Resources for Mapping China’s Participation and Contribution in Asian Regional Cooperation

Part II

Mapping Academic Scholarship on Regionalism

by Aya Adachi

For studying China’s behavioural pattern in regionalism it is useful to draw lessons from general work on comparative regionalism as well as scholarship on Asian specific regionalism. It not only allows us to place China’s regional politics into the wider academic debate but also to make statements with regards to distinct features of Chinese regionalism.

Comparative regionalism deals with issues such as, defining regions, regionalism, regionalisation and regional integration. As regions and their level of regionness (Hettne & Söderbaum 2000) are diverse, definition have been rather loose in order to accommodate flexibility when defining regions in a comparative context. While early scholarship has been narrowly centered around the EU and the European experience, scholars have since put efforts in trying to amend the bias. The scholars around the so-called new regionalism scholarship and other more recent work have re-conceptualised ontological perspectives and established a more or less consensus view on the following (Acharya 2012):

  1. Regionalism is no longer centred around the state but also includes interactions among non-state between states and within a given area.
  2. Regionalism in no longer defined in terms of formal intergovernmental organisations with a charter and its own bureaucracy
  3. Regionalization is understood different from regionalism: the former being market-driven and less political – alas not entirely apolitical.
  4. Regions are not a geographic given, but are socially constructed, made and remade through interactions.

Comparative regionalism as a discipline to actually compare one region to another suffers from difficulties of obtaining comparable data sets or establishing a research method that is applicable in all regions. Comparative regionalism has been criticized for thus far only having delivered regionally specific empirical generalizations, in which hypothesis were verified but relationship to other variables were not specified. Nevertheless, it is important to refer to the comparative regionalism scholarship to establish the link between area-specific or region-specific scholarship and academic work across all regions and to avoiding parochialism within your own academic discipline (e.g. China Studies, or East Asian Area Studies).




East Asian Regionalism
has proliferated since the 1990s. What has emerged is a complex structure of various different competing and overlapping initiatives and constellations (ASEAN, ASEAN + 3/+6, ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia Pacific Forum, East Asian Summit, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, amongst others). East Asian Regionalism has been studied by numerous scholars. Much work has been dedicated to exploring external aspect of effects of globalization on regionalism (Beeson 2014/2007; Dent 2016/2008) or on Sino-Japanese rivalry and its impact on regional economic order (Park 2013; Rathus 2011; Solis, Stallings & Katada 2009). However, scholarship on East Asian Regionalism has been rather state-centered and has shied away from taking on the research agenda of new regionalism by avoiding to include non-state actors and the analytical level of domestic politics. This can be attributed to the fact that many scholars are critical of the differentiability of state and non-state in East Asia (Fawn 2009) and no attempts have been made to dissolve the binary distinction between state and non-state to include other analytical levels.

With regards to how China
positions itself regionally, it is uncertain whether China has a clear singular stance or strategy towards regionalism. With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being a global project, it could be argued that China does not have a strategy towards regionalism, but rather relies on various regional frameworks as a means to an end. Nevertheless, China is engaging in multiple regional cooperation projects in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and in the Asia Pacific.


Moving beyond power and tightened control

by Straton Papagianneas

Two months after the Two Sessions in March, it might be interesting to revisit two key developments: the first one being the massive government restructuring and the second being the constitutional status given to the National Supervision Commission. Together, they are a manifestation of increased and tighter control over the entire government structure. The former’s aim is to make the Chinese government better structured, more efficient and service-oriented. The changes are immense; it is safe to say that governance will actually become more inefficient before it gets better as local departments get used to the new structure. The latter’s aim is to expand anti-corruption jurisdiction beyond party officials. In this sense, one could speak of a significant erosion between party and state.

However, it is quite simplistic to argue that the CPC has taken over everything. It is not so much about the CPC taking over government – it has always been in charge. When discussing initiatives like the government restructuring or the NSC it is important to move beyond political infighting or power grabs. The question should rather be: how and why do moves like this fit into the larger vision that Xi has spelled out for the country? This feature argues that it is much more about ensuring that policy objectives are achieved, and top-down instructions streamlined.

A major reason for China’s economic success in the last forty years is that local governments enjoyed great freedom how to implement central directives. The CPC stepping away from day-to-day management provided space and opportunity for adapting actual implementation to local circumstances as well as experimentation. There was room for improvisation and diversity at a local level. As long as growth was achieved, all was well. The separation of party and government allowed central authorities to divert policy blunders onto the government: the party was not entirely responsible and could easily blame local government actors mismanaging central directives. Diversified responsibilities and various grey zones provided a buffer to the party’s accountability. Central authorities could even enhance legitimacy by swooping in, punishing those responsible, and restoring order and justice. As long as the country generally moved into the overall direction the party had decided, all was well.

However, the situation has become much more complex in the past decades. Now, local cadres and officials are also evaluated on how well they follow new central policy directives concerning environmental protection, poverty relief, sustainable economic growth, and a whole laundry list of other considerations. On top of that, Xi Jinping’s goals of eliminating poverty by 2020, becoming technologically independent by 2025 (Made in China 2025), achieving middle-income status by 2030, and finally achieving the Great Chinese Rejuvenation by 2050, loom over every single official. It is quite clear why the CPC is anxious to ensure everything happens in good order. Kerry Brown writes: “any disobedience, however small, however seemingly insignificant, is treason to this great effort. … So, no matter what, every effort is being made to make sure that such aberrant events don’t occur.”

