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.

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

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.

The emergence of the AIIB in the context of current multilateral development cooperation

by Thomas Otto

After becoming an important global creditor of foreign direct investment, China now also takes a leading role in multilateral development cooperation by establishing a new multilateral development bank (MDB), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This step, as I will argue, is not taken by chance but is a reaction to the existing problems of MDBs’ lending activities in Asia. The establishment of the AIIB begs the question in what way China tries to transform current multilateral investment in Asia.

In this article, I will try to give a broad answer to that question by first outlining the current problems of the established MDBs’ lending activities in Asia and, secondly, describing how China reacts to these problems. Thirdly, I will give brief recommendations on how the established MDBs may adapt to and cooperate with the AIIB.

One of the most pressing problem for South and Southeast Asian economies at the moment is a yawning gap between the required investment in infrastructure to maintain the current economic growth in the region and the actual investment, first and foremost provided by the established MDBs and Japan (Ruiz-Nunez/ Wei 2015; Dollar 2016, 212). Developing countries in South and Southeast Asia require about $516 billion investment in infrastructure annually to sustain their economic growth (ibid.).

At the same time, the MDBs’ infrastructure investment is declining since the 1980s. This is to a great extend due to the shift of MDBs’ focus away from investment in heavy infrastructure to the establishment of environments favorable for investment, featuring aspects of good governance, appropriate legal frameworks, accountable bureaucracy, and democratic values (Weiss 2017, 4). The result was that the loans provided by the World Bank (and later also by the ADB and other MDBs) were tied to demanding conditions, which the recipient countries were often unable to meet. Especially the World Bank’s safeguards regarding environmental assessment and involuntary resettlement, which are often applied in projects about energy, transportation, and urban development, are particularly demanding (Dollar 2016, 205). In addition, the World Bank is known for being quite risk-averse in its decisions on which projects to fund, which means that more risky but nevertheless important projects are burdened with additional studies beforehand at the expense of the borrower. All this makes current MDBs’ provision of loans costly, slow, and cumbersome to an extend that is unfeasible for developing countries. Consequently, most governments turn away from the established MDBs and look for other sources of capital (Dollar 2016, 211).

This is where China’s relatively new investment in infrastructure projects in Asia comes into play. In contrast to the World Bank’s loans, China’s investments are generally considered flexible and less bureaucratic (Dollar 2016, 206). Furthermore, China assures non-interference in domestic political affairs, which the cases of countries in Central Asia (Smith-Stegen 2015) and on the Balkan Peninsula (Mackocki 2017) exemplify. “So far, China has been reluctant to subscribe to any international standards for environmental and social safeguards. Its position is that it follows the laws and regulations of the host country” (Dollar 2016, 204).

With by far the biggest share of voting power in the AIIB’s Board of Directors (28 per cent), China can strongly influence the bank’s policies and can effectively veto major decisions (Weiss 2017, 9). Despite the AIIB’s decision-making structure being similar to those of other MDBs, the member countries located within the region have more voting power than non-regional members of the AIIB, with the latter’s voting power being capped at 25 per cent (Weiss 2017, 9). This measure is supposed to strengthen the voices of the regional recipient countries vis-á-vis those of developed lenders.

It can be expected that the AIIB will focus on providing quick and “no-strings-attached” capital, as China already does with its foreign direct investment. Even though the AIIB has incorporated environmental and social policies similar to the World Bank’s safeguards, it has not been explicit about how these policies are to be implemented (Dollar 2016, 207).

How should the World Bank, ADB, and other MDBs react to the emergence of the China-backed AIIB? First of all, the established MDBs should reassess the requirements they attach to their loans and financial services. Having very ambitious demands on important issues such as sustainability, good governance, and social security do not benefit anyone, if they result over-demanding the recipients’ capabilities and, ultimately, in failing to provide loans at all. South and Southeast Asia needs a large amount of investment to maintain its current economic development and it should be provided in a way suitable for local conditions. Therefore, it will be crucial to make it easier for the recipient states in Asia to meet those requirements by accelerating the lending process, relaxing attached conditions, and making it less bureaucratic.

