China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

Post-Olympic Pieces

Here’s a couple of interesting “Olympic-Aftermath” posts from around the internet, and below is some value-added analysis:

* The Olympic Sponsor – Biggest Winners and Biggest Losers
All Roads Lead to China
Discusses how sponsors like Lenovo and GE may have benefitted from their Olympic sponsorship.

*Yeah! I’m a Llama Again
Silk Road International
Great Olympic-review/overview piece with even better links that are worth consideration. (Such as this harsh piece by TimesOnline (Some of its assertions might be treated with a grain of salt though- and it should be noted that the British Times appears to have an almost pathological dislike for China’s regime), and a thoughful piece in the Washington Post.)

* The Great Convergence?
The China Beat
Compares similarities between China and the United States and coverage of the Olympics.

* Making sense of what comes after the Olympics
Michael Pettis at Asia EconoMonitor
Discusses China’s still-weak stock-market, declining growth in expansion of tax revenues, and speculates on near-future performance of the Chinese economy.

*Rio Tinto predicts post-games boom
By Rebecca Bream and Chris Flood; Financial Times
The Financial Times reports how Rio Tinto believes commodity prices will rise again, amid a post-Olympics construction boom as transportation/supply chains are untangled, factories are reopened, and trucks get back onto the streets… This would probably happen starting sometime around mid-September after the Paralympic Games are finished.

Olympic Pollution: Comparisons
chinacomment
If you wanted to compare pollution pre-Olympics, or to compare Beijing’s pollution to Olympics’ pollution in Athens, or Barcelona, this is an excellent resource.

Wireless Data Roaming Wins Gold During Beijing Olympics
MarketWatch
Ever wondered how much information was sent over roaming phones during the Beijing Games? Now you can become enlightened. “[A] surge in wireless data roaming traffic exceeding 40 percent over the same period of days the month before. This increase in roaming traffic resulted in more than 332 GB of data being exchanged between 225 mobile operators in 106 different countries on the Aicent network. This increase in wireless data roaming is the equivalent of the content in books stored on nearly two miles of shelves.”

Conclusion… What Does This Mean?
Links without analysis are only of marginal use, so here’s some value-added content.

* Rio Tinto is probably right to believe demand in China for metals and resources will continue, despite a weak international economy. And if other countries’ demand for resources drops, China has the cash to step in and bargain-shop.

* A weaker international economy will harm China’s export-market, but the PRC appears willing to focus policy on expanding economic growth. Brad Setser of the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) persuasively argues that China’s exports have not yet been significantly harmed by the global slowdown.

It appears RMB appreciation will slow if the Chinese continue to prop up their exporters. Michael Pettis, who specializes on Chinese Financial Markets and teaches at Beida in Beijing, believes that China might also sustain high inflation in order to support its exporters.

It is surprising that exporters are still maintaining at least a limited amount of strength, considering that the new Labor Law requires employers to pay workers more and treat them better, and considering that new tax provisions do away with some benefits for foreign companies based in China. A fuller examination of China’s economic future and the consequences of its economic policies definitely merits more in-depth future analysis that will certainly take a good deal of time to properly treat.

* And The China Beat reminds us that in many ways, China and the United States have similarities… things that often go unnoticed when the “China Threat Theory” is promulgated, or China’s collectivist culture is over-stressed, or when commentators focus on China’s “communism.”

* And, to close, I welcome your thoughts on where China’s economy is going post-Olympics or if the Olympics really changed anything about China in the long run. (Bonus Article: “Orville Schell discusses the future of Chinese nationalism and Olympic changes. (Written Before the Games)”) Thanks for reading.

29 August, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Olympic Pollution- Comparisons

Air quality in Beijing during the Olympics, according to the BBC, was actually quite clean. “Beijing met the strictest WHO standard for particulate matter in six out of the first 11 days of the Games.” Below, I examine just how good Beijing’s air quality was compared to air quality in previous games’ cities.

Pollution during the Beijing Olympics was rated on average 62 AQI for July 25 through August 24. Pollution was a 43 from the 18th through the 24th of August, according to the WSJ Beijing Air Quality Widget. (AQI is a composite number that includes measurements of ground-based ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter.) An AQI score of 43 would be considered green or safe in the United States, and yellow or fair in Canada.

