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Category Archives: Policy

Charts: Sweden Family Support Expenditures Higher Than Most Developed Countries

Sweden’s birth rate downward trend was halted and stabilized

Source : Nikkei

China’s Lockdowns Are Fueling Record Growth — in Inequality

Luo Meihan wrote . . . . . . . . .

As Shanghai emerged from lockdown in late May, many of the city’s wealthiest residents headed straight for the same store: the Hermès outlet at the exclusive Plaza 66 mall. Long lines formed outside the entrance, as people indulged in their first shopping spree in two months.

Mary Men’s experience was nothing like that.

The 34-year-old spent her first post-lockdown trip in a local supermarket — making some painful choices. For the first time in her life, she found herself studying the price tag of every item before adding it to her basket. She ended up spending just 15 yuan ($2.25) on a box of blueberries, whereas she used to like buying a whole selection of different fruits.

Like much of Shanghai’s middle class, Men struggled financially during the citywide lockdown in April and May. A marketing executive at an import-export firm, her 6,000 yuan after-tax monthly salary already barely covered her mortgage payments and other bills. Then, the shutdown sent food prices skyrocketing — and pushed her into the red.

The experience has forced Men to cut back. She no longer uses her credit card to shop online. Instead, she’s laser-focused on building up her savings, in case the city’s virus controls ramp up again.

“During crunch times, having money in your hands is the most important thing,” says Men. “You had to directly use money from your savings to buy pricey food (during the lockdown).”

Men is far from alone. As China tries to move on from a wave of spring lockdowns, there were hopes that consumers would kick-start the economy by indulging in the kind of “revenge spending” seen at Shanghai’s Hermès store. In reality, the opposite has happened.

Many consumers have emerged from lockdown in a pessimistic mood. Anxious about their personal finances, the precarious state of the economy, and the prospect of further lockdowns, they’re following Men’s example: making deep cuts to their household budgets and saving as much as they can.

That’s because — as has happened elsewhere — China’s lockdowns haven’t affected everyone equally. While wealthy Chinese have ridden out the pandemic with relative ease, a large number of working- and middle-class families have faced job losses and steep drops in income.

A recent survey offers a stark picture of rising inequality. China’s poorest households have seen their wealth decline every quarter since the pandemic began, according to the April report by the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics and Ant Group Research. The country’s wealthiest households, meanwhile, have gotten richer and richer during the crisis.

China’s consumption data reflects this trend. Sales of luxury goods have grown at double-digit levels year-over-year since 2020, according to consultants Bain & Company, putting China on track to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2025.

“The high-income group go for luxury goods partly with the aim of preserving and increasing their assets,” says Ye Min, an executive partner at consultancy PwC in China. “Their consumption is often for the purpose of investment.”

But from a wider perspective, things look very different. During the first five months of 2022, consumers spent more on daily necessities like food and beverages compared with last year, according to official data. But they cut back spending in many other areas, including cosmetics, jewelry, clothing, furniture, cars, and dining out. Total retail sales were down 1.5%.

Consumers’ reluctance to spend is a major headache for Chinese policymakers, threatening to drag down economic growth and fuel unemployment. But it’s also a tough problem to fix — especially as cases of the highly-infectious Omicron subvariant BA.5.2 have emerged in some Chinese cities, bringing the risk of more lockdowns.

Pinching pennies

Mu Cong, a Shanghai-based piano tutor, is one of many middle-class Chinese who have radically altered their spending habits this year.

After he was locked down at home in late March, Mu’s monthly income fell by 70%. Online piano classes were a tough sell, and he barely earned any class fees to supplement his 4,000 yuan basic salary.

“When I had a stable income, I preferred to enjoy myself,” says Mu, who spoke with Sixth Tone using a pseudonym for privacy reasons. “But as I spent more than I earned during the lockdown … I started to feel nervous, and felt the urgency to save more.”

The 22-year-old is now cutting down on non-essentials like coffee, home decorations, and new clothes. When he wants to buy something online, he first adds it to his shopping cart for a while — to allow himself to think twice before hitting buy.

“If you are thinking about whether you need it or not, it’s not essential,” says Mu. “For example, you wouldn’t hesitate to buy toilet paper. I’m giving up things I don’t actually need. It gives me a feeling of control over my life.”

Men, the marketing manager, has embraced a similar austerity drive. In late May, she took a higher-paying job and told herself she should save at least 30% of her salary each month.

“I didn’t worry much about money before,” says Men. “But now that I’m spending the money I have saved, every penny spent is a penny less.”

