Business, Economics and Jobs

Ministry blames chopsticks for flood deaths


Chinese villagers sit beside their destroyed homes after landslides swept through a mountain village near the city of Baoshan in a rugged region of southwest China's Yunnan province on September 3, 2010.



Top News: Torrential rains throughout China have triggered widespread flooding. Most recently, eight people died and 40 were injured in a landslide in southwestern Yunnan province. This year rain related natural disasters have killed 3,185 people and affected an astounding 230 million Chinese.

Partly to blame for the terrible floods are, surprisingly, disposable chopsticks. The Ministry of Commerce issued a decree that will work to limit the use of wooden chopsticks. About 100 acres of trees are knocked down every 24 hours to keep up with demand and the resulting deforestation is not only causing landslides and floods, but also contributing to the massive sandstorms that often hit Beijing.

Typhoon Kompasu forced officials to close Shanghai schools on the first day of the new school year and stranded 246 tourists on an island of off Zhejiang province. Although the typhoon has not made landfall, officials decided to be cautious, as the storm’s winds reached 90mph.

In a strange occurrence, a 60-mile long traffic jam on a highway leading into Beijing lasted for 11-days, than mysteriously cleared up. The jam was caused by tons of cargo trucks entering the capital and compounded by roadwork. Nobody was able to explain why it suddenly eased. However, another 19-mile long traffic jam formed soon after on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway.

The fight for Asian naval supremacy heated up as a Chinese submarine planted a flag on the seabed of the disputed South China Sea. China has claimed 80 percent of the sea, despite that being far above the exclusive economic zone designated by maritime law.

China’s influence in Africa continues to expand. During Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s trip to the Shanghai World Expo, he met with Hu Jintao to discuss using the Yuan as a legal tender replacement for the inflation-ridden Zimbabwe dollar.

A recently-fired Manila police officer took a bus of 21 Hong Kong tourists hostage in the Filipino capital. After a botched police siege, eight of the tourist were killed along with the gunman. The incident fomented rage against the Manila police department and thousands of protesters turned out in a downtown Hong Kong park to put pressure on authorities to investigate the tragedy.

In a stark example of China’s huge wealth gap, the country’s first private jet expo was held at Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai. Only people with net worth over $7 million were invited to the event. Currently, private aviation is only a small fraction of the industry in China, but is likely to grow quickly, especially as aircraft are exempt from the luxury goods tax.

Rich Chinese are also spending huge sums on getting their kids into American universities. Forbes has a great article that profiles a Shanghai-based company that charges $200,000 over three to four years to usher rich Chinese kids into top American colleges.

Money: China’s real estate market is edging ever closer to a crash, as over 51 percent of apartments remain vacant in Shanghai and about 65 percent in Beijing, according to a grassroots investigation from Internet portal Sina. Real estate speculators, who lack investment options other than banks or a volatile mainland stock market, buy apartments with no plans to rent them out or live in them. The result is a huge oversupply and high prices, leading some economists to call for a coming crash.

An open letter by Xiao Gang, the chairman of Bank of China, has also brought worry about a looming financial crisis. Xiao said that the current Chinese banking system gives incentives to firms that lend the most money, regardless of whether the loans are solid. In addition, he says that the system stops banks from lending to small and medium sized enterprises in favor of large state owned enterprises.

One aspect of China’s new economic model is beginning to work: consumer spending. Last year Chinese women in 10 large cities spent 63 percent of their income on consumer goods, up from 27 percent in 2007.  The figures show that China’s post financial crisis push to switch from an export led economy to a domestic consumption led economy is finally coming to fruition.

McDonalds became the first foreign nonfinancial company to issue a yuan-denominated bond. The company is looking to raise Rmb200 million ($29.5 million) with a three-year bond that will pay 3 percent annual interest. Standard Chartered, who is underwriting the deal, says that the bond is already multiple times oversubscribed.

Elsewhere: British travelers to Shenzhen might find an advertisement in the airport just a bit distasteful. A lingerie company called Jealousy International has launched a new line of underwear named after the late Princess Diana. In one add she is in a bra and underwear playing a cello while a young child stares at her. Take a look.

China ranks second after the United States as the country with most plastic surgery procedures. And one especially strange new procedure is growing ever more popular: revirginity. As it is more sought after to marry a virgin, some women are going to surgeons to reconstruct their hymen. The procedure only costs Rmb5,000 ($737).