To better understand the improvements Beijing made in its air quality, I present numbers from Runner’s Magazine’s September 2008 issue (page 96) which presented a comparative study of Olympic host cities’ pollution rates. The study measured average yearly concentrations of particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SD), and nitrogen dioxide (ND).

Note: Numbers below for “Beijing 2008″ are pre-Olympics.

Particulate Matter
Montreal (1976)… 19
LA (1984)… 34
Barcelona (1992)… 35
Athens (2004)… 43
Beijing (2008)… 89
Beijing (DURING OLYMPICS)… 52-62
Safe Levels… 15-35
2004 EU Levels… 30
WHO Air Quality Target… 50

Sulfur Dioxide
Montreal (1976)… 10
LA (1984)… 9
Barcelona (1992)… 11
Athens (2004)… 34
Beijing (2008)… 90
Beijing (DURING OLYMPICS)… 10-14
Safe Levels… 20 (WHO Guidelines. p.414)

Nitrogen Dioxide
Montreal (1976)… 42
LA (1984)… 74
Barcelona (1992)… 43
Athens (2004)… 64
Beijing (2008)… 122
Beijing (DURING OLYMPICS)… 24-32
Safe Levels… 40
2004 EU Levels… Over 40

(numbers in micrograms per cubic meter)

Beijing appeared to do a good job on reducing Particulate Matter pollution. Beijing lowered its average PM10 pollution by nearly 40 points on average. However, Beijing still suffered more floating particulates than were present in previous Olympic host cities. On average, Beijing was over the “safe” limit by nearly 30 points. 

Beijing’s sulfur dioxide content, however, was notably lower than that of Athens in 2004 which put sulfur  dioxide pollution within safe levels. Still, the amount was higher than SO2 content in other previous Olympic host cities.

Perhaps the best pollution prevention news is that nitrogen dioxide pollution was down by 1/4th, and was much lower than NO2 pollution in previous Games-holding cities.

Conclusion

China effectively confronted pollution in Beijing, at least in the short term. As September arrives and factories and construction begin turning on and cars return to the road, Beijing’s usual smog will return. But with luck, Beijingers now enjoying clear skies might be motivated to adopt and promote further environmental measures.

For now though, let us celebrate Beijing’s clear skies and Olympic environmental-stopgap success.

Appendix

In English, here are district by district reports of air quality from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau for August 23:

DISTRICT/ SULFUR/PARTICULATE MATTER/NITROGEN

    Dongsi Station in Dongcheng District 7 46 22
    Guanyuan Station in Xicheng District 10 39 22
    Tiantan Station in Chongwen District 9 48 25
    Wan Shou Station in Xuanwu District 8 52 17
    Olympic Sports Center Stadium in Chaoyang District 10 46 32
    Agriculture Exhibition Center Station in Chaoyang District 16 44 30
    Wanliu Station in Haidian District 11 46 27
    North Developping Area Station in Haidian District 9 51 8
    Botanical Garden Station in Haidian District 8 41 16
    Fengtai Town Station in Fengtai District 9 56 39
    Yungang Station in Fengtai District 9 51 8
    Gu Cheng Station in Shi Jingshan District 15 56 23
    Station in Yizhuang Developping Area 10 55 19
    Longquan Town Station in Men Tougou District 5 50 13
    Liangxiang Town Station in Fangshan District 8 53 31
    Tongzhou Town Station in Tongzhou District 5 54 13
    Renhe Town station in Shunyi District 5 39 7
    Dingling Station in Changping District 6 31 3
    Changping Town Station in Changping District 7 38 9
    Yellow village Station in Daxing District 17 58 18
    Yufa Station in Daxing District 5 61 14
    Pinggu Town Station in Pinggu District 5 48 5
    Huairou Town Station in Huairou District 5 29 5
    Miyun Town Station in Miyun County 7 28 4
    Miyun Reservoir Station 6 19 12
    Yanqing Town Station in Yanqing District 11 37 13
    Ba Daling Station in Yanqing County 7 24 19

 Particulate Matter Chart for Beijing: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7498198.stm

From the BBC

25 August, 2008 Posted by | China Environment/Health | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Protesters and the Olympics (Guest)

by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)

There is one group who the Western media has generally not quite given much face-time, a group who could potentially cause even more embarrassment to Beijing than the Tibet and Darfur protesters. This group is China’s general population of ‘petitioners.’

Beijing is said to have been home to 10,000 petitioners before the Olympics. Many of these people came to Beijing to petition because they believe they have ‘been denied justice in their home provinces.’ These people could expose untold numbers of stories of local corruption, and at least some of the stories would be true.  Now, groups allege there has been a large crackdown that has swept petitioners, along with other undesirables such as ‘beggars and pickpockets’ out of the city. Also, to discourage undesirables (the poor, migrants, Uighurs, 等等) from residing in Beijing, the government ‘closed down thousands of cheap hotels and basement apartments where rooms could be rented for less than $1 a day’ and ‘demolished housing in entire neighborhoods where petitioners have lived.’

Anyone who has lived in Beijing is probably familiar with this sort of tactic, the clearing off the street of beggars before a big event – be it a Party Congress, or the Africa-China meeting. This time, however, the clearing is being done with an ‘unprecedented intensity.’

One common petitioner spot known as Kaiyang Bridge had somewhere around 10,000 petitioners before the crackdown. Now it only holds a few hundred. Such petitioners wish to have their problems heard, hopefully in front of a television camera. Gauging Beijing’s reaction so far, it is a bit unlikely that their problems will be heard before they are detained.

High profile protests have already begun. Pro-T^&(t activists unfurled some huge banners near the stadium, ‘others managed to screen a pro-T^&(t video, a U.S. swimmer unveiled an anti-fur advertisement and three U.S. Christian activists were able to enter T*(ananmen Square to protest briefly.’ No one was arrested, although it appears that all save the anti-fur swimmer were deported on the 9th, but all were quickly quieted and removed from their protest sites.

For something to look forward to, there are the ‘more than 40 athletes’ who signed an ‘open letter to china’s government to respect human rights and freedom of religion.’ Protests have also started and have been ongoing, to some extent, in many parts of the world.

What all this will lead to in the aftermath of both protests and the Olympic games, and whether or not the Chinese government can respond appropriately to unrest and dissent, might very well shape future Chinese domestic and foreign policy.

(ed: in the August 19, 2008 WSJ, page A10- Shai Oster noted in “China is Pitching a Protester Shutout” that 77 applications for protests from 149 people have been filed. 74 were withdrawn “because their problems ‘were [allegedly] properly addressed by relevant authorities…’ No protests have been approved. This could lead to simmering discontent among the people as Leslie Hook describes on page A15 in “The Chinese Want Property Rights Too.” In that article, Hook describes several petitioners’ struggles.)

Specifically of note (and for deeper analysis): Willy Lam of the Jamestown Foundation wrote a good article on the “Coming crackdown” post-Olympics games.

This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of chinacomment. However, it is interesting, so I hope you will find it enjoyable. Once again, I thank Danny very much for his contribution.

(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.)

18 August, 2008 Posted by | China Future, China General, China Stability | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijingers Love Their Games? (Guest)

by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)

In a survey of Chinese natives, 93% believed that ‘the Olympics will help China’s image around the globe’ and 96% said that the games ‘will be successful.’

These numbers, while enlightening on exposing Chinese national thought, don’t hit on one key question: How are Chinese, and Beijingers in particular, satisfied with the preparations for the games and the new security regulations?

This quote seems to sum up at least some Beijingers’ feelings: ‘For years we couldn’t wait for the Olympics to start. Now we can’t wait for them to be over.’ To be fair, many are still excited for the event, they are just a bit tired of all the extra measures.

The quoted person presumably wants the Olympics to be over so everything can be ‘normal’ again, without all the new rules and restrictions imposed on Beijing to clean it up – environmentally, legally, and even in terms of fashion (Shirts and ties for taxi drivers) . (ed: One interesting dramatized story about local discontent with the Olympic games can be found in this “sci-fi” tale from China Digital Times, reposting from the SCI-FI Great Wall blog. The story discusses how poor local Beijingers are pushed aside in the lead-up to the Olympics, all for the sake of honored foreign guests.)

Rules have been drawn up to guard against fashion no-no’s. Here’s the abridged version: ‘white socks worn with black shoes are out, leather skirts are frowned upon, bright nail varnish is a no and woe betide anyone whose colours clash.’ What will actually happen to someone who violates these new guidelines, let alone what these rules will do to that Chinese 农民(nongmin) summertime tradition of rolling up shirts to mid-chest height, is unclear.

