Rural Chinese PovertyThe World Bank has approved a $200 million loan to support the Chinese province of Hunan in expanding access to public services for rural residents. About 30 million people in Hunan live in rural areas and the loan will deliver equitable and efficient public services to this demographic in an attempt to alleviate rural Chinese poverty.

Rural Inequity in China

China has experienced remarkable economic growth in the past four decades and with it an undeniable drop in extreme poverty. However, the distribution of this poverty alleviation has largely benefitted urban residents over the rural population. More than 500 million of China’s residents live in rural areas and their remote locations in such a massive country have made reducing poverty particularly difficult. Rural Chinese people do not have access to big-city poverty reduction resources like quality education, healthcare and high-paying jobs. It is also harder for the government’s poverty alleviation programs to track down farmers scattered across the vast rural Chinese landscape.

Furthermore, local governments often bear a disproportionate responsibility for trillions of dollars in loans to pay for poverty alleviation programs and this debt hinders rural provinces’ abilities to complete internal improvement projects. Unfinished road construction projects force rural farmers to carry their produce across miles of difficult terrain to reach the nearest major road. Besides obstructing rural commerce, broken roads prevent people from being able to reach quality schools and well-paying jobs. Healthcare and treatment for COVID-19 are also highly inaccessible due to the crumbling infrastructure that keeps China’s rural people in a cycle of poverty.

How New Funding Helps

Hunan’s $200 million loan from the World Bank will serve as a template for other provinces and will help alleviate rural Chinese poverty in a few key ways. First, it will provide funding for rural public schools which often suffer from a lack of resources and staff. It will also increase financing for rural road maintenance and enhance the climate resilience of roads so that storms and flooding do not decimate residents’ main avenues of travel. Road improvement projects have an enormous impact on Hunan farmers as a recently completed 63km road project provided for more convenient transport, opened farmers to broader markets, and in effect, increased Hunan residents’ incomes by about 30%.

Also included in the loan are measures designed to strengthen local debt management, which will allow more of Hunan’s budget to go toward improving living conditions rather than repaying debts. Lastly, the loan will make budget information more accessible to citizens, which should decrease the amount of fraud and fund mismanagement experienced. In the past five years, China has reported more than 60,000 cases of corruption and misconduct in its poverty alleviation programs. In 2018 alone, the government recouped about $112 million of misappropriated poverty spending. With information like this available to the public rather than buried in private documents, Hunan expects a reduction in poverty-related fraud and embezzlement.

Poverty in Numbers

The World Bank loan will certainly create positive changes in the Hunan province but impoverished rural citizens overall still need much more support. The impact of rural Chinese poverty often gets understated as basic statistics do not tell the whole story. While the number of Chinese citizens in extreme poverty living on less than $1.90 a day has decreased by almost 750 million, a quarter of China’s population still lives on less than $5.50 a day. The World Bank sets $5.50 per day as the poverty threshold for upper-middle-income countries like China, so by this measure, a large number of Chinese people still live in poverty, most of whom are likely rural people.

The Road Ahead

The rural residents in Hunan and elsewhere in China have not shared the triumphs of national poverty eradication. In order to effectively assist impoverished rural citizens, China and the international aid community can draw wisdom from the strategy for the allocation of the World Bank’s new loan.

Spending on higher-quality rural education will increase the standard of living and offer rural residents a better opportunity for socio-economic growth. Completing road construction projects and making roads climate resilient will provide rural citizens increased commerce and more convenient access to education, healthcare and job resources. Strengthening local debt management will ease the strain of provincial loan repayment and allow greater spending on internal improvements. Finally, making budget information transparent and accessible for citizens will decrease cases of fund mismanagement and ensure poverty reduction programs are properly using expenditure to alleviate rural Chinese poverty.

Calvin Nordhougen
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Sparks a New Conversation on Mental Healthcare in China
The People’s Republic of China has a long history of mental healthcare, with the first National Mental Health Meeting in 1958. Along with this history of psychiatric care facilities and mental health resources, there comes a long history of stigma around mental health in China. Even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic began, mental health in China is at the forefront of the country’s mind.

History of Mental Health in China: Services & Stigma

Between 2001 and 2005, the prevalence of mental illness among the Chinese population was 17.5%. While the prevalence alone is striking, the lack of individuals seeking treatment provides a more accurate picture of mental health stigma in China. Of individuals with a diagnosis of a mental disorder, 91.8% never seek professional help. Besides stigma, there is the issue of access. Mental health most heavily affects the most disadvantaged in regard to socioeconomic status. China has a highly regulated and centralized healthcare system, but mental health services make up only 2.35% of the total health budget.

COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health in China

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, and the subsequent lockdown that began on January 23, 2020, China’s population has experienced the highest levels of psychological distress in decades. A nationwide survey measured the current mental health strain on the people of China and found that 35% of people are experiencing psychological distress.

Women, the elderly, migrant workers and those living in the regions where the pandemic is most severe show the highest rates of physiological distress and mental disorders. While these statistics may seem grim, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a push toward destigmatization of mental health in China and a new conversation around seeking help.

Psychologists have observed that because people are hyperaware of health amid the pandemic, particularly their mental health, there will be a long-term shift in care beginning with the destigmatization of seeking treatment for mental illness and distress.

Positive Examples of New Mental Health Resources

All levels of government and non-governmental organizations have been taking steps to improve mental healthcare in China, given how much of the population reports experiencing mild to severe psychological distress. Local governments have set up mental health support and suicide hotlines. Currently, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline is available 24 hours a day to provide free and confidential information on mental health services and treatment. Mobile apps have emerged with a focus on mental wellbeing to help those experiencing negative mental health symptoms. Since the Ministry of Education has warned of “post-epidemic syndrome,” schools and universities have implemented screening and treatment for depression and anxiety among students.

A Path Forward

China has a population of 1.4 billion people, yet as of 2017, only nine mental health professionals existed for every 100,000 residents. This statistic is a direct result of the long-standing stigma surrounding mental health in China. Amid the negatives of the collective trauma and subsequent physiological distress resulting from the novel coronavirus, the country has successfully opened a dialogue around mental health reform in China, and evidence has determined that this is only the beginning of a hopeful path forward.

– Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr

E-Commerce Can End Rural Poverty in China
E-commerce has the power to end rural poverty in China. In 2014, about 100 out of 640 households in Kengshang were on a list for having annual incomes of less than $400. The rural Chinese village in Anhui province had been in poverty for years. This is due to a shortage of farmland and geographical isolation. Most villagers made their living by growing tea but the working population decreased every year as people left to find jobs.

In 2015, the district’s commerce bureau invested $31,000 in Kengshang. This involved setting up a workshop to train the villagers and renovating a school building. The villagers sold dried bamboo shoots in small decorative bags, which the poverty-alleviation team then sold online. All of the profits went directly to the villagers. The annual revenue from the online shops in 2020 was about $123,870, up from $23,226 in 2016. By 2016, the Chinese government deemed the village of Kengshang poverty-free.

E-Commerce in China

Kengshang is one of many success stories in poverty alleviation thanks to e-commerce in China. E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods over the internet. It allows more people to access potential global markets for their products, which can help reduce poverty by opening up a new avenue of income for the impoverished. It has been especially effective for those facing rural poverty.

E-commerce in China is a robust industry for rural communities. All 832 state-level impoverished counties have e-commerce programs to alleviate poverty. In 2019, 13.84 million rural e-commerce shops existed. The shops registered total online sales of about $8.02 billion in the first quarter of 2020, up 5% from 2019.

The Alibaba Group, an e-commerce giant, launched the Rural Taobao Program in 2014 to help give rural citizens better access to the internet and help farmers increase their income by selling agricultural products directly to urban consumers online. It does this by setting up e-commerce service networks in counties and villages and improving logistical connections for villages. It also provides training in e-commerce and entrepreneurship and develops rural financial services through the AntFinancial subsidiary of Alibaba. The Rural Taobao Program has expanded rapidly, from 212 villages in 12 counties in 2014 to more than 30,000 villages in 1,000 counties in 2018.

The Chinese government has invested in improving the existing e-commerce system. In the future, the government plans to improve infrastructure in rural areas to smooth urban-rural trade channels, especially for agricultural products. Third-party delivery services, improved rural logistics systems and the cultivation of local brands will support agricultural products.

Eliminating Poverty in China

E-commerce in rural provinces has helped China eliminate rural poverty nationwide. In November 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that all rural citizens were living above the centrally-defined poverty line of about $400 a year. While this is still below the internationally recognized poverty line of $700 a year, it is an impressive feat thanks to strategies like e-commerce in rural areas. In the future, the growing industry of e-commerce has the potential to bring all rural Chinese people above the international poverty line.

E-Commerce During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has become even more important. Online ordering and no-contact delivery give rural communities a source of income that does not risk their health. Despite disruptions due to shutdowns, Taobao, an e-commerce platform, saw merchants sell 160% more products in March 2020 than in 2019. PinDuoDuo, another e-commerce company, has boosted daily orders to 65 million, compared to 50 million before the pandemic.

