Asian Correspondent » Rita A. Tudela 艾丽塔 Asian Correspondent Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:59:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 China: Parents, students voice anger over toxic school uniforms Thu, 28 Feb 2013 05:35:51 +0000

China has many issues with pollution and food safety. Sometimes it is also criticized by NGOs over the stat of its nature and ecosystem. Now, there is another issue that can be added to the list: toxic dyes in school uniforms.

The Education Commission in Shanghai found that the toxic dyes were used by six manufacturers producing uniforms for Chinese children at 21 primary and middle schools.

Pic: AP.

Among the standards that were not met, one requires that the clothing contain no more than 20 parts per million of aromatic amine dye, according to the national newspaper China Daily.

A dermatologist from the Shanghai Time Plastic Surgery Hospital, Liu Bin, in an interview with the Chinese news agency suggested people “wash new clothes and then put them in the sun to reduce the level of toxic substances.”

A Shanghai primary school student was interviewed on television about the toxic uniforms. He said: “I think my grades are not high because of the toxic uniforms problem.” The reporter asked the little child one more question, if he was angry or not. He answered with a strong: “Angry!”

All the six manufacturers implicated in the scandal have agreed to give a full refunds and to pay compensation.

On the social networks, one schoolteacher wrote, “our education system has been given one more task – to send the suits to the testing authorities and then to send it out to students after quality is confirmed. “

For this teacher, this is a good solution to ease parents’ concerns and make sure students wear safe items. But she also asks: “Is the school the one who has to be responsible for testing the quality?” She goes even further with her concerns: “If we buy food from the market, should we need to send the food to the testing authorities before we eat it?”

Parents also complain about the quality of the uniforms their children have to wear. “Chinese schools unifors all have similar characteristics, they are just made with bad materials.”

For some locals the summer suits are as thin as a rag and they remember when they were in school themselves. “Back at that time, we got the new suits one day and as soon as one of my friends washed it, it just turned into a rag that could be used to do the cleaning.”

Another user complains about how school uniforms easily turn io an ugly color. “Most of the suits among Chinese schools do not have a design. Schools like sportswear, but there is only two sports classes per week, so why is it so “sporty”?”

In the case of lawyer Wu Dong, he thinks it is necessary to first consider whether students have to wear uniforms or not and also who should be in charge of the purchase.

The first case of toxic uniforms first hit the headlines on February 18. That day, the Shanghai education authorities announced that more than 26,000 students were ordered to stop wearing their uniforms.

Now, inspection departments are testing samples of all the primary and high school uniforms in Shanghai before they are distributed for sale.

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China battles online gaming addiction Thu, 21 Feb 2013 04:29:46 +0000

A photo of a child with a big and clear message: “Don’t allow him to go online.” That is what one Chinese father posted on the Weibo accounts of a couple of Internet cafes recently, followed by his phone number. His only purpose was to stop his son from playing computer games.

This got a lot of attention in the Chinese social networks, as it represents an issue that many Chinese parents are struggling with.  Out of China’s 330 million online gamers, 150 million are thought to be the under 19 years of age.

In some cases, they experience addiction problems that cannot be so easily diagnosed by specialists. The most typical symptoms by addicted gamers are attention deficits, academic problems and hyperactivity disorders.

Chinese gamers play online at an Internet cafe in Beijing. Pic: AP.

For one education advisor in the city of Changsha, the father’s desperate call was just a small example of the frustration felt by parents, but to deal with the poor behavior of children parents must look at real causes behind the problem and be aware of their children’s psychological needs.

Now, Chinese authorities say they will develop specific criteria to deal with online gaming addiction.

“I support this policy because the Internet cafes have become the source of addiction for our sons to play games. So if this policy is implemented, the cafes will be forced to stop them from playing there,” says another desperate mother, Liu Fenglan.

This mother, originally from southern Sichuan province but resident of Shanghai for some years, is also worried about the people that her 21-year-old son meets while playing. “The people in the cafe are not good, I am worried about him hanging around with those guys,” adds Liu.

