Archive | April, 2013

China in Africa

30 Apr

China has invested billions in aid and development Africa, but this Guardian feature tries to show a more comprehensive picture. In the past 10 years, China’s investment has totaled about US$75 billion, with much of it going into social projects. There are industrial projects, but the vast majority of projects, which are numbered for each African country on a map, are on thing like health, education and similar projects. Economics and diplomacy play a role of course: “Many of the cultural and sporting projects across the continent are probably “upfront sweeteners” to win government favour, a “downpayment” for future commercial deals, suggests Stephen Chan, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.”

However does this mean there’s a big master Chinese plan to conquer and exploit Africa? “But Chan rejects the idea that China has a master strategy in Africa. “There are 54 countries in Africa. You’re off your head if you think there’s one single agenda.””

Interestingly, Chinese aid, while looked on with suspicion by some in the West and Africa, has been criticized by Chinese who wonder why this money can’t be used at home. But people quoted in the article explain, foreign aid, especially to Africa, has long been done by the PRC, and it’s more than a matter of being too generous but also that of winning friends and boosting relations. As it is, China only spends 0.07% of its GDP on foreign aid, well short of the 0.7% that developed countries agreed to (but few have actually achieved).

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Taiwan Hakka focus, and returns from the past

30 Apr

In welcome news, two bronze heads that were stolen when Western troops sacked the Summer Palace in 1860 are being returned to China later this year. These heads are part of a dozen, with several having been returned and a few still out there somewhere.

Hakkas make up about 18 percent of Taiwan’s population, but have historically been marginalized in mainstream society. The government is trying to raise awareness and promote Hakka culture, through food and religious festivals, cultural centers, and education, with Hakka being an optional subject in schools. There are even Hakka studies programs at universities. The Taipei MRT subway has Hakka as one of the four languages it makes announcements in.

Wineries aren’t my thing, though I don’t mind a little wine now or then. Here’s a unique one in Beijing, an asterisk-shaped structure situated on an artificial lake.

Social pressures

30 Apr

Though Taiwan is a relatively well-off society, and social services like the public health service are quite decent, there are many who are just barely getting by, as this BBC article describes. A weak economy, low salaries, and broken or disconnected families have also caused a rise in poorer people. Living in Taipei, I don’t encounter so much visible signs of poverty, though I have indeed seen beggars and disabled people on wheelchairs selling tissue and chewing gum (though not mothers holding children to get people to buy flowers). 

Foxconn (HonHai) saw a spate of worker suicides at its massive factory complex in Guangdong last year. One of these workers, just barely out of their teens, survived and belately learned her lesson. She’s back at her hometown and maintaining her spirits, but sadly in a wheelchair since she was paralyzed from her suicide attempt.

I posted about Hong Kong’s Walled City recently, but I think it’s ok to post another link again, which shows how crazy and built-up it was. I can’t fathom living in a place like that, but far from some dystopian lawless hell, it was good home for some folks who lived there. The place was torn down in the mid-1990s, and I visited the public park which was built over it. 

Taking a look at the Chinese football league

28 Apr

China’s football (soccer for you North Americans) league has been getting some attention in recent seasons and things seem to be looking up as attendances have been rising and league champion continues to impress in Asia. One of the main reasons is the amount of big money that’s being put into some of the clubs, many of which are owned by property magnates who seem to be emulating their counterparts in Europe, specifically those oil sheikh and Russian and American billionaires who own Premier League clubs. As a result, big-name players have moved to China in the last 2 seasons, including former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, ex-Barcelona star Seydou Keita, and others like Yakubu,Nicolas Anelka and some South American stars. One of the biggest names was Lucas Barrios, who moved to Guangzhou Evergrande from the German Bundesliga’s Borussia Dortmund last season at the peak of his career at 27. The Paraguayan striker played in the 2010 World Cup for his country. Unfortunately his career at Evergrande hasn’t been so smooth as this Spiegel article mentions. There’s a little bit of regret from Barros and he still has a soft spot for his former club. However it doesn’t actually say why he doesn’t like it at Guangzhou, except that he’s unhappy, and the article specifically says he doesn’t even mention his club.

The article gives a good overview of the major investment put into the football league, especially in Evergrande, whose coach Marcello Lippi led Italy to their 2006 World Cup. The major concern is whether this investment is sustainable and can be maintained in the future. The article also says David Beckham got US$2 million to become an ambassador for China’s football league, which saw Beckham visit China recently for a few days to make some public appearances. Beckham didn’t say he got any money so it’s notable the article states he got so much.

In the Asian Champions’ League, Guangzhou Evergrande is the only Chinese team to qualify for the knockout stage already, while Beijing Guoan and Guizhou Renhe still have a chance. Jiangsu Sainty unfortunately will likely not make it after a 2-0 loss left them bottom of their group with just one game to go.

