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China Diary: 2008. Part I

January 11, 2009

Jewish Times of Southern New Jersey
January 9, 2009
It's been a big year for the country with the world's largest population of 1.3 billion people. The Summer Olympic games in August in Beijing were the high point. The massive earthquake on May 12 that claimed the lives of 80,000 people in western China was the nadir. These were the dramatic human-interest stories that brought intense television and media coverage.
Yet - away from the excitement of the Olympic games and the devastating tragedy of the earthquake - what were the major social, political and economic events in China during 2008? How much do we know about the other Super Power and the lives of the people? Here's Part I. Next week, Part II.
• January 14, 2008. Taipei, Taiwan. The parliamentary elections resulted in a landslide victory for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party that aims at closer relations with mainland China. The KMT once waged a civil war against the Communists on the mainland, but
now KMT advocates keeping the status quo between China and Taiwan and supports closer economic and cultural ties. It does not rule out reunification in the future. The presidential election that followed on March 22 solidified the KMT control of the country when Ma Ying-jeou
won 58 percent of the vote. The final vote turnout was about 75 percent of eligible voters. Improved trade relations with China are predicted in the near future.
• January 16, 2008. Beijing. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India on a three-day first visit to China stressed common interests and a desire to overcome historic hostilities. He told the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, "Our systems are different, but people in both countries are united in their aspirations for a better future." China and India (1.1 billion people) are the world's fastest growing major economies, with China far more dominant. Beneath the proclamations of good will on both sides, a range of disputes remain between the two Asian giants, including long-standing disagreement over their Himalayan border and India's concern over trade imbalance. At present, China's annual trade with India is a fraction of its trade with Europe, Japan and the United States.
Economic competition between China and India grows as India builds its manufacturing base - China's strength - and China tries to move its economy toward the service and high-tech industries at the core of India's expansion. During Mr. Singh's visit, he and China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, did sign a joint statement that focused on broad themes but also dealt with some specific issues. One was a call for negotiations to begin a regional trade agreement. Another dealt with India's aspiration to permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council. In this document, China said it understood and supported that goal. Some political observers are skeptical of China's support. Michael Green, former director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council, said, "Beneath the surface, the Indians are very strategically wary of China." Han Hua, a university professor in Beijing, said China and India want to defy an old Chinese proverb that two tigers cannot share the same mountain. "The two countries want to show the world that they can get along,"
• January 16, 2008. Beijing. The United States commander in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, was on a four-day visit following a diplomatic dispute last year when China denied the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk a scheduled Thanksgiving port call in Hong Kong. This occurred several days after China blocked two American minesweepers from docking in Hong Kong during bad weather. American officials said that refusing the minesweepers safe harbor violated international naval custom and law. "We were unhappy that the visit was canceled; we have discussed it." Keating said at a news briefing at the American Embassy.
China has given different explanations for the incidents and suggested they were in response to the United States government honoring the Dalai Lama who is considered a separatist by Chinese leaders. General Chen Bingde, chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, and other generals met with Admiral Keating and urged the United States to stop selling weapons to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province. Bingde also said that the United States should not be concerned with China's military capacity, "We don't have the ability to make you afraid of us."
• March 11, 2008. Beijing. China's top population official said that the country's one-child-per-family policy would not change for at least another decade. Zhang Weiqing, minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, explained the reasons why China, with more than 1.3 billion people, will adhere to the enforcement of a three-decade long program to restrict population growth. "The current family planning policy, formed as a result of gradual changes in the past two decades, has proved compatible with national conditions. So it has to be kept unchanged at this time to ensure stable and balanced population growth." Zhang added that 200 million people would enter childbearing age during the next decade. "Given such a large population base, there would be major fluctuations in population growth if we abandoned the one-child rule now. It would cause serious problems and add extra pressure on social and economic development."
Most urban couples are limited to a single child, while farmers are often allowed to have two. Critics say the policy has led to numerous abuses including forced abortions and female infanticide. Government officials say that about 400 million births have been prevented while independent scientists cite a figure closer to 250 million births. China Daily reported the population was growing by up to l7 million people a year. Today, China has a rapidly aging society and the work force may not be endless. Factories have reported shortages of young workers in recent years. And the onechild policy may be contributing to gender imbalance with a ratio of fewer women.
• Mid-March, 2008. Beijing. Chinese government security forces began a crackdown on demonstrators in Tibet, reporting l9 rioters killed. Tibetan exile groups said more than 140 people were killed. A series of violent confrontations erupted between Tibetan protestors and the police in western China. Chinese leaders have spoken in harsh language against the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, while Western leaders have called upon the governing Communist Party to resume a dialogue with him. The Dalai Lama has lived in India since l959, overseeing 100,000 Tibetan refugees in the country. India considers Tibet to be a part of China and treats the Dalai Lama as a spiritual rather than a political leader. He is forbidden to carry out anti-Chinese agitation on Indian soil.
Demonstrations and rallies spread through Chinese cities to protest Western media, like CNN, and French newspapers that supported the Tibetan uprising. The government called for order, but did not act to halt the public demonstrations. The state run People's Daily wrote, "As citizens, we have the responsibility to express our patriotic enthusiasm calmly and rationally and to express patriotic aspiration in an orderly manner." Chinese demonstrators continued to march in different cities, carrying banners that said, "Oppose Tibet Independence" and "Condemn CNN" according to the official News Agency.
• • • • • • • •
China Diary: 2008 Part II-Friday,
January 16.
Joyce S. Anderson's articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other national publications. She is the author of "Courage in High Heels," "Flaw in the Tapestry," "If Winter Comes" and "The Mermaids Singing." She can be reached at
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