US bill blocking China from buying oil from Strategic Petroleum Reserve just political stunt: experts

US Congressional leaders on Sunday unveiled budget legislation that would prevent China from purchasing oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), according to Reuters. However, the move will have little to no impact on China and is merely a political stunt, experts said.

Congressional negotiators unveiled the 1,050-page bill that lays out funding for six of the dozen segments of the government that Congress is charged with allocating money, with the next six due by later in the month. The US House will have to vote on the bill first before the Senate can take up the package before Friday, Reuters reported.

Last July, the Senate passed a bill 85 to 14 to ban exports to China of SPR oil. The issue of SPR sales to China heated up after US President Joe Biden announced in 2022 the sale of 180 million barrels of SPR oil to tame gasoline prices that spiked after the Ukraine crisis.

In 2022, the SPR sold 1 million barrels to UNIPEC America, a Houston-based arm of China's Sinopec. In 2017, under former US president Donald Trump, some SPR oil was sold to PetroChina International, a subsidiary of PetroChina, Reuters reported.

The ban is more of a political stunt rather than a substantial action, as speaking harshly about China has become one of the cheapest ways for politicians to quickly attract attention, experts said.

The move will have minimal impact as China's reliance on US imports is very low, let alone oil from the SPR, Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Monday.

"It is akin to saying I won't sell you something when you weren't buying it in the first place," Lin said.

Lin noted that China primarily imports oil from the Middle East and Central Asia due to cost and transportation convenience.

In 2023, China imported 563.99 million tons of crude oil, climbing 11 percent year-on-year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In response to US Congress' passing a bill to ban the sale of US strategic petroleum reserves to China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin urged the US to abandon the zero-sum mentality.

"We urge relevant US politicians to abandon the zero-sum Cold War mentality and ideological bias, form a right perception of China and China-US relations, and contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between China and the US, not otherwise," Wang told a press conference in January 2023.

China’s central bank to lift foreigners’ single mobile payment cap to $5,000 as part of opening-up measures

The People's Bank of China (PBC), the central bank, will guide Chinese pay-ment platforms to raise the single transaction limit for foreign nationals using mobile payment services from $1,000 to $5,000 and the annual transaction limit from $10,000 to $50,000, amid efforts to improve payment convenience, officials told a press conference on Friday.

The move represents China's latest efforts to optimize foreign investment environment and China's determination to implement high-level opening-up, experts said.

Efforts will also be made to help foreign nationals link their overseas bank cards to domestic payment services more easily, simplifying the identity verification process, and bringing greater convenience, Zhang Qingsong, deputy governor of the PBC said.

"The PBC will guide payment institutions to introduce a series of convenience measures to ensure that foreign friends are satisfied and willing to use China's mobile payment products, which have been quite popular among Chinese people," Zhang said.

The call from the PBC has been met with proactive responses from major Chinese mobile payment institutions.

Weixin Pay, one of China's major payment platforms, has been optimizing payment services for foreign nationals since July 2023 by allowing overseas users to link international bank cards to it. It has recently optimized key areas for overseas users, including the registration process, payment activation process, small amount payment limit without authentication, and simplification of the user experience, the Global Times learned from Tencent, which owns Weixin Pay, on Friday.

For example, foreign users can directly add international bank cards to quickly activate the Weixin payment function. By linking an international card, first-time users of Weixin Pay from abroad can try Weixin Pay within a certain amount without verification.

Weixin Pay's transactions made through international bank cards have maintained steady growth, with the accumulated transaction amount exceeding 1 billion yuan ($138.91 million) and the total number of transactions exceeding 10 million by 2023, according to Tencent.

Ant Group which operates the country's leading payment app Alipay said it has completed some of the cap lifting requirements as of Friday and will complete the remainder in the near future, according to a statement sent by Ant Group to the Global Times on Friday.

Ant Group will continue to improve its services by introducing more features tailored to foreign visitors traveling to China. This includes expanding coverage to more card organizations and overseas electronic wallets, and allowing more international tourists to use electronic wallets from home for scanning and payment in China.

Ant Group's services for international travelers in China have continued to expand. In the fourth quarter of 2023, the average daily number of transactions made by overseas visitors on Alipay was nearly double that of the third quarter, and the daily transaction peak also reached new highs.

The move to optimize mobile payments for foreign nationals in China reflects the country's commitment to creating a more open and convenient business environment and shows China's commitment to financial opening-up, Wang Peng, an associate researcher at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday.

