Monthly Archives: April 2008

Carrefour Searches Blocked By Censors

China’s Internet censors have blocked searches on the name Carrefour, China Tech News reports.

The French superstore chain that is one of the largest foreign retailers operating in China with sales of €3 billion ($4.6 billion) last year, was the target of anti-French demonstrations earlier this month in retaliation for pro-Tibet protests when the Olympic Torch was in Paris on April 7. China Tech News speculates the reason is that “there are many webpages in China recently that talk about Carrefour that contain subtle information about Sino-France relations, Tibet independence and other ‘illegal’ content”.

The chain has its staff in its Beijing stores don Beijing Olympics caps and T-shirts in a gesture of  goodwill, the China Daily reports. However, the games’ organising committee complained that the caps were for ‘commercial use’ and so infringed its copyright. The FT says that Carrefour is bracing for a further round of protests on May 1, though the authorities are likely to keep a firm lid on things getting out of hand.

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Beijing Looking To Lease Foreign Farmland

China has already gone abroad to secure supplies of energy and minerals by investing in mines and oil fields, so why not do the same for food? The Beijing Morning Post quotes Xie Guoli, a senior trade promotion official with the agriculture ministry, as saying that China is looking at leasing farmland in Russia, South America and Australia.

China already has rice farm joint ventures in Cuba and Mexico. High international grain prices could be pushing Beijing to consider doing the same on a larger scale and for more foods. How seriously it is pursuing the idea remains to be seen, but there is one reason for doing so beyond high import prices.

Very big, China, as Noel Coward famously said, but it is also running out of farm land. Arable land was reduced by 40,700 hectares to 121.7 million hectares last year, mainly because of urbanization. That is close to the minimum of 120 million hectares Beijing has said it regards as needed.

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Ma Picks A Harliner To Steer Taipei-Beijing Relations

Taiwan’s president elect Ma Ying-jeou has made the curious choice of a hardliner to lead the Mainland Affairs Council, the cabinet level agency in charge of relations with Beijing. The China Post has details of the announcement.

Ma, whose election was seen as bolstering rapprochement with Beijing, has named Lai Shin-yuan, a former lawmaker of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, to the post. She is also politically close to former President Lee Teng-hui, who infuriated China in the 1990s by advocating Taiwanese sovereignty.

While curious, it will not be an accidental appointment. Ma may be moving to put  expectations of a quick and far-reaching rapprochement with China on a more realistic basis.

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China Moves Fast On Jinan Train Crash

A couple of notable points in the aftermath of the fatal train crash near Jinan on the high-speed Beijing-Qingdao line, the country’s worst in a decade.

First is the extent of the coverage in state media. In the past China, has played down such accidents. Case in point: an accident earlier this year on the same line when a high-speed train ran down a group of railway workers killing 18 and injuring nine, which is only being made widely public now. (Though antiquated and only now getting much needed modernization, China’s railways have a reasonably decent safety record, it should be said.)

Second, is the speed at which blame has been attributed to human error and senior officials punished. Xinhua reports that  Chen Gong, former director, and Chai Tiemin, former Party secretary of of the Jinan Railway Bureau have been sacked and subject to investigation by the Ministry of Railways,

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Facing Protectionism, Slowdown, Beijing Eases Up On Exporters

China is easing off on some of its low end manufacturers because of the global economic slowdown and worries about protectionism.

Reuters reports government officials as saying they will stop further cuts in value added tax refunds to help hard-pressed exporters. The VAT refunds have been scaled back to rein in labor intensive low-end manufactured exports, partly to mitigate the political pressure on the country because of its trade surpluses and partly to support the drive of manufacturing up the value chain.

The comments came at a weekend conference in Beijing for importers and exporters where there was a palpable concern about pressures on exporters. Footwear, toys and plastics manufacturers in southern China have been forced to close in recent months as a result of the policy, fast-rising labour costs and a strengthening yuan.

That is exacerbating a trend of pushing manufacturing out of high-coast coastal regions, though in China’s case it is not moving off-shore, but in-shore, to lower-cost inland provinces.

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China To Meet Dalai Lama’s Envoys

China says it will meet the Dalai Lama’s envoys. It is a change of tactics in what has been a campaign to vilify the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader since the anti government protests started in March, though Xinhua claims the door of dialogue has remained open.

China has been under international pressure to talk to the Dalai Lama who, Beijing says, is the guiding hand behind the unrest. The two sides have held several rounds of inconclusive talks over the past five years.

No details yet of when these latest talks might take place. And as with Beijing’s similar public softening of its stance over Darfur in the face of international calls for it to do so, not much of substance is likely to change.

Another notable change of PR tactics by Beijing: when the Olympic torch passed through the Australian capital Canberra on Thursday pro-China supporters heavily outnumbered pro-Tibet ones as the large ex-pat community in Australia was mobilized.

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Government Intervening To Prop Up Shanghai Stock Prices

With the Shanghai stock exchange’s bench mark index having fallen earlier this week to 50% of its all time high, the regulators have cut stamp duty on share trading from 0.3% to 0.1%.

The announcement, not a surprise though the timing was unexpected, sent share prices soaring. The Shanghai Composite Index closed Thursday’s trading up 9.3%, its largest one day rise since the introduction of daily trading limits in 2001. Trading volume was double Wednesday’s and the highest of the year.

Xinhua‘s report suggests an intention on the part of the authorities to bolster market sentiment, especially among retail investors, at a time when rising energy and food prices are putting inflationary pressures on the economy. On Sunday, the authorities had announced new rules that make it more difficult for large blocks of shares to come to market, seen as an other official attempt to underpin prices.

Stamp tax on share transactions was tripled last May in an attempt to do the reverse – rein in a frenzied market. But that was then.

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Olympic Torch To Visit The Land Of The Mass Games

The Olympic torch relay will have a leg in Pyongyang on April 28, its 18th.

Xinhua reports a pre-leg reception held at the Chinese embassy in the North Korean capital this week with duly hospitable expressions of how the event will promote cooperation and exchange between the two countries, demonstrate their traditional friendship etc, etc, etc…  All very old school.

Park Hak Seon, chairman of North Korea’s National Olympic Committee, is quoted as saying, “The committee will try its best to ensure the torch relay in Pyongyang is the smoothest and safest one.” As if there is any chance it wouldn’t be.

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Shanghai’s Stock Bubble Deflated By Half

Shanghai stock prices have fallen through what analysts usually describe as a psychological level for the want of a more meaningful term. The Shanghai Composite Index was down 50% at one point today from its all-time high last October of 6092.06. Investors are being rattled by inflation in China, close to an 11-year high, and the housing-led credit crunch in the U.S., close to an all-time disaster.

When it set its record the Shanghai Composite had risen almost sixfold over the previous two years. Bloomberg calculates that China’s stock market peaked in value on Jan. 14 at $4.8 trillion and had lost $1.9 trillion through yesterday, equivalent — in another of theose meaningless but irresistible statistics — to the value of Canada and Germany’s stock markets.

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Paris Honors The Dalai Lama

After a weekend of intensifying anti-French protests in China in response to the pro-Tibet protests in the French capital on Apr. 7 when the Olympic torch was there, the Paris city council has bestowed the title of “honorary citizen” on the Dalai Lama. This may be taking Gallic insouciance a step too far.

Update: “The decision of the Paris city council to bestow ‘honorary citizen of Paris’ on Dalai will only be seen as another severe provocative act against 1.3 billion Chinese people… China urges France to take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the negative impact caused by its erroneous act… and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, so as to safeguard China-France relations through concrete actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement posted on the ministry’s web site on Tuesday.

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