Looking Forward

With sustained development and investment, e-commerce has the potential to end rural poverty in China. The Chinese government needs to invest in the workers by providing entrepreneurship training, helping them establish an online presence and creating the necessary infrastructure to help them sell their products online. That way, e-commerce can be a long-term solution.

Other countries can learn from China’s e-commerce model. While China’s success comes in part from the extensive government involvement in the lives of individual citizens, other nations can still take note of the booming e-commerce industry. Investments in e-commerce development programs have the power to help end rural poverty in China.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal #8 in China
The global economy is an ever-changing and ever-expanding system. Whether through the opening of new markets, job creation or GDP fluctuations, one can measure the success of an economy in numerous ways. However, attempts at sustainability goals receive more specific judgment. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) measure the success of an economy not only in regard to its growth but also that growth’s sustainability. Many countries with SDGs are those that have a pivotal impact on the world economy overall. This correlates with positive updates on SDG 8 in China, which commits the nation to the achievement of full employment for all citizens by 2030.

Laying the Economic Foundation

The Chinese economy has undergone many changes over the centuries. In the first 1,500 years, China followed the policy of Isolationism strictly. In the next few centuries, China gradually opened to the European countries. Many countries such as Germany, Russia and England vied for control over many of China’s crucial exports and markets. By the 20th century, China faced more pervasive and detrimental economic factors. It suffered from the toll of its countless Opium Wars as well as the resulting strain of having to compete with other countries vying for its resources. But by the mid-21st century, the post-WWII economic boom rejuvenated and then expanded China into the economic force that it is today.

Positive Correlations for SDG 8 in China

There are positives to China’s economic growth. World reliance on Chinese goods does not have a parallel, with China occupying a large percentage of the world’s imports. Furthermore, the particular rise in GDP in Beijing, which now accounts for 5% of China’s GDP, indicates the importance of Beijing as an ever-growing and pertinent city in China and the world’s economy.

Beijing itself has also sought to expand the visibility of industrialization in China. For example, Beijing devised a plan to push 15 million people into workplace training, as well as the expansion of 11 million more jobs by the end of 2021. China’s rise in GDP is so colossal that it actually managed to grow by 2.3% during the COVID-19 pandemic while many other prominent economies have dropped by 2.3%. This suggests positive updates on SDG 8 in China for development and job creation. Furthermore, estimates of China’s GDP, if its growth continues, could overtake the U.S. economy by 2028. If the value of Chinese currency continues to increase, it could accelerate this rise by 2026.

The Challenges

The results of these estimates are promising, but they are still only estimates. Moreover, there are prominent issues when it comes to the area of decent work. China’s advancing industrialization puts profound stress and lack of availability on its rural citizens. Those left behind in China account for about 30.46 million and are confined to the rural areas in China.

One of China’s main problems is the uncertainty of it all. Furthermore, a Communist government controls China. As a result, the political system suffers from high amounts of censorship and misinformation. Eric Hu accounted in the New York Times that “China is both the world’s newest superpower and its largest authoritarian state.”

Hu’s and similar statements acknowledge the economic power of China. However, the nature of China’s political system does question the validity of its informative claims, including those of an economic nature. China resists forfeiting government control or enlisting the aid of NGOs. In fact, many successful NGOs have to operate without government permission in order to assist people facing poverty. Yet, there is some improvement in this area, with available NGOs like Jiangxi bringing 500,000 yuan to struggling Chinese villages as well as financial plans for its disbursement.

Meeting Opportunities

China’s middle class may be on the rise, as well as its GDP and hopeful updates on SDG 8 in China. However, in order for true advancement to occur, there needs to be a greater emphasis upon financial aid and transparency towards its citizens who are in poverty and even extreme poverty. If this occurs, coupled with China’s impressive GDP growth, the country could attain many economic benefits.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Gigafactory,Over the last few years, there has been a lot of turbulence between the U.S. and China, especially in the areas of business and trade. Through all of the challenges though, U.S. car company, Tesla, managed to erect one of its famed Gigafactories in China in 2018 — one of the world’s largest emerging markets. Other than reducing the price of Teslas globally, the Shangai Gigafactory will also continue to raise employment in China and allow the Chinese economy to better develop.

What is a Gigafactory?

Tesla has been revered for its innovation in the electric vehicle (EV) market. Every year, the company seems to attract higher demand from around the world. With demand showing no signs of slowing down, Tesla was forced to rethink how it handles production. The Gigafactory serves as a production powerhouse to resolve the demand problem.