In a meeting with a US Chamber of Commerce delegation on Wednesday, Chinese Premier Li Qiang said that China will open its door even wider to the outside world, continue to foster a market-oriented, law-based and internationalized business environment, and provide more support and convenience for US companies and foreign firms from other countries to invest and do business in China.

China has stepped up its efforts in opening-up, including implementing mutual visa exemptions with a number of countries and issuing the 24-point guideline to optimize foreign investment.

China's opening-up measures will not only enhance China's position and influence in the global economy, but also provide more opportunities for development and cooperation for countries around the world, Wang said.

China's 24 pro-foreign investment measures have further strengthened the in-vestment confidence of foreign-funded enterprises, He Yadong, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce told a press conference on Thursday.

Overall, more than 60 percent of the measures have been implemented or made positive progress. For the next step, the ministry will continue to promote the implementation of the 24 specific measures, give full play to the role of the roundtable meeting for foreign-funded enterprises, and continue to optimize the business environment, He said

GT Voice: BYD localization push in Europe shows potential for EV synergy

The news that Chinese electric vehicle (EV) giant BYD Co is in contact with the Italian government about building a second factory in Europe has attracted widespread attention. Despite the growing protectionist climate in Europe, the Chinese and European EV industry chains don't have to resort to confrontation. There's still the potential to strengthen cooperation to bring more opportunities for mutually beneficial development.

In an interview at the Geneva International Motor Show, Michael Shu, managing director of BYD Europe, confirmed the contacts with the Italian government, noting that the need for a second European plant "depends on our sales - now we're making very good progress," Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

The move came just months after the Chinese EV giant announced in December its intention to build a new-energy vehicle (NEV) production base in Hungary.

Given the background of the EU probe into state subsidies to Chinese EV makers and their anxiety over substantial Chinese EV exports to Europe, it is not hard to see that BYD's localization push in Europe is part of its efforts to navigate foreign regulatory challenges. Such a business solution may also be of great significance to the cooperation potential in the EV industrial chain between China and Europe.

Chinese EV exports have risen sharply in recent years, especially in 2023. Chinese car exporters shipped more than 1.2 million NEVs last year, up 77 percent from 2022, according to data from the China Association of Auto Manufacturers. That helped China surpass Japan as the world's top vehicle exporter for the first time, according to Chinese media reports. Europe has become a major destination market for Chinese EVs.

In this context, US and Western media outlets have played up the "China threat" theory targeting Chinese manufacturing, depicting Chinese companies as a threat rather than a partner for cooperation. Their purpose of creating the "threat" theory surrounding Chinese EVs is to protect American interests and to influence public opinion in favor of trade barriers and conservative policies. 

What Europeans need to see is that all of this is a US tactic to shift the focus and blame of its own protectionism, and that even Europe is a victim in the face of US trade barriers. Therefore, Europeans should not fall for the "China threat" hype from the US and should see that Chinese manufacturing has never been a threat, but rather a driving force for development and cooperation.

There is no denying that the EU and European car industry may be concerned about rising imports from China and their price competitiveness. But the advantages of Chinese EVs come from mass manufacturing capability, not subsidies or unfair competition means. Blocking trade and investment between the Chinese and European EV industries is not only not conducive to the development of the European auto industry, but also goes against free trade rules.

Take BYD as an example. The Chinese company just overtook Tesla as the world's biggest EV maker in the last quarter of 2023. Its rapid growth doesn't rely on subsidies, but hinges on strong products, technology and supply chain management flexibility. 

Europe's huge demand for EVs during its transition toward a low-carbon economy has also played a role in its growth.

Once BYD produces in Europe, its pricing mechanism may comply with local markets and standards, while its supply chain management could bring new inspiration for local producers in terms of cost efficiency, which could offer more cooperation choices to the European EV industry and facilitate the local transition toward the green economy.

The auto industry in China and Europe has extensive cooperation potential and common interests. It is sincerely hoped that both the Chinese and European governments and companies can work together to strengthen communication, address each other's concerns, properly handle EV-related trade friction, and jointly promote the development of the EV industry to achieve win-win results.

Chinese airlines to increase weekly round-trip flights to US to 50 from current 35, starting March 31

Chinese passenger airlines will be able to increase their weekly round-trip flights to the US from the current 35 to 50, starting from March 31, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) said on Monday after frequent China-US interactions.

The approval "is a significant step forward in further normalization of the US-China market in anticipation of the Summer 2024 traffic season," the USDOT said.

