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A Visit to China: Lessons learnt (Part 1)

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH

From 19th July 2016 to 30th July 2016 I, as part of an African delegation, visited China at the invitation of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee though the Chinese Embassy in Botswana. It is from this visit that I wish to share some experiences with my readers.

The picture that has been painted about China is that it is a country where the government rules by the sword; where the State tramples on citizens’ rights at will; and where such democratic ideals as freedom of the press, the rule of law; and independence of the judiciary are almost non-existent.

It has also been claimed that since China is a one party State where the State owns and/or controls almost all the means of production, it is only the State which is rich and citizens live in abject poverty and squalor while a few in the echelons of power drown in wealth.

These few who live in lavish wealth, it is argued, corruptly syphon state resources without sanction because they are either in government or are prominent members of the Communist Party of China (CPC).  

China, it is argued, through heavy industrialization, pursues economic growth at the expense of its people’s health by recklessly exposing them to high levels of air pollution with no measures to mitigate the health risks.

These ills, it is argued, are an indication that the Communist and/or Socialist political ideology which China follows cannot succeed in today’s world order and that Capitalism is the ideal political ideology for today’s world. China, it is predicted, like such other Communist and/or Socialist countries as the former Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela, will fail.  

So, when I visited China, though it was only for about ten days, I expected to see these ills manifest themselves in the Chinese people’s daily lives and in life generally, including the environment in the literal sense of the word.

In this three part series, I make a review of the aforesaid allegations about China, which some call the ‘Chinese paradox’, arguing that given its history and economic might China should not be suffering such socio-economic and political ills.

In this article I discuss air pollution, the rule of law, in particular equality before the law, and some elements of China’s economic growth. In the next article I finalise the discussion on the rule of law and China’s economic growth.

In the final article, I discuss China’s political construct and political party system and make a critique of whether or not it will enable China to achieve the ‘New Normal’ which it envisages to achieve through its 13th Five-Year Plan for 2016 – 2020.

It is in that article that issues of respect for human rights and such freedoms as freedom  of the press and speech will be considered against such a guideline as ‘opening up’ which China has set for itself as a barometer for its “New Normal.”     

First, air pollution. According to Bloomberg’s report of 13th August 2015 “…air pollution is killing an average of 4,000 people a day in China, according to researchers who cited coal-burning as the likely principal cause…”

The report continues to say “… deaths related to the main pollutant, tiny particles known as PM2.5s that can trigger heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and asthma, total 1.6 million a year, or 17 percent of China’s mortality level, according to the study by Berkeley Earth, an independent research group funded largely by educational grants…”

While I have not ascertained the veracity of Bloomberg’s report, it is incontrovertible that air pollution is a problem in China, especially in the capital, Beijing. It is not, however, true that the government is not doing anything to arrest the problem because of pursuit of economic growth.  

According to the BBC’s report of 16th November 2011, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme, Achim Steiner, when in Beijing to launch the "green economy" report, said “… hundreds of thousands of people were affected by premature death and respiratory illnesses because of poor air quality…”

However, Steiner praised China stating that “… the government is planning policies that could result in a cleaner, greener China… It is now the world's biggest investor – spending $49bn last year – on renewable energy, a figure that will grow over the next five years.”

Therefore, to suggest that the Chinese government is not doing anything to address air pollution is devoid of truth. We visited Yonker Environmental Protection Company in the Hunan Province. The company’s sole mandate is to develop environmental protection solutions to address, among others, air pollution in China.

At a State level, China has recently signed the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 Degrees Celsius and to strive for 1.5 Degrees Celsius.

Also, according to PWC’s Global Annual Review 2015, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) adopted the blueprint for the 13th Five-Year Plan  for 2016 – 2020 which underlines five guiding principles, being (i) Innovation, (ii) Coordination, (iii) Opening up (iv) Sharing and (v) Green development. With respect to the latter, China intends to vigorously promote environmental protection and low carbon growth.

Second, the rule of law. Of course, I could not have experienced the respect or lack thereof for the rule of law given the few days I spent in China, but a cursory review of the literature suggests that at least in the area of equality before the law China is not doing as badly as alleged.

According to The Telegraph’s online edition of 3rd July 2016, “China punished almost 300,000 officials for graft last year as President Xi Jinping continued to wage a high-profile war against corruption…Ten centrally appointed and administered officials were given drastic demotions for serious violations against the Communist Party’s code of conduct.”

The paper continues to say “one of China's most high-profile former officials, Zhou Yongkang, has been sentenced to life imprisonment on bribery charges and for leaking state documents to an individual…” Of course, the whole world knows about the 2013 trial and subsequent conviction of Shandong Province’s rising star and one of the most powerful men in the CPC, Bo Xilai.

I was particularly impressed when, during a workshop on law-based governance of the country held in Changsha, it emerged that China has adopted a legal system with Chinese characteristics in terms of which the people are involved in dispensing justice.

Not only that. The law is demystified and citizens are trained in basic principles of the law from an early age. In addition, basic knowledge of the law is a requirement for employment in the civil service. Access to justice is also ensured through a State run Legal Aid system and a requirement for all attorneys to do pro deo and pro bono work for the public good and charitable causes respectively.

Third, China’s economic development. One of China’s success stories is its economic development which some claim was achieved at the expense of human rights, e.g. child labour and employees being subjected to appalling working conditions. I will discuss this claim in the next article.

According to www.tradingeconomics.com  “…the Chinese economy advanced at an annual rate of 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2016, compared to a 6.8 percent expansion in the previous period … While it is the weakest growth since the first quarter of 2009, fixed-asset investment, industrial output, retail sales and new yuan loans all increased more than estimated in March, suggesting the economy is accelerating…”

It continues to say “… GDP Annual Growth Rate in China averaged 9.85 percent from 1989 until 2016, reaching an all-time high of 15.40 percent in the first quarter of 1993 and a record low of 3.80 percent in the fourth quarter of 1990…”
 
On the other hand, the GDP Growth Rate in the United States is reported to “… have averaged 3.23 percent from 1947 until 2016, reaching an all-time high of 16.90 percent in the first quarter of 1950 and a record low of -10 percent in the first quarter of 1958.”   

Clearly, China is doing something right. In terms of industrialization, infrastructural development and Information Communications Technology, China is ahead of time. For instance, because of the highly developed railway network and the high speed trains we travelled distances of over one thousand kilometers in about five hours. Automated self-service machines are used when applying for such documents as national identity cards and residence permits.

Equivalents of our Village Development Committees(VDCs) have offices and run integrated facilities with day care centers for children and the elderly, rehabilitation facilities for those living with disabilities, feeding facilities for the poor and the elderly, libraries and security and surveillance control centers, e.t.c.

Such factories as car manufacturing factories, air conditioning factories and electronic equipment factories are in multitudes. With respect to the latter, according to Wikipedia “… China's mobile phone industry … has a high growth rate, raising its share on the global mobile phone market. During 2007, 600 million mobile phones were made in China which accounted for over 50% of the global production…”

China has also invested heavily in Agriculture. As one travels around the country endless farming fields can be witnessed, with evident use of highly advanced farming equipment and technologies. In hotels, there is a wide variety of traditional Chinese dishes of agricultural products as well as sea food.

One of the areas we visited was the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center (CNHRRDC) in Changsha. Established in 1984, and headed by agricultural scientist and educator, Professor Yuan Longping, dubbed the "Father of Hybrid Rice",  the CNHRRDC's mandate is to eradicate malnutrition and poverty through the development and distribution of new strains of hybrid rice. The CNHRRDC carries out research and development on hybrid rice.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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