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China Reform Monitor - No. 1322

Chinese household debt grows;
Congress moves to limit Chinese influence in academia

Edited by Joshua Eisenman
April 16, 2018

March 6:

As of mid-2017, Chinese household debt had ballooned to about 106 percent of disposable household income,
the Financial Times (FT) reports. Since 2007, the disposable income of Chinese households has grown about 12 percent per year on average, while Chinese household debt has grown at an average of about 23 percent each year. The cumulative effect is that (nominal) income has slightly more than tripled, but debt has grown by a factor of nine, and the trend has accelerated since 2016. It is hard for Chinese households to borrow from state-run banks, so much of their debt is with new finance companies or loan sharks at high rates, according to the FT.

March 7:

As a close ally of Sierra Leone's outgoing president, Ernest Bai Koroma, and his All People's Congress (APC) party, China’s influence looms over the elections to replace him. At a campaign stop last week, hundreds of Sierra Leoneans greeted Samura Kamara, the APC's presidential candidate and another friend of Beijing, chanting "We are Chinese!" A Chinese construction firm recently build the APC's new seven-story party headquarters in downtown Freetown; APC local candidates have been campaigning with Chinese supporters wearing APC clothing; APC cups, fans, T-shirts and banners are made by Chinese companies. The APC's presidential aspirant has been a consistent advocate for Chinese investment in Sierra Leone. At a speech last year at the Chinese embassy, Kamara, told the audience that China had ushered in a "new era of development" for the developing world, and that Beijing was an "all-weather friend of Sierra Leone,"
The Guardian reports.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Under the APC's rule, Sierra Leone has rapidly expanded sales of fish and lumber to China, and Beijing's state-owned companies have secured the African country’s largest iron ore concession. Beijing has built roads through underdeveloped areas, including a $160 million toll road, and has just begun construction a $300 million international airport.]

March 10:

China needs to guard against Islamization and Muslims must practice their faith in a more Chinese way, said Yang Faming, head of the official China Islamic Association, in
comment carried by Reuters. He warned that problems with the practice of Islam could not be overlooked. "For example, some mosques' construction style blindly imitates foreign models. In some areas the concept of halal has become common, and religion interferes in secular life. Some people set great store on religious rules and much less on national law, only knowing what it is to be a believer and not what it is to be a citizen. We must certainly remain on high alert. Islam in China must uphold the successful experience of becoming more Chinese, be guided by core socialist values and oppose radicalization. Religious practices, culture and the architecture of religious buildings must be Chinese in nature and style."

Police in Beijing are testing smart glasses that can recognize facial features and car registration plates and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan faces and license plates against a centralized "blacklist," and when a match is found they use a red box around the suspect to alert the wearer. The test is part of a major push to use artificial intelligence, facial recognition and big data technology to track and control behavior and boost security. Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because authorities were using the technology for a "noble cause." In China blacklists include people stretching from violent criminals to lawyers and artists, charity workers, journalists and rights activists. "We trust the government,"
Wu told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.

March 14:

A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would require universities to strengthen foreign funding disclosure requirements and require China’s Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents,
reports Foreign Policy magazine
. Section 117 of the Higher Education Act currently requires universities to disclose any foreign funding and contributions exceeding $250,000; the proposal would lower that amount. The draft bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), does not single out Confucius Institutes by name, but it targets any foreign funding at U.S. universities that promotes the agenda of a foreign government. As currently written, FARA includes an exemption for “bona fide” academic and scholastic pursuits, but what is meant by "bona fide" is not clearly articulated. The draft proposal would redefine what is meant by a bona fide academic pursuit to exclude any foreign-funded endeavor that promotes the agenda of a foreign government.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Confucius Institutes offer language and culture classes on more than 100 American college campuses. The institutes have come under increasing scrutiny due to their attempts to censor discussion of topics that Beijing deems off-limits, leading to growing concerns about academic freedom. The CPC has openly said that Confucius Institutes are used for propaganda. Former top party official Li Changchun has referred to them as "an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up."]

Related Categories: Africa; Radical Islam; Democracy & Governance; China; China and East Asia Program

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