The top story this week was the Shanghai metro crash which I covered in a recent post. The accident reignited the debate about the speed with which China is building infrastructure. Adam Minter reflected on the greater meaning of the crash for Shanghai residents who have no choice but to commute to work on the subway in his piece “Shanghai rail commuters get onboard with a prayer“.
China also launched the first components of its new space station, which should be fully operational around the time the International Space Station is decommissioned. This great technological accomplishment coming on the heels of a needless crash creates an interesting contrast between technical achievements, and the ability to manage and maintain these systems.
The cost of development was also seen in the Air Quality Index numbers released this week by the WHO. Of the Chinese cities included in the report not a single one qualified for the label of “healthy”. Interestingly, many of the most polluted cities were in sparsely populated Western China, caused in part by coal mining and dust storms (partially caused by coal mining). Another report showed that China is set to overtake the US in per capita carbon emissions by 2017.
Bonus: Asia Society has an amazing video series about China’s environmental challenges and what is being done to address them that is well worth your time.
Poorly built infrastructure was also one of the underlying themes of the other major development this week, governments are growing increasingly wary of Chinese projects in their countries-
Canada is pushing forward a lawsuit again Chinese SOE Sinopec for violating worker safety standards that left two Chinese workers dead in an oil sands project in Alberta. It has raised a number of questions about Chinese business practices in other countries when using Chinese laborers.
Myanmar (one of China’s closest regional allies) decided to stop the construction of a dam on the Irrawaddy. While China had pushed the project forward on grounds that it would help control flooding and provide electricity, activists argued that the environmental impact was too great to justify. Much of the dams power was going to be used in China.
In Zimbabwe (another very important ally), the gov’t banned the export of chrome by seven Chinese companies because they had failed to set up smelting plants within the country as they had promised. The companies asked for another 5 year grace period, but were denied out of fear that the extraction would be nearly complete by then.
Read more about China in Africa in my three part series on the subject (The good, the bad and the Ugly)
The biggest event in foreign relations though happened in Zambia, where the people elected a vocally anti-China president. Despite China sending millions in “aid” to the country, concerns about Chinese business practices and penchant for tempting officials with bribes overruled the Party’s efforts. Within a few days of the election one Chinese mining company raised workers’ wages 85%, which might convince neighboring democracies that it’s time to get tough. Howard French from the Atlantic wrote a great piece on the subject titled, “In Africa, an Election Reveals Skepticism of Chinese Involvement.”
It’s a theme that I think is going to become an increasingly important topic, and the outcome will have huge impacts in how China rises.
Tom, where did you get the idea that Zimbabwe is a “very important ally” of China? I totally get your indication because Zimbabwe has a dictator as a president.
USA has all kinds of dictators as their allies. What is your take on that?
I say this because China threw a birthday party for Zimbabwe’s dictator and was caught trying to smuggle weapons to him shortly after violence broke out in the run up to Zimbabwe’s election. China’s mineral deals in the country are quite large as well.
If you call that “important ally”, USA had and has so many disgusting dictators much worse than that. The following are only some examples:
With this lengthy list, US government and citizens really don’t have any right to throw such kind of comments if they have any sense of pride or dignity.
Jimmy, that kind of attitude goes both ways.
“With this lengthy list, the Chinese government and citizens really don’t have any right throw such kinds of comments around if they have any sense of pride or dignity.”
If everyone had that attitude, why even bother talking about anything outside of our immediate environment? Better tell China studies departments in the US and American studies departments in China to shut down their respective departments because neither of them have any right to throw around such comments (educated or otherwise) about countries other than their own, right? This is a blog about China, so it’s understandable that Tom doesn’t list an American counter-example for every China-related story he posts or to which he links.
Furthermore, based on the thoughtfulness of the comments posted here over the course of the past few years, Tom and those who regularly follow his blog are extremely well-read, so I’m fairly certain that the information you provided wasn’t new to them just as it wasn’t new to me. At this point, every country on the face of the earth has had its leaders and its people do terrible things in the name of a deity, an ideology, or country, so I think we can all safely move past schoolyard accusations of “But they did it too!” to more substantive discussions of the topics at hand.
I’d also like to point out that in this post I wasn’t discussing China’s affiliation with dictators, so Jimmy’s comments are a bit off topic here. Instead the focus is China’s changing relationship with several countries, especially developing ones.
The Zambia story from the Atlantic discusses how the people of Zambia feel the Chinese are taking advantage of their natural resources and labor through low wages and poor working conditions, while the Chinese are baffled by this animosity despite building new hospitals, stadiums, infrastructure, etc. The large disparity in the 2 viewpoints would be quite laughable if it weren’t so sad, but I can certainly understand the sentiments from both sides.
From the Zambians’ viewpoint, it can’t feel good to see an outside group profiting from their country; what could have been a good opportunity for job creation was squandered by the Chinese bringing in their own people for the management positions and poor treatment of the local hires. (The factory working conditions in China are already quite bad…so I can only imagine how much worse it’d be in Africa.)
The Chinese on the other hand have always been clouded by the paternalism that they’ve enforced upon themselves for thousands of years (from ruler to subject/ father to family), and that almost always proves to be volatile when imposed on outside ethnicities (i.e. Xinjiang, Tibet). The thing is, Chinese culture has an extremist version of the collectivist mentality that enables them to overlook individual suffering; as long as things look good from the outside, it doesn’t matter the suffering on the inside. (It always reminds me of an ant colony; as long as the queen ant is safe, killing a bunch of stray worker ants doesn’t make any difference to the colony since the queen can just make more ants.)
Hi NiubiCowboy and Tom, if every country has businesses and deals with dictators, why is China the only one who gets blamed? If it is so common, why bother even bringing it up?
It is like: I can’t believe it, Chinese people eat food; It shocks me that Chinese people actually walk, laugh and sleep.
“Why is China the only one who gets blamed?”
No one’s blaming China. Here’s what Tom said: “In Zimbabwe (another very important ally), the gov’t banned the export of chrome by seven Chinese companies because they had failed to set up smelting plants within the country as they had promised. The companies asked for another 5 year grace period, but were denied out of fear that the extraction would be nearly complete by then.” Apart from a simple description of the story linked, I see no blame there.
You also seem confused as to why China-related stories are appearing on a blog that focuses completely on China and China-related issues. For example, I wouldn’t get angry every time a blog like Gothamist “brings up” things about New York, because the purpose of that blog is to post and report on stories by, about, and for New Yorkers. Tom lives in China, works in China, studies China, and, yes, loves China, so he’s created a blog to discuss China and issues related to its growth and development.
If you’d like to read about countries apart from China, I’d suggest news sources such as the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Hindustan Times, Sydney Morning Herald, or Die Welt as good places to start.
And NiubiCowboy, if you read News and Comments from China, nobody brought up the “USA ally with dictators” topic, because it is so obvious that every country did that and does it and will do it.
I’d just like to point out that the post does not mention dictators, your first comment opened up that topic.
Your words: “If you call that ‘important ally’, USA had and has so many disgusting dictators much worse than that.”