Adjusting to a new lifestyle hasn’t been easy, Men says. She has halved her living expenses to less than 1,000 yuan per month. She now rarely eats out or orders takeout, buys very little online, and commutes by subway instead of driving to the office.

“When I’m greedy for takeout, I scroll through several online food delivery platforms and look at different options many times, but don’t order anything,” says Men. “It is a bit painful at first to control yourself, and not spend the money you have.”

China’s migrant workers — who represent around one-third of the country’s workforce — have been hit even harder, as many of them fall outside the country’s welfare system.

A survey of migrant worker households by the nonprofit Beijing Social Work Development Center for Facilitators in April found that 73% had experienced salary cuts due to the recent outbreaks. Around 45% said their work had been affected even more than during China’s initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.

Li Tao, the founder of the Beijing-based nonprofit that published the survey, says many migrant worker households are having to cut back even on essentials, such as by adding fewer vegetables to their meals.

“They’ve largely run out of savings after the repeated outbreaks of the past two years,” says Li. “Plus, while the majority of respondents were optimistic about the COVID-19 situation in early 2020, now over 70% are anxious that the pandemic will continue to impact their household income.”

An uncertain future

Many middle-class Chinese share these concerns. The widespread expectation of more COVID-19 outbreaks — and lockdown restrictions — in the future is casting a longer shadow over consumer confidence than two years ago.

Mo Na, a self-employed headhunter, says that Shanghai’s monthslong lockdown has taken a heavy toll on her business — and her mental health. She used to spend thousands of yuan a year on cosmetics, but now she has stopped buying them completely.

“Being confined at home for months traumatized me psychologically and made me lose interest in cosmetic products,” says Mo, who also used a pseudonym for privacy reasons. “It’s meaningless consumption. It makes more sense to save money and invest it.”

Fearful of another lockdown, Mo also plans to shut down her business and apply for an in-house human resources job at a larger company. Although the salary would be far lower than what she earned as a headhunter, she feels she needs some stability.

“Since the outbreak, I’ve lacked a sense of security,” she says. “I don’t know if something worse will happen in the future. I don’t have the confidence to spend money — who knows if you’ll be locked up again for a few months?”

Mo is far from alone. Chinese financial authorities are witnessing record surges in household savings, as consumers adopt a defensive crouch.

A June survey of urban Chinese bank depositors by China’s central bank found that people’s confidence in their future earning potential was at its lowest level since early 2020. And a record number of respondents — 58.3% — said they intended to increase their savings, rather than their spending or investments.

The central bank’s financial data shows the same trend. During the first half of the year, China’s household savings rose by 10.3 trillion yuan — also a record — while new household loans fell to a seven-year low.

Gu Yue, a Shanghai-based new media editor, was planning to buy an apartment last year. But she has now ditched the plan, after the lockdown made her fear tying up her money in a mortgage.

“It could easily cost over 1,000 yuan to buy just a few things (during the lockdown) … It was like having your money flushed away every day,” Gu says. “Buying a house is not necessary. Having money in your hands is.”

Fixing the problem

For Chinese policymakers, stimulating sluggish consumer spending is an urgent priority. However, it’s also proving challenging as the country continues to implement tough virus-control measures.

So far, China’s stimulus policies have been relatively restrained. Unlike some major economies, it has avoided giving cash directly to consumers. Instead, it has focused on supporting embattled businesses and boosting the economy through massive investment in infrastructure projects, and hoping this trickles down to the consumption sector.

Some local governments, including the capital Beijing, have issued “consumption vouchers” to residents to fuel spending. But experts say handing out cash subsidies to ordinary consumers — especially those in low-income groups — will have a greater effect.

Economists, however, stress that much will also depend on the government’s COVID-19 policies. Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank (China), says consumption in Shanghai is likely to rebound to similar levels seen in 2021 by the end of the year — as long as the city can avoid further lockdowns.

“The key to ensuring income sources for low-income people is to find a targeted and long-term mechanism to cope with COVID-19 outbreaks,” says Wang. “A citywide lockdown must not happen again.”

“The recovery of the consumption sector depends on how the epidemic evolves … and when residents’ future expectations for job security, income, and the ease of travel improve,” says Tommy Xie, head of Greater China research at OCBC Bank.

Men, the marketing professional, agrees. For now, she feels she has no choice but to save as aggressively as she can. Her employer is already showing signs of financial strain. And she has a mortgage, health care costs, and aging parents to think about.

