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SupChina Weekly: Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Beijing kinda congratulates Biden, as ‘comedian’ plans more action on China

SupChina Weekly Newsletter
Monday, November 16, 2020

Hello, readers!

Today’s big news from China is that it joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement with 10 Southeast Asian countries plus Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan. The deal promises to set trading standards for the bloc but is so far a mostly symbolic win for China. Read all about it on SupChina.

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Upcoming events: On Thursday, November 19, SupChina is hosting a free CEO webinar with the CEO of Mitsubishi International Corporation, Jason Stevens, and the vice chairman, Americas, of Standard Chartered, Jeremy Amias. You can also buy tickets to attend a closed-door networking session with either speaker later that day. Register for the free event and buy tickets here.

Correction: In our story last week on new COVID-19 entry restrictions in China, we stated that China’s travel ban in March barred “even permanent residency holders from entering.” This was incorrect, as the ban applied to those holding temporary residence permits, but did not affect those with a permanent resident certificate.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

1. Beijing kinda congratulates Biden, as ‘comedian’ plans more action on China

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wāng Wénbīn 汪文斌 sent “congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.”

Last Friday, a week after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Beijing congratulated the U.S. president-elect. China was among the last countries to do so (although Brazil, North Korea, and Russia have yet to call). Spokesperson Wāng Wénbīn 汪文斌, at the daily news conference at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said (in EnglishChinese):

We have been following reactions to the U.S. presidential election within the U.S. and from the international community. We respect the American people’s choice. We send congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.

But ever cautious — what if Trump hangs on to power? — Wang added a reservation: “At the same time, we understand that the outcome of the U.S. election will be determined in accordance with U.S. laws and procedures.”

  • China’s initial holdout stands in contrast to the 2016 presidential race, when Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 congratulated Trump a day after the election. As we noted last week, it indicated Beijing’s caution to avoid provoking the U.S., as Trump refuses to concede the election.

Meanwhile, Chinese social media mourned the future loss of the “Trump reality show” and a “comedian” on the world stage. Others offered more serious criticism: One Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), “Trump should learn how to accept defeat like a real grown-up. This only gets more embarrassing for him the longer he throws a temper tantrum.”

But Trump is not done with China yet  

In the final days of Trump’s presidency, the White House will continue implementing tough measures on China, as the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said in a speech last week.

Last Thursday, the Trump White House issued an executive order prohibiting U.S. investments in Chinese companies that Washington says are owned or controlled by the Chinese military. Reuters says the order “could impact some of China’s biggest companies,” including China Telecom, China Mobile, and surveillance equipment maker Hikvision.

  • The order would bar American investment firms and pension funds from buying shares “of any Communist Chinese military company as defined” by a June blacklist published by the U.S. Department of Defense.
  • The executive order does not specify penalties for violations, but does give “the Treasury Department the ability to invoke ‘all powers’ granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which authorizes the use of tough sanctions,” Reuters notes.  

Click through to SupChina’s Foreign Affairs section for daily updates on geopolitical news from and about China, or our Chinese Domestic News channel for the latest on politics and current affairs from Beijing, Bengbu, and beyond.

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2. After Ant IPO suspension, Beijing eyes antitrust regulation for tech sector

Staff at a warehouse in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province check stored goods on November 5, 2020, ahead of the Alibaba's Singles’ Day shopping festival. Oriental Image via REUTERS.

When the Shanghai Stock Market announced two weeks ago that regulators were halting the gargantuan IPO of Ant Group, the exact reasons for the surprise move remained unclear. 

  • We suggested four possible motives: Retaliation against Ant’s majority controller, Jack Ma (马云 Mǎ Yún), after he criticized China’s state-dominated banking system; worries about overheated investor enthusiasm and risks to the Shanghai STAR market; the need to have Ant comply with new microlending restrictions; or genuine regulator discomfort with Ant’s size and sway over China’s financial system.
  • It seems likely that the decision was at least partly retaliation, as Reuters reported that the “general office of the State Council compiled a report on public sentiment about Ma’s speech and submitted it to senior leaders, including President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平.” The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that it was indeed Xi who “personally made the decision to halt the initial public offering of Ant Group.”
  • But if genuine regulator discomfort was a large motive, we warned that internet giant “Tencent can expect scrutiny, too.”

Now, new draft antitrust regulations target Tencent, along with ecommerce leaders Alibaba and, and food delivery giant Meituan, among others, the Financial Times reported (paywall). The draft rules are here, in Chinese.

  • The move from the State Administration for Market Regulation “will see China attempt to define for the first time what constitutes anti-competitive behavior in the tech sector.”
  • “The practices that regulators are taking aim at include using exclusivity clauses to hinder competition, treating customers differently based on their spending behavior and data, and forcing customers to buy a bundle of products to access the ones they want.”
  • “Meituan’s shares fell more than 11 percent following the news, while Alibaba’s and Tencent’s fell more than 5 and 4 percent respectively… was also down more than 8 percent in Hong Kong.”
  • A public comment period for the draft regulations will extend until November 30.

Regulators “met recently with 27 Chinese internet companies to discuss ways to ensure the healthy growth of the digital economy,” the Wall Street Journal notes, and the latest announcement “follows guidelines published by China’s main market regulator on Friday targeting its livestreaming sector.”