Secondly, the World Bank should reconsider its reluctant attitude towards more risky infrastructure projects that could greatly benefit the region. Simply loading the burden of risk assessment on the back of the recipient country contradicts the initial motivation to assist the latter with its economic development. Especially for risky projects, the local institutions and companies need additional consultation and a multilateral bank that covers their back.

Thirdly, the MDBs should intensify their cooperation with the AIIB to ensure that certain environmental and social standards are met in Asian developmental cooperation. This way the MDBs can try to implement their social and environmental regulations and find a way back to their previous investment in Asian infrastructure.

Finally, the US and Japan, the leading powers of the established MDBs in Asia, should strongly consider joining the AIIB to influence its future policies and strategies, as Germany and France already do. If the US and Japan are indeed genuinely interested in the promotion of good governance, environmental protection, and sustainable development, promoting these goals within the soon probably most important creditor in the region might be a prudent step.

A strong demand for investment in South and Southeast Asian infrastructure combined with the established MDBs’ loans being highly unattractive for developing countries created a welcoming environment for flexible, less bureaucratic, and non-interventional capital the newly established AIIB seeks to provide. The World Bank and other multilateral development banks will have to revise their own lending conditions and to seek further cooperation with the AIIB, if they wish to keep playing an important role in Asia’s regional economic development.


Dollar, David (2016): China as a Global Investor. In Ligang Song, Ross Garnaut, Cai Fang, Lauren Johnston (Eds.): China’s New Sources of Economic Growth: Vol. 1. Reform, Resources and Climate Change: ANU Press.

Karen Smith Stegen; Julia Kuznir (2015): Outcomes and strategies in the ‘New Great Game’: China and the Caspian states emerge as winners. In Journal of Eurasian Studies 6, pp. 91–106.

Makocki, Michael (2017): China in the Balkans: The battle of principles. In ECFR. Available online at

Ruiz-Nunez, Fernanda; Wei, Zhichao (2015): Infrastructure Investment Demands in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies. World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 7414, Washington DC.

Song, Ligang; Garnaut, Ross; Fang, Cai; Johnston, Lauren (Eds.) (2016): China’s New Sources of Economic Growth: Vol. 1. Reform, Resources and Climate Change: ANU Press.

Weiss, Martin A. (2017): Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). In Congressional Research Service.


Resource Special: The 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China

by Tatjana Romig

Today’s kick-off of the CPC’s 19th party congress is a milestone for the future direction of Chinese politics. Thus, China watchers around the world closely track potential developments and outcomes. To help you fill in any knowledge gaps and keep you informed throughout the party congress, Mapping China collected its favourite sources and analyses covering topics linked to the party congress from the election of delegates to the position of Xi Jinping himself.

Media Coverage

Since the beginning of 2017 the 19th party congress received coverage in Chinese and international media with a new high since the beginning of October. The following news outlets offer special sections made up of a variety of articles on the party congress, e.g. the process of the election of the delegates, Xi Jinping’s position and plans, possible successors etc. Consuming different media outlets, especially Chinese and international ones, allows to gather a more differentiated picture. We recommend the following:

SCMP: China’s Leadership Reshuffle 2017
The South China Morning Post offers a special on China’s leadership reshuffle in 2017 with a focus on Xi Jinping’s agenda, rising stars, coverage on ongoing appointments and various opinion pieces.

The Diplomat: 19th Party Congress
The Diplomat offers a category for the 19th Party Congress collecting various articles with different points of view. The articles e.g. cover the creation of ideology, leadership succession, internet policies and the question of possible changes to the party’s constitution.

Xinhua: 19th CPC National Congress
Xinhua has a special linked to the 19th party congress that offers a lot: from commentaries to official documents or even video material – you will find every kind of information you need.

Think Tanks

If you are looking for a deeper analysis and experts’ opinions, the following series and papers by established Think Tanks covering the developments linked to the party congress might be your first choice. Moreover, these analyses offer condensed information, in case you want to catch up with the preceding steps that happened throughout the last year.

Brookings: Looking Ahead to the 19th Party Congress
Brookings Institution offers a series titled “Looking Ahead to the 19th Party Congress” that aims at analysing China’s socio-political and economic landscape in the run-up to the party congress and discusses implications for US-Sino relations.

