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Yunnan’s Dulong minority isolated no more

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Recently, the Ethnic Dulong Survey Team conducted a week of anthropological observation and interview research based around the remote village of Dizhengdang (迪政当村). Under the leadership of Professor Gao Zhiying (高志英), an expert on ethnic Dulong culture and society, the 21 team members spent three days heading from Kunming to one of Yunnan’s most remote river valleys.

The survey team from Yunnan University found state-funded housing and road projects are transforming the culture of the Dulong people (独龙族), who have for centuries inhabited theDulong River area largely undisturbed. Now, with the opening of a tunnel and road in 2014, their traditional way of life has been changed and sometimes disrupted by a permanent link to the outside world.

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A bit of background

The town of Kongdang (孔当) sits on a plot of flat land by the Dulong River, and is also a stop on the Dulong River Road, which begins in Gongshan (贡山县). Dizhengdang is 42 kilometers further north of Kongdang and currently inhabited by 592 villagers comprising 158 households.

The narrow Dulong river valley is formed by an upstream tributary of the Irrawaddy River, which runs primarily through Yunnan before reaching Myanmar. Its course cuts across the Gaoligong Mountain Nature Reserve. Seventy percent of the entire Dulong population — roughly 4,000 people — call this area home. A long history of isolation and poverty has for decades made the Dulong targets of socio-economic aid and government-funded ‘reforms’.

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The first of these began in 1964, with the establishment of the 65-kilometer People and Horse Track (人马驿道). This footpath was built largely by the People’s Liberation Army and opened a new avenue for the supply of everyday goods to inhabitants of the Dulong valley. The seven-day hike to Gongshan was cut to four, making the transport of commodities in both directions less cumbersome. A state-operated mule caravan later shuttled vital supplies such as grain and clothing back and forth over the mountains as well, ending the need for military parachute drops of supplies that preceded the path. In 1999, a 96-kilometer road from Gongshan to the Dulong River saw its first traffic, officially ‘opening up the last minority area in China‘.

Fifteen years later, a seven-kilometer tunnel opened along the Dulong River Road, reducing travel times further and making villages once unreachable during the winter months accessible year-round. Other branch roads are planned or under construction to even more distant hamlets. These include Dibuli (迪布里), Nandai (南代), and Xiongdang (雄当) near the Tibetan border — which are still only accessible by dirt paths, tiny suspension bridges and Yunnan’squickly disappearing ziplines.

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Anthropological observations

Traditionally, the Dulong practiced subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture while cultivating corn, millet, buckwheat, taro and several varieties of beans. However, the Chinese government has, since 2003, subsidized many villages with cash and handouts of rice in efforts to conserve forested hillsides. This has had multiple and often contradictory consequences. In addition to hunting and fishing, the joint cultivation of traditional agriculture is a core element of Dulong culture, relating not just to native ecological knowledge, but also to religion and social organization.

Thus, the implementation of grain and cash handouts has increased the Dulong people’s dependency on state subsidies, decreased overall agro-biodiversity, and threatened to make endemic bio-cultural knowledge a thing of the past. The extra time saved from less farm work also leaves room for some villagers to seek out timber and herbs in the mountains, which, while increasing incomes, also results in unintended natural resource depletion and a new form of deforestation.

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Between 2010 and 2014, the provincial government invested a further 1.3 billion yuan (US$203 million) in “improved housing, infrastructure, social development and environmental protection”. This included the building of several modern housing clusters not necessarily located near where their proposed inhabitants traditionally call home.

For example, the research team from Yunnan University observed in Dizhengdang that each household has its own house built by the state. However, the choice of the new village site only took into consideration road accessibility. The new compounds are convenient for villagers living nearby but for those living scattered in the mountains beyond road networks, a move to a new home without arable lands is problematic.

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Among the 40 households in the northernmost hamlets of Xianghong and Nandai, not one them have moved to the new compounds in Xiongdang and Dizhengdang. When asked why they had not taken advantage of government housing, many replied “We don’t have farmland nearby the new villages, and the elderly also prefer to stay in the places where they grew up”. All villagers interviewed expressed satisfaction and gratitude for government subsidy policies, but considering the high cost of daily supplies transported to this remote valley, most Dulong people still have to work very hard in the fields to lead modest lives.

Another major factor soon to affect Dulong culture is the expected inundation of tourists hungry for the opportunity to see an ethnicity most famous for tattooing the faces of its women. While this practice is no longer common, many of the older female residents do still bear the marks of this tradition.

