Easing SoE Burden, Dissing Biden's Infra Plan, China-Malaysia Talks

Here are the stories and pieces that I found interesting from the April 2, 2021, edition of the People’s Daily.

Page 1: A couple of noteworthy stories from the front page today. First, Li Keqiang spoke about the future of State-owned Enterprises in a teleconference on Thursday. The gist is here in Xinhua English: “Historically, an SOE in China was a social unit, providing not only life-long employment to employees but also nearly all necessary social services to its workers and their families. These included housing, health care, child care, education, and grocery provision. Transforming SOEs into market-oriented firms entails taking these burdens off their shoulders.”

In the PD report Li congratulated various regions, relevant departments, and relevant state-owned enterprises for having “overcome difficulties and promoted this work to achieve decisive results, basically solving the problems that have restricted the reform and development of state-owned enterprises for many years.” He called for this work to continue.

State Councilor and deputy head of the State-owned Enterprise Reform Leading Group of the State Council Wang Yong said that: “the main task of stripping state-owned enterprises to run social functions and solving historical problems has been basically completed, but the follow-up work is still very arduous.” SoE reform is not my area of research; if you have anything interesting to read on this, do please share it with me.

Next, the NPC Standing Committee held a symposium on the implementation of the Biosafety Law in Beijing on Thursday. Li Zhanshu spoke at the event. This was in the context of the new Biosafety Law, which was passed in October, but will be effective from April 15. Li wants cadres to keep in mind the “overall national security concept” as they implement the law.

Page 3: First, a longish piece with foreigners basically supporting the legislative changes in Hong Kong. So you apparently have the CEO of a Belgian consulting company, a professor from Japan, columnist from RIA Novosti, someone from Africa and East Asia and so on. I am purposely not naming anyone, because I am not verifying their profiles, and who really knows after the controversy over a CGTN article written under the byline Laurène Beaumond. French daily Le Monde reported this week that this journalist does not exist. All this ended up at MoFA yesterday. Imagine, the foreign ministry is having to put out statements saying “we have checked with CGTN and this person does exist. She is a French citizen who has lived in China for many years with a close observation of the country. As for the details about her, I'm not in a position to reveal them.”

Next, Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his Malaysian counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein in Nanping. They spoke about BRI, vaccine cooperation, 5G and digital economy. Interestingly, the report does not have Hussein saying anything about China’s core interests. But it does refer to him saying that attempts by outside forces to divide regional countries will not succeed - although this is not a direct quote. The PD report adds that they two sides signed an MoU on post-pandemic cooperation. They also spoke about Myanmar, which wasn’t covered in the PD report. But Xinhua English says that China “supports promoting peace talks in Myanmar in the ASEAN way.” Wang said that “relevant parties of Myanmar should proceed from the long-term interests of the country and the nation, initiate dialogue and consultation as soon as possible, heal the rift under the constitution and legal framework, and constantly advance the hard-won democratic transformation process.” But both ministers, according to Xinhua, opposed interference in Myanmar’s internal affairs. Basically, Beijing’s signalling that it wants to keep a hands-off approach. Isn’t this very different from it wanting to actively get involved in resolving the Rohingya issue or tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Finally, the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts’ chair Alejandro Cravioto spoke about efficacy data from Sinopharm and Siovac’s COVID vaccines. He said, as per Reuters: “The information that the companies shared publicly at the (SAGE) meeting last week clearly indicates that they have levels of efficacy that would be compatible with the requirements that WHO has asked for this vaccine,” Cravioto said, referring to the group of independent experts’ closed-door meeting. “That means about 50% (efficacy) and preferably close to or above 70% and of course, they have all the safety data to show that this vaccine would cause no harm in humans when used.” The report also says that the vaccines could receive the WHO’s nod soon. The short PD report is basically based around the above quote.

Page 4: There’s a short report on the progress on the railway linking Nyingchi and Lhasa. This is expected to get operational by June. It is a section of a line that will eventually connect Sichuan province and Tibet. If you’d like to get a sense of what this could mean from an Indian security perspective, do check out my colleague Suyash Desai’s latest article in Hindustan Times.

Page 16: A couple of pieces to note on the international page. First, Joe Biden’s new $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan gets a mention. This is a short story of three paragraphs, the last of which is this: “Analysts believe that more than $2 trillion in infrastructure construction spending will further push up the federal budget deficit and make the U.S. economy unsustainable. In addition, Biden's practice of imposing corporate taxes may also cause US companies to relocate their businesses overseas, which will have a long-term impact on the US real economy.”

Next, the WHO’s call for a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response gets a mention on the page. Again, really interesting omission from the report. The WHO call for a treaty got put out in an article signed by many, including European, African and East Asian, leaders. But that’s got no mention in the report. It’s all about how this is the WHO saying that the world should take joint action.