In her words, her son just spends too many hours in front of the computer playing games. “I prohibit him from playing games at home so he just goes out with his friends. Sometimes I will go to an Internet cafe and catch him. In these Internet cafes, it is even easier to get addicted due to the environment.”

Liu’s son is an adult who is already in university.

Another Weibo user called Li Houlin explains how “children really need to study, they can play games later when they get into college.”

Academic pressure for children in the Chinese school system is high, lasting until the students take the gaokao, the annual national college entrance examination. Last year nine million students took it with the hope of getting into a good program in a prestigious university.

“Children are like birds, they are more difficult to teach when they are grown up, but as a birds, they find it difficult living in this situation also,” adds Li, remarking the importance of studies in the society.

It is unclear what tools the researchers are going to use in order to develop China-specific criteria that suits the variety of youth in the country who are of such diverse backgrounds.

China does have camps to control Internet addictions. In the past, extreme cases have emerged of teenagers beaten to death at such camps and others receiving electric shock treatment, although after the death of a minor in Guangxi province, the health authorities decided to ban this type of treatment.

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China may ban New Year fireworks to battle pollution Thu, 07 Feb 2013 02:22:08 +0000

Pic: AP.

Last week authorities in China asked that New Year celebrations include fewer fireworks in a bid to reduce the pollution scourge that is hitting the country’s cities. This week the Chinese government went a step further, announcing that fireworks could be banned entirely on days of serious pollution levels.

“Cooperation with meteorological authorities is needed so that setting off fireworks can be banned on certain days,” said Kang Jiyong, secretary-general of the Beijing Fireworks Association.

Other compulsory measures taken by the authorities in case of extremely serious pollution levels include suspending works at construction sites, cutting the use of government vehicles by 30 percent and closing heavily polluting factories.

The measures may sound irrational, but many cities of the central and eastern China suffered the worst level of pollution since 1961, according to data provided by the National Climate Center.

(READ MORE: Freezing temperatures add to China’s pollution woes)

With pollution levels already rising to far beyond what is considered safe, fireworks add a dangerous cocktail of chemicals to the atmosphere. Environmentalists say fireworks can even pollute water supplies. Others suggest the pollution caused by fireworks is negligible compared to the pollution already caused by the burning of fossil fuels, vehicles and so on.

On Chinese micro-blogging service Weibo, the jury was still out early this week.

“The fireworks can be banned and other measures can also be taken to control pollution. Blue skies are a pleasure for the eyes, but fireworks are a fun only permitted during the few holiday days. Which one is the correct choice then?” says a Weibo user in her public account.

“I totally agree with this measure. The pollution is getting bigger and I can perfectly remember last year when a firework broke one of my window’s glasses and got into my house floor. It’s just an extravagance and a waste,” adds another user called Lin.

Sales down

Fireworks are already being sold in the shops and stands around the country but prices this year may not rise as high as previous seasons. Sales are also down. Panda Fireworks Group, one of the biggest fireworks sellers in Beijing, said sales have fallen 5.11 percent, according to data published by Chinese official media.

Pic: AP.

The three biggest fireworks distributors in Beijing reduced their inventories, down 60,000 cases to 750,000 cases. Meanwhile security authorities around the country have confiscated more than 230,000 boxes of substandard fireworks since December and have detained around 1,500 suspects of selling illegal materials.

Safety concerns

Accidents connected with fireworks often make the front pages during the Spring Festival holidays. This year the saddest episode so far took place on February 1, when a truck carrying fireworks exploded in central Henan province, killing 10 people and injuring around 11. The explosion caused a bridge collapsed.

In March 2011, an explosion at a school in southwestern Jiangxi province causing the death of 33. In December of the same year, an explosion in a factory located in a village in the same province left 39 dead.

In 2007 fireworks were blamed for a spectacular fire that caused the death of a fireman and injured six others in a hotel tower near China’s CCTV television headquarters in Beijing.