During the researchers’ one-week canvas of the area, the fledgling tourist industry was apparent, with visitors from Kunming and Shenzhen being the most prevalent. Due to the policies listed above — as well as the opening of a permanent road — the Dulong people are undergoing radical changes to their society and culture. How they adjust to the rapid encroachment of the outside world remains an open question.

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This article written by Sun Fei was first published on 8/25 here on the GoKunming website. 

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Filed under Agriculture, China, Culture, Current Events, Economic development, ethnic policy, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

Alpaca for sale in Kunming: Financial stunt or subtle protest?

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Nanping Square is a bustling retail area in the heart of Kunming known for its upscale shopping, luxury entertainment and, as of recently, an alpaca. On the afternoon of July 28, a man surnamed Fang paraded his woolly pet — a small relative of the llama — around the busy commercial plaza. The bewildered animal wore a sign hung around its neck stating “Lost a fortune in the stock market, mythical creature for sale”.

Large crowds gathered around the man, who declared he was selling his beloved companion for 100,000 yuan in response to losing his shirt during the stock market’s recent fluctuations. Fang explained he originally bought the alpaca two years ago and imported it from New Zealand — an endeavor costing him the same amount he now hopes to recoup from selling the animal. He admitted his situation was regrettable, saying because he “raised the alpaca from infancy, we now regard him as part of the family.”

Seeing the prized pet go will not be easy, Fang admitted, but after receiving his daughter’s first college tuition bill, he believes he has no other choice. The hapless investor told bystanders he had already mortgaged his house and car, but it was not enough. The alpaca, he explained, is his last major asset. Although a cherished family-member, Fang confessed that the 56 yuan needed daily to properly feed the growing animal has also left an increasingly large hole in his wallet.

Despite the hefty selling price, the hopeful Fang argued that alpacas make for loyal and well-behaved pets. Because of its docile nature, Fang’s alpaca was the center of attention for both curious children and their confused parents. One excited onlooker told reporters “My kids have always wanted an alpaca. If it’s the right price, we may even take it home tonight.” However, after consulting with Fang, he sadly confessed that “the asking price is a bit too high for just a pet.” Later in the afternoon, police politely escorted Fang and his companion out of the square. No buyer was found.

Fang first moved to Kunming ten years ago from Shaanxi province. After amassing a small fortune that included investments in stocks, Fang experienced firsthand the brunt of this summer’s economic upheavals. In Yunnan, this has included the suspension of trading on the world’s largest rare metal brokerage, the Kunming Fanya Non-ferrous Metal Exchange. Investors, unable to sell futures options worth billions, threatened legal action and protested in the street.

Many Chinese netizens also see Fang’s recent alpaca stunt as a similar, if more subtle, form of protest. His use of the term ‘mythical creature’ is thought by many to be an allusion to a list of imaginary beasts posted six years ago in an online Chinese encyclopedia. The list included the now-infamous ‘grass mud horse’ (草泥马), an invented term for alpaca which, when pronounced with different tones, is a caustic epithet involving mothers, and has since become a way to express frustration with censorship.

While Fang’s intentions to raise capital by selling his beloved alpaca may be genuine, the manner in which he has done it, for many observers, represents a form of protest against recent government interventions in the economy, albeit subtly and in a quintessentially Chinese manner.

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 This article written by Richard Diehl Martinez was originally posted here on the Gokunming.com website.

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Filed under China, Current Events, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

World’s largest solar maker invests in Yunnan

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Solar power is shining a renewed spotlight on Yunnan. Last week, Trina Solar announced an agreement with Yunnan Electric Power Design Institute to supply solar cells capable of producing 51 megawatts of electricity. These panels will be the first installment of a larger plan to populate some tea-growing areas in Xishuangbanna with photovoltaic generators.

The proposed solar farm will eventually reach a capacity of 100 megawatts (MW), enough to power roughly 36,000 homes annually. Despite its tremendous size, all of the electricity has been reserved exclusively for large tea plantations within the prefecture. The power will be utilized to run well-water pumps and irrigation systems already in place within the farms.

The Yunnan Electric Power Design Institute (YEPDI), according to an industry press release, will supply “engineering, procurement and construction services for the project”. Representatives from both companies expressed hope the collaboration will revolutionize renewable energy projects in the region. Chang Jichun, deputy manger of YEDPI, congratulated Trina Solar as “an industry leader with a vision to build a greener world…[building] a pioneer project in China to put solar power to work on the tea plantations.” As a result of the endeavor, Chang continued, Yunnan’s “tea plantations can be more efficient with increas[ed] self-reliance and less pollution.”