Then there is the NSC. Initially, it was argued that it would give Xi’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign, which started when he took office in 2012, more legal backing. Nonetheless, following Jeremy Daum’s analysis, it makes more sense to argue that this integrates and codifies the more questionable party practices into the government system. More importantly, it widely expands the scope of supervision. It essentially forms a new type of governmental organ for auditing all officials’ use of their offices and authority. It will have the jurisdiction to supervise all persons holding public offices and exercising public powers, called “public power holders”. This includes employees and management of enterprises, universities, hospitals, and media. The scope is immense, ranging from the classical bribery and fraud crimes to causing accidents due to negligence. Simply put, it not only expands and strengthens the scope of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, but also general supervision and control.

Still, combatting corruption has always been an exclusive party-affair. Here, the party’s control was always firm. CPC officials cannot be arrested by civilian law enforcement or other outside agencies for criminal offences. Only the CCDI had the right to investigate officials and detain them when it decides they have a case. However, for any official it wanted to investigate, the commission first had to get clearance by the party body one level up in the hierarchy. This process meant that the commission was dogged by politics and political struggle. This is unlikely to change with the NSC.

So why does the party insist on going even further and enhancing control over lesser public servants? The answer lies in the CPC’s insistence on controlling anti-corruption efforts. More specifically, the legitimacy issue that is connected to it. China’s long dynastic history is full of stories of corrupt officials who caused the fall of the dynasty. Wide-spread corruption among the imperial bureaucracy was as a prominent sign of a dying dynasty. Corruption is seen as a failure of the emperor’s legitimacy. Xi understands this and has warned numerous times that corruption would inevitably doom the party and the state.

This narrative is heavily ingrained in collective public consciousness. This inevitably threatens the political legitimacy of the ruling order. However, the CPC managed to revise this narrative. In the 1990s, Chinese leaders and official media rewrote the story of corruption so that it was not a sign of the ruler’s immorality but a threat to economic growth. Corruption became a faceless enemy of the people and the party battled corruption on behalf of its subjects to bring them economic opportunities and social stability. In this new narrative, the role of the party was no longer that of ideological or moral leadership, but of economic management. This made the party’s legitimacy dependent on excelling in the latter, rather than upholding the former.

This suggests that the party monopolises the fight against corruption as a way to enhance public faith in the party. It reaffirms its legitimacy as the only power that is strong and stable enough to provide continued economic welfare and social stability. This was exactly one of Xi’s aims during his first term: to reassert faith in the party and more specifically in his own leadership. His slow accumulation of power and control over the past five years was necessary to achieve this.

This is exactly the reason for Xi’s obsession with control: because it perceives the party’s and its own legitimacy as constantly under threat. Xi has given himself and the party extra time, but legitimacy constantly needs reaffirmation and renewal. With 2021, the party’s centenary anniversary, and the other goals closeby, failure is not an option. Achieving these goals will cement the CPC’s legitimacy at least beyond 2050. Xi Jinping is wholeheartedly convinced that only under the unified leadership of the party with him at its core, it can achieve China’s Great Rejuvenation. This has created a lot of pressure – it is absolutely imperative to achieve this.

However, there are abundant challenges. And when one is so obsessed with achieving these goals, then everything becomes a threat. These challenges could not only slow down progress, but also threaten the party’s legitimacy. There are no excuses: everything rests on the party and the achievements of its goals. Yet success is all but guaranteed. This explains current developments: Xi sees them as necessary to stay on the course he and the party have set out for the Chinese nation.

References and further reading

Quade, Elizabeth, “The Logic of Anticorruption Enforcement Campaigns in Contemporary China”, Journal of Contemporary China 16, Issue 50 (2007): 65-77

Gong, Ting, The Politics of Corruption in Contemporary China: An Analysis of Policy Outcomes, Wesport: Praeger, 1994.

Hsu, Carolyn L., “Political Narratives and the Production of Legitimacy: The Case of Corruption in Post-Mao China”, Qualitative Sociology 24, Issue 1 (2001): 25-54.

McGregor, Richard, The Party: The secret world of China’s Communist Rulers, London / New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Minzer, Carl, End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Resources for Mapping China’s Participation and Contribution in Asian Regional Cooperation

by Aya Adachi

Part I
Resources for Empirical Data

The People’s Republic of China shares borders with 14 states (excluding Hongkong and Macau). As China is one of the largest country in the world and second largest in Asia, its regional association is ambiguous and political. It can be rather challenging to geographically place China within a single “region”, understood as not geographically given, but socially constructed, made and remade through interactions.[1] While the coastal areas can be unambiguously regarded as “East Asian”, the relative and cultural proximity of China’s western (Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia) and southern (Yunnan, Guangxi) parts to Central and Southeast Asia are close. It is therefore interesting to map how China positions itself regionally.