The shift comes amid increased dialogue between Chinese and US officials this year.

Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Abu Dhabi, on Monday. Wang and Tai engaged in "professional and in-depth" discussions on bilateral and multilateral economic and trade issues of mutual interest, according to the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

Wang expressed serious concerns over additional US tariffs imposed on Chinese goods and other trade issues during the talk, MOFCOM said.

In another development, the chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, Suzanne Clark, is leading a delegation of former US government officials to Beijing this week, Reuters reported.

The group will meet with senior Chinese government officials and local business leaders, as well as American business executives and foreign diplomats, according to a representative of the chamber.

Earlier this month Chinese and US officials held a third round of talks in Beijing as part of their Economic Working Group set up last year, adding to growing interactions since the beginning of 2024 between officials of the world's two biggest economies.

China’s Ministry of Finance (MOF) said the two sides had in-depth, candid, pragmatic and constructive exchanges on the macroeconomic situation and policies, G20 financial cooperation, debt of developing countries, industrial policies and other issues.

During the meeting, the Chinese side expressed concerns about additional US tariffs imposed on Chinese goods, restrictions against China on two-way investment, and sanctions that suppress Chinese enterprises, the MOF said, adding that the two sides agreed to continue talks.

The US delegation indicated that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen looked forward to a return visit to China at an "appropriate time," US Department of the Treasury said.

Zong Qinghou, founder of Chinese beverage giant Wahaha Group, passed away on Sunday

Zong Qinghou, the founder and chairman of Chinese beverage giant Wahaha Group, died on Sunday at the age of 79, the company has confirmed.

On Thursday, the company said that Zong was hospitalized but remained in stable condition. The group's business is operating as normal.

In 1987, Zong led two retired teachers to set up a school-run enterprise. With a loan of 140,000 yuan ($19,700 at current rates), they started selling soda and popsicles on a consignment basis. Later through technological and marketing innovation, they created the famous brand Wahaha.

Zong also became a major representative of China's private entrepreneurs after reform and opening-up kicked off in 1978, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

Zong was a deputy to the 10th, 11th and 12th National People's Congresses, and a representative of the 12th, 13th and 14th National Congresses of the Communist Party of China in Zhejiang Province.

He won honors including the National Model Worker, the National May 1 Labor Medal and the "Top 100 outstanding private entrepreneurs at the 40th anniversary of reform and opening-up award."

"For Chinese entrepreneurs, it is essential to be patriotic, to innovate continuously and to care for employees," Zong once said. "Only in this way can private firms thrive."

With regard to personal wealth, Zong topped the list of the richest people in the Chinese mainland on more than one occasion. As of March 23, 2023, Zong ranked No.121 on the Hurun Global Rich List 2023 with wealth of 100 billion yuan.

As a leader in China's beverage industry, Zong created a large number of household beverage brands including Wahaha purified water and AD calcium milk. He was regarded as one of the representatives of the first generation of entrepreneurs in Zhejiang andiconic figure of China's economic reform.

Set up in 1987, the company continued to expand, with output value exceeding 100 million yuan in 1990, climbing to 10 billion yuan in 2003 and reaching 78.28 billion yuan in 2013. In 2022, the group company's sales reached 51.202 billion yuan.

Media reported that Zong had the habit of reading hard copies of major newspapers in China, which his assistants printed out for him - meaning each time he went on a business trip, his team would bring a small printer, A4 paper and ink cartridges.

Although Zong once served as the chairman of Wahaha Group, a successor has long been in place. In December 2021, Wahaha Group officially announced that Zong Fuli, daughter of Zong Qinghou, was installed as vice chairman and general manager of the group. The father did not hide his pride in her daughter, giving her 90 points in a public media interview for her performance in running the group.

In a Dialogue program of CCTV last year, Zong Qinghou addressed succession within the company. He said he would not retire, but would step back and let young people take charge of day-to-day operations.

Boeing 737MAX8 plane meets delivery requirements in China

China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the model of Boeing 737 MAX8 has met delivery requirements set by Chinese regulators.

Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said that the model is approved in accordance with Chinese civil aviation regulations on December 8 of 2023.

The comments came after media reported that Boeing delivered one Boeing 737 MAX to China Southern Airlines.

Earlier, Reuters reported that Boeing was set to deliver the first 737 MAX to a Chinese airline since March 2019 on Wednesday, citing flight data. 

The delivery ends a four-year freeze for the US plane maker's most profitable jet.

