With the Beijing Olympics starting at the end of this week, you might expect serious analysis and reflection about China. Instead we have heard a familiar recitation of clichés, railings against a 'rising autocracy' and exaggerations of China's military strength. The New Republic ran a cover story last month thundering that our ultimate solidarity should not lie with the odious government in Beijing but the billion long-suffering men and women of the world's largest dictatorship. However the 1.3 billion (not one billion) Chinese do not agree.
At about the same time as The New Republic hit the newsstands, the Pew Research Center reported its findings in its 2008 Global Attitudes Survey. The Chinese people expressed the highest level of support for the direction in which their country was heading, i.e. 86%. Nearly two out of three said that the Beijing government was doing a good job on issues that mattered to them. The survey questioned more than 3,212 people face to face, in 16 dialects across the country. Whilst Chinese may not always speak freely to pollsters, several indications suggest that these numbers express something real. Such polls have been done for years and the numbers approving of the Chinese government has grown - which is as expected. Those polled did complain about corruption, environmental degradation and inflation.
China is a complicated country. It has a closed political system but an open economy and an increasingly vibrant society. It is building up weapons systems but is not competing directly against American military power. It has been helpful in the negotiations with North Korea, but shields Robert Mugabe and the Sudanese regime. Capturing these realities is difficult but we still have to try. To say that this new China is the same as the old (meaning Mao's totalitarian state) is to be ignorant. It is not an accident that many ferocious China bashers have rarely visited the country. (From Newsweek 11/8/08)
Images of the Beijing skyline seemingly bathed in a soup of smog and haze have been a common sight on the world's TV screens. Foreign journalists with hand-held air pollution detectors have been popping up on street corners checking levels of soot and dust. Everyone seems keen to prove that the city's air will be a decisive and debilitating factor. But the frenzied focus is marked by considerable amnesia. After all, air pollution was a major concern in Los Angeles 24 years ago, though few now seem to recall the dramatic scene at the end of the women's marathon, when the Swiss competitor was seen staggering from exhaustion, the heat and perhaps the effects of air pollution. And air quality was also an issue for subsequent Olympic Games in Barcelona, Atlanta, Seoul and Athens.
So the debate about the Beijing Games deserves more fair play than has been received. Indeed real, and one hopes, long lasting achievements have been made by the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, the city as a whole, the government and the six provinces concerned.
This is all the more remarkable when set against the city's double-digit economic growth and the fact that the Games are staged in a developing country with all the social, economic, health and environmental challenges this entails. For example, some 200 polluting factories have been closed, switched to new kinds of cleaner production, or moved out of the city over the past seven years. Also as a result of a $17 billion investment, more than 90% of the city's waste is now treated, more than 50% of the city is forested and natural gas accounts for more than 60% of energy generation - up from about 45% in the year 2000.
Eight new railway lines covering 200 km and with a daily capacity of nearly 4 million people have become operational this year. New vehicle emission standards meet the most stringent equivalent European standards and are higher than those in the US.
In addition 50,000 old taxis have been replaced and the new buses are powered by natural gas-the largest fleet of its kind in the world. The authorities have also requested businesses to stagger their working day before, during and after the Games to reduce traffic volume, alongside a raft of other traffic-reducing measures. (Written by Achim Steiner, undersecretary general of the UN and executive director of the UN Environmental Programme which is assisting the Beijing Organising Committee in environmental issues - from South China Morning Post 7/8/08)
So the cynics, the sceptics and the moaning minnies all got it absolutely wrong - the Beijing Olympics have been brilliant. A large part of the feelgood factor is that Britain sits on 18 (to date) gold medals. These Olympics have shown a face of China the world has not seen before. Many journalists - they seem to have disappeared now - compared Beijing 2008 to the Nazi Olympics. But the Chinese people who flocked to these games, cheering other nations as well as their own, are not the brainwashed fanatics of Hitler's shindig. And they do not look very oppressed, do they? They look as though they are having the time of their lives.
It took a bunch of European idiots, the Spanish basketball team, to strike a bum note with their slanty-eyed jape. And yet the Europeans have the nerve to lecture the Chinese about civilised behaviour! This has been a Chinese party and a chance for them to demonstrate to the world what kind of place China is today. And not just their excellence at sport, but their humanity, generosity and humour. There are problems but these games have revealed how far China has come.
