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’14 Headlines of the year
2014-12-22
By Yao Min-G

WE laughed, we cried. We felt despair and we felt hope. We were surprised and we were humbled. We mourned the deaths of passengers aboard the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and were shocked by malfeasance uncovered in the government’s anti-corruption campaign.

We recoiled at domestic terrorist attacks and felt proud when Alibaba shares successfully listed in New York, the world’s biggest initial public offering.

We counted our profits as the Shanghai stock market showed signs of improvement after a volatile year and counted our blessings when living standards continued to improve despite an economic slowdown.

We had fun on the Internet, sharing precious moments with friends.

Another year is passing, carrying with it the joys and sorrows of 12 months.

How will we remember 2014?

‘Tigers and flies shot down’

When President Xi Jinping vowed to crack down on both “tigers and flies” — powerful leaders and lowly bureaucrats — in an anti-corruption campaign two years ago, few anticipated the depth, range and duration of the swoop.

The campaign touched the grassroots in ways many people didn’t foresee.

“We didn’t have our annual year-end dinner or bonuses because so many companies cut back on their spending,” says Wang Kun, 58, a middle school mathematics teacher. “We thought catching ‘tigers or flies’ had nothing to do with our own lives. But then, two months ago, I suddenly saw how relevant it had become. We went to Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, for the traditional hairy crab season and found that the price of the crabs and hotels there had dropped dramatically because of the campaign.”

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Two years on, the move shows no signs of abating.

As of September, more than 80,000 officials had been punished for various violations of rules, including use of public funds for personal entertainment, acceptance of gifts, unauthorized use of public vehicles and dereliction of duty. The purge touched both the highest and lowest levels of government.

The extravagant personal fortunes amassed by many public officials shocked the man-on-the-street.

For example, Ma Chaoqun, former water boss in the northern city of Qinhuangdao in Hebei Province, was found to have stashed away US$19.6 million in cash, 37 kilograms of gold and 68 real estate certificates in a case involving bribes and theft of state funds.

Earlier in the year, investigators seized more than US$32 million at the home of Wei Pengyuan, vice director of the National Energy Administration’s coal department.

Many of the perpetrators have been put behind the bars. It was a signal to others to watch their step. Extravagant lifestyles have been abandoned or, at best, hidden from public view. Lavish gift-giving and banquets have been scuttled. An atmosphere of personal austerity reigns.

Consulting firm Bain Capital estimates that luxury goods sales in China grew by only 2 percent in 2013, down from as high as 30 percent in previous years. Many top-tier hotels have seen business from big state-owned companies and government agencies shrivel.

Two-child choice

For decades, Chinese have adapted to the one-child policy that came into effect in 1980. The policy was implemented to control exploding population that threatened to thwart economic development.

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Those violating the rule, including famed Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, have been given punitive fines. Second and third children were barred from receiving social services.

In recent years, the policy has been amended in many areas to allow single children who marry to have a second child. On January 1, that stance was further amended to allow second children in families where only one spouse was a single child.

In the past year, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region as well as Shanghai have been among the jurisdictions implementing the amended policy.

It is estimated that about
20 million families are eligible to have two children, but cost factors are making many couples think twice about larger family sizes.

The mysterious missing jetliner

Since March, many Chinese across the country have been constantly checking for updates in the ongoing underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777-200 that disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 with 239 people, including 160 Chinese nationals, on board.

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Thousands of Chinese, both through the Internet and offline activities, have expressed their support for the relatives of those missing.

An intensive search has been underway in the southern Indian Ocean. So far, no trace of the plane.

In May and June, the number of Chinese tourists going to Malaysia decreased by 35 percent from a
year earlier.

Taking stock

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Living standards have continued to rise in both urban and rural areas, giving families more disposable income. Where to invest extra money has been nettlesome.

Bank deposit rates remained skimpy, curbs were placed on property ownership and the stock market delivered poor returns.

But in more recent months, silver linings are giving investors a glimmer of hope.

A new Stock Connect between Hong Kong and Shanghai opened offshore investment channels and held the promise of more funds flowing into the local market.

Then, too, Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce site, pulled off a very successful IPO in New York, dispelling much of the gloom that has greeted many Chinese listings abroad.

Beyond APEC blue

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Jessie Lin, a 26-year-old nurse, has just received a 10-year US visa for her and her parents. The family of three is planning a Spring Festival trip to California and Texas. The longer visa is the result of a new policy announced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing in November.

“I hardly knew what the APEC stands for,” says Lin. “It always sounded so remote and high level. I never thought it would have anything to do with me. But now it has produced something that greatly benefits my family.”

The 22nd APEC meeting spawned the buzzword “APEC blue” because the usual smog blanketing the capital disappeared for the duration of the summit after officials shut down belching factories and limited cars on the road.

The now popular phrase has come to signify anything beautiful but fleeting.

The new visa policy announced at APEC is a boon for Chinese tourism. An estimated 116 million Chinese traveled offshore this year, an 18-percent increase from a year earlier. Visas that were once the purview of the privileged and wealthy are now accessible to almost everyone.

In addition to the US, other countries have also simplified visa procedures, hoping to cash in on burgeoning Chinese tourism.

Chinese tourists can now get a French visa within 48 hours and an expedited UK visa in 24 hours. Japan is expected to announce relaxed visa requirements early next year.

Other negotiations conducted
during APEC are expected to make
it cheaper, faster and easier for Chinese consumers to buy products imported from abroad.

Hong Kong protests

Traffic and commerce in Hong Kong’s financial district recently returned to normal after authorities cleared sites at the heart of the city’s Occupy Central movement.

Student-led protesters had occupied streets in the Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok areas of the city for more than two months. They were protesting the procedures in place for the 2017 election of the city’s chief executive.

The movement paralyzed traffic, hurt business and polarized public opinion. Tourists dwindled and many schools and public services were temporarily shut down. Some of the protests ended in clashes between protesters and police.

A survey of Hong Kong’s economic outlook for 2015 showed that 40 percent of respondents were pessimistic. Many blamed the Occupy Central protest for stifling growth in Hong Kong.

During the protest, mainland tours to Hong Kong dropped by up to 30 percent, badly affecting businesses that rely on tourism.

Terrorism at home

In October, the Higher People’s Court of Yunnan Province upheld the death sentences of three men implicated in a terrorist attack that killed 31 people at a railway station in the capital city of Kunming.

Investigators found that the men had been training recruits for terrorist activities, including the railway station attack on March 1.

The attack awakened in Chinese the realization that terrorism was not just a foreign scourge but could also hit close to home.

The nation is now mobilizing to address homespun terrorism. Laws are being drafted, separating terrorism from other criminal acts.

The People’s Public Security University of China started recruitment for a new curriculum in anti-terrorism for the first time this year.

Beijing has built a network of 850,000 “anti-terrorism volunteers,” many drawn from the ranks of retirees, to assist authorities in spotting and reporting suspicious activity.

The network also includes 100,000 small vendors who will receive cash awards if they report useful information to authorities.

Many of Chinese cities, towns and villages are also adopting policies aimed at detecting and preventing terrorism.


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