Thursday February 27, 2020


January 3, 2014

The New Year has just begun. This is a time for looking forward. But to do that, we should first look back and reflect on the past year. 2013 has seen new presidents, natural disasters, scandals, pollution, technological achievements, and internet sensations. Everyone seems to be weighing in with their top news stories from the past year. Here is our list of the top ten China news stories from 2013, in no particular order.

1. Air Pollution

China’s pollution was arguable one of the biggest news stories of the year overall, not just of the China stories. The most read GlobalPost story of 2013, for example, was one about China’s smog. It was also one of the first major news stories of 2013.

In January, Beijing air pollution levels reached record highs. Residents began calling this intense smog the “Airpocalypse.” The smog reached a point where the Chinese government was forced to publicly acknowledge the problem and start working to address the pollution problem.

The pollution abated some when the weather cleared, but as soon as the weather got colder again and heaters were turned on, China’s pollution was making headlines again. In October northern cities like Harbin started suffering from extreme smog levels. Beijing and then even Shanghai, a more southern city, eventually reached record pollution levels as well.

Pollution levels led to school and road closures and put a halt on outdoor activities.  Stories linked China’s pollution to a young girl’s lung cancer, reduced tourism in Beijing, and less arable land, which poses a threat to China’s food security.

China has been making attempts to curb this pollution, preparing to ban New Year’s fireworks, regulating car and other emission use, and even emphasizing the importance reducing pollution in a road map it published in November. Some Chinese have reacted by choosing jobs based on the air quality of the employers’ office buildings, while other left the cities for the cleaner air of the countryside.

Additional smog related news headlines in 2013 included the new requirement that Chinese pilots flying to specific hazier cities are able to “land blind” due to the pollution and criticism of Chinese state media for an article arguing the benefits of air pollution.

2. New Type Great Power Relationship

In January, President Obama began his second term as president and changed out many of his top advisers, including naming John Kerry as Secretary of State. At the same time China was going through its own leadership transition with a new Politburo and top leadership. Xi Jinping was officially named China’s president in March. The simultaneous leadership transitions in both countries provided an unprecedented opportunity for a revamping of U.S.-China relations.

From June 7-8, Presidents Obama and Xi met at the Sunnylands estate in California for an informal summit. While in the U.S., President Xi called for the development of a “new type” of great power relationship between the two countries. He also outlined three goals of this relationship: “no conflict and confrontation”, “mutual respect”, and “cooperation toward win-win results.” The need for increased high-level dialogue and cooperation, more people-to-people exchanges, and improved military relations were all highlighted.

New type of great power relationship became a buzz phrase and the theme of cooperation between these two countries was reiterated during other high-level U.S.-China meetings throughout the year. These meetings included the fifth U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July and an August discussion of military relations at the Pentagon.

3. Space Program

Behind the U.S. and Russia, China is the third big independent space nation. China’s space program has been ambitious and fast-paced. China also has the political will to reach its space goals. The past year has shown ample evidence of the success of these efforts.

On June 11, China launched the Shenzhou-10 mission. This 15 day mission was China’s longest manned space mission. The Shenzhou-10 docked with China’s test space station, Tiangong-1. During the mission, the astronauts completed automatic and manual docking procedures, streamed a science lesson to students from space, and chatted with President Xi Jinping.

Xi said, “The space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger. With the development of space programs, the Chinese people will take bigger strides to explore further into the space.”

Then, on September 16, China co-hosted a 5 day workshop on human space technology with the UN in Beijing. China expressed interest in training and helping space programs in developing countries and increasing mutual space cooperation.

Finally, on December 2, China launched the Chang’e-3 mission to the moon with the lunar rover Yutu, or Jade Rabbit. This made China only the second nation, behind Russia, to land an unmanned rover on the moon.

4. Bo Xilai Trial

Bo Xilai’s fall from grace began in 2012 after his wife was accused, and later convicted, in the disappearance of a British businessman. In September of 2012 Bo was ousted from the Chinese Communist Party. The story, however, didn’t end there and reemerged as a major 2013 headline.

On July 25, he was charged with abusing his power and receiving millions in bribes. After a long trial, closely watched by domestic and foreign observers, Bo was found guilty on September 22.

The trial was unique for three main reasons. First, before this scandal, Bo Xilai was a high ranking official in China, a rising star. Also, during the trial Bo didn’t admit to his wrongdoings and apologize as is common in China’s political trials. Instead of the typical public apology, Bo claimed he was being framed. Finally, the media coverage of the event was unprecedented. The court even live-tweeted and released a partial transcript of the trial. The fanfare surrounding this high-profile trial led to discussions about China’s rule of law, political posturing, and uneven response to corruption.

5. Central Committee’s Third Plenum

In November, the Chinese Central Committee held a four day closed-door meeting that set out a list of goals for the Xi leadership. After the meeting many observers commented on how vague the goals were, calling the Plenum a disappointment.

