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U.S. and ChinaCOVID-19 has brought nearly all facets of normal life and governance to a screeching halt. On all fronts, from the economy to the military, the coronavirus has changed the way this planet runs. One area that has been heavily affected by the pandemic but does not get as much attention is international relations.

Diplomatic relations between countries is one of the toughest areas of government. It has become even more difficult to fully engage in with the onset of COVID-19. With more states turning to domestic engagement, the status quo of international relations has been shaken. In no foreign relationship is this more clear than that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.

U.S.-China Diplomatic Relations

Current diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China were established under President Richard Nixon in 1972. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has experienced highs and lows. In 2020, it is nearly at an all-time low. The hostile status of this relationship now mainly stems from the ascension of President Xi Jinping of China to power in 2013, and the election of the U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

Under these two leaders, U.S.-Chinese relations have greatly diminished over the last four years. A rise in nationalism and “America First” policies under President Trump’s administration has alienated the Chinese amidst constant public attacks on the ‘authoritarianism’ of Jinping’s government. For example, China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy over the last two years has been the subject of extensive international condemnation, particularly from President Trump and the United States. In addition, the two countries have been engaged in a high-profile trade war since the beginning of 2018.

More recently, a dramatic escalation in the deteriorating relationship between the two countries was taken in July 2020, when the U.S. ordered the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, on the basis of technological-espionage on China’s part. In retaliation, China ordered the American consulate in the city of Chengdu to close as well. Another significant strain on the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China is COVID-19.

The Outbreak of the Coronavirus

Since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, more than 4,600 people have died in China, over a period of nearly nine months. In the same amount of time, almost 180,000 people have died in the U.S. The U.S. government has consistently blamed the Chinese for failing to contain the virus. China has firmly denied these accusations. COVID-19 has seriously damaged the economic and healthcare systems of both the U.S. and China. Both systems have lost nearly all economic gains they’ve made since the 2008-2010 recession. While state economies around the globe also suffer, the decline of the economies of these two specific countries has far-reaching implications. Not only is the global economy in danger, but military alliances and foreign aid are as well.

Global Economy

Nearly every nation on earth has some kind of economic partnership with either the U.S., China or both. For example, the United Arab Emirates has been an ally of the U.S. since 1974, but in recent years has engaged in a pivotal economic partnership with China. Continued threats of tariffs and pulling out of trade agreements threaten the balance of these partnerships. These threats could force smaller nations to choose sides between the U.S. and China, should this confrontation escalate.

Military Alliances

While the U.S. enjoys a military advantage over China, China has allied itself with many of America’s adversaries, such as Russia, Iran and North Korea. These alliances have been solidified in recent years, for example, just before the coronavirus broke out in China in December 2019, China, Russia and Iran conducted nearly a week-long military exercise in the Gulf of Oman, a strategic waterway for oil tankers. An American confrontation with any one of these countries could draw China into the conflict, which could spell disaster for the world order.

International Aid

As part of China’s “charm offensive” in the early 2000s, the country began to heavily invest in the reconstruction of the economies and infrastructure in impoverished African states. In exchange, China received rights to natural resources such as oil in these countries. The U.S. also maintains a high level of foreign assistance in Africa. COVID-19 forces the U.S. and China to put more of their respective resources toward rebuilding their own economies. However, the aid they both provide to developing states worldwide diminishes at a time when those states need it most.

It is clear that even before the coronavirus spread to all corners of the globe, the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and China was advancing toward a breaking point. The pandemic has, to some extent, halted the diminishing state of relations between the two countries. However, any further provocations similar to the closing of the consulates in Houston and Chengdu could result in a catastrophe. The impacts of this relationship extend beyond the U.S. and China; they affect nations that heavily depend on the aid they receive from both powers.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Pixabay

Education System in ChinaThe People’s Republic of China has a reputation for excellence in its education system. China has around 1.3 billion people in population and has one of the largest education systems in the world. It has more than 500,000 schools alone. The education system in China is not only substantial but also diverse. There are more than 300 million students and over 14 million teachers.

How The Education System in China Works

It is mandatory in China that every child has to have at least up to nine years of the required education. In addition, education is state-run. This means it has a very small association with private providers. Education is divided into three main groups: basic education, higher education and adult education. The basic education for children in China includes primary school which starts from age six to around age 11 or 12 for the average Chinese resident. Thanks to the “Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education,” all basic education is tuition-free. After the nine required years, there is a modest fee for tuition during middle and high school.