In the first stage of the multi-pronged project, Trina Solar will deliver approximately 43,000 TSM-255 modules and 154,000 TSM-260 versions. Extremely durable and designed to withstand exposure to pesticides and herbicides, the glass panels represent only half of the solar farm’s eventual size. With each panel measuring one meter by 1.65 meters, the 190,000 panels eventually covering the farm will take up an area of 660,000 square meters.

Put in perspective, that corresponds to 120 American football fields worth of solar modules placed side-by-side — a sea of glittering black. Each TSM-260 panel comes with a 25-year performance guarantee. Tea farmers in the area are thus assured a long-term source of renewable electricity, with each panel replaceable and upgradeable. Already underway, shipments and installation are expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2015.

Trina Solar has proved itself the most lucrative and successful businesses of its kind, often promising shareholders five percent returns on investment. Founded in 1997, Trina Solar today operates mostly in Africa, China and North America and explosive demand for solar energy has allowed the company to grow exponentially since its founding. Last year, the company sold solar panels able to generate 3.66 gigawatts of electricity. With such success, Trina Solar may well push further into the Yunnan market as the BBC reports Beijing has pledged to introduce programs to significantly expand the nation’s solar and wind power industries.

Yunnan province is already home to some of the largest photovoltaic power stations in Asia. Just 70 kilometers southeast of Kunming on the outskirts of the Stone Forest, a 166 MW solar farmis expected to complete construction this year. Once fully underway, the project will generate 188 million kilowatts of energy per hour, eliminating 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. The 9.1 billion yuan (US$1.45billion) project is just one of many reasons Kunming carries the unofficial title of China’s ‘Solar City‘.

Outside of Yunnan, massive endeavors throughout China are underway to reinforce the importance of wind and solar energy while tackling the country’s crippling pollution issues. Although often overlooked, China already leads the world in terms of renewable electricity production, currently spending more than US$80 billion annually on enhancing its green energy sector — funding which has facilitated a 100-fold increase in the country’s use of solar cells since 2005.

This article written by Richard Diehl Martinez, was originally published here on the Gokunming.com website.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, Energy, Environment and sustainability, Sustainability and Resource Management, Yunnan Province

Kunming to invest in public electric car fleet

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The Kunming municipal government is moving toward the acquisition of all-electric cars that will be made publicly available by year’s end. Once delivered, the vehicles would become the centerpiece of a public transportation initiative designed to reduce general traffic congestion and cut down on overall tailpipe emissions in the Spring City.

Kunming deputy mayor Wang Chunyan (王春燕) traveled to Hangzhou on a fact-finding mission concerned with the scheme earlier this week. While there, he met with government counterparts and automotive industry leaders to discuss the city’s electric car-sharing fleet — a first in China when inaugurated in 2013.

Hangzhou officials have been lauded for the implementation of a public car rental system that relies on automation and cars using no gasoline. Wang wants Kunming to emulate this system. Following a meeting with Hangzhou deputy mayor Zhang Zheng (张耕), Wang told reporters he expects the Spring City to make an initial purchase of 2,000 electric cars by December 2015.

At its inception, Hangzhou’s ‘micro-transport’ (微公交) system made available two thousand electric cars built by Zhejiang-based Kandi Technologies, a subsidiary of manufacturer Geely. People who need to rent a car for a few hours or days can present their national identification cards and driver’s licenses, along with valid credit cards, at rental centers resembling outsized vending machines. Once registered, customers choose between two- or four-seat cars, both with top speeds of 80 kilometers per hour and a single charge range of roughly 90 kilometers.

Two years on, the Hangzhou fleet has quadrupled in size to 9,850 vehicles. They rent for between 20 and 25 yuan per hour, a fee that includes insurance. Long-term leases are also available — 9,000 yuan for year-long use of a two-passenger car and 14,400 yuan for a four-passenger version. The cars can be re-powered, or have their batteries replaced, at any rental facility or at an expanding network of quick-charge locations.

Deputy mayor Wang said Kunming would adopt the Hangzhou project and adapt it for implementation in the city. Kandi cars will be utilized, but a pricing scheme has yet to be announced. Kunming urban planners want to alleviate at least some of the traffic jams that stifle commuters on a daily basis. Wang’s proposal also targets the related problem of perpetual parking shortages — which once caused some garage spaces to fetch yearly prices of 180,000 yuan (US$29,000).

