China · Taiwan

China links galore

China has invested billions in aid and development Africa, but this Guardian feature tries to show a more comprehensive picture. In the past 10 years, China’s investment has totaled about US$75 billion, with much of it going into social projects. There are industrial projects, but the vast majority of projects, which are numbered for each African country on a map, are on thing like health, education and similar projects. Economics and diplomacy play a role of course: “Many of the cultural and sporting projects across the continent are probably “upfront sweeteners” to win government favour, a “downpayment” for future commercial deals, suggests Stephen Chan, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.”

However does this mean there’s a big master Chinese plan to conquer and exploit Africa? “But Chan rejects the idea that China has a master strategy in Africa. “There are 54 countries in Africa. You’re off your head if you think there’s one single agenda.””

Interestingly, Chinese aid, while looked on with suspicion by some in the West and Africa, has been criticized by Chinese who wonder why this money can’t be used at home. But people quoted in the article explain, foreign aid, especially to Africa, has long been done by the PRC, and it’s more than a matter of being too generous but also that of winning friends and boosting relations. As it is, China only spends 0.07% of its GDP on foreign aid, well short of the 0.7% that developed countries agreed to (but few have actually achieved).

In welcome news, two bronze heads that were stolen when Western troops sacked the Summer Palace in 1860 are being returned to China later this year. These heads are part of a dozen, with several having been returned and a few still out there somewhere.

Hakkas make up about 18 percent of Taiwan’s population, but have historically been marginalized in mainstream society (also in Hong Kong too). The government is trying to raise awareness and promote Hakka culture, through food and religious festivals, cultural centers, and education, with Hakka being an optional subject in schools. There are even Hakka studies programs at universities. The Taipei MRT subway has Hakka as one of the four languages it makes announcements in. My father’s side is Hakka, hailing from from Guangdong, though unfortunately I don’t speak it. I don’t know too much about my Hakka heritage except that Hakkas are also Han Chinese, but are considered a subgroup due to their tendency to live in isolated communities. Hakkas originally came from Northern China, around the Yellow River area, but moved south due to wars and instability. This led to them living in Guangdong, Fujian, and Guanxi provinces, but tensions meant they were never fully accepted. Despite this tough background, I’m proud of the hardy and resilient character of Hakkas.

Time released its list of the 100 most influential people of 2013, and five mainland Chinese people are on the list, as well as one Taiwanese. Li Na, China’s top tennis player and the first Asian woman to win a tennis major, is on the cover page of this issue.

Here’s in remembrance of Hu Yaobang, one of the most senior leaders of Chinain the 1980s whose death in 1989 preceded the tragic events in Beijing. He was seen as a good leader who pushed hard for much needed reforms but was ultimately stifled by the regime.

Though Taiwan is a relatively well-off society, and social services like the public health service are quite decent, there are many who are just barely getting by, as this BBC article describes. A weak economy, low salaries, and broken or disconnected families have also caused a rise in poorer people. Living in Taipei, I don’t encounter so much visible signs of poverty, though I have indeed seen beggars and disabled people on wheelchairs selling tissue and chewing gum (though not mothers holding children to get people to buy flowers).

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