CHINA - Pollution and an earthquake made the headlines in 2013, but there was also good news on the ground and in outer space.
Before we wrap up 2013, let's take a quick look at the issues that made headlines in China over the past year.
On April 20 morning, an earthquake of magnitude 7 struck Lushan district in Ya'an, Sichuan, claiming the lives of almost 200 people while injuring 12,000 others. On Wednesday, the groundbreaking ceremony for the post-earthquake reconstruction works was held. A total of 175 projects will be carried out with 30.1 billion yuan (S$6.3bil). Besides building houses, public amenities and basic infrastructure, the reconstruction works also include ecological restoration and prevention of geologic disasters.
China has successfully launched its fifth manned space mission in June. Shenzhou-10 astronauts, including Zhang Xiaoguang, Nie Haisheng and Wang Yaping, carried out a 15-day mission to orbit the Earth. Meanwhile, China also launched its Chang'e-3 lunar probe this month. Following the success, the country is now planning to launch a Chang'e-5 lunar probe in 2017 to bring back soil and rock samples from the moon.
Bo Xilai indictment
Former high-flying Chinese politician Bo Xilai was handed a life sentence in September for corruption. The former Politburo member was tried at the Jinan Intermediate People's Court in Shandong province in August for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. According to the court, Bo received bribes totalling 20.44 million yuan personally or through his wife Gu Kailai and son Bo Guagua between 1999 and 2012. He also embezzled 5 million yuan (RM2.71mil) from a government project in 2002, and abused his power when Chongqing police probed the murder case in which Gu murdered British businessman Neil Heywood. Bo's downfall is China's biggest political scandal in years. Bo appealed the court decision, but the high court later upheld his life sentence.
Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone
In July, the Chinese government approved the establishment of its first free trade zone in Shanghai. It was launched later in September, a move that is interpreted as a test bed of the government's economic reforms. Among the highlights of the free trade zone are the free convertibility of the yuan under the capital account, market-set interest rates and cross-border use of yuan on a trial basis, according to the blueprint of the free trade zone.
Since the shocking milk scandal in 2008, where infant formula was tainted with melamine to falsely increase the protein content, people in China prefer imported milk to the local brands. Many parents resorted to buying infant formula from Hong Kong, prompting the Hong Kong government to restrict milk purchase. In August, another milk scare erupted when New Zealand dairy company Fonterra recalled its products found to be contaminated with bacteria that could cause serious food poisoning.
Crackdown on waste
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed office, he has emphasised on frugality to cut down extravagance and to battle pervasive corruption. Circulars are issued from time to time to remind the government officers not to splurge on unnecessary expenses and banquets, especially during festive seasons. As a consequence, the anti-corruption campaigns have slowed down consumption in the country. Hotels, restaurants and manufacturers of greeting cards and mooncakes, for instance, are reported to be suffering drastic loss of business.
Beginning Jan 1 this year, the Chinese government released the reading of air pollutants PM2.5, in addition to PM10, in 74 major cities. PM2.5 refers to the fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (while PM10 stands for particles of 10 micrometres or less in diameter). Measuring one-thirtieth of a human hair, PM2.5 can penetrate deep into our lungs. The Chinese government is introducing initiatives to improve air quality but instead of a White Christmas, people experienced a "Grey Christmas" this year as 16 Chinese cities were reported to be seriously polluted on Christmas Eve.
Internationally acclaimed director Zhang Yimou finally admitted he has three children with his current wife, Chen Ting. The Family Planning Committee of Binhu district in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, where Zhang registered "hukou" (household registration) for his children, was criticised by the public for its delay in investigating the case. The public also questioned how Zhang could flout the rules and skirt the hefty fines. A month after Zhang made his public statement on Twitter-like Weibo, his case is still pending investigation. Meanwhile, the Chinese government reviewed its single child policy to allow couples to have a second child if either one of them is an only child. This is welcomed as a radical relaxation of China's strict one-child policy to address declining birth rate and ageing population. Couples planning to have a second child are waiting eagerly for the local governments to implement this exception, which is expected to be enforced in some areas of China in the first quarter of 2014.