MERICS: 19th Party Congress
The Mercator Institute for China Studies based in Berlin is also tracking the developments in the forerun of the party congress and its potential outcomes. For example, in the MERICS China Monitor No. 41 it is argued that the party congress will boost strongman politics.

Hoover Institution’s China Leadership Monitor
Although the China Leadership Monitor does not offer a special series dedicated to the Party Congress, its reports and analysis are among the best when it comes to Chinese leadership politics. As a foundation, we recommend Alice Miller’s “The road to the 19th Party Congress”, while the current edition includes papers on Xi’s influence on the party’s guiding ideology and domestic policy trajectories.


In case you prefer podcasts, this China Power conversation with Joseph Fewsmith “Xi Jinping and the 19th Party Congress” is a good choice.

What are your recommendations for resources linked to the 19th party congress? We are looking forward to your suggestions 🙂

Living in China today: The Phenomenon of 代购 (dàigòu)

by Andrea Glaab

代购 dàigòu – a word that most people here have never heard of. The activities it is generating here around us go unnoticed as well. In the Chinese sphere, however, this phenomenon is very well known. Some bigger media outlets like the Financial Times picked up stories about it while Western scholars, unlike Chinese academics, have not been attracted yet. According to Wikipedia, dàigòu is a “channel of commerce in which an overseas person purchases commodities (mainly luxury goods but also groceries) for a customer in mainland China” (Wikipedia 2017). The activity does not stop there but also includes areas like Taiwan or Hongkong. Many different people are sellers, from students that want to earn pocket money to full time professional dàigòu. Buyers can be family members and friends, but often sellers also supply their own shops which they set up on Weixin or Taobao. The product range is especially interesting. There is nothing that dàigòu are not selling: from the luxury handbag or watch, to products of daily needs like pans, facial cream, snacks, medicine or even female hygiene products (Shannon 2016). While it is also common for most European readers to ask friends or family to bring some special product back from a holiday trip, or send it from abroad, this phenomenon encompasses an all new scale and reach. For the dàigòu it is a profitable business; they can earn around 5-15% commission, which is especially lucrative for luxury goods (Shannon 2016).


So how can we explain this strange phenomenon, taking into account that you can buy most of the things in China just as well, without all the hassle? The most important motives to buy such a product for a buyer are brand or country of origin. For one, there is a very high tax in China on luxury products of 30-60%, so buying it abroad is still cheaper than in domestic shops (Chitrakorn 2014). Furthermore, for daily products there is a mistrust in Chinese brands and the quality among Chinese people. This is especially easy to highlight with the example of milk powder. After the Chinese milk scandal in 2008, almost no Chinese mother dared to feed her child domestic milk powder. In German drugstores like DM or Rossmann, there is a limit of how many packages of milk powder a person is allowed to buy. According to German drugstores and producers, they seek to “protect the German mother” (Gronwald 2016). The same happened in Hongkong, and there are also calls for more regulation in Australia. In all those places milk powder became a scarce product because of Chinese daigous herding it (Battersby 2016).


Slowly the Chinese government started to pick up the topic, trying to regulate this shadow economy. Motivated by the tax revenues of import tariffs it is losing, it ordered an import tax on postal. The Chinese government also seeks to bolster the sales of domestic industries (Chitrakorn 2014).  Therefore, further action should include strengthening consumer protection through stricter foodstuff inspections as well as control of other goods as hygiene products, that still have the reputation of being harmful, if made in China. This can lead to a growing trust in domestic brands in the long run. Furthermore, the trend of growing nationalism in China is contributing to a slowly increasing demand for domestic brands and products (Shepard 2016). So, while growing spending capacity in Chine leads to higher demand, the work of daigous is also becoming more complex.


Further Reading

Battersby, L. 2016. Government powerless to stop daigou formula herders. The Sidney Morning Herald.  [retrieved 20th September 2017].

Chitrakorn, K. 2014. Can China End the Illicit ‘Daigou’ Trade? Business of Fashion.  [retrieved 20th September 2017].

Gronwald, S. 2016. Wie Chinas Durst nach Babymilch deutsche Supermarkt-Regale leerfegt. Stern.–wie-der-durst-nach-babymilch-gestillt-werden-soll-6648768.html [retrieved 20th September 2017].