Particularly for those interested in studying the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it can be useful to use resources from other regional projects and their associated research institutions along with independent regional research institutions. A number of projects (e.g. infrastructure plans) have been initiated before the BRI has been announced and have since been incorporated into the BRI. It can therefore be valuable and more accurate to include regional cooperation that are spatially smaller in scope and have existed longer into studies of the BRI. Not only is reliable data on the BRI scarce, but it is also very challenging or nearly impossible to find data from a single source for the BRI as a whole – since the full geographic reach of the project remains open and vague. Furthermore, providing data on the BRI as a whole is complicated by the fact that it relies on independent and standardized reporting and collection of data from the associated countries. Needless to say, although these resources can be very useful for BRI cross-country-comparison analysis, they should also be used with caution as the methods of data collection may differ widely.

The following kinds of resources will be listed below:

  • regional organizations or cooperation frameworks
  • research institutions,
  • media outlets with a regional focus

Regional Organizations or Regional Cooperation Frameworks[2]

Official documents, reports, publications, information on ongoing and previous projects

Research Organizations with a Regional Focus

Asian Development Bank (ADB)
Asian Development Bank is a regional development bank established in 1966 to promote social and economic development in Asia. Regional Cooperation and Integration was promoted from the early beginning but efforts were dramatically increased since the 1990s with an official ADB Regional Cooperation Policy constituting one of the main focus areas. The annual Asian Economic Integration Report published by the ADB, is one of the most comprehensive publications on the economic development of the region. The Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) publishes books, working papers, policy briefs that are helpful for the study of East Asian Regionalism.

Asian Regional Integration Center (ARIC)
ARIC was initially founded following the Asian financial crisis as a technical assistance of the ADB to monitor recover and vulnerabilities as well as policy recommendations. ARIC keeps track of all news and publications related to regional integration and cooperation on its website. ARIC’s comprehensive database includes features, such as general economic and financial indicators of the region, daily market watch, integration indicators, as well as an overview of all bilateral and plurilateral FTAs that include at least one of ADB’s 48 regional members as signatory.

Economic Research Intitute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA)
An international organization established among 16 governments at the East Asia Summit in 2007, ERIA works closely with the ASEAN Secretariat, researchers and research institutes from East Asia to contribute to allocate analytical research and policy recommendations. In addition, ERIA’s activities are aimed at capacity building in strengthening policy research capacities of less developed countries. Publications by ERIA include various formats, such as books, discussion papers, policy briefs. ERIA, together with UNCTAD, tracks all updates in matters of non-tariff measures to foster transparency in economic integration.

Economic Research Institute for Northeast Asia (ERINA)
ERINA is a Japanese institution that conducts research, collects and disseminates information on Northeast Asian economies. Its aim is to contribute to the formulation and development of the integrated Northeast Asia Economic Subregion, and to the advancement of an international society through this research.

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof Ishak Institute
A research institute based in Singapore aimed at “the study of socio-political, security, and economic trends and developments in Southeast Asia and its wider geostrategic and economic environment. ISEAS offers a wide range of different publication formats, such as journal articles, ISEAS Perspective papers, and multiple working paper series.

Mekong Institute
Mekong Institute (MI) is an intergovernmental organization founded by the six member countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), to support implement and facilitate integrated human resource development (HRD), capacity building programs and development projects related to regional cooperation and integration. As an intergovernmental organization it is managed by GMS national and international staff and supported by international academics and subject-matter experts and consultants. MI provides databases and publications on specific thematic issues concerning the Greater Mekong region.

Reconnecting Asia
Reconnecting Asia is particularly interesting for those who are looking for an overview of BRI infrastructure projects. Reconnecting Asia is an initiative by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) and maps new linkages – roads, railways, and other infrastructure – that are reshaping economic and geopolitical developments across Eurasia. The project aims to fill Asia’s infrastructure-information gap, by carefully curating all relevant data. In addition to the highly developed visualization tool that maps all planned and implemented projects Reconnecting Asia also provides analysis on recent trends. One of the most interesting analysis are the mappings of competing geoeconomic visions (including ASEAN, China, EU, India, Iran, Japan, Russia).

United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS)
UNU-CRIS, based in Bruges, serves as a think tank for the UN, with particular links to the UN bodies dealing with regional integration. It works in partnership with institutes and initiatives throughout the world that are concerned with issues of integration and cooperation.

 Media outlets with a regional focus

The Diplomat
The Diplomat provides analysis and commentary on events occurring in Asia. Its expert coverage includes topics such as, geo-political trends throughout the Asia Pacific, defence and intelligence, as well as environment, human security and development. Categories are regionally divided into Central, East, South and Southeast Asia as well as Oceania. In addition, The Diplomat also has sub-categories that put a special emphasis on reporting on the ASEAN (called ASEAN Beat) and on the New Silk Road (Crossroads Asia).

East Asia Forum
A platform for analysis and research the East Asia Forum covers politics, economics, business, law, security, international relations and society relevant to public policy, centred on the Asia Pacific region. It consists of an online publication and a quarterly magazine, East Asia Forum Quarterly, which aim to provide clear and original analysis from the leading minds in the region and beyond.

