China: Trouble in Workers' Paradise

Three small numbers are making big waves in China. The digits 9-9-6, a shorthand for 9am to 9pm, six days a week, have become a rallying cry for tech workers frustrated with their bruising work schedules. In recent weeks, what began as a discussion among a few programmers has morphed into a broader debate about working conditions in China's most important industry.

It's a fascinating story, not least because it's a rare example of a labor protest in China organizing and going viral despite the country's sophisticated government-backed censorship.

But the 9-9-6 debate also exposes deeper tensions within the Chinese system:


China's political ideals vs its capitalist growth engine: Under the Communist Party, China is meant to be a workers' paradise, but labor laws limiting work to 40 hours per week plus 36 hours of overtime per month are rarely enforced. China is the only country in the world that's come close to replicating the success of Silicon Valley, partly because of workers' willingness to submit to the grind. But life is short, and as living standards rise, it's inevitable that well-to-do tech workers with globally attractive skills will start to demand more free time.

Tech billionaires vs "worker bees": Leading Chinese tech entrepreneurs have pushed back against complaints about the 9-9-6 movement, effectively saying, "suck it up, slackers!" Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba (and a member of China's Communist Party), said tech workers should consider it a privilege to work such a tough schedule. Another Chinese billionaire, JD.com founder Richard Liu, warned the company's future would be in jeopardy if people were no longer willing to put in the time, saying "slackers are not my brothers."

But here's the problem: Both the Chinese government and industry bosses need obedient tech workers. China's technology industry is increasingly the engine of its economy. The government needs tech workers to keep living standards rising across the country and create new economic opportunities as growth starts to slow. Tech companies need their high-skilled workers to compete in a cut-throat industry. No wonder workers say they're feeling squeezed and that the status quo is unsustainable.

Upshot: If that's true, what does it say about the sustainability of the Chinese tech-led growth model?

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

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An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

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Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.