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Wind power overtakes nuclear in China… for now Wed, 30 Jan 2013 07:56:06 +0000
China Wind Power

The Da Bancheng Wind Farm, about 40km south to Urumqi city, in Xinjiang, China. Pic: AP.

Wind power is now China’s third largest energy resource, behind thermal power and hydropower, according to data released recently by the China Wind Energy Association (CWEA).

This development comes after wind power surpassed nuclear power. During a congress held last weekend, it was also announced that wind-generated electricity in China amounted to 1,004 billion kilowatt-hours in 2012.

“This change is in accordance with the government’s efforts to increase its use of renewable energy as a means to reduce carbon emissions and cut reliance on fossil fuels,” says Li Linghuan, an energy industry analyst at Shandong-based consultancy Sublime China Information.

However, China’s current proportion of nuclear power, 2 percent, is set to double by 2020. The first ever third-generation nuclear power station is currently being built in Zhejiang province.

“The electricity made by one nuclear unit here (in Zhejiang) can save 3 million tons of coal, and decrease carbon emissions by 8 million tons,” said Li Haitao, from the China State Nuclear Power Engineering Company.

For years, China’s wind power capabilities developed at a blistering pace. However, this slowed dramatically in 2012.

According to a Greenpeace report called “China Wind Power Outlook 2012”, the key issues for  the wind power sector are how to break the intrinsic restrictions on the traditional market and how to take the next step in promoting the emerging markets in eastern and central China.

One such project, the most recent wind farm built in China, is situated off the coast of Jiangsu province. It will supply up to 190,000 residents with renewable energy every year.

“It marks the country’s entry into the new era of developing large, offshore wind-energy projects,” said Zhou Qinsheng, a climate and energy expert.

In 2011, a 49.5-megawatt (MW) wind farm was also built in southwest China’s Yunnan province, on Dajianfeng Mountain. It is 2,000-2,500 meters above sea level in the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, with a total investment of around 483 million yuan ($76.7 million).

By the end of 2010, about 90 percent of China’s existing wind farms were located at altitudes below 1,000 meters. According to specialists, high-altitude projects are expensive due to two factors: high construction costs and doubts about if the projects can be profitable.

For Greenpeace, among all the renewable energies, “wind power is at a mature stage in terms of the technology and possesses the best prospects for large-scale commercial development. It is growing more and more competitive against traditional energy sources as the industry continues to grow and production costs continue to fall.”

According to the 12th Five-Year Plan that continues until year 2015, China’s offshore wind power generating capacity is expected to reach 5 gigawatts by 2015 and 30 gigawatts by 2020.

The China Meteorological Administration says that the country has rich wind power resources, although offshore wind farms remain a tiny portion of China’s total installed wind power capacity. In total, it accounts for up to 750 gigawatts in exploitable wind resources at sea, or three times that of on-shore wind resources.

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A million millionaires: Can China’s income equality figures be believed? Fri, 25 Jan 2013 08:45:29 +0000

A man takes photos of a Ferrari at an auto exhibition in Beijing. Pic: AP.

One of the most important measures used worldwide to size the income inequality in the world was not published in China for over a decade. But this year, the official Gini coefficient was finally released after authorities initially said they were not going to do so.

This index revealed the gap between rich and poor was 0.474 in China in 2012. A figure of 0 represents perfect equality and 1 inequality. In the case of the 0.474, it is higher than the warning level set by the United Nations at 0.4. This puts China on about the same footing as the US, but far behind Europe, in terms of equality.

For years Chinese authorities claimed, among other reasons, that it was too difficult to get all the information and calculate the numbers, especially from the high-income groups where data was apparently incomplete. However, the issue became increasingly sensitive with many economists and respected figures asking for its publication.

This week Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), surprised commentators by making the figures public. The Gini coefficient has stayed at a relatively high level of between 0.47 and 0.49 during the past decade, said Ma.

A Chinese man sales balloons in a park in Ningbo. Credit: Rita Alvarez Tudela

But Gini coefficient results have been received with suspicion among the public, especially as they try to compare the income gap with the wealth gap in China.