Soon after the initial communique, a longer reform blueprint was released, outlining 60 initiatives. After this new document was out, Western media primarily latched onto two reforms. The government promised an easing of the one-child policy and the abolition of “re-education through labor” camps.  The media focus on the one-child policy changes continued well after the Plenum ended.

The Plenum primarily focused on economic reforms. Reforms emphasized allowing a bigger role of the free market and led to the opening of the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Such reforms are important because china’s growth has slowed to 7% in 2013, after 30 years of two-digit growth.

6. Tension with Japan and ADIZ

In 2012, the territorial dispute between the U.S. and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands was inflamed due to Japanese attempts to purchase the island and subsequent patrols, by both Japan and China, of the disputed area. New leaders in both countries provided a chance for a tempering of tensions, but it ended up being a missed opportunity.

2013 saw continued news stories relaying the anger, tension, and conflict between these two countries. Some of the flare-ups in tension in 2013 were related to the islands directly, with rhetoric about island claims, threats to strike down ‘invading’ vessels, Japan’s new defense plan, and so on. Other seemingly unrelated events, however, also angered the increasingly nationalistic sentiments of each country. For example, when China and South Korea decided to build a monument to Ahn Jung-geun, a historical figure revered by South Korea but reviled by Japan, or when Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo visited the Yasukuni Shrine for Japan’s dead from WWII, the same soldiers who antagonized China and left a huge scar on the country.

One of the biggest China-Japan news stories of 2013 was when China announced on November 23 that it established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. This announcement led to a strong negative reaction internationally due to a fear that this action would increase tension and risk a conflict with Japan, one that could inadvertently pull the U.S. in as well.

ADIZs are not unprecedented. The international concern was focused on China taking this action unilaterally without consulting its neighbors. The timing of this move, right before Vice President Biden’s visit to China, also raised questions about China’s political motives. The U.S. response to the zone was also significantly more moderate than the Japanese response, pointing to potential difficulties for the U.S. in managing its alliance with Japan amidst changing dynamics in East Asia.

7. Anti-Corruption and Austerity Campaigns

One of the first things Xi Jinping did when he took office was announce goals to reduce official corruption and extravagance. This new campaign would be aimed at both “tigers and flies,” both high ranking and lower level officials. Since the campaigns began, the leadership has targeted graft, removed officials from office, and banned lavish banquets and gifts. At the same time, however, it has arrested individuals who have attempted to root out corruption, keeping the anti-corruption campaign under complete Party control.

Xi Jinping took the opportunity of his new leadership to immediate frame himself as the antithesis of the rampant corruption China’s government is known for. This move was clearly done to earn the support of a public that has become increasingly frustrated with corruption. Popular support is something China’s new leadership needs, especially with China’s slowed growth, growing income gap, and pollution minimizing the ability for the government to depend on economic growth as its primary source of legitimacy.

8. Xinjiang Violence

2013 saw more violence in the Xinjiang region. Xinjiang is a region in northwest China with a large population of Uighurs, a Muslim minority group. Crackdowns and displays of unrest led to at least 35 deaths in Xinjiang during the months of November and December alone.

On Ocotber 28, a car crashed into Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing the passengers. The Chinese government blamed Uighur ‘terrorists.’ While China blamed an organized terrorist group, many outside commenters suggested that the seemingly unorganized attack was by a few disgruntled individuals with no other means to express their views.

This rekindled the ongoing debate over the extent of terrorist activity in Xinjiang versus Chinese oppression of this minority group. For example, earlier in October over 100 Uighurs were arrested in Xinjiang for religious extremism and spreading online rumors.

9. Anti-Rumor Campaign and Limiting Journalists

While Xi Jinping’s leadership has made many reform goals –anti-corruption campaign, economic changes, relaxing of the one-child policy, closure of re-education camps – it has also taken steps to centralize its power and destroy dissent.

To limit the influence of popular Chinese micro-bloggers and other online discussion, the government began an extensive anti-rumor campaign. The government also worked to prevent outside news sources from exerting influence and posting stories harmful to Party power. After particularly negative articles certain U.S. news sites have been blocked in China and in December the government threatened to not renew visas for U.S. journalists in China. The New York Times and Bloomberg were specifically targeted.

10. Bird Flu

Cases of a new strain of bird flu, H7N9, began showing up in China in April. The Chinese government responded with aggressive culling of poultry, extensive research on the flu and its spread, and cooperation with the WHO. There were so many news stories out about the bird flu that it seemed like every new case received its own headline.

For more top China stories of 2013, see the following news articles:

Wall Street Journal – “5 Things: What Was the Biggest China Story of 2013?