With the addition of the Shanghai Gigafactory, or Giga Shanghai, Tesla now says that it can produce roughly half a million vehicles per year. Gigafactories centralize production and allow for more parts to be made in-house. This cuts time and costs which ultimately results in lower prices for the consumer.

Tesla also made it paramount to make the Gigafactories as environmentally friendly as possible. All three Gigafactories are zero net energy. This means that they only rely on energy from renewable sources. In the case of Gigafactories, this means lots of solar power and no harmful byproducts.

How Giga Shanghai Helps Impoverished Chinese Citizens

Perhaps the most obvious way that Giga Shanghai helps is by providing jobs in China. Since its completion in 2019, the Gigafactory has employed roughly 2,000 people. Many of the jobs are in the production line so they are attainable for everyday citizens with no formal secondary education.

In addition to jobs, Giga Shanghai serves as a solution to the city’s immense pollution problem, with the most impoverished citizens living in the hardest-hit areas. Shanghai usually has an air quality index (AQI) that hovers around 150. Good air quality levels mean an AQI of between zero and 50. In a country where up to 1.24 million people die from pollution-related illnesses every year, Giga Shanghai proves that factories can still operate on a massive scale without relying on fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources.

If the energy technology used in Giga Shanghai is applied to other factories in the city, thousands of lives can be saved every year, especially the lives of the most impoverished citizens who cannot afford to move out of the most polluted areas.

Cutting Costs and Bolstering Relations

Before Giga Shanghai, the price of the world’s most popular EV (Tesla Model 3) remained too high for many people in China and abroad. Now, with the ability to produce the Model 3 in China, production and transportation costs have been slashed across Asia and Europe. Compared with the U.S. models, the production cost of the Chinese Tesla Model 3 has dropped by up to 28%. Now more than ever, Chinese citizens can access clean and reliable personal transportation that does not pollute their cities.

Giga Shanghai has also opened the door for new trade opportunities with European nations. Now, countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Portugal and Sweden prefer to purchase Teslas from China since the cost is lower. Trading in higher volume with developed economies means that China is inching closer to becoming a fully developed economy.

Giga Shanghai and the Future

Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, has stated that he would like to see 10 to 20 Gigafactories built over the course of the next couple of decades. Giga Shangai is the “guinea pig” since it is the first Gigafactory outside of the United States. So far, things appear to be running smoothly.

Soon, Gigafactories could be popping up in other emerging markets like Argentina, Mexico and Morocco. Gigafactories may be a stepping stone to help emerging markets become better developed. Job creation is a significant benefit of a Gigafactory. They advance industry, create new opportunities to trade with other countries and offer a clean alternative to gas-powered vehicles. Ultimately, Gigafactories can serve as a catalyst for global poverty reduction.

Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

POPs Effect on Health
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health. Wind and water can spread POPs from one country to another. They do not easily degrade, can travel through the food chain and from one animal species to another. They also bio-magnify. This means that animals that are higher on the food chain, such as humans, have higher concentrations of POPs in their systems than animals that are lower on the food chain due to ingesting more of them. As a result, POPs’ effect on health is significant.

POPs’ Effect on Health

Reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine and immunologic adverse health effects all have links to POPs. Exposure to high levels of certain POPs can cause serious damage or death to humans and wildlife.

POPs’ effect on health is due to the fact they accumulate in fats and do not easily dissolve in water. Children, the elderly and people with suppressed immune systems, as well those who rely on fishing and hunting, are most vulnerable. Babies can also ingest POPs through breast milk and the placenta.

The first 12 POPs and categories of POPs to receive recognition as hazardous are Aldrin, Chlordane, DDT, Dieldrin, Endrin, Heptachlor, Mirex, Toxaphene, PCBs, Hexachlorobenzene, Dioxins and Furans. Dioxins and Furans are unintentionally produced POPs (UPOPs). They are extremely toxic and serve no purpose.

International Cooperation

The Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution Protocol on POPs and the Stockholm Convention, both seek to remedy the problem of POPs. The Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution Protocol recognizes the 12 original legacy POPs along with four more whereas the Stockholm Convention recognizes 29 POPs. They encourage the use of effective, affordable and environmentally safe alternatives to POPs.

The U.S. has signed the Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution Protocol on POPs and the Stockholm Convention but is not yet a party to either of them. This means that while the U.S. will not interfere with the two conventions, it is not bound by them.

POPs and the Human Diet

POPs affect chicken and one can find them in animal fat, cow’s milk, butter and fish. They also exist in vegetables, cereals and fruits in trace amounts. Also, fish can contain microplastics that POPs attach to easily. As a result, humans can ingest them.

