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Weekly #10: Chinese public's responses to Xi-Biden meeting; Middle East increase funds for China; BYD enlarges recruitment; Profile photos changed for workplace; University teacher as deliveryman
Chinese expert Chen Dongxiao talks about the future path for China-U.S. relations
Our Weekly Roundups typically tell specific real-life stories, but this week it is definitely the APEC leaders' meeting that take up the center stage. The eyes of the whole world are fixed on the upcoming Xi-Biden meeting, so today's five stories will start from an interview with a Chinese expert interpreting the key meeting and the Sino-U.S. relations, with some Chinese public's responses to the meeting in San Francisco.
In terms of venture capital and funds, though, China seems to be cutting reliance off America and turning to Middle East. Domestically, the leading EV manufacturer BYD is also scaling up in the face of a competitive market.
Away from these "big" events, Chinese individuals are experiencing changes of mentality in their work life and creating their own stories, bitter or sweet.
An overview of today's pieces:
Chinese expert Chen Dongxiao talks about the future path for China-U.S. relations & Chinese public's responses to Xi-Biden meeting
Sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East are scouring for opportunities in China.
BYD scales up, advances towards wolf culture as market competition grows.
Young employees use silly profile photos to escape work assignment.
A university teacher experiences the life of a food deliveryman.
1. China and U.S. should adhere to "ambitious pragmatism" and strive to advance communication --- Views from Chinese expert Chen Dongxiao 陈东晓：中美应秉持“有雄心的务实主义”原则，努力推进交流
Overview: Since May of this year, there have been frequent high-level diplomatic engagement between China and the U.S., sending positive signals for China-U.S. relations. What impact might the Xi-Biden meeting this time have on the future trajectory of China-U.S. relations? What measures should the two countries take to stabilize their relationship? Can people-to-people exchanges and think tank communications play a greater role in stabilizing China-U.S. relations?
Prof. Chen Dongxiao is Senior Research Fellow and President of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS). This interview is sourced from 澎湃 The Paper, a Chinese digital newspaper owned and operated by the Shanghai United Media Group.
The Paper: How will the San Francisco meeting impact the future trajectory of China-U.S. relations?
陈东晓：会晤本身可以对改善中美关系的整体气氛起到一定作用，如果双方能够为发展稳定健康的中美关系达成一些原则性、哪怕是阶段性共识，将对营造中美关系稳定走势的国际政治经济安全的“生态”发挥更大作用。但我们也清楚，我们的预期不会从一个极端转向另一个极端，即从“过度悲观”转向“过度乐观”。因为从整体上看，目前的中美关系仍处于“长期的结构性的低谷”阶段，目前的工作重心是如何为“止跌企稳”提供持续的动力。然而，面向未来，中美双方及各界仍应秉持“有雄心的务实主义” (ambitious pragmatism)原则，即杜绝不切实际的预期，但也要努力去推进各种可能的交流与合作，与美方的各种利益攸关方和有识之士一起，耐心持续地重建有助于稳定中美关系的国内及国际“生态”。
Chen Dongxiao: The meeting itself will play a role in improving the overall atmosphere of China-U.S. relations. If both sides can reach some fundamental or even phased consensus for a stable and healthy China-U.S. relationship, it will have greater contribution in shaping the international political, economic, and security ecology characterized by a stable trajectory of China-U.S. relations.
However, we are aware that our expectations will not shift from one extreme to another, namely from "excessive pessimism" to "excessive optimism." Given the overarching reality that China-U.S. relations still remain at a long-term structural low, the current focus is on providing continuous momentum for stabilizing the relationship from deterioration.
Looking ahead, China, the U.S., and various parties should adhere to the principle of "ambitious pragmatism," rejecting unrealistic expectations but striving to promote all possible exchanges and cooperation. Together with stakeholders and visionary individuals from the U.S., it is essential to patiently and persistently rebuild the ecology, both inside and outside of China, conducive to stabilizing China-U.S. relations.