“I need to give myself some security,” she says. “No one knows what will happen tomorrow. Things can change at any time.”

Source : Sixth Tone

Infographic: How China’s COVID Quarantine Rules Have Evolved

Source : Sixth Tone

Black Box for New Cars Now Mandatory in the EU

Marie-Julie Van de Sijpe wrote . . . . . . . . .

From July 2022 onwards, all cars, trucks and buses manufactured in Europe will now have to be equipped with a black box, just like in airplanes.

The principle was voted on in the European Parliament in 2019, with the aim of improving road safety. The new rules for the road only apply to vehicles that are new to the market – people who drive around with a somewhat older car do not have to change cars or get one installed.

The new black box for cars comes with all sorts of safety applications: it records all driving data from speed and acceleration, to belt use and braking.

It also includes advanced systems that assist drivers to stick to the speed limit. Moreover, there is an option to install an alcohol lock.

Just like in airplanes, the device would come with an in-vehicle data recorder for incidents, with the difference being that it will not record any conversations inside the vehicle.

It will be easier for experts to access the driver’s data, as it helps to provide liability in case of serious accidents, by simply providing information about the first 30 seconds before and 10 seconds after the impact.

“It will be useful for serious accidents, which are a minority in relation to the total number of cases. The judicial authorities will not ask for the data after every accident. There are only 7,000 to 8,000 serious accidents out of 45,000 bodily injury accidents each year,” Benoît Godart, road safety spokesman at the Vias Institute, told La Libre.

Some motorists’ associations are not pleased with this decision and see it as “an additional cost for new cars”.

“The price of the device is about a hundred euros. This will be reflected in the price of the car and will also be included in the insurance,” Pierre Chasseray, general delegate of the French association “40 million motorists”, told France Info on Monday.

The black box mandate will be extended to private cars and other second-hand commercial vehicles from 2024 onwards.

Source : The Brussels Times

Infographic: 中國国务院 – 各地要严格落实疫情防控“九不准”要求

Source : 新华社

Alarm in Beijing After Announcement Zero-COVID Policy May Last Five Years

Helen Davidson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Authorities in Beijing have sparked confusion and alarm after announcing the strict zero-Covid policy could be in place for the next five years, including mass mandatory testing and travel restrictions.

The notice, published on Monday afternoon, was attributed to Cai Qi, the Beijing secretary of the Chinese Communist party. The original text said: “In the next five years, Beijing will unremittingly grasp the normalisation of epidemic prevention and control.”

The notice was first posted by Beijing Daily and republished by other state media outlets. It spread widely across social media, but soon the reference to “five years” was removed from most online publications, and a related hashtag on Weibo was deleted.

It committed to maintain and improve the city’s “strict management of the joint prevention and control coordination mechanism”, and the emergency response system, including those designed to shut down circulation and transfer of the virus through “isolation, management and control… as soon as [transmissions] appear”. It also noted the continuation of strict residential inspections, the “normalisation” of regular testing, and the management of entry and exit to the city.

China’s authorities, under direction from President Xi Jinping, have repeatedly committed the country to the zero-Covid policy, despite the rest of the world choosing a path of coexistence or mitigation. Xi has ordered authorities to balance zero-Covid with economic growth, as the unpredictable measures grate with locals.

Monday’s announcement and the subsequent amendment sparked anger and confusion among Beijing residents online. Most commenters appeared unsurprised at the prospect of the system continuing for another half-decade, but few were supportive of the idea.

“Countdown to escape China,” said one Weibo user.

“The ultimate goal of fighting the epidemic is to return to normal life, and it seems that everyone has forgotten about this,” another noted.

A hashtag related to “in the next five years Beijing will unremittingly grasp the normalisation of epidemic and control” was viewed nearly 1m times before it was removed within a few hours.

Authorities have not clarified the statement or the removal of the reference to five years. Some observers suggested the “five years” phrase was a term used often in government announcements, but which appeared to be a timeline in this context, or that it was erroneously added in by the original publisher of the notice – the Beijing Daily.

The Beijing Daily did not provide clarification when contacted by the Guardian.

China’s “dynamic zero” strategy was effective during outbreaks of earlier variants, but was challenged by the high transmissibility of Omicron. The policy resulted in a lengthy, at times chaotic, and economically damaging lockdown in Shanghai, and tough travel and social curbs in Beijing. Other cities have also undergone arduous lockdowns, either city-wide or neighbourhood specific. Many cities and provinces have enacted compulsory mass testing every few days for residents who wish to move about the city.

