Tag Archives: Ella Chou

Zhu Rongji's diplomatic rants

Ella Chou has translated part of the recently published four-volume collection of materials on Zhu Rongji. Here’s a great rant, and go read some more.

ZHU: (Reminded the Americans that China made concession even before April on the agricultural sector.) You come here this time, saying U.S. is making an unprecedented compromise; China is not responding correspondingly; and you are throwing tantrums all over this. I’ll make one point: you don’t know how much concession we’ve made in agriculture. I am blamed by the people in the entire country for this, do you know that?

I reiterate that I will never back away from the concession we’ve made in agriculture, but if we cannot reach an agreement this time, we will never ever make any compromise on the agricultural front!
(On the Two 51% issue — share of foreign investment in telecommunication and insurance industries) I still think that the “two 51%” issue is not a big problem. I have said this again and again, and to Mr. Summers too, blowing an agreement for a couple of percentage is very stupid. The percentage of foreign investment in insurance companies we have approve so far is as high as 49% sometimes, and sometimes 50%, sometimes even 51%; you could check to see what difference it makes? Not at all! Even for those with 49%, it could be managed by the foreign partner. That’s why the couple of percentages don’t make any actual difference. But why are we insisting on this? Not to go back on our words, but the situation has changed. First of all, it’s because you shouldn’t bomb our Embassy in Yugoslavia… Chinese have always thought that the telecommunication and insurance industries are of vital interests [to the nation]. They think that if I agree to 51%, I’m selling out China’s interests – even though I don’t think so. From there on, a rumor is spreading in and outside of China that “Zhu Rongji is going to quit; [he] is going out of office.” That’s a complete unfounded. But the truth is I’m criticized by all sides. Such criticism comes from the people – they don’t understand the real situation. You don’t understand our  public opinion. If I’m not in China, but in the U.S., I would be out of office long ago. Now I have to stick to the “two 51%” in order not to fail the entire population. So I’m happy that you no longer insist on the “two 51%” issue, though it doesn’t have any practical impact, you indeed helped me out on this one. You could tell your insurance industry people that 51 or 50% aren’t really different. I have more friends in the American insurance industry than you do. There is not one big insurance company that I do not know; they’ve all come to me before. They’ll understand.

The internet entrepôts of China: back to the 19th century?

For centuries, and especially since the mid-19th century, entrepôts have been important sites of communication—both information and goods—between China and the outside world. Now, many of the same cities are sites of the grand digital switches that connect China to the global internet.

I’ve noted before the interesting work of TeleGeography, a firm that produces maps and other information on telecommunications infrastructure. This year, their world undersea cables map has been released as a huge JPEG image, and it shows us something about China’s communications with the outside world.

Clipped from TeleGeography. Click for their map.

Shanghai, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Shantou. And soon, Fuzhou. These are the connection points for the People’s Republic of China, and they were all treaty ports, where foreign areas of control existed and international trade grew.

The analogy to the treaty ports has been suggested by several writers. One, Han-Teng Liao, noted Aihwa Ong’s notion of variegated sovereignty and proposes the idea of “special speech zones.” These “SSZs” are cites of informational interchange. The difference is that the SSZs are not geographically bounded; rather, they reside in online spaces where relatively free speech is possible.

As Ella Chou recently noted (in her very interesting contribution on cybersecurity), China only has a few ports between China and the outside internet—nine at last report in 2008, she writes. These choke points, one speculates, could allow for a government-directed shut-down of most international online communication.

This leverage points out a key difference with the entrepôts and treaty ports of the 19th century: Back then, the foreign influence was inscribed in physical space, with exclusive areas of control and entrenched foreign populations. Sure, expatriates are numerous in many Chinese cities today, but they do not live in autonomous zones. The potential for increased control in a crisis seems clear here.

That’s all from me. But look at that map.

More on China's environment tax: a response and a repost

A few notes of follow-up on my first experiment in translation: the People’s Daily Online interview looking at the prospects for an environmental tax being included in the next Chinese 5-year plan.

  1. My friend and former classmate Ella Chou offered much more context on this discussion than I could have given off the top of my head. At her Harvard Law blog, she noted that anticipation of the eventual arrival of an environmental taxation regime are nothing new. Moreover, she pointed out that existing taxes include some environment-related elements. Finally, she gives us two important issues to look out for:

    1. Measurement of the pollutants or environmental impact, which would be the basis for the tax, requires not only competent agents of action, be it local environmental bureau or other agencies, but also strong and vibrant citizen participation. As seen from the utilization of the current Environmental Impact Assessment Law, local environmental bureaus are extremely weak (as opposed to the local enterprises), with the exception of Beijing Environmental Bureau, and so far voluntary citizen groups have been the primary agents in provoking this law to protect their living environment. To make the environmental tax system work, China has to give environmental NGOs and private citizens more space to act as a check on the industries.

    2. Revenue-neutral. In the interview Graham translated, Su Ming said the taxation would receive support among local governments because of their revenue increase. Yet it is crucial that the taxation does not increase the already immense inequality. We can all name a dozen reasons why a proposed environmental tax would affect the poor much more than the rich. But in China, because of the type of jobs those heavy industries or coal fire plants offer, it is very likely that those factories and power plants would just shift the extra tax burden onto their uneducated, short-contracted (many even without a contract) workers. So this calls for more rigorous enforcement of Labor Law and Labor Contract Law in addition to a social welfare net to ensure that the cost does not shift to the poor. Many proposals of balancing the environmental tax revenue suggest using the revenue in environmental restoration or reallocating neighborhoods around the heavy-industry factories. Either way, this should be of main concern to the policy makers.

  2. Related post at Change.org: I published a related post at Change.org about the prospects for China to take action on marketizing environmental costs soon, while the U.S. process may continue to lag.
  3. Reposted at World Policy Journal’s blog: The translation also was the first of what I hope will be many contributions to the blog at the World Policy Journal and World Policy Institute website. Thanks to the WPJ staff for their interest and assistance in re-posting, and look out for more contributions over there in the future.