The Paper: You have rich experience in academic exchanges and think tank dialogues between China and the U.S. How can Track II diplomacy and Track 1.5 diplomacy become another driving force for stabilizing China-U.S. relations?
Chen Dongxiao: I believe think tankers should demonstrate more courage and resilience, stepping out of their comfort zones and actively voicing their opinions on the Western stage. From my personal observation, the presence of Chinese scholars in some important forums and dialogues organized by overseas institutions, including American and Western institutions, has an impact.
Currently, Chinese scholars' visibility and voices in various open forums and dialogues abroad are still limited. When Chinese experts participate in dialogues or debates, prompt rebuttals and clarifications can counteract extreme and groundless accusations. At the same time, when spokespersons from other countries address China-related issues, they tend to be more cautious and reserved in both their choice of words and the content of their statements.
To encourage more Chinese experts and scholars to speak out on the international stage, including the American and Western public opinion stage, China's authorities in charge should provide more incentives and support for think tanks and academia to "go global."
As for how Track II diplomacy and even Track 1.5 diplomacy can play a role, I think a feasible approach is for research institutions from both China and the U.S. to conduct more joint research on current major issues, where scholars from both countries can not only express their viewpoints and positions but also provide constructive opinions for exploring new areas of cooperation between the two governments.
The Paper: To sustain the momentum for stabilizing the relationship from deterioration, what else can be done in the future?
Chen Dongxiao: Regarding what we refer to as the "bottom-line" issue, the U.S. should handle it more cautiously. Despite significant differences in our perceptions of the Taiwan question, the U.S. at least knows our bottom line and is more sensitive and cautious about this question. For this reason, through continuous communication, urging the U.S. to be more cautious in handling some fundamental issues can be helpful.
Also, efforts should be made to promote local-level government exchanges as much as possible. Influenced by the overall China-U.S. relationship and interference from the federal government, exchanges at the local government level between both sides have suffered severe setbacks and even interruptions. Currently, with joint efforts, there has been some recovery, and China should invest more resource in this regard.
Last but not least, China and the U.S. can cooperate in more areas wherever possible. Regarding the fentanyl issue, for example, U.S. has set many thresholds for China's export of chemicals. In this case, China needs to continuously urge the U.S. government to remove obstacles for cooperations.
Meanwhile, China should further demonstrate to the U.S. and the international community that it is a proactive and responsible major country in the international endeavor against drug abuse. If both sides can make breakthroughs in anti-drug cooperations, it may reduce the likelihood of the fentanyl issue being used to "demonize" China in next year's U.S. elections.
Comments: In addition to The Paper, other Chinese media outlet such as Xinhua and China's Daily published a couple of commentary and opinion pieces on China-U.S. relations this week.
A Xinhua commentary published on Tuesday:
However, like two colossal ships sailing side by side in the Pacific, for China and the United States to avoid a collision, communication and collaboration are imperative.
As the Chinese leader sets off on his journey to the United States, it is necessary to remind the U.S. side to learn from the past mistakes that have frayed bilateral relations. This is a crucial opportunity to repair ties and should not be squandered.
First and foremost, the United States must be sincere. China has put in a lot of effort to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. Now, it is the United States' responsibility to reciprocate. This involves shedding any unwarranted feelings of superiority, abandoning perceived advantageous positions and preconditions, and genuinely implementing the agreements reached by the leaders of both nations.
China Daily on Wednesday posted a guest opinion piece written by Laurence Brahm, a US documentary filmmaker and a senior international fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, the headline of which reminds your Ginger River Professor Chen's interview.
It is heartening that President Xi Jinping is visiting the US to attend the APEC meeting, more significantly, to meet with counterpart US President Joe Biden. It is time for direct discourse to solve issues of mutual concern rather than mutual guessing and posturing. This meeting offers the possibility to establish a new reset for China-US relations. Many of us are hopeful.