On Sunday, Beijing announced in-person schooling would restart. Shanghai authorities also reported no new cases at the weekend for the first time since March. However, the threat of sudden lockdowns or travel curbs persists. Last week, Shenzhen contained a neighbourhood and locked down several residential buildings, after a single case was reported. On Sunday, it was extended to close entertainment venues and parks, as case numbers climbed to a dozen.

Source : The Guardian

One Plug and Done: EU to Require Common Way to Charge Phones

Kelvin Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Forget rummaging through the junk drawer. Soon, Europeans will only need to reach for one cable to charge their smartphones and other devices.

European Union officials said they inked a provisional agreement Tuesday that will require a uniform charging cord in the 27-nation bloc. It’s part of a wider effort to make products sold in the EU more sustainable and cut down on electronic waste.

The new rules, which will take effect by fall 2024, mean EU consumers will only need to use a common USB Type-C cable for small and medium-sized rechargeable, portable electronic devices.

“European consumers were frustrated with multiple chargers piling up within their homes,” Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator, said at a press briefing in Brussels. “Now, they will be able to go with a single charger for all portable electronics, which is an important step to increase consumer convenience.”

The devices covered include mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles, keyboards and mice, portable speakers and navigation devices.

Laptops also are covered, but manufacturers will have extra time to comply.

The rules apply only to devices sold in the European single market, which consists of 30 countries. However, like the EU’s strict privacy regulations, they could end up becoming a de facto standard for the rest of the world.

While many electronics makers have started adopting USB-C sockets into their devices, Apple has been one of the main holdouts.

Apple, which did not respond to a request for comment, has previously said it’s concerned the rules would limit innovation and hurt consumers. The company’s iPhones come with its own Lightning charging port, though newer models include cables that can be plugged into a USB-C socket.

The EU rules also outline standards for fast charging technology and give consumers the right to choose whether to buy new devices with or without a charger, which the EU estimates will save consumers 250 million euros ($266 million) a year.

Reducing electronic waste is another goal. The EU estimates disposed or unused chargers account for 11,000 metric tons of e-waste in Europe every year.

“One in every three chargers that is bundled with these products is never opened from its original packaging,” according to an impact assessment from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, Saliba said.

To keep pace with the latest advances, there are also provisions to draw up standards further down the line for wireless charging, which is seen as the next leap forward for charging technology, Saliba said.

The EU spent more than a decade trying to cajole the electronics industry into adopting a common charging standard, an effort that whittled different charging plugs down to a handful until the commission forced the issue with draft legislation last September.

The European Parliament and European Council are expected to give formal approval to the agreement after the summer break.

Source : AP

The Japan that Abe Shinzo Made

Noah Smith wrote . . . . . . . . .

I’ve been coming to Japan pretty regularly for 20 years now. But only this time did it really hit me how different this country feels from the place I first visited back in 2002. Not just all the shops and buildings — in fact, the building boom in big cities, though real, might be the least of the changes. Nor is it just the residue of the pandemic. Attitudes and lifestyles and culture are all different.

When I thought carefully about it, I realized that the changes mostly boiled down to three big things: The expansion of the labor force, the rise of immigration and diversity, and the country’s willingness to assert itself in the international security sphere. And although big changes like these are never the work of just one person, all of them can be traced directly to policy shifts under Japan’s longest-serving postwar Prime Minister, Abe Shinzo.

When Abe took over as PM in late 2012 (his second and much more consequential stint in that job), he inherited a country in deep trouble. It had been over two decades since the bursting of the famous land and stock bubbles, and although the country’s growth revived a bit in the 00s, it didn’t recover to previous levels. A rapidly aging and shrinking population, stagnant productivity growth, and the loss of global market share by many of Japan’s flagship companies all weighed heavily. And then in 2011, disaster struck — a massive tsunami that killed around 16,000 people and destroyed a nuclear plant, irradiating a city and leading to a popular backlash against nuclear electricity.

Abe set himself the task of turning this ship around, with a bold economic reform package called “Abenomics”, as well as some stealthier measures that may ultimately prove even more consequential. But on top of that, Abe set himself another task — that of shedding Japan’s post-WW2 pacifism and turning it back into a “normal country” with a place in the global security framework.

To many in Japan’s expat press (which far too many Americans rely on for their news about the country), this latter goal immediately pegged Abe as a fascist. But in fact, Abe is a civic nationalist — a guy who wants to make his country stronger in any way he can. And the things Abe did to make Japan stronger — encouraging the hiring of more women, opening the country up to more immigration — often made it more liberal in the process.

