Friday, August 20, 2010

China falls off news agenda

China has failed to make headlines in the last few months. Despite massive floods, a booming economy, unrest amongst China's workforce and concern over their health, news media barely talks of these events. Even a bomb which killed 7 in Xinjiang yesterday failed to make headlines, and a train falling from a bridge almost completely fell from the news agenda. 

Floods & mudslides

The massive floods which struck the south and later in northern China killing more than 2,000 people have failed to draw strong interest from news organisations. In terms of being able to cope with the aftermath of floods, China is well prepared. The devastating floods that hit Pakistan have overwhelmed authorities far more. However the disaster that has befallen China is no less tragic. 
The floods that struck China's northern Sichuan provice are the worst for more than 100 years [BBC]. But even before the heavy rain moved north, the south had already suffered weeks of chaos. The flooding in the China's south has caused economic losses of at least $25 billion and affected more than 120 million people. And more than 1,100 people were already dead when heavy rain began to hit Hebei, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces [ABC].

Devastating mudslides caused further problems and trapped tens of thousands [CSMonitor]. But coverage on news channels still remained scant. By Wednesday this week the death toll from the massive mudslides in Zhouqu County, northwest China's Gansu Province, had risen 1,287 with 457 still missing, Xinhua reported [CNN]. On Thursday two carriages from a passenger train fell into a river, after floods destroyed a bridge 50 km north of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Miraculously all 1,300 passengers on board managed to escape unhurt [XinhuaAPBBC / CNN]. Even this failed to make more than a mention on CNBC yesterday and a few seconds on the BBC. 

Bomb blast kills seven

It is not only the disastrous floods that have failed to make news headlines. A bomb blast in China's Xinjiang province received only a brief mention despite killing 7 people. Xiao Chunfeng, spokesman for the city's public security bureau, said that the driver of a three-wheeled vehicle threw a bomb at 15 auxiliary police officers at an intersection outside of Aksu. Seven were killed and 14 injured, including law enforcement personnel and local residents. China has pledged to double investment in Xinjiang and replaced the region's Communist Party chief after ethnic rioting in the capital city of Urumqi last year killed at least 197 people. The latest incident is particularly concerning but was barely reported. Bloomberg mentioned it in its early morning report and CNN gave a few seconds over to the event late Thursday, but it was mostly ignored by the media [Wikipedia].

Worker conditions

China of course wants to promote itself as a fast developing country. But China is growing on the backs of the underpaid and overworked. Foxconn was yesterday's focus which said it was to hire 400,000 more people, boosting the number of employees to 1.3 million [BBC]. Foxconn, which makes the Apple iPhone and other premium electronic products, grabbed the headlines earlier this year after a spate of suicides. Employees get paid around $100 a month and many take all the overtime available to boost their salary. But such long hours bring stress and discomfort. To boost morale Foxconn held a festival of sorts yesterday, "to show its support for its workforce" [BBC].

China's economy

China has a long way to go in reducing the gap between rich and poor. And China's currency is a constant focus for foreign financial institutions and countries. On Thursday China began to trade with the Malaysian ringgit which of course made major headlines on Bloomberg and CNBC. And the China Foreign Exchange Trading System (CFETS) has announced that more currencies could be allowed to trade against the yuan in China. The ringgit is the sixth currency to be traded via the CFETS and is now listed alongside the US dollar, Hong Kong dollar, euro, sterling and yen. It also means that trade between China and Malaysia will no longer need to be conducted in terms of US dollar values. But Michael Kurtz, head of China research & China strategist at Macquarie Research, told CNBC that it would be a long time before the Renminbi became an international currency [Economic Times / WSJ].

This is still the feeling amongst some analysts that the yuan is undervalued. Pressured by the US and other countries, China announced in June that it would adopt a "flexible" exchange rate for the yuan. But it still has a long way to go. Despite this, and the fact there are many problems in China, one has to keep focus and not lose sight of this growing economy. This applies to individuals, businesses and the media.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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