RandomChina travel destination- Huashan 华山

27 Apr

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I’ve been to a few places in China, and I’d like to share some starting with the most impressive nature site. This is Huashan (华山), one of China’s most historic and sacred great mountains. Located in Shaanxi province, one and a half hours by regular train from Xian, Huashan rises up to 2,155 meters. But the height itself is not what makes Huashan so famous or notorious. Historically it has been a place of worship and meditation for emperors, monks, and pilgrims. In more present times, it’s gained some notoriety for being one of the world’s most dangerous mountains. Huashan is covered with steep paths, including near-vertical staircases, and precarious trails. People have even died, prompting authorities to improve safety and build new trails. The most dangerous one is the cliff plank walk on a sheer cliff face over 2,000 meters up, where the path is basically a wooden plank with no fence. Holding onto an iron chain along the cliff is the only way to navigate. This was in the past though. The authorities have cordoned this path off, charging a small fee and requiring you to wear a harness to go on it, but it’s still very dangerous. I wish I can say I went on it, but I didn’t. Still I did go on all five peaks on top, and it was a tough and challenging hike, but much worth it.

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Huashan has five peaks. This is Huashan as seen from North Peak, the shortest of the five peaks at 1614.7 m.

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Walking up the Dragon Ridge (Canlong Ling) are these laborers carrying their loads to supply the facilities on the mountain. It’s every bit as tough as it looks.

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This is what Canlong Ling (dragon ridge) looks like from below. It connects the shorter North Peak to the rest of Huashan. 

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This is the pathway to the cliff path I mentioned above. After this point, you have to pass through a gate, pay RMB20, strap on a harness and climb down to the actual cliff path.

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I thought this was a dangerous staircase but a laborer carried a heavy load up this near-vertical staircase using just one hand to hold on, while a cleaner (guy in red) swept below. The cleaner then went up the staircase as well to sweep every step, whilst holding the dustpan at the same time! In other words, he walked up this staircase without holding on to anything. 

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Sunset at West Peak.

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Hong Kong’s green gem

24 Apr

One of my favorite places in Hong Kong is Lantau Island, where the airport and Disneyworld are located. Lantau is lush, sparsely populated and is full of mountains, beaches, and even a fishing village. It’s rarely featured in travel pieces, so it was nice to come across this rare article about Lantau Island.

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Lantau Peak, Hong Kong’s second-highest mountain at 934 m.

Ya’an, Sichuan

22 Apr

The toll from the earthquake that hit Sichuan’s Ya’an continues to rise as rescue attempts continue. The news is full of articles about this tragedy, so here’re some articles covering different aspects. First, read about the city that got hit. I’ve never heard of Ya’an before but it seems to have substantial cultural and historical importance. Then, a reporter was about to get married when the quake happened. Instead of fleeing or even changing, this intrepid journalist went out into the street and started doing interviews.

Li Na, Asian trailblazer, and remembering a good leader

19 Apr

Time released its list of the 100 most influential people of 2013, and five mainland Chinese people are on the list, as well as one Taiwanese. Li Na, China’s top tennis player and the first Asian woman to win a tennis major, is on the cover page of this issue.

Here’s in remembrance of Hu Yaobang, one of the most senior leaders of China in the 1980s whose death in 1989 preceded the tragic events in Beijing. He was seen as a good leader who pushed hard for much needed reforms but was ultimately stifled by the regime.

John Hopkins dean explicitly calls for US to get back and dominate the Gulf to completely choke China’s energy supply

18 Apr

China recently released a white paper on its military structure, which was notable for explicitly stating the number of personnel in its army, navy and air force. China also made an indirect warning about the US in Asia, which the NY Times highlighted in its headline. There was nothing otherwise. However going by content such as in this Atlantic article, written by the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, China has a strong case to feel wary about the growing American presence in Asia. Especially with statements like this “The [US] administration has made it clear that we are now in the business of containing China. So should we not be doubling down on the Persian Gulf, a region we have already secured for 60 years, rather than abandoning it at the precise moment that it has achieved new strategic value?”

The author calls on the US government to focus on all of Asia, especially the Middle East, instead of just Southeast and East Asia. The reason is that the US already controls Chinese access to energy through the sea, but needs to take control in the Middle East because China can still access energy in that region overland. As such, to prevent China from escaping an American chokehold on its energy access in any future war, the US needs to act decisively. If you think my overview or this post’s headline is bombastic, read the original article.

Here’s a few more choice extracts:
“In a military competition, America has the clear advantage. China knows the U.S. can use its superior sea power to squeeze China’s oil supplies; the American armada dominates the Pacific and Indian Oceans and every body of water in between.”

“But of equal importance is American naval domination of the Persian Gulf, the source of much of China’s future energy supply. It is a critical strategic advantage in managing China’s rise, a fact that Beijing is acutely aware of. The U.S., however, does not seem to be.”

Grand Canal, Chengguan empathy, NGO hope

17 Apr

National Geographic carries a nice article about the Grand Canal, the major 1,100-mile-long marine passageway that linked Beijing to Hangzhou for centuries. It may have lost some of its past glory and use, but it’s still in use and a way of life for some people. It’s cool to know that some things still live on from many hundreds of years ago.

Chengguan (public order officials) have a bad reputation with some nasty incidents involving public abuses of power. These guys aren’t police, but they are supposed to enforce public order such as clearing illegal vendors or beggars from streets and so on. Sometimes they overstep their boundaries, even leading to serious injuries inflicted on civilians. Conversely, chengguan have been heavily criticized and even attacked physically. One chengguan unit is trying to give its side of the story. It’s a very tough job, no doubt, and a thankless one. The core issue, as the SCMP article states at the end, goes far beyond job conduct and abuses.

Civil society is limited, with NGOs facing significant limits on advocacy and operation. In some good news, at least more NGOs can actually register as NGOs and without need for official supervision.