POPs can affect children and young people in the following ways: birthweight, length of gestation, reduced seminal parameters, impaired semen quality, male genital anomalies, breast cancer in young women, in utero exposure associated with neurodevelopment and infant neurodevelopment.

Experts also associate the following developmental outcomes with POPs including a decrease in motor delay detectable from newborn to age 2 years old, defects in visual recognition memory at 7 months old, lower IQ at 42 months (maybe some contribution from postnatal exposure), defects in short term memory at 4 years old and delays in cognitive development at 11 years old.

POPs can also cause peripheral neuropathies, fatigue, depression, personality changes, hepatitis, enlarged liver, abnormal enzyme levels, porphyria cutanea tarda, chloracne, polyneuropathy, hepatomegaly and porphyria.

POPs are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Because of this, they affect the pituitary gland, the thyroid glands, the parathyroids, the adrenal glands, the pineal glands, the ovaries and the testes. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has identified the best available techniques to implement the Stockholm Convention.

POP Threat Reduction: Zambia

A number of measures exist that can reduce the threat of POPs. Traditionally, hospitals burn their waste in low-temperature burning chambers creating UPOPs. Instead, hospitals could use an autoclave to safely and effectively clean the medical waste without producing UPOPs. Increasing public awareness can also help. Moreover, changes to electronics and recycling can also keep POPs from affecting the public.

Three key health facilities in Zambia are now using an autoclave. The NGO Health Care Without Harm provided it to the facilities.

POP Threat Reduction: Asia

Kazakhstan now also uses autoclaves to process medical waste. To date, six medical waste disposal sites, with two autoclaves each, are in existence in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has amended its environmental code to include UPOPs emissions. Kyrgyzstan has also received 13 autoclaves.

China has sought to educate the public through communication activities and campaigns about this problem. It has also piloted a design to reduce 20% of POPs in laptop design manufacturing.

In Indonesia, the UNDP is assisting the Ministry of Industry with following up on recommendations from the Stockholm Convention. They are doing this by reducing the emissions of toxic flame retardants and UPOPs resulting from unsound waste management and unsound recycling. Now, Indonesia is removing POPs in its recycling process. At present, Indonesia has reduced 190 metric tons of toxic flame retardants (PBDEs) and UPOPs from the manufacturing processes, recycling and disposal activities. Indonesia has also developed and implemented three pilot projects to access viable approaches for decontamination and the elimination of equipment contaminated with PCBs.

POP Threat Reduction: South America

Colombia has established a long-term development objective to strengthen institutions that manage PCBs. It is doing this by analyzing, quantifying and controlling them at a national scale and by promoting the development of PCB treatment and disposal. It has prepared a technical manual for the environmentally sound management of PCBs. Colombia has eliminated 1,600 tons of PCBs from contaminated oil, contaminated equipment and other wastes. With assistance from the electricity sector, Colombia now has four treatment plants for the environmentally safe management, decontamination, and disposal of PCBs. These pilot projects are responsible for labeling and identifying the PCB content of 3,500 pieces of electrical equipment to date. Colombia has also established 14 accredited laboratories for the analytical determination of PCB content.

Meanwhile, Ecuador has succeeded in eliminating 1,127 metric tons of PCBs from use. It has strengthened the development of national policies to manage PCBs by increasing PCB analytical capacities fourfold. Ecuador has accredited two laboratories for that purpose. In addition, it has successfully inventoried, collected, replaced and eliminated all PCBs from the Galapagos Islands with the goal of keeping Galapagos free of PCBs.

POPs’ effect on health is so varied that it is integral that people eliminate their use globally. Luckily, several parts of the world are doing their part to reduce their use in order to keep citizens safe.

– Wendy Redfield
Photo: Flickr

Forced Uyghur LaborForced labor stemming from human rights violations in the Xinjiang province of China has been linked to at least 83 major corporations. In a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, companies such as Nike, Gap, H&M, Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen all have connections to the use of forced Uyghur labor in China. The report identified 27 factories in China that employ the use of labor transferred from Xinjiang.

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

Between 2017 and 2019, it is estimated that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China through labor transfer programs known as “Xinjiang Aid.”  The Chinese government refers to these job assignments as “vocational training” while maintaining that they are part of the “re-education” process assigned to the Uyghur population. These programs have all been identified in connection to the human rights abuses of the Uyghur population as a whole.

It is reported that surveillance tools are being used to monitor the Uyghur population in these programs and to restrict their freedom of movement. Additionally, it has been reported that they are subject to threats, arbitrary detainment and abusive working conditions.