China suspended most orders and deliveries of Boeing planes in 2019 after the 737 MAX model was grounded globally, following two fatal crashes.

Before the delivery, in December of last year, Boeing said that a 787-9 Dreamliner ordered by Juneyao Airlines had been delivered. 

It is the first time since November 2019 that Boeing has delivered a 787 Dreamliner plane to a Chinese airline.

Shanghai Composite Index rises for fourth straight day

China's Shanghai Composite Index rose for the fourth straight day on Friday to get back above the 2,900-point mark amid the rollout of a series of policies to support the development of the capital market and the macro-economy.

Yang Delong, chief economist at Shenzhen-based First Seafront Fund Management Co, told the Global Times on Friday that the A-share market had been near the bottom level, calling for confidence and patience in the Chinese stock market.

The Central Financial Work Conference called for efforts to accelerate the building of a nation with a strong financial sector. The goal cannot be achieved without a prosperous capital market, which provides support for enterprises' transformation and upgrading as well as the country's sci-tech innovations, Yang said, adding that more policies to support the long-term and healthy development of the capital market are expected.

Pan Gongsheng, governor of the People's Bank of China (PBC), the central bank, said at a press conference on Wednesday that China will cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 50 basis points from February 5, which is expected to inject 1 trillion yuan in long-term liquidity.

Underscoring the central government's resolve to bolster the economy, the news boosted investors' confidence and reversed the stock market's recent downward trend.

On Friday, the Ministry of Commerce declared 2024 the "year of promoting consumption" and stressed the need to strengthen consumption rebound momentum. The ministry said it would continue to relax restrictions on foreign investment and improve the business environment in order to attract more investment.

Meanwhile, China's Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development on Friday called on various cities to adjust real estate policies based on their local conditions, and pledged to treat developers equally in terms of financing so as to ensure the healthy and steady development of the real estate sector, China Securities Journal reported.

Investors poured almost $12 billion into Chinese equity funds in the week to Wednesday in the largest inflow seen since 2015 and the second-largest ever, Reuters reported on Friday.

Chinese regulators vow ‘all efforts’ to ensure stable capital market

The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) on Tuesday vowed to make "all efforts" to maintain the stable operation of the capital market, saying that it would put more emphasis on stability and strive to stabilize the market and investors' confidence.

An official from the CSRC also said that the country's top stock market regulators will cultivate long-term and stable investment forces, enrich policy tools to cope with market volatility and guard against risks, according to a media report on Tuesday.

These comments add to growing signals from Chinese officials that they are stepping up efforts to stabilize the capital market amid recent volatility. On Monday, China's State Council, the cabinet, called for drawing more long-term funds into the capital market to boost its inherent stability.

The signals will offer much-needed reassurance for investors that policy measures are expected to be taken to tackle risks in the capital market and ensure overall stability, which will help lift expectations and boost confidence in the capital market, analysts said on Tuesday.

A meeting of the CSRC on Tuesday stressed that the agency will make all efforts to maintain the stable operation of the capital market. It also vowed to vigorously improve the quality and investment value of listed companies and increase the entry of medium- and long-term funds, according to a statement on the commission's website.

Zhang Wangjun, a senior official at the CSRC, said that in terms of stabilizing the market and investors' confidence, the commission will enrich policy tools to cope with market volatility, hedge against risks in a timely manner and firmly hold the bottom line in preventing risks, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The CSRC will also, along with relevant parties, ensure the continuity and stability of macro policies and industry policies, and avoid introducing policy measures that are not conducive to capital market expectations, in order to stabilize market expectations, according to Zhang.

The remarks from the CSRC come one day after the State Council held an executive meeting to hear reports about the capital market. The meeting stressed that increased medium- and long-term funds should be brought into the country's capital market and the inherent stability of the market should be enhanced.

The meeting also called for crackdowns on illegal activities and more effective measures to stabilize the capital market and boost investors' confidence.

Analysts said that these growing signals from government officials could mean concrete policy measures are forthcoming to tackle risks and challenges, boost investor confidence and ultimately maintain stability in the capital market, amid recent volatility.

"The recent declines in the stock market didn't happen due to major changes in the economic fundamentals, but because of irregular activities that take advantage of pessimistic narratives and market loopholes," Tian Yun, a Beijing-based economist, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Tian said that this situation isn't in the interests of investors and will have a significant impact on the overall economy. "This is why regulators must step in to maintain financial stability by using targeted funds and closing loopholes that allow short-selling," he said.