Moreover, junior secondary school which starts from age 12 to 15. After junior middle school students have finished their mandatory education requirement, they have the option to continue with senior secondary education which is usually a three-year program. These can be followed by other adult educations such as a university for a bachelor’s degree or master’s/Ph.D. program.

Development of The Education System in China

The Chinese education system is not only rigorous but extremely competitive. It has developed at an alarming speed over the last two decades. In addition, the education system in China offers their children many opportunities to thrive in the future. However, it did not always start this way. In the 1950s, the enrollment rate in Chinese elementary schools was below 20% and only 6% for junior secondary school. The country’s main form of education was similar to the Soviet education system. However, as the Soviet paradigm declined China started to change its education style.

By 1978, there were almost 1.3 million primary and secondary schools, a vast improvement just a mere few decades ago. But the steps toward modernization were not yet completed, there were still only about 600 higher learning organizations with only around 117,000 students. Thus, the education system in China was reorganized yet again to the system the country has today. By 1986, the “Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China” was born. It began executing laws for mandatory education for nine years of a child’s life.

In 2007, the state passed a law that students who were in rural areas were given free tuition for their mandatory nine-year education life. The following year this law was extended to urban living children as well. As of 2018, China has more than 29 million students enrolled in higher education alone, drastically boosting their economy.

COVID-19 Response

COVID-19 being an extremely widespread pandemic has posed some serious challenges for education everywhere. Being one of the first countries to get hit, China took immediate steps to try and solve the education issue during this pandemic. When China got hit, China immediately released an “epidemic prevention, control and containment” response plan. The goal was to handle the pandemic in the smartest and safest way possible, including how education would be affected.

China shut down schools in late January and started advancing their online virtual classes. Along with the new innovation, China did to its online platforms, the country also delays college entrance exams. It banned teaching a new curriculum until the next semester. The country hopes students who had difficulty in accessing online courses would not be hurt by this dramatic change.

Schools currently are open in China, but that may change depending on the state of COVID-19. Until then, China is taking extra precautions with temperatures taken before children go to school. Once they get to school, masks are required and the desks are all three feet apart.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Poverty AlleviationFor the past four decades, the Chinese government has viewed poverty alleviation as integral to its economic development. The government’s efforts against poverty have intensified under the leadership of President Xi Jinping who proposed ambitious measures to eliminate poverty by the end of 2020.

China has made tremendous progress in alleviating poverty through the government’s efforts, as the number of people living in poverty in China has fallen from 750 million in 1990 to just 16.6 million in 2019. However, obstacles remain ahead of China’s efforts to completely eradicate poverty and improve the standard of living for its residents.

Poverty Eradication Under Xi Jinping

In 2014, China’s government implemented a strategy of Targeted Poverty Alleviation, which allows the government and local officials to address the needs of individuals and households rather than entire villages. Local officials use data from a local registration system containing information from more than 128,000 villages to identify and provide support to poverty-stricken areas. According to China’s President Xi Jinping, Targeted Poverty Alleviation follows an approach based on policies in five areas:

  • Industrial development
  • Social Security
  • Education
  • Eco-compensation
  • Relocation

 At a local level, the Targeted Poverty Alleviation program employs the pairing-up strategy, which enables impoverished families in western provinces to receive support from the more affluent eastern provinces. Officials who exclusively support rural inhabitants support impoverished households, including those in ethnic minority areas. The government supports the local industry by establishing internet commerce centers in rural areas known as Taobao villages. In Taobao villages, rural residents can support themselves by selling crops and local products online. By 2015, Taobao villages supported 200,000 shop owners and employed one million people.

The Targeted Poverty Alleviation campaign has also implemented nationwide initiatives to facilitate industrial development. In 2019, China spent 19 billion dollars on a variety of infrastructure initiatives. Through these initiatives, China has been able to build or renovate more than 124,000 miles of roads and provide 94% of rural villagers with internet access.

China also uses a resettlement program to help elevate rural residents from poverty. Under this program, the government encourages residents in remote and ecologically vulnerable rural regions to relocate to areas closer to the cities. By one estimate, over nine million people have been resettled by this initiative between 2016 and 2020. Increased economic opportunities in cities and reforms that allow greater internal migration in China have also encouraged resettlement. These migrations have resulted in China’s urbanization rate rising from 17.92% in 1978 to 57.3% in 2016.

