Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On The Road 2: China

The news from Tibet was disquieting. According to some local sources one hundred Tibetans have been killed in the riots. However news is hard to come by, and precise facts even harder. Local Chinese don’t have access to CNN and other foreign broadcasts, those services are only provided to expensive foreign tourist hotels. Foreign news sources put the total at closer to 700.
Some sources say that the cause is the displeasure by the local population at the Chinese Government’s imposition of a new successor to the Dali Lama, without the present Dali Lama’s consent. Reportedly the current Dali Lama has someone else in mind.
This riot is blamed on the Dali Lama. According to the Chinese press, the Dali Lama is behind the riots. Others say that the riots are caused not only by the choice of a successor to the Dali Lama being taken out of that Holy Man’s hands, but also by other stringent measures the Chinese Government is reportedly placing on the Buddhist community in Tibet, including restricting the study of Buddhism and planning the educational curriculum.
The Chinese Government, however, blames the riots on the Buddhist, claiming that the much anticipated Beijing Olympics in the fall of 2008 are being used by the Dali Lama to push his own agenda.
Still, some Western observers see this as only the beginnings of the crack in the Chinese society. Some claim that the disparity between rich and poor is growing, and it is only a matter of time until the society “implodes.” One restaurateur said that “greed” was the driving force in China.
The China Daily, an English language publication which is assumed to be state sponsored, published a small blurb on March 17, 2008. The headline, “Dali Lama Behind Tibet Riots.” This was in sharp contrast to the New York Times which reported, “Dali Lama Does Not Support Riots.”
Some facts about China, according to the China Daily.
“Jan-Feb investments rose 24%” was the headline of an article by Wong Xu, on March 17. He wrote, “Fixed assets investments in cities and towns rose 24.3 per cent in the first two months from the same period a year earlier.” According to the National Bureau of Statistics, “…investment in real estate lead the spending spree with year on growth of 32.9 per cent.”
“Meanwhile a total number of new projects amounted to 14,447, a jump of 40 per cent from a year ago.
“The nation may need domestic investments to make up for the decline in exports this year,” said Chin Jin, chief economist with Beijing based Citic Securities.”
“Chinese exports growth plunged 6.5 per cent in February from January of 26 per cent.”
“CPI surged 8.7 per cent in February, the highest level in a decade. Meanwhile producer prices, the cost of goods as they leave the factory, also rose the fastest pace this year during the same period.”
Goldman Sachs reported, “We expect the government to take tightening measures in the coming months, which will pressure downward investment.”
In another article entitled, “Getting the Chemistry Right,” Rex Jianxin, who runs China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) said the company’s assets and sales have topped 100 billion yuan. (7 yuan to one U.S. dollar).
“In the past this year’s sales have seen a 92 per cent year-on growth, profits have risen 71 per cent annually.”
“Along with PetroChina, Sinopec, and CNOOC, ChinaChem was one of the five largest companies in the Petroleum & Chemical Sectors.”
But according to another article quoting Liu Chanzi, the founder of the Lenovo Group, the 4th largest computer company in the world, “The economy is facing a number of uncertainties, such as rising exchange rates and consumer prices, and a potential slowdown.”
Liu said, “The rural market is showing great potential to bolster domestic consumption. The rural market contributed to Lenovo’s rapid rise in China. Last year it sold 10 million computers up from 2 million in 2000,” he said.
“A large portion of these sales were to people in the countryside.”
The article continues, “Home to 700 million people, the countryside has long been seen as a potential engine for China’s continued development.
Liu, who is a member of the NPC, The National People's Congress, China's Parliament, (that endorsed Premier Wen Jiabao's work report and the country's 11th Five-Year Plan) said the government has promised that by 2010 all rural areas will have highways, electricity, mail services, passenger airport services, telephone lines, and rural people with access to telephone and internet.”
China TV's English Language channel 9 had a talk show with a Chinese economist and a British diplomat. During the discussions it became clear that the Chinese focus on exports, which has sharp ups and down, will now be scaled back, with the emphasis put on the steady and reliable domestic market.
The central government said a the ongoing NPC session, at the committees meetings in Beijing, that it will this year increase spending on rural development to record highs, up 562.5 billion yuan (@$79 billion) up 30 per cent from last year.
In a big article, “Countryside Gives Lessons In Education,” the plenum was told that now all school education is free. One school teacher said in 1986 a classroom held four students scattered over three grads, “Now the number of students is 400,” with a new school, dorm and canteen.
In an editorial entitled “Equitable Education” the writer said, “Exempting rural kids from school fees, which are perhaps negligible by urban standards but back-breaking for some extremely poor rural households, will undoubtedly help make compulsory education true to its name.”
Traveling in China can be luxurious or primitive, so can lodging. Tourism is a major industry in China, but most of the tourists are native Chinese. With a population of 1.3 billion people, foreign tourists are not a large part of the economy. Neither, as stated above, are exports. One flies Boeing 727s or Airbus 300s, then rides in old VW Passat taxis on potholed roads with traffic coming to a halt.
This happens daily on the road from Guilin to Yangshu, a popular tourist venue because of the karst mountains that rise like angry dragons over the Li river.
There are two ways to get to Yangshu, one is on a three-hour ferry ride from Guilin, popular with Presidents from Nixon to Clinton, pictured standing on the deck of the ship with the mountains soaring in the distance like the fingers of an angry giant.
Or on the two-lane "National Highway," which is a toll road. Here traffic frequently comes to a halt when a three-wheeled motorized cart with a top speed of ten-miles per hour blocks forward motion. The road is also populated with bicycles, motorbikes, local buses, and tour buses, as well as the shiny Buicks and occasional Mercedes SUV.
Along the roadside farmers toil on their little plots of land, each perhaps fifty yards by fifty yards. No mechanized machinery is in view. By the time a tractor started up and drove forward, there wouldn't be room to turn around. So the plowing is still done by a man holding a metal plow attached to a water buffalo, unchanged from his ancestors, except perhaps for the metal plow.
Women work beside the men, some still wear the conical straw hats, some in shirts and work pants. Here and there the contrasts occur, like a wooden shack with a slanted roof that looks about to fall in, but with a metal satellite dish in front of the door.
Yangshu is a farming community turned tourist town. The main drag in the old town is called West Street, and features all varieties of knock-offs. One could buy a Rolex for twenty dollars, or a Gucci bag for fifteen. Some unsuspecting tourists will get off the tourist boat after the three-hour ride, not know the merchandise is Jiad, fake, and overpay for something that will "fall apart on the first washing," as one local put it.
China today is a nation of contrasts. Friendly people. Many say "Hello" making one suspect that a Chinese campaign exists preaching friendliness in anticipation of the much awaited Olympics.
That's a big thing in China. It puts China on the map.
With what's going on in Tibet, its possible the Olympics in the fall may put more focus on domestic problems then the Chinese want.