Factories Identified and Company Responses

The companies identified in connection to this forced labor use include international brands that span across the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.

In the technology sector, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, among others, have been connected to factories that utilize forced labor in China. Amazon has issued a statement saying they do not tolerate the use of forced labor and will be investigating these findings further.

The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd has been specifically connected to forced labor of the Uyghur population. Workers at this factory also attend a night school that seems to closely resemble the “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province. Nike is this factory’s primary customer and released a statement saying that the factory has not recruited new workers from Xinjiang since last year and that it is seeking advice on the most responsible path toward handling the employment of the remaining workers from this region.

The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd is also identified as using forced labor. This factory’s corporate website cites partnerships with the companies Fila, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Adidas specifically stated that it does not have a current relationship with the company and is investigating this claim. Nike has also released a statement that it has no current relationship with the factory.

Since the release of ASPI’s report, H&M has ended a relationship with a Chinese yarn supplier due to its ties to forced labor.

The Global Supply Chain

The complexity of the global supply chain has undoubtedly made it more difficult for global corporations to monitor the connections of their suppliers to forced labor in China, but ASPI reached out to all 83 brands included in the report to confirm details of their suppliers as listed in the report.

Unfortunately, companies and consumers are now put at risk by purchasing goods that connect to forced labor. Investors in these 83 companies are potentially at risk as well. U.S. Congress has recently introduced legislation to protect investors through the requirement of disclosure of goods sourced from Xinjiang.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

There are several advocacy groups dedicated to spreading awareness and furthering tangible steps to end the persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur population. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition has written to 17 companies regarding the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471), which is intended to end the use of forced labor from this region in supply chains. The coalition has also issued a call to action that aims for brands to remove all connections with suppliers that have used forced labor. This has been endorsed by investor organizations from more than 35 countries as well as more than 300 Uyghur groups, trade unions and civil society groups.

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

Though most companies were not aware of the use of forced labor of Uyghurs, along with the awareness that was brought to light, action is also being taken by these companies to show that they do not support forced labor by any means. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition is doing important work to continue bringing awareness to the issue and to protect the rights of this vulnerable minority population.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

Beginning along the famed Silk Road’s winding trails, the story of being Uighur in the Xinjiang territory in China is one of lost prosperity and an eternal struggle against the oppression from outside forces.

The Uighur Plight

At the height of the Karahanid Kingdom in 934 A.D., the Uighur were a prosperous people. Their cities were epicenters of philosophical and scientific thought, and the capital city Kashgar was a bastion of Islam. This all ended with the invasion of the Manchu Empire and the eventual takeover of the Chinese Nationalists in 1911.

Xinjiang has since been designated as an autonomous region within China. Despite this, the Chinese government has implemented numerous policies in hopes of assimilating the Uighur people and crushing separatist movements. The Uighurs have now become a minority in Xinjiang as the Han Chinese have become the majority in the region’s urban areas. The Xinjiang have been abetted by government incentives, while the Uighurs have been largely confined to poor rural areas. The wealthy and influential capital city Urumqi is now approximately 75% Han Chinese.

Uighurs in Xinjiang have had their land redistributed to the Han migrants, leaving not enough farming land behind to make a living. According to Reuters, the Uighur people face discriminatory hiring practices with many businesses displaying signs banning them from applying for jobs. This marginalization along with growing poverty among the Uighur people has spurred increased resentment towards Beijing and the ruling Communist Party. In 2001, the Chinese government used 9/11 and the resulting American War on Terror to repress the Uighurs’ desire for independence and begin intense surveillance and military operations.

Surveillance and Re-education

According to Human Rights Watch, Beijing requires officers in the region to use what is called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) as part of the Strike Hard Campaign to track the movements of the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. The IJOP operating system and app, created by state-owned contractors, is used to aggregate data and flag the location of those deemed potentially threatening. The app tracks the movement of phones and vehicles, alerting officials to what are considered suspiciously long trips. The IJOP app also prompts officials to keep the biometric data of every person, including fingerprints, DNA, and blood type.

The IJOP has become a key component in the next stage in Beijing’s ploy for control, particularly with the implementation of so-called “reeducation camps.” Such camps were created by the Regulations on De-extremification in March 2017, specifically designed to convert Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities to the ideological beliefs of the Communist Party. All forms of traditional religious clothing, literature, and practice are considered extremist and cause for internment in the camps under the regulation. Any form of travel is reason enough for being labeled suspicious and possibly being sent to the camps. People of all ages, male and female, are at risk. Security checks and invasive checks have become part of everyday life in Xinjiang, making it impossible to escape suspicion.