Metrics of Success

China’s efforts to alleviate poverty have been judged as tremendously successful by most measures. Between 2014 and 2019, 68 million rural residents have risen from poverty. China’s reforms to its economy has enabled 730 million people to emerge from poverty over the past four decades, accounting for nearly three-fourths of global poverty accomplishments from this time period. According to the UN Millennium Global Development Report, China’s policies have enabled the international community to meet the UN’s goal of reducing extreme global poverty by 50%.

China’s economic success has enabled it to address disparities between its urban and rural populations in healthcare. Urban and rural populations have both witnessed infant mortality rates decline below 1%, and maternal mortality rates for urban and rural mothers have declined and attained parity at the level of two per million in 2019.

Obstacles

Despite China’s progress in eliminating poverty, the nation continues to face obstacles in attaining its ambitious standards and supporting the needs of poor residents. Local officials’ administration of financial support is often arbitrary or impeded by stringent bureaucratic procedures, which has resulted in some poor households being denied or receiving insufficient financial support. The increased funds invested in poverty alleviation efforts has also contributed to significant “corruption and mismanagement.”

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) reported that 730 yuan (112.21 million USD) in poverty alleviation funds were misappropriated in 2018 through violations, such as embezzlement, fraud and bribery. The government uses the CCDI to maintain oversight on how its funding is used, and officials who fail to accomplish poverty reduction in their region face expulsion from the Communist Party and “career oblivion.”

The government’s poverty alleviation efforts have also been criticized for its emphasis on the rural poor while ignoring those in urban areas who are struggling to meet high living costs. China’s poverty alleviation campaign invited high polluting industries, such as those that have been associated with reduced air and water quality in impoverished regions, causing many to question whether China’s progress is sustainable. The relocation program has also been controversial as many rural residents often relinquish their land for little compensation, only to subsequently struggle to find work in the cities. Government officials have also expressed impatience with residents who were unwilling to relocate.

The progress of the poverty alleviation campaign was also complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the initial four months of 2020, unemployment rose to 6.2% and one expert calculates that 80 million people in China were unemployed when rural villagers and migrant workers were included in the calculation. Despite the economic effects of the pandemic, Beijing has not relented in its endeavor to eliminate poverty, and experts doubt that China will admit to having failed to meet its goal for 2020, regardless of the state of the economy. Regardless of whether China attains its goal for 2020, experts doubt that it will abandon its endeavors to improve its people’s standard of living.

China’s efforts towards eradicating poverty have yielded tremendous success, yet the government and the country’s people will be responsible for ensuring that its progress is sustainable and results in tangible improvements to the standard of living of people in urban and rural areas.

Bilal Amodu
Photo: Pixabay

Crops That Are Fighting PovertyAcross the world, agriculture remains one of the primary sources of income for those living in poverty. A 2019 report by The World Bank reported that 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside in rural regions, and a large majority of these individuals rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. The World Bank also notes that developing agriculture is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty, reduce food insecurity and enhance the general well-being of those living in a community. Potatoes in China, cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, rice in Sierra Leone, pearl millet in India and bananas in Costa Rica are five examples of crops that are fighting poverty.

5 Crops That Are Fighting Poverty

  1. Potatoes in China: In 2019, China was the world’s number one potato-producing country. With a rural population of 45.23%, the nation greatly relies upon agriculture to provide food as well as income to its citizens. In Ulanqub, otherwise known as the “potato city” of China, potato farming is one of the primary means for farmers to rise out of poverty. Due to the fact that viruses have the potential to destroy up to 80% of potato crops, potato engineers in Ulanqub have developed seeds that are more impervious to viruses. These engineers place a sterile potato stem into a solution filled with nutrients to create “virus-free breeder seeds.” The seeds are then planted and produce potatoes of higher quality, ensuring that farmers are able to generate sufficient income and climb out of poverty.
  2. Cassava in sub-Saharan Africa: Cassava is a principal source of calories for 40% of Africans. This crop has traditionally been important during times of famine and low rainfall because it is drought-resistant, requires easily-accessible tools and is easily harvestable by one family. The organization NextGen utilizes genomic technology to isolate beneficial cassava traits that increase plant viability, root quality and yield quantity. By analyzing crop DNA and statistically predicting performance, NextGen is creating cassava crops that are fighting poverty.
  3. Rice in Sierra Leone: Agriculture accounts for 57% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, with rice reigning as the primary staple crop. However, in 2011, the nation was a net rice importer due to struggles with planting efficiency. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed to increase rice crop yield and decrease the labor necessary for upkeep. This method requires the use of organic fertilizers, tighter regulations for watering quantities, greater spacing between seeds to decrease plant competition and rotary hoes for weeding. As of 2014, 10,865 individuals had implemented this strategy in Sierra Leone. SRI has enabled rice to become one of the crops that is fighting poverty by increasing crop production from two to six tons per hectare.
  4. Pearl Millet in India: In India, agriculture employs 59% of the nation’s workforce, with 82% of farmers operating small farms that are highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise to a scorching 114℉, crops that are able to survive extreme heat are becoming necessary. Wild pearl millet, a relative of domestic pearl millet, is one crop that can withstand such temperatures. Researchers in India are breeding wild pearl millet seeds with domestic pearl millet in order to enhance resistance to heat and the common “blast” disease. With breeding innovations, pearl millet is one of the crops that are fighting poverty.
  5. Bananas in Costa Rica: One out of every 10 bananas produced in 2015 hailed from Costa Rica, the globe’s third-largest banana producer. This industry generated $ 1.1 billion in 2017 and provides jobs for 100,000 Costa Ricans. However, approximately 90% of banana crops across the nation are at risk of nutrient deprivation from a pest known as nematode, which has the potential to obliterate entire plantations. An article by CropLife International reported that a sustainable pesticide has been created by plant scientists in order to mitigate poverty-inducing crop loss and provide environmentally-conscious methods for banana farmers to ward off pests.

