China. Two young Tibetan men died in January after setting fire to themselves in protest of China’s rule in Tibet. Self-firing took place in the northern Chinese province of Gansu. Nearly 100 Tibetans set fire to themselves during the period 2009 to January 2013 in protest of China’s Tibet policy, according to human rights organizations. At the end of January, a Tibetan in Sichuan was sentenced to conditional capital punishment for soliciting eight people for self-incrimination. A close relative of him received ten years in prison for the same crime. According to Tibetan activists, they were forced to admit. The judges were the first under a new Chinese law that equates aiding self-incrimination with murder. In another trial on the same day, six Tibetans were sentenced to between three and twelve years in prison for contributing to a man’s self-incrimination.
In February, the government presented a plan to make the income distribution in the country more equitable and to reduce the large social gaps. Minimum wages should be increased, investment should be made in education and the availability of cheap housing will be increased. The reforms are financed by a larger proportion of the profits of the state companies going to the Treasury.
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On March 14, Xi Jinping was formally appointed China’s new president by the National People’s Congress. Only one of the close to 3,000 members voted against him. He was also re-elected chairman of the Military Commission, thus controlling both the Communist Party and the military. Xi promised to fight corruption at all levels. He also said he would fight for luxury and extravagance within the Communist Party. He further talked about achieving “the Chinese dream”, which hinted at China’s great days and that the country would occupy a greater place in the world. He made his first state visit to the Russian Federation a week after he was elected and in June he traveled to the United States for a summit with President Barack Obama. Xi was elected for five years, but is believed to remain for ten years as he is allowed to be re-elected in accordance with the constitution.
The new president is the son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the founders of the Communist Party. He became a party member in 1974 and then climbed upwards through various posts. In 2007, he became party chief in Shanghai since his boss was kicked out after corruption charges. Then he was elected to the powerful Standing Committee and in 2008 became Vice President. He is married to the popular singer Peng Liyuan, who before Xi became president was more famous than he. Xi, who turned 60 in June 2013, is described as more popular and a more open person than his representative.
Li Yuanchao was elected Vice President and Li Keqiang as new Prime Minister. The People’s Congress approved the new government on March 16. Former Japan Ambassador Wang Yi became Foreign Minister, Chang Wanquan Defense Minister and Lou Jiwei appointed Finance Minister.
Over 200 people died and at least 10,000 were injured when a major earthquake occurred in the southwestern province of Sichuan on April 20. At least 10,000 homes were destroyed in the earthquake, which according to Chinese authorities measured 7.0 on the Richter scale.
Violent ethnic conflicts caught fire several times during the year in the troubled province of Xinjiang in northwestern China. The autonomous and ethnically divided Xinjiang has long been shaken by violence between indigenous Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs, whose share of the population has declined in recent years. In April, at least 21 people, including social workers and police, died in violent clashes in the province. Police arrested 19 Uighurs who were later sentenced to prison for up to six years. At the end of June, at least 35 people died in the most violent riot in the province that has taken place since 2009, when about 200 died at one time. A group of people were reported to have attacked a government building, a police station and burned police cars. Chinese state media called the incident a “terrorist attack”,
In late October, a jeep drove in and crashed in a crowd at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Five people, three of whom were perpetrators, died and some 40 were injured in the explosion caused by the crash. The car was registered in Xinjiang and must have been loaded with petrol cans. The police assumed it was a terrorist act by Uyghurs and arrested five suspects. After the incident, the general who had the military responsibility in Xinjiang was dismissed.
In mid-December, 16 people, 14 civilians and two police officers were killed as new riots broke out in a village near the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang. According to state media, the violence started when the police were to arrest some suspects and a group of people attacked the police with firefighters and knives. Six people were arrested after the incident.
At least 90 people were killed when two earthquakes hit the Gansu Province in northern China in late July. Over 800 people were injured, as were thousands of buildings.
China’s former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, was sentenced in July to conditional capital punishment for multi-million-class corruption and abuse of power. Liu, who had been dismissed in 2011 when the corruption scandal was revealed, had received the bribes when he was responsible for contracting contractors to expand China’s express train.
Former top politician Bo Xilai was sentenced in September to life imprisonment for corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power. Bo, who was previously a party chief in Chongqing and a member of the Politburo, was arrested by the police in March 2012 and dismissed from his mission, which meant one of the biggest political scandals in decades. He appealed against the verdict, but the higher court determined the life sentence. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was sentenced in August 2012 to conditional death sentence for the murder of a British businessman in 2011, a crime that Bo was accused of trying to hide through his position.
Bo’s supporters believe he was kicked and sentenced for political reasons. In November 2013, supporters formed a new political party with Bo as the honorary chairman. One of the party’s founders, university teacher Wang Zheng, said she was inspired by Bo’s way of helping the poor when he was party leader in Chongqing. The goal of the Zhi Xian Party was to guard the country’s constitution, said Wang, who said that the Communist Party has often acted against the constitution. Starting parties is unusual in China, where the Communist Party has a monopoly on power. Others who formed new parties have been jailed, but Wang said she did nothing illegal and that she was not afraid of the authorities.
In November, the Central Committee of the Communist Party held its third plenary and presented several important economic and social reforms to be implemented by 2020. Analysts described the reforms as the most far-reaching since former President Deng Xiaoping opened the economy in 1978. According to the new reforms, the state’s role in the economy should be reduced to benefit for private companies, including in the energy sector. In addition, tax reform will be implemented and a larger share of the profits of the state companies will be used to improve the social insurance system. Furthermore, the one-child policy should be facilitated so that a couple where one parent is single children are allowed to have two children. Previously, both parents had to be single in order for the family to have two children. The labor camp system will be abolished and fewer crimes will result in the death penalty.
At least 44 people died and over 130 were injured when an oil pipeline exploded in Qingdao city on the east coast on November 22. The oil pipeline, which belonged to China’s largest oil company Sinopec, had leaked and was being repaired as it exploded. Streets were torn down and cars overturned in the explosion, which also evoked black smoke over the city. Barriers were set up to prevent oil from leaking into the sea at the coastal city.
China set up a special zone in part of the East China Sea at the end of November. They require that all flights passing through the zone identify themselves and state their planned route – otherwise the Chinese military will intervene. The zone includes the Diaoyu archipelago (called Japan Senkaku), which China claims but belongs to Japan. The Japanese government vigorously protested against China’s action, which is believed to have escalated the conflict over the islands. Taiwan, which also claims the islands, also protested, saying that the Taiwanese military would protect the nation’s interests.
The US government expressed “deep concern” over China’s flight zone. A few days later, the US military did a long-planned exercise in the area with two bombers. The US bombers flew into the zone without notifying the Chinese authorities. No direct response from Beijing came.
On December 14, China landed on the moon as the third country in the world after the United States and the Soviet Union. The landing, made with the Chang’e-3 craft, was a great success for the new superpower’s space efforts. The moon lander is named after Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess. Joining the spacecraft was the robot vehicle Yutu (Jadekaninen), which with advanced radar equipment will take samples in the area at the landing site for a few months.