Kunming’s frenzy of car buying perhaps reached its zenith in 2010, when 1,000 new cars were being registered in the city each day. Costly infrastructure projects aimed at easing traffic congestion have been largely hit-or-miss. This newest solution of publicly sharing e-vehicles has become quite popular in China’s largest metropolises, as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu and now Kunming have all followed Hangzhou’s lead.

This article written by Patrick Scally was originally published here on the GoKunming.com site on July 16, 2015.

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Filed under China, Current Events, SLIDER, Sustainability and Resource Management, Yunnan Province

All aboard: Kunming-Vientiane Railway inches forward

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Although a bit trite with repetition, no saying better encapsulates the major obstacle facing Laos than “geography is destiny”. The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, Laos is wedged between the vast rivers and expansive mountain ranges that demarcate its natural borders with China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. Because of its lack of access to maritime trade routes, the small country has historically relied heavily on domestic subsistence agriculture with little opportunity for much international commerce.

The legacy of its geography in combination with the destruction wrought by the United States during the Vietnam War has today resulted in a nation with some of the world’s highest poverty and unemployment rates. With the help of the Chinese and Thai governments, Laos hopes to change this narrative of international isolation in the years to come.

Since 2010, plans have been under consideration to construct a high-speed railway between Kunming and Vientiane, Laos’ capital. However, political and financial setbacks have pushed the starting date of the project back by five years. This year, the three governments all sound confident that construction of the seven billion dollar project will begin.

Many analysts now view the construction of the Kunming-Vientiane railway within the context of China’s larger ambitions to revamp trade routes throughout Southeast Asia. China’s president Xi Jinping has openly stated his eagerness to establish silk road-esque connections with China’s neighbors, placing Kunming at the epicenter of overland transactions. The country has already invested 40 billion dollars to facilitate railway links, which it hopes will eventually drive new economic plans throughout South Asia.

Already, long-term proposals have been hashed out to eventually link Kunming with Singapore. The first phase in the series of projects is currently under construction, with China building a 737-kilometer connection between the Thai city of Nong Khai — just across the Mekong River from Vientiane — and Map Ta Phut — one of the largest deep water ports in Thailand.

The planned Kunming-Vientiane rail then, would add on to existing railroad infrastructure, facilitating a larger Kunming-Bangkok route by — according to recent estimates — no later than 2020. A link to Malaysia would from there be relatively simple. If all goes as projected, passengers may, within the next decade, be able to hop onto a high speed rail from Kunming all the way to Singapore.

Past financial qualms that have plagued the realization of the Vientiane-Kunming proposal continue to worry politicians in both China and Laos. Although a fairly small investment for China, the seven billion dollar price tag corresponds to over 60 percent of Laos’ US$11.24 billion gross domestic product, making it a hefty and risky endeavor. Currently, the two countries have agreed on a 40-60 split of the initial financing, with Laos contributing US$840 million and China US$1.26 billion. The remaining five billion will later be chipped in by Chinese venture capital firms, who would then hold substantial stakes in the railway once it is up and running.

Although worries over the pragmatic utilization of the railway have previously stymied Laos’ cooperation with Chinese entrepreneurs, increasingly Lao politicians believe the connection to Yunnan’s capital is paramount for their country’s economic growth. In an interview with Japanese magazine Nikkei, Laos’ deputy prime minister, Somsavat Lengsavad, explained that Laos, being a landlocked country, can only rely on roads, so the transport cost is very high. “In our policy of turning Laos from a landlocked to a land-linked country, we believe the railroad will help us reach our objective. [The railway] will boost the Lao economy because many investors are now looking for a production base here. They say that if the country had a railway, it would help them reduce their transportation costs. So it would make us more attractive to investors.”

Recently, the country has proven itself one in an appealing group of potential manufacturing centers in Southeast Asia as overseas companies flee China. Over the past few years, Laos has ridden a growing wave of economic growth, with annual GDP often topping eight percent. Such financial development has been attributed primarily to the construction of massive 1,000-megawatt hydroelectric dam complexes, growing highway infrastructure and multibillion-dollar investors betting on long term prosperity in the region.

