Archive | July, 2014

China’s proposed Beijing super-region

31 Jul

One of the bigger plans that President Xi Jinping proposed this year was the integration of Beijing with Tianjin and Hebei province into a more unified region. Beijing and Tianjin are both municipalities, while Hebei is a province that surrounds both cities.

The integration will supposedly help Beijing by reducing its population and air pollution (as well as Tianjing’s), while also helping Hebei develop, by spreading out industries and resources among the three places more efficiently and boosting the region’s prosperity and development.
This would also help Beijing increase its control over surrounding regions like Hebei specifically and reduce the power of local leaders, whose “every region for itself” mentality results in inefficiency, overindustrialization, and local power fiefs. However, besides economics and control, a big goal would be to boost the prosperity of Hebei, which is China’s leading steel producer but still a relatively low-income province (16th in GDP per capita among mainland China’s 31 regions) despite surrounding both Beijing and Tianjin. As a researcher in the article says “That there are so many poverty-stricken people on the outskirts of such big cities is outrageous – the surrounding regions of big cities are normally highly developed,” he said at a conference in the steel-making city of Tangshan last month.”

However, despite the hype about megacities, it will be a huge challenge and there’ll be a lot of things to do. As the researcher in the SCMP article states, “Unlike in the Yangtze River or Pearl River deltas, cross-regional cultural and economic ties in Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin are effectively being created from scratch, Zhang said.” 

While Beijing (21 million) and Tianjin (14.7 million) are major cities with a good level of development, Hebei is a province of over 70 million and largely dependent on iron, steel and manufacturing. It is also one of China’s most polluted regions, which says a lot, with 7 out of China’s 10 most polluted cities. Ironically Beijing is moving several of its capital-intensive and pollution-causing industries and hundreds of firms out to Hebei, thus increasing the pollution in heavily-polluted Hebei, which doesn’t seem so smart. The central government also suggested it would move a few government ministries and state firms to Hebei, specifically the city of Baoding, which resulted in a temporary home-buying boom before eventually calming down.

The integration idea makes sense because Beijing really is too crowded, polluted and inefficient in taking up a lot of social resources, while the economic inequality between it and Hebei is vast. It’s something that should have been implemented in the past, especially as Beijing’s problems didn’t just happen overnight.

Skyscraper boom and a giant rubber toad

27 Jul

China, along with Hong Kong, has about half of the world’s 20 tallest towers but that’s not enough. However, while previously Shanghai and Shengzhen were building ultra-high towers, smaller and less-famous cities like Suzhou and Wuhan are getting into the skyscraper boom now, mainly for prestige over economic benefits.

The mainland may irritate and infuriate, but sometimes it amuses. As a Chinese home-grown spectacle to rival the famous giant rubber duck that drew crowds in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei in Taiwan, a giant toad has been put up in Beijing’s Yuyuantan Park (Old Summer Palace). It’s not exactly as popular or “cute” as the duck, but it seems to be funnier, so much so that it’s been allegedly banned on Chinese news sites.

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Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower, flanked by the World Financial Center on the left, and the Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest tower.

 

 

China’s ever-expanding high-speed rail

16 Jul

One of China’s more impressive achievements is its train network, especially its high-speed rail which has expanded across much of the nation since being started in 2007. It seems like China has gotten so confident and enthusiastic with high-speed rail that it is seriously proposing high-speed rail networks going from China to neighboring countries, as well as across the Asian continent all the way to Europe! It sounds very ambitious and suggests China is a rail power, but it is important to remember that China’s high-speed rail lines cost a ton of money and may not be earning much profit, if at all, and that it was, at least formerly, based on foreign technology. Of course China seems to excel in large-scale infrastructural projects such as highways and dams, and that before its high-speed rail, it also boasted an extensive regular train network which is still in use today.

China’s best smartphone brand

15 Jul

One of the few Chinese homegrown brands that actually has a good, even cool, reputation is Xiaomi. It’s actually been called China’s Apple when it comes to smartphones because it’s supposedly just as cool and stylish. I can’t verify that, but the company’s growth, stats (No. 3 in sales right behind Samsung and Apple) and fans do testify to its popularity. Unlike other Chinese companies that make smartphones like Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo, Xiaomi is strictly a smartphone company though it has branched off into devices like tablets and HDTVs. More impressively, it hardly spends on ads and marketing and sells its phones directly online. Learn a bit more about Xiaomi and its entrepreneur founder here. Xiaomi has continued to expand overseas by launching with India this week (it is already available in Taiwan, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia). However, Xiaomi has a long way to go before it can really become a popular brand outside of China.

A deeper look at China’s “power”

6 Jul

China is a rising power, or so it seems based on a lot of what we read and hear. It’s definitely rising but is it actually a power? And how strong is it? Frankly it’s not that strong in a lot of areas, but don’t take my word for it. This impressive article by noted China scholar David Shambaugh makes a convincing case for why China is not so formidable by going through a lot of areas like military, economy, diplomacy and culture. It’s a long read but very informative and direct – Shambaugh doesn’t hold back on his arguments (but the article is not a diatribe or rant by any means). One of Shambaugh’s main points is something that many people don’t seem to do when looking or talking about China – judging in terms of quality rather than quantity. What Shambaugh says about China’s economy – ” As in other areas, it is quantitatively impressive but qualitatively weak.” – can easily be said for many other aspects of China. This doesn’t mean China is a weakling but that it is nowhere near as powerful and close to being a superpower – I do think it might be an economic superpower – it is no. 2 in the world and has much more room to grow- and that it has many serious defects and shortcomings.