On China, who speaks for Trump?

September 9, 2017

The New York Times reports this week that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, White House advisor Jared Kushner, won’t be visiting China this month after all. Alack and alas. If you believe this story in The Guardian, all of China is in mourning.

Beijing had worked hard to cultivate “Javanka,” who had seemed at first to be the perfect conduit to the president. Ivanka initiated the special relationship with a surprise appearance at the Chinese embassy’s Lunar New Year Party in February. Kushner was instrumental in brokering the first meeting between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping at Trump’s resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida last April. During that visit, their daughter Arabella charmed the Chinese delegation by singing in Mandarin . And it must have been reassuring to China’s leadership to know that Kushner’s family business is heavily indebted to Chinese investors and has actively courted new investors there to stay afloat.

The White House insists that there has been no cancellation of a visit to China by Jared and Ivanka because no visit was formally scheduled in the first place. Even so, the couple was invited and widely expected to visit. Now they won’t.

It’s not clear why Javanka’s China trip is off. Some speculate it’s to avoid drawing attention to the Kushner family’s dealings there. Others say it shows Beijing has lost interest in the first daughter and her husband because their influence has waned since the appointment of Trump’s new chief of staff John Kelly. Many argue Trump himself spiked the trip to signal his displeasure with Beijing.

Whatever the reason Jared and Ivanka won’t be visiting China, confirmation the trip isn’t happening has China hands wondering who now is the Trump administration’s point person for China. The Times notes that, at various junctures Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, national economic advisor Gary Cohn, and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster have all staked claims to playing the coordinating role on China. All have eventually run afoul of the president himself who alternates between lavishing praise on Xi one day and threatening China with tough trade sanctions the next.

Whether Trump himself will visit China this year remains a mystery. The Chinese have invited him. At Mar-a-Lago, Tillerson said Trump would make a state visit sometime in 2017. But the White House has offered no further details.

In the meantime, Trump’s China fans will have to console themselves with a visit to Hong Kong by ousted White House adviser Steve Bannon, who will share his views on the U.S.-China economic relationship at a conference here September 12. Bannon was sacked shortly after telling the editor of The American Prospect, a left-wing political journal, that the U.S. was locked in a zero-sum economic war with China. He’ll expound on that worldview at the invitation of CLSA, a Hong Kong-based equities brokerage. CLSA, founded by a group of former British journalists, is now owned by Citic Securities , one of China’s largest state-controlled conglomerates. A Bannon spokesman said he was unsure whether Bannon is accepting a fee from the Chinese company for his remarks.

Enjoy the weekend!

Clay Chandler
Politics and Policy

Off the list. The People's Liberation Army Daily on Wednesday published its list of attendees for the upcoming 19th party congress in Beijing on October 18, with two notable exclusions: Fang Fenghui, who was recently replaced as the chief at the Joint Staff Department in China's military and is currently under investigation for corruption, and General Zhang Yang, the director of the political work department, who also sits on the military commission.  South China Morning Post

He's back. China's second most powerful man, Wang Qishan, has reappeared in state media after a month's disappearance. Wang, who heads China's top anti-graft agency and is in charge of public discipline, was the key target of Chinese dissident Guo Wengui's allegations of corruption in the highest party ranks. South China Morning Post

Wanda goes to courtDalian Wanda Group has filed at least 10 lawsuits with the Chinese courts and intends to press criminal charges against online rumor mongers, after word spread last week that Wang Jianlin, the group's founder and chairman, was removed from a flight out of China. The news caused share prices of Wanda units to fall significantly. Financial Times

China up in arms. China's air force has started military exercises near the Korean peninsula to deter "surprise attacks" from across the sea, said Chinese state media. The "routine" drills closely follow North Korea's sixth nuclear test last week, and comes amid talk between South Korea and the United States of deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the troubled region. The Diplomat

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Technology and Innovation

Instant messaging apps silenced. China has issued new rules requiring instant messaging platforms such as Tencent's WeChat and QQ, Baidu's Tieba and Alibaba's Alipay chat to verify user identities and log down all temporary group chats. The rules kick in on Oct 8, just before the five-yearly Communist party congress is due to begin. Reuters

Bricks and clicks. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is constructing a five-story mall, the More Mall, in its Hangzhou headquarters to give its users more convenience and a physical shopping experience. The mall, built on a 40,000-square-meter plot of land, is scheduled to open in April. Caixin

Google's tussle for AI talent. Google is searching for artificial intelligence experts in Beijing, even though access to its search engine is still banned in China. The company indicated its interest in building a China-based AI research team in May, amid growing competition for talent from Baidu, which has also been actively courting AI researchers in Beijing and Silicon Valley. Financial Times

Facebook seeks space, and face, in China. Similarly undeterred by Chinese censorship, Facebook has been on the hunt for office space in Shanghai, according to the New York Times. The office would house employees from the social network's hardware teams and, if approved by the Chinese authorities, would mark a symbolic milestone for Facebook, which has been seeking a presence in China for more than 10 years. New York Times

Serving up a lawsuit. Chinese environmental NGO, the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing, has brought a lawsuit again China's three biggest food delivery platforms—Baidu Waimai, Ele.me, and Meituan—for environmentally harmful practices. The apps, the NGO argued, do not let customers easily opt out of disposable utensils such as chopsticks. TechNode

Say cheese. You can now order fast food in China with a smile - literally. Ant Financial, Alibaba's payments affiliate, has launched a 'smile to pay' service in a KFC in Hangzhou. Customers pay by scanning their faces in front of a 3D camera attached to the point-of-sale booth, and punching in their phone number for added security. TechCrunch

Tencent funds flying taxis. Chinese internet behemoth Tencent led a $90m investment in Lilium, the German developer of a futuristic flying 5-seat taxi that can be booked via an Uber-like app. The flying cars can take off vertically and fly at speeds of up to 186mph, and rides will be affordably price, says Lilium. Quartz

In Case You Missed It

Outspoken Chinese Billionaire Guo Wengui is Seeking Asylum in the U.S. TIME

There are 2.4 million rental bicycles in Beijing, and the city says enough is enough South China Morning Post

Investor Who Lost Millions Finally Gives Up on His China Bet Bloomberg

Reading between the lines: what to watch for at China's most important political event South China Morning Post

Woman in Labor Jumps to Her Death; China Asks Why Caixin

Chinese teenagers sentenced to hard labour for bullying BBC

Hyundai suffers labor problems at home and political fallout in China Nikkei Asian Review

Pyongyang spoils Xi Jinping's BRICS party Nikkei Asian Review

Insurance Regulator Takes Liquor off Official Menus Caixin

Trade and Economy

No to ICOsChina's government has announced a ban on all initial coin offerings (ICOs) and related fundraising activities. Besides the immediate halt on trading, the over 60 platforms that have completed ICOs must liquidate and refund investors, according to the new rule, which was introduced to reduce financial fraud. A day after, Hong Kong's securities watchdog said it, too, will start regulating cryptocurrencies in the city. Financial Times

Into Alibaba's armsAlibaba closed a deal with Mexico this week to bring Mexican products and services, especially from small-and mid-sized enterprises, to its marketplaces. The Chinese e-commerce giant will in turn share best practices in operations, logistics and payments expertise with Mexico, and provide Mexicans training in consumer insight, innovation and analytics for the Chinese market. TechNode

Summaries by Debbie Yong.

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