Good evening. One of the most interesting themes of China’s economic rise is how it’s rewriting the rules of games both old and new. Take money laundering: an old game that is now being upended by Chinese middlemen. And cloud computing? A very new game that has some relatively unknown Chinese players calling the shots. Our cover story this week looks at one of the most dramatic examples in this theme: Volkswagen’s attempt to remake itself for China’s electric vehicle market. And elsewhere, we have new book recommendations as well as a Q&A with Hao Wu, whose new documentary takes viewers inside Wuhan’s hospitals at the beginning of this year.
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The People’s Car is attempting to remake itself in the People’s Republic. With a long history in China — Volkswagen was the first foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM, to establish production on Chinese soil — and massive new investments, VW is doubling down on China’s electric vehicle market like no one else. But even with China’s thirst for electric vehicles, can the 87-year-old giant transform itself to compete with more tech-savvy start-ups? Moreover, will Berlin let it? Sean Williams reports for The Wire.
Just a few years ago, the cloud computing industry was barely more than a thought experiment. Now, it’s a $33 billion industry — every quarter. Chinese regulations require foreign firms operating in China’s cloud market to partner with a Chinese company, so Amazon and Microsoft — global leaders in cloud computing — have set up joint ventures with two Chinese firms: Beijing Sinnet and 21Vianet. This week, our infographics look at the biggest players in the global and Chinese markets to see who’s providing the cloud infrastructure, and who’s financing it.
The examples are piling in: Latin American drug cartels teamed up with Chinese brokers to turn dirty drug dollars into clean Colombian pesos. Hockey equipment bags full of illicitly earned Canadian dollars were sold to casino high rollers in exchange for renminbi. In the past few years, U.S. law enforcement authorities in at least four states have arrested Chinese nationals suspected of working with Latin American drug cartels. As The Wire’s Eli Binder reports, China’s strict capital controls have created the perfect market to use renminbi for money laundering efforts — but authorities are starting to catch on.
Hao Wu is a documentary filmmaker whose most recent film, 76 Days, provides a raw depiction of both patients and healthcare workers in Wuhan hospitals during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Wu worked with two co-directors who were on the ground in Wuhan, and in this week’s interview with The Wire’s Katrina Northrop, he talks about the process of making 76 Days, the trajectory of the pandemic from Wuhan to New York, and the challenges of being a documentary filmmaker in China.
Illustration by Lauren Crow
Still have some holiday shopping to do? Alec Ash’s latest round-up of China books could help. While too often, the story of China is truncated or elongated, his top pick this month is an accessible work of history that tells the whole China story, from earliest times to present-day, in just the right length.
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