Shannon, S. 2016. On the floor with the daigou, China’s overseas shoppers. Financial Times. [retrieved 20th September 2017].

Shepard, W. 2016. Will Growing Nationalism Kill Foreign Brands In China? Forbes [retrieved 20th September 2017].

Wikipedia. 2017. Daigou. Wikipedia. [retrieved 20th September 2017].

How the EU should engage with OBOR Centrality

by Aya Adachi

While EU is faced with disintegration, China’s role in regional integration has gained momentum. As an overarching projection that could potentially incorporate and coordinate other inter-regional regional as well as sub-regional initiatives, China-led One Belt One Road (OBOR) could emerge as the central cooperation mechanism across Eurasia and includes parts of the African Continent. This OBOR Centrality (Zhao 2016) is already shaping regional integration processes, by utilizing synergy effects arising from other regional initiatives: Chinese diplomats have started to try aligning and incorporating other regional and sub-regional cooperation mechanisms with OBOR.

Although the EU has potential to co-design and shape the dynamics of integration underpinning OBOR, it lacks a comprehensive and effective agenda to engage with the various levels, the mega-regional, regional, sub-regional, and state levels of the initiative. Diverging interests among EU member states have resulted in failure to come up with an unified China-policy. OBOR has received mixed reactions in Europe: one the one hand it is perceived as a geo-economics and geopolitical threat to the EU unity, on the other hand some see opportunities for investments.

The disagreement over how to engage with OBOR could result in long-term consequences, if the EU were to take a half-hearted approach. A comprehensive agenda on how to engage with the OBOR framework is vital to ensure that EU interests are secured and to allow co-designing the new economic corridors. A successful OBOR policy could further stimulate economic growth, highlight the advantages of the Common Market and the EU in general and thereby counteract nationalist uprising.

Furthermore, the EU could benefit from positioning itself as a competent partner in matters of regional integration, which could enhance EU’s normative power in addition to co-shaping OBOR. Despite recent economic, refugee and political crisis, in which EU politics are predominantly driven by internal affairs and concerned with disintegration, EU has long served as the model for regional integration and could provide important lessons from its own positive as well as negative experiences. With a balanced approach, the EU could avert the risk of being resented and perceived as China’s partner in facilitating the mega-regional project by other countries that lack the capacity to position themselves to ensure mutual gains within the OBOR framework. Therefore, it is important to cooperate with various regional mechanisms, countries affiliated to OBOR, as well as China.

Policy Recommendations

The agenda to engage with China-led OBOR should include three complementary components: First, establishing an EU-wide body that exercises oversight over incoming investment akin to US Committee on Foreign Investment will allow pooling of information and increase in transparency of overall investments to EU as well as China’s outbound investment to EU in particular.

Second, active use of EU China Connectivity Platform will allow co-designing the new economic corridors. More specifically, this mechanism could be used to safeguard conformity of OBOR related investments with EU regulations and standards.

Third, the EU should further foster engagement and dialogues related and unrelated to OBOR with OBOR affiliated countries and more importantly other overlapping regional mechanisms. In addition to Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that could be a useful forum to increase cooperation, EU should also improve its support (Herrero Cangas & Gregersen 2016) to other regional initiatives such as ASEAN, CAREC, SASEC, GTI, 16+1 platform between China and Eastern European Countries. In addition, the EU could enhance its normative power by promoting people-to-people dialogues, cooperation among civil society organizations across OBOR.

In conclusion, by applying a three-level framework, EU could form a comprehensive agenda that operationalizes engagement with OBOR centrality, thereby avoiding a China-centred approach by inclusion of other affiliated mechanisms and states.


Herrero Cangas & Gregersen 2016 “Prospects for supporting regional integration effectively: An independent analysis of the European Union’s approach to the 11th European Development Fund regional programming“, Discussion Paper 192, ECDPM available at: (last accessed: 28.07.2017)

Zhao Hong 2016 “Can China’s OBOR Initiative Synergize with AEC Blueprint 2025?, ISEAS, Perspective No. 62, Yusof Ishak Institute available, (last accessed: 28.07.2017)