Part II of Mapping China’s Participation and Contribution in Asian Regional Cooperation will recommend academic readings – books and journal articles dedicated to comparative regionalism as well as East Asia and China-specific regionalism.

[1] For a literature recommendation on definition of region, regionalisation and regionalism see part 2, resources of academic scholarship on regionalism.

[2] Only included are those in which China is an official member.

Call for Papers 2018

China’s Domestic Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping – an Assessment of the First Five Years

Xi Jinping is supposedly the strongest Chinese President since Mao Zedong; a charismatic leader whose hype is underpinned by his far-reaching institutional reforms in fields such diverse as anti-corruption, economy or thought work; a power seeker who has more institutional backing than any other president in recent history with a vision of a Chinese Dream that has enraptured Chinese politics and society. Xi addressed grievances present in society and party such as the wide-spread use of corruption and exclusive economic development. Internationally, he pushed for the further use of the “Theory of Peaceful Development”; a paradigm of thought that is free of hegemonism and power politics and instead prioritizes win-win cooperation, mutual benefit and a multipolar world order more inclusive to non-Western voices.

Yet Xi’s undeniable strong record remains contested at the same time. Social control has become stronger than Chinese of younger generations remember it to have ever been. Domestic NGO work has become all but impossible in some areas; the work of human rights lawyers or labor activists has not been as troublesome in decades. A more outspoken media and civic freedoms are once again in retreat and under threat. The internet is increasingly censored and under supervision. National security is now tied inextricably to ideology and culture. Under Xi, China made negative headlines with its treatment of Liu Xiaobo or a number of kidnappings of people speaking inconvenient truths or acting outside of party line – for example (among others) Gui Minhai and Xiao Jianhua. New party cells are being set-up at foreign universities world-wide; Chinese foreign media is firmly established in different countries all over the world. The Chinese and international academic community is feeling an attempt to influence academic discourse.

Domestically, institutional reforms have shaken up long-held truths of the foreign scholarly community. Term limits for the president have been abolished, decision-making processes have been centralized and the anti-corruption campaign has been institutionalized. The huji (hukou) system has seen its biggest reform in years as have property rights. State organizations have seen a decrease in power relative to party organs. China, somewhat paradoxically, managed to both strengthen autocratic and meritocratic institutional structures in the past years. Yet, China has also not appeared to be teetering this close to the edge between evolutionary or revolutionary change.

The Mapping China Journal No. 2 in 2018 on “China’s Domestic Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping – an Assessment of the First Five Years” therefore invites research papers with a length of 6000 to 8000 words and essays with length between 1500 to 3000 words. All contributions should focus on new developments and challenges of the Xi Jinping era from 2013 onwards. Papers should address institutional or personnel changes, far-reaching reform policies or civil society perspectives on latest developments in Greater China. Papers discussing Xi Jinping themselves are also welcome. Domestic perspectives on China’s foreign policy changes or developments can also be featured. Topics could include but are not limited to:

  • New forms of civic governance (e.g. social credit system, digitalization)
  • Anti-Corruption Campaign
  • Internal and external propaganda work
  • Institutional changes (e.g. term limits, central-local divide, centralization of decision-making processes, new party organs)
  • Developments in the domestic NGO sector / citizens’ rights including LGBTQ* censorships/ gender equality (e.g. #metoo)
  • Changes in domestic values and norms (e.g. rise of nationalism, “theory of peaceful development”, China Dream, the two centenary goals)
  • Questions of legitimacy of an increasingly strong party
  • Developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan in response to growing influencing of domestic politics by the mainland

This Call for Papers is explicitly aimed at those Bachelor and Master students (and all interested PhD students in their early stages of their dissertation) with an interdisciplinary background in Area Studies, Political and Social Science or in International Relations who have been working on or want to work on China and who are looking to publish their first research for a wider audience. Exceptional essays and research papers will be published in the second edition of the Mapping China Journal which will be published in November 2018. Papers in both English and German will be accepted.

Interested authors are invited to submit a proposal in English or German (one page or 500 words) of their paper to the organizers at Mapping China ( until 15 May 2018. Proposals can also be submitted via The peer review process of the Mapping China Journal requires at least two rounds of revisions done by the authors. For further information, authors should refer to the journal submission guidelines, the ethics statement and the citation guide before handing in any work. Proposals need to indicate if a research paper or essay will be handed in.

We are looking forward to your submissions!

Board of Directors
Mapping China e.V.

The Social Credit System’s Greatest Leap Goes Unnoticed

by Marianne von Blomberg

While China-journalists were all preoccupied with the Constitutional amendment, a major change occurred in the realm of the social credit system – which potentially might turn the existing order of politics and (constitutional) law upside down.

The system has been widely discussed in the media and the few who observed it carefully saw beyond the “Orwellian dystopia” cited in nearly every article. Those few saw a major obstacle in the system to be fully implemented any time soon: the giant discrepancy between what the state perceives as creditworthiness and what the widely-covered credit rating companies, such as Sesame Credit, regard as creditworthy. This problem seemed to have been swept aside in a single move in January 2018: the Central People’s Bank announced to found a company named Baihang Zhengxin, which may become the one central commercial credit rating service in the PRC, replacing or at least dominating the existing ones by making all of them shareholders. The definitions of creditworthiness used by commercial credit services currently will thus eventually make space for a notion of creditworthiness designed by the central government. The Chinese government changes the rules of the game by joining it.

