Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Effects of Pushing out "Low-End Population"

Migrant workers gathering their things and getting ready to leave Beijing
Last night I met up with a friend from Beijing who's visiting Hong Kong and we caught up since we last met up.

I asked him about the evictions of the migrant workers and he shook his head, sad at the turn of events.

Following a fire in Beijing's Daxing district that killed 19 people, the local government has used the tragedy as an excuse to get rid of the "low-end population", though this campaign has been happening for the past year.

Parts of Sanlitun have been completely demolished
When I was in Beijing in April, the back streets of Sanlitun, where many expats hung out and used to buy cheap DVDs, or have manicures and pedicures, massages and buy cheap clothing and food, were being torn down.

"Beijingers are happy the streets are cleaned up and feel that the city is now becoming more international like London and New York," my friend said, adding he didn't like Beijing anymore because these colourful aspects of the city were now fast disappearing.

In other words, Beijing is gentrifying.

He told me about a small restaurant across the street from where he lived. It wasn't really a restaurant -- a kind of shack -- where they sold all kinds of food, from jianbing or a savoury pancake, to fried chicken wings, noodles and char-grilled lamb skewers called chuar.

It was run by a bunch of young guys from Henan. While my friend described them as a bit on the tough side, perhaps dealing in things other than food, they were nice people, who he got to know as acquaintances. He'd stop by after work for a beer, or pick up a snack for his wife to bring back home, and have a quick friendly chat. They were also open until 5am.

But now they were gone and he didn't know where they went. More importantly he didn't know where to get his snacks and drinks now.

Some people are hardly given much notice to leave
The small cigarette and liquor shops that supposedly sold items that were collected by senior government officials as "gifts" and sold for cheap are also gone. The last time I was there, the closet-sized sex shops had also disappeared.

Not all expats have the same view as my friend who is from the UK and has lived in Beijing for many years. These foreigners like seeing migrant workers gone and the streets are now cleaner, or getting rid of businesses that didn't fit in the neighbourhood, like the aforementioned shack selling food and perhaps were noisy late into the night.

Nevertheless these were businesses that were convenient, cheap and useful for many residents, and what are left behind are empty stalls, or areas that have been completely demolished, leaving no trace of their previous existence.

However my friend has the last laugh -- expats are complaining it's hard to find an ayi (a maid) these days. Gee, I wonder why?

He says his ayi may leave next year if she too is pressured, but doesn't know where to go. She doesn't want to go back to Anhui province, and do what? She has lived in Beijing for over a decade and makes good money cleaning people's flats.

The Beijing government may think it's doing a good thing getting rid of the "low-end population", but really it's shooting itself in the foot. These migrant workers keep the city going. They were the ones who built all the new buildings and infrastructure, but you deny their children education because they don't have hukou or a residence permit, and now you force them to leave because you consider them an eyesore?

How is that equality in the so-called socialist People's Republic of China?

Friday, 15 December 2017

China's Evolving Definition of Human Rights

Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia suffered human rights violations

With the year ending in just over two weeks, China has already hailed 2017 as one of "remarkable" progress in human rights, including its achievements in anti-corruption and legal reform, which don't have much, if anything to do with human rights.

The latest State Council white paper listed international cooperation on counterterrorism and climate change, as well as the "Sky Net" program to hunt down and repatriate fugitives accused of corruption as human rights achievements.

So forcibly bringing back people to stand for corruption charges is a good thing for human rights?

In the past China has included the right to peace, and the right to economic development.

Migrant workers are being forced out of Beijing
How random and irrelevant to consider these under the meaning of human rights (everywhere else).

Many international critics focused on the detention and death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo and how he was only briefly reunited with his wife Liu Xia before he died of cancer in July. Afterwards his body was hastily cremated and the ashes dumped at sea to avoid some kind of memorial for democracy activists.

His widow is still closely watched by the authorities and her whereabouts are still unknown. Doesn't she have human rights?

There are also human rights violations in pushing migrant workers out of Beijing on the pretense of a fire in Daxing District on November 18 that killed 19 people. Following the fire, the authorities immediately launched a 40-day campaign to get rid of the "low-end population", a word that has since been banned from China's cyberspace.

Migrant workers who provide essential services or do jobs that no one else wants to do are being pushed out of the Chinese capital with very little notice and the experience has been so harsh and violent that they don't feel welcome anymore and have no choice but to go back to their hometowns.

Uyghurs' DNA are now being collected by the police
Did the authorities realize what effect this vicious campaign will have on how the city will function from now on?

But another shocking human rights violation is a recent report from The Guardian that says DNA, fingerprints and other biometric data are being collected from Uyghurs in a "health check", called "Physicals for All". It is unclear if patients are aware this data is being collected and shared with the police.

"The mandatory databanking of a whole population's biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. It is even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free healthcare program.

"Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project 'Privacy Violations for All', as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs," she added.

However, China is ignoring its critics and continuing this terrifying project -- even if someone hasn't committed a crime.

So when China says it's had a "remarkable" year in human rights, it really is living in a parallel universe where its definition is so far removed from everyone else's.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

25% Hongkongers Can't Afford Basic Needs

One-quarter of Hongkongers are considered deprived of basic necessities
The Hong Kong government acknowledges there are poor people in Hong Kong, but it's the number that it can't seem to decide on because it can't determine the exact definition of poverty.

It prefers to just look at income levels, but critics say this is not enough, as some people may own flats, but have no income and have run out of savings, or they barely make enough to make ends meet and live in squalid conditions. Some don't want to bother reaching out for social services or they don't qualify for certain subsidies.

Chinese University researchers have come up with another way to determine if someone is poor by seeing if they can afford 23 essential items or services. These include three meals a day, a dental check-up once a year, afford new clothes or go out with family or friends once a month.

Researchers say poverty should be calculated by deprivation
If they were not able to afford at least two or more of these items they were considered deprived.

They interviewed 1,476 people in 2014 and the same participants again last year. They found that one in four of them were deprived last year, 24.7 percent, which compares to 28.8 percent in 2014.

Researchers say the city's economic growth, historically low unemployment ration and higher salaries attributed to fewer deprived people, but it doesn't mean poverty has been eliminated at all.

Of those who took part in the study, 26.7 percent were unable to afford to get a regular dental check-up, though it was down from 38.7 percent three years earlier.

The study also showed that those who were defined as deprived were 1.5 times more likely to be less physically healthy, and 1.3 times more likely to be less mentally healthy compared to those who could afford all 23 items and services.

Chinese University associate professor Wong Hung who conducted the study said the research showed the government's official definition of poverty underestimated those who were socially disadvantaged in Hong Kong.

Handouts don't solve the poverty issue, researchers say
The government makes its calculations based solely on income and household size, and so the poverty line is at half the median monthly household income according to household size. Those who live below the poverty line are considered poor.

With that calculation, one in five people were living below the poverty line last year, a record high.

Wong said, "Handing out money or cash vouchers to people might not necessarily solve the city's deprivation problem. The government should implement more specific community programs so people can directly benefit from them."

This is not a new suggestion and the government doesn't really do anything, instead depending on NGOs and charities to fill the need.

Wong and his colleagues are suggesting to the government that it include deprivation as part of its determination of who is in poverty or not. It would probably increase the numbers which the authorities wouldn't be happy about, but these people are in desperate need of services and resources to keep their heads above water.

With Hong Kong being such a wealthy city, there is no excuse not to help the neediest.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Picture of the Day: Nanjing Massacre at 80

People gathered at the Cenotaph in Central... are they allowed there?
This morning I took our company shuttle bus to work and on the way we passed by the Cenotaph in Central.

I was shocked to see a bunch of people standing there and holding large Chinese flags.

Then I remembered it was the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, but why were these people standing there?

The Cenotaph is a war memorial that commemorates the dead in the two world wars who served in Hong Kong in the Royal Navy, British Army and the Royal Air Force.

What does it have to do with Nanjing?

If they want to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre they need to find their own cenotaph!