According to the official figures, China today is nowadays more equal than in 2003. However the country has now 1,020,000 millionaires and 63,500 super-rich Chinese, according to the Hurun Report. In 50% of the cases Chinese millionaires are business owners and 60% of the them are male.

On the contrary, 13 percent of Chinese people are believed to live on less than $1.25 per day according to United Nations data, while the average annual urban disposable income is just 21,810 yuan ($3,500).

“This curve of Gini coefficient demonstrates the urgency for our country to speed up reform of the income distribution system to narrow the poor-rich gap,” added Ma. “A Gini coefficient between 0.47-0.49 shows that the gap in income distribution is relatively large.”

China’s Gini coefficient was up to 0.477 in 2011, 0.481 in 2010, 0.49 in 2009,  while in 2008 had the highest figure ever at 0.491. Ma also added that the government would work to “better slice and distribute the cake” of China’s economic growth.

Comparing it with other countries, in 2011, the Gini coefficient was 0.477 in the US according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A farmer at work in Shandong province. Credit: Rita Alvarez Tudela

But for some Chinese newspapers as the 21st Century Business Herald, before China reforms its residence permit system, which classifies people into rural population and urban residents, “it is useless to talk about the Gini coefficient.”

In an article, the economic newspaper also underlined that “until China accomplishes its overdue taxation reform and national wealth distribution reform, the Gini coefficient cannot reflect the true wealth gap in China.”

In an another article published by Beijing News Daily, it saw the Gini’s announcement as a reference for the public and explained that the primary objective for China’s income distribution reform is to double the average personal income by 2020 from the level of 2010.

“Only when the Gini coefficient drops lower than 0.4 can the government really say that Chinese society is well-off,” added the Beijing-based media.

Besides the national Gini data, Beijing has also published its own numbers, making it the capital the first city in the country to release such data.

According to original indexes, in 2012 the per capita disposable income of urban residents in Beijing was 36,469 yuan ($5,864) while the per capita net income of rural residents was 16,476 yuan ($2,650).

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China’s railways braced for massive New Year exodus Thu, 24 Jan 2013 02:00:01 +0000

Chinese New Year is around the corner and more than 224 million Chinese people are expected to travel by train to celebrate the holiday with their relatives.

This year the busiest travel period will start January 26, a couple of weeks before the Year of the Snake starts on February 10.

These days, the train is still the most popular transportation system used by Chinese citizens. It continues to reign as cheapest mode of transport compared to flights and it connects most of the small and big cities around the country.

Chinese train passengers at Beijing Railway Station. Pic: Rita Alvarez Tudela

For most passengers the most important factor when booking their ticket home is price, not the amount of time it takes to complete the journey.

This is the case of Wang Heting, a 24-year-old student from Fudan University, in Shanghai. She is originally from Sichuan, a province located in the far west. Her train ride will take around 40 hours.

“I take the train home each summer and winter vacation. The ticket costs me RMB400 (around $64), but as a student I can get a discount,” said Wang in an interview with Asian Correspondent. Wang explains that she got the train ticket at her university without having to endure massive queues.

But not all Chinese people have it so easy. Many travelers have a hard time trying to get a ticket. They wait in long lines at train stations, make endless calls to ticket service hotlines or just sit in front of their computers and wait until 10am, when tickets are put on sale every morning at, the official website authorized by the Ministry of Railways.

Train passengers trying to get a ticket at Beijing Railway Station. Pic: Rita Alvarez Tudela

Since last week, the average daily hits on this train ticket booking website has topped 120 million, according to official data.

(READ MORE: China battles web geeks amid online rail ticket frenzy)

But not all of them are lucky enough to get a ticket. This is the case of a local from Anhui province, whose case has been published at the official newspaper Global Times. He complains about this situation saying that the, “The familiar chunyun (Spring Festival travel rush) feeling has gone, give it back to me!.”