Maybe it’s not just the fashion police who are bothering Beijingers. It could be the new Taxi protocol requiring identity checks at random police stops. Or it could be that a good number of clubs ‘have been forced to go dark,’ and the ones that are still open have a mandated 2 a.m. closing time. Then, in a move to clean up pollution, most barbecue or 串儿 restaurants/stalls have been closed.

Checkpoints on the outskirts of the city have helped decrease the number of vegetables in Beijing, and partially due to that and inflation, foodstuff prices have increased by around ’20 percent.’ Compounded together, it’s easy to understand a Beijinger’s frustration.

There is some good news: Water will not be in short supply in Beijing. It has been diverted from Hebei, to ensure that the Olympians get enough water. Hebei, already a bit short of water, might have some problems. On top of sufficient water, rules have been put in place to ensure cabbies ‘go easy on their garlic consumption.’

One more humorous measure involved ‘a series of measures banning cigarettes in schools, railway stations, office buildings and other public places.’ Wen Jiabao ‘has declared that the Olympics will be smoke free.’ 100,000 inspectors are on the lookout to ticket smokers, but the ticket is a mere $1.40, which among the middle classes is unlikely to curb much smoking. To emphasize this, a general reaction to the rare non-smoking sign: “If I point to the no-smoking sign, the passenger will just laugh and keep smoking.”

Chinese may love their Olympic games, but with over 350 million Chinese smokers, 1/3rd of the world’s smoking population, many Chinese also love their cigarettes and their normal lives.

This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of chinacomment. However, it is interesting, so I hope you will find it enjoyable. Once again, I thank Danny very much for his contribution.

(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.)

12 August, 2008 Posted by | China General, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijing Smog

Every winter, Beijing skies darken with pollution’s gray fog. Exercising becomes dangerous to the health since too much bad air is drawn in and and not enough good. Soot merges with Beijing’s snowfalls, solidifying the snow and making these dense packed black and white masses last.

Beijing’s foul air contrasts greatly to air quality elsewhere. Good air, which rates a 50 on the AQI (air quality index) means air absent of “ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide,” according to airnow.gov. When air rates over 150, it is considered unhealthy and a red pollution day is declared. Several American cities experience red, or purple (201-300 AQI values) pollution days a few times per year. Beijing’s index, by contrast, suffers over 110 days each year in excess of AQI 100. Several days in December 2007, air quality hit 500- meriting a hazardous maroon rating (US air quality scale).

In Winter 2006 and 2007, the pollution index also hit 500. On those days, we could not even see buildings less than a block away. Bleakness oozed. Chinese wore white face masks.

“Beijing lung”, our endearing term for hacking up black spittle, became a common sight and ailment among not just foreigners, but also among locals. People felt dizzy, lethargic, and disoriented. Food took on a slightly tinny tinge, and eyes watered.

Is Beijing’s polluted clime livable- yes. As bad as my description sounds, thousands of Beijingers more or less live, and work- hanging 30 stories off construction beams, or carting bales of cardboard and crushed plastic on precariously balanced bikes. According to a New York Times article by Aaron Kuo-Deemer, hospital visits and deaths do rise significantly during high pollution days. But it is amazing how much pollution the human body can withstand. Even though just walking on a 500 level pollution day feels like smoking several cigarettes, one recalls some heavy smokers live long lives. In fact, Jeanne Calment, the world’s oldest lady smoked until she was nearly 117. Other smokers at least live into their sixties.

But living a relatively healthy life among increasing pollution is not sustainable. Pollution cuts into productivity as asthma cases increase and lung diseases strike, creating pressure on China’s health care system. Last year cancer accounted for nearly 20 percent of Chinese deaths, according to China Daily. Estimates state “70 percent of China’s 2 million annual deaths attributable to the disease were pollution-related,” according to China’s State Environmental Protection Administration; also “a World Bank report said about 750,000 Chinese die earlier due to air pollution every year.”

The situation, despite government claims to the contrary, may be worsening. Although Beijing can celebrate an alleged 244 blue sky days where the pollution index remained below 100, part of the reason for the achievement attributes not to greater environmental sustainability, but to movement of monitoring stations to new locations- farther away from highway intersections.