Inside the re-education camps, detainees are forced to learn about the teachings and ideologies of the Communist Party. According to those who have been detained, individuals who fail to comply are punished severely. The penalties range from verbal abuse to food deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings, and the use of restraints and stress positions. Deaths inside the camps have been reported but there is no way to verify how many people have died and the circumstances concerning their deaths. The number of detainees also remains unknown. Estimates are in the hundreds of thousands, possibly nearing one million.

What Is Being Done?

In the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD) periodic report on China, the committee stated its concern that the poverty rates among ethnic minorities in Xinjiang remain high. CERD also stated its deep concern about “numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities . . . without being charged or tried.” CERD urged China to halt the unlawful detention of individuals and immediately release those who have been detained.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is currently seeking access to China to review these reports. However, Chinese officials claim the happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang, as well as assert that “hostile Western forces” are simply misrepresenting and vilifying what is occurring in Xinjiang. The United States is preparing to enact a new round of sanctions against China over this mass imprisonment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. According to the Uyghur Humans Rights Project, these sanctions were previously halted due to trade negotiations with China during the G20 summit but have since been approved by all respective parties within the U.S. government.

Though the current situation for the Uighur people of Xinjiang remains dire, through diplomatic action by the U.N., the United States, and its allies are bringing awareness to the issue. Such dedication by international intervention has presented continued hope. Such hope is for a future where being Uighur in Xinjiang will cease to be a story of systematic oppression and instead will become a story of perseverance through great odds.

– Shane Thoma
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

China’s Foreign Aid
Despite the lack of official data and openness in Chinese policy on its aid programs, there has been a visible development over time in the ideology and quantity of China’s foreign aid programs, going from limited in scope to both global and influential. Just as China has evolved from being a net aid recipient to a major global aid donor, so have attempts by researchers to discern the effectiveness and implications of China’s increasing share of aid.

China’s Development Regarding Foreign Aid

China’s developments in foreign aid have strong ties to its own developmental history and situation. For instance, one can examine four noticeable and distinct time periods regarding its approach towards foreign aid. In its first phase, from 1949 to China’s adoption of the Reform and Opening-up Policy, foreign aid was primarily ideological and centered around competing with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition. For instance, it utilized foreign aid in order to encourage countries to vote favorably for or side diplomatically with China. By the end of 1975 (during the cultural revolution), foreign aid had amounted to 5.9% of total government spending. For comparison, the United Kingdom peaked in recent years at 0.7% of its GDP on foreign aid spending. Following the Reform and Opening-up Policy, aid took a complementary role to diplomatic cooperation and trade, shrinking in its ideological orientation.

China’s third phase of aid focused on international institutions as China became increasingly involved in international organizations, treaties and the global economy. Since 2013, in its most recent orientation, foreign aid has matched step with China’s greater economic role in the world as China has contributed more to global aid infrastructure such as the World Bank, and is finding its own ways of improving the effectiveness of its own aid.

The Evolution of Chinese Aid

The expansion and evolution of Chinese aid have come from two main factors, one domestic and one international. Most recently, China’s 13th five-year plan, covering the phase of 2016-2020, laid out an increasingly global agenda for China’s development, bringing up core principles such as sustainability, openness and inclusivity. It follows that China’s current agenda for foreign aid will adopt these development principles. Internationally, adoptions of U.N. resolutions such as the Paris Climate Agreements and the G20 Hangzhou summit have carried sustainable and global development goals into its aid agenda, helping China grow as an international leader in global sustainable development.

A Picture of China’s Foreign Aid

The very nature of estimating China’s foreign aid is challenging because the data itself is a state secret. An AidData report, published in late 2017 and meticulously computed and collected by hand over a period of five years, analyzed Chinese aid commitments from 2000-2014 and provides the most recent data. Furthermore, the nature of China’s foreign aid is unlike that of other major global aid donors because it follows its own unique logic. For instance, only as recently as 2018 had China’s foreign aid come under a single centralized body. Furthermore, Chinese aid tends to emphasize economic and infrastructure aid, coming in the form of export credits or near-market rate loans.

As a result of many of these factors, one can truly call little of China’s aid official development assistance (ODA), the most common type of foreign aid in the world today. In fact, one can consider just 22% of China’s aid ODA, while roughly 93% of U.S. aid is ODA. To illustrate the distinction, estimates using looser definitions of ODA find that in some years, China’s quantity of foreign aid has approached that of the United States. Other estimations of ODA in the strict sense find that China’s quantity of aid is comparable with that of countries such as Luxembourg.

