Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…
May 5, 2017 (WiC 364)

First introduced to the area in the 1960s, Pacific Oysters have been laying siege to parts of Denmark’s coast. And last month the Danish embassy in China presented a media-savvy solution: a distress call from its weibo account for Chinese help.

Noting that the newcomers were threatening the population of native Limfjord oysters and creating wider ecological damage, the message was that visitors from China should “come and eat” the intruders. It soon went viral on WeChat and weibo, with oyster lovers offering to visit the country and cull the invaders.

Recipes were soon being sent to the Danish embassy’s weibo account and it was proposed that visitors from China were willing to fill their bellies should they be offered visa-free stays in Hamlet’s homeland. One netizen calculated that such a scheme would see Chinese tourists wipe out the unwanted oysters within five years, reports Lanjinger Financial News. “I solemnly swear to join the Danish Oyster Resistance Army,” another netizen quipped in an online comment reported by the New York Times.

The Danish embassy says that food companies from China are also offering to import the unwanted mollusks. At least the Chinese are familiar with the taste: 80% of the world’s oyster farms are in China, says CBN, and 80% of their produce is the Pacific Oyster variety.

As we pointed out in WiC164, the Chinese were delighted to help with a similar situation in Germany, after reports that hairy crabs were devouring local species in the country’s rivers. Hairy crab is considered a delicacy in China, where the invasion was seen in a more positive light. “In China, all the chemical factories and the serious pollution of rivers has led to a declining number of hairy crabs,” wrote the Beijing Times back in 2012. “On the other hand, Germany’s Elbe and Havel rivers have much cleaner water that are good for breeding.”

Back to the present day and the Danish embassy admits: “We knew food-related posts would attract some attention, but we did not foresee this frenzy at all.”

The true home of skiing?
Apr 28, 2017 (WiC 363)

The Chinese lay claim to inventing almost everything – from football to golf – so it will come as no surprise that skiing is the latest to enter the list. The New York Times ran an extensive report this week about a cave painting in Xinjiang Autonomous Region that depicts five hunters on skis. According to Chinese archaeologists the painting dates back more than 10,000 years, or more than 2,000 years before the next earliest ski artefact on record.

The US newspaper says international academia is slowly coming round to the idea that skis originated in this part of the Altai Mountains, rather than in Scandinavia as previously thought. Historian Shan Zhaojian has led the work on the cave painting and he thinks recognition of Altai’s skiing history will get greater prominence as the 2022 Winter Olympics approaches, which China will host. Shan hopes a new skiing museum will be funded in the Chinese region, to press home China’s contribution to Alpine sports.

However, the New York Times article points out that there is some controversy as to whether it is the country’s dominant ethnic group, the Han Chinese that are featured in the cave painting. Kazakh minorities in the nearby village of Khom say the Han never skied and that it was their own ancestors who are in the painting. To this day the Khom’s Kazakhs still handmake their own wooden skis and cover them in horsehair. Other skiers in the area – Mongolians and Tuwas – are also ethnic minorities. But determining which racial group was being depicted 10,000 years ago can hardly be considered a definitive exercise. “There is no consensus that any of the ethnic groups of the Altai can stake a claim as the rightful heirs of the painted skiers – thousands of years of conquest, including when the region came under the rule of the Qing Dynasty in the mid-1700s, have left such a determination all but impossible,” surmises the paper.

No longer a pipe dream
Apr 21, 2017 (WiC 362)

Myanmar has a track record when it comes to transporting essential supplies to China. Famously the Burma Road was built between Lashio (in Myanmar) and Kunming (in southwest China) in 1938, covering 1,154km. For the next four years it supplied Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek with military and other essential materiel, offering a lifeline as his retreating forces fought against Japanese troops (which were busy occupying China’s eastern seaboard). It was owing to the strategic importance of the Burma Road that Japan’s army invaded the country in 1942.

This past week a signing ceremony in Beijing signalled the strategic importance of Myanmar’s location once again. The heads of state of both governments watched as a new agreement was signed for the operation of the Sino-Myanmar Crude Oil Pipeline. The oil link had been tested as far back as 2014 but later disputes saw its commercial opening delayed and the crucial final 2.5km remain unbuilt. According to the South China Morning Post, the breakthrough came more recently when the Myanmar government agreed to lower transit fees through the pipeline. That permitted the Chinese and Myanmar sections of the oil link to be connected this month.

The opening of this key piece of cross-border infrastructure will be welcome news for President Xi Jinping and his Belt and Road blueprint. The pipeline will have capacity to transport 22 million tonnes of crude annually to China from the Middle East and Africa, with tankers no longer having to navigate the Strait of Malacca and pass through the South China Sea. Bypassing the Strait is viewed by security strategists as vital – that’s because that sea lane is a chokepoint that could be used by an adversarial navy to block oil imports from the Middle East.

In more purely economic terms, Chinese state media reports that the pipeline will alleviate shortages of oil in southwestern China. To this end the oil major CNPC has constructed a refinery in Kunming capable of processing 13 million tonnes of crude per year and says it will become operational once the pipeline starts to pump the required volumes. That will be soon: last Sunday a Suezmax tanker arrived at the pipeline’s starting point in Myanmar and began discharging its cargo of 140,000 tonnes of oil. Xinhua said this formally inaugurated the project – which is China’s biggest investment in its neighbour.

The Financial Times points out none of this has been without controversy on both sides of the border. In Myanmar there have been protests about land grabs – and potential oil leaks – along the pipeline’s route and in Kunming residents have demonstrated against the refinery and the pollution that it will generate. The SCMP says there are also concerns that the pipeline may have to halt operations if armed conflict flares up between ethnic groups in northern Myanmar. Last November three such militias attacked police stations and government offices in Muse and Kutkai, temporarily halting Sino-Burmese cross-border trade.