onsdag 17. juli 2019

Puncturing the picture of poverty elimination in China


China’s success in ‘lifting millions out of poverty’ has attained much international acclaim. The figures bandied about vary, but the World Bank has estimated that 850 million exited from extreme poverty (existing on less than US$1.90/day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms) between 1981 and 2015. And President Xi Jinping has set a goal of obliterating poverty altogether in China by 2020.

But several caveats are in order. First, it is principally just in the countryside that incomes have increased. Besides, while government policies prepared the ground – by permitting farmers to market their output, (which had been banned under Mao Zedong [1949–1976]) and allowing growers to plant the produce they chose – it was industrious cultivators themselves with their energy and ingenuity rather than the state that elevated living standards.

Another cause for caution is that the concept ‘out of poverty’ requires clarification. The term implies only that the no-longer-impoverished have risen above the official poverty line (2,300 yuan annually, equivalent to about US$334), not necessarily that their lives have become materially comfortable, and many are still quite poor. Moreover, they subsist in danger of slipping back down into indigence for want of affordable health care and workable opportunities to enhance their skills, knowledge and abilities.


A novelist’s stint impersonating the ultra-rich in China

In the city of Macau, somewhere in the labyrinth of one of the largest casinos in the world, I was sitting at a high-limit table with my colleague Glen. The game was baccarat. We were playing in the V.I.P. section, after buying entry with nearly thirty thousand dollars. The money was not ours. We were on assignment for a niche consulting company, there to evaluate the resort’s luxury services. The work is akin to that of secret shoppers; we’d been hired to pose as high-roller customers, to test the quality of the services that we received in the suites, restaurants, and bars, and at the gaming tables.

We found ourselves on the kind of streak that lives in fantasies, the kind that obliterates from memory a hundred old losses of equal magnitude. Glen (whose name I’ve changed) was giddy, but we would have stood out even without his euphoric exclamations. He is white, and I am a woman. The table was otherwise occupied by silent Chinese men, who continued playing, it seemed, almost against their will.

Melinda Liu: Ich Bin Ein Hong Konger

When mainland tourists emerged from Hong Kong’s gleaming new high-speed rail station earlier this month, they witnessed something few of them had ever experienced back home in increasingly authoritarian China. Peaceful protesters outside the West Kowloon station approached the visitors, trying to win their support for the beleaguered civil liberties and freedoms of semi-autonomous Hong Kong, according to Reuters. Many of the protesters wanted more: to convert the mainlanders. Protest organizers declared their desire to “export our revolution.”

Thus a protest movement that began by targeting a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong—with demonstrations mainly in the local government district—has begun to widen its geographic focus. Nothing could be less welcome both to embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has sought to choke off what civil liberties still exist on the mainland.

Can India kick its coal addiction?


A thick dark haze fills the sky above Singrauli, northeast India. Known as the country's coal capital, the district is home to eight coal-fired power plants, producing enough electricity daily to power 16 million homes. In India, around 75% of electricity comes from coal — meaning Singrauli is crucial to the government's plans of providing power to all. 

However, coal production is contributing heavily to air pollution. India is home to seven of the world's 10 worst cities for air pollution, according to the 2018 AirVisual report. Singrauli is ranked 22. Diesel exhaust fumes, construction dust, crop burning and even the Diwali festival of lights are also fueling the problem. According to the Health Effects Institute, 1.2 million deaths were caused in India in 2017 due to air pollution.

tirsdag 16. juli 2019

As the Japanese population shrinks, Chinese, South Koreans and Vietnamese arrive in growing numbers

Japan is experiencing a “demographic crisis” as its population ages and deaths outnumber births year on year. But as the native population shrinks, the number of foreigners calling the country home has moved steadily in the opposite direction and has of late been propelled to new heights by an acute labour shortage. There are now 2,667,000 foreigners living in Japan – an increase of about 170,000 from 12 months earlier, according to annual statistics released this month by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.


China’s hawkish new face in US talks Zhong Shan ‘shows Beijing is not close to a trade deal’

China must uphold “the spirit of struggle” in defending national interests in its current trade war with the US, the country’s commerce minister, who recently joined the negotiations, said. Zhong Shan, who took part in a telephone conversation with the leaders of the US negotiation team last week, made clear that the US side should be held solely accountable for the trade conflict that has become a drag on the global economy.

The remarks were made as officials from the two nations prepared for further talks. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer may travel to Beijing for trade negotiations if talks by telephone this week are productive.