The Guardian – “Guardian Weekly year in review 2013: Xi Jinping asserts his vision for China

CNN World – “China in 2014: The three Rs

New Yorker (Blog) – “Next Year in China: Ten Stories to Watch

The Diplomat – “The Top Asia-Pacific Stories for 2013

Wall Street Journal (Blog) – “China’s Economy: 5 Barometers of Change in 2014

Time Magazine – “Zakaria: 2014 Is a Make or Break Year for China

The Hollywood Reporter – “China 2013 in Review: Box Office Swells, Hollywood Slips

Wall Street Journal (Blog) – “China’s Top Internet Moments of 2013

Xinhua – “China’s top 10 military news in 2013

Christian Science Monitor – “2013: In Asia, growing rivalry between Japan and China

Nature– “365 days: 2013 in review

Global Post – “The top 10 most-read GlobalPost stories in 2013 prove you hate America, among other things

CNBC – “Top 2013 cybersecurity stories and what to watch for in 2014

Xinhua – “Yearender: Xinhua top 10 world news events in 2013

For more information on the stories listed above, see the following news sources:

Time World – “Beijing Chokes on Record Pollution, and Even the Government Admits There’s a Problem

New York Times – “Response to a City’s Smog Points to a Change in Chinese Attitude

Voice of America – “Smog Prompt China to Close Schools, Stop Outdoor Activities

Time World – “In China’s Polluted Cities, the Smog May Be Here to Stay

The Diplomat – “Smog Wars: China’s Pollution in the Spotlight

The Guardian – “China seeks to curb worst air pollution in 50 years

Reuters – “To tackle pollution, China to drop pursuit of growth at all costs

USCPF – “Sunnylands ‘Shirt-Sleeves Summit

New York Times – “U.S.-China Meeting’s Aim: Personal Diplomacy

White House – “Remarks by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China Before Bilateral Meeting

Wall Street Journal – “An Insider’s Guide to ‘Shirt-Sleeves Summit’

National Bureau of Asian Research – “A New Type of Major-Power Relationship: Seeking a Durable Foundation for U.S.-China Ties” by David M. Lampton

USCPF – “China’s Longest Manned Space Mission a Success

USCPF – “Beijing, UN Host Human Space Technology Workshop

Economist – “Yutu or me-too?

Los Angeles Times – “China’s moon landing is part of a new space race by emerging nations

BBC – “Bo Xilai trial as blogged by the court – Day One

Reuters – “I was framed, Says China’s Bo as he mounts feisty defense

Washington Post – “In Bo Xilai’s upcoming trial, verdict may already be a done deal

BBC – “Chinese court rejects Bo Xilai appeal and upholds life sentence

USCPF – “China’s Third Plenum: Consequences for Foreign Investment

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – “Two Cheers for China’s Third Plenum

Wall Street Journal – “Beijing Endorses Market Role in Economy

BBC – “China Third Plenum: Leaders unveil key reforms

Wall Street Journal (blog) – “China’s New Reform Blueprint Has Arrived

New York Times – “China to Ease Longtime Policy of 1-Child Limit

USCPF – “Japan Visits China, Tensions Remain

The Guardian – “China’s dispute with Japan risks an accidental conflict

The Diplomat – “China and the US-Japan alliance in the East China Sea Dispute

USCPF – “China on the Air Defense Identification Zone

Time – “Why China’s New Air-Defense Zone Matters

The Guardian – “US calls on China to rescind air defence zone to avoid Japan confrontation

Wall Street Journal – “U.S., China Signal Retreat From Standoff Over Air-Defense Zone

BBC – “China v Japan: Who is at Fault?

Washington Post – “China’s new leaders discuss fight against corruption, but some are skeptical of action

CNN – “On China: Beijing’s crackdown on corruption

BBC – “China bans luxury gift adverts in austerity push

New York Times – “Elite in China Face Austerity Under Xi’s Rule

Washington Post – “China arrests anti-corruption activists even as it pledges to oust dishonest officials

USCPF – “5 Dead in Suspicious Tian’anmen Car Crash

Aljazeera – “China hands death sentence to two over clash

BBC – “China arrests 110 in Xinjiang for spreading online rumours

BBC – “Xinjiang violence: China arrests six over deadly clash

Reuters – “Chinese police kill eight in Xinjiang ‘terrorist attack’

The Diplomat – “China Intensifies Crackdown on Social Media Rumors

New York Times – “Crackdown on Bloggers in Mounted by China

Radio Free Asia – “Top Tweeters Detained in China’s ‘War on Rumor’

Hollywood Reporter – “Joe Biden Expresses Concerns Over China’s Treatment of U.S. Reporters

The Diplomat – “China Lets US Reporters Out of Limbo

USCPF – “The Spread of H7N9 Avian Influenza in China

USCPF – China’s GDP Growth Slows to 7.5 Percent in April to June

Compiled and edited by Ariane Rosen