No country in human history has come quite so far so quickly. China is a one - party state. There never has been western style democracy there and so do not compare China to the countries of the developed world. Instead, hold it up against the horrors of the bloody past. The Chinese have never had it so good. And for all their problems, I envy them for their social cohesion (which Britain has not yet had since WW2), for their optimism about the future (which we do not share) and for their ability to throw one hell of a party. Beijing 2008 will be a hard act to follow in London.
There are two lessons from these wonderful Olympics - the Chinese are not monsters and the British are not bumbling losers. These Olympics have changed our perception of both China and ourselves. (From Tony Parsons in The Daily Mirror 23/8/08)
China's new intelligentsia (based on a report by Mark Leonard on his visits to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
On his first visit in 2003, Wang Luolin, the academy's vice-president, welcomed him. The academy had 50 research centres covering 260 disciplines with 4,000 full-time researchers - and this academy was only one of a dozen or so in Beijing alone! In comparison, Britain's entire think tank community is numbered in the hundreds, Europe's in the low thousands and even the US cannot have more than 10,000. He then realised the existence of the Chinese world of intellectuals and think - tankers who are engaged in intense debate on the future of their country. The economic aspects of China are well documented, but the intellectual activities are much less reported. The internal debates cover inequality, social issues, political theory, the rule of law, foreign policy and globalisation and how China should react and tackle these issues. In addition there is relatively open debate in leading newspapers and academic journals about China's economic model, how to clean up corruption or deal with foreign policy issues such as Japan or North Korea. Intellectuals are regularly asked to brief the politburo in study sessions. Intellectuals prepare reports that feed into the party's five-year plans and they advise on the government's white papers. (From Prospect, March 2008)
President of China encourages opinions on the internet. ('netizens' = internet citizens)
Hu Jintao, the Chinese President took part in a 20-minute on line chat with China's internet audience, the largest in the world and believed to be 221 million strong. Although he did not answer the cheekier queries posted on the website of People's Daily, the party mouthpiece, a moderator read out a select few to Mr Hu and his spoken responses were printed and shown on a video clip. He promised to read all the questions and answered those about his own internet habits, encouraging China's 221 million 'netizens' to express themselves online. He said that he was too busy to browse the internet everyday but does try to spend some time on it. He reads the international and domestic news and through the web he wants to know what people are thinking about and what their opinions are. He hope to get some suggestions and advice proposed by the 'netizens' to the government and to the party. China was connected to the net during 1994 and has 221 million users with an average age of 32. The USA has 216 million internet users. (From The Times 24/6/08)
A few weeks ago, China's highest decision - making body completed its second session on climatic change within a year in preparation for the G8 meeting in Hokkaido. So many of today's policies concern energy efficiency, energy saving and alternative energy sources. So much has been reported that China is opening a new coal fired power station every week, but how many people know that smaller older ones are being closed down? The central government is backing a new generation of power stations using ultra-supercritical clean- coal techniques. Carbon capture and storage techniques are also being investigated. Future thinking is, however, leaning towards integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology, which turns coal into synthetic gas to generate power.
At present 8% of China's energy is generated from renewable sources and this is to rise to 15% by 2020. At present 6 gigawatts of electricity are generated by wind turbines, which puts China in fifth place behind Germany, the US, Spain and India. However, this figure should reach 100 gigawatts by 2020. China is second only to Japan in the global solar photovoltaic cell market. In 2004, the Chinese government introduced a fuel economy standard for passenger vehicles: at 15.6 kilometres per litre, it is higher than Australia, Canada and the US, but behind Japan and the EU. The Chinese National Renewable Energy Law of 2006 set tough targets and the bottom line is that China is doing a lot already, mostly unsung. (From New Scientist 9/8/08)
This popular children's television character could soon be making his bow in Beijing. Entertainment Rights, the group behind Pat, is set to announce a deal with China Central Television, which has snapped up the rights for 106 episodes. (From The Sunday Times (Business) 20/7/08)
