1. Xi hits the slopes
On Monday, Xi Jinping inspected preparations for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Xi toured several of the hosting facilities including:
- The Capital Gymnasium
- The National Alpine Skiing Center
- The National Sliding Center
The big man chatted with some gold medal hopefuls (Xinhua 1):
- “[A]thletes and coaches of the Chinese figure skating and short track speed skating national teams reported to Xi their preparations for Beijing 2022, and expressed confidence in winning gold medals.”
He told athletes that the country had their collective back:
- “[T]he CPC Central Committee pays great importance to the preparatory work ahead of the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”
- “Both the Party and the Chinese people have given tremendous support in both material and spiritual terms.”
And noted that:
- “[H]e was very gratified to see the preparations for Beijing 2022 are well underway and…expressed confidence that the 2022 sports extravaganza will be a success.”
Get smart: Like the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the 2022 winter games will be a chance for China to put its best foot forward.
Get smarter: It will also send the message that China has put COVID-19 well and truly in the rearview mirror.
2. Cross-strait attentions
On Monday, Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang chaired the annual Taiwan Work Conference.
He admitted that cross-strait relations are, um, not great (CPPCC):
- “The situation in the Taiwan Strait is still grim and complex.”
- “The opportunities and challenges facing Taiwan work have changed.”
Some context: Anti-mainland sentiment is running high on Taiwan after the PRC blocked Taiwan out of the World Health Organization during a global pandemic.
More context: China’s heavy-handed approach to Hong Kong has also stoked anti-mainland sentiment on Taiwan.
Wang told everybody not to worry:
- “’Time’ and ‘trends’ are both on our side.”
- “Our comprehensive national strength increases by the day.”
He urged better treatment for Taiwanse on the mainland:
- “We must support Taiwan businessmen and enterprises to seize the opportunities [of]…our country’s new development pattern.”
- “[We will] continue to improve the institutional arrangements and policy measures to ensure the well-being of Taiwan compatriots and realize equal treatment.”
Get smart: Preferential policies for Taiwanese businessmen will not halt the slide in cross-strait relations.
The bigger picture: Taiwan remains the issue with the most potential for Sino-US tensions to escalate quickly, and catastrophically.
3. A big misunderstanding
On Monday, Guo Shuqing, chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC), delivered a speech at the Asian Financial Forum.
- Guo touched on several topics, including the mischaracterization of China’s economy as “state monopoly capitalism” by foreign commentators.
Guo’s argument (CBIRC):
- The private sector accounts for 60% of China’s economy today, in stark contrast to the hardly existing private sector prior to 1978.
- China’s industrial policies help to prevent excessive competition, wash out polluting and indebted companies, and build a complete industrial chain onshore.
- State-owned enterprises (SOEs) get negative subsidies overall as they pay more taxes and take on more social responsibilities.
- The banking sector and the SOEs are financially independent of each other – i.e. there is no easy credit available for SOEs.
- The competitiveness of Chinese products does not come at the expense of labor protections.
Get smart: Guo clearly had a foreign audience in his mind when delivering this speech. But none of his clarifications sound very convincing.
Our question: In this speech, Guo addressed issues outside of his job as a financial regulator. Is he trying to impress someone to climb the Party-state ladder?
4. Calmer waters ahead
Over the weekend, Party history guru Zhang Baijia offered his two fen on the outlook for Sino-US relations in a China Newsweek editorial.
Some context: Zhang was deputy director of the Party History Research Office of the Central Committee under former General Secretary Hu Jintao. Diplomatic history is one of Zhang’s specialties.
Zhang’s message: Cooperation between China and the US is still possible.
To get the relationship back on an even keel, Zhang said China just needs to (China Newsweek):
- Make a short list of its core interests and tell the US that those are absolutely off-limits
- Improve the crisis management mechanism between the two countries’ militaries to reduce the risk of smaller miscalculations triggering large conflict
- Stop the “death spiral of deterioration” in any future exchanges with the US
- Be more proactive in areas of possible cooperation, including on climate change, pandemic response, financial stability, and people-to-people exchanges
The lucky break: According to Zhang, the relationship should be less fraught over the next two years as both countries focus more on domestic matters.
Get smart: There is still a strong desire to have a constructive relationship with the US among much of China’s foreign policy establishment.
The problem: It’s not clear that the Party leadership feels the same way.
5. New infections slow in Hebei, speed up in Jilin
Containing a virus is a bit like whack-a-mole.
On January 18, China added:
- 35 confirmed cases and two asymptomatic cases in Hebei
- 27 confirmed cases and 43 asymptomatic cases in Heilongjiang
- 43 confirmed cases and 34 asymptomatic cases in Jilin
- One confirmed case and one asymptomatic case in Beijing
- Hebei has reported a declining number of new confirmed cases for three consecutive days.
- Heilongjiang has not shown a consistent pattern.
- Jilin has seen a rapid rise in the number of cases since Saturday.
There’s a superspreader in Jilin:
- A single individual was linked to 122 positive cases after he attended several events to market health products to the elderly.
But there is some good news:
- Most new cases in Jilin and Heilongjiang were discovered from already-quarantined close contacts of previous cases.
Despite the recent outbreaks, the head of the National Statistics Bureau, Ning Jizhe, expressed confidence in the overall state of the economy (The Paper):
- “The impact of COVID-19 on the economy is under control.”
Get smart: Cases discovered among specific groups linked to superspreaders have limited the scope of the spread.
Get smarter: New cases may continue to roll in, but are unlikely to spike or spread far.