China News - Summer 2005

Japanese history textbook protests in China

Thousands of Chinese protested outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing about Tokyo's authorisation of textbooks, which are claimed to whitewash Japan's war crimes. The most contentious of the two textbooks does not even mention the 200,000 Chinese and Korean women taken as sex slaves ('comfort women') for the Imperial Japanese army and suggests that Korea and China actually benefited from the Japanese occupation. A Korean government spokesman, Lee Kyu Hyung has said that the textbooks' 'beatify and justify' Japan's occupation of parts of Asia until 1945.

The books were written by a group of neo-nationalist academics with the backing of a right wing media conglomerate and have sold nearly a million copies since 2001. At the present time, just one new history textbook out of eight mentions the comfort women-down from seven in the mid-1990s and references to other war crimes have been toned down or dropped.

Survivors of the comfort women have been protesting outside the Japanese embassy since 1992 demanding an apology. Since this time there have been fresh incidents such as the new textbooks and the visits of the Japanese prime minister to the Tokyo war memorial, the Yasukuni Shrine. Both China and Japan claim the Diaoyutai Islands. A boycott of Japanese goods is growing and there have been attacks on Japanese businesses in Chengdu and Shenzhen. There is an online campaign (25 million signatures claimed) against Japan's application for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Tokyo's response to the textbook controversy has been a number of statements calling on Korea and China not to let differences in historical interpretation damage relations. Many in the Japanese government believe that Japan has apologised enough and has given 3,000 billion yen (£15 billion) in overseas aid to China alone since 1980. (From The Independent 11/4/05)

Kuomintang leader visits Chinese mainland

Mr Lien Chan's visit was the first by a leader of his rank since 1949 when the Kuomintang (KMT) lost the civil war to the Communists. Mr Lien served as Taiwan's prime minister and later as vice-president between 1993 and 2000. By showing goodwill to Mr Lien, China could be sending a message to Taiwan's public that support for Mr Lien (or a like minded successor-Mr Lien is 68 years old) would help ease tension. It could also be seen as a conciliatory message to Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian. President Chen's party the Democratic Progressive wants permanent separation from the mainland although Mr Chen has recently promised not to push for formal independence.

At first Mr Chen denounced Mr Lien's visit arguing that the trip was too soon after the anti-secession law passed by China in March, which authorises the use of force against Taiwan should it declare independence. Later Mr Chen gave his blessing despite pro-independence activists. Mr Lien wants to maintain the status quo between the two sides and supports the idea of an interim agreement lasting 30-50 years, whereby Taiwan would not declare formal independence in return for China's agreement not to attack.

Mr James Soon, the leader of Taiwan's People First Party (PFP) is also to visit the mainland next week. This will also be his first visit since 1949. The PFP broke away from the KMT in 2000. The PFP and the KMT share many common views, but Mr Soong and Mr Chen (Taiwan's President), in February of this year, set out a consensus on cross-straits issues. One of Mr Chen's objectives was to show China that there was not really such a big gap between his views and those of the opposition. (From The Economist 30/4/05)

Leading Chinese classical orchestra's London debut at the Barbican

The China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) presented Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin, Dvorak's Cello Concerto and a new work, The Song from the Earth, by one of China's foremost composers, Xiaogang Ye. This is the first time the 106-piece orchestra, which was founded four years ago, has been to Britain. The orchestra is a revamp of a former Beijing radio orchestra and has over the last four years, played all over the world. Last night's concert came after a tour of the United States-16 concerts in 21 days-and this is to be followed by performances in Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. The last on this tour will be at the Philharmonie in Berlin before returning to Beijing after more than a month on the road.

There was some controversy when the orchestra was founded because of political associations. Amongst its supporters are the family of the late Deng Xiaoping and his third daughter is a patron of the orchestra. Supporters say that the orchestra's success is heralding a renaissance in classical music in China. About 240 million Chinese children are learning how to play the piano and the Pearl River Piano Group is now the second largest instrument maker in the world. There are 30 full-time professional symphony orchestras in China-more than in the USA. (From The Times 29/3/05)

Fantasy online games-profit and problems

In China the number of Internet users has doubled from under 60 million in 2002 to more than 120 million. More than a third are believed to be game players, creating one of the world's most lucrative online markets-revenue increasing by more than 40% in each of the last two years. Shanda Networking, the largest online game company has more than two million users at any given time of the day. The information ministry estimates that China needs 600,000 online game technicians to fight off foreign competition.

