driving the day
1. Agreeing to disagree
On Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang spent some quality time with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a gov-to-gov consultation.
On the agenda: Economic cooperation, fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and human rights.
During the talk, Merkel tactfully mentioned a “difference of opinion” between China and the West on “certain issues” (AP):
- “We have, so far, always managed to address these issues well.”
- “I’d hope that we can get the human rights dialogue going again as soon as possible.”
Some context: After trading sanctions in late March over human rights issues in Xinjiang (see March 23 Tip Sheet), China halted its human rights dialogue with the EU in protest.
Li agreed that differences of opinion are fine – but insisted some things are not up for discussion (Xinhua):
- “Both sides need to respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, [and] engage in communication and exchanges on the basis of equality and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.”
Get smart: Chinese and European leaders seem to have put a floor under the deteriorating relationship for now.
The bigger picture: With anti-China sentiment on the rise across Europe, the medium-term outlook for China-EU relations is not promising.
2. China’s Labor Day litmus test
China’s cooped up consumers are making a break for it.
That’s according to the latest estimates of tourist numbers over the upcoming Labor Day holiday, which runs from May 1-5 (SCMP):
- “A total of 250 million trips are expected to be made across China between April 30 and May 5, according to online travel booking platform TravelGo.”
- “That would surpass the 195 million trips taken during the 2019 holiday…and [would] surge on last year’s 115 million.”
Some context: We saw a significant rise in tourist numbers over Qingming festival in early April, but consumption was still way down as people mostly traveled locally.
Here’s why Labor Day could be different:
- At five days, it’s longer than Qingming, with many travelers opting to take additional days off work to extend their holiday.
- Vaccination rates are rising and nearly all of China is categorized as low-risk – domestic travel is no longer seen as a risky proposition.
Get smart: A surge in tourist spending would be a great sign for the economy, which has struggled to get consumers to…well…consume.
Get smarter: One good holiday does not a full recovery make.
- There’s still work to be done to fully restore consumer confidence.
3. Universities in the crosshairs
They’re coming for the teachers.
On Wednesday, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced its latest round of discipline inspections.
Educational institutions are in the crosshairs.
- The inspections will target 31 universities.
- The Ministry of Education will also get a visit from inspectors.
Some context: This will be the seventh round of inspections since the 19th Party Congress in October 2017.
Details of the upcoming inspections have not been released.
But we are pretty sure we know what inspectors will be looking for.
- They will be looking to make sure that university faculty and administrators are loyal communists.
Get smart: College students have been behind some of the biggest political protests in modern Chinese history – think 1919 and 1989.
Get smarter: Xi Jinping doesn’t want something similar happening on his watch, which is why he has been tightening control over the education system in recent years (see Friday’s Tip Sheet).
4. Can’t we all just get a-pong?
On Thursday, The Paper published an op-ed by China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi.
The topic: Improving fraught Sino-American ties.
To make his point, Yang rolled out the mother of all US-China clichés (The Paper):
- “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ‘table tennis diplomacy’ between China and the United States.”
- “Over the past 50 years, China US relations have been advanced through wind and rain and have made historic achievements.”
Yang said that disagreements were to be expected and could be managed:
- “It is normal for China and the United States to have some differences.”
- “The key is to respect each other…and deal with them in a constructive way.”
He then called on the US to remember the spirit of the original “ping-pong diplomats”:
- “China and the United States could break the ice…of long-term opposition and isolation…[because] the two sides could seek common ground…based on respect for each other’s political system and development model.”
Well AKSHUALLY: Confronting a common challenger – the Soviet Union – was the driving force behind the original Sino-American rapprochement.
Get smart: No matter how much Beijing may call on Washington to shun “Cold War thinking,” many American policymakers see China as the Evil Empire 2.0.
5. Pandemic fighter starts a new shop
On Wednesday, the State Council appointed Wang Hesheng, the deputy head of the National Health Commission (NHC) to lead a new agency.
- It’s called the National Disease Prevention and Control Bureau (NDPCB)
Why should you care? Re-structuring the health management system in the wake of COVID-19 is high on this year’s government to-do list (see March 26 Tip Sheet).
- This move is part of that process.
But so far, the name is just about all we know about the new agency.
And this is strange:
- The NHC already has a Disease Prevention and Control Bureau (DPCB).
- But the DPCB’s current head, Chang Jile, was appointed as Wang’s deputy at the NDPCB.
Still, we know a lot about the NDPCB’s inaugural chief:
- Wang currently serves as the first-ranked deputy director of the NHC.
- At the height of China’s COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020, Wang was dispatched to the epicenter of the pandemic to head the Hubei provincial health commission – also serving as a member of the Provincial Party Standing Committee (see February 11, 2020 Tip Sheet).
Get smart: Holding those two provincial leadership positions simultaneously is an unusual setup, signaling that Beijing wanted to both highlight Wang’s seniority and enable him to fight the pandemic hands-on.
Get smarter: Given Wang’s success in containing the pandemic in Hubei, the central leadership wants him to restructure the bureaucracy to prevent another one.
- FWIW: We’re not sure which is the harder job – containing COVID-19, or restructuring the health bureaucracy.
What to watch: Although the exact role of the NDPCB is unclear for now, we suspect it will ultimately become a vice-ministerial level agency under the NHC.