1. Isn’t it ironic? Just a bit?
On Sunday, the State Council’s COVID-19 Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism held a presser to update on vaccination efforts.
The good news: Vaccinations are picking up speed (Gov.cn):
- China had administered 74.96 million vaccine doses by March 20.
- That’s an average of 1.66 million doses per day since March 14 – up from 0.93 doses per day in the previous two weeks.
- China can produce plenty of vaccines this year.
The bad news: China’s COVID-19 relief effort is becoming a victim of its own success (NHC):
- “Since the epidemic has been controlled, [people do not feel] the urgency to get vaccinated.”
The slow vaccination pace could delay the timeline for opening China’s borders:
- “[China will] adjust control measures when the population reaches a high level of immunization.”
According to Gao Fu – director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control – that’s likely to be early 2022 (CCTV):
- “We hope by early 2022 or even by the end of 2021, China will reach a 70-80% vaccination rate and basically achieve herd immunity.”
Get smart: Daily life in China has been (basically) back to normal for months. Most people aren’t worried about catching COVID-19.
- That complacency could eventually hurt the economy – if it slows the resumption of cross-border travel.
2. Mr. Brightside
As the dust settles from the US-China summit in Anchorage, Chinese state media has begun conducting post-mortems (see March 19 Tip Sheet).
So how does Beijing characterize the contentious clash of critical comments?
- Why, as a “good beginning to amplify positive factors” of course!
State media has struck a uniformly positive note in describing talks:
- “Chinese and U.S. officials concluded…[a] dialogue that both sides believe was timely and helpful and deepened mutual understanding.” (Xinhua)
- “[The dialogue] was constructive, helped bolster mutual understanding and…yield[ed] fresh consensus.” (China Daily)
Uhhh. Are we talking about the same meeting?
Xinhua released a massive readout on the talks – mainly taking the form of a review of China’s familiar talking points.
- It also laid the blame for strained relations on – you guessed it – the US side.
Despite the positive spin, some outlets couldn’t resist amplifying some of the Chinese side’s spiciest zingers (Global Times):
- “Chinese netizens applauded the sharp counterattack by the Chinese delegation in responding to the US side’s arrogance and aggression.”
Get smart: Beijing’s top goal for US-China relations is stability.
- That’s easy to forget thanks to the early kerfuffle in Alaska.
- But the state media spin tells you all you need to know about China’s aims – they are trying to spin it as constructive dialogue because they actually want constructive dialogue.
3. Xi’s Colombian closeup
On Saturday, Xi Jinping spoke via videolink to the Colombian people.
Some context: After a third batch of China-made COVID-19 vaccines were delivered to Bogotá, Colombian President Ivan Duque invited Xi to say a few words directly to his people.
More context: So far, over 75% of all vaccine doses delivered to Colombia have been from China.
Xi praised the the state of relations between Bogotá and Beijing (Xinhua 2):
- “[The] vast Pacific Ocean cannot stand in the way of the profound friendship between the Chinese and Colombian people.”
And he was mighty pleased with the two countries’ cooperation on COVID-19 (Colombia Reports):
- “In the face of the economic difficulties caused by the sudden appearance of covid-19, China and Colombia showed solidarity and deployed active anti-epidemic cooperation.”
For his part, Duque was keen to show Xi that he has a friend in South America (Xinhua 2):
- “Developing relations with China is a broad consensus among different political groups in Colombia.”
- “[Colombia] is ready to work with China to continuously deepen bilateral relations.”
Get smart: China’s vaccine diplomacy is often panned as insincere by western critics, but for countries on the receiving end, Beijing’s largesse makes all the difference.
4. Grains, rains, and automo-meals
On Friday, Vice Premier Hu Chunhua paid a visit to Jiujiang, in Jiangxi province, to inspect the progress of spring planting.
Hu’s message was simple (Xinhua):
- “Keeping grain production stable should be the top priority.”
- “[China] aims to keep its grain output above 650 million tonnes this year.”
There it is again: Top leaders keep repeating their goal of keeping grain production above 650 million tons annually.
Some context: This year, the 14th Five-Year Plan included a food security target for the first time.
Reality check: 650 million tons of grain isn’t ambitious – that’s been the norm for the past few years (see March 10 Tip Sheet).
Also on Hu’s agenda: Promoting protection of nearby Poyang Lake, the largest freshwater lake in China.
- Last summer, Poyang Lake was the epicenter of record-breaking floods (see July 20 Tip Sheet).
- Floods hit over 5 million hectares of farmland across the Yangtze River basin, just before the rice harvest began.
Get smart: Protecting wetland ecosystems along the Yangtze is great for biodiversity – and even better for flood control.
Get smarter: Improving flood management is one of the easiest ways to support rice farmers and, by extension, food security.
5. A new recipe for modernization
On Monday, People’s Daily published an editorial on the New Development Concept (NDC) by Han Wenxiu, Vice Premier Liu He’s right-hand man on econ policy.
Han’s argument: Economic security is an inherent part of the NDC.
Some context: The NDC was first fleshed out by Xi Jinping in 2015, as an overall approach to economic development. It consists of five components:
- Innovative development
- Coordinated development
- Green development
- Open development
- Shared development
Han is stretching the definitionto add “secure development” to that list (People’s Daily):
- “Security is the…inherent requirement of the NDC.”
More context: National security – including economic security – emerged as a major policy priority from December’s Politburo meeting (see December 14 Tip Sheet).
- Since then, policy wonks have been formulating plans to secure key sectors of China’s economy from foreign and domestic risks.
Han argued that the emphasis on security won’t affect China’s economic opening:
- “We must adhere to the…policy of opening to the outside world…and coordinate between opening up and security.”
Get smart: Beijing genuinely wants to strike a balance between security and opening up.
- That said, risk-averse Chinese officialdom often comes down heavily on the side of security.
The bottom line: Risks to foreign companies are rising.