Chinese Foreign Aid Around the World

Of China’s complicated foreign aid breakdown, the top three destinations of Chinese foreign aid around the world are Africa in first with 34% of all aid flow, Central and Eastern Europe with 16% and Latin America with 15%. When accounting for only ODA-like aid, however, aid takes on a more nuanced perspective. While Latin America keeps most of its share, now with 12% of ODA-like flows, Central and Eastern Europe receives only 3% of ODA-like flow, and Africa nearly doubles its portions, receiving 58% of China’s ODA-like aid flows.

The Benefits of China’s Foreign Aid

AidData ultimately concluded in its research that Chinese aid, contrary to some people’s fears, certainly did more good than harm. One point AidData made was that Chinese ODA would, on average, contribute to a 0.7% increase in economic growth two years after project commitments, although it did not find positive correlations between non-ODA aid and growth.

China’s evolution from net aid recipient to major global donor has been a transition that has kept pace with its financial development. Despite the shortlisting of available data and information, China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the largest aid donor in Africa if one considers all of the aid it gives. Mystery ultimately shrouds China’s aid, even today, and to know where the next stage of Chinese aid will go, it would be beneficial to follow China’s broader national development agendas which set the broader tone and direction of all economic efforts in the country. Given its expanded role in today’s world, China will likely continue on its overall trend of improving both the quantity and impact of its own foreign aid as it incorporates international development agendas, learning from and teaching others about its own economic lessons.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Flickr

Global Economy Could Expand
In 2020, the global economy plummeted 4.3% as poverty, death and illness afflicted millions. But, according to January’s Global Economic Prospects, 2021 bears better news. The World Bank states that the global economy could expand by 4%. This economic growth relies on policymakers’ ability to widely and rapidly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. It also depends on the ability to contain this virus in the following months, but this alone will not be enough. David Malpass, The World Bank President, said “there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labor and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance” in order to reach economic recovery. Here is some information regarding how the global economy could expand in 2021.

The 2020 Economic Collapse

The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictive measures to prevent the spread resulted in a severe contraction of the global economy. In a report by The World Bank in June 2020, predictions initially determined that this contraction would be 5.2%, which would have resulted in the deepest recession since World War II.

However, experts are now saying it may have been less severe than some previously projected due to a more robust recovery in China and shallower contractions in advanced economies overall. Experts predicted that these advanced economies would shrink by 7% in 2020 because of disrupted domestic demand, supply, trade and finance while others anticipated that emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) would contract by 2.5%. Luckily, the impact on EMDEs was also more acute than estimates determined.

Economic Growth 2021

Currently, it is not certain if the global economy will increase by 4%. With delayed rollouts of the COVID-19 vaccine and increasing infection rates, this increase could be as low as 1.6%. That amount is not nearly enough to reach a recovery status in 2021. However, if the vaccine process proceeds at a rapid rate and governments control the pandemic, economic growth could reach almost 5%.

In the United States, GDP decreased by 3.6% in 2020. In the Eurozone, this contraction was 7.5% and activity in Japan shrunk by 5.3%. However, 2021 brings hope. Predictions have determined that the United States’ GDP will increase by 3.5%. Meanwhile, in the Eurozone, experts anticipate that output will grow 3.6%. Meanwhile, in Japan, forecasts have determined that its economy will grow by 2.5%.

In China and other emerging markets and developing economies, aggregate GDP could grow by 4.2% in 2021, after a 2.6% decrease in 2020. On the other hand, EMDEs could expand 3.5%, after a 5% contraction in 2020. This means that a 1.6% increase is necessary to reach economic recovery. Meanwhile, in 2020, China’s economy grew by 2% and may expand an additional 7.9% in 2021. Also, low-income economies may not only economically recover, but also grow by 3.3% after a contraction of only 0.9% in 2020.

Long-Lasting Effects

According to The World Bank’s press release, unless policymakers issue a series of reforms to improve the fundamental drivers of sustainable and equitable economic growth, the next decade could experience growth disappointments due to underemployment, labor force declines in several advanced economies and underinvestment.

To reduce these adverse effects, “policymakers need to continue to sustain the recovery, gradually shifting from income support to growth-enhancing policies. In the longer run, in emerging market and developing economies, policies to improve health and education services, digital infrastructure, climate resilience, and business and governance practices will help mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity.”

Fortunately, it looks like 2021 will bring hope due to the fact that the global economy could expand. Even with the expansion of the global economy, however, much work is necessary to eliminate long-lasting effects and fully recover.

Victoria Mangelli
Photo: Flickr