Some background first: When trying to push forward the social credit system, the government realized that it needs the country’s commercial big data giants on board. In its Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System, the State Council included “having a relatively perfect credit service market system” as a central goal. The idea was to encourage the growth of commercial credit rating services, in order to develop necessary technology for a social credit system and to aggregate relevant data on “credit subjects”. The government would be highly reliant on such commercial services if it really were to establish the vast and complex system it describes.

Adhering to this 2014 Planning Outline, the Central People’s Bank granted permissions to eight companies to create experimental credit rating services in 2015. Unlike most developed countries, no such services existed in the People’s Republic before. All eight companies are well-known big-data driven actors, among them Alibaba and Tencent. Alibaba’s daughter Ant Financial, seemingly already waiting in the wings, immediately rolled out its version called “Sesame Credit”, rating users according to their credit history, fulfilment capacity, and personal characteristics. While these criteria are similar to credit services outside of China, Sesame Credit added other categories that are somewhat more puzzling: under “behaviour and preferences”, a person’s shopping habits are rated. Technology director Li Yingyun enthusiastically explained to the BBC: “Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” The exact algorithm of calculating the score remains non-transparent: Alibaba claims it is and has to be a “commercial secret”. However, the popular online guide Baidu Zhidao suggests users wishing to increase their score to shop more on Alibaba’s online platforms, to avoid seizing cheap offers, and rather focus on top-end kitchen equipment or workout appliances. Finally, the score is also influenced by what is termed “social connections” – to the annoyance of high scoring users who complain online that they have been receiving a bulk of friend requests from strangers seeking to raise their score.
Alibaba’s Sesame Credit, with more than 500 million users to date, is complementing its very own commercial universe. It incentivises user behaviour it can profit from, rather than creditworthy behaviour as the central government understands it. There was and is little incentive for the commercial credit service providers to reward political correctness or even legal compliance.

Blinded by the magnificent story about China as the future dystopian surveillance state, journalists outside of China mostly failed to see that Sesame Credit’s rating is neither conducted by the state, nor by criteria the state indulges. It seeks to make profit just as FICO in the USA and Schufa in Germany, and it does not use criteria of measurement encouraged by the state, simply because it cannot profit from it. Similarly, none of the commercial services intend to share their valuable user data with competitors – further impeding the creation of a central system with full access to all data accumulated. Effectively, by granting the licenses in the first place, the government has created a number of social credit systems which are not only competing among each other but also competing against pilot projects of the state’s social credit system.

This conflict undermines every effort to create a fully functional social credit system. By nature, and by definition in government documents, such a system requires as much information as possible, with the full access to all information accumulated as the final goal. Only with full access can the system itself become “trustworthy”, as only with full access can it possibly calculate credit scores for citizens that reflect their real behaviour. Indeed, any pre-mature social credit system is doomed to drown in errors and inadequate evaluations, as the failure of the social credit system experiment in Suining County demonstrates. In addition, the fragmentation of credit ratings and the different definitions of creditworthiness they adopt is a major obstacle in achieving a central credit score calculation mechanism. If the drafters of the 2014 Planning Outline had seen these conflicts of interests coming, they successfully ignored it – or had it planned all along. Policy experiments as a tool for developing long-term strategies are a typical pattern found in Chinese governance ever since country’s reform and opening policy in the 70s.

Whether planned or not – it arguably posed the most significant challenge to the enforcement of a central social credit system. The Central People’s Bank cited such “conflicts of interest” as reasons when in 2017, two years after it first allowed the experiments, it did not grant businesses licenses to the respective pilots. Uncertainty ensued, with Sesame Credit continuing to operate and Tencent Credit being shut down for ominous reasons only a day after it was launched.

On February 22nd, things abruptly changed: the Central People’s Bank simply joined the game, granting a three year business license to the new credit rating company Baihang Zhengxin which was founded by the Bank itself – via its National Internet Finance Association. The working title of the company, Xinlian, translates to Credit Union and sums up its purpose: To unify the existing commercial credit rating services. While holding the majority of the shares, 36%, themselves, Baihang Zhengxin divided the remaining shares equally among eight companies – exactly those who had been designated credit rating pilots in 2015 and were denied their own business licenses in 2017. Each of them hold 8% of Baihang Zhengxin, which has a starting capital of one billion RMB at its disposal.

The implications are massive. The credit ratings of China’s top eight big data giants are now all part of an enterprise that lies in the hands of the state. Not only will all of the eight companies be obliged to share their most valuable resource – user data – with the government and their market competitors. Most likely, they will also have to subject the centre part of their credit rating services, the calculation of the score, to the will of the state: The government’s definition of what is creditworthy and what is not will prevail, whatever it may look like.

