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US-China Market Watch: Trade Talks, Blockchain, NBA China

By Angela Bao

Nov. 7, 2019
Chinese fans watching the NBA pre-season game in Shenzhen
(Photo credit): STR/AFP/Getty Images

Your monthly roundup of the latest US-China business and industry news.

U.S.-China trade deal still on track

Despite the cancellation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile, where President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping had planned to sign “phase one” of a trade deal, the White House says that they still expect to sign the initial pact in November, although the signing could be delayed until December. The Chinese Commerce Ministry said that the two sides had agreed to tariff rollbacks as part of the deal, but President Trump disputed that statement and said he has not yet decided if he will eliminate any levies as part of the agreement.

As part of the initial deal, Trump has said that China will ramp up its purchases of U.S. agricultural products to a one-year target of $40 billion to $50 billion, which is about twice the amount purchased by China in 2017, the last year before the trade war kicked in. The deal would also protect intellectual property rights in China, prevent further tariff increases, and call for the creation of “dispute settlement offices” on both sides should issues arise in the future.

During the negotiations, China has already increased purchases of soybeans and pork, and offered major Chinese and international soybean processors a tariff-free exemption on soybean imports of up to 10 million tons. The United States Trade Representative is also considering whether to extend tariff suspensions on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, which is set to expire on December 28, 2019.

China looks to attract more foreign investment

In an attempt to offset the effects of the trade war, Beijing has been working diligently to attract more foreign investment to China. China’s Premier Li Keqiang has also been trying to “woo” foreign investment into China and has said that global manufacturing enterprises are “welcome to seize opportunities” in China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China passed a new law, which will go into effect January 1, 2020, that would make it easier for foreign companies to conduct business in China, after a draft proposal received positive feedback from the United States. According to state-owned Xinhua News Agency, the law will create a “stable, fair, transparent, and predictable” business environment and will fully protect businesses’ autonomy and intellectual property rights.

Earlier in October, China also announced a “firm timetable” for its plans to open up its financial markets. The government will scrap foreign ownership limits on futures companies on January 1, 2020, limits on mutual fund companies on April 1, 2020, and limits on securities firms on December 1, 2020.

NBA-China relationship on the rocks

After a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing support for the Hong Kong protestors, the National Basketball Association has landed in hot water in China, the NBA’s biggest international market with a purported 600 million fans. As a result, Chinese broadcasters have refused to air certain games during the first week of the NBA season, modified media coverage of NBA events, and edited out certain images like the NBA logo. The NBA has received criticism from both the U.S. and China, with many U.S. fans voicing support for Hong Kong and expressing their displeasure at the NBA apparently kowtowing to Chinese demands.

However, basketball is immensely popular in China, and tens of millions of fans still tuned in, some by tapping into websites that pull broadcasts via satellites from other places.

Disney and Tencent team up for Stars Wars partnership

Disney and Lucasfilm have signed a distribution deal with Tencent’s China Literature, China’s largest e-book and online reading platform, to develop a fan base for their Star Wars franchise from the ground up. The deal would give China Literature the license to translate and distribute 40 Star Wars novels for its estimated 217 million monthly active users. The two companies would also work together to publish the first authorized Star Wars novel written by a Chinese author, which would also feature a new Chinese hero and incorporate Chinese narrative elements.

Aside from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which earned $124 million in China, films from the franchise have underperformed at the Chinese box office. That’s mainly attributed to the fact that the original Star Wars films never received a wide release in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so the films lacked the same cultural nostalgia they have in the U.S. and other countries. However, with this partnership, Disney hopes to expose a legion of readers to the world of Star Wars and grow a fan base through that.

China pushes blockchain adoption

China’s President Xi Jinping has commented that China should speed up research and development in blockchain technology, which briefly caused blockchain-related stocks to rise by as much as 10 percent. The National People’s Congress in China has also cleared a law that would create a regulatory framework for local authorities to monitor cryptography-related activities, which is scheduled to go into effect January 1 of next year. The law doesn’t deal exclusively with cryptocurrencies, but rather with “specialized concepts” related to cryptography.

According to Xinhua, Xi stressed that blockchain technology had many applications in the development of the digital economy, optimization of the business environment, the advancement of China’s supply-side reform and the development of smart cities. He also emphasized that blockchain should be used to improve connectivity between cities.

The news marks a change in China’s approach to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology; in 2017, the government banned cryptocurrency exchanges and initial coin offerings.

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