1. Back to it
The latest COVID-19 outbreak that started with a cluster of infections at the Nanjing airport last Tuesday is the biggest in China for a while. That’s both in terms of the total number of new cases and how far it’s likely to spread.
On Tuesday, China reported (NHC):
- 55 domestically transmitted symptomatic cases – up from 31 the day before.
- One domestically transmitted asymptomatic case – down from three the day before.
The infections have already spread to regions well beyond Nanjing.
Of the 56 domestically transmitted infections reported on Tuesday there were:
- 48 in Nanjing, Jiangsu
- One in Suqian, Jiangsu
- Three in Chengdu, Sichuan
- One in Shenyang, Liaoning
- One in Dalian, Liaoning
- Two in Ruili, Yunnan (most likely linked to neighboring Myanmar, not Nanjing)
Get smart: Authorities have confirmed that these infections come from the Delta mutation, which is more contagious and less susceptible to current vaccines than other COVID strains.
Get ready: The outbreak is likely to get worse before it gets better.
2. NPCSC sets upcoming legislative agenda
On Tuesday, National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) Chairman Li Zhanshu set the next NPCSC meeting for August 17-20.
Li and crew also gave us a sneak preview of what they’ll be chatting about.
The legislative lineup includes deliberation of draft laws on:
- Personal information protection
- Combating organized crime
- Home education
And draft revisions to laws on:
- Science and technological progress
- Population and family planning
- Noise Pollution
There’ll also be a discussion on adding some national laws into Hong Kong’s Basic Law – Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution.”
That’s a pretty full plate.
The big agenda item is the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), which aims to create a framework for… protecting personal information, particularly of the digital variety (see entry #5).
The big picture: The NPCSC is passing laws at a record pace these days. That’s because Xi Jinping sees a robust legal framework as key to creating a more orderly society.
3. I want YOU to have more babies
On Tuesday, the National Teleconference on Optimizing Fertility Policy – the sexiest event in all Chinese officialdom – was held in Beijing.
- That’s probably not a super high bar to clear, but still.
ICYMI: Facing slowing birth rates and an aging population, the government announced in May that couples would henceforth be allowed to have three children.
On the call, Premier Li Keqiang highlighted the importance of boosting birth rates (Gov.cn 2):
- “The population issue is crucial to the fundamental, overall and strategic development of the Chinese nation.”
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan then suggested some sweeteners to encourage couples to make with the babymaking:
- “An improved childbearing service system should be built and costs for marriage, childbirth, child-raising and education [should be] lowered.”
Sun also called for:
- Better pre- and neo-natal healthcare
- Improved daycare and preschool services
- Possible tax breaks to offset care costs for children under three
- Preferential house rental and purchase policies for families
Sun also offered this cryptic message:
- “Ideology, policies, and mechanisms with unhealthy effect on long-term balanced population growth should be abandoned.”
Get smart: A deep sense of pessimism about their personal and economic prospects is behind many young people’s decision to stay childless.
- A marginal boost to childcare benefits is nice but doesn’t address the root of the problem.
Our question: Exactly what sort of “ideologies and policies” does Beijing view as harmful to its family planning strategy?
4. Split the bill for making babies
The State Council isn’t the only august body with babymaking on the brain (see entry #3).
On Monday, Wang Yang, chairman of the CPPCC, the political advisory body, chaired a special CPPCC session on how to deal with China’s aging population.
Vice premier Sun Chunlan and several government ministers participated in the discussion.
Can’t dads do more? Paternity leave was one specific issue raised. (CPPCC Daily)
- CPPCC members proposed to extend leave for both mothers and fathers.
But there’s a problem with more parental leave: It adds costs for employers.
Never fear: CPPCC members suggested the government could subsidize or grant tax breaks to employers for the additional costs.
Can’t China go Dutch? So suggested Song Xin, a mid-level official from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security:
- “We can’t have the government place the order, and ask businesses to pay the bill.”
- “It’s imperative to set up a cost-sharing mechanism.”
Get smart: These CPPCC sessions function as brainstorming time for policymaking. Some of their proposals will end up in government policies.
What to watch: The census data released in May revealed China’s worsening and imminent demographic challenge. More policies to address the issue will emerge in the coming months.
5. Personal Info Protection law may be passed Aug 20
The foundations of China’s cybersecurity governance regime are nearing completion.
