1. Take me (close to) home
The data on the Mid-Autumn Festival travel period is in – and it’s not terrible news for China’s struggling tourism industry.
- The problem: It’s not great news either.
ICYMI: In the run-up to the holiday, many local governments urged residents to keep travel plans close to home, in hopes of limiting COVID-19 risk.
And stay close to home they did:
- According to Ctrip, “peripheral” (aka close-to-home) trips accounted for 56% of all trips.
- Peripheral travel was up 46% from 2019.
Overall, travel metrics were decent:
- Hotel bookings were up 20% from 2019
- Car rentals increased 77%
And against all odds, a positive US-China story emerged from the holiday:
- Universal Studios Beijing – a joint venture between Comcast and state-owned Beijing Shouhuan Cultural Tourism and Investment, opened on Monday.
- The 10,000 tickets made available for opening day sold out in three minutes.
Get smart: International travel is all but out of the question for most people, and many are still hesitant to make inter-provincial trips following COVID outbreaks in prominent domestic tourist destinations this summer.
- Most people are likely to keep leisure activities within a few hours’ travel for the foreseeable future.
Get smarter: That’s good for some slices of the tourism industry, and bad for others.
- On balance, it’s more or less a wash from a macro perspective.
- But that’s better than the full-on negative travel numbers seen for most of the past two years.
Reuters: Universal Studios Beijing draws eager throngs amid uneasy U.S.-China ties
2. Fujian COVID count rises as China reaches herd immunity
The COVID-19 outbreak that has been spreading in Fujian province spread further last week.
Between last Monday and this Tuesday, China reported (NHC):
- 380 new domestically transmitted symptomatic infections, up significantly from 43in the previous 9-day period
- Nine new domestically transmitted asymptomatic infections, down from 37 in the previous 9-day period
Some context: 383 of these 389 new cases were found in Fujian, including:
- 194 in Xiamen
- 169 in Putian
- 17 in Quanzhou
- Three in Zhangzhou
The rest: Three new infections were reported in Harbin, Heilongjiang, and three more were reported in Ruili, Yunnan.
Despite the worrying news from Fujian, China has made serious strides in mass vaccination. As of Saturday, China had (CCTV):
- Administered a cumulative total of 2.174 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines – up from 2.113 billion on September 6
- Fully inoculated a total of 1.022 billion people – up from 969.72 million on September 6
Bravo: That translates to a domestic vaccination rate of 78%. This number was roughly 68.7% two weeks ago.
Get smart: A 78% vaccination rate should mean the population is starting to approach herd immunity – provided the vaccines are genuinely effective in preventing contagion.
What to watch: With China seemingly approaching herd immunity, and with the Beijing Winter Olympics coming up fast, will Beijing dare relax its stringent pandemic control and quarantine measures to accommodate more cross-border travel?
Get smarter: A significant relaxation would demonstrate leaders’ confidence in China’s homegrown vaccines.
- Similarly, the continuation of a zero tolerance approach to COVID would be an implicit acknowledgement that the Chinese vaccines are not wholly effective in stopping the virus.
3. UNGA UNGA Party
It’s the most UNderful time of the year!
On Tuesday, Xi Jinping addressed the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) via pre-recorded video message.
The big guy kicked things off by reiterating China’s commitment to fighting COVID-19, including:
- Providing a total of two billion vaccine doses globally by the end of this year, including 100 million to developing countries
- Donating USD 100 million to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access program, aka COVAX
But the most interesting part of Xi’s speech was climate-related.
Some context: At last year’s UNGA, Xi made headlines by committing China to peaking emissions before 2030 and going carbon neutral before 2060.
This year, Xi made another big promise. Heannounced that Beijing would halt overseas coal financing (Nikkei):
- “China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”
Get smart: Beijing knows that China’s climate promises will ring hollow if its emissions are just offloaded on other countries.
Get smarter: His announcement is aimed to blunt international criticism that China is not doing enough to help the world address climate change.
What to watch: The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference kicks off on October 31. We’ll be watching to see if China makes further climate commitments then.
4. Li goes to Guangxi
Just before the Mid-Autumn holidays, Premier Li Keqiang paid a visit to Guangxi, in China’s southwest, for an action-packed three day tour.
Li focused the trip on some of his favorite topics: Employment and the business environment.
He repeatedly highlighted the critical role of small businesses on a series of visits to industrial enterprises, private companies, and villages (Gov.cn):
- “Small businesses…create a large number of jobs, which are linked to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of families.”
- “Li praised [rural entrepreneurs] for allowing people to work nearby and earn money while taking care of the elderly and children.”
Li also visited the Xianhuyuan Public Housing Complex – home to 10,000 low-income residents.
There, he praised efforts to provide affordable rental housing:
- “This helps provide the most basic support for people with housing difficulties…and improves their living conditions.”
Get smart: Beijing wants businesses to look beyond profitability and shareholder value, and pick up where government poverty alleviation efforts left off. It’s part of a bigger trend of pushing companies to contribute to national policy objectives.
5. Han Zheng ups private sector in Guangdong
Friday through Sunday, executive vice premier Han Zheng enjoyed a trip to Guangdong.
He was a busy bee down there.
- In Hengqin, Han inspected the Guangdong-Macau In-depth Cooperation Zone, and attended the inauguration ceremony of its administrative organizations.
- In Shenzhen, he visited the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone.
Some context: Two weeks ago, the central government unveiled plans for Hengqin and Qianhai to promote better integration between Guangdong province and neighboring Macau and Hong Kong.
Get smart: Han wanted to deliver a message personally with his trip. Hengqin and Qianhai are key to Greater Bay Area development, and need to progress fast.
While down in Shenzhen, Han also visited two private companies.
- Telecommunications giant Huawei
- Medical solution provider Mindray
Han was super-keen to express policymakers’ support for private companies (Gov.cn 2):
- “China’s private enterprises have…become important entities of scientific and technological innovation.“
- “Private firms are encouraged to enhance their international competitiveness through scientific and technological innovation and leverage the role of market mechanisms to promote independent innovation.“
Get smart: Senior leaders have scrambled to voice support for the private sector over the past three weeks, but many firms remain nervous following crackdowns on private companies in the tech and education sectors.