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China’s Foreclosure Market Sees Record Listings, Flat Sales in 2023

Data from China Index Academy, a Chinese real estate research firm, shows 100,400 foreclosed properties were put up for auction in January 2024, a 48.2% year-over-year increase from January 2023. About 12,700 foreclosed properties sold in January 2024 for ¥27.31 billion (US$ 3.8 billion). The transaction rate of 12.63% was lower than the 15.8% seen in January 2023.

Foreclosure transaction rates were higher in economically strong regions. Five provinces/municipalities – Shanghai, Zhejiang, Beijing, Tianjin and Fujian – saw rates of over 20%. Shanghai had the highest rate, at 38.6% (154 out of 399 listings sold). Zhejiang had the second highest rate, 35.94% (1,185 out of 3,297 sold).

China’s foreclosure market has seen increased attention in recent times due to economic headwinds and uncertainty. The China Index Academy estimates that there are about 800,000 foreclosure listings in China in 2023, a record 36.7% year-over-year increase compared with 2022. Only 149,000 of these 2023 listings transacted, however, totaling ¥300.41 billion (US$ 41.7 billion), on par with the total for 2022.

Industry insiders believe foreclosure listings and transactions will keep rising in 2024, indicating a hot foreclosure market. The economic climate and real estate conditions will continue to be key factors influencing supply and demand.

Source: Central News Agency (Taiwan), February 25, 2024

Chinese E-Commerce Giants Temu and SHEIN Gain Ground in Japan

Chinese e-commerce platforms like Temu and SHEIN have seen large gains in Japan by offering low prices and decent quality. Temu, which focuses on daily essentials, has acquired over 15 million monthly active users in Japan within 6 months of its launch. This figure already exceeds 50% of the average user base of Japan’s top 3 e-commerce sites – Amazon Japan, Rakuten Ichiba, and Yahoo Shopping. Meanwhile, SHEIN has surpassed leading Japanese fashion marketplace ZOZOTOWN with 8.39 million users in January 2024, more than triple the number from a year earlier.

The secret behind behind the business models of Temu and SHEIN is the direct supply chain they have with small and medium manufacturers in China. This allows them to offer competitive pricing without compromising much on quality. Aggressive marketing tactics like heavy discounts and coupons have also helped them to rapidly gain market share.

As growth in the overseas footprint of Chinese ecommerce firms (now including TikTok) continues, they face barriers ranging from national security concerns to consumer rights and competition / IP infringement issues.

Some have voiced concern that the rise of Temu and SHEIN in Japan could threaten existing Japanese players. Moreover, these firms may face issues with the Japanese government over human rights concerns and intellectual property violations affecting the companies’ supply chains. SHEIN is also facing a lawsuit from leading Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo.

In the US, Temu and SHEIN are already in the crosshairs of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission for links to forced labor in Xinjiang as well as IP theft.

Source: Nikkei Chinese, February 21, 2024

Foreign Automakers Struggle in China’s Shifting Market

Japanese and Western automakers are struggling in the Chinese market, with steeper sales declines in 2023 compared to the Chinese auto market more broadly.

Honda’s 2023 sales fell 10% to 1.23 million vehicles in China while Nissan’s sales dropped 16% to 790,000 units. Toyota sales were flat at 1.9 million units. Mitsubishi Motors announced in October 2022 that it would cease production in China due to poor sales. Within about two months Mitsubishi’s dealership in Guangzhou was replaced by an outlet for a Chinese auto brand.

Volkswagen’s 2023 sales in China rose 2% to 3.23 million while sales of GM’s Buick brand fell 20% and Cadillac sales dropped by 8%.

Sales in China of electric and plug-in hybrid passenger vehicles increased by 30% in 2023, with Chinese automaker BYD expanding its selection of electric car models. China’s market for gasoline passenger vehicles shrank 7%, while the broader market for passenger vehicles (including electric vehicles) grew 4% to 21.92 million units.

Japanese brands Honda and Nissan lagged in electric vehicle sales even as their gasoline models face fierce price competition from Chinese brands. Japanese automakers face hard choices on where to focus limited resources. They face stiff price competition from Chinese manufacturers, though sales in China remain high enough to warrant continued competition in the electric vehicle segment. The plug-in hybrid segment may get less attention going forward.

Fierce price competition has spread to affect gasoline car models, and major foreign brands have cut prices substantially. Japanese brands offered steep discounts, with discounts on new Hondas averaging $3,500 and Nissan discounts averaging $3,200. Meanwhile, the average discount on BYD vehicles averaged just $750.

Source: Nikkei Chinese, February 22, 2024

A Local Government Urged its Employees to Buy Homes, Help Prop Up Struggling Housing Market

The government of Chikan District in Zhanjiang City, Guangdong Province, China, issued a letter on February 19th urging government employees and state-owned enterprises to buy homes in order to boost the struggling local real estate market. The initiative comes as China’s housing market slump continues and governments at all levels have introduced policies to try to stabilize the property sector.

The letter was sent out by the Chikan District 2024 Lunar New Year Activities Preparatory Committee Command Office. It refers to the current sluggish state of China’s real estate market and says that the Chikan District government has been working on multiple fronts to revitalize the sector, including entering negotiations with real estate firms to offer benefits and discounted “one-price special offer housing” to residents.

The stated goal of the letter was to encourage civil servants and state employees to “take the lead in consumption” and “be the role model” in home-buying so as to revive the real estate industry and restore market confidence. From February 21 to 23, the district will hold a real estate and home decoration exhibition focused on providing preferential housing to potential home buyers, offering deep discounts and concessionary policies.

The letter urges all government organs, enterprises, and institutions to fully mobilize their staff to seize this “favorable opportunity” and proactively purchase housing according to their needs. It also asks them to promote Chikan District to their friends and relatives and encourage them to live in and buy homes in Chikan, sharing in the district’s economic development.