The first regular direct flight from Taipei to Shanghai, an Airbus 330-300 of China Airlines Flight 7957, took off from Taipei international airport on July 4 with 313 passengers on board. Ringo Chao, the chairman of the Taiwanese airline, handed out souvenir stamps as the passengers boarded this history making flight. This is the first of 36 direct flights which will cross the Taiwan Straits every weekend. It is the most concrete evidence of reduced tensions in one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints for six decades. This is only one of several items introduced by the new Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who promised to co-operate with China as opposed to the confrontation policies of his predecessor Chen Shui-bian. High - level talks have resumed which are the first since 1998. Mr Ma has relaxed restrictions on Taiwanese investment on the mainland, tripled the number of mainland Chinese who can visit Taiwan each day and declared the yuan a convertible currency. In addition, Taiwan will now accept the mainland's gift of two giant pandas. They are named Tuantan and Yuanyuan, which if put together, means 'united'. This gift was regarded as too political by the island's previous government. (From The Times 5/7/08)
China unveiled subsidies for fuel users in an effort to prevent unrest and to soften the blow of the big increases in energy prices which took effect yesterday. Subsidies will be provided for grain farmers, taxi drivers and low-income groups. Public transport fares will not go up because of the rise in energy costs. The finance ministry said that the targeted subsidies would be worth Rmb 19.8 billion ($2.9 billion, £1.5 billion). The move indicates the extreme political sensitivity of the decision to raise energy prices, with the government having to balance a threat to social stability from oil shortages against the risk of pushing up inflation, which is already high. The Chinese government has already held retail fuel prices steady since November while global prices have been soaring but on Thursday evening, a 17% price rise for petrol and 18% rise for diesel were announced together with a 5% increase for business users of electricity. In China petrol costs the equivalent of $0.85 per litre, compared to $1.08 in the US and $2.33 in the UK. (From The Financial Times 21-22/6/ 2008)
Britain is seen by the Chinese as an expensive, old-fashioned, bureaucratic and slightly miserable place to visit according to British tourist chiefs. With the Olympics in Beijing less than a fortnight away, they are preparing to launch a charm offensive in China to break down the stereotype that the British are all about Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens. Outward tourism from China is expected to reach 100 million over the next decade. Visit Britain, the agency for promoting Britain aboard, wants the Chinese to think of Salisbury and Coniston rather than Stockholm and Cannes when booking their next holiday to Europe. The agency will use the Games to showcase Britain through trade shows, diplomatic meetings and parties at London House, a specially constructed hospitality venue in downtown Beijing featuring British food and music. Opportunities for direct marketing have been created by London's position as the next Olympic host city. Britain will have an official role to play when the Mayor of Beijing hands over the Games officially to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, on 24 August. In a survey, over 20% of people from 35 countries said that they were more likely to visit Britain in the next few years because of the Games. However, they may experience difficulties because of tight immigration rules. Getting a British visa is perceived as the second hardest to get after an American one. Five times as many Chinese visit Paris as London because France signed up to the Schengen Agreement which allows them to visit several EU countries on a single visa. British Tourist chiefs are lobbying the government to offer a 'bolt-on' Schengen-plus visa for Chinese tourists to make it simpler and cheaper for them to visit Britain. In 2006 107,000 Chinese tourists came to Britain and spent £104 million (average of £972 per person). Britain is perceived as a difficult place to travel through and this was not helped by the Heathrow Terminal 5 debacle. (From The Times 28/7/08)
The government's flagship trusts schools initiative is winning international support, with a Chinese university becoming the latest partner to link up with a comprehensive school. The 1,000-pupil South Wolds community school in Nottingham is going into partnership with Nottingham University and its sister university in Shanghai, the Chinese Ningbo University. Six Chinese students will spend two years at Nottingham studying A levels or the International Baccalaureate as a prelude to studying for a degree at Nottingham University. The school hopes for a similar arrangement for its own pupils in China plus regular staff exchanges between the institutions. In addition, South Wolds, a specialist language college, which already recruits students from Japan and the US into its sixth form, is planning to put Mandarin on to its timetable from September. (From The Independent 14/1/08)
List of major countries' spending in $billions. Source is Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:-
(From The Independent 18/6/08)
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has leapfrogged its biggest global rivals to become the world's most profitable bank. This is only three years after being rescued in a government handout. ICBC has overtaken the likes of Citigroup and HSBC to become the world's most highly valued bank. Yesterday the bank revealed a first-half net income rise of 57% over the same period last year. Analysts in Hong Kong, said that the record-breaking 64.5 billion yuan (£5.05 billion) earned in the first half was comfortably ahead of the £4.13 billion announced by HSBC at its interim results.
