In Asia’s World City, a push for “localism”

Hong Kong is days away from legislative elections that are unlikely to alter the city’s political power balance but certain to highlight residents’ alienation from their mainland overseers.

I have an essay titled “China’s Hong Kong Dilemma” in the current issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek in which I ponder the curious rise of Hong Kong’s “independence” movement. In fairness, to call this group a “movement” probably overstates its significance. There is zero chance China’s leaders will permit Hong Kong, which the mainland reclaimed from Britain in 1997, to break away and set itself up as some sort of separate, sovereign entity. Hong Kong relies on China for 70% of its water, most of its food and half its trade. For good measure, Beijing keeps 6,000 People’s Liberation Army troops garrisoned here.

Pro-independence leaders are a fractious and quixotic bunch–nearly all of them idealistic twenty-somethings, fresh from university. To date, their rallies have drawn crowds of no more than a few thousand. But, as with protests here two years ago, a heavy-handed response by Hong Kong’s mainland-controlled government has succeeded in transforming a loose collection of fringe dissenters into high-profile political heroes. Continue reading “In Asia’s World City, a push for “localism””

China as soccer superpower?

Chinese tycoons, keen to fulfill President Xi Jinping’s ambition to turn China into a soccer superpower, have invested more than $2 billion in European football clubs since the start of last year, reports Ben Bland in the Financial Times. Among the European teams in which Chinese groups have acquired or invested: Italy’s AC Milan and Inter Milan, England’s Manchester City and Aston Villa, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Espanol. Many of these investments may pay off. But the article stresses that there is a big difference between the “first division” acquirers such as Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group or Fosun International, which have deep pockets and well-developed sports marketing and media strategies, and “second division” investors, for whom there are unlikely to be many synergies. It will be interesting to see if Xi and the Party can will China into global dominance in this sport, which received relatively little state support before Xi came to power. The mixed results achieved by China’s state-led sports machine at the Rio summer Olympic games suggest global victory in soccer could prove a tricky  goal.

Here’s what else we’re reading this weekend…. Continue reading “China as soccer superpower?”

Will the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” put China Inc out of business?

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story in today’s Wall Street Journal rehearses some facts that have been reported elsewhere (including in this essay on its own Op Ed page). But the key points of the article hold such important implications for China that they are worth considering carefully:

  • In 2013, China overtook the United States to become the world’s largest market for industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics. 
  • In 2015, Chinese manufacturers bought 67,000 robots, about a quarter of global robot sales.
  • China’s demand for industrial robots is projected to more than double to 150,000 robots per year by 2018.
  • In May, Chinese home-appliance maker Midea Group launched a $5 billion takeover bid for Kuka, Germany’s most innovative engineering firm, and now owns about 86% of the company.

There’s a big debate raging among experts now about how artificial intelligence and advanced robotics — trends that, thanks to a big branding push by Klaus Schwab and the good folks at the World Economic Forum this January is now often referred to as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” or “Industry 4.0” — will affect China. Will China, the “world’s factory,” be blindsided from these technologies? Or will it benefit from them?

Continue reading “Will the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” put China Inc out of business?”

Xi’s Hangzhou agenda

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While President Xi remains huddled with China’s top leaders in Beidaihe for the Communist Party’s summer retreat, in Beijing senior officials have begun trying to shape the agenda for next month’s G20 summit in China’s eastern city of Hangzhou. On Monday, public comments by two senior government ministers stressed that as this year’s host Xi wants to focus on the subject of global economic growth.

Vice Finance Minister Zhu Gungyao emphasized the need for the G20 to reaffirm the importance of global trade and investment and deplore protectionism: “We really do need to make sure that the people, the public, benefit from economic development and growth,” Zhu said. “If people don’t feel like they are beneficiaries of economic development, if they don’t think their lot in life is improving, that’s when they start getting all kinds of ideas.” (Ideas? Like voting for Donald Trump, perhaps? Or withdrawing from the European Union?)

Meanwhile, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, Li Baodong, said leaders at the Sept 4-5 meeting shouldn’t get sidetracked by issues unrelated to economics–for example, competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. “The G-20 summit in Hangzhou is about the economy,” he said. “The consensus is to focus on economic development and not be distracted by other parties.”

Sticking to economics is usually a safe bet at global gatherings. But this year, it might actually court discord. After all, growth isn’t necessarily a subject that plays to China’s strengths these days. Continue reading “Xi’s Hangzhou agenda”

Beijing’s cyber-protectionism

An extraordinary coalition of business federations from the United States, Europe and Japan teamed up this week to send Beijing a message: back off of proposed cyber-security regulations that would force foreign firms to store data in China and surrender information and technology to Chinese security inspectors.

The business groups, which included the US Chamber of Commerce, BusinessEurope and Japan’s Keidanren, decried the new rules in a letter sent to Chinese premier Li Keqiang. Other signatories included more than 40 global industry groups representing financial services, technology and manufacturing sectors, and business lobbies from Australia, Mexico and Switzerland.

The petition was a response to draft regulations, announced by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission last month, requiring foreign insurers to use Chinese hardware and software to store and encrypt data. But global firms also are fuming over new banking regulations that would require them to hand over key technologies such as source codes and encryption algorithms to the Chinese government. (Beijing has delayed implementing those rules after protest from Washington.)

China insists it needs tighter controls on cyber-security and the Internet to guard against terrorism. Global companies aren’t buying it. The letter casts the regulations as thinly disguised protectionism and warns they will further isolate China from the global digital economy. The new provisions would “have no additional security benefits but would impede economic growth and create barriers to entry for both foreign and Chinese companies,” the letter declares. Continue reading “Beijing’s cyber-protectionism”