Why is China trying to game the gamers?

Why is China trying to game the gamers?

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.


Who's being targeted? First they came for billionaire Jack Ma, who was fined a whopping $2.8 billion for alleged antitrust violations and stopped from launching Ant Group, part of his Alibaba empire, as the world's biggest IPO. The value of its stock has plummeted since.

Then Beijing imposed sweeping restrictions on cryptocurrency trading, perceived as being too volatile... right as China (wink-wink) is pushing its own digital yuan as a reliable alternative.

After that, it was the turn of ride-hailing app Didi, which — on the eve of its American IPO — had its offices raided by state security agents for collecting more data on passengers than Beijing was comfortable leaving in the hands of a private firm. Next, for-profit tutoring giants were taken offline for skewing college admission odds towards the kids of rich families who can afford the help.

Now, it's the gamers' turn.

Why all the fuss? Beijing has all these companies in its crosshairs because they do at least one of three things Xi Jinping doesn't seem to like: they've become too big too fast, have gathered too much data, or are making too much money at the expense of social stability.

At a time of rising inequality in China, being rich is no longer, in Deng Xiaoping's own words, "glorious."

Here are two ways to understand what's going on.

One prevailing narrative — especially in the West — is that Xi is bullying large, rich companies because he is simply an authoritarian party boss who wants to stop any tech mogul or company from becoming too influential for the ruling Communist Party. Some argue that Xi would rather put the likes of Alibaba, Didi, or Tencent in their place — and perhaps out of business altogether — than let them become rival power centers. That's especially true if US stock market listings open up sources of financing and influence for these companies from Beijing's number one rival.

But another reading is that he is using his terrible powers for an understandable purpose. After decades of breakneck growth and corporate enrichment, China is reining in companies in the interest of social harmony over infinite growth. From this perspective, Xi is astutely flexing the one-party state's (considerable) muscle to nip social ills like inequality, monopoly, or gaming-induced apathy in the bud before they become horrific political problems like in the West.

In fact, at a time when many countries want to regulate tech firms but can't do so expediently as democracies, Beijing is — as far as this argument goes — ahead of the curve. In other words, by cracking down on tech behemoths Xi's acting less like Joseph Stalin than like trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt.

Xi has found an unexpected ally in Chinese youth, who are otherwise tired of their parents and the government ganging up on them over playing video games. There's a #MeToo angle — Tencent is one of several tech firms linked to Kris Wu, a famous singer accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. In cancelling him, young Chinese and the CCP have found common ground: the youth hate Wu for being a sexual predator, while the party generally despises the celebrity obsession culture tech companies rake in billions from.

What do you think? Is Xi using his power for good or bad reasons? Let us know here.

Additional reporting by Ziyu Wu.

You probably think Visa is a credit card company, huh?

https://ad.doubleclick.net/ddm/trackimp/N6024.4218512GZEROMEDIA/B26379324.311531246;dc_trk_aid=504469522;dc_trk_cid=156468981;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;tfua=;gdpr=${GDPR};gdpr_consent=${GDPR_CONSENT_755};ltd=?

Visa is well known all over the world, but how well? Many have long misunderstood it as a credit card company, but Visa is actually a network—working behind the scenes, connecting just about everyone to just about everyone else, so more of us can play a part in this commerce thing. Visa helps people and small and big businesses alike move money around the world. And it works to open doors—and change minds about what makes a business, a business. It's a network working for everyone. That's way more than a piece of plastic.

Meet Visa

Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

Change?

Though he's a man of the center-left, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and most likely next chancellor, wouldn't represent a radical break from Merkel. He's among the more fiscally frugal of Germany's Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he's an experienced technocrat and a skilled manager of political alliances.

Nor would a change in government radically shift Germany's foreign and trade policies. Its new government, whoever it includes, will keep strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities to expand economic relations with China. Germany's dependence on Russian energy will demand a continuation of Merkel's pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin's government.

Scholz's conviction that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to get tougher with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their violations of EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and that anti-EU economic populism remains a potent force in Italy and elsewhere, he's likely to support a generous approach to pandemic recovery in southern Europe.

But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of Germany's next government on climate policy will be crucial to global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely push the pace of transition from carbon to renewable energy, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push for this as hard as it can. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they'll push hard to limit tax increases to pay for tougher climate action, but they won't blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at Germany's governing table.

Merkel's legacy

Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel's 16-year run is remarkable. More than once she's proved the maxim that it's not the smartest or strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Merkel is smart and strong, to be sure, but she'll be remembered longest – by both devoted admirers and bitter critics – as the leader who insisted Germany could and should do more to help indebted countries survive Europe's sovereign debt crisis (2010-12) and to manage the surge of migrants that followed unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational talents also led her to change tack on nuclear power (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan) and on common European debt.

But the main reason Merkel leaves power with an 80 percent approval rating is that, whether she receives more credit than she deserves, she has presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It's all the more remarkable then that her party looks set to find itself in opposition once a new government is formed. It's Merkel that German voters like, not her political family.

Bottom-line: Whatever he accomplishes as Germany's next chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a tough act to follow.

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Is a US government shutdown coming?

Hard to say. Republicans and Democrats generally are in agreement about the need to fund the government. And they generally agree at what level the government should be funded. And they generally agree about the need for supplemental money for Afghanistan and some natural disasters, coming out of hurricanes this season and wildfires. What they're not in agreement about is the federal debt limit, which is the cap on US borrowing that the US hit in early August and needs to be extended by some time in October. Otherwise, the US will have a first-ever default. This would be a very bad outcome with cataclysmic results for the entire world economy.

More Show less

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen a lot during her 16 years in power. She's navigated a global economic recession, multiple wars in the Middle East which sparked an EU refugee crisis, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Often the only woman in the room, Merkel has had to learn to tactfully deal with dozens of idiosyncratic world leaders. Many have come and gone since 2005, but Merkel has won elections again and again. We take a look at who she's dealt with from the top democracies (by economic size) throughout her tenure.

In May 2020, economic historian Adam Tooze told GZERO World he feared 1 in 5 American workers could still be out of job now due to COVID. It didn't happen. Why? Tooze says he failed to anticipate how quickly we'd get highly effective vaccines, and the scale of the economic stimulus the government was willing to put up. During the 2008 financial crisis, he explains, "we were still beginning to flex our muscles with regards to economic policy, and the scale of fiscal and monetary stimulus that we've seen is as unprecedented as the shock of the spring of last year."

Watch Tooze's interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television starting Friday 9/23/21. Check local listings.

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

More Show less

Betrayal. Treason. Duplicity. These are some of the words used by the French government to describe the US' recent decision to freeze Paris out of a new security pact with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which nixed a contract for Australia to buy French submarines.

Macron's subsequent tough stance against one of its oldest and closest allies is unusual, including his decision to briefly recall the French ambassador from Washington, the first time a French president has done so. But this headstrong strategy is also a deliberate diplomatic choice.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal