Meetings (and things that happened alongside those meetings) and Chinese people in the US caught our interest this week.
After the NPC: Xi Jinping's Roadmap for China , Brookings
Naturally the meetings held in Beijing grabbed our attention this week. This article takes a look at President Xi Jinping's consolidation of power during his first year and at what appears to be ahead on the economic front:
And at the recent National People's Congress (NPC) we got additional detail on Xi's economic program, which is the most comprehensive structural reform agenda since the late 1990s.
After fleshing out what is being proposed, the article concludes with guarded optimism:
All in all the reform agenda is a strong one: its diagnosis of China's economic ills is compelling, and the proposed cures seem sensible. There are three concerns. First, there is the worry that the government has underestimated the financial risks of the burgeoning debt burden and a rapidly-changing financial system .
Second, it is possible that reforms may be thwarted by powerful bureaucratic and business interests: some reforms (like the property tax) have been proposed in the past but gone nowhere. On the whole, Xi's success at whipping officialdom into line by the anti-corruption and mass line campaigns suggests he will be more effective than his predecessor, but there is no guarantee. Finally, there is the worry that Xi's program succeeds, and validates highly centralized and authoritarian style of governance that could harm China's long-term prospects for development into a more open and liberal society.
When I first heard of this from a Chinese graduate student at a lunch for international students, I was sure I'd heard wrong. But he insisted that web companies in China were not just setting up convenient ways to pay for goods purchased online but are setting up actual banks. And here it is confirmed in a press conference on the sidelines of this week's meetings.
Internet firms Alibaba and Tencent have been shortlisted as pioneers of a pilot scheme to set up private banks in China, as the country takes steps to open up its financial sector.
The banks will be regulated and supervised in the same way as other Chinese banks, so what's the reason for these private banks? Meeting the needs of an untouched market small businesses and other private enterprises.
"A big problem of China's banking sector is that state-owned banks extend most of their lending to state-owned companies. It is very difficult for small and micro-sized companies and private firms to get a loan," said Shen Jianguang from Mizuho Securities.
Mr Shen also observed "this also will increase competition in the sector that has long been criticised as monopolised."
The reforms are an extension of plans which China's regulators announced last year - to allow the creation of privately financed banks to help make the Chinese economy more productive by giving market forces a bigger role.
Universities Try a Cultural Bridge to Lure Foreign Students, New York Times
International students are an increasing presence on North American campuses. For the universities, there is a financial incentive as well as non-tangible benefits for recruiting and welcoming international students. Oregon State's provost explains:
"It is a wonderful source of revenue," said Sabah U. Randhawa, Oregon State's provost. "It helps us afford to admit more resident students, offer them more aid, expand the faculty and infrastructure."
The university's joint venture, called Into Oregon State, has about 1,400 students, most from China and most studying engineering. Dr. Randhawa wants to expand it significantly, in part, he said, "because we want more academic and national diversity, and because engineering is an expensive discipline."
We tend to think the biggest challenge foreign students face is the language barrier, but it goes beyond that. To help students succeed transition programs are being set up.
English is just one of numerous challenges for the foreigners that must be addressed in the transition year. Many say they are used to classes in which only the teachers speak, they do not call on students, students have few choices about what work they will do, and grades are based entirely on a few written exams.
"This tradition of class discussion and activities is very strange to us," said Yuqi Zhang, a student from China.
A recently arrived South Korean student, Min Jae Lee, said, "In American university, student is free, study attitude is free."
Even taking notes can be an obstacle in a class taught in English, with frequent digressions that can make it harder to extract the central points. Instructors and students say that in many cultures, students are largely expected to repeat information given by the authorities, and they have to learn Western views of plagiarism and attribution.
To deal with these challenges, some universities are hiring private companies to provide bridge programs to help foreign students successfully transition into American universities, including for lesser known universities finding the students in the first place:
The private companies have recruitment operations around the world, so they can find students, screen them for quality, direct them to Western schools they might not have heard of, and provide support services on campus. The programs vary in structure, duration and revenue-sharing arrangements.
Chinese delegation in Kansas to study elder care, hutchnews.com
Students aren't the only ones arriving in the US to learn. A group, made up of Protestant members of the China Christian Council, was in the Midwest to learn about care for the elderly and improve the services they are beginning to provide in China.
While taking care of their aging population has become a big challenge in China, Christian organizations are leading the way providing homes for less affluent elders, and winning regional honors for best practices.
But still they want to improve what they are doing and know that they must rise to meet the burgeoning elder care needs of the next 35 years. It's a momentous challenge and the Central Government has called on all the religious organizations of China to assist in meeting this need, explained Wang Baocheng, the interpreter for the group.
Apparently it's ok to glean lessons on geriatrics from the West!
Chinese officials debate why China can't make a soap opera as good as South Korea's, The Washington Post
One last key issue that came up in Beijing this week: A Korean soap opera that has won the hearts and claimed the attention of China:
The show's name translated in English is "My Love from the Star." It has garnered more than 2.5 billion views online and has shot up to the top of the country's viewership. (A taste of the drama, with English subtitles, is available here.)
Well aware of the craze the drama has created in China, one committee of China's political advisory body (called the CPPCC) spent a whole morning bemoaning why China can't make a show as good and as big of a hit.
While citing official censorship as being partly to blame for poorer quality local entertainment, the article pointed out the long-running cultural insecurities that still exist in China with respect to their Asian neighbors:
Many viewed the popularity of the Korean drama as a heavy blow to Chinese confidence in their culture.
"It is more than just a Korean soap opera. It hurts our culture dignity," one CPPCC member said.
While admitting "Korean drama is ahead of us," Wang Qishan, one of China's top Communist Party leaders found a silver lining in the situation:
But, he said, the Korean soap opera also highlights how the Chinese value aspects of their traditional culture that can be seen in the drama.
"The core and soul of the Korean opera is a distillation of traditional Chinese culture," Wang said. "It just propagates traditional Chinese culture in the form of a TV drama."
If you can't beat them, just claim they've joined you!
Photo Credit: The World of Chinese