Today’s China Readings May 25, 2012

Bloomberg tells us of another sign of economic troubles in China Banks May Miss Loan Target for 2012, Officials Say, the Wall Street Journal tells us how Economists React to China Flash Manufacturing Gauge Declining Again, Reuters reports that China’s top aluminium province idles plants as demand slows, David Pilling writes in the Financial Times that in spite of the negative economic trends The wobbly panda won’t fall yet, and this morning Bloomberg reports that China’s Top Fund Manager Sees Stock Gains on Pro-Growth Policy.

Did the sharp deceleration of the economy in April surprise Chinese policymakers, or did the turmoil around the Bo Xilai case delay a policy response by a month or more?

Turning to a micro-perspective, yesterday I accompanied a friend who wants to buy an apartment in a luxury development near Sanlitun on the east side of Beijing. We went at the recommendation of another friend who had recently bought there. It is a nice place, average price is 66,000 RMB/m before discounts (up to 15% if you pay cash; before the real estate restrictions kicked in the original price was set near 100.000 RMB/m) and units are selling, albeit much more slowly than if there were no government restrictions. The tier 1 Hong Kong developer is keeping many of the best units off the market in anticipation of eventual policy changes but decided to sell some to generate some cash flow from the project.

The excursion was another reminder that there is still huge demand for real estate in Beijing and that the government is intentionally suppressing both prices and transaction volumes. I think the fact that the real estate slowdown has been BY DESIGN occasionally gets lost in some of the more animated ursine commentary, though of course China may be overshooting on the downside. Trying to manipulate economic activity is not easy…

To help stimulate the economy China may be launching its hardest private-sector push in decade. At the same time, Xinhua reports that the Communist party is expanding its presence in thriving private sector, an expansion important enough to be one of the top stories on page 1 of today’s People’s Daily–中共中央办公厅印发《关于加强和改进 非公有制企业党的建设工作的意见(试行)》

CCTV and soft power are in the news again. The Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at CCTV’s overseas expansion in Sino the times: Can China’s billions buy media credibility? and China Media Project discusses some of the ideological issues blunting China’s soft power efforts in the excellent Rigid thinking beggars China’s “soft power”, In 2010′s Can China Successfully Build Soft Power Without A Global Internet Strategy? I argued that the concerns about China’s overseas expansion into old media were misplaced and that under the current Internet regulatory regime China was likely to fail in its soft power push:

China is leveraging the media channels and distribution mechanisms it understands, and hiring, no doubt at great expense, western old media hands as consultants. But as Google and Facebook and its 500m users have shown, the future influencers globally are increasingly online…none of the top Chinese Internet firms-Baidu, Tencent, Sina, Sohu, Shanda, Netease-have either the DNA or the credibility to succeed materially in major overseas markets…when it comes to the Internet, the reality is that China has a poor image and a weak product offering for most global netizens.

Given the recent news about Confucius Institutes, this 2010 Daily Show segment is worth watching again China’s Soft Power Meets The Daily Show And Stupidity In California.

Further to yesterday’s discussion of Chinese views towards Jews I recommend Jon Ansfield’s 2006 piece Arab, Jew and Chinese:

Speaking before a crowd of 100 at my nuptials a few years ago, my father-in-law, who’s Chinese, could not contain his pride in my heritage. “Jonathan, as you all know, is a Jew,” he kvelled. “And Einstein was a Jew,” he added. “And Oppenheimer was a Jew,” he went on. “And my wife and I, as Communist Party members, also have a Jewish ancestor – Marx!”

We all know China’s environmental challenges are monumental and today there are a few interesting reminders. The Asia Society has released a new documentary short film on Northern China’s Huge Water Crisis, Bloomberg tells us that China Projects Skirt Around Price Floor, Avoid CO2 Supply Cuts and thanks to Greenpeace we can read about the Good, bad and the ugly: Chinese cities ranked by air quality.

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