According to Chinese media voices, the main achievement is to prevent multi-lending at different agencies who have no chance to know about previous loans. Some are outspokenly excited: they illustrate Baihang Zhengxin’s creation as a kind of unification of superheroes (e.g. the eight big-data giants), each with their own particular powers (e.g. own particular sources and kinds of data), fighting for a rule of trust, Guardians of the Galaxy-style. Additionally, and perhaps paradoxically, the removal of the so-called rule of “big-data oligarchs” is acclaimed. Even though he has to pass on some user data, an article goes, “Jack Ma cheered to tears, because finally his long-standing dream to put trustworthiness over wealth and have sincere people become rich first came true”.

As mentioned above, the unification of credit rating services under the eyes of the state also implies that a score can be calculated with an unprecedented precision. Being able to draw on the vast amount of data Alipay accumulates about payments and shopping behaviour with Tencents data about social behaviour – not to mention the valuable data the other six former pilots provide – will give rise to a comprehensive credit profile of legal and natural persons, which is hardly contestable because of the massive power that lies in the pooling of information, with several sources complementing and confirming each other. Although concrete plans of the cooperation are not yet published, at this point it can be asserted that the so far largest obstacle on the path to a central social credit system has been successfully overcome, with the next one waiting around the corner: How exactly is trustworthiness to be measured?

Further reading:
央行下了铁命令:马云正式被“收编”! 25.2.2018,

Mareike Ohlberg; Bertram Lang, Shazeda Ahmed: Central Planning, Local Experiments: The Complex Implementation of China’s Social Credit System, 12.12.2017, Mercator Institute for China Studies, available at:

The State Council: Planning Outline for the Establishment of a Social Credit System, 2014, English translation available at:

Yale Law School’s Jeremy Daum: China through a glass, darkly, available at:

China to launch first unified personal credit platform for online lending, available at:

Tracey Xiang: China Fintech — Didi Begins Extending Credit to Drivers; First Consumer Credit Reporting License Granted, available at:

Interesting different point of view, not at all regarding the government as Initiator:
Felix Yang: Baihang Credit finally receives its license, although the future remains bleak, available at:

Felix Yang, Is Xinlian the answer to the Individual Credit Checking System in China? Available at:

Xi Jinping at the apex of power?

by Straton Papagianneas

On 25/02 Xinhua published proposed changes to the State Constitution ahead of the upcoming National People’s Congress (NPC) early March. The proposal that attracted the most attention in Western media and among netizens was the one to remove the two-term limit for President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This proposal stimulated heated discussions among the China-watching community and China scholars. General Secretary Xi Jinping wanting to stay on longer than 2022 was not a surprise, however, more surprising was the fact he pushed for this so hastily. One would expect this to happen more near the end of his second five-year term.

However, it must be mentioned that the removal of this term-limit does not change much. Inherently, there was nothing that prevented previous Chinese leaders to maintain a large amount of influence in the decision-making processes of the Party. The title of State President is not necessarily required for that. There are no official term limits on the office of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) or Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). For example, Jiang Zemin handed over the presidency to Hu Jintao in 2002, yet maintained considerable influence behind the scenes thanks to his position as Chairman of the CMC (which he only left in 2005) and personal ties and connections. Xi’s influence does not stem from state titles, but from his position as General Secretary, as Chairman of the CMC, and having key allies in key positions within both party and state.

Furthermore, this move must be seen in contrast to previous undertakings that have introduced collectivisation of Chinese leadership and separation of party and state. With this latest action, Xi has thrown away any pretence of respecting those previous norms. In fact, the move proves that institutional norms never ran deep. Even though Deng Xiaoping (China’s paramount leader until his death in 1997) introduced the collective leadership and limited terms to prevent that one man could amass dominating power over the rest of the Chinese leadership, only Hu Jintao really adhered to this when he relinquished all titles to Xi in 2012. Both Deng and Jiang never respected the principles enough to adhere to them.

Most importantly, it has narrowed the CPC’s legitimacy to Xi’s sole leadership. The message this sends is that only Xi can guide the PRC towards achieving its goals by 2025 (Made in China 2025), 2035 (becoming a modern socialist country), and possibly even 2049-2050 (becoming a prosperous, powerful, democratic, harmonious and beautiful socialist modern country). The removal of term-limits is a means to and end: it is as if only by holding on to the three titles that he can ensure that his policy gets accepted and implemented. This move can be interpreted as the further consolidation of Xi’s power to decide on the direction of the country.

However, the question remains why this move was deemed necessary. Xi’s power was already unquestionable, the incorporation of his Thought into the party Constitution is evidence enough. The title of State President means little compared to that. It could be that Xi being able to maintain his titles in compliance with not only CPC rules but also with State law could give extra legitimacy to his position. Xi has proven legal compliance – for what it’s worth – is important to him. With this, we should assume that titles do matter – at least to Xi– and that he is not willing to give up any of them even though he would maintain immense behind-the-scenes influence. Ultimately, it gives Xi an extra tool to maintain his power and influence.

Contradictorily, this could possibly mean that Xi’s influence is not as strong as previously thought. There is also an argument that this move reveals a certain degree of vulnerability.  What internal counterforces have made him empower his status so hastily and risk latent internal and popular backlash? Was there strong enough resistance against his vision for the country from inner interest groups that he deemed it necessary to empower himself even further? Or did he simply not have enough political capital to push hard for faster implementation of his policies?

