Happy Wednesday, and welcome back to Axios China. This week, we've got a cap on Chinese journalists in the U.S., a Beijing-led WHO alternative, and lots more.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The Trump administration this week announced unprecedented restrictions on Chinese journalists in the U.S. in an effort to pressure Beijing to ease its own restrictions on foreign journalists in China.
The big picture: The current U.S. approach to dealing with Beijing is focused on reciprocity, but analysts are split on whether the tactic will have the intended effect.
What's happening: The Trump administration has placed a cap on the number of staff Chinese state-run media outlets in the U.S. are permitted to have at any one time.
Context: Media freedoms in China have deteriorated markedly in the past year, and U.S. outlets have felt the heat.
The Trump administration has tried to draw a clear distinction between Beijing's treatment of foreign journalists and the new U.S. measures.
But reciprocity is a controversial idea. Some experts say it is logical and fair, but others believe that mirroring the policies of America's adversaries weakens U.S. values in the long run.
One argument in favor of the new measures: It helps distinguish true journalism from propaganda.
Others think the measures could be counterproductive or even counter to U.S. values.
What to watch: Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, tweeted this in response to the restrictions:
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, a Chinese government-owned think tank is soliciting opinions to gauge how the international community might receive a Chinese alternative to the World Health Organization.
Why it matters: Beijing is seeking to turn the coronavirus, initially a disaster for China's public image, into an opportunity to advance its global leadership and bolster its soft power abroad.
In a message viewed by Axios, an employee of CNPC Economics & Technology Research Institute (CNPC ETRI) said they were exploring the possibility of a Beijing-led global health organization that would rival the WHO.
Context: China is seeking to recast itself as a global leader in the fight against the coronavirus, rather than the country where it originated and spread due to the government's initial suppression of information related to the outbreak.
What they're saying: "According to our analysis, the situation of coronavirus around the world is urgent, therefore, we consider that perhaps the world needs a leadership country/organization coordinating all the countries affected in fighting against coronavirus, just like the leadership role of U.S. in W.H.O," wrote the think tank employee.
Between the lines: In China, state-sponsored think tanks can double as diplomatic back channels, allowing leaders a low-risk means to float new ideas and explore how they might be perceived.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
An Australian think tank has traced the supply chains of major U.S. companies back to Chinese companies that use Uighur forced labor.
Why it matters: It's against U.S. law for companies to import products made through forced labor — but proving those links is often difficult.
"Uyghurs for Sale," a report published on March 1 by the Canberra-based think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), found the supply chains of more than 80 international companies go back to Chinese companies that use Uighur workers who have been compelled to work there.
Context: The Chinese government has waged a years-long campaign to eradicate the culture and religion of its predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, particularly the Uighurs, who number around 11 million.
That evidence may help U.S. officials in the Forced Labor Division of the Department of Homeland Security enforce a prohibition against importing products made through forced labor.
How it works:
Axios reached out to the companies for comment:
The global manufacturing industry fell into contraction in February, largely as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with activity in China shrinking at a record pace, dragging down the world's index, Axios' Dion Rabouin writes.
The state of play: It was the steepest contraction since 2009, JPMorgan reported, "as demand, international trade and supply chains were severely disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak."
Between the lines: The numbers may even be too optimistic, says Nikhil Sanghani, assistant economist at Capital Economics. He notes "two key reasons" the readings understate the toll of the outbreak's impact.
Watch this space: "The upshot is that the manufacturing PMIs outside of China will probably weaken in March," Sanghani says.
Taking the reins: China already leads 4 of the 15 U.N. specialized agencies — and is aiming for a 5th (The Washington Post)
Some good news: China’s skies are briefly clearer while factories stay shut (AP)
Chinese journalism: A guide to navigating Chinese media (supchina)
Photo: St. Martin's Press
China's migrant workers — approximately 288 million wage laborers locked into low wages with few social benefits — aren't just a human rights issue, a new book argues. They're part of an apartheid system undergirding China's 30-year economic miracle.
Why it matters: What Beijing has touted as a better model of economic growth is actually based on the systematic exploitation of its rural population, writes Dexter Roberts, a former Bloomberg China correspondent.
The problem: China's household registration system makes it very difficult for those born in rural areas to become legal residents in cities, where they move in search of economic opportunity.
What happened: China's leaders should have relaxed household registration requirements long ago to improve the lives of a huge portion of the population.