If you want to read more about Abe, I highly recommend Tobias Harris’ biography, The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan. He was only in power for 8 years — long by Japanese standards but average for the U.S. But when he left office, he left a very changed country; in many ways, it’s Abe’s Japan now, and it will be Abe’s Japan for decades.

Everyone works now

Japan was always a place where workers worked very long hours. But not everyone in the country was a worker. Many women were homemakers. After the bursting of the bubble, many young people dropped out of the labor force and became NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), many of whom lived with their parents. And Japan’s extreme longevity, combined with a very early retirement age at many companies, meant that there were a significant number of old people enjoying multiple decades of retirement.

This society, divided between workers and non-workers, was not entirely without benefits. Free from the need to spend all day at a desk, many young (and old!) Japanese people were free to create and consume the cultural products that made the country so iconic from the 90s onward. It made Japan an amazing place to vacation, or to live if you didn’t have to work in a Japanese office. But the system was deeply unfair, and it was also deeply unproductive, and in the long run it couldn’t be sustained.

When Abe came to power, his first goal was to reverse the country’s chronic demand shortage. He hired Kuroda Haruhiko to head the Bank of Japan; Kuroda then embarked on a massive program of monetary easing that pumped up demand and (more or less) got the country out of the deflationary spiral it had been experiencing for decades. Abe also carried out some reform efforts in the agricultural sector and elsewhere. That raised corporate hiring. You can really see this in the employment statistics. The percentage of Japanese people with jobs between the ages of 15 and 74, which had remained roughly steady at about 67%, shot up to 73% during Abe’s tenure.

This was facilitated by the neoliberal labor reforms of Abe’s mentor, Koizumi Junichiro, which had made it easier to hire low-paid contract workers a decade earlier.

So who was going to work? Young people, for one — the NEET still exists in stereotype but is much rarer on the ground. Old people started working more too:

But the most important group, by far, was women. Married Japanese women who in previous times would have been homemakers now went out and got jobs. This wasn’t all due to demand, but also to Abe’s efforts to change the country’s culture around work and family life. He constantly jawboned companies to hire more women, requiring companies to report on their progress. And he also providing a lot of funding for free preschool (which made it easier for mothers to work). As a result, Japanese women went to work in greater numbers than ever before, achieving an employment rate higher than in the U.S.:

This boom in employment didn’t fix all of Japan’s economic problems, but it did accelerate GDP growth somewhat, and — along with an increase in corporate profitability — improved the government’s fiscal position. But it also changed the country’s culture. By the end of the decade, there were a lot fewer people in urban Japan who were just hanging out around town; everyone was at work.

The biggest cultural change, though, was in the role of women in Japanese society. Moving from a norm of homemaking to a norm of market labor altered gender roles and relationships, even if only about 10% of women actually made the shift.

It also resulted in a large increase of women complaining about work; now that it was natural, accepted, and even socially required for them to be in the office, many women seemed to feel more comfortable expressing their anger at the way they were treated in Japan’s ossified and often sexist corporate culture. Whereas in earlier eras they might be told to stop complaining and go get married, in a world of universal employment, such dismissals would sound ridiculous even to the people making them. Hopefully, now that women in Japan are all expected to have jobs, there will be more social impetus toward creating true gender equality in the workplace. (The government is certainly trying to help, with new reporting requirements on gender diversity in management roles.)

Abe’s tenure as Prime Minister thus represented the end of Japan’s post-bubble period — a long dreamy period where corporations and families coasted on built-up wealth. The country is back to the grind.

Japan’s military is back

The second big change was Abe’s reform of Japan’s military and security posture. He came into office declaring his intent to reform the constitution, especially the famous Article 9 that forbids Japan from maintaining an army or engaging in war. Popular opinion didn’t allow Abe to change the constitution, but he managed to accomplish much the same goal by “reinterpreting” the constitution in 2014 to allow for “collective self-defense”.

True pacifism is not actually feasible in the modern world, at least not in a threat-filled neighborhood like East Asia. Thus, Japan had always “interpreted” the renunciation of war and armies to allow a Self-Defense Force. This was, in fact, an army, though it was restrained by the law in many ways. Now, with Abe’s reinterpretation of Article 9, that army is far less restrained.