Authorities have set up new policies to make purchases easier, allowing passengers to buy tickets 20 days in advance, and have added extra trains on many lines to give service to all customers.

But another big problem is dealing with illegal tickets. As the official Chinese news agency recognizes: “In extreme cases, the anxiety over tickets can drive people crazy.” This can mean paying extra money for tickets that are not proven to be legal.

In the southern province of Guangdong, it has been reported that a couple ended up in jail for helping others to buy tickets by charging an extra 10 yuan (US$1.60) for each one.

A Chinese man looking at a high-speed train model in Beijing. Pic: Rita Alvarez Tudela

But even though there are many complaints, the Chinese railway infrastructure has never stopped growing in the last few years. Of particular interest are the high speed lines that have already reached 9,300km, while the target for 2015 stays at 18,000 km.

According to experts, around 600 billion yuan (US$96.4 billion) will be invested this year.

Under the current Five-Year Plan China will spend over 1.3 trillion yuan building more than 20,000 kilometers of railways from 2013 to 2015.

Some of the bridges and tunnels to be built for this expansion are considerable, specially the railway section between the cities of Chengdu and Lanzhou, where 75 percent of the railway is bridges.

In total, it is said that the Ministry of Railways has amassed debts of more than 2 trillion yuan, while also dealing with some concerns about the safety of the construction due to the fast expansion and the collision of two high-speed trains in 2011 that killed 40 people.

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Freezing temperatures add to China’s pollution woes Tue, 15 Jan 2013 02:51:20 +0000

In recent days, Beijing has been inundated by a wave of pollution. The levels of air pollution went up to figures that were previously unimaginable, the worst ever recorded. According to the air monitor at the US Embassy in Beijing, the concentration of particulates of 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) reached 755 over the weekend, while the previous records never passed 500.

A capture of the levels of pollution on Sunday in Beijing. Source: Beijing Air.

The warning issued by the city authorities is understandable, considering that the World Health Organization recommends that the daily level stays around 20 to prevent people from developing asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Citizens were worried and many decided to cancel their restaurant dinners and other weekend plans. The brave ones in the street were wearing masks, causing most shops to run out of stock. As of Sunday, “the smoggy weather” got more than 7.68 million mentions on Weibo, the Chinese version of the microblog site Twitter.

For most of the weekend, life in the Chinese capital was seen through a grey layer, as if being seen through a camera filter. It was dark through the first hours of the afternoon. In fact, the sun tried its best to make its way out but it did win not the battle. And it was hard to see even the other side of the street, let alone the buildings on the next block.

One of the possible reasons why the pollution is so terrible these days is the fact that Beijing is seeing one of the most severely cold winters. This results in an increase in the burning of coal in Beijing in order to heat the houses and offices of a city of around 20 million inhabitants.

Beijing Pollution

The sun tried its best to make its way out but it did win not the battle. Pic: Rita Alvarez Tudela.

The amount of coal burned in China to produce electricity is more than the U.S., Europe and Japan combined, according to statistics. For some local people, the importance of having a warm home is crucial. They prefer to wear shorts inside rather than layering sweaters. While outside their windows, the temperature is around -5ºC to -10ºC degrees.

Environmental NGOs like Greenpeace are calling for a cap on cap regional coal consumption as well as taking ambitious steps to set up specific air quality improvement plans, including detailed PM 2.5 pollution reduction timelines.

The government knows that a population suffering in the cold could mean protests and unhappiness. In some cases, the result is thousands of chimneys sending lots of polluted particles to the air without a strict control.

Even though the heating season in Beijing goes from November 15 to March 15, the cold temperatures changed things last year. The authorities adjusted the timing this winter and started it early on November 1. It has turned out to be the coldest winter China has seen for 28 years.

Another important issue to take into account is the amount of cars that circulate daily in the capital. These cars not only produce huge traffic jams but also make the pollution problem bigger and bigger. According to the latest official data, the number of cars registered in the Chinese capital passed 5.2 million.