Developing crop viability and agricultural technology is important for poverty alleviation as agriculture possesses twice the likelihood of creating financial growth than other economic sectors. Innovations in crop production that decrease the likelihood of failure from drought, disease and changing weather patterns are important for the well-being of rural communities across the globe. Potatoes, cassava, rice, pearl millet and bananas are just five examples of crops that are fighting poverty, but improvements in different facets of agriculture have the potential to enhance the livelihoods of those who provide the world’s food.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

uyghur women
The Uyghur community in China is a suppressed Muslim Turkish minority centered in Xinjiang, a region in Central Asia. Since 2018, the Chinese government has placed up to two million Muslims and Uyghurs in concentration camps due to their cultural identity and religion. Uyghur women in particular face gendered abuses in addition to this mass incarceration.

Uyghur Women Speak Out on Harmful Practices in Xinjiang

Many courageous Uyghur women have come forward to expose the abuses they faced in the so-called re-education camps China has used since 2018. For example, a 38-year-old woman from Urumqi had to have her fallopian tubes tied because she had three children. Under Chinese rule, only two children are allowed per family.

Unfortunately, this is only one of the numerous cases in which Uyghur women have experienced sexual abuse or harassment in China. Experts believe that China has enforced its one-child policy by preventing 400 million births via forced abortions and mandated contraception. Because Uyghur families in Xinjiang are used to having up to 10 children, this rule is especially oppressive toward Uyghur women.

Since 2017, Uyghur families who violated this rule have experienced harsh punishments and violent attacks. In addition, there were 60,000 sterilizations in Xinjiang in 2018. This is about 57,000 more sterilizations than in 2014, when there were only about 3,000 in the region. As a result, Xinjiang’s population has dropped by more than 10% since 2014.

New Evidence

As a result of the stories women came forward with, new documentation has been released about the cruelties of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in concentration camps. Asiye Abdulaheb, an Uyghur woman residing in the Netherlands, joined forces with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to expose 24 pages of documents about the camps. This documentation followed 403 pages detailing the brutalities of Beijing’s concentration camps that were leaked in November 2019. Despite the resistance to China’s camps that followed the release of these documents, the government still denies these accusations. China continues to claim that the concentration camps are just job training centers and nothing more.

Actions to Combat the Oppression of Uyghur Communities

Despite the brutal violence that numerous Uyghur women have endured, many organizations have made strides toward aiding them. The Uyghur Human Rights Project is one such organization. Founded in 2004, the project is a research-based advocacy group dedicated to reporting the abuses faced by many Uyghur families in China.

The One Nation Project, a similar organization, aims to assist Uyghur victims currently living in concentration camps. With over 5 million beneficiaries, the One Nation Project uses donations to deliver food packages to Uyghur families. Other fundraising campaigns also exist to provide aid for Uyghur families. LaunchGood, a crowdfunding platform for Muslims, hosted a fundraiser that raised over $107,000 for Uyghur women and children. So far, the campaign has been able to help cover rent for 67 Uyghur families and has given over 343 monthly allocations to orphans.