Cleaning up sulfur-spewing factories and particulate-emitting coal plants, Beijing has progressed in reducing airborne particulate matter. However, with over a thousand cars added daily to Beijing’s streets, automotive pollutants are merely replacing industrial pollutants. Although Beijing has made great strides in improving car and bus emission standards and although it has increased mass transportation, opening two subway lines, and a light rail in 2007 and 2008, Beijing’s rapid growth and unfortunate location negate much of its environmental gains. Smog originating from northern provinces’ factories blow into Beijing’s dry mountain-surrounded plateau and is trapped. The dust only dissipates with a rain or strong wind. Otherwise, bleakness looms.

Despite recent environmental advances- the preponderance of cars, influx of people and high energy demands will contribute to increased pollution. Beijing will grow and the government will struggle to limit pollution. People will endure, but as the city grows, so too will the dark clouds looming above.

Economist Quotation

 (This article was originally written in March 2008 )

10 July, 2008 Posted by | China Environment/Health, China Future | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maslow’s Hierarchy

The People’s Republic of China’s growth since 1949 mirrors development of not just the rise of great powers; but it also surprisingly reflects psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Developmental Hierarchy of Needs (Quotations from HERE).

1.) “Physiological Needs

These are biological needs…They are the strongest needs”

To sustain the country in the late 1950s, collectivization programs were instituted, farms were consolidated, and backyard furnaces smelted steel. Then, the Great Leap Forward bust, and a famine began that would cost the lives of millions. China recovered, eventually, but it embarked upon increasingly insular policies. (PBS) In Wild Swans, Jung Chan discusses the struggle for survival.

From 1966-1976, China suffered the Great Cultural Revolution, when students were sent into the countryside to labor alongside peasants, and intelligensia were humiliated (some were murdered). Even cadres suffered, but former “landlord-class”, “entrepreneurs”, and professionals like doctors, lawyers, and teachers suffered the most.  To increase crop yields and to raise the Socialist spirit, people were forced into collectivized farms.

The Mao Jacket (Photo) became a popular form of clothing, paens to the great Chairman were sung, and the loyalty dance was danced. Ritual was embraced, and individuality was considered putting the self above the collective, thereby damaging productivity (Xing Lu’s book has more on the Cultural Revolution).

The Cultural Revolution might be argued to have domestically fulfilled security needs to ensure Mao’s superiority more than physiological needs. Internationally, however, it was most definitely an example of physiological needs. Because the regime was so concerned about internally maintaining order, China recalled ambassadors from abroad (Xiaohong Liu’s excellent book describes this) and basically walled itself off from the outside world, helping justify the phrase, the “bamboo curtain.” Instead of reaching out, China criticised Moscow and embarked on an extended period of isolation. 

In essence, the 1960s saw China concerned with itself, and its survival as a revolutionary Communist state.

2.) “Safety Needs

When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. “

Post 1976, a new set of regimented order emerged. Out of the crumbling of the collective farms and state-owned enterprises during the 1980s-1990s, came a brief “Beijing Spring” and opening 改革开放 under the leadership of liberals such as Hu Yaobang, and Zhao Ziyang. This opening came to an end in 1989.

Arguably, need for security is still paramount even today, as is evident when Beijing cracks down on Tib#*#*tan protests, and internet censors monitor communications. (James Fallows of the Atlantic has a really interesting article on censorship  and concepts of security.)

In terms of international security; in 1979 Chinese troops crossed the border to punitively punish Vietnam for becoming involved in the unrest in Cambodia. After seizing a few objectives, the Chinese withdrew. Also of note is the 1995-1996 Taiwan Straits crisis.

3.) “Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness

When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging. “

Look at the cute Olympic monsters, the fuwa, and consider China’s “Panda Diplomacy,” then consider how China coveted the Olympics because having them will demonstrate that China is a great country. The CS Monitor and other journalistic outlets have often repeated; “The Chinese government is treating the Games as a symbolic end to 150 years of humiliation by outside powers and a confirmation of its status as a global power to be reckoned with.” As a student said in response to Beijing’s reception of the Olympics; “I feel our motherland is already a great power in the East. Our nation has stood up.”

Nowadays, China wants the respect of its neighbors.  China emerged from the alienation of the 60s,70s, and post-1989. In 2001 it joined the WTO- acting as though it belongs in the company of great nations (Why China Wants to Join the WTO).

