George Chen

China’s toxic leaks and social unrest

August 15, 2011

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.

Tax, the new revolution in China

January 28, 2011
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 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.