Aside from projects and fundraising campaigns, however, there is much more the United States can do to stop the abuse in Xinjiang. One simple step would be ceasing to support forced labor from Uyghur communities. Popular brands such as H&M, Adidas, and Calvin Klein have been found to sell products made by forced Uyghur labor. More than 180 organizations are advocating for banning products made from forced Uyghur labor. Rep. Ro Khana, D-CA, goes further to ask the U.S. government to prohibit the importation of products made in Chinese camps.

Having stronger foreign policies can also allow the United States to obtain more support for Uyghur victims. As of now, the United States has lessened its involvement in the U.N. and has failed to hold China accountable for its abuses against Uyghur women and families. Because China is one of the five primary members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, it has the power to veto any proposal. With greater involvement in the U.N., the U.S. could work against the harmful practices that China conducts in Xinjiang. Foreign involvement in this issue is crucial. If the U.S. leveraged its power, alongside multiple projects and campaigns helping Uyghur victims, the abuses against Uyghur families could stop in the future.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr

street vendors As the first country affected by COVID-19, China is now recovering from the pandemic. Businesses are reopening gradually and people are slowly returning to their normal day-to-day life. However, the pandemic triggered an increase in unemployment, rising from 5.7% to 6.2% in February. Since then, the government has been working to address this rapid rise. In addition to the expansion of civil servants and enterprises, the government is encouraging street vendors to help solve the problem of employment.

Economic Disparity

China has a large population of low-income citizens whose vulnerability is increased during times of crisis. This problem is not only an economic problem but also an issue of stability of sovereignty. During last month’s parliament session, Prime Minister Li Keqiang discussed civilian livelihood, reporting that 600 million citizens were still only making a monthly income of around 1,000 yuan ($140). This shows that there is still a large number of people in China who are unable to fill their basic needs without an increase in their income. As a result, China has begun to recognize the importance of developing the street vendor economy, which can help decrease unemployment and drive up higher consumption.

Street Vending in Public Policy

With the target of eliminating poverty by 2020, the approval of street vendors has become a necessary choice. Street stalls were previously thought to clash with the modern urban landscape of cities. However, the Chinese government had a change in attitude following the successful street stall experiment in Chengdu, China. The government found that reintroducing street stalls in Chengdu created 100,000 new jobs and largely increased people’s interest in entrepreneurship. Thus, the policy was implemented across the country.

Additionally, many large companies from a variety of sectors are stepping in and showing their support for street vending. Alibaba is one of the largest online shopping platforms in China. It pledged to sell merchandise to stall owners at a reduced price. Additionally, Dongfeng Motor Group and Jiangling Motors Corp (JMC) said its “vans can be modified to suit vegetable sellers or BBQ street food vendors.”

Effect on Unemployment

In June, unemployment was at  5.7%, which was a decrease of two points from the previous month. At that time, China had also created 5.64 million jobs. The increased use of street vendors is contributing to the stimulation of China’s economy and encouraging cash fl0w. Street vendors are aiding in the absorption of the labor force. They are helping those who have been unable to find work and who have not yet received aid due to the pandemic.

There is still some debate in areas like Bejing as to whether street vendors will help the economy. However, Chengdu created 100,00 jobs in May by opening “tens of thousands of street stalls.” Other local governments are following suit. Lanzhou announced its plans to open 11,000 more vendors with the possibility of providing an additional 300,000 jobs. By July, the unemployment rate had not lowered, but it also did not go up.

In a time when many countries are facing a spike in unemployment, China’s use of innovative solutions sets an encouraging example. By using street vendors as a way to stimulate the economy, China is supporting small businesses and improving consumer confidence. 

Dihan Chen
Photo: Flickr

China's Healthcare ReformChina is now in its 13th five-year plan to improve its overall healthcare system, and it’s maintained a steady momentum so far. Universal health coverage has now taken center stage in the country as nearly 95% of citizens have some form of basic health coverage. China’s healthcare reform in 2020 reform is coming to a close and it is a far cry from the 1970s. The next projected reform to continue the expanded coverage seen in years prior and to optimize the quality of care for greater access will be in 2030.

A Brief Snapshot of China’s Previous Healthcare Reforms

During 1978, China underwent a period of transforming its economy to a socialistic market model, and as a result, its healthcare system shifted through two reform cycles. The initial cycle focused on funding via market forces to provide care, yet this came at the cost of higher hospital fees and low-quality services. Many became impoverished as the cycle took a toll on those with severe health concerns and rural populations.