Source: Central News Agency (Taiwan), February 20, 2024

China’s MSS Calls for Heightened Cybersecurity to Combat Foreign “Cyber Spies”

Chinese officials are pushing a society-wide “anti-espionage” campaign targeting the cyber sector. China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) says that cyberspace has become an “important battleground” for foreign spy agencies conducting espionage against China, worsening the country’s cybersecurity.

A recent MSS article titled “How Do ‘Cyber Spies’ Take Advantage of the Situation?” says foreign “cyber spies” targeting Chinese organizations and enterprises have been able to exploit security oversights, workplace negligence, and employees’ “pursuit of convenience.” By various means, they attack information systems to establish hidden data channels and steal sensitive data, jeopardizing China’s data and network security.

The article cites several cases. One involves a military-civilian enterprise whose outdated, vulnerable software systems were hacked by “cyber spies.” They allegedly stole important production, business, and customer data, threatening military tech development and security.

The article also says that foreign “cyber spies” heavily target Chinese “software supply chain” companies via phishing and network scanning. In particular, they steal secrets by attacking system administrators who are authorized to manage networks.

The article concludes by stressing the importance of preventative measures to promote counterintelligence security. It urges key Chinese units to strengthen their daily security management of technology per preventative counterespionage requirements and standards. The goal is to bolster prevention measures for key department networks, facilities, and information systems.

Source: Radio Free Asia, February 16, 2024

CCP Expands Military Recruitment, Especially in Rural Areas

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is expanding its military recruitment, particularly in rural areas.

Recently-leaked CCP recruitment documents state that the CCP’s recruiting focus should be on college students, while also recruiting widely in the countryside, “leaving no dead zones” (no unrecruited rural areas). For those Chinese citizens who leave their city of residence to travel for work or school, it is mandatory that they register with the military regarding their travel plans. Expert observers believe this expanded recruitment activity is preparation for large-scale war.

The CCP is focused on recruiting college graduates, who are suitable for adaptation to modern information warfare. Rural recruits are also targeted to provide a large pool of soldiers whose casualties may have less immediate economic and political impact. There are reports that the CCP has been recruiting discharged soldiers back into service only 5 years after they leave the military, as well as relaxing requirements to allow military service by people with criminal records.

New military recruitment regulations enacted in May 2022 have enabled this expansion. The new regulations include allowing retired soldiers to re-enlist, as well as directives to recruit students with high-tech skills. The CCP has completed a nationwide military service registration covering the country’s entire population, signaling preparation for war.

According to expert Yuan Hongbing, a Chinese legal expert living in exile in Australia, the CCP under Xi Jinping is waiting to see what will happen in the 2024 US presidential election. The CCP believes that, regardless of who wins, the result will divide America for years, creating a window of opportunity for the CCP to attack Taiwan. Yuan says China’s war preparations are likely focused on seizing this window of time in 2025-2027. Expanded recruitment from rural areas in particular will provide “cannon fodder” for large-scale combat operations against Taiwan planned for this period.

Source: Epoch Times, February 12, 2024

China’s Pension Funds Struggle with Widespread Losses amid Stock Market Slump

China’s pension-targeted funds, which aim to provide stable returns for retirement savings, have seen continued poor performance over the past year with widespread losses. Data from Wind shows there are currently 462 such funds in China. Of the 345 funds established before 2023, only 35 (10.14%) have realized positive returns over the last year. Additionally, only 11 funds achieved returns above 1% over the past year, while 34 funds saw returns decline by more than 10%. Seven funds have even been liquidated.

China’s pension-targeted funds experienced rapid growth after the first batch was approved for issuance in August 2018. However, since the beginning of 2022, performance has declined dramatically, a situation which has not improved in 2023.

According to a senior Chinese public fund researcher, the poor returns of China’s pension funds is largely due to the overall weak stock market, which has severely impacted pension funds. This highlights the factor that must be recognized – China’s pension-targeted funds are heavily tied to the performance of the broader financial markets. With the markets performing poorly over the past year, China’s pension funds have unsurprisingly also struggled to generate positive returns for retirement savers.

Source: Radio Free Asia, February 12, 2024

BASF Withdraws from Xinjiang Joint Ventures After Reports of Human Rights Abuses

German chemical company BASF announced on February 9th that it will withdraw its stake from two joint ventures in Xinjiang, China after human rights groups accused its local partners of participating in the crackdown on ethnic minorities. The two joint ventures are Xinjiang Markor Chemical and Markor Meiou Chemical. BASF says it initiated the sale in late 2023 for other reasons but will now accelerate the process, subject to local approval.

In its statement, BASF said recent allegations indicate the joint ventures were engaged in activities inconsistent with BASF’s values. The two ventures employ about 120 people locally, with BASF holding roughly half the shares. Markor Chemicals produces butanediol, used to make fibers, plastics and rubber.

Last week, reports revealed Markor and its employees were directly involved in surveillance and repression of Uyghurs by the Communist Party, leading to arrests. BASF said it was unaware and does not condone such actions, emphasizing they only involve its partners, not BASF itself.

Human rights groups have long accused China of systematically cracking down on Uyghurs in Xinjiang by sending over a million to detention camps for “re-education.” Beijing denies this, claiming it is combating extremism.

Several Western companies like Volkswagen operate in Xinjiang. VW recently said a third-party investigation found no evidence its factories use forced labor after facing such allegations.

BASF stated that despite withdrawing from Xinjiang, its other China businesses will continue normally. It is spending $10 billion on a new production base in Guangdong province. The company says it remains fully committed to its investments in China.

Source: Deutsche Welle, February 10, 2024