coordinating responsibilities with various organisations. In his report to the 19th Party Congress, he likens United Front work to a ‘magic weapon’ that will ‘ensure the success of the party’. Continue reading “Tibet, the 19th Party Congress and China’s United Front Work”

China’s 19th CPC Congress: Redefining Economic Growth

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

There are several aspects of the recently concluded 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that are noteworthy for India.

First, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping has attempted to redefine what acceptable economic growth is in China. The expression ‘contradiction’ is an important one in the Chinese communist lexicon and until the 19th Party Congress, the ‘principal contradiction’ was the one between ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production’ or, in other words, China’s inability to provide for the basic material needs of its people. Following nearly 40 years of economic reforms, this challenge has now been met with China eradicating poverty at the most massive scale and at the quickest pace in human history.

This process has, however, also resulted in rising income inequalities between individuals and between regions in China, and massive environmental damage and health crises across the country. Continue reading “China’s 19th CPC Congress: Redefining Economic Growth”

Key Issues in Urbanization in China

Lu Ming, Professor, Antai College of Economics and Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

A version of this article was originally published in the Business Standard as Towards sustainable urbanisation in China’, 6 May 2017. This is part of a series by Chinese economists facilitated by the ICS.

China has received enormous dividends from its decades of urbanization, which provided labour resources for the development of its industrial and service sectors and rapidly raised the income of the Chinese people. A large number of Chinese farmers became part of the country’s modernization process, allowing for poverty alleviation in rural areas. At the end of 2016, the urbanization rate of China stood at around 57%

China however, continues to face serious impediments in the urbanization process.

One of these is China’s household registration system or the hukou, which connects a person’s right to access public services with whether or not he has a resident status in a locality. The reality is that some one-third of city dwellers in China are trans-regional immigrants who actually do not possess local household registration. As a result, they do not enjoy the same level of social security and public services as local urban residents.

This is a particularly serious social problem for China. Continue reading “Key Issues in Urbanization in China”

Political Embers Flare as Tawang Contends for the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation

Tshering Chonzom Bhutia, PhD, Associate Fellow, ICS

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh from April 7 to 11 garnered plenty of media attention. One of the most prominently discussed questions centered around the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.

The Chinese side was unequivocal in not only objecting to the visit but also commenting on the reincarnation issue. The Chinese position, as encapsulated in remarks by scholars from important Chinese think tanks, is that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation has to be approved by the Chinese government and selection has to be based on a combination of not just “historical rules” but also current “Chinese laws.” The reference to Chinese laws is with respect to the 2007 State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) regulation delineating procedures for the selection of reincarnated monks, including eligibility conditions, application procedures and the government and religious institutions to be approached for approval. The regulation basically excludes “any foreign organization or individual” from the reincarnation selection process, obviously in an attempt to legitimize China’s authority and exclude the Tibetan Diaspora (and others) in the selection of the next Dalai Lama.

The Chinese have consistently maintained that any reincarnation must be determined on the basis of the late 18th century procedure instituted by the Manchu Qing rulers of China. Under this “golden urn system” of selecting reincarnations, the names of prospective candidates would be placed in an urn, from which lots would be drawn to pick the real incarnation. Therefore, any other method being suggested by the Dalai Lama is seen as contrary to established rules and illegitimate, for it denies the Chinese government’s authority in the process.

Much of the recent interest in the issue was sparked by comments made by local officials in Tawang Continue reading “Political Embers Flare as Tawang Contends for the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation”