april: return of the global theatre

smiling that un-American smile

Happy May holiday! We will be taking a break and will resume publications on 8 May.

The Two Sessions shored up domestic prospects in March; April then brought global and domestic drama. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s late March meetings with politicians in the US saw the PRC step up ‘war preparedness’ and the PLA display strength in the Strait. Before her Beijing trip, EU President von der Leyen placed Xi Jinping's Moscow visit under a spotlight, citing his vision of leading global change with Putin. In Beijing, Macron urged Xi to press for peace in Ukraine, winning PRC praise for his ‘Gaullist’ distance from US policy, but raising concern elsewhere.

Beijing’s hopes of renewed soft power were then put at risk by Lu Shaye 卢沙野, PRC envoy to France, who, echoing Moscow’s talking points, questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. With ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy again a buzzword, Xi’s phone call to President Zeleneskyy on 26 April closed the month on an awkward note.

With GDP growth of 4.5 percent reported in Q1, double-digit growth in consumer spending and exports took the headlines. Real estate may be turning a corner, and Beijing has felt little need to stimulate the economy just yet. Doubts persist about economic sustainability, not least given local debt overwhelming certain regions up to provincial level. 

Ukraine aside, trade was top of Beijing’s agenda at high-profile meetings with Russia, the EU, France and Brazil. Premier Li Qiang 李强 pledged more exports to advanced markets and BRI partners. Customs processes were eased at PRC ports, with exporters granted financial support; MofCOM moved to help trade fairs, 'talent' mobility, e-commerce and firms searching for new markets.

In IP protection, fewer cases were brought to court as the value of patents to GDP rose. Pre-litigation work helped, but forced mediation, and unfair outcomes remain an issue. A local court official commended the penalty regime as a deterrent, claiming the market had been reined in.

The reshuffled CNIPA (National Intellectual Property Administration) will step up its engagement in global IP rule setting and pledges to support easier PRC market access. As the IP agency sector readies for scrutiny, attention to cross-border e-commerce and patent applications involving foreign entities has increased.

‘Guiding opinions for energy work in 2023’ issued by the NEA (National Energy Administration), prioritises coal-anchored stability with further oil and gas exploration. Installed capacity of renewables may, for the first time, pass 50 percent. Not all this is operational—consumption is heading for some 18 percent. 

MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) notified red lines for ecosystem protection, designating protection for 3.15 million sq km, or at least 30 percent of China's land mass. 

Projects that cut carbon emissions are being taken seriously, with PBoC governor Yi Gang 易纲 talking up ‘carrots and sticks’ in green financing. Standards for blue carbon have yet to align fully with global best practice. Guangdong meanwhile published a scale for estimating mangrove carbon sinks. 

Inspecting advanced manufacturing and tech firms in his first month in office, Premier Li Qiang warmly encouraged private sector scitech innovation. CCDRC (Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission) underscored this message in its first meeting under the new Xi administration.

Draft measures to regulate generative AI have emerged from CAC (Cyber Administration of China), in line with legal compliance rules. Providers are held accountable for content; security assessment must be completed before any apps go public. 

In the 'platform economy', monopolies and the digital economy came under scrutiny, with new SAMR (State Administration for Market Regulation) rules effective 15 April. Alibaba Group restructured into six units under a holding company. The market reacted well, sparking debate on the prospects of other tech firms following suit. 

A hopeful ag outlook foresees steady growth in grain output over the coming decade. Soybean production will surpass 30 million tonnes per year, boosting self-sufficiency. Renewed direct payments for growing staples and oilseed come with a C¥10 bn price tag. A three-year plan kicked off to diversify animal feed with new proteins and grasses. 

Higher ed appears in for a big shake-up. By 2025, one in five university majors will be redesigned in the national interest and to keep up with industry trends. A joint-ministerial plan urged more STEM curricula, needed for strategic ‘self-reliance’. Majors such as future robotics and biomedical engineering are typical of new programs that will proliferate.

Overseas universities and vocational colleges in Hainan Free Trade Zone, including those from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, will be allowed to run campuses independently of a local partner. Hainan has pledged to become an international education hub under the province’s 14th 5-year plan.

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