While China mounted an impressive economic recovery in 2023, with a GDP growth rate of 5.2 percent for the year, foreign media outlets continue to push negative narratives about the Chinese economy that analysts said have had a negative impact on investors' sentiment, leading to market volatility.

As of Tuesday, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index had fallen by 6.46 percent so far this year, while the Shenzhen Component Index had lost 8.56 percent.

Amid the downward trend, "restoring investor confidence does require strong policies and large-scale capital inflows to reverse the market's downtrend, so that investors can regain confidence," Yang Delong, chief economist at Shenzhen-based First Seafront Fund Management Co, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The State Council meeting pointed out that it is necessary to enhance the consistency of macro policy, strengthen innovation and coordination of policy tools, consolidate and enhance the positive trend of the economic recovery and promote the stable and healthy development of the capital market.

Zhang also said that the CSRC will strengthen monitoring of the trading behavior of key investors and severely crack down on illegal transactions such as illegal trading and manipulation, according to Xinhua.

GT Voice: Boeing crisis shows danger of US protectionism bubble

The escalating crisis of Boeing is giving rise to mounting frustration and anger within the aviation industry, as repeated safety problems of the American aviation giant, which highlight its poor quality control, along with regulatory failures and narrow-minded US industrial policies, clearly can't easily be fixed.

Two US airlines have cast doubt on Boeing 737 MAX plane orders. Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, one of the biggest buyers of Boeing jets, said in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday that the MAX 9 groundings are "probably the straw that broke the camel's back," signaling to the carrier it should seek "alternative plans" for its aircraft inventory.

In another interview on NBC on Tuesday, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci revealed the carrier found "some loose bolts on many" Boeing 737 Max 9 planes. "I'm more than frustrated and disappointed. I am angry," he said, according to excerpts of the interview.

There is every reason for airlines like United and Alaska to be disappointed. For the aviation industry, safety is the utmost bottom line, as any problem is likely to cause significant damage to life and property. Boeing's safety problems have posed a great challenge, becoming a major disruptor of the operation of airlines.

Indeed, United Airlines just warned investors that it will report a larger-than-expected loss in the first quarter because of the grounding of all 737 MAX 9 jets after a door plug blew off on an Alaska Air flight on January 5.

If anything, the CEOs' comments suggest that the safety crisis is not something that Boeing can quickly or easily quell. This is because since the crisis began earlier this month, reports of various safety problems about Boeing aircraft have continued to surface, indicating that its quality controls are facing a serious systemic problem, which cannot be easily fixed by addressing an isolated case.

For instance, a Boeing 757 aircraft lost its nose tire moments before it was supposed to take off from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Saturday, Fox Business reported on Tuesday.

Also last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was forced to change planes to return to Washington from Davos after the Boeing 737 aircraft he was supposed to board suffered a critical failure related to an oxygen leak.

There has been a lot of analysis as to why Boeing is plagued by repeated mechanical mishaps, such as its over-reliance on parts outsourcing for the purpose of maximizing profits and negligence of quality control.

But these may just be superficial issues. Fundamentally speaking, Boeing's management problems that have led to defects in aircraft production are inseparable from regulatory failure and government protection.

Due to limited resources, the Federal Aviation Administration has long outsourced some of its oversight responsibilities to Boeing and other manufacturers for self-certification, according to an NPR report, meaning that Boeing has played a role as "both athlete and referee" when it comes to safety supervision.

The US government has been one of Boeing's biggest customers and its biggest supporter. It is no secret that Boeing has long been one of the largest beneficiaries of tax breaks, subsidies and loans. 

When it comes to trade disputes, the US government imposed tariffs on Airbus to protect Boeing's position in the US market. Also, US officials have been pushing other countries to buy Boeing products, sometimes by offering loans.

Boeing's decline in competitiveness is due partly to the excessive support by the US government, which has made the giant lose its sense of urgency about quality controls and other issues affecting its competitive edge. 

It's clear that American influence has become a more powerful guarantee of market share than production competitiveness. But such protection can backfire.

If Boeing continues to rely on US government influence around the world, rather than really addressing its safety problems, it may become the "spoiled child" of high-end manufacturing in the US and lose its pivotal position in the American manufacturing industry.

Whatever happens to Boeing, the US still leads in some manufacturing areas. As the US tries hard to bring manufacturing jobs back to the country, Boeing's crisis is worth reflecting on for the American manufacturing industry. If US industrial policy continues to be propped up by protectionism, the competitiveness of US manufacturing is bound to be cast into doubt.