【英语中国】分析:中国央视为何再度出击房地产商? TV attacks hint that Beijing has knife out for property sector

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2014-1-10 08:40

小艾摘要: Unlike lightning, China’s state broadcaster most certainly strikes twice. Property developers have the burn marks to prove it.Last week, China Central Television doubled down on its attacks on real e ...
TV attacks hint that Beijing has knife out for property sector
Unlike lightning, China’s state broadcaster most certainly strikes twice. Property developers have the burn marks to prove it.

Last week, China Central Television doubled down on its attacks on real estate companies for owing billions in unpaid land taxes, training its guns on no less a target than the country’s biggest listed developer, Vanke. The report marked the second time in little more than a month that the broadcaster had made these accusations. Developers have denied them both times.

What might seem like an obscure tussle between CCTV and the property companies could turn out to be one of the most serious risks facing the global economy this year.

CCTV’s claims, though seen as dubious by analysts, are significant because the state broadcaster’s reports rarely emerge from thin air. Especially when repeated at length and in prime time – as has now happened with the land tax reports – they are likely to reflect an important strain of government thinking.

It is hard to overstate the wider significance of Beijing’s thinking about property. As former UBS economist Jonathan Anderson has argued, Chinese real estate may well be the “single most important sector in the entire global economy” as the biggest driver of China’s growth and global commodity demand.

So what has CCTV said? It launched its first fusillade in November, saying that 45 real estate companies owed Rmb3.8tn ($628bn) in land taxes. It alleged they had regularly flouted a law requiring that land appreciation tax be paid when they sell 85 per cent of homes in any new development. Officials across the country “have to seriously study and solve this problem”, the CCTV anchor intoned.

This first attack was roundly criticised. Gemdale, Beijing Capital Development and Vantone Real Estate, some of the country’s biggest developers, denied the accusations. Fitch Ratings said it was “normal and consistent” for there to be a timing gap between the sale of property and payment of land taxes.

Even the Chinese tax authority rubbished the report. “This is a misunderstanding and misreading of tax policies and the way taxes are levied,” the state administration of taxation said.

But if CCTV was chastened, it has a funny way of showing it. Last week it renewed its attacks, devoting nearly 20 minutes of the evening broadcast on its news channel to alleging that Vanke, the sales leader in the property market in China, owed more than Rmb4bn in land taxes. Vanke denied the allegations.

More colourful was Ren Zhiqiang, chairman of Hua Yuan Real Estate and one of China’s most outspoken business leaders, who noted that the state broadcaster had apparently failed to interview accountants. “There’s no pig on this entire earth dumber than CCTV,” Mr Ren wrote on his microblog account.

But the problem for Chinese developers is that the issue may not simply be a question of true or false. There are growing suspicions that CCTV is preparing the ground for an official assault on the property sector. “It is self-evident that the government is getting its knife ready,” said an opinion piece on the website of China Securities Journal, a state-run business newspaper.

It is vital to note that the CCTV attacks have focused only partly on developers. The broadcaster has spent nearly as much time criticising – and shaming – local tax authorities. With hidden cameras in tow, its journalists have visited local officials to ask why they have failed to collect land appreciation taxes. Their angry and frustrated responses have made for uncomfortable viewing.

Over the past five years, Beijing has focused its property policies on controlling price rises through administrative measures such as purchase restrictions. The CCTV reports could be a precursor to a change of tack, signalling that Xi Jinping’s year-old administration wants to put an end to the cosy relationship that has developed between property companies and local governments. To sell more land, a critical source of revenue, local governments have given developers breaks on tax payments. But this has led to ever-higher land and property prices, and has also created more opportunities for official corruption.

Mr Xi’s campaigns against bribery and wasteful spending have already cut into the fortunes of global companies from watchmakers to drugmakers. If the CCTV reports are indeed a sign that his next target is the Chinese property sector, the consequences for the global economy will be even farther reaching.