However, there is growing alarm about the social consequences. Newspapers are filled with reports of internet-game related crimes and tragedies, such as the suicide note left by a boy aged 13 years. Apparently he was so addicted to online games that he had difficulty distinguishing between reality and virtual reality. Two students in Chongqing fell asleep on a railway track after and all-night Internet session and 31 years old 'Legend of Mir' addict reportedly dropped dead after a 20-hour session.

Many crimes are connected with theft of virtual possessions. Apparently hard-core players invest so much time and money into building a powerful online character that the loss or theft of a virtual identity prompts some to take violent action. The Shanda customer complaints office in Shanghai gets about 1,000 complaints a week and the staff, who have been threatened with violence, work behind reinforced glass panels. The government has cracked down on unlicensed internet cafes, which the official news agency has called, 'hotbeds of juvenile crime and depravity'. (From The Guardian 31/3/05)

End of World Food Programme to China

China received its final shipment of food aid yesterday (7 April). This marked the end of 25 years of United Nations help. James Morris, the World Food Programme executive director said that the fact that China no longer needed food aid was a tribute to its success at alleviating hunger at home and that we need China's help and resources to apply the crucial lessons learnt here to other countries still struggling with hunger.

China attained food self-sufficiency in the mid 1990s and feeds 1.3 billion people even though only 15% of the land in China is arable. By the year 2000, the average per capita calories intake of China's rural population had reached 2,600 kilocalories-more than the internationally recommended minimum. With China's economic strength increasing, the UN humanitarian agency has urged Beijing to step up support for hundreds of millions of malnourished people outside of China.

Over 25 years, the World Food Programme supplied four million tons of wheat, which went to more than 30 million people in China. Over the same period, 300 million people have been lifted out of poverty. The last consignment of 43,450 tonnes will be distributed to 400,000 poor farmers and their families in Gansu, Guangxi, Ningxia and Shanxi. (From The Times 8/4/05)

GM rice in China

Trials have produced increases in crop yields by up to 10% whilst using 80% less pesticide. Each year more than 50,000 farmers are poisoned by farm chemicals and about 400 to 500 die. China is hesitant about commercialising GM rice because if exported, it could be boycotted.

There is anti-GM sentiment in Europe and green pressure groups. The insect resistant rice could help boost China's agriculture, improve China's food security and increase the income of farmers together with health benefits. (From The Telegraph 29/4/05)

Chinese effort to combat climate change

China has slowed or halted work on 22 major dams and power stations in a dramatic greening of policies. The Chinese State Environmental Protection Agency has said that the projects that cover 13 of the country's provinces and are worth a total of £7.5 billion should not proceed until their environmental impact has been reviewed. This move is attributed to growing interest in the environment by Premier Wen Jiabo and other national leaders. (From Positive News Spring 2005)

China cracks down on corruption as western banks line up to invest

China's banking regulator is publishing new rules to attempt to reduce banking corruption before the end of next year. In 2007, the market will open more widely to foreigners under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This will require China to lift many restrictions on the entry of foreign banks. The new rules offer generous rewards to bank employees who expose corruption and provide for bank managers to be regularly rotated. The moves come after a number of high profile cases of corruption at Chinese banks.

At the same time the Chinese authorities are calling on banks to tighten their handling of operational risk. Banks have been asked to improve their management of derivatives and to establish a sound risk-reporting mechanism. Banks already granted licenses to trade derivatives should start self-inspection and submit their inspection reports to the banking regulator. Any bank trading in derivatives without a license will be punished and the officials involved will face prosecution. It is clear that the Chinese banking system needs an overhaul, but the timing has more to do with preparations for the full force of foreign competition from next year rather than mere bad publicity.

China limits a foreign investor to owning 20% of a Chinese banks shares and combined foreign investment is capped at 25%. The Chinese authorities have urged banks to link up with foreign investors and list their shares to help them become more efficient before late 2006 when the market opens more widely to foreigners under WTO rules. Foreign banks have already arrived; up to the end of last year, 10 Chinese banks had received foreign investments worth $3.19 billion and eight other domestic banks are currently negotiating with foreign investors interested in taking up stakes. The deputy director of the of the China Bank Regulatory Commission is reported to have warned that Chinese banks must accelerate reforms to prepare for greater competition and to improve their internal management and controls if they are to survive in the new environment. (From The Business 3-4/ 4/05)

Chinese buying luxury goods

At December 2004, Goldman Sachs estimated Chinese buyers accounted for 12% of the luxury goods industry, most of it from travel purchases, especially in Hong Kong. It is expected that this will increase by 20% by 2008 and by 2015 Chinese buyers will be as influential as the Japanese who account for 29% of luxury goods purchases. The Chinese market will be an important source of growth for companies such as Bulgari, Burberry, Hermes, Richemont (Cartier) and Swatch.

In a separate report, Morgan Stanley expect Chinese tourism will increase by 8-10% every year over the next 10 years and that before too long there will be 'quite an incredible flow' of Chinese tourists to Europe. (From The Financial Times 18/5/05)

China to become studio for Western Films?

Ismail Merchant, the film producer, has just returned from Shanghai, where he has made an historic epic film set in the late 1930s, called The White Countess. He has made what he believes to be the first foreign co-production completely filmed in China with significant funding from that country. The Chinese, who are participating in the Cannes Film Festival are recognising the potential of encouraging international filmmakers to work in China. The White Countess brings together British and Chinese actors and actresses including Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Luoyong Wang and Ying Da. It was produced by the Shanghai Film Group and Merchant Ivory productions.

The lavish film was produced with production costs a third what it would have cost in the West. Material costs for building sets, labour, painting and designing are much cheaper in China, which in addition can offer a vast range of landscapes for film making. (From The Times 12/5/05)

China high in 'Innovations Index'

This index was compiled using information from the various countries own patent office. The figures refer to the number of patent applications within a single year.

Japan 342,726
USA 167,183
South Korea 71,183
Germany 55,478
China 40,426
Russia 19,104
France 13,246
United Kingdom 12,245
Taiwan 8,684
Italy 4,865

(Considering China's developing nation status this is a very high placing and surpasses many developed nations.) (Source Financial Tines 8/6/05)

Growing pet economy

There are 150 million dogs in China-nearly one in every nine Chinese now owns a dog and the number is increasing. In 2004, there were more than half a million dogs in Beijing alone, costing about 500 million yuan ($60 million). In Shanghai a new pet shop opens every week. A pedigree dog could sell for about a million yuan ($125,000) while in contrast a mongrel would only cost a few dozen yuan. (From China Today April 2005)

Protecting pandas through UNESCO

In a bid to include the habitats of the giant panda on the World Heritage List, Sichuan Province has shut down 78 mines and polluting firms, suspended construction of three power stations and completed the technological renovation of 180 enterprises. These moves support the province's application to UNESCO in 2001 and also results in a better environment for the endangered pandas. The Chinese central government will put the panda habitats forward as China's sole nominee for inclusion on the World Heritage List at the July 2006 meeting of the appropriate UNESCO committee.

The Qionglai Mountains,, which include the Wolong Nature Reserve, Four Girls' Mountain and Jiajin Mountain, covering 9,510 sq kilometres is the focus of the application. The giant panda-hailed as a living fossil, has been lazing around for 3 million years, but at present there are believed to be only 1,590 of the animals remaining in the wild, and 76% of these are in Sichuan's mountainous areas. Because of changes in natural conditions and the impact of humans, the natural habitats of the giant panda have been fragmented and their ability to cope with these changes, breed and resist disease has diminished. The giant panda's image is the logo of the World Wide Life Fund for Nature. (From China Daily 13/5/05)

China's Population Policy

On 6 January 2005, a baby boy, called Zhang Yichi was born in the Beijing Maternity Hospital. He was China's 1.3 billionth citizen. His birth came ten years after China's 1.2 billionth citizen an four years later than experts' predictions, indicating that the pace of China's population growth ha s slowed down considerably. After more than 30 years hard work, China has effectively curbed its rapid population growth.

After the 1949 Revolution, the popular view was, 'there is strength in numbers' and there was a baby boom both in the 1950s and 1960s. The population rose from 700 million to 800 million in just five years between 1964 and 1969. In 1971, the Chinese government introduced its first family planning programmes, encouraging late marriage and childbearing and a four-year interval between births. When the population reached 1 billion in 1980, the 'on' child per couple' policy was introduced. (From China Today April 2005)

Keeping private cars in check

Large Chinese cities are considering regulating car growth methods to lighten the environmental, energy and transportation burdens of heavy traffic congestion. Shanghai in 1994 pioneered car regulation by auctioning license plates for private cars, explaining that it was a 'market-orientated allocation of rare resource'. This was criticised but it is still practiced today. The price of license plates has rocketed from several hundred yuan to 45,000 yuan ($5,434) last year.

Beijing had nearly 1.3 million private cars at the end of 2004-or 11 for each 100 persons. The city has the highest annual growth rate of private cars and no slow down in the rate is expected. Motor vehicle emissions, together with dust from construction sites and industrial pollution are considered the major factors affecting the capital's air quality

However the demand for cars is a powerful engine for economic growth. Statistics show that the auto industry now amounts to 1.5% of the total GDP in China. Furthermore, the government is encouraging every household to own a car as one of the goals for 'building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way'. In some cities the auto industry is not only a new stimulus for economic growth, but also provides more jobs. The auto industry gives impetus to 38 industries and every one person employed in the auto industry generates 11 more jobs in other industries.

With the contradictions of economic growth and employment increase on one hand and air pollution, energy shortage and traffic jams on the other, many cities are trapped in a dilemma on whether to limit private car growth. The deputy director of Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau has said that, they will neither control nor limit the growth of private cars but will put it in check to protect air quality. Beijing plans to adopt Euro 111 emission standards for motor vehicles this year and even stricter standards by 2008. (From Beijing Review 5/5/05)

Peking University mock trial

More than 100 students and teachers from the university law school as well as some Chinese judges based in Beijing attended a mock trial of a man charged with carrying a knife and assault and battery of his wife. Judges from Massachusetts assumed the roles of judge, prosecutor, lawyer, defendant, clerk and witnesses, whilst 12 Peking university law students sat in the jury box. Chinese students believed that it was a good way to learn about the American judicial system. The American judge who played the part of the defendant, said that it was a good way for Chinese law students and experts from the United States to learn from each other.

The event was sponsored by the US Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the Massachusetts Judges Conference and the University of Boston. The 15 member delegation is scheduled to travel to Chongqing and other Chinese cities to conduct more mock trials and other academic exchanges at local universities. (From China Daily 13/5/05)

Chinese farmers incomes up

Chinese farmers per-capita income increased 11.9% in the first quarter of 2005 allowing for price fluctuations, according to a survey of the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics. The growth is 222.7% higher than the same period last year. The survey covered 68,000 rural households in 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

The survey also showed that farmers' total taxes and fees were down 31.5% per capita in the same period-agricultural tax down by 72.28%. This March, the Chinese government decided to exempt agricultural tax throughout the country in 2006. (From Beijing Review 12/5/05)

Crackdown on illegal trade in relics

One of the most important issues in a nation's wealth of cultural relics is the policing and prohibiting of illegal trafficking of these often-priceless items. This concern extends to the commercial exploitation of cultural sites at the expense of causing them permanent damage.

It hurts the national pride of the Chinese nation when it is learned that collections of Chinese stone sculptures in many American museums are larger than those of the Forbidden City, or that the Musee Guimet of France possesses a more impressive collection of Chinese porcelain than many Chinese museums, or the vintage collection of Chinese paintings is amongst the most treasured collections of the British Museum. Today it is well known that many of these precious artefacts were looted by colonists in the 19th century.

And yet such a tragedy seems to have a modern version. Because trade in ordinary merchandise is becoming less profitable with tariffs being slashed, international trafficking groups are shifting their efforts to prohibited items such as cultural relics. World wide cultural relic trafficking is now an extensive billion dollar business second only to drugs ands arms trafficking. China is seen as a country rich in cultural relics and is fast becoming a prime source for trafficking syndicates. In recent years, the Chinese government has made a lot of effort to preserve its cultural heritage but there is still much to do. It should cooperate with other countries, especially those with a great demand for Chinese relics to root out the traffickers. (From Editor's Desk, Beijing Review 9/6/05)

Sino File is compiled by Walter Fung with some input for From the Chinese Press by Teresa Ray.

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