Thus, China is more susceptible to public opinion. In response to intense lobbying over the Darfur issue in Sudan, China sent more peacekeepers and has shown a greater willingness to cooperate with international bodies.

4.) “Needs for Esteem

When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others… When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless. “

China needs to be respected by others. Thus, “Chinese rage has focused on the alleged “anti-China” bias of the Western press,” according to the Economist. When foreign media outlets misrepresented pictures of Nepalese mistreating Ti#$$$$ans as Chinese mistreating Ti%%%%etans, Chinese were outraged. Also, when Chinese saw Western press as feeling sorry for T^^^b#t, they demonstrate the Ti&&&etans in France horribly mistreated one disabled Olympic torch bearer.

Peter Hays Gries discusses China’s new assertive nationalism in detail in his book: China’s New Nationalism.

By winning in the Olympics and putting on a good show, China will feel validated and have its esteem needs satisfied.

Also, China has established Confucius Insitiutes around the world to spread Chinese language and culture.

5.) “Needs for Self-Actualization

When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.””

China has yet to reach this stage. When it does, it might explode onto the international scene, justifying territorial rights in claiming Taiwan, and settling oceanic disputes. At the self-actualization stage, China’s pursuit of these rights will be similar to its pursuit of rights during the security stage, but more sophisticated. China might press its demands through use of diplomatic isolation, economic pressures, or show of military force (not necessarily invasion). When China has become self-actualized, it will be confident in its strengths, capabilities and goals as a nation. Chinese military plans currently suppose the PRC will be a regional power by 2020.

Self-actualization comprises more than mere territorial claims. After China gains confidence to act on the world stage, it might try to remake the world in its image, much as the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain have done in past ages.

China will seek to set up its own international groupings and economic bodies. China already supports ASEAN and may be able to assume a leadership role in this USA-excluding trade body. The US’ group, a more expansive APEC, is confronting some problems due to its ambitious nature, and will confront more in coming years given America’s Democrats’ distaste for free trade.

When and if China will arrive at the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy is debatable. Much can happen that might hinder China’s full development, from socioeconomic unrest, to internal splittism, to a slowing of the economy. Any of those items might cause China to turn in on itself and become less a leader and more preoccupied with solipsistic concerns.

(Note: Minor edits enacted on July 15th)

9 July, 2008 Posted by | China General, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Isn’t That Odd? : Segways & Flamethrowers

Here’s an amusing article describing Chinese preparing for anti-terrorism drills.

Proximately from Engadget-but originally from Xinhua

Xinhua’s photo gallery is here: Although the Segway use can be justified (sort of- though they would seem to be pretty difficult to balance under stress conditions), a question arises looking at Xinhua’s photos, why is a flamethrower necessary for anti-terrorism drills at the Olympics?

 From Xinhua

In recent years, China installed fire extinguishers in Tiananmen to prevent people being lit on fire, after certain high-profile self-immolation protests in 2001.

One wonders how much danger the Beijing security details are expecting to handle– and with what degree of deadly force. I spoke with an Olympic volunteer and was told they were very concerned, as all people at all Olympics are, about incidents at entrances to Olympic venues.

Another especial reason for Beijing’s security worries; As recently as May 2008 an unexplained explosion that may have been intentional, went off on a Shanghai bus. Xinhua didn’t initially attribute the explosion to terror, but TIME Magazine and people on the ground have suspicions. At minimum, following the explosion, Shanghai instituted new regulations about carrying certain materials on buses and increased anti-terror patrols, which leads one to believe that there may be some reason for these heightened concerns.

With luck, nothing untoward will happen in China during the Olympics. For China’s sake, if something does happen, hopefully the police/military response is proportional and appropriate and that the coverage of said problem is transparent.

One thing that seems quite Odd is China has long believed very strongly that ignoring a problem, even after the problem has become well known, allows the country to save face. By covering-up details, forbidding publication of negative stories, and making everything seem happy, Chinese officials seek to win accolades (As I discuss in an earlier article).  Thus, they barred reporters from T$$$bet during the recent disturbances, then denied Chinese-instigated abuses (which may or may not have happened- since the West lacked independent reporting all it really has is a “monks said/Beijing says” dichotomy).

Simon Elegant at TIME Magazine thinks the media’s coverage style is changing and the Chinese government is more willing to admit to problems rather than covering-them up; but he also points out difficulties suffered by Chinese trying to discuss incidents online.