For many of us who have lived through the years of building positive China-US relations, this offers a glimmer of optimism after a period of foreboding concern. The message is that pragmatism must override ideology. If we are not approaching the challenges of climate, poverty, inequality and conflict with pragmatism, then we will not have a world to live on. Then what use is ideology?
This bilateral meeting occurs on the stage of the APEC meeting. Asia-Pacific is the most dynamic area of the world today in terms of economics, culture and creativity. The two most powerful economic players in this equation are China and the US. If both countries can work together rationally and intelligently to solve challenges and achieve goals shared by the region, then it is in the interest of all, and the Asia-Pacific region will thrive in the years ahead in a way that no other region has in the history of mankind. For many of us committed to this region, we have been waiting for this reset for a long time. Now it is time to prioritize pragmatism over ideology.
The upcoming Xi-Biden meeting also became top trending topic on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) on Wednesday.
#1 中美元首旧金山会晤 Xi's meeting with Biden in San Francisco
#3 共创共享亚太和世界更加美好的未来 Create and share a brighter future for the Asia-Pacific and the world together
Some other lines from individual WeChat blog your Ginger River finds interesting:
The comments below are from a piece posted on Wednesday on 明叔杂谈 Uncle Ming's Tittle-tattle, a personal WeChat blog mainly focusing on China-U.S relations
The Biden administration's readiness to come to the negotiation table in San Francisco is a choice they had to make after facing repeated setbacks and failures in their efforts to contain and suppress China over the past three years.
When the U.S. government and the American people finally realize that coordinating and cooperating with China can bring more benefits to the United States than engaging in 'confrontation' with China, it is a time when there is hope for a fundamental improvement in U.S.-China relations."
2. Funds in the Middle East are actively looking for opportunities in China 中东豪门正在招人
Overview: Venture capitalists in China that once relied on U.S. dollar funds are now turning to Middle Eastern money as the Internet wave ebbs and oil funds flow. Longing for China's hard & core technology and growing renminbi-denominated assets, sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East are actively looking for opportunities in China and investing massively on behalf of their governments to generate long-term returns. The two-way demands set off a new craze in the primary and secondary markets, opening up potential investments in the coming future.
This article comes from 投资界 Investment Community, an information platform for business startups and investment under the Zero2IPO Ventures.
We are witnessing history in the making. Over the past two decades, U.S. venture firms made a pioneering move into China. With a string of investments, U.S. dollar funds became the biggest winner during the Internet wave in China.
That was a star-studded era. While renminbi (RMB) funds placing their bets on the non-eye-catching manufacturing sector faced fundraising struggles, U.S. dollar funds scored stellar performances with generous investments. At the same time, they offered investors a salary several times higher than their RMB fund counterparts.
Well, that was a thing of the past. In 2019, China launched the Science and Technology Innovation Board, known as the STAR market, ushering in a wave of initial public offerings (IPO) in the hard & core technology sector. RMB funds enjoyed a long-awaited boom, and the curtail fell on the Internet era dominated by U.S. dollar funds.
Today, U.S. dollar funds are struggling with survival challenges. Investors have to shift to hard & core technology, the most definitive trend at present, but that creates a dilemma since they lack relevant knowledge and find it hard to get in. Other challenges include changes in the macro environment for listing in the U.S., exit obstacles, and fundraising problems.
In the past two years, an uneasy sentiment has grown among first-rate U.S. dollar fund investors. “Investors are now required to work office hours” and “investors are now required to avoid unnecessary business travels” are among the trending topics in the venture capital circle on social media platforms.
At the same time, Middle East consortia are springing up behind Chinese giants like ByteDance, SHEIN, JD Industrials, and VSPO. They are particularly investing big in China’s electric carmakers, including NIO, Dongfeng-backed BeyonCa, Qiantu Motor, and Geely. Recently, autonomous driving company Pony.ai announced it had secured a 100 million U.S. dollars investment from Saudi Arabian smart city developer Neom, through the NEOM Investment Fund (NIF).