Click through to SupChina’s Business and Technology section for more on the wild world of Chinese IPOs, fintech, the threats of surveillance, and the U.S.-China tech cold war.

3. Anger flares anew as China moves closer to raising retirement age

China has a looming pension crisis: The state pension fund is projected to run out of money by 2035 because of the rapidly aging population and a declining labor force. As a result, the government has for some years been hinting that workers would need to delay their retirement, despite strong opposition from the public.

Now it seems like Beijing is finally ready to put the idea into action: According to a recently unveiled 15-year blueprint, pension reform is one of the government’s “pragmatic” targets through 2035. The document (in Chinese), published by Xinhua on November 3, outlines a wide range of “long-term objectives” that China aspires to achieve in the next 15 years.

  • In a section called “Improving people’s quality of life and raising the level of social construction,” the paper states that China will “gradually” raise the eligibility age for retirement pensions.

The retirement age in China is 60 for men. For women, it is 50 for blue-collar workers and 55 for civil servants. Per China Economic Weekly, some officials propose raising the retirement age of women to 60, and then in a second step, raising both men’s and women’s retirement age. Others propose raising men’s and women’s retirement ages separately, then in a second step, raising women’s eligible age to the same as for men.

The proposed reform has been a target of intense criticism on the Chinese internet. It was opposed by both older Chinese, who feared that they wouldn’t live long enough to collect benefits, and by young adults worried that keeping people longer in the workforce would harm their own employment opportunities.

  • “How about not allowing people to retire until they are 80? We will go straight to crematoriums after reaching the retirement age, leaving no burden to the country. Is this what the government wants down the road?” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

In 1978, China introduced the current retirement age limits. By keeping the age unusually young — in comparison, the typical American leaves the workforce at age 63 — China was hoping to bring more of its then plentiful supply of young people into the workforce, at a time when short life expectancies kept the state’s pension expenses low.

In 2020, China is dealing with a completely different problem: an aging population and low birth rates.

Click through to SupChina’s Society and Culture section for more stories about Chinese society, culture, demographics, and popular trends.

4. In Shenzhen, you are now legally required to take a holiday

In a bold move to improve residents’ health and prevent worker “burnout,” the southern city of Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, has passed a new policy requiring local businesses to mandate paid annual leave for employees.

  • The ordinance (in Chinese), which takes effect on January 1, 2021, is part of a multifaceted effort by the municipal government of Shenzhen to promote the well-being of its local population.
  • In October, the city’s People’s Congress Standing Committee debuted a set of local health regulations — the first of their kind in China — which put an unprecedented emphasis on protecting the physical and mental health of workers. The rules include guidelines for fighting air pollution, assuring food safety, and providing psychological counseling to people in need.

Under the new paid leave policy, employers are expected to “make rational allocation of human resources,” “allow workers to take some time off and recharge,” and “implement a rotation system” for employees with heavy mental and physical workloads to avoid fatigue and stress-induced injuries.

  • No other city in China requires private employers to force their employees to exercise their legal rights to use paid time off.
  • To make sure the new rule is effectively enforced, the government also asked the local Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, as well as state-controlled trade unions, to strengthen their scrutiny of local businesses.

Although Chinese labor laws state that employees are entitled to a number of paid vacation days based on years of service, many workers are too stressed out to take time off.

  • In fact, a fetishization of working outrageously long hours and not claiming benefits like paid vacation leave is common among office workers in Shenzhen, especially those who work in the city’s tech industry.
  • On Chinese social media, the regulation has received an outpouring of support, with many praising it as a necessary step to regulate working time and rest periods. Some also called for other Chinese cities to follow suit.

Click through to SupChina for more details about the policy.

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5. Leading Chinese supermarket chain apologizes for ‘fat-shaming’ size chart

RT-Mart (大润发 dà rùn fā), one of the biggest large-scale supermarket chains in China, has issued a public apology after being accused of “fat shaming” by using a size chart for clothing that called plus-size women “rotten.”

The size guide was first spotted in one of its stores by a customer, who later took to social media to call out the retailer. “I was shocked when I saw this size chart at a RT-Mart location today. Am I completely rotten?” the person wrote in a Weibo post.

  • A photo taken by the angry customer shows the size chart in the store’s women’s clothing section. In addition to regular sizing standards that provide weight and height measurements, the guide states that women who wear size small or medium are “slim” and “beautiful,” whereas those who wear size large and up are “rotten.”
  • The chart instantly attracted the ire of internet users with many condemning it for indulging in the casual shaming of women’s bodies. “This is so gross…who thought that would be a good idea? It’s unfair that women have to endure these snide comments about our bodies on a day-to-day basis!” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

The growing number of complaints on social media prompted RT-Mart to remove the size guide from its stores and issue an apology.

  • “We are sorry for the inappropriate wording of our marketing material and the offense it caused,” the supermarket chain said in a statement (in Chinese) released today. The company also stressed that the incident was an “isolated” event and that it would do its best to avoid similar mishaps in the future.
  • The apology, however, was received skeptically by many people who said that they have had enough of Chinese brands promoting unrealistic beauty standards for women and being insensitive to the plus-size community.

Click through to SupChina for a longer version of this article, including links to previous stories on fat shaming and viral internet trends that require women to have impossibly skinny figures, or read more stories in our Society and Culture section.


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