Oh China, such an odd and amusing, but often frustrating place.

7 July, 2008 Posted by | China Stability, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unequal Wealth, Inflation, and Harmonization

President Hu’s policy of a harmonious society, which encourages a move toward slower, more manageable economic growth informed by environmental awareness and greater concern for the poor could be seen as a great leap forward for the Chinese toward a sustainable development model. However, the policy has increasingly resulted in greater degrees of “harmonization” (read about it and see a bizarre chinese video HERE) and suppression of free speech as the society grows increasingly challenged to appeal to ever-diverse interests.

In order to ensure harmoniousness in the face of unique challenges to China’s future, its leadership (and HERE for a more indepth look at the leaders’ CV’s) might be forced to take drastic measures to contain stresses originating from China’s rapid, but inequitable economic growth.

China’s economic progress continues at a rate of greater than 10% for the past several years, and despite cyclical shocks and a worldwide economic downturn, the Chinese economy appears strong enough to expand. This growth rate and the growth rate of other developing countries brought exuberance to the Shanghai stock market, with stock prices up to an average of 42 percent of valuation over earnings as of July 2007, according to Bill Powell of TIME Magazine. Although the Shanghai stock exchange was down 21% in 2008 by February, and was down nearly 50% in April from its high of 6,124 points reached in October 2007, the Chinese economy is still on pace to grow a bit over 9 percent, according to the World Bank.

With such high and constant growth rates over the past decade (where nearly all years recorded over-ten percent economic growth), inflation is becoming a problem. Even worse, food prices are rising higher than China’s overall rate of inflation. As China’s inflation grows, wealth disparity and purchasing power parity becomes a greater source of social instability as people lose access to amenities they once could easily purchase.

China’s Gini coefficient, used to measure income disparity, is now above .45, according to the 2003 UN Human Development Report, a number above which demonstrates a potentially dangerously unequal society on par with many economically imperiled Latin American states. In comparison, China in 1980 boasted a .33 Gini coefficient (higher numbers indicate greater disparity), according to AsiaTimes. The United States boasts a .47 Gini coefficient, up only eight points from 1970, according to Arthur Brooks in the Wall Street Journal.

Seeking a balanced economic growth rate was a major goal of President Hu Jintao’s first term. However, Hu’s “Go West” campaign to develop poorer interior regions failed to spread wealth as rapidly as was hoped– much more work needs to be done. This lack of development, and increase in rising foodstuff and transportation prices risks increasing the amount and vehemence of public protests.

Interestingly, (and ignoring for the moment the mass T1b1tan unrest) the reported numbers of protests has actually declined, but China is notorious for ordering newspapers not to report embarrassing stories. Jonathan Watts of Britain’s The Guardian discusses China’s press crackdown against “negative stories” in detail, and the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post and other media outlets routinely provide evidence of some Chinese officials’restrictions on individuals, and of the country’s greater crackdowns on the free speech of the press. (Staff Reporter. “Free media for Games = media free of bad news, one city says.” South China Morning Post. March 20, 2007.); also see an April 30, 2007 report on: “The Olympics countdown – repression of activists overshadows death penalty and media reforms” and of course the newest info on curtailing press freedoms in coverage of the Sichuan earthquake.

As worries about rising inflation and unbalanced economic growth increase, China becomes increasingly secretive, restricting press freedoms. Today makes me recall something that happened at the end of the decade of the 1980s; a time of widening press freedoms, rising inflation, exhuberance of the future and many people gaining wealth while others were left out. This led to protests and marches that were eventually suppressed to international disdain– a suppression that was partially modelled on how President Hu, then Provincial Secretary of T*b*t cracked down on social unrest there.

If economic inequalities lead to greater citizen unrest, it is likely President Hu will look to his past experience and party ‘successes” and enact increasingly draconian restrictions, rolling back much of the late-20th Century’s increased journalistic openness- with a goal of preserving stability and maintaining a harmonious society.

The question is, though, when will these economic inequalities come to a boiling point? It isn’t going to happen before or during the Olympics, but depending on what happens with China fuel subsidies, food prices, and inflation, the protest-barometer could be interesting to watch sometime after February or June 2009.

-An earlier version of this article was written in October 2007

5 June, 2008 Posted by | China Economy, China Future | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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