Category Archives: Beijing does a Good Thing

“China’s rural poverty falls but inequality rises”

The Hindu has a report on a new Chinese white paper making this claim- and in this case, it seems likely enough to be true:

The paper, the first released on poverty since 2001, attributed the steep decline to the effectiveness of a series of subsidies for China’s farmers, including the removal of agricultural taxes and a new social security assistance programme. Despite fast-declining rural poverty, the report also warned of new — and, analysts said, harder to address — developmental challenges as a result of increasing inequality between the countryside and cities.

The number of rural poor had declined from 94.22 million in 2000 to 26.88 million in 2010, or 2.8 per cent of the rural population today. Behind the decline, said the paper, were several pro-farmer measures, particularly the abolishing of agricultural taxes in 2006, which was part of a series of rural reforms unveiled during the mid-2000s, shortly after the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao administration took over following a decade of rapid, but increasingly uneven, urban-focused growth.

The central government’s spending on agriculture in this time rose from 214.42 billion yuan ($34 billion) in 2003 to 857.97 billion yuan ($136 billion) last year — an annual 22 per cent increase. Much of this spending went to a development programme that targeted 592 of the poorest counties. The programme, said the paper, helped increase farmland by 3.5 million hectares in these counties, as well as renovate and extend roads by 952,000 km.

Some measures which had helped bring growth, such as marketisation, had now left a legacy of rising health and education costs, particularly in rural areas. A urban resident earns more than 3.3 times a rural one in China today, with the Gini income inequality index rising from 30.9 per cent in 1981 to 45.3 per cent in 2003.

Some of those numbers might well be off by a bit, but the notion that rural poverty has continued to decline seems believable.

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“China ‘to give Tibetan monks welfare benefits'”

Interesting move being reported by the BBC. It should be noted that this plan is apparently aimed at Tibet province, and not the Tibetan regions outside the province which have given Beijing the most trouble recently. Also, one does have to wonder what strings will be attached… but here goes:

Monks can expect pensions, medical insurance and living allowances.

The announcement came at a gathering of the Tibetan branch of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The government will take great pains to ensure that public services such as electricity, water, telecommunications, radio and TV stations are provided to the local monasteries,” he is quoted as saying by the Global Times newspaper.

He added that there would also be personal help, including allowances, for monks and nuns living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

The government intends to spend nearly $60m (£37m) on farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects.

It will also ensure there is more information – books, magazines and TV programmes – published in the Tibetan language.

Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, even said that a compensation scheme was helping preserve wildlife on the Tibetan plateau.

The project allows herders to claim money for livestock eaten by wolves, thus undermining farmers’ need to kill them.

Is this to be the trademark style of the new Party Chief of Tibet province? It certainly beats disappearing people and maintaining power with the barrel of a gun, but we’ll have to see if/how it’s actually implemented.

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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, religion, Tibet

“China arrests 2,000 people in food safety crackdown”

BBC has the details. I wonder how many people in total are involved in unsafe food production; I’m pretty sure 2,000 is the tip of the iceberg.

China has arrested 2,000 people and shut down nearly 5,000 businesses in a clampdown on illegal food additives, after a series of food safety scares.

The campaign was launched in April after scandals from glow-in-the-dark meat to buns injected with dye to make them look like a more expensive kind.

Nearly six million food-related businesses have been investigated.

Police have also destroyed a series of “underground” sites for the illegal manufacture of such food products.

A Food Safety Commission statement also said government agencies across the country would continue the drive, and that anyone caught breaking the law would “be severely punished”.

Food safety scandals in China have badly damaged consumer confidence in recent years, particularly in the dairy industry.

The Chinese authorities enacted strict policies to ensure food safety after infant milk formula containing melamine killed at least six babies and made 300,000 children ill in 2008.

The industrial chemical had been added to dairy products to make them seem high in protein.

It led to product recalls across the globe, and further damaged China’s reputation for producing safe and reliable products.

Earlier this year, China’s quality inspection agency shut down nearly half of the country’s 1,176 dairies as part of a campaign to clean up the dairy industry.

We’ll see if this slows down the recent torrent of food safety problems China has witnessed.

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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, food safety, regulations

“Guangdong to lead the way in push for small government and stronger civil society”

A few weeks ago we heard about the Guangdong province Party chief changing the rules for land development, supposedly to a more sane way of doing it. Now the Guangdong Party deputy secretary is looking to remove some of the inhibitions on civil society according to Caijing and Shanghaiist:

At a press conference on Thursday, Zhu Mingguo (朱明国), deputy secretary of the provincial party committee and secretary of the provincial committee for discipline inspection, said the growth of civil society had been limited in the past because of a big government that was omnipresent in all matters big and small. Going forward, the Guangdong government would lower the barriers of entry for the registration of civil society groups, and these groups would be given the latitude and autonomy to manage and develop themselves.

By encouraging the active involvement of workers, youth and women, the government hoped to see the appearance of more civil society organisations. The goal by the end of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan was to have 5 civil society groups for every 10,000 people. This would require the involvement of 10% of Guangdong residents, or about 10 million.

The six strategic directions employed by the provincial government would be as follows:
1. To release as many powers as can be released,
2. To move from an ‘omnipotent’ government towards a limited government,
3. The government would be there to provide better services, and to ‘manage the managers’, and not to directly manage all matters in society. Society would be encouraged to manage itself through the civil society groups,
4. The government will pass on certain powers over to the civil society groups, which would have to operate within certain set rules,
5. The government will, through the purchase of services, encourage the movement of civil society groups,
6. The government will help train social workers and volunteers and encourage signups from graduates of relevant tertiary institutions

Zhu also said the government would encourage more migrant workers to become civil servants so as to make them feel they too are “valued by the party and the government”. In counties, townships and also companies where there are more migrant workers, they would be invited to participate as ad-hoc committee members or ad-hoc consultants so that they can better pass on the views of members of their community in matters such as public security.

The formula of the “four rights,” first promulgated by President Hu Jintao in 2007, also resurfaced in Zhu’s paper, even though they were completely absent in the president’s 90th anniversary speech. Apart from greater transparency in policy and a more active citizenry, Zhu assured workers, farmers, intellectuals and all other segments of society of their right to know (知情权), right to participate (参与权), right to express (表达权) and right to monitor (监督权).

If true, this is a big deal. If Guangdong actually puts this into practice and promotes the Four Rights and civil society, a successful experiment could pave the way for other parts of China to follow. Remember, the first Special Economic Zone was Shenzhen, also in Guangdong province. The economic revolution that exploded out of there changed China. We’ll see where this goes.

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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, China, development

“A Sane Approach to Development and Demolitions?”

ChinaGeeks has some interesting news- apparently the Party chief in Guangdong province is actually trying to develop a less destructive forced demolition technique. This one involves actually consulting people and being fair and might cut down on the number of infuriated citizens getting pushed over the edge. As Custer says:

Words matched by actions? Actually addressing an issue directly and constructively rather than just ignoring it and banning all discussion related to it? Taking the common people’s opinion of development projects into account? Who are you, and what have you done with the Guangdong CCP apparatus? Zing!

But seriously, unless there’s more going on here than we know about, this seems like a good thing. Delaying projects and actually talking to the people affected should help the government determine which projects are necessary or real improvements, and which projects are just destroying people’s homes for a quick buck. Much as I distrust the government’s ability to make that judgement, I’ve got to give the Guangdong boys credit here for at least coming up with the idea and starting the follow through. Here’s hoping they keep it up!

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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, China, Communist Party, forced demolition

Ai Weiwei Released!

Ai Weiwei, internationally famous for his art, his politics, and his politically-tinged art, has been released. The most common reaction definitely seems to be surprise. The following is a round-up of reactions from different sources.

From Al Jazeera:

Ai’s release after nearly three months’ detention was not directly confirmed by him or his immediate family on Wednesday. However, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Beijing, was able to reach Ai and verify the news first-hand.

“He has confirmed that he has been freed – he’s at home,” our correspondent said.

Ai “said that he couldn’t tell us anything at all except that he can’t tell us anything”.

Ai did say, however, that he had lost “a lot of weight” while in detention, our correspondent said.

Reacting to the news of the artist’s release, Catherine Barber, deputy director of the UK-based Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific programme, told Al Jazeera it “certainly looks like Ai Weiwei is under continuing restrictions” of some kind.

“All the activists released recently have been restricted, and some indeed kept in illegal house arrest after their release,” she said.

Peking Duck:

Maybe global outrage really can work, at least in high-profile cases like this. To me, this biting of the bullet makes China look better, at least a little bit, than if they’d kept Ai Weiwei hidden away under lock and key. It is less humiliating for China than appearing weak and terrified by an activist artist.

Letter from China:

The release of Ai Weiwei is an astonishment. Nobody—least of all, it’s safe to say, the leaders who signed off on his arrest two and a half months ago—predicted the scene of him waving wearily to a crush of reporters as he returned to his studio on a hot Beijing night, apologizing for being unable to comment further. He looked tired and small, but visibly unharmed. In Chinese judicial terms, his release on bail of a certain kind is “perhaps the very best outcome that could have been expected in the circumstances of this difficult case,” according to Jerry Cohen, the dean of Chinese law specialists.

Short of a sharp turn, Ai is unlikely to face further detention in this case, but he is hardly out of the woods. The first question will be what kind of life he returns to, whether he will be able to speak freely and travel abroad, and how much punishment still awaits him on charges of tax evasion.

It should be noted that the tax evasion charges are almost certainly invented, an excuse to justify an arrest that was illegal by the letter of Chinese law. Anyway, for the first time since starting this site, I have to say: good choice, Beijing! It shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and there are still many more people waiting to be released, but at least today we can count one less person sitting in a Chinese prison cell for no good reason. I’m sure we’ll have more as the story develops.

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Filed under art, Beijing does a Good Thing, China, enforced disappearance