There’s an old Chinese curse that goes like this: “May you live in interesting times.” And 2013—the year of the snake on the Chinese zodiac calendar—certainly qualified. Here’s a look at the year’s top China stories.
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The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons has been traveling with Vice President Joseph Biden through Asia this week, and wrote yesterday how the vice president attempted to defuse a crisis between China and Japan in the East China Sea. But along the way, Clemons became part of the story himself. Assigned to be the “pool reporter” covering Biden today, Clemons unwittingly found himself inserted in the vice president’s conversation with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. Here is Steve’s report in its entirety.
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BEIJING — On Wednesday, fresh off a visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Joe Biden spent five and a half hours in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping over a series of meetings and dinner. The marathon diplomacy capped a delicate effort by the vice president this week to tamp down Japan’s anger over provocative Chinese actions in the East China Sea while not coming down too hard on China.
Tensions have been growing in Asia among a number of key regional players—particularly Japan and China, which have been squaring off over competing sovereignty claims to five tiny, uninhabited islands that the Chinese call the Diaoyu and the Japanese call the Senkaku. Last week, China raised the blood pressure of Japan’s prime minister—and many a commercial airline pilot—by unilaterally imposing an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, that overlaps with territory Japan and South Korea also claim.
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So far, much of the discussion of China’s air-defense identification zone (ADIZ), a new law requiring foreign aircraft to notify China when they fly over a designated region in the East China Sea, has centered on Beijing’s motivations: What is China trying to accomplish by instituting the zone? And, considering that it triggered immediate opposition from the United States and Japan, was this decision a mistake?
These are important questions, but it’s worth zooming out and considering the more fundamental causes for tension in Northeast Asia. Here, the issues become more complex. Is China’s aggression caused by a new president trying to establish his legitimacy? Or is it, instead, an attempt to capitalize on domestic anti-Japanese sentiment? Does the conflict reflect how pre-World War II history continues to shape contemporary East Asian relations? Or is it a scramble for the rich energy resources that supposedly lie inside the disputed waters?
The answer to each of these questions is, unhelpfully, yes. And that’s what makes the present conflict in Northeast Asia so difficult to resolve.
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When Jack Wei graduated from college in 2006, he, unlike many of his classmates, decided not to apply for the big companies that he wanted to work for in Shanghai. His reasoning had little to do with a lack of courage, talent, or will, but rather something simpler: Wei was afraid of being rejected because he is a Hepatitis B carrier, and in China, this is a major obstacle to getting a job.
Wei then settled for work at a small company and stayed there for three years. In 2009, having found the courage to again apply for a major company, he received a job offer. But before he could begin, the company turned him away: He had tested positive for Hepatitis B. Discouraged and despaired, the then-26-year-old gave up job hunting.
“I felt like I fell into a hole and couldn’t get up,” Wei recalled. “It gradually pushed a normal person like me into depression.”
A combination of poor needle hygiene, a heavy reliance on injections and infusions in medical care, and a low vaccination rate have exposed a large number of Chinese people to Hepatitis B, and the virus’ victims are then often subject to employment discrimination.
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Outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, lie two major transit hubs. To the west is the Manas Transit Center, the United States’ main waypoint for soldiers coming in and out of Afghanistan. And to the north is the Dordoi bazaar, said to be the largest re-export market in Central Asia, a funnel for cheap Chinese goods to the relatively rich consumers of Kazakhstan and Russia. The Manas Transit Center is set to close in 2014, marking the end of Washington’s major security presence in the region. Dordoi, meanwhile, will be open indefinitely, an enduring symbol of the region’s Chinese-dominated future.
With more than ten thousand traders packed into endless rows of shipping containers, Dordoi has the chaotic feel of an ancient Silk Road bazaar. Central Asia’s various ethnic groups—including the Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Turks, Russians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Uighurs, and Iranians—are present here, distinguished by their dress, language, and physiognomy. But the group that stands out most is the Chinese, a group that, in spite of racism and harassment from locals, continue to arrive, their trading networks behind them. For the Chinese, this is the promised land: a place with little government oversight where they can make money hand over fist.
The Chinese presence is disruptive.
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China’s just-loosened one-child policy has warped the country’s gender ratio over the past 34 years to the extent that by 2020 there may be almost 24 million men unable to find a partner. But in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, a jurisdiction not subject to the mainland’s laws, the landscape is startlingly different. The territory’s 2011 census revealed that there were 209,000 women living alone, a figure that is rapidly rising. It’s believed that one in five Hong Kong women born today will remain single for the rest of their lives.\
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"When I first heard about The Vagina Monologues, I was shocked. I thought, how could someone give a play a name like that?” says Xiao Hang. That was five years ago, when Xiao Hang was, by her own admission, “mainstream and quite conservative.” But after volunteering for an NGO in her sophomore year at college, she began to see society through a different lens. She no longer thinks, as she once did, that “it isn’t elegant to talk about your vagina in public.” In fact, she thinks it’s vital to.
Today Xiao Hang is one of the organizers behind Bcome, the Beijing-based feminist group which has put on around a dozen performances of The Monologues this year to mark the ten-year anniversary of its first showing in China. Performed in over 150 countries worldwide in some 50 different languages, Eve Ensler’s play was first shown in the Mainland at Guangzhou’s Sun Yatsen University in 2003.
In their offices just outside Beijing’s third ring road, Xiao Hang and Bcome’s other volunteers are preparing leaflets to send out for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The leaflets have titles such as “20 Misconceptions about Sexual Violence,” “The ABCs of Feminism,” and “Resist Verbal Abuse.”
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In the late summer of 2004, days before I was to move to Lianyungang, China, to teach English for a year, I spoke to an acquaintance who had spent a few years in the country.
"Holidays are hard," he said. "But oddly, not so much Christmas. Christmas isn’t that bad. It’s Thanksgiving that’s hard."
At the time, surviving the holidays was the least of my worries. I was moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language, understand the culture, or know the history, in order to do a job that I had never done and didn’t know how to do. And not only that, I was going to a city—Lianyungang—that I hadn’t even heard of, and could find no information about online.
Other than that, I was completely prepared.
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A prominent Hong Kong-based journalist has called on Daniel Doctoroff, Chief Executive Officer of Bloomberg L.P., to step down from his role as chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner on Tuesday in New York because his company is engulfed in a press freedom controversy of its own, involving its China reporting team.
Ying Chan, who was an honoree at the same dinner 15 years ago, called on Doctoroff to relinquish CPJ’s podium in the wake of the suspension of Hong Kong-based Bloomberg reporter Michael Forsythe on November 13. Forsythe was a leading member of the company’s respected China news team. Bloomberg employees told The New York Times that Bloomberg’s Editor-in-Chief Matthew Winkler said the company would not publish the China team’s latest long-term investigations on the financial ties of China’s top leaders to powerful business interests. The employees characterized Winkler’s moves as self-censorship to protect the company’s interests in China, the world’s second-largest economy, which lacks a free press.
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