The current poor air conditions are likely to last at least until Wednesday. For this reason the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau ordered to a halt outdoor sports activities for primary and middle schools. In addition, some construction sites were suspended and businesses were forced to reduce their emissions.

Record Beijing air pollution forces warning from China officials to keep kids indoors. PIC: Rita Alvarez Tudela

“Beijing implemented an emergency response plan for hazardous pollution for the first time on Sunday,” said Yu Jianhua, director of the air quality department under the municipal environmental protection bureau.

Yu refers to a plan approved last year that calls for construction sites to limit construction activity that creates large amounts of dust, additionally asking industrial enterprises to reduce emissions and has a goal of reducing municipal traffic by 30 percent compared to normal days.

In total, an estimated 8,572 premature deaths occurred in four major Chinese cities in 2012 due to high levels of PM2.5 pollution, says a joint study by Greenpeace East Asia and Peking University’s School of Public Health published just last December.

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Analysis: Southern Weekly ‘deal’ fails to address the real issues Fri, 11 Jan 2013 02:54:00 +0000

The latest edition of Southern Weekly was back on the shelves in Beijing Thursday. Pic: AP.

The embattled Chinese newspaper is back on the shelves, but many doubt if the events of the past week will make any real difference to media restrictions in China, writes Rita Alvarez Tudela 

After some days of battle on the front line, the most recent edition of Southern Weekly, one of China’s most liberal newspapers, came out Thursday. This latest edition came thanks to an agreement signed between the publication’s management and Chinese government officials.

The deal implies that officials from the province of Guangzhou, where the publication has its headquarters, will no longer directly interfere in the content of Southern Weekly before publication, and that the journalists and editors who took action will not be punished or removed from their positions.

This is difficult to believe, especially when you consider that yesterday’s edition of the publication made no mention of the events of the past week. Considering the hard control and censorship that the media and journalists suffer in China in general it seems unlikely that one week of strikes would win complete freedom for any editorial team, and reports on Thursday suggested that editorial staff at the newspaper are still deeply unhappy with the situation.

The article that sparked the protests was a New Year’s editorial that originally was calling for political reform in China as Xi Jinping steps in as president of the country in March, taking the seat from Hu Jintao. Before publication, the article was transformed into one acclaiming the work of the Communist Party without any criticisms. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Southern Weekly editorial staff said the propaganda chief of Guangdong, Tuo Zhen, was interfering greatly in the work of the publication by radically changing articles without notice.

The end of the conflict garnered much attention on Chinese social networks Weibo and thanks to the support given by many journalists, professors and celebrities. Searching of the name of the publication in Chinese “Nanfang Zhoumo” online is still blocked as well as the accounts of some of the journalists who signed a petition asking for the dismissal of Tuo.

But this quick agreement to control the situation may also imply the end of the flame that started online asking for more freedom of speech, freedom of press and less control from the Central Propaganda Department on the work of Chinese media professionals.

As of yet, the protests and support from citizens in the street have not been quashed by police, as has happened in previous protests. And the Communist government has given a gesture towards compromise, but China maintains its place at the top of the list for the highest incarceration rates for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents, according to the most recent report published by Reporters without Borders, that says that 30 journalists are currently prisoners in China.

“The dispute should stand as a landmark for Chinese journalists going forward, proving that they have a platform to express their frustration with restrictive censorship measures. But it’s also common for officials in China to cave in to demonstrators’ demands for change as a quick means to resolving embarrassing public disputes,” says Madeline Earp, a Asia senior research associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists based in NYC.

This is not the first time that the liberal Southern Weekly has suffered from a confrontation with the Communist Government. In 2009, there was another conflict between the publication and the government. At that time, the editor, after an interview with US president Barack Obama, decided to publish the article with white holes in the text to mark where the censors had deleted.

Political science researcher at the Guangdong province Social Sciences Academy, Peng Peng, says: “To put it simply, the media cannot go beyond the existing system to pursue radical reform, but the management method also needs to change.”

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