A weekly recap of the stories you should be following in China this week, plus an exclusive analysis. Delivered Wednesday.
June 2, 2021, 5:00 p.m.
welcome to Foreign politic Brief China.
Highlights of the week: China introduces a three-child policy in the hope of increasing birth rates, why the president Xi Jinping’s speech does not indicate a change in diplomatic tone, and Hong Kong authorities ban the anniversary vigil in Tiananmen Square for the second year in a row.
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Beijing introduces three-child policy
China announced on Monday that married couples would be allowed to have up to three children, raising the official limit to two children, a widely anticipated move. The one-child policy, in place for 36 years until 2016, has left China with a demographic time bomb: declining birth rates and an aging population. Although Beijing officially checked in population growth in 2020, a Financial Time report suggests that the original census figures showed a decline.
Despite the government’s hopes, the introduction of the two-child policy in 2016 failed to produce a baby boom. The latest policy change is unlikely to affect China’s fertility rate either.
The audience responded with mocking contempt towards the idea that government restrictions have prevented parents from having more children, rather than the exorbitant costs of raising children in China – migrant families forced to pay fees for local public schools to upper-class parents who fear their children will fall behind without flute or calligraphy lessons. Unless the government provides economic security for parents, the birth rate will not budge.
Nonetheless, many families will welcome the end of the restrictions. Family planning policies have had terrible consequences, including forced abortions and sterilizations and children without legal existence being cut off from public services. Before policy changes in the 2010s, parents with two children lost their jobs and faced heavy fines. But the two-child policy also ushered in a shift towards pregnancy discrimination and pressure to working mothers to quit their job. Single mothers remain the target of official discrimination. China’s new natalist ambitions will likely lead to further abortion limitations, as well as further pressures on women.
So why limit the number of children a couple can have? One of the reasons is to provide coverage for forced sterilization Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority, whose birth rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent between 2017 and 2020. Another is that China now has a huge family planning bureaucracy that supports many jobs. Party leaders may also fear that the wealthy with flaunts of large families, like the late Macau casino mogul, Stanley Ho, known for his four wives and 17 children, will arouse resentment.
Xi renames Chinese diplomacy? Some western commentators read a recent word by President Xi Jinping as a pivot away from so-called wolf warrior diplomacy – the aggressive online stance of China’s officials – towards a more accommodating model. Senior management has attempted to curb diplomatic comments that invite people to go back for a while. But Xi’s speech, largely a series of standard “public opinion struggle” clichés, does not seem to me to be a change of tone but rather a doubling to keep the world discourse on Beijing’s terms.
Any attempt to soften China’s image can be undermined by the country’s own actions, such as its recent incursion in Malaysian airspace, which elicited an unusually strong reaction from Kuala Lumpur. The purpose of the maneuver, other than asserting Beijing’s claims on the South China Sea, is unclear. Malaysia has cooled somewhat on China since the 1Scandal MDB and the 2018 elections, but the countries do not have serious military or territorial disputes. Chinese maritime incursions prompted neighbors Indonesia triple the size of its submarine fleet.
Read a tight analysis of Xi’s speech by David Bandurski to the China Media Project.
Tiananmen vigil extinct in Hong Kong. Authorities have effectively declared the commemorations of the Tiananmen Massacre in Hong Kong, which have taken place every June 4 since 1990, illegal for the second year in a row. The move is part of pandemic laws against public gatherings, but the crackdown is clearly politically motivated. The city’s June 4 Museum was also forced to close for a license inquiry.
The annual protests have long been a litmus test for maintaining Hong Kong’s freedoms, as well as a thorn in Beijing’s side. Under the draconian national security law promulgated a year ago, those days are over.
Prominent foreign journalist expelled. Peter Hessler, China’s most famous Western writer, leaves the country after his university employer refuse to renew his contract. Hessler was unusually popular among young Chinese, especially aspiring writers, and his return to the country in 2019 to take up a teaching post was national news. But Hessler’s writing over the past two years was limited, and his bigger piece for the New Yorker—On China’s handling of the coronavirus — faces critical to be apolitical.
Low number of jobs. May saw more layoffs as jobs gain in China, especially in the service sector. Despite a recovery from the initial impact of the pandemic, pervasive uncertainty still haunts the Chinese market. This mood accelerated a long-standing trend: young people Leave the private sector and towards the secure acceptance of government jobs. Although the civil service is not well paid, it comes with many benefits, as well as protections against layoffs and dismissals. frequent abuse from the private sector.
Cooling Yuan. China’s central bank tries to curb the rise of the yuan against the US dollar by cooling measures, mainly an increase in reserve requirements of 5 to 7 percent. The value of the yuan has risen 11% over the past year after hitting its lowest level in 12 years, and it is expected to continue to climb.
Beijing is wary of too strong a yuan, in part because it views the depreciation of the dollar against the yen as part of the Place agreement 1985 as having undermined the growth of Tokyo. But the rise in commodity prices in the wake of the pandemic has prompted some economists to embrace the idea.
Cheaters Never Thrive? A fascinating interview with Motherboard reveals the extent of China industry in video game cheats. Since gold Rush in World of warcraft started in 2005, China has been both a large consumer of multiplayer online games and a leading producer of cheat. In the 2000s, it was mostly Americans who paid the Chinese for these tricks, but today the Chinese domestic market has grown enough that hacks for games such as the popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds have grown into a multi-million dollar industry.
It’s also risky: Spurred in part by the influence of video game giants like Tencent, Chinese law treats the makers of cheats like hackers, and they risk heavy prison sentences.
Dandong, Liaoning: 2.5 million people
Across the Yalu River, residents of Dandong, Liaoning Province get a glimpse of a rare sight: ordinary life in North Korea. The Chinese city is just across the border from its North Korean counterpart, Sinuiju. Every day when the borders are open, buses full of curious Chinese go on a carefully guarded tour to see their poorest neighbor or take a ferry looking through binoculars at North Korean farmers.
Exchanges work both ways. North Koreans cross the border constantly and most often illegally, despite surveillance cameras and barbed wire. China regularly holds and sends the North Koreans to an uncertain fate. Some find new life in China or possibly South Korea; others are not there to defect but to exchange. A few officially licensed elite tourists come to Dandong from across the river, but some of them are actually secret police, sent to hunt down their compatriots.
A Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge connects the two cities, and the remains of its Japanese predecessor, destroyed during the Korean War, can be seen nearby. A small Korean community resides in Dandong, although the majority of China’s Korean ethnic minority live in Yanbian, another border province. This population is declining rapidly, attracted by the prospect of easy immigration to South Korea and the quiet end of Korean language teaching in China in recent years.