China faces never-ending crises ahead of G8, Olympics

July 2nd, 2008 - 9:15 am ICT by IANS  

By Andreas Landwehr

Beijing, July 2 (DPA) China is “a nation plagued by catastrophes”, said the country’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao while visiting the site of last month’s earthquake in the southwest. The country’s crises could not be more untimely: China is facing political unrest, rows with the outside world, high inflation and social tension just as it is preparing to host the Olympics in little over the month.

And only a week before he is to set to attend the G8 summit of the world’s seven leading economies and Russia in Toyko, President Hu Jintao has other things on his mind than the world food crisis and climate protection.

Crisis management is called for at home. The government is facing concerns that China’s domestic problems will just be too much - and this worry is growing even though the official propaganda is doing its best to present the government’s quick response to the recent disasters as a sign of its enormous capabilities.

To begin with, catastrophic snowstorms hit southern China in January, with aid taking a long time. Yet more crises were to follow fast. In March, Tibetans staged protests against Chinese rule, under the watchful eyes of the world community.

Then, clashes during the Olympic torch run triggered a national counter movement that was further fanned by communist party propaganda.

With only censured information available to them, many Chinese began to feel that the rest of the world simply begrudged China having the Olympics.

May’s massive earthquake in the province of Sichuan finally diverted the world’s attention to the human tragedy of the disaster in which more than 80,000 people are believed to have died.

The wave of international aid and solidarity following the disaster helped reconcile many Chinese with the outside world.

But the clean-up after the quake was not even over when China’s south reported serious flooding in several provinces which occurred much earlier and more heavily than expected.

Superstitious Chinese even interpreted the disasters as a sign of bad luck in the Olympic year. It has already become clear that the fight against the floods will continue through the summer, long after the Games start.

“The flood season will overshadow the Olympic Games and also rebuilding in the earthquake zone,” the party newspaper Liaowang appeared to echo fears that China is just not up to the job in trying to cope with all the recent problems.

The disasters are further fuelling the controversial rise in food prices. Despite state price controls, inflation has risen to 8 percent, the highest in 11 years, which has daily disturbed the Chinese people.

The Chinese already have to fork out 22 percent more for food items than in the previous year. Pork cost 68 per cent more, and cooking oil 46 per cent. Mostly self-sufficient, China was not hard hit by the food crisis - at least initially.

So far, the country managed to cover the growing demand by dipping into its large grain reserves.

However, the rising petrol prices have hit citizens hard. Despite its worries over possible social tensions, the government saw the need to jack up state-controlled fuel prices by 16 to 18 percent.

Because of the high world market prices, the production of the refineries simply would no longer do. Petrol and diesel ran increasingly scarce and long lines formed in in front of fuel stations. The fuel shortage began to threaten the entire economy.

China’s leaders have been well aware of the social timebomb. In order to present a united and harmonious front to the world during the Olympics, a campaign was launched to eliminate complaints by unsatisfied citizens and to prevent “mass clashes.”

Maintaining social stability and guaranteeing a smooth running of the summer games “has become a difficult battle that every department at every level has to win,” the government urged in a written message to all government offices.

And since the protests over the Olympic torch run, every Olympic guest and every other visiting foreigner has been seen as a security risk.

In order to keep activists away from Beijing, China drastically limited the issuance of visas and made application procedures so difficult that the number of foreign visitors has dropped noticeably.

Many hotel beds have remained empty. And diplomats and business people are warning that Beijing is almost becoming a “forbidden city.”

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