Vast Chinese Loans Pose Risks to Developing World


The future rail link cuts its way through the jungles of Laos for over 400 kilometers. Soon, trains will be rolling through -- over bridges, through tunnels and across dams built just for the line, which runs from the Chinese border in the north to the Laotian capital of Vientiane on the Mekong River. After five years of construction, the line is set to go into service in 2021. And the Chinese head of one of the sections has no doubt that it will be finished on time. "Our office alone employs 4,000 workers," he says. There is also no lack of money: The Chinese government in Beijing has earmarked around 6 billion dollars for the project and has recently become both Laos's largest creditor and most significant provider of development aid.

A Secretly Filmed Documentary Exposes A Dystopian Nightmare for Uighur Muslims in China


Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of Northwestern China are living in a police state like no other on earth. Using counter-terrorism as a pre-text, Chinese authorities have rounded up over a million Uighur men and women, forcing them into what they call “re-education centers.” Men and women are arrested, seemingly for minor offenses like growing a beard, or having foreign contacts, or sometimes for no reason at all. They languish in these detention centers indefinitely.

Outside the prison walls there is also a mass experiment in population control: authorities use facial recognition technologies, spyware and other high tech means to instill fear in Uighurs. What we know about conditions in those camps and life in Xinjiang has come largely from reports of human rights organizations.

It is extremely rare for a journalist –let alone a western journalist — to access Xinjiang to report on human rights abuses on the ground. But that is exactly what my guest today, Isobel Yeung, did. Posing as a travel blogger, Isobel Yeung, surreptitiously filmed a documentary for Vice News that aired in June on HBO. The documentary provides a visceral sense of the dystopian police state that Xinjiang has become for its Uighur population. It also exposes one consequence of the mass roundups of Ughur men and women, which is the orphaning of children who Isobel Yeoung discovers are placed into their own kind of re-education centers, posing as kindergartens.


Pro-Beijing populist to face Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen in presidential election

A populist mayor who favours closer ties with Beijing was announced as the presidential candidate for Taiwan’s opposition on Monday as it looks to unseat President Tsai Ing-wen in upcoming elections.Han Kuo-yu won the primary for the opposition Kuomintang party, comfortably seeing off a challenge from Taiwan’s richest man, billionaire Foxconn founder Terry Gou. His victory sets up an unpredictable clash as Taiwan goes to the polls in January in a contest that will be dominated by relations with China.

Han, 62, has enjoyed a stunning rise in the last two years, journeying from relative obscurity to his party’s presidential candidate in a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “Han tide”. Some have likened him to US President Donald Trump and other populist leaders who hail from outside establishment circles and command a fervent voter base buoyed by lofty promises of resurrecting their fortunes.


The ripple effect of the Hong Kong anti-extradition protests on Taiwan politics


It may not be surprising to learn that recent demonstrations in Hong Kong against proposed amendments to local extradition laws have had a significant impact on Taiwan. The events triggered a number of solidarity rallies, in which many expressed the fear that Taiwan could suffer a similar fate to Hong Kong if it were to revert to Chinese control.

The majority of Taiwanese mainstream media are aligned with the pan-Blue (pro-Kuomintang) coalition and, given their perceived tendency to downplay negative news about mainland China, have not given extensive coverage to the Hong Kong protests. The massive protests on June 9, however, followed by the two-million-strong demonstrations on June 16, did capture the attention of a majority of Taiwanese.


Susan Rice calls Chinese diplomat Zhao Lijian ‘a racist disgrace’ after Twitter tirade

A war of words has broken out between a former US national security adviser and China’s deputy chief of mission in Pakistan, with Susan Rice calling Zhao Lijian “a racist disgrace”.
Zhao, one of the most active Chinese diplomats on Twitter, was defending Beijing’s controversial policy in the far western region of  Xinjiang, where more than 1 million ethnic Uygurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are said to have been detained in re-education camps that have drawn global condemnation. Beijing says the camps are “vocational education and training centres” that are part of its efforts to stamp out religious extremism.

A year into trade war, Wall Street is the latest front for US suspicions about China

Even as China’s economy expands, US investors’ cry for vigilance concerning Chinese firms has grown louder – with Wall Street the latest front seeing US disengagement from China. Since the start of the trade war a year ago, Washington and Beijing’s battle over tariffs has already spurred the two countries to decouple on trade, technology and cultural and research exchanges. These cries go beyond contract disputes to longstanding suspicions about vague, sometimes unreliable, financial reporting by these companies, and their across-the-board resistance to financial oversight.

