Tuesday, 17 January 2017

China is Open for Business

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos
Xi Jinping is the first Chinese President to address the World Economic Forum, and today he used the platform to take the high road, making the case for globalization in a time when the UK will implement Brexit and President-Elect Donald Trump advocates isolationism.

In his speech, Xi promised to improve market access for foreign companies, and said China has no intention of devaluing the yuan or launching a currency war.

He said protectionism had to be opposed and the finger-pointing stopped.

"Those who push for protectionism are shutting themselves inside a dark house. They have escaped the rain and clouds outside, but also missed the light and air," he said. "A trade war will only lead to suffering on both sides."

Xi says China is open to foreign companies... really?
Since his predecessor Hu Jintao's leadership, China has been protectionist too, making it harder and harder for foreign companies to do business in the Middle Kingdom. And with the further media suppression on foreign journalists and outlets, people on the outside find it harder to get the information they need to objectively assess the situation.

So if Xi really does keep his word, it will be interesting to see China open its doors for more business -- but are companies willing to pay higher wages for labour? And will this still be cheap manufacturing, or something higher up the manufacturing chain?

In addition, Xi said there was no point in blaming globalization to the Syrian refugee crisis or the 2008 financial crisis. He said there was "no justification for wiping out economic globalization all together".

How does the Syrian refugee crisis have anything to do with globalization, when it's a civil war in the country?

What kind of president will Donald Trump be?
Nevertheless, it seems Xi is keen to stimulate his country's economy -- apparently it grew just over 6 percent in 2016 -- and perhaps get rid of its overproduction.

As the inauguration of Trump drawer closer, many are trying to come to terms with the new normal in Washington. Will he continue to see it as one big reality show in the White House, or will he really take the job seriously and help those who voted him into office?

Xi is probably looking on horrified at having to deal with a man who makes knee-jerk pronouncements that may or may not have substance. However, he is probably impressed by how Trump handles press conferences by shutting reporters down...

Monday, 16 January 2017

Carrie on the Hustings

Carrie Lam announced her intention to run for the next chief executive today

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has officially thrown her hat into the ring for the next chief executive of Hong Kong.

Her resignation was approved by Beijing (along with John Tsang Chun-wah's), and she wasted no time in announcing her intentions.

At a press conference in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Lam stepped out for the first time as a political candidate, and perhaps being herself for once, because as a civil servant, she had to follow the lead of her bosses.

"Like many of you, I am worried about the discontent that has emerged in our society," she said in English. "I know our younger generation is concerned about the lack of upward mobility and the cost of housing. I share the desires of many -- that we must reignite Hong Kong's can-do spirit.

"I am ready and willing to take up the challenge... I fully realize it's a tall order, but with the passion to serve, and faith in the people of Hong Kong, I am confident that together we will succeed," she continued.

"At this junction, it is incumbent upon the government to restore faith, propel the economy, reduce inequality, and build greater consensus."

She also hinted changes would be made if she was the city's next leader. "My view today is that the governing team of the next administration should be injected with new blood."

Wonder if she is referring to the shuffle of officials since she and Tsang quit. Secretary for Labour, Housing and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung is now Chief Secretary, while Paul Chan Mo-po is now Financial Secretary, a promotion that raised eyebrows considering the latter's involvement in several scandals.

"I'm afraid good governance requires higher standards -- public participation, the rule of law, societal consensus, timely response, accountability. A higher level of transparency is also required," Lam said.

The fiasco over the Palace Museum project seems to have died down, though more could have been done to promote it in a better way. Some arts experts claim the collection in Beijing is far better than what Chiang Kai-shek took with him to Taiwan.

So why wasn't this point made earlier on -- in fact why haven't we even seen these treasures before in the Forbidden City?

It's all very mysterious.

In any event it'll be interesting watching Lam campaign for her job despite apparently being Beijing's favourite. She'll still need to prove her worth to a skeptical audience, particularly the younger crowd who already believe she's been co-opted by Beijing.

How can she -- and frankly all the other candidates -- prove they are making Hong Kong's interests a priority?

Oh and can someone tell Lam next time not to wear a pale coloured outfit when standing in front of a white background? On television she looked like a floating head...

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Picture of the Day: Baby Fire Roosters

Lots of baby roosters hanging out in an office lobby
Chinese New Year is around the corner and it will be the fire rooster -- which means those who are born this year or back in 1957, are trustworthy, have a strong sense of timekeeping and responsible at work.

Many companies, hotels and restaurants have started decorating their public areas with New Year decorations.

In the lobby of an office building in Sheung Wan I spotted this cute arrangement -- lots of baby roosters hanging out on a tiered red platform.

They all wear little cross-body bags -- wonder what's in them?!

Not only are they sitting around, but also hanging out randomly around the floor.

Perhaps it's a fire rooster occupy exercise?

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Father of Pinyin Dies

Zhou returned to China in 1949 to help the country -- by creating pinyin
I was kind of dreading this day -- but it has come. The father of pinyin, Zhou Youguang, has died at the age of 111. He died this afternoon (Saturday), a day after his birthday in Beijing.

It's pretty amazing he lived this long, and I suspect it was keeping his mind active that kept him going.

He was born in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty and as a young man he lived and worked in the United States as a Wall Street banker.

When the Communists took over in 1949, Zhou returned and was tasked with creating a new writing system using the Roman alphabet.

"We spent three years developing pinyin. People made fun of us, joking that it had taken us a long time to deal with just 26 letters, he recalled to the BBC in 2012.

He had kept active, writing many articles and books
However, it has helped millions of people, including me, to learn how to pronounce words in Putonghua properly.

It is now widely used on phone apps to help people communicate. They can type in the pinyin and from there choose the Chinese character they need.

Developing the pinyin system helped protect Zhou from Mao's political purges, but eventually Zhou was sent down to the countryside for re-education during the Cultural Revolution.

As he became older he grew more critical and outspoken about the present day Communist Party and wrote several articles and books that were banned.

In an interview with NPR in 2011, Zhou said he hoped to live long enough to see the Chinese authorities admit the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters around Tiananmen Square in June 1989 was a mistake.

Wishful thinking on Zhou's part.

He added that most ordinary people did not believe in the Communist Party, and that the vast majority of Chinese intellectuals favoured democracy.

Beijing can probably breathe a sigh of relief that another one of its critics has passed. They couldn't do much to Zhou considering his immense contribution to the country, but we hope he will see justice in the end.

I wrote a blog post about him when I was in Beijing. One of my colleagues at the time went to visit him and told me later she thought he was a wonderful, sweet man. He wasn't a typical Chinese elder who towed the party line, but instead had a lot of interesting things to say about a wide range of subjects.

Thank you Mr Zhou for creating a writing system that has made Chinese more accessible to so many people and in so many ways.