Paradoxically, making such a move in the name of continuity could potentially have a destabilising effect. Equating the prosperity of an entire nation to one single man carries a much greater risk than slower implementation of policies. The legitimacy of the party now rests in the hands of Xi Jinping. He has left no room for failure or setbacks. The question of what comes after Xi Jinping or if something happens to him, is left unanswered. Xi has become all-powerful, yet the system that surrounds him, has been weakened in the past several years. All of this means that challenging Xi, is a challenge to the party. It also means that any failure of Xi will likewise be the party’s. This system cannot guarantee there will be no crisis. With these manoeuvres, Xi Jinping has gambled all stakes on himself to get the job done. But just like with gambling, the chance to lose it all always remains.

References and Further Reading

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Mapping China Journal No. 1

Mapping China Journal Number 1 / 2017

Mapping China’s International Relations: Processes of Integration and Disintegration in the 21st Century

Read the full Mapping China Journal Number 1 here.

Individual Chapters:

Read the Editors’ Note and Introduction here.

Read “An Offer Too Good to Refuse” by Nicola Hoochhausen here.

Read “Converging and Diverging Ideological Narratives from China and the EU” by Sam Maxwell Smith here.

Read “China’s Role Conception and Foreign Policy Role in Economic
Integration Processes in the Asia-Pacific” by Kim Vender here.

Read “Between the “China Threat” and “win-win cooperation” among “all-weather friends”: African perspectives on China in Africa” by Julia Breuer here.

Read “Chinesische Medien in Afrika: Zur Darstellung der sino-afrikanischen Beziehungen im Programm von CCTV (heute CGTN) Africa” by Philipp Hertling here.

Read “Implications of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ for the EU and Call for Engagement” by Barbara Pongratz here.

Read “Sino-European cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative:
insights from the Chinese investment in Poland” by Paulina Kanarek here.

Read “Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Rising Impact on Socio-Spatiality in European Cities” by Laura Henneke here.


Top Features on China in 2017

by Julia Tatrai

This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like
Buzzfeed didn’t exactly ring a bell as a China specialized news page, but this chilling report by Megha Rajagopalan changed that (to a degree). After interviewing about two dozen of affected Uighurs, her report draws a grim picture of what the combination of a hyper-modern surveillance state with Maoist paranoia and CPC-controlled courts can do to whoever the state is thinking of as an enemy needing re-education.

Out West: A Visual Narrative of China’s Westernmost Region
Xinjiang has always been a top priority on my travel list, a place of longing that seemed to be as magical and remote as images of times long gone. This reportage with exceptionally beautiful pictures by the outstanding Patrick Wack underlines that the region is transforming and that China is eager to transform its dualities into an obedient singularity (if anyone travels there in 2018, send me pictures).

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens
China is making citizen obedience a mandatory online gaming experience by 2020 moving all of us closer to an “onlife” experience. Read about the consequences in this long read by Rachel Botsman in Wired.

Remembering Liu Xiaobo
Liu Xiaobo’s tragic death was one of the China top stories of 2017. Liu, detained for 8 years by the time he died of cancer, was one of China’s most outspoken dissidents and the only Chinese Nobel peace prize winner. In the aftermath of his death, Citizen Lab analysed the scope of censorship in the Chinese internet. Just as with the Tiananmen massacre, citizens interest in Liu is high, but China seems to be keen to remove Liu’s legacy by making searching for information on him virtually impossible.

Zwischen Realität und Spielerei (German)
Another boy band, another success but this time with a twist: the five young singers are not men but women who identify as female but prefer to be addressed without gender pronouns. At first glance, the band seems to be startingly progressive in a country where no laws against discrimination of homosexuals exist and where homosexual content was just banned online. Digging deeper, TAZ author Maxie Römhild explains why FFC-Acrush is no symbol of changing gender politics in China.

Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?
Howard W. French, himself author of two highly interesting books on China, is writing about the future of Hong Kong between Beijing’s increasingly oppressive politics and fragmented movements fighting for an independent Hong Kong in this Guardian Long Read.

China’s Urbancide in Tibet
The last years saw a relaxation of the strict Chinese hukou system. Once hailed as a progressive reform, reports this month about migrant cleansing in Beijing have put the social welfare aspect of the reform in serious doubt. Earlier this year, Rinzin Dorjee was already writing about the uniquely negative impact of the reform in Tibet for the Diplomat, resulting in “urbancide” of Tibetan traditions and culture.

Homeless Take Shelter in Hefei’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Making a bookstore your home – for a booklover like me, this sounds like an appealing option at first. Read why it’s not for China’s poor and homeless in this sad story by Guo Quanzhi in Sixthtone.

Treating What Ails the Study of Chinese Politics
This essay is the top-pick of both Aya and Tatjana; William Hurst is analysing what is ailing the study of Chinese politics, claiming that a lack of context and comparison resulting in either “neglected isolation” or “arrogant exceptionalism” is hindering the development of this subfield of Chinese Studies. Written for Chinoiresie, one of my favourite resources on China.