One aspect of this is that Japan is rearming. The ruling party wants to boost military spending to 2% of GDP from the current 1.1%; that would be almost at the world average, and possibly higher than China. This would include “counterstrike capability” — essentially, missiles to take out missile bases in enemy territory.

Japan is also preparing to start arms exports.

Japan’s once long-standing “Three Principles on Arms Exports” have gone far away.

Weak yen is not good for importing cutting-edge weapons from the U.S., but might help export “made-in-Japan.”

So what kind of wars might Japan fight, now that it once more allows itself to fight wars? Obviously, it would defend itself if its territory were attacked, but this was true before the reinterpretation. Japan is also vanishingly unlikely to embark on some sort of imperial conquests; not only does it have no economic or political reason to do so, but its neighbors would all be capable of resisting it in any case.

The difference, as I see it, is that Japan might engage in a war in defense of other countries in the region — most importantly, Taiwan. In recent years, Japanese leaders have become far more vocal about their desire to protect Taiwan from Chinese conquest. Deputy Prime Minister Aso Taro said in 2021 that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would represent an “existential threat” to Japan, a statement echoed in a recent defense white paper. Around the same time, a deputy defense minister said it was necessary to “protect Taiwan as a democratic country”.

To this end, Japan has been building up a string of bases in the Ryukyu Islands that lie between Japan and Taiwan. This is basically a version of China’s A2/AD defensive strategy, but turned against China. Japan has also begun actively seeking de facto alliances within the region, particularly with India and Australia as part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. It’s also reaching out to Vietnam.

As for Japan’s public, there is still a widespread commitment to the ideal of peace, and to the veneer of pacifism provided by Article 9. But there’s also widespread recognition that Japan is threatened by a number of powerful neighbors (China, North Korea, and Russia). And importantly, there may be a change in the way Japanese people perceive their country’s place in the global order — no longer as an island of pacifism sitting aloof from the conflicts of nations, but as a part of a liberal order that stands opposed to the predations of authoritarian empires. The ubiquity of popular support for Ukraine in Tokyo that I’ve seen on this trip surprised me; it was much more than what I see in the U.S.

This attitude is also reflected in the high levels of popular support for Japan’s new Prime Minister, Kishida Fumio, who is widely considered hawkish toward China.

In a way, the Abe administration thus represented the end not just of the post-bubble period, but perhaps the post-WW2 period as well. The legacy of Japan’s fascist imperial conquests will no doubt continue to dog the country to some degree, as will the painful memory of its ultimate defeat. But those memories were never going to define Japan forever; at some point, it was going to become a normal country again, and normal countries have militaries and military alliances.

Immigration and diversity

Revitalizing the economy and revising the role of the military were the two big changes that Abe came into office promising to do. But his most significant change was something that he did sort of under the radar. Under Abe, Japan’s stance toward immigration and diversity changed completely — perhaps irrevocably.

Post-WW2 Japan was never nearly as closed or xenophobic a country as some stereotyped it as being. But it definitely took in very few immigrants. For years, economists and journalists had been calling for the government to increase immigration in order to deal with the problem of a shrinking, aging population, but the government resisted doing this.

Until Abe. As soon as Abe came into office, the number of foreign workers in the country started increasing at an exponential rate.

At first this was due to discretionary administrative policy, but eventually the Abe administration put some policies in place to institutionalize immigration. In 2017 it created a fast track for permanent residency, aimed at recruiting skilled workers. And in 2018 it created a guest-worker program that included a path to permanent residency. These programs are similar in their broad outline to the immigration policies of other rich nations.

The age of immigration that Abe inaugurated has already begun to change Japan in very noticeable ways. Tokyo feels like a truly international city; already as of 2018, one out of eight people turning 20 in Tokyo wasn’t born in Japan, and it’s common to hear foreign languages spoken in the streets.

This is obviously a big social challenge for a country that until recently wasn’t used to having to deal with diversity. Already there have been the predictable online battles about whether half-Japanese athletes and beauty queens are truly Japanese. But overall, the people in favor of embracing foreigners into the social fold seem to be winning those battles. In 2020 there were even BLM-style rallies against police mistreatment of Kurdish immigrants. A few immigrants are running for political office.

Covid interrupted the inflow of workers from overseas, but the continued existence of Abe’s immigration policies mean the flow will resume at some point. And so the face of Japan will change more, as other cities undergo a transformation similar to Tokyo’s. Japan will inevitably develop cultural, political, and economic institutions for integrating immigrants into their society in one way or another.