On Tuesday, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), China’s legislature, announced that it will meet August 17-20 (see entry #2).
Top of the agenda: the third (and probably final) review of the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL).
- The PIPL will very likely be passed at the meeting.
- It would then take effect by 2022.
Some context: PIPL is China’s comprehensive personal privacy law, and is broadly similar to the EU’s GDPR.
More context: PIPL is the last of three laws that form the basis of China’s new cyber governance regime, along with the Cybersecurity Law and the Data Security Law.
Quick refresher: The PIPL introduces a web of requirements for how organizations can collect, store and use personal information. The current version:
- Defines when personal information can legally be collected
- Emphasizes informed consent, and bans “forced consent”
- Defines rules for algorithms that profile individuals based on their personal information
- Requires minimizing information collection to only what is necessary for service
- Restricts the cross-border transfer of personal information
- Obligates some data processors to appoint a dedicated personal data manager
The big sticking point: In some circumstances, the PIPL will be applicable to companies not registered in China if they process the personal info of Chinese citizens.
- Say it with us now: “Extraterritoriality!”
Get smart: The tech crackdown is about to ramp up even further.
- The PIPL will give regulators a much stronger legal basis for enforcing data privacy.
6. WeChat suspends new user registration
Chill out everybody.
On Tuesday, a post by Tencent’s WeChat team was trending big time on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent.
The headline: WeChat has suspended new user registrations.
The official explanation was a security technology upgrade (Weibo):
- “In accordance with relevant laws and regulations, we are upgrading our security technology. During this period, we will suspend the registration of new users on WeChat.”
- “The upgrade is expected to be completed in early August and user registration will resume after the upgrade.”
Hmmm, okay.This statement left people with more questions than answers.
Naturally, a number of theories have popped up:
- One says this move is linked to data security concerns, just like the recent crackdown on Didi.
- Another theory goes that WeChat is just cleaning up inappropriate content for minors, as required by the Cyberspace Administration of China last week.
Get smart: We have not yet seen a convincing explanation.
- Don’t overthink it – we simply have to wait for the smoke to clear in this case.
Get smarter: The hype around this story shows how jumpy everybody is amid China’s tech crackdown.
7. MEE requires seven regions to assess new projects for carbon emissions
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) announced a pilot program to integrate carbon emissions into environmental impact assessments of new projects in several industries.
Where? Hebei, Jilin, Zhejiang, Shandong, Guangdong, Chongqing, and Shaanxi are included in this pilot.
Some context: Beijing and the environmental regulator have criticized some local governments for blindly launching high-energy, high-emissions projects that threaten to derail efforts to reach Beijing’s climate targets.
The pilot mainly focuses on the environmental impact assessment of carbon dioxide, but can also assess other greenhouse gases depending on local requirements, including:
- Nitrous oxide
- Sulfur hexafluoride
- Nitrogen trifluoride
Watch out! Some of China’s highest-emitting industries are included:
- Power generation
- Iron and steel
- Building materials
- Non-ferrous metals
Local governments can also involve other industries in the scope of their pilots, depending on regional plans for peaking emissions.
Get smart: To reduce carbon emissions, local governments must impose controls on existing sources and constraints on adding new sources.
- Integrating carbon emissions into the assessment stage will help weed out high-emission projects before they even begin.
Get smarter: We doubt that local governments will include more industries in these pilots.
- Nobody wants to dampen economic growth.
8. Too high for comfort
Meet the “two highs.”
- That’s officialdom’s catchphrase to describe “high-energy consumption, high-emissions” projects.
On July 26, the environmental ministry affirmed that the central environmental inspection team is bringing the “two highs” back down to earth.
- It called out “blind development” for short-term economic gains as a major roadblock for China’s air pollution and carbon reduction goals.
Some things you should know about central inspection teams:
- They’ve got teeth. That’s because they include members from the Party’s disciplinary and personnel agencies.
- They report directly to Politburo Standing Committee member Han Zheng.
- In a previous round of inspections, the environmental inspection teams disciplined over 6,000 officials.
Now, in the current round, inspectors have disciplined 1,391 officials for failure to control “two highs” projects – with more to come.
Get smart (not high): China’s environmental regulators generally lack power. But their status is on the rise thanks to Xi Jinping putting environmental protection high on the political agenda.
Get smarter: The “two highs” will remain inspectors’ focus until Beijing is satisfied such projects won’t push China off the path to net zero.