Trump’s Unlikely Ally: The Chinese Dissident
Edward White is talking about something I have thought about a lot this year: Are Chinese dissidents unlikely allies of Trump? Does the Trump presidency mean a – however twisted and yucky (I mean, it’s still Trump) – return of human rights in the official debate between the US and China? At the end of this year, the most likely answer is probably not after all, but White’s essay written in January this year is making a number of interesting points worth considering in depth.

The World Needs to Hear China’s Feminist Voices
WAGIC is my personal favorite initiative on China this year with its welcome focus on Gender in China. The first issue of the has seen a number of highly interesting reads, but this one by Li Maizi has to be my favorite.

Excuse us, while we build new futures.
Our partners Sinonerds have written a number of wonderful stories on China this year; my favorite is this one by Lin Hierse, even though I didn’t see the exhibition she is talking about myself (but she writes as if one was there with her).















Living in China today: The Importance of Food

by Andrea Glaab

Chinese Food Culture is big –  in fact, it is possible to say that almost everything in China evolves around some kind of food. It surrounds people everywhere for example with millions of food stalls on the streets or in the form of photos and famous chefs (Link 1) on social networks. The significance of food is linked to the meaning of community, respect and sharing. Meeting for a shared meal is the most common form of meeting with family and friends and meals together are used to make and maintain friendships as well as business relations. To show respect most of the times much more will be ordered than eaten. When asked what they miss the most about their home, Chinese Expats around the world will therefore mostly answer: Chinese food.

China’s culinary diversity is as large as its geographic reach, from North to South and West to East. There are many famous cuisines in China, from Northern Dongbei kitchen originating from Manchu cuisine, to Beijing Roast Duck in the capital, to Southern Cantonese kitchen with Dim Sum, to spicy Sichuan dishes and hotpot. Every province and region has a different taste, different kind of spices and ways of cooking. Especially enlightening and highly recommended to people interested to learn more about regional specialties is the CCTV documentary “A Bite of China” (Link 2) (note: don’t watch it whilst hungry though!).

Depending on the region, the main staple is rice or wheat with wheat being grown and used especially in the North and rice serving as a staple dish in the South. In the countryside, people will consume mostly local food, while in the city, food from all around the world is available. When eating, many Chinese will consider the concept of “Yin and Yang”, which allocates certain foodstuffs special attributes like hot or cold that must be brought into balance (SACU 2001). Some foods are also seen as being more auspicious while some are a symbol of back luck. Special meaning is for example attached to eggs that are dyed red and given to family and friends as a present after the birth of a child for good luck (Ma 2015).

There are many special treats that might seem eccentric for the European palate at first, like pidan 皮蛋 , preserved eggs that have a brownish color; stinky tofu that can be smelled from a mile away, or different kinds of insects as well as modern interpretations of potato chips e.g. with fish soup or chicken and Pepsi taste (Van Hindsbergh 2017, Cost 2013). Every holiday season also has its special treats that are served around that time. On Chinese Spring Festival Jiaozi 饺子, “dumplings” are a must. For the Dragon Boat Festival, people will eat zongzi 粽子, steamed sticky rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. Moon cakes are the special food for the Moon festival in autumn (Ma 2015).


Food culture does also interact with Chinese politics and vice versa. To increase food security, there have been several measures like grain stocks and subsidies while exports of food products were also discouraged (Huang et al. 2015).Nevertheless, China is still suffering from numerous scandals of fake or polluted food each year (Link 3).

With the crackdown on corruption within the Chinese government under Xi Jinping, the food industry was also affected. Delegates from the Chinese parliament were banned from holding luxurious banquets and exchanging high-prized gifts like food and liquor, which are financed by public expenses (AFP 2014). The impact of these regulations can be seen in the case of maotai 茅台 , China’s most famous spirit, which experienced a stark decline in sales (Garrison 2012).

The Chinese cuisine has a lot to offer and can tell a lot about the country’s history and culture. Even though Western restaurants and fast food places are spreading in the country, the love of Chinese for their traditional Chinese food is still strong.


AFP. 2014. China officials banned from holding banquets amid corruption concern. The Telegraph. [retrieved 25th November 2017].

Cost, B. 2013. Top 8 weirdest Chinese chip flavors. The Shanghaiist.  [retrieved 9th November 2017].

Garrison, M. 2012. Moutai shares tumble in China after government restriction. Marketplace. [retrieved 25th November 2017].

Huang, J.; Yang, J. & Rozelle, S. 2015. The political economy of food price policy in China. United Nations University. [retrieved 25th November 2017].

Ma, G. 2015. Food, eating behavior, and culture in Chinese society. Journal of Ethnic Foods.

Marchetto. P. 2016. Unusual Ingredients in Chinese Cooking. China Highlights. [retrieved 9th November 2017].

Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding 2001. [retrieved 9th November 2017].

Van Hindsbergh, G. 2017. 5 Weirdest and Most Unique Chinese Dishes. China Highlights. [retrieved 9th November 2017].

Further Reads:

Food in China. A Cultural and Historical Inquiry. F. J. Simoons. CRC Press, Boca Raton

Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. K. C. Chang, ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.