Chinese Government Policy is Not Top-Down

I highly recommend China watchers read this paper by political scientist Lee Jones and Zeng Jinhan. It provides a great look into how Chinese policy is implemented:

Foreign-policy steering happens through several important mechanisms. The first is top leaders’ major speeches, which are usually kept vague to accommodate diverse interests and agendas. Rather than ‘carefully-worked out grand strategies’, they are typically ‘platitudes, slogans, catchphrases, and generalities’, offering ‘atmospheric guidance’ that others must then interpret and implement. Examples include: Deng’s tao guang yang hui, whose meaning is ‘debateable’; Hu’s ‘harmonious world’ – ‘more of a narrative than a grand strategy’; and Xi’s ‘new type of great power relations.’ As discussed below, Xi’s vague 2013 remarks on the ‘silk road economic belt’ (SREB) and ‘maritime silk road’ (MSR) exemplify this tendency. [2]

Xi Jinping thought and Xi Jinping thought-study for communist cadre revolves around applying platitudes to local practice, matching national talking points to local policy initiatives. \Xi Jinping’s Speeches are completely devoid of any significant meaning, but local governments go to great lengths to mirror Xi’s  lexicon. Take the Belt and Road initiative for example.

Xi Book

Disturbing quote from Mark Zuckerberg

The Belt and Road initiative is not driven by Beijing. Provincial governments and local governments have been tasked to create their own BRI projects.

From Lee and Zeng:

In 2013, Guangxi and affiliated business interests agreed  with  Malaysia’s Pahang state  government  to  upgrade  Kuantan  port,  including  by  developing a cross-country railway, road links and a US$3.4 billion industrial park. Guangxi subsequently leveraged  BRI  to  expand  its  involvement.  However,  in  September  2015, Guangdong province  signed  a  rival  agreement  with  Malaysia’s  Malacca  state,  including  a  US$4.6 billion industrial park and a US$10 billion port upgrade.

There is little economic rationale for developing two world-class ports on the Malay Peninsula. These projects reflect not a coherent master plan but  rather competitive, sub-national  dynamics in both countries.  Moreover, these micro-level dynamics clearly do not–indeed, cannot–add up to a coherent, macro-level network of infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, statistical analysis reveals no correlation between Vision and Actions [the official policy document guiding the BRI] six ‘corridors’ and projects on the ground, suggesting that the plan is failing even to guide investment activity in a broad sense.

Foreign policy has an excellent article which, among other things, quotes how the World Bank lauded Turkey’s Marmaray rail tunnel as an example of BRI investment, ” even though it is funded by a Turkey-EU-Japan consortium and appears to have no Chinese involvement.” BRI is less of a national strategy and more of an expansion of a specific part of China’s domestic political economy: local governments borrowing endlessly to fund infrastructure projects.

The thing is, local provinces are agile in aligning to federal programs to push their own initiatives. Again citing Lee and Zeng:

Only 14 provinces were invited to the NDRC’s initial OBOR symposium in December 2013, indicating a relatively tight circle of beneficiaries. Excluded provinces, however, quickly lobbied for inclusion, through  forums  like the NPC. Provincial  universities  and  think  tanks  were  encouraged to demonstrate locales’ historical links to the ancient silk road – generating the aforementioned publications boom. Local media were also enlisted, leading to a profusion of stories mentioning OBOR, from 543 in 2014 to 5935 in 2015, with coverage in virtually every provincial outlet. For example, Shaanxi and Henan provinces waged an intense public battle over which of them contained the start of the historical silk road Competition over the MSR’s ‘starting point’ was even fiercer, with rival claims from Fujian, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Guangxi. Provinces with weaker claims invented ‘starting points’ linked to geographical locations or commodities, like porcelain or tea, then even squabbled over these. Shandong and Hebei, for example, both claimed that their cities, Qingdao and Huanghua, were the ‘northern starting point.’

China is built from the bottom up, from province to federal government. Local media, local SOEs, and local projects are cooked to align to federal buzzwords. Even SOE structure is province-up. Look at CRRC’s subsidiaries pictured below.

CRRC subsidiaries

CRRC is an active holding company comprised of many local companies. These local companies are unique in leadership, future plans, and corporate action. They shape the national SOE, CRRC.

In April of 2015, Xi Jinping declared that China will have a ‘toilet revolution’ (厕所革命). Much of the commentary and media coverage have struck a bemused tone and offered little analysis. China’s toilet revolution is a prism through which to examine how the central government takes account of popular opinion, how bureaucratic interests are championed by China’s top leaders, and how agencies can effectively implement national policy campaigns. The architect of China’s toilet revolution is Li Jinzao, former head of the National Tourism Agency. From 1998 to 2002 he served as mayor of Guilin, where he launched a local ‘toilet revolution’ to increase tourism. In 2000, his city built more than 849 new ‘tourism toilets.’

This is serious business. As head of the NTA in 2014, he designated April 1st as China Toilet Revolution Advancement Day and instituted an annual National Toilet Revolution Meeting on the first workday after the Spring Festival holiday. After catching the eye of Xi, the program went viral.

According to state media, between 2015 and 2017 the NTA was able to get the Ministry of Finance to allocate almost 1.8 billion yuan ($264 million) to subsidize toilet construction, funding which helped spur localities to invest a further 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) of their own budgets into toilets over the same period. In November 2017, the NTA declared that 68,000 toilets had already been constructed or upgraded, exceeding its original target by nearly 20%. Consequently, the NTA announced a “New Three-Year Action Plan” that raised its original target of 57,000 to 64,000 new or upgraded toilets by 2020.

The take away here is that localities were quick to jump on a national project with serious merit and invested more than ten times what the ministry of finance allocated.

20180612_141212

My photo taken at Tsinghua University. 向前一小步, 文明一大步 (advance one small step, culture/society advances one big step). It is a sign near a urinal telling men to urinate cleanly for the “rejuvenation of the nation.”Really: link

Chinese grand-strategy, from One Belt One Road and SOE structure to the massive amount of money spent on the toilet revolution, is almost always a post-hoc narrative that provinces use to justify their idiosyncratic tendencies and desires. Xi and China aren’t as centralized as commonly thought of.

Certainties From Tsinghua: $3 Lunch and Evidence Donald Trump Won’t Secure a Meaningful Trade Deal with China.

When I was a student at Tsinghua, I remember constantly complaining about the cafeteria food. In general, I struggled getting the amount of protein I needed, and a  lot of the food was oily. Picking which vegetables to eat was always difficult, because so many of them seemed to just soak in salty, oily brine.

20180315_114316

Campus has a number of cafeterias; this one was my favorite. Each floor has perhaps 10 stalls, and each stall on a floor is loosely affiliated with one style/region of food. This cafeteria was my favorite because the fourth floor is devoted to Sichuan cuisine.

20180314_124331

热饮冷饮 – Hot Beverages and Cold Beverages 西式面- Western Style Bread

Although I consistently fretted over protein and oily vegetables, the food was good and -perhaps most importantly- cheap. Here are examples of what I ate:

 

I spent an average of RMB 20 per meal (something akin to $3).  I’m certain that this is the best cafeteria food that one can buy for $3.

Tsinghua also taught me another certainty: Donald Trump is set for failure regarding the coming trade deal with China. Let me show you:

20180226_131858

Consumption-led growth. The decisive role of the market. Tsinghua has an amazing library. I was floored that there were so many books in foreign languages (the English selection is enormous).  I was also floored to see that many Chinese think-tank publications on economic reform were translated into English. I devoured them, nodding my head in agreement and proud at the tough policy recommendations they made: transfer state wealth to Chinese people in order to have a balanced economy.

The Chinese economic model is built upon transferring wealth from households, consumers, and savers to corporations, producers, and investors. This is best seen in China’s comically low household consumption rate.

consumption-china

As China’s economic model has progressed, Chinese households have enjoyed an increasingly small share of the nation’s wealth. Corporations, both ‘private’ and state-owned, have enjoyed an increasingly large share of the nation’s wealth (as has the richest in China). This ‘problem’ has been on the Chinese government’s radar since at least 2007.

In 2007 Premier Wen Jiabo cautioned, “”the biggest problem with China’s economy is that the growth is unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” This prompted IMF economists to write, in 2007, about strategies to have consumers share a larger percentage of national wealth.

However, economic reform wasn’t planned until Chairman Xi Jinping took over in 2013. Economic reform plans were immediately organized:

1.) The market had been defined as a “basic” role in allocating resources since the country decided to build a socialist market economy in 1992. In 2013, The Communist Party of China defined the market’s role as “decisive” in allocating resources. This importance cannot be underestimated.

20170929_190715

It is common for state-owned enterprises to have pictures to pay homage to Chairman Xi in their lobby (Forgive the poor quality).

2.) On November 12, 2013 in the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, Chairman Xi said the following regarding China’s economic reform:

The key to establishing a sound socialist market economy lies in striking proper balance between the role of the government and that of the market, so that the market can play a decisive role in allocating resources and the government can play its own role more effectively… Letting the market play a decisive role in allocating resources will mainly require economic reforms, but it will also inevitable affect politics, culture, society, ecological progress, and Party building.

3.) On April 8, 2013 at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, Chairman Xi said the following regarding China’s economic reform:

We will continue to enhance the rule of law and actively improve our investment environment so that all enterprises can enjoy equal access to the factors of production, market competition, legal protection. The Chinese market can become fairer and even more attractive… China will never close it’s door to the outside world… We will open up new areas and enable deeper access… We firmly oppose protectionism in any form, and we are willing and ready to solve economic and trade differences with other countries through consultation.