North Korea, Syria and Myanmar among countries defending China's actions in Xinjiang


Ambassadors representing 37 countries praised China for its "remarkable achievements in the field of human rights," just a day after a group of 22 other countries formally condemned Beijing for the mass detention of ethnic and religious minorities in the country's Xinjiang region.

The Thursday letter was the first major collective international challenge to China's ongoing policy in its far western border region, where experts estimate up to 2 million people have been detained in vast re-education style camps. Many of those detained are ethnic Uyghurs and Muslims. Beijing denies any allegations of torture or political indoctrination, and says the camps are "vocational training centers" designed to fight terrorism and combat Islamic extremism.

India’s Terrifying Water Crisis

India’s water crisis offers a striking reminder of how climate change is rapidly morphing into a climate emergency. Piped water has run dry in Chennai, the southern state of Tamil Nadu’s capital, and 21 other Indian cities are also facing the specter of “Day Zero,” when municipal water sources are unable to meet demand.

Chennai, a city of eight million on the Bay of Bengal, depends on the fall monsoon to provide half of the city’s annual rainfall. Last year, the city had 55 percent less rainfall than normal. When the monsoon ended early, in December, the skies dried up and stayed that way. Chennai went without rain for 200 days. As winter passed into spring and the temperature rose to 108° F, its four water reservoirs turned into puddles of cracked mud.

Some parts of the city have been without piped water for five months now. Weary women with brightly colored plastic jugs now await water tankers, sometimes in the middle of the night. On June 20, the delayed summer monsoon arrived as a disappointing light shower.

mandag 15. juli 2019

Death of 'barefoot lawyer' puts focus on China's treatment of political prisoners

In June, Ji Sizun received the news that he had won a prestigious human rights distinction, the Cao Shunli Memorial Award, in honour of the veteran Chinese activist who died in 2014 in police custody, after being denied needed medical treatment for months. It would be a little more than one month until he himself died while under the watch of state security.

Ji, one of China’s most prominent “barefoot lawyers”, self-taught legal advocates, spent most of the last decade in prison in his native Fujian province.He was in a semi-comatose state when he finished his most recent sentence of four and a half years in late April and was immediately sent to a hospital. On 10 July, two months after leaving prison, Ji, 69, died of unknown causes.

He joins a growing list of imprisoned political activists who have died after being denied adequate medical treatment. His death came three days before the two year anniversary of the death of Chinese Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Last month, a Uighur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti died after being detained in an internment camp in Xinjiang.


Australia must prepare for a Chinese military base in the Pacific


Let’s be honest: Australians have never had much time for our South Pacificneighbours. The island nations that lie to our north and north-east, stretching from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to Vanuatu, Fiji and beyond, may be close to us geographically, but we have not found them especially interesting, important or profitable.

With a few honourable exceptions, and tourism aside, Australians have been indifferent to our nearest neighbours’ dramatic landscapes, their rich and diverse cultures, and their general welfare, and we have seen relatively few opportunities for trade. Only their strategic significance has attracted us: the islands scattered widely across the north of our continent are critical to our protection from armed attack. Our closest neighbours are crucial to the defence of our continent simply because of their proximity.


Australia 'deeply concerned' about China's treatment of Uighur people

Australia remains “deeply concerned” about China’s treatment of the Uighur people, including use of forced labour, the foreign affairs minister Marise Payne has said. On Monday Payne revealed that China had blocked Australia’s attempts to offer consular assistance to dual citizens and their families, and rejected China’s claims that concerned nations had rebuffed an offer to visit Xinjiangprovince.

Payne made the remarks to Radio National ahead of an ABC Four Corners investigation on treatment of Uighurs, which has prompted Cotton On and Target Australia to commit to investigate their supply chains because they reportedly source cotton from Xinjiang. Asked about the detention of more than a million Uighurs, Payne said Australia was “deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the use of detention facilities”.

Why Indian tourists are flocking to Thailand, where they may soon outnumber Chinese visitors

Take a walk around the markets of Pratunam in downtown Bangkok on any given weekday and you’ll soon discover there’s a new type of tourist in town. For years, Thailand’s tourism scene has been dominated by Chinese visitors, with 10.5 million in 2018 alone – accounting for about 28 per cent of total foreign arrivals.

But after a tour boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists sank off the southern resort island of Phuket in July last year, killing 47, the number of visitors from Thailand’s mammoth neighbour to the north – which had been increasing ever year – began to tail off. In their wake, the number of tourists from India has now started to increase, with a record 180,000 visiting in June alone, according to the Thai tourism ministry.