This will certainly lead to increasing public debate, as it did in European countries. There will be some degree of nativist backlash, as there is in every country. But I would not assume that anti-immigration sentiment will succeed in Japan where it has failed elsewhere. This is a far more liberal and open country than the stereotypes would have you believe.

But in the end, it was Abe who threw the switch and started this momentous change. Facing a demographic crisis never before seen in his country’s history, he chose to change the country in unprecedented ways. Faced with a choice between national weakness and decline and the wrenching uncertainty of demographic change, he chose the alternative that had the best chance of keeping Japan wealthy and strong.

Ultimately, I believe that will be Abe’s legacy. At a moment when economic, geopolitical, and demographic factors were threatening to send Japan into permanent decline and irrelevance, he did what he had to do to keep Japan in the game. The full ramifications of that won’t be known for a long time. But already, the country feels different. The old era is gone, a new one is in bloom.

Source : Noahpinion

Balancing China’s Development With Need for Food Production

In 2017, a team of senior officials from rural Bianma county on the southwestern edge of Sichuan province traveled 2,000 kilometers to Shaoxing city in eastern China’s heavily populated Zhejiang province.

Their mission was to negotiate a deal that would enable the Shaoxing authorities to sell developers the right to build on land that would otherwise be reserved for farmland preservation. The talks opened two days after China’s central government issued rules enabling certain poor, rural regions to transfer building-rights quotas to richer urban areas in a pilot program.

That was the beginning of a years-long experiment by the central government in allowing local authorities to trade land use quotas among themselves in hopes of satisfying demand for urban development while also ensuring preservation of enough arable land to feed China’s 1.4 billion people. A recent policy document is expected to pave the way for a broader rollout of the overhaul, reducing the central government’s role and allowing local authorities to directly handle the transactions and manage the funds they raise.

The changes mean the program is moving from “state coordination” toward “market oriented” approaches, said Kong Xiangbin, a land science professor at China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Land use in China is strictly controlled by the state as all land is considered publicly owned. The central government set a national bottom line for the total area of farmland that must be maintained to produce adequate food.

Economic growth and accelerating urbanization have driven up demand for commercial and industrial development in many parts of the country, threatening farmland. Under a policy introduced in 1997 calling for a “dynamic balance” of arable land, regions where farmlands are used for construction must redevelop equivalent amounts of land into cultivated fields or force developers to pay compensation for such redevelopment.

Over the following years, the policy evolved into a mechanism that allows developers to buy land use quotas and pay compensation for the use of farmland. The funds collected are designated for development of new farmland. The quotas can be transferred across regions within a province but can’t be traded across provinces.

Under the central government’s November 2017 pilot program, several deeply poor localities were authorized to trade land use quotas with designated counterparts in developed regions. That’s what took the Bianma officials to the Yuecheng district of Shaoxing.

A month after talks opened, the parties signed an agreement to transfer 7,000 mu (467 hectares or 1,154 acres) of land quotas from Bianma to Yuecheng. The deal enabled the Yuecheng district to develop additional areas and brought Bianma more than 5 billion yuan ($750 million) in compensation for the land-use quotas. Bianma’s economy generated just 3.8 billion yuan that year. The deal was the first cross-province land quota transfer in China.

The pilot program limited the transfers between several deeply poor localities and most developed regions including Beijing, Zhejiang and Guangdong as part of broader poverty relief efforts.

As of April 11, a total of 198 billion yuan has been paid to less-developed regions through land quota transfers, according to the Ministry of Finance. The western provinces of Yunnan, Xinjiang and Gansu were the top recipients. More than 20 provinces have been involved in the program.

Testing the water

Pressure for a broader scale of land quota transfers has been growing as the imbalance between the country’s land resources and demand for economic development grew more acute. In developed and more populous provinces in the east, land resources have become increasingly scarce, limiting urban development. In the vast western regions, land resources are more ample with less such demand.

According to the Ministry of Land and Resources, nearly half of China’s arable land is in five less-developed provinces — Xinjiang, Heilongjiang, Henan, Yunnan and Gansu. The 11 most-developed regions in the east account for only 15.4% of cultivated land.

There has been growing impetus among developed regions to buy land use quotas from localities with ample land resources. Compensation paid by the buyers can provide revenues to less-developed regions.

In 2018, the government issued two supplemented documents to outline rules for cross-province quota transfers and management of the funds. They specify that quota trading is subject to central government approval and that the funds are to be centrally managed. Quota buyers pay the central government, which distributes the money to the selling regions.

