June 1, 2011｜China
Professor, School of Commerce, Meiji University
Recently the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan (Renminbi) against the US dollar has been continuing to increase in value. In July 2005 the Chinese exchange system changed from the dollar-pegged system up to that point to being pegged to a basket of currencies, but because it subsequently continued on a gentle rise, China was threatened by the United States repeatedly with a designation as an “exchange rate manipulating nation”. However, even though the view is strong that it is still insufficient, this time the strong yuan-weak dollar has progressed by more than 20%. Further, from the end of this May almost daily it has been continuing to rise to new heights, and the Chinese government appears to be accepting it. The reason is not the pressure from the US government to double exports over five years, but the wariness toward inflation within China. In China the surge in city housing prices which has been of concern for a long period, and recently the rise in prices of basic daily commodities such as food, is pressuring civic life, and the government is also desperate to ease it.
The soaring of housing prices is said to be one of the causes behind the increasingly late marriage of young people living in urban areas, and a fable talking of the difficulty in buying has spread in cyberspace in China as a joke email.1 According to it, in order to buy a 100-square-meter (approximately 3,000,000 yuan) apartment in central Beijing, the average peasant, if there were no natural disasters, would need to work from the Tang Dynasty to the present, a blue-collar worker would have to work continuously, giving up his weekends, from the Opium War, and a prostitute would have to entertain one client per night from age 18 to age 46. Of course, China may boast longevity, but as there’s no way to have such a long life and have the physical strength as well, it’s strictly a fable; it turns out that purchasing is difficult even just through sheer work. Indeed, even if people can’t buy an expensive apartment in central Beijing it probably wouldn’t pose any big problem. When it comes to the basic daily commodities of food, etc., however, then a sense of urgency comes into being where it’s no joking matter. If the anti-establishment demonstrations in the Arab countries that began with Tunisia were based on the root cause of the hardship of life from the surge in food prices, etc., then it’s a major headache for the Chinese government too.
Recently 22 years were marked since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in the early hours of 4 June 1989, but according to Wang Dan who was a student leader at the time the current human rights’ situation in China is “worse than at the time of the Tiananmen Square crackdown”.2 This is because, in addition to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in autumn last year, the demonstrations in Arab countries have spread, and the grip of the Chinese government has strengthened. Under such conditions, Wang Dan is pessimistic: “Civic movements as during the protests have become difficult.” However, in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, outside of the mainland’s ironhanded grip, this year too the “June Fourth” vigil was held, with 150,000 people assembling, second to the 200,000 for the twentieth anniversary.3 The night before Wang Dan also sent a message of thanks and encouragement from Taiwan to 64 high school students who stayed overnight in order to have the same experience as the students 22 years before.4
To date I have heard from a number of Chinese exchange students that they first knew about the tragedy of the Tiananmen Square crackdown when they came to Japan. In the documentary film “Outside the Great Wall”,5 patriots who live in another country are portrayed, who while feeling strongly for their motherland cannot return there. As the stranglehold on expression domestically continues to become severe, where is it heading in the future?
Over the past few decades, China has achieved shining results in succeeding in the biggest reduction in poverty in the world. For the Communist Party that was also nothing other than a political lifeline. With inflation gradually progressing, the strengthening of their grip since the Jasmine Revolution has led to a smoldering of public discontent. If China, which has achieved success in economic terms by means of the stepwise reform and opening-up policy, can maneuver successfully in the areas of politics and democratization as well, then the evaluation of the “Beijing Consensus” may finally rise.
[Translated by ERINA]