China News Flashes: Bird Flu, 2013 Sichuan Earthquake, and Newest Leaders
China not only faces the challenges involved with a huge population and an economy that is changing the lives of most of its people, but it also has recent health and disaster issues. The “bird flu”, H7N9, is one concern. China Daily (4/16/13) noted that the virus is not spread by people. Shan Juan and Wang Qingyun note that Shanghai has the most reported cases – 24 – with 9 deaths, Zhejiang reported 15 with 2 deaths, Beijing has 1 reported (Nation p. 3).
A breeder, whose business has been affected by the H7N9 bird flu virus, walks his ducks along a road in Changzhou county, Shandong province, April 24, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/26/us-birdflu-china-idUSBRE93L0EF20130426
According to Ruethers, 4/26/13, this week, the World Health Organisation called the virus, known as H7N9, “one of the most lethal”, and said it is more easily transmitted than an earlier strain that has killed hundreds around the world since 2003. Chinese scientists confirmed on Thursday that chickens had transmitted the flu to humans. This week, a man in Taiwan, who had caught the flu while traveling in China, become the first case of the flu outside mainland China.
A NY Times article says that U.S. health authorities have not advised against traveling in China. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/health/new-bird-flu-strain-spreads-outside-of-china.html?_r=0)
Some people here in Shanghai say they are worried about the bird virus. However, this is a country of about 1,350,000,000 people, so I feel the odds of catching the disease are slim. Besides, Barry, John, and I were in Chengdu for over a month in the spring 2003, during the previous “bird flu” epidemic. As we were flying out of China, we first learned about SARs when a young French guy at the Chengdu airport gave face masks to Johnny and me. We hadn’t known anything about that epidemic because China in 2003 hadn’t been open about the disease which contributed to its spread when sick people seeking help went home to their villages.
Although we do know about the “bird flu” now in 2013, Barry and I have seen no evidence of it where we are. Some people are wearing face masks. But unlike a month ago when many of my students and I had colds, few are ill now. A couple of my students have been sick, but they are not allowed to come to class until they have medical clearance. WHO is involved and giving out statistics, so it seems the virus is being monitored.
Another issue in China right now is the Sichuan earthquake that happened last Saturday. Barry and I are over a 1000 miles (1600 kilometers) from the damage, and actually we were in Xiamen last Saturday, so we are safe. But as of 4/25/13, China Daily reports that the death toll had risen to 196 with 11,470 wounded. About 22,000 injured or sick people have been treated. Aftershocks and damaged buildings continue to be issues. Today is set as an official day of mourning for the victims. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/)
The Chinese government has responded much more quickly to the earthquake victims than for the 2008 earthquake in the same region, and we actually know about the “bird flu” now when we didn’t in 2003.
Although China has huge challenges, most of the Chinese leaders are well educated and have experience in fields that should allow them to make informed decisions for their country. Starting in November with the Party’s 18th National Congress, many leaders have been appointed and elected to new positions. Xi Jinping, for instance, was elected general-secretary of the CPC Central Committee.
Xi has experienced the changes in Chinese politics first hand. He is the second son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the founders of the Communist guerrilla movement in Shaanxi and former Vice-Premier. At the time, his father served as the head of the Communist Party’s propaganda department and later Vice-Chairman of the National People’s Congress. When Xi was 10, his father was purged and sent to work in a factory in Luoyang, Henan. Xi was 15 when his father was jailed in 1968, during the Cultural Revolution. Then Xi went to work in Yanchuan County, Shaanxi, in 1969 in Mao Zedong’s “Down to the Countryside Movement.” He later became the Party branch secretary of the production team. In 1975, he began to study chemical engineering at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. He graduated and went on to earn his LLD. Xi has held many government positions including –
-Governor of Fujian between 1999 and 2002.
-Governor and CPC party chief of the neighboring Zhejiang between 2002 and 2007.
– Party Secretary in Shanghai in 2007.
– Promoted to the central leadership in October 2007, groomed to become Hu Jintao’s successor.
Xi is well prepared for top leadership. According to Henry Kissinger in “The 2013 Time 100,” “Xi is convinced his generation’s hardships gave it the strength to face the challenges of adapting China to the consequences of its success. He has put forward a sweeping reform program designed to move millions to the cities, streamline bureaucracy, reorient the economy away from state-owned enterprises and fight corruption” http://time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/xi-jinping/
According to Wikipedia, Xi “is generally popular with foreign dignitaries, who are intrigued by his openness and pragmatism. Former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, when asked about Xi, said he felt he was ‘a thoughtful man who has gone through many trials and tribulations.’ Lee also commented: ‘I would put him in the Nelson Mandela class of persons. A person with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings affect his judgment. In other words, he is impressive.’ Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson described Xi as ‘the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line.’
“For decades, the United States has reserved the term “special relationship” for two countries, Britain and Israel, but Secretary of State John Kerry called for a new “special relationship” with China during his recent trip to Asia.”(http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/04/24/kerry_calls_for_a_special_relationship_with_china?utm_source=Sinocism+Newsletter&utm_campaign=a49aff8025-Sinocism04_26_13&utm_medium=email#.UXkHTVeksfU.twitter)
My Chinese students also like Xi’s wife. According to a CNN article, “Charm offensive: Peng Liyuan, China’s glamorous new First Lady,” Peng “holds a master’s degree in traditional ethnic music and now serves as the dean of the Art Academy of the People’s Liberation Army” <http://cnn.com/2013/03/23/world/asia/china-peng-liyuan-profile>.
Xi and Peng Liyuan married in 1987. They have a daughter who enrolled in Harvard as a freshman in 2010. The Chinese are very proud of their leader and his wife.
Some compare Peng to Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama, strong, beautiful women.
Besides Xi, China has changed or reassigned many of its well-qualified leaders. According to the China Daily, April 15, 2013, “Nearly 90 percent of the 62 provincial officials have post-graduate degrees, up from about 50 percent five years ago, People’s Daily reported. Ten officials hold PhDs including Sun Zhengcai in Chongquing [the world’s biggest megacity with 32 million people] . . .
Wang Yukai, a professor of administrative research at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said that officials with politics and economic majors are expected to better handle the problems in social management. ‘At the beginning of the reform and opening-up period (in 1978) officials with engineering and technological backgrounds were more likely to get promoted,’ he said. ‘But the number of leaders with political and economic backgrounds is becoming larger, which is to meet the demand of social management.’
Not all is as glowing as this information sounds. According to an article in the March 16-22, 2013 The Economist, of the delegates at the most recent National People’s Congress, 90 are among China’s 1,000 richest citizens. Each is worth at least 1.8 billion yuan ($290 million U.S.). Soft-drink maker Zong Qinghou, a delegate, is worth about $13 billion. Many of the rest of the leaders “also enjoy life at the top end of the inequality curve.” Although many of the leaders say they want to reduce inequality in China, their actions will show if they are more interested in preserving their vested interests (46)
The Chinese government and its people face many challenges. We’ll be watching to see if China’s capable leaders make wise choices.
Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée