1. Xi’s longer march
On Sunday, Xi Jinping headed down to Guangxi.
Upon arrival, he made a beeline for the Red Army Long March Xiang River Battle Memorial Park outside Guilin.
Some context: The Xiang River Battle happened in late 1934 and was one of the first major battles of the Long March and resulted in heavy losses for the Red Army.
After laying a wreath to commemorate the fallen soldiers, Xi waxed philosophic (CPC People):
- “Why did the Chinese revolution succeed?”
- “The secret is that revolutionary ideals were loftier than the heavens.”
Xi said that the battle has lessons for the present:
- “No matter how big our difficulties, we should think of the Red Amry’s Long March and the bloody Xiang River Battle.”
Get smart: Xi has sought to frame China’s current challenges – particularly growing geopolitical tensions with the US – as a new Long March.
Get smarter: Xi is a savvy politician. He’s trying to harness geopolitical tensions to create a greater sense of mission and cohesion within the Party, and among the people.
2. A train to nowhere
On Sunday, Caixin scooped that construction of two major railway projects have been temporarily suspended following a crackdown on “blind construction” of high-speed rail (HSR).
The suspended projects include:
- The Jizao HSR project in Shandong province, which parallels an existing HSR line
- The massive 13-line Guanzhong intercity railway project in Shaanxi province
Some context: On March 30, the State Council called a halt to unnecessary and excessively costly HSR projects, instructing local governments to re-evaluate projects and avoid taking on excessive debt.
- It looks like localities got the message.
It’s difficult for local HSR projects to be financially viable, due to:
- The high initial outlays needed for railway construction
- Long timelines to recoup costs via ticket sales
Plus, there’s plenty of competition for ridership: China’s existing HSR network already accounts for 26% of the domestic rail network.
Instead of building more unnecessary HSR lines, Beijing wants localities to:
- Prioritize freight transport and general speed rail
- Refurbish existing lines
- Focus on projects that are already in national transportation plans
Get smart: Local officials prefer flashy new projects over practical initiatives like fixing up old rail lines – but Beijing wants the country’s limited fiscal funds to be committed to things that actually make sense.
Get smarter: Top leadership is increasingly worried that localities are misspending their budgets and going into debt for no good reason.
3. Journey to the South
On Thursday, Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng was in Guangzhou to promote everyone’s favorite regional development plan, the Greater Bay Area (GBA).
Han held one-on-one meetings with:
- Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam
- Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng
Han urged both leaders to (Xinhua):
- “[Make] joint efforts to develop the Greater Bay Area and maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of…Hong Kong and Macao.”
While in town, Han also presided over a meeting of the Leading Group for Development of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area – the first such meeting since November 2019 (China Daily):
- “Han…urged [local officials] to take a target-oriented approach, and identify and solve the problems in the process of advancing regional cooperation.”
- “He also called for advancing high-level opening-up and intensifying service trade liberalization in the Greater Bay Area.”
Get smart: Previously, Han’s visits with Lam and Ho involved the latter two schlepping up to Beijing.
- Han’s visit to Guangdong may signal a renewed central government push re: GBA.
Get smarter: So far, concrete progress on developing the GBA has been painfully slow.
- Now, with perennially rebellious Hong Kong brought to heel and with COVID mostly under control in China, that may be about to change.
4. Democracy by any other name
On Friday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a speech on US-China relations to the Council on Foreign Relations via videolink.
Please try to contain your shock: Wang called for “peaceful co-existence and mutually beneficial cooperation” between the US and China (MoFA):
- “The right approach to China-U.S. relations is to step up dialogue, deepen cooperation, narrow differences, and avoid confrontation.”
But Wang emphasized that any failure of cooperation was Washington’s fault:
- “The key is whether the United States can accept the peaceful rise of a major country with a different social system, history, and culture.”
- “It is undemocratic…to label China as ‘authoritarian’ or a ‘dictatorship’ simply because China’s democracy takes a different form than that of the United States.”
He also called on the US to mend its “America First” ways:
- “The previous U.S. administration willfully walked away from international organizations, commitments, and responsibilities, seriously disrupting the existing international system.”
- “We welcome the Biden administration to return to multilateralism.”
And of course, Wang said Washington should mind its business re: China’s internal affairs.
Get smart: Chinese leaders are sincere when they call for better ties with the US.
Get smarter: That said, Beijing’s uncompromising stance on just about every point of bilateral contention undercuts its calls for cooperation.
5. Carbon debate heats up
The policy debate around how to achieve China’s ambitious carbon reduction goals is heating up.
On Sunday, Cai Qimin, director for strategic planning at the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, weighed in.
- Some context: The center is affiliated with the Ministry of Environment and Ecology (MEE).
Cai said that China should focus primarily on controlling carbon intensity, that is, the carbon emissions volume per unit of GDP.
More context: China’s 14th Five-Year Plan articulated goals to bring down carbon emission intensity by 18%, but didn’t set a cap for total carbon emission volumes (see March 9 Tip Sheet).
But wait! According to Caixin, former MEE official Fang Li begs to differ, arguing that China should also focus on limiting total carbon emission volumes.
- She argues that doing so would speed the establishment of market-based emissions trading and lower the cost of carbon reduction.
To this, Cai responds that China is not ready for total carbon emissions reduction, because:
- Distributing carbon emission quotas among all provinces is tricky.
- China is still at an early stage of reducing its carbon footprint.
Get smart: Expect many more debates like this, as questions of climate policy move out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the practical.