Opinion

George Chen

China’s toxic leaks and social unrest

George Chen
Aug 15, 2011 03:53 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

What does PX mean? That’s the keyword for China from the past 24 hours.

State media reported that residents of Dalian were recently forced to flee when a storm battering the northeast Chinese coast, whipping up waves that burst through a dyke protecting a local chemical plant. The plant produces paraxylene (PX), a toxic petrochemical used in polyester.

On Sunday, some angry residents finally decided that instead of being forced to flee, the chemical plant should be relocated.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate and Dalian, known as one of the most beautiful coastal cities in China, made headlines all over the world.

Dalian is not alone.

Blame bad luck or natural disasters, perhaps. Four days ago, an accident at a factory in Shandong province resulted in a deadly chemical gas leak and 125 people, mostly workers and nearby residents, were sent to the hospital, local media reported. About three months ago, poisonous chemical waste was dumped illegally, polluting water sources in Yunnan province. The case was only recently revealed to the public. You can imagine how angry local people must feel.

I had a chat with a young and well-educated fund manager, a typical middle-class Chinese, about those recent accidents and his views surprised me. The fund manager is usually very calm and polite before colleagues and clients. He told me he would take to the streets and even fight to the death to get the PX plant relocated if he were a resident in the area.

Tax, the new revolution in China

George Chen
Jan 28, 2011 03:51 UTC
Tax, the new revolution in China Karl Heinrich Marx spent most of his lifetime studying how to distribute social wealth fairly, and later Vladimir Ilyich Lenin concluded that revolution should be the way. In China, Mao Zedong picked up some ideas from Marx and Lenin and a “new China” was eventually created. We all know what has happened since then. Today in Shanghai and Chongqing, two of the richest cities in China, the local governments discussed how to distribute and balance social wealth, ideally for every citizen in the country. They decided to use financial tools rather than revolution, hence the new property tax, which Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan, considered a Liberal who helped Shanghai open up its Pudong New Area, said could help the city increase revenue from property to 200 million yuan this year. The reaction? An online poll on China’s top portal Sina.com showed this morning that nearly 60 percent of respondents voted against the property tax plan and more than 40 percent said they did not expect the new tax to lower property prices. Experts and scholars are now interested to see how Shanghai and Chongqing are going to collect the tax –0.6 percent for Shanghai and 0.5-1.2 percent for Chongqing, both announced on Thursday evening and effective from today — in a peaceful and practical way. Others cast doubt over the policymaking process — shall we have a consultation with taxpayers or at least go through local lawmakers, who are considered “representatives of the people”, for ideas before making a decision? The mayors of Shanghai and Chongqing both said the new tax they plan to collect, mainly from the fast-growing middle-class, will mainly be spent on building more cheap, affordable public housing for low-income people, hence redistributing social wealth. A very socialist idea. In my humble view, three factors are worth bearing in mind: First, all things considered, I don’t think the new property tax will bring prices down. Second, the property tax is a strong political signal from the government aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the poor, but it could certainly hurt the feelings of the middle-class. Third but not least, watch out, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and so on, you may see more Chinese immigrants buying property, little by little, if not in a rush from tomorrow. So, should we pay a bit more attention to Hong Kong developers? Maybe they’ll see better earnings this year if there are more property buyers from the mainland. Oops! What is Donald Tsang going to do to keep the city’s property prices from climbing? That’s another story, but at least most people in Hong Kong don’t believe that socialism can really work.

Marx

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Karl Heinrich Marx spent most of his lifetime studying how to distribute social wealth fairly, and later Vladimir Ilyich Lenin concluded that violent revolution should be the way. In China, Mao Zedong picked up some ideas from Marx and Lenin and a “new China” was eventually created. We all know what has happened since then.

Today in Shanghai and Chongqing, two of the richest cities in China, the local governments discussed how to distribute and balance social wealth, ideally for every citizen in the country. They decided to use financial tools rather than revolution, hence the new property tax.

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