1. Premier Li outlines next steps on RCEP
On Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang chaired the weekly State Council executive meeting.
Top of the agenda: Getting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) implemented.
Some context: The RCEP agreement was signed on November 15. It links 15 major Asian economies in what is now the world’s largest free trade agreement (see November 16 China Markets Dispatch).
Li says implementing RCEP reflects lofty goals (Gov.cn 1):
- “China must take active efforts for the agreement to go into effect. This will demonstrate China’s support for openness, multilateralism and free trade.”
But it won’t be simple. Per the meeting’s readout (Gov.cn 2):
- “There is a lot of urgent work to do in this regard.”
The meeting’s readout provided a long list of to-dos, including:
- Implementing lower tariffs
- Simplifying customs procedures and speeding up the release of perishable goods
- Preparing for new rules of origin
- Unifying product standards
- Advancing mutual recognition efforts
- Significantly opening up the service sector including in RD, consulting, manufacturing, design, and other sectors
- Fulfilling the agreement’s commitment to protect intellectual property rights
- Implementing electronic authentication and online cross-border transaction requirements
Get smart: With many Western countries questioning the benefits of trade, China is eager to play a larger role in shaping the institutions and norms of global trade.
2. Study my textbooks
On Wednesday, Wang Yang – China’s fourth-highest ranked official and chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – chaired a seminar on minority groups.
Some context: The CPPCC leads on Beijing’s policy toward minority ethnic groups.
The seminar brought together CPPCC delegates from different ethnic groups with Party and state officials working on related governance issues.
The seminar’s theme was revealing (Xinhua):
- “Building a common spiritual home for all ethnic groups, and a sense of community for the Chinese nation.”
Translation: Ensuring all ethnic groups are sufficiently loyal to the motherland.
Participants proposed several concrete policy measures, including (CPPCC):
- Writing or revising textbooks to reflect a sense of community for the Chinese nation
- Strengthening Chinese language education
- Promoting the protection and transmission of minority cultures
- Allowing religions to play “their due roles” in forging a sense of community for the Chinese nation
Get smart: Expanding Chinese language education and switching out textbooks has proved unpopular in many regions. Still, Beijing intends to double down on this approach.
Get smarter: Beijing’s assimilationist approach to ethnic issues is likely to exacerbate ethnic tensions.
3. Ministry of Commerce gets a new boss
On Wednesday, Wang Wentao was appointed the new Party secretary of the Ministry of Commerce (MofCom).
- Wang is taking over the job from Zhong Shan (who is also the minister of commerce) who reached retirement age in October.
Wang doesn’t strike us as a typical MofCom guy:
- After graduating from the prestigious Fudan University with a degree in Philosophy, Wang worked for 16 years at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, at one point serving as head of the Photocopier Sales Department.
- Wang later served in senior leadership roles in several provincial capitals, including Kunming, Yunnan; Nanchang, Jiangxi; and Jinan, Shandong.
- Between March-October 2007, Wang worked very briefly with Xi Jinping in Shanghai, when Xi was Party secretary and Wang was chief of the city’s Huangpu district.
- Since May 2018, Wang has served as governor of Heilongjiang.
What’s missing: Any experience in international trade. That’s in stark contrast to Zhong Shan, who served as China’s chief trade negotiator before taking over at MofCom.
Our question: Will Wang soon reign supreme at MofCom, taking over the minister title as well? Or will he just manage Party affairs, leaving the minister job for someone with more trade experience?
What to watch: We’ll find out at the next NPCSC session, scheduled for the end of this month.
4. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs also gets a new boss
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) announced that Tang Renjian would be taking on the following roles:
- Party secretary of MARA
- Member and office director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group
What to watch: We expect Tang will also replace Han Changfu as MARA minister.
- As with Wang Wentao (see previous entry) this will not be officially confirmed until the late December NPCSC meeting.
A little about Tang:
- A Chongqing native, Tang holds a PhD in industrial economics and spent his early career evaluating ag policy implementation in the field.
- Tang did not join the Party until his early 30s – though he had already spent nearly a decade working for the Ministry of Agriculture, MARA’s predecessor.
- Though Tang spent most of his career in Beijing, he did serve two stints in senior leadership at the provincial level – in Guangxi and Gansu.
- In his most recent role as Gansu’s governor, he focused on poverty alleviation and rural development, two of Xi Jinping’s top priorities.
Get smart: Tang’s appointment to the Central Rural Work Leading Group gives him a key role in the upcoming Central Rural Work Conference, where top Party leadership will lay out agriculture and rural development policy priorities for the coming year.
5. Former trade honcho touts CPTPP possibilities
On Wednesday, Long Yongtu, Beijing’s former top trade negotiator, said there was no reason why China wouldn’t be able to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
ICYMI: In late November, Xi Jinping made waves when he said China would consider joining the CPTPP (see November 23 Tip Sheet).
Some context: The CPTPP is the successor to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact championed by the US before US President Donald Trump withdrew from negotiations in 2017.
More context: China’s strong support for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) has been one of the major arguments for excluding Beijing from the pact.
Long dismissed the objections of naysayers (SCMP):
- “People say that China cannot meet the terms of CPTPP, but I think this is groundless.”
- “Vietnam and Singapore…also have very strong state-owned industries, if they can meet the terms of CPTPP, why not China?”
Long was hopeful that accession to the CPTPP could add some juice to the push for SOE reform:
- “By participating in CPTPP, we can get some new ideas, even put some pressure on participation to accelerate China’s SOE reform.”
Get smart: SOE reform is a perennially contentious topic in China. It’s not at all clear that the political will exists to make the necessary concessions to join CPTPP.