For a long time, abundant oil and natural gas resources have made Middle East countries extraordinarily wealthy. But they also worry about what the future holds for them once oil runs out. The need for economic diversification is therefore urgent, and to achieve that goal, they can rely on other countries. When Middle East consortia acting at the will of the government direct their sights at the world, China is an important market.
Their choice echoes a generally accepted view: Chinese enterprises possess the production capacity and technology Middle East countries currently need, while the latter can provide market and capital needed by the former through the wealth they have accumulated over the past several decades.
Comments: The increased investment is a confluence of diplomatic, financial and economic developments as China's ties with the Middle East have warmed since this year. The trend is set to continue as Middle Eastern funds gain a deeper understanding of China's economy and financial market against a backdrop of the country's deepening bilateral cooperation with the Middle East for production capacity, investment and innovation, said Calvin Fu, chairman of the China Innovation Finance Institute.
3. China's BYD is to become the world's most populous car company 40万人涌入比亚迪
Overview: China’s leading EV maker, BYD, is to become the world's most populous car company. With more than 20 factories and over 600,000 employees in China, it is much larger than the average car company. Thus BYD's campuses have created several functional, self-contained community, with residential buildings and schools in addition to factories and canteens. In 2021, the priority of "family" in BYD's corporate culture was gradually give way to "competition", an adjustment which was believed to be made because the company is facing growing competitive market pressures.
The article is from 定焦 Dingjiao, a WeChat blog covering consumption and technology news.
Joining BYD is like being thrown into a giant factory. People and vehicles come and go all the time, but everything works in fine order.
BYD has its own industrial parks. The area around an industrial park usually looks desolate, without places like shopping malls for employees to spend their spare time. If someone works at Pingshan Industrial Park in Shenzhen, the current location of BYD’s headquarters, for example, it takes them one and a half hours to go to the downtown of Shenzhen, taking a subway and then a bus. But inside the industrial park, BYD has everything its employees need: dormitories, canteens, shuttle buses, and SkyShuttle rail transit developed by BYD.
Li Yunfei is an employee at BYD’s factory in Chongqing. He remembered using a hitch riding service to fetch a thing from his dorm on the second day of his work. Both orders were taken by BYD employees. Another time, he got into a Benz car and was shocked to find that the driver was a BYD first-line operator in a blue uniform.
BYD even has its own facilities for employees on business trips. In addition to employee dorms, BYD has guest houses for employees on business trips. And employees are able to dine with their employee meal card in any industrial park. “For BYD employees, a business travel just means working in another place,” said a former BYD employee.
Working at BYD is a lot like being in school. Its employee canteens are similar to dining halls in university. Employees can buy breakfast for less than four yuan, and a two meats and two vegetables type working lunch costs less than 10 yuan. Every day, employees leave their dorm, work in the factory, then go to the canteen, just like what they do at school.
Bu Yi is a fresh graduate who joined BYD this July. Not much has changed for him compared with his university life. As a student, he lived in the dorm with his roommates; now an employee, he stills lives in the dorm with them. They all joined BYD.
For some senior employees, staying in BYD until retirement seemed to be a matter of course — working in BYD, buying a house from BYD, driving a BYD car, and sending children to a BYD school. Such private firms are rare.
A change occurred in 2021, when the company shifted to a culture of competitive benchmarking, which replaced equality regarded as one of the core values of BYD.
BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu said the company will promote a “wolf culture” as it faces fierce competition. Competitors, including Tesla, NIO, Xpeng, Li Auto, Geely, Great Wall Motor, and even Huawei, are eyeing the company’s market share. This April, Great Wall Motor publicly alleged that BYD failed to comply with pollutant emissions standards in two plug-in hybrid models, triggering a public spat. BYD can’t afford to let down its guard.
[Note: "wolf culture" is a corporate culture that believes that wolves have a keen sense of smell, hard work and a sense of group struggle, and that these qualities are the key to helping a company grow.]