However, although some analysts believe that ICBC's spectacular milestone redraws the global banking map, others sounded a note of caution. The Chinese banking sector remains immature and could be damaged by a global economic slowdown to which even China would not probably be immune. However, few doubt that the sharp rise in profits reflects the vast longer-term growth potential of the Chinese banking sector as the growing economy creates wave after wave of new savers and borrowers. ICBC has 16,500 branches and a domestic customer base of 170 million - larger than the combined populations of the UK and Germany. (From The Times 22/08/08)
A miracle cure for cancer and heart disease has been discovered in Chinese food. An extract of red yeast rice, which gives Peking duck its distinctive colour, may cut cancer deaths by two-thirds and heart disease by a third. A scientist involved in the study on thousands of patients described the results yesterday as 'profound'. The health benefit from the extract, which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a thousand years, even out-performed cholesterol - lowering drugs known as statins. When given to heart disease patients, researchers, found that it reduced the chance of a repeat heart attack by 45%. It also reduced the need to undergo bypass surgery or artery treatment by a third. Although the focus was mainly on 5,000 heart disease patients, the number of cancer deaths was also recorded. The study was led by Dr Capuzzi of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia with Dr Zonliang Lu from the Academy of Medical Science in Beijing. The findings were reported in the American Journal of Cardiology. Dr Capuzzi made the point that the material used in the study was not the same as the red yeast rice supplements available in health food stores. Taking large amounts of this rice could cause liver damage and anyone with heart problems should talk to their doctor first. (From The Daily Express 10/6/08)
The lives of more than a million children could be saved each year by a drug based on an ancient Chinese herbal remedy first used more than 2,000 years ago. Scientists said yesterday that the drug will be the first product of a new approach to making pharmaceuticals using 'synthetic biology,' where genetically engineered microbes with implanted artificial chromosomes or gene 'cassettes' are grown in giant fermenting vats. The objective is to make sufficient quantities of the drug within two years for everyone in the world suffering from malaria - 500 million people - at a tenth of the cost of existing drugs.
The new drug, artemisinin is based on extracts from the Chinese plant Artemesia annua or sweet woodworm, which is known to have been used in China for malaria fever since at least the second century BCE. Artemisinin is already produced by laboriously extracting it from the dried leaves and flowers of the sweet woodworm, but at more than $2 (£1) for a course of treatment is too expensive for the majority of people in the developing world. Between one and three million people die every year from malaria and 90% of them are children under the age of five. If production is successful, the cost of a course of treatment will be brought down to 20 cents, making it the cheapest and most effective antimalarial drug in the world. Producing the semi-synthetic artemisinin on an industrial scale will also undermine speculators who have stockpiled the wild plant, raising the price fourfold, since the drug was endorsed by the WHO in 2004 as the most effective malaria treatment. (From The Independent 4/6/08)
The earthquake at 2.28 p.m. on 12 May was 7.8 on the Richter scale and devastated areas mainly in Sichuan province, although Gansu, Shaanxi and Chongqing were also affected significantly. There were even some casualties in Henan and Yunnan. The epicentre was near to Dujiangyan city and Wenchuan county. The Woolong Nature Reserve, the leading Panda research and breeding base, is situated in Wenchuan. Sichuan province, with over 87 million inhabitants, is the third most populous province and occupies 485,000 sq km or 5.1% of the total area of China.
By the morning of 14 May, over 3,000 aftershocks had been felt, three of which were over magnitude 6 on the Richter scale. In less than three days after the main tremor, there were 119 shocks stronger than 4 on the Richter scale. Traffic was disrupted by falling rocks and this hindered rescue workers and supplies of food, water, medicine and digging vehicles. The first batch of 100 soldiers of the PLA parachuted into cut-off areas and 110 helicopters were soon dropping supplies and transporting injured people.
Just over two hours after the earthquake, Premier Wen Jiabao was chairing a meeting of his disaster relief taskforce on the plane to Sichuan. During the next two days he toured disaster areas comforting the victims and meeting relief workers. He stressed that saving lives was at the top of the agenda.
By the morning of 15 May, there were over 130,000 PLA soldiers and police in Sichuan. The Chief of General Staff of the PLA led the recovery and relief efforts. Soldiers went on foot to areas which could not be reached by road. All of China's seven military area commands sent troops or medical units to help the rescue operations.