4.) On May 26th, 2014 at the 15th Group Study Session of the Political Bureau of the 18th CPC Centeral Committee, Chairman Xi said the following regarding China’s economic reform:

We should reduce the government’s involvement in resource allocation and its direct interference in microeconomic activities. We should step up efforts to develop a uniform market system characterized by openness and orderly competition, and set fair, open, and transparent market rules.

Xi in Davos

5.) In 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Chairman Xi said the following regarding ‘free trade:’

Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from. Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries, and people between economies, and channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks, is simply not possible.

20180226_131858

These books which I vociferously read at Tsinghua are remnants, relics of this forgone economic reform. Chairman Xi’s economic reforms, as I have been writing about for the past two years, have been complete failure. China is backtracking on reform, encouraging state-backed growth, reducing competition, and exacerbating the economic slowdown already underway. According to Ruchir Sharma at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, it now takes $3 of debt to create a dollar of growth in China. In the face of economic reform failure, China is pumping debt into large state-backed corporates while the private sector is squeezed out.

A Chinese dictator tried to force reform. That reform failed.

Ddbc3laVAAAnjX4

The United States is seeking the following changes in the Chinese economy: trade deficit reduction, IP protection, cease market distorting subsidies, end of cyber intrusions, and end technology transfer.

The idea that the United States would be able to force large, structural reform in China when a Chinese dictator could not is absolutely ridiculous. The idea that Beijing is unable to move on the US requests, most made 9 months or even years ago (IP Protection), and that another 60 days will be enough time for them, seems somehow more ridiculous.  The hubris of the United States position is overwhelming. The Xi speeches, the policy reports from think tanks, these are fossils of failure that the United States should heed.

tweet 1

CNBC is also reporting that President Donald Trump said he will be discussing the criminal charges against Huawei with US attorneys and attorney general in the coming weeks. Is the United States judiciary no longer independent? If the United States accepts a trade deal that backs Chinese purchases of US goods to reduce the trade deficit, America is run by a spineless swamp with no sense of the lack of economic freedoms that put the US in this position to begin with.

The White House would do well to look at Chinese economic planning relics from 2013 or read Chairman Xi’s speeches.

Thanks for reading.

 

China, Bicycles, and Culture

I love Macro Polo. I read it regularly and urge anyone with a passing interest in China to give it a browse. I also love Macro Polo’s most recent post  about bikes in China. The love I have for the post is deep, because in the recesses of my heart exists a counterweight of hate for bicycles in Beijing. The almost romantic whirl of millions of wheel spokes captures many visitor’s hearts. The cursing of average commuters funneled into artificially narrow sidewalks induces PTSD for others.

I loved my bike in China. I loved that the back brakes didn’t work. I loved joining a throng of pedestrians and motorists with one governing rule: there are no rules. The secret to appreciating a foreign culture is to live as they do: eat their food, speak their language, and hurl concise insults at motorists you play chicken with.  My bike wasn’t just a way to drastically shorten my commute (leave it locked near your subway exit of choice), it was a quintessential manifestation of modern China, good and bad.

I have roughly 4,000 pictures of my time in Asia. One of the first folders I created is simply titled ‘bikes.’  These are my favorites.

Shared bikes in Beijing’s CBD clog sidewalks. Rush hour pedestrian traffic is greatly constrained due to this.

Users can pay more for ‘cooler’ bikes. Note the width of the tires in the second photo.

20170805_081759

Bikes can be found everywhere due to an army of shirtless men that deposit bikes (bikes are equipped with GPS) in high traffic areas.

Bikes can be found in crosswalks. Note the couple struggling to make their way across.

20180329_144641

Bikes can be found in rivers.

20170501_134746

Bikes can be found in piles.

20180626_143151

Most importantly, bikes can be found clogging sidewalks.

20180307_122327

There are many types of bikes. Pictured above are university bikes (清华大学).

20170328_205736

Bikes pulled by dogs.

Unwanted Bikes

20180223_074618

Really unwanted bikes.

In France in the 1880s, the cheapest model of bicycle listed in catalogs and sales brochures cost the equivalent of six months of the average worker’s wage. And this was a relatively rudimentary bicycle, “which had wheels covered with just a strip of solid rubber and only one brake that pressed directly against the front rim.” Technological progress made it possible to reduce the price to one month’s wage by 1910. Progress continued, and by the 1960s one could buy a quality bicycle inFrance for less than a week’s average wage. One can use bikes in France to see how purchasing power rose by a factor of 40 between 1890 and 1970.  Transportation, whether by Toyota or trike, matters.

20180416_133739

Thanks for reading.