Tag Archives: Hebei

China’s murky state

30 Jan

The weather has been mostly good in Beijing, but there’s something else afoul in the country recently.

The government’s ideological-fueled crackdown on liberties continues to grow, so much so that it might be hard to keep track of them. Internet censorship took a big step recently when the authorities blocked Gmail in late December and then last week blocked mainstream VPNs (Virtual Private Networks, which allow users to access the Internet through private links) on Apple iPhones and iPads.

Then this morning, I woke up to read that the education minister came out and told Chinese universities to stop using textbooks that “promote Western values” or criticize socialism. University academics have also been told to stop criticizing the government, while a province even mulled plans to install CCTV in university classrooms to monitor professors over the past year. Journalists and artists have also been urged (warned) to adhere to Marxist values while accepting tighter control and scrutiny. Churches and human rights lawyers have faced crackdowns of their own as well.

I’ve said before I don’t see things going too well for the country, especially as its economy continues slowing and its government goes on cracking down on everything left, right and center, and spouting Marxist rhetoric. What I’m unsure about is whether the leadership is doing these things because it feels invincible or is desperate.This article sums up why China might be feeling a bit vulnerable, which is indeed facing a host of challenges.

Yet another hospital attack took place, resulting in a doctor dying along with his assailant after both fell down an elevator shaft in a Hebei hospital earlier this week. There is absolutely no excuse for attacking a doctor and killing him. The hospital’s doctors and nurses then went on a march through the streets the next day to mourn their colleague and highlight the lack of security. This has been a recurring problem that has happened across the nation even in Beijing.

In what was a bit of a shocker, a government regulator came out last week and blasted e-commerce giant Alibaba, which launched the world’s largest-ever IPO last September, over the prevalence of counterfeit items on its market websites. Alibaba, owned by China’s second-richest man Jack Ma, hit back at the regulator, the SAIC, with some unusually strong words of its own. This is very interesting since it pits a very wealthy and well-known entrepreneur against a strong organization of the central government. As this article points out, similar clashes have happened in the past and the government has usually come out on top.
The tiff seems to have settled a bit but this raises the question about whether the government will start cracking down on its own large companies, as it has already done on major foreign companies such as drug giants, auto companies and Microsoft and Qualcomm. The regulator has picked a very late time to release its critical report, which it had completed by last July but claimed it had held off from releasing public due to not wanting to affect Alibaba’s IPO. Alibaba’s share prices have dropped significantly this past week after the report. Alibaba’s Taobao site, which lets vendors sell directly to individual consumers, does have a lot of fakes so there is some merit to the SAIC’s report but this is the first time it has openly criticized Alibaba, which many consider a massive and rising star in China’s private sector.

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.