By 14 May, many foreign governments had sent donations to the relief fund. They included: $5 million from Japan, $500,000 initial aid from the White House, USA, $50 million and material worth $10 million from Saudi Arabia, £1 million from the UK., $100,000 from Poland, $500,000 from Thailand and $3.9 million from Norway. (From Beijing Review 22/5/08)
China urged its government departments to provide the public with free published information to protect the right to know and improve government transparency. Government departments should provide free and timely information through websites, communiqués, news conferences or the media, Xu Kunlin, a National Development and Reform Commission official, said during a recent on-line interview with Xinhua. Such information includes department structure, administrative function, official work and administrative documents required by the Provisions on the Disclosure of Government Information that took effect on 1 May. (From Beijing Review 31/7/08)
On 19 July, Mayor Zhang Guangning, together with 3,000 residents of Guangzhou City, Guangdong province swam across the Pearl River to prove that the river's water quality was much improved compared to the same time last year. This has been an annual event for the last three consecutive years. The mayor's appearance is a media focus on people's expectations of a cleaner environment. The annual swim shows government commitment to improving water quality. Statistics show that half of China's seven major rivers are severely polluted and it is hoped that Guangzhou's example will be followed by other cities. (From Beijing Review 31/7/08)
The number of Chinese people living in extreme poverty dropped from 250 million in 1978 to 14.79 million in 2007 according to Chinese national statistics on rural poverty. A study conducted by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics and the State Council Leading Group Office on Poverty Alleviation and Development showed people with enough food and clothing but on a low income declined from 62.13 million in 2000 to 28.41 million in 2007. The number of people brought out of poverty in China between 1990 and 2007 accounted for more than 70% of the global figure. (From Beijing Review July 2008)
The Chinese authorities started to distribute Olympic tickets for schools involved in the Olympic education programme nationwide on 8 July. Following the practice of previous Olympics, elementary and secondary schools will be offered up to one million tickets, 14% of the total at prices as low as 5 yuan (35p) to 10 yuan (70p). The opening and closing ceremonies are not included. To ensure sound arrangements for student accommodation and transport, 10 high schools in Beijing have been designated as hosts to offer affordable services. The authorities have also issued a special invitation to 65 teachers and students from earthquake areas in Sichuan province. (From Beijing Review July 2008)
The first Chinese tour group left China for Washington DC on 17 June 2008. The China National Tourism Administration and the US Department of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding during December 2007 and made plans to facilitate Chinese tourism in the US. During the first six-month initial 'stage one' period, Chinese living in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Hubei, Hunan, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong can join groups to visit the US. Previously only businessmen and students could travel to the US. In 2006, Chinese visitors to the US spent an average of about £6,000 each. (From China Today July 2008)
The world's largest production base for electric vehicles began production in Tianjin on 28 July. The operation can produce 20,000 electric saloon cars and 30,000 electric power assemblies every year. From the end of this year, 2008, it is expected that more than 2,000 vehicles will be exported. (From Beijing Review 7/8/08)
The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said it selected 91 Companies as' National Innovative Enterprises' on 28 July after they completed a two-year trial operation to accelerate China's level of technological innovation. Amongst the companies selected were China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, Aluminium Corporation of China Ltd. and the Lenovo Group. All companies passed expert panel evaluations jointly conducted by MOST, the State owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. (From Beijing Review 7/8/08) Web will be the first source of Olympic Games news Nearly 80% of mainland netizens (citizens on the internet) will receive information about the Olympics online, according to a survey released by internet regulators. The survey showed that the Web was the first port of call for netizens looking for Olympic - related information, ahead of radio, TV and newspapers. Some (13% representing 27 million people) said that they would get information only from the internet. They survey showed that 82% said they 'cared highly about the Games'. (From South China Morning Post 7/8/08)
The first 200 kg supply of American strawberries ever legally exported to China arrived in Beijing after the Chinese Olympic team listed them as the third favourite fruit they would like to eat. Because China's strawberry season ends in late spring, officials asked California, where strawberries grow year-round, for help. Chinese inspectors spent 12 hours going over 50 trays of the fruit before allowing them to proceed to the Olympic Village. They will also go to the US High Performance Centre and USA House, where dignitaries such as President Bush will stay. California has been working to negotiate a trade agreement, but talks have taken as long as 12 years with other commmodities. The athletes have helped cut the red tape. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had also pushed strawberries during his 2005 trade mission to Beijing. (From South China Morning Post 7/8/08)
Two more Chinese properties were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites by the committee meeting in Canada. They are the Sanqing Mountain in Jiangxi province and the Tulou buildings in Fujian province. A Tulou usually consists of an earth outer wall and internal wooden framework. They were built between the 11th and 20th centuries in mountainous regions across Fujian province. They were designed to be functional, housing whole clan families living together and also provide protection against enemies such as bandits. (From Beijing Review 17/7/08)
Sino File is compiled by Walter Fung with some input for From the Chinese Press by Teresa Ray.
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