Comments: The rapid development of BYD employees reflects the trend of China's electric vehicle industry continuously expanding into the global market. At the same time, it has brought many job opportunities to Chinese youth facing a tough employment year.
4. Will boss stops assigning work after I change my profile photo? 学了职场头像学，领导再不给我派活了？
Overview: A number of young employees are changing their profile photos on social medias into absurd, dumb avatars, which are intended to make themselves look so silly that their boss would not trust them with any important tasks. Is their goal achieved? What differences does such a profile photo make to their bosses' attitudes, to their identity at work, and to their work life?
You can check out more amusing illustrations in this article chosen from 每日人物 [Daily Person], a WeChat blog that explores individual stories and trendy topics.
Today some young Chinese workers are using quirky profile photos on messaging apps in the hope that their boss won’t assign work to them. These profile photos, looking “pure yet dumb”, are meant to let the boss question their capabilities to do jobs.
Look at the sharp eyes and abstract style. My goodness. Who can tell you from a naive university student?
It’s very hard to imagine how a boss feels when he looks at such a profile photo. He may find it difficult to know whether the person behind the screen could really understand his words. When he peps the employee up or gives him some work, chances are that the boss could only get a reply so foolish that he would start thinking whether he has assigned the job to the right person.
In usual times, when you tell your boss that a task is difficult, he may think you’re shirking your responsibility. But with the profile photo, your reply would make more sense to him. After all, a person using such a profile photo doesn’t look very smart.
Over time, your boss would no longer be willing to open the dialogue box and talk to you. Then, the worker finally achieves his goal of “getting more invisible at work and easing his burdens”.
But can this really work? Li Jing is among those who changed their profile photo as an outlet for the work pressures they are facing. But one month after that, she didn’t feel any change in her work. Everything goes on as usual. She is not even sure whether her boss has noticed her new profile image. But the only thing for sure is: your boss doesn’t care about you; he only cares if you have finished your work. A young man who changed to a “silly profile photo” has a similar view. He even doubts his leader, from the post-60s generation, could really understand the meaning of his new profile photo.
“Profile photos indeed affect how people look at you, but they can’t stop your boss from assigning work to you. If I need someone to do a job, I’ll ask him to do it no matter what profile photo he uses,” said a post-90s man who serves as a middle manager in a state-owned enterprise.
Almost every young worker is keen aware of the fact that “silly profile photos” can hardly make a difference in real life. Still, minor changes are taking place in other ways.
In the past, Li Jing barely communicated with her colleagues except when she needed to do that for work. No one seemed to care what their colleagues are like in real life. But the new “silly profile photo” has brought them closer. Clearly, a feeling of mutual understanding has helped break down the barrier between them a little bit. Changes are scarce, but conspicuous.
Perhaps because of a change in mentality, Li no longer puts work at the center of everything and starts to pay more attention to individuals around. Her new profile photo conveys a sentiment her colleagues empathize with. Now, she would sometimes chat with them about daily lives.
Comments: By changing silly profile photos, these young employees are trying to construct an incapable self image and escape from the demanding or even unrealistic tasks assigned to them. Their funny way of protest against heavy workload in essence reveals the young workers' insecurity at the volatile workplace and their desire for invisibility in such a quick-changing world.
However, it seems that these virtual avatars can hardly stop the boss from giving you work, and this protest is very likely to remain silent. The good thing is, on the other hand, some employees are improving their relationships with colleagues, enjoying the tacit understanding and empathy brought by the "silly profiles".
5. University teacher's month-gong journey as a food delivery worker 一个大学老师决定去送外卖
Overview: University teacher Xing Bin became famous on the Internet for experiencing the life of a deliveryman for a month. His action made the public pay more attention to grassroots workers, and made them expect intellectuals to do something for them. For Xing himself, he experienced the intense work of delivery workers and the addictive system of the delivery platform. For him, it's a month of self-education. After years in the ivory tower, he wanted to break out of his closure, ego and sense of superiority.