In 2003, the government took on a series of health reforms to alter the state of the healthcare landscape. China’s healthcare reforms meant that social health insurance assisted the uninsured, which accounted for 75% of the populace. This effort aided urban workers and rural citizens alike. 2012 marked a significant stride as 95% of China’s population now had some form of basic healthcare. Ten years later, the country went through another transition in 2013 to return to a market influence on healthcare.

Lessons Learned

In 2016, the World Bank Group authored a report to address the reforms in China, which called for a more cost-effective healthcare system with a higher standard of quality. In turn, a massive study “was undertaken jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO) and three Ministries of the Chinese Government.”

As a result, the study determined that China had to change to a “primary-care centered an integrated model with provider payment reforms” to achieve desired healthcare reform results. If the country did not adhere to the study, it would increase its health spending drastically from 5.6% to 9.1% over the next twenty years.

2020 Reform: The 13th Five-Year Plan

China’s healthcare reform for 2020is yet another effort to transpose China’s previous efforts with those “below the poverty line.” A big focus will be providing basic healthcare to those living in rural areas to match the national average and to alleviate the burden of those in poverty due to healthcare expenses.

For example, this endeavor will increase hospital capacity and allow for investments in private hospitals, improved training for nurses and staff, optimize the grassroots level medical centers, better integration of medical technology and full comprehensive healthcare coverage is the goal set for the new reform.

Moreover, the primary focus was on implementing universal basic healthcare to more than 1.3 billion Chinese citizens as part of the new reform, but the entire system is going to see further changes. As of March 2018, the People’s Congress has outlined a plan “to improve efficiency and public services.”

In Action

Thus far, China has seen improvements from previous reforms as 1.35 billion participating in the “basic medical insurance program” in January 2020. The new healthcare model now insures 95% of Chinese citizens. Moreover, 72 drugs are now at a reduced cost under the insurance catalog as of November 2019, and a shortage prevention system is to ensure adequate drug supplies are in stock.

New service models will allow patients to withhold out of pocket expenses so that patients may receive treatment first. These provisions are possible through public funding of basic medical insurance, yet residents have the option of enrolling in an “Urban-Rural Resident Basic Medical Insurance” program through government subsidies. The plan covers all basic elements of hospital care as well as prescription drugs.

Dependent on the insurance plans, citizens are no subject to various copayment and deductible options. For individuals who are unable to cover the out-of-pocket costs, medical assistance programs are available through government-funded donations.

2020 and Beyond

Beyond the 2020 reform, China has its sights set on the 2030 healthcare agenda, which has 20 departments formulating what is next. This plan will further expand the healthcare sector to make it a much larger proponent in the economy by vastly improving the quality and reach of care across China.

Health equity is the driving force behind what is to come in 2020 with strides already conducted to ensure that goal. These efforts have already extended health coverage to the rural regions with “less than one-third of China’s population” having direct access to healthcare. Furthermore, the ongoing development with healthcare and traditional medicine will serve a role in maintaining chronic illness and disease prevention. Healthy China 2030 will be the initiative that takes the current healthcare climate to new heights.

– Michael Santiago

china's heating crisisWhile many in the developed world think of heat in the winter as a basic need, many people are impacted by China’s heat crisis and spend every long winter season without a central heating system in their home. A clear geographical line divides those who have basic central heating in their homes and those who do not. Heat was afforded to the northern portion of China whose occupants experienced the coldest and harshest winter seasons. However, though temperatures often dip below freezing in the southern region, many residents suffer from inadequate heating and thin walls that provide them sub-par protection from the frigid temperatures. More fortunate residents can afford to own and power a space heater designed for small rooms and short amounts of time for some comfort, but many without any heating devices report resorting to measures such as turning on their air conditioning since the air it will produce is warmer than the air in their home.

History of Heating in China

The decision to ration heat in China came in the 1950s when officials came to the realization that they did not have the resources or energy capacity to heat the vast and populous country. China’s heating crisis started when the north was perceived as in the highest need because the region experienced lower temperatures and higher levels of snowfall. However, the country failed to factor in the harsh conditions of cities on the east coast of China, such as Shanghai, where, while they don’t see much snowfall, rainfall and wind make for low wind-chills and blustery conditions.

For the homes located in the north, the government controls the heat and keeps every home at a consistent 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Lacking control over their heat consumption can lead to financial strain for the lower-class Chinese residents who struggle to afford the mandated cost of their heating bill. 

“Generally, a 70-square-meter apartment in Beijing costs around 2,100 yuan ($317.36) just to heat every winter, which is quite expensive for low-income families,” a Chinese journalist said when describing China’s heating crisis.