Since 2020, expansion of the pilot program has gained attention as regulators repeatedly discussed a goal of setting up a market-oriented land quota trading mechanism. In April 2022, the State Council issued guidelines pledging to improve the land quota trading system and build up the cross-region trading mechanism.

Market forces

There are also factors hindering local participation, experts said. For instance, some provinces are subject to higher costs for purchasing quotas from other provinces under the pricing mechanism set up in 2018. Some localities are hesitant to engage in cross-province transfers due to the price gap and complicated restrictions on such transactions, said Sun Dechao, a professor at Jilin University in Changchun.

The property market slump and slowing economy also damped enthusiasm for cross-province land quota transfers as more provinces sought to better mobilize land resources within their jurisdictions, said China Agricultural University’s Kong.

Some experts also said the land quota transfer mechanism may fail to meet expectations on farmland protection due to a lack of detailed requirements. It also leaves all the protection responsibilities to the poorer regions selling the quotas. As the goal is to protect food security for everyone’s benefit, farmland protection should not be solely taken on by regions selling the quotas, one expert said.

The policy may also encourage developed regions to be more careless in land development as they can easily purchase quotas, said Gu Longyou, a senior advisor to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

In December 2021, several central government ministries issued a set of guidelines for cross-province land quota transfers. The major change is to reduce the central government’s role.

Since 2020, the central government has shifted the focus of land quota transfers toward market systems and pledged to establish a trading mechanism.

A market-oriented trading system could better reflect the value of the land, experts said. The key to future revisions in the policy is to reduce intervention and build up the role of market forces in facilitating nationwide transactions, said Tang Wei, a law professor at Sichuan Agricultural University in Ya’an city.

A long-term policy arrangement allowing land use quotas to trade freely will improve the fairness of such transactions, said Wu Shunchen, an analyst at the China Academy of Social Sciences.

A legal framework should be built to support the healthy development of the land quota trading system, Tang said. Efforts should be made to clarify the legal attribution of land development rights, to build a well-regulated trading platform and set up a supervisory mechanism to put the transaction under proper oversight, Tang said.

Source : Sixth Tone

China’s Internet Watchdog Tightens Mobile App Rules for National Security, Requires Promotion of ‘Core Socialist Values’

Iris Deng wrote . . . . . . . . .

China’s internet watchdog has updated its rules regulating mobile app development with stricter requirements for content and data protections, a move that could deal a fresh blow to the country’s developer community after more than 2 million apps disappeared from the market in a three-year span.

The Cybersecurity Administration of China (CAC) on Tuesday published the revised version of the Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Applications Information Services, which will take effect on August 1, doubling the document’s length over the previous version published in 2016.

The CAC said the new rules will promote the “healthy development” of the industry. “With the rapid development and wider use of mobile apps, new situations and problems continued to emerge, which requires [the rules] to be revised and improved to adapt to new developments,” the agency said.

Included in the new rules is a requirement for app providers and distributors to promote “core socialist values” and adhere to the “correct” direction of politics, public opinions and values. App developers are responsible for content showcased in the app, and should not produce or circulate illegal information.

A combination of fierce competition and China’s crackdown on content and data irregularities has contributed to a steep fall in the number of apps available in Chinese app stores in recent years. The total number of apps available in April 2020 was 2.31 million, half of the 4.49 million available at the end of 2018, according to data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

However, China still has a vibrant community of app developers, which Apple CEO Tim Cook recently praised for their contribution to its global ecosystem. The country’s 5 million app developers “have always been at the cutting edge”, he told a Chinese media outlet at the Worldwide Developers Conference last week.

After China tightened regulations on cybersecurity and data handling practices last year, the new rules for app developers further highlights cybersecurity and user privacy protection. The CAC document stipulates that app developers not “endanger national security and public interest” when processing data. Security flaws and loopholes must also be reported and amended soon after they are spotted.

App providers are required to be “fair” in their handling of user data, without forcing users to agree to data processing activities or refusing to provide service to those who disagree. All new technologies, applications and functions that can influence public opinion or “mobilise society” must go through a security review process.

The legal basis for the revised regulation include three new laws that went into effect last year: the Personal Information Protection Law, Data Security Law, and the revised Minor Protection Law.

In January, the CAC also announced a new rule that requires companies operating internet platforms with the data of more than 1 million users to undergo a security review before listing on a stock exchange overseas. Another law that went into effect in March tightened control of algorithms used by Big Tech firms to recommend new content.

Source : Yahoo!