This article comes from 人物 [People], a magazine delving into topics that may not be mainstream but carry significance, providing in-depth analysis of individuals through sensitive and thorough interviews.
Working as a delivery man is hugely demanding physically, especially in the cold December air. Last December, Xing Bin, a university lecturer in Linyi, Shandong province, experienced the life of food delivery drivers for a month. At a sharing session held by Dongyi Shuyuan (Study House) in Shandong, he talked about his experience. Every day, he rode more than 200 kilometers in his motorcycle, walked over 30,000 steps, and climbed more than 100 storeys. He delivered orders at midnight to a remote village at one time and even a mountainous village at another. “At night, once you leave the Changchun Road, you’ll come to a road full of large trucks. I felt scared every time they passed by. I didn’t notice my hands went numb from cold until I got home.”
Ten days later, Xing’s wife Nie Zhen complained that he was working too hard. Often she woke up at midnight and sensed the cold as he returned home. He was so tired that he fell asleep immediately. “He looked more wrinkled.” Nie worried about his health, as Xing is already 47 years old and had a myocardial infarction three years ago. Xing promised he would only do the job for a month.
On the 20th day, Xing reached the highest level for part-time delivery drivers. He could find the location of residential communities in the city and the routes to surrounding towns and villages, without using navigation apps. What became clearer to him, however, was the plight of workers living at the bottom of the society. “No one looks delivery drivers in the eye and treats them equally, business owners, customers, and especially security guards.” That feeling got stronger when picking up meals from stands selling simple meals like fried rice and fried rice noodles, as the vendors chased away delivery drivers in the same way as they kept flies away. Sometimes when time was running out for an order to be delivered and he urged the vendor to prepare the meal more quickly, the latter just cast a dissatisfied look. “You’re just worthless.”
Xing lives in a high-end residential community where the security guard would interrogate a passerby who takes photos there. When Xing, who rode his motorcycle covered in dust and mud, the security guard would stop him from entering. Even after Xing swiped up with his face and entered, the security guard followed him and didn’t believe he really lives there until he went upstairs. Then he lauded Xing as somebody who is able to buy a house in such a high-end residential community working as a delivery man.
Xing felt burned out. But takeaway system precisely designed to take an order in real time seemed to have a strong force to draw him in. Sometimes, after he got home, he could not help but go out when he saw a big order.
On the second day of the Chinese Lunar New Year 2023, Xing was smoking on his balcony when he heard his phone beep with a message from the takeaway ordering system. There was a big order. Subconsciously, he wanted to take it. But he found his wife had hidden the motorcycle key. He knew she was getting more worried, especially given the flow of people and vehicles during the Spring Festival holiday. And he had promised he would only do the job for a month. So he didn’t insist.
But Xing didn’t stop thinking about this experience. At the sharing session, he talked a lot about the intensity of work in the food delivery sector, the plight of delivery drivers and the rat race among them. He also talked about how heavy and monotonous work can burn people out and the information cocoon intellectuals are living in. After the sharing session, Dongyi Shuyuan posted his speech on its WeChat Official Account that usually gets only hundreds of reads. Unexpectedly, however, the post went viral.
“Suffering too much or too less in life is not a good thing,” said Wang Zhaojun, founder of Dongyi Shuyuan and a friend of Xing, when wrapping up the sharing session. He thinks Xing is brave enough to get himself out of the comfort zone and seek hardship voluntarily.
Comments: It's not the first article that reveals the real life of delivery men, in 2020, the magazine 人物 [People] have already published an article called 外卖员，困在系统里 Delivery man, trapped in the system which shows how in the platform's big data algorithms are squeezing the delivery time of the delivery man, leaving them exhausted. The article caused a lot of discussion in China at the time, and the platforms have made some changes to make the system more humane, but three years towards the life of grassroots groups like delivery person is still under pressure. But at least it's comforting to know that we have a magazine that is willing to repeat its coverage of delivery men and didn't choose to ditch the topic once the news fizzled out.
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