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.
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.