1. It’s open season on internet companies
On Thursday, the China Consumer Association (CCA) – a government-backed consumer rights organization – took aim at internet firms, accusing them of manipulating consumer behavior.
Some context: China’s internet giants have been in regulators’ crosshairs since Beijing pulled the plug on Ant Group’s IPO in October.
The CCA’s gripe:
- Internet firms are using their data and algorithms to influence consumer decisions, often to the detriment of their interests.
The CCA said that algorithms should:
- Guide consumers objectively and not push them towards predetermined outcomes
- Not manipulate prices based on private data
- Maintain public order and promote socialist values
Get smart: The CCA isn’t particularly influential. Nevertheless, its statement signals that the tech crackdown is broadening beyond its initial focus on financial services.
Get smarter: 2021 is going to be a harrowing year for Chinese tech firms.
2. Here we go again
On Thursday, we told you that the COVID-19 outbreak in Hebei province was still growing (see yesterday’s Tip Sheet).
The provincial capital Shijiazhuang is now in the strictest lockdown we’ve seen since the one imposed on Wuhan in early 2020.
The virus is still spreading. Over the past 24 hours (Caixin):
- Hebei reported 33 confirmed cases, 31 of which were in Shijiazhuang.
- Hebei reported 39 asymptomatic cases, 35 of which were in Shijiazhuang.
Adding it all up: Excluding cases imported from abroad, Hebei’s outbreak now totals 123 symptomatic and 181 asymptomatic infections.
It gets worse:
- Some individuals sought care at village-level clinics that failed to diagnose them.
- Two middle school teachers were among the infected.
The outbreak will cause economic disruption. That’s because (21st Century Biz):
- The transportation of raw materials to Hebei’s huge steel sector will be disrupted.
- Construction projects will be halted.
- Chinese New Year travel will be severely curtailed.
Get smart: Officials worry there are undetected cases in rural Hebei, so expect lockdowns and testing to expand.
Get smarter: Hebei province surrounds Beijing on three sides. Protecting the capital will be the central government’s top priority.
3. Xi’s New Year Special
On Thursday, the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) convened a meeting to hear work reports from the Party’s Central Secretariat, as well as from:
- The State Council
- The National People’s Congress
- The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
- The Supreme People’s Court
- The Supreme People’s Procuratorate
Some context: This is a signature Xi custom. He began the practice of having the Party-state’s top institutions deliver annual reports to the PBSC in 2015 and enshrined it in Party rules in 2017.
The readout from this year’s meeting was shorter than usual.
But the message was clear: Top officials need to do what Xi says.
- “The National People’s Congress Standing Committee, State Council, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate must be guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era.”
- “[Leading officials must] continuously improve their political judgement, political understanding, and political execution so as to always be in conformity with the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core in thinking, political orientation, and actions.”
Get smart: After eight years in office, Xi is intent of further centralizing power.
4. What can I say except you’re welcome
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi kicked off a five-nation tour of Africa.
Wang’s itinerary includes stops in:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
This is tradition: Since 1991, Chinese diplomats have kicked off the new year with trips to Africa.
In Nigeria Tuesday, Wang marked the 50th anniversary of Sino-Nigerian ties saying (China Daily):
- “China is ready to work with Africa to meet the challenges and overcome the difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- “Nigeria, as a major African country, has always occupied an important position in China’s diplomacy with Africa.”
On Wednesday, Wang headed to the DRC, where he got to play the role of gracious benefactor.
- Wang announced that China is waiving the country’s repayment of loans that came due at the end of 2020.
Wang couldn’t resist reminding his hosts on which side their bread was buttered (Al Jazeera):
- “As Congo’s most reliable friend, China wishes to continue to make its contribution to Congo’s development.”
Get smart: China’s wolf warrior diplomats have turned off many in the West. But in much of the developing world – including Africa – Beijing’s stock is rising.
5. The shoe is on the other turntable
Welp, could’ve seen this one coming.
Chinese state media outlets have been having a field day with the recent unrest in the US.
ICYMI: On Wednesday, a mob of armed supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol Building, resulting in clashes with the police and several deaths.
The state media schadenfreude machine quickly kicked into overdrive:
- Commentators gleefully pointed to how US officials, who condemned the insurrection in Washington, had applauded the occupation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council by pro-democracy protestors in 2019.
Nationalistic tabloid Global Times went all out:
- “[T]his unprecedented incident will mark the fall of ‘the beacon of democracy,’ and the beautiful rhetoric of ‘City upon a Hill’ will perish.”
- “US allies…saw the country that they used to admire descend into a huge mess.”
- “[T]his is a ‘Waterloo to US international image,’ and the US has totally lost legitimacy and qualification to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.”
Get smart: The incident at the Capitol makes it easy for Beijing to convince its citizens that there’s nothing to envy in the US system.