Simon Rabinovitch is the Financial Times’ Shanghai correspondent

雷电无法在同一个地方连击两次,中国的官方电视台却肯定可以。房地产开发商身上的烧痕就证明了这一点。

上周,中国中央电视台(CCTV)向房地产公司发起第二轮攻击,指控其欠缴数十亿元土地增值税,枪口直指中国最大的上市开发商万科(Vanke)。在一个月多一点的时间里,这是央视就这个问题发出的第二次指控。开发商们对两次指控都予以否认。

央视和房地产公司之间这场令人费解的争斗,可能最终会演变成今年全球经济将面临的一个相当严重的风险。

央视的指控(虽然分析人士持怀疑态度)之所以具有重大意义,是因为这家官方电视台的报道很少空穴来风。尤其像现在对土地增值税的报道这样,在黄金时段里长时间反复报道,很可能反映了某种重要的政府态度。

中国政府对房地产的态度,有着不容低估的广泛影响。正如前瑞银(UBS)经济学家乔纳森?安德森(Jonathan Anderson)曾经指出过的那样,作为中国经济增长以及全球大宗商品需求的最大驱动力,中国房地产很可能是“整个全球经济中最重要的行业”。

而央视怎么说呢?这家官方电视台在11月发起了第一轮猛攻,报道说45家房地产公司共欠缴了3.8万亿元人民币(合6280亿美元)的土地增值税。央视指控这些公司一贯无视法律要求,没有在新楼盘销售率达到85%时缴纳土地增值税。央视节目主持人称,全国各地的政府官员必须认真调查并解决这一问题。

央视的第一轮攻击受到了猛烈批评。中国几家最大的开发商——金地集团(Gemdale)、北京首都开发集团(Beijing Capital Development)和万通地产(Vantone Real Estate)都否认了央视的指控。惠誉评级(Fitch Ratings)称,房地产销售与税款上缴存在一个时间差,这是“正常和一贯的做法”。

就连中国的税务部门也对上述报道嗤之以鼻。中国国家税务总局表示,“这是对税收政策和征税方式的误解误读”。

如果说央视得到了教训,那么它展现这一点的方式实在有趣。上周央视发起了新一轮攻击,在新闻频道的晚间节目中用将近20分钟的时间指称万科(中国房地产市场的销售领头羊)欠缴土地增值税超过40亿元人民币。万科否认了这一指控。

更有意思的是华远集团(Hua Yuan Real Estate)董事长、中国最直言不讳的商界领袖之一——任志强。他指出央视显然没有采访会计师。他在自己的微博账号上写道:“天下找不到比央视更蠢的猪!”

然而,中国地产开发商的问题在于,这个问题可能不是简单的真假问题。目前,人们越来越怀疑,央视正在为针对房地产行业的一轮官方打击做准备。在中国官方财经报纸《中国证券报》(China Securities Journal)网站上,一则专题文章提到:“政府开始向房地产开刀的意思不言而喻。”

至关重要的是,应该注意到,央视只是把其攻击火力部分地集中在开发商身上。这家电视台用了几乎同样多的时间批评地方税务当局,让后者难堪。该电视台记者带着隐形摄像头访问地方官员,问他们为什么没有收缴土地增值税。这些官员愤怒而焦躁的反应使得整个场面让人看着不舒服。

过去五年里,中国政府一直将房地产政策集中于通过限购等行政手段控制房价上涨方面。央视的报道可能是政府改变策略的前奏,它表明上任一年的习近平政府希望终结房地产商和地方政府间的亲密关系。中国地方政府一直把卖地视为重要收入来源,为出售更多土地,地方政府一直为开发商提供税收优惠。然而这么做却导致地价和房价进一步提高,同时也滋生了更多官员腐败的机会。

习近平打击贿赂及铺张浪费的运动已经伤及各类跨国企业的财富,从制表商到制药公司。如果央视的报道真是一个信号,预示习近平的下一个目标是中国房地产业,这对全球经济造成的影响将深远得多。

译者/何黎

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