To make ends meet, this may leave them with no choice but to ration in other areas such as regular groceries and other essentials.

Updating the System

For the majority of its existence, China’s central heating system has been operated on a coal-burning based system. To accommodate every home in the north, a great deal of coal has to be burnt every year. Before the 2017 upgrade, in which many systems were converted to burn natural gas, China was one of the world’s largest consumers of energy with the amount of coal used being a large contributing factor. This has come at the expense of several negative implications to the environment which has directly contributed to China’s severe air pollution problem that worsens climate change and public health.

China’s Heating Future

Southern citizens are waiting on the government to construct a central heating plan to warm the homes in the south, but it never seems to be a priority. In response to the lack of government intervention in China’s heat crisis, wealthier Chinese residents have opted to install heating systems in their homes at their own cost. While it may take a while for the government to provide lower-income families with central heat, heat becoming the cultural norm is sure to shift public opinion and put pressure on the government to devise a way to provide every home with adequate heating. In addition, the Chinese government is planning to implement a “New Green Deal” that will make it more affordable to heat homes by using cheaper energy sources and providing government help to pay the bills.

– Samantha Decker
Photo: Pikist

eco-cities in developing countries

Nature has become increasingly separated from humanity over time, especially in our cities. However, urban planners around the world are working to reintegrate aspects of the natural environment with our lived spaces. This reimagination of traditional infrastructure has led to the creation of eco-cities. Urban planners are working to make eco-cities in developing countries a reality. The global population is projected to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030, with the majority of the increase coming from the developing world. If city planners continue to answer population growth with an endless sprawl of concrete and few green spaces, the future of our urban centers seems dismal especially for the world’s poor.

The Goal of Eco-Cities

In response to the inequalities and health concerns traditional planning produced, a new generation of urban planners is embedding elements of nature in urban ecosystems. In order to create healthier environments and more equitable communities, planners are:

  • Increasing access to public transportation
  • Increasing the number of community green spaces
  • Building skyscrapers fitted with solar panels to reduce emissions
  • Constructing wetlands to filter runoff before it enters the watershed

The Benefits of Eco-Cities

The planning goals of eco-cities will improve the lives of citizens in a few crucial ways. First, Eco-cities promote public transportation and walkability in order to increase mobility and access to economic opportunities for all citizens. Second, eco-cities will reduce emissions and pollution by increasing renewable energy sources, decreasing city traffic and creating parks and other green spaces. These actions will increase air quality and provide citizens with recreational opportunities, ultimately improving the health and wellbeing of citizens.

The use of green spaces in eco-cities demonstrates the range of benefits from an individual planning goal. In general, urban green spaces in traditional cities are only accessible to the wealthy. Eco-cities, however, provide easily accessible green spaces would for all residents, regardless of socioeconomic status. In addition to the environmental benefits, increased access to healthy social and recreational green spaces will improve the mental and physical health of the entire city’s population

Examples of Eco-Cities

Tianjin, China

There are many compelling examples of eco-cities that exist today in both the developed and developing world. Tianjin, China is an audacious example of using sustainable planning practices to create an eco-city. In 2008, China and Singapore collectively reconstructed Tianjin’s Binhai district to meet a variety of “Key Performance Indicators,” such as the conservation of ecological resources, and enhancement of access to health, education and employment.

In 2018, the Tianjin eco-city celebrated its tenth anniversary, and it is now a functioning district with full-time residents. Since its construction, the city has:

These projects and policies are aimed to achieve the key performance indicators laid out for the city and ultimately improve the overall quality of life for its citizens. 

Curitiba, Brazil

There are already many expiring examples of sustainable planning in developing countries that have improved the wellbeing of its citizens. For instance, Curitiba, Brazil implemented many principles of an eco-city without the resources of a developed country. In Curitiba, city officials have:

  • Implemented an inexpensive “Bus Rapid Transit” system and prohibited cars in the city center
  • Rehabilitated wetlands instead of constructing expensive levees
  • Created a city-wide public recycling system

These projects and programs have improved the city in several ways. First, the “BRT” system increased mobility for citizens of all socioeconomic statuses. As a partial result of this program, income loss due to lack of transportation is 11 times lower in Curitiba than in Sao Paolo. Next, The restoration of wetlands has mitigated the threat of floods at a much lower cost traditional levees. These wetlands have saved numerous homes from flood damage and now serve as public parks. Finally, the public recycling program has created numerous jobs and encouraged  70% of the city’s population to actively recycle.

Following these successes, Curitiba is now widely considered a classic example of excellent urban planning. For this reason, Curitiba’s planning decisions can and should provide a framework to construct eco-cities in developing countries.

Implications for Developing Countries

The countries that will undergo the most urbanization in the next century are developing countries. Currently, 77% of Latin Americans live in urban areas, nearly a quarter of whom live in slums. In sub-Saharan African, 62% of urban citizens live in slums, as do 43% of urban citizens in south-central Asian cities.

By 2030, the urban population of these regions is expected to be double what they were in 2000. Surely, this level of population growth will require the construction and expansion of new and existing cities. Rapid urbanization, and the concentration of urban citizens in slums, affirms the need for a shift in city planning towards sustainable practices.

The inevitable growth of cities to accommodate these populations provides an opportunity to break the 19th-century urban growth models. Traditional urban planning has been prevalent around the world since the Industrial Revolution and is the cause of many public health concerns such as insufficient waste management and air pollution. Instead, developing countries can utilize the eco-city approach to create more equitable and healthy communities.

Supporting the Construction of Ec0-Cities

Eco-city Builders, created in 1972, is one of the most prominent international organizations in the eco-city movement. This non-profit trains urban planners across the world on how to achieve eco-city standards. In Peru for example, the organization taught 75 planners how to use geospatial and community data to design green infrastructure. They also mobilized 800 citizens, academics and politicians to engage in active research regarding the design of their communities.

Since 1990, Eco-city Builders has held 13 different Eco-city World Summits that have taken place in various countries across the globe. These summits host conferences and presentations that reflect on the work already accomplished and look forward to new methods for implementing eco-cities in developing countries.

By providing training for urban planners and achievable standards for what defines sustainability, Eco-city Builders can help local officials in developing countries create more environmentally friendly and equitable communities.

 – Christopher Bresnahan

Photo: Flickr

Daylily/Poverty in China
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made substantial efforts to reduce poverty in China for the millions living without basic necessities. In 2015, President Jinping set the goal of eliminating poverty in China by 2020. There were 1.4 billion people in poverty at that time, defined as earning less than $1.10 a day, a lower benchmark than the World Bank poverty guideline of $1.90 a day. While some of his methods to alleviate rural poverty have been conventional, like increasing tourism and promoting produce production, in one Chinese district his tactic has been far from ordinary.

The Yunzhou District of China is located about 200 miles west of Beijing, in the Yanshan and Taihang mountains. Given its remote location, the cities in this district have dealt with high levels of poverty. However, in the last decade, farmers in this area have capitalized on the fecund growth of daylilies to alleviate poverty in the region, and in China more broadly.

Medicinal Qualities of Daylilies

Daylilies are an edible flower that people use in Chinese herbal medicine. According to studies, they may have detoxification properties, aid in reducing insomnia, lessen hemorrhoids and calm nerves. Daylilies in China belong to a heartier class of flowers since they can grow in a variety of soil conditions, and the flower itself comes in many colors. Its botanical name, Hemerocallis, translates to “beauty for a day,” as most daylilies will bloom in the morning and die by nightfall. However, the flower will stay in bloom for several weeks because each stem has over 12 flower buds.

Increase in Land for Daylilies

Though areas in the district, like Datong City and the Fangcheng new village, have been cultivating daylilies for over 600 years, the district recently increased the land on which it grows daylilies by 10 times. Now, millions of daylilies in China grow on 10,000 hectares or the equivalent of over 18,000 football fields.

President Xi Jinping’s Support for the Daylily Industry

In a recent trip to the district, President Jinping encouraged farmers and locals alike to continue developing the industry to reduce poverty in China. During his visit, President Jinping spoke to the country’s efforts to reach its goal of total poverty eradication by the end of 2020. So far, daylily production has helped lift over 1 million people out of poverty. In 2019, daylily production generated $9.17 million for the district. President Jinping remains steadfast in alleviating poverty in the country despite having only a few months before his deadline.

Revenue from daylilies in China may seem like an unusual product to reduce poverty in China by Western standards. However, according to Eastern culture, the flower is a cornerstone of the Chinese market and therefore a logical aspect of poverty alleviation. Even though the Yunzhou District has been cultivating the flower for over 600 years, it is comforting to know that the towns and cities in that district have utilized daylily production in the last 10 years to bring over a million individuals out of poverty.

Mimi Karabulut
Photo: Flickr