Politicians, including Lengsavad, remain sanguine that the fiscal expansion will only be further boosted by a direct link to Yunnan. Already, companies including Samsung and Yahoo have left China to venture into smaller, burgeoning financial systems. Laos hopes the Vientiane-Kunming connection will enable it to hop onto the train of foreign investment out of China.

Skeptics, including Lao politicians, point out that the real construction cost of the Kunming-Vientiane route may soon render the project another white-elephant. Without a doubt, both financially and topographically, much stands in the way of the railway’s establishment. An astounding 154 bridges, 76 tunnels and 31 train stations will be necessary for the Lao leg of the track. The monumental proposals stands in stark contrast to Laos’ nearly complete lack of experience with railway construction. The land-locked country currently boasts only of a 3,5-kilometer train link, spanning the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.

To make matters more complicated, the Annamite mountain range, which the railway will eventually need to cross, is infamous as a minefield littered with unexploded American ordnance dropped during the Vietnam War. These factors combined are likely to result in a final cost for the track much greater than the projected seven billion dollar price tag. Laos thus finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place — on one hand it desperately needs infrastructure for greater commerce, while on the other, current proposals may leave the country in an even more precarious financial situation than it currently faces.

This article was written by Richard Diehl Martinez and first posted here on GoKunming.

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Filed under ASEAN, China, Current Events, Foreign policy, GMS, Laos, Mekong River, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Thailand, Trade, Yunnan Province

China’s national meat scandal hits Yunnan

 

This week news broke that dozens, if not hundreds, of police seizures had been carried out across the country in an ever-broadening meat scandal. The crackdown covers at least 14 Chinese provinces including Yunnan, where much of the spoiled food apparently entered the mainland.

Coinciding with reports released across the country, the Yunnan Public Security Bureau announced it had seized 750 tons of rotten or otherwise dangerous pork, chicken, beef and donkey meat in three separate cases. The investigations were originally opened last year but a spate of arrests began on April 13, 2015, and has led to the jailing of 25 people as well as the confiscation of tainted food valued at 80 million yuan (US$13 million).

The national scandal has involved horrific stories of meat frozen for up to forty years. Investigators believe Shenzhen was a major port of entry for three billion yuan (US$482 million) in spoiled goods (requires proxy). However sizable amounts are also thought to have entered China through Vietnamese border crossings in Yunnan and Guangxi. Once in China, meat was often thawed, repackaged, relabeled and then frozen once again before being distributed across the country.

Yunnan police detained suspects in the cities of Songming, Yiliang, Jinghong, Jinning, andChenggong. Some were taken into custody for trafficking, while others arrested for illegally transporting banned substances. Vietnamese companies operating under the Chinese names Tianhe (越南天河公司) and Huafeng (越南华峰公司) have been implicated in smuggling meat across the border, although no legal action against the companies themselves has been made public.

The case in Songming began when 200 middle school students were sent to emergency rooms with food poisoning. A subsequent criminal investigation into the school cafeteria eventually uncovered a cache of rotten meat, some of which tested positive for E coli. All of the students were eventually released from the hospital.

As with most Chinese provinces, Yunnan is no stranger to terrifying headlines concerning tainted or dangerous food. Before ancient meat products came to be a concern, gutter oil — referred to colloquially as digouyou (地沟油) — was a major worry, culminating in the 2013 police seizure of 32,000 tons of ‘store-ready cooking oil’ manufactured largely out of industrial and commercial waste.

The current province-wide investigation into illegal food and drug smuggling is code-named ‘Operation Sharp Sword’ (利剑行动). In addition to uncovering trafficking rings dealing in contaminated meat, detectives are also concerned with finding factories producing fake over-the-counter drugs. To report suspicious behavior, people are encouraged to call the Yunnan Public Security Bureau hotline at 63052548. Operation Sharp Sword will continue until April 2016.

This article, written by Patrick Scally was first published here on GoKunming.com.

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Filed under China, Food, Governance, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

Kunming’s China-South Asia Expo Balloons to Enormous Proportions

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When the Spring City throws a trade and investment party, everyone comes. That is the lesson gleaned following closing ceremonies held yesterday at the twenty-third annual Kunming Import and Export Commodities Fair and third annual China-South Asia Expo. Expected to generate billions in business agreements and attract hundreds of thousands of curious attendees, the twin events did not disappoint.

The expos are held each year with the intention of attracting greater foreign business interest and interaction with Yunnan-based companies. This principal goal is part of a larger strategy to build up the province’s economy while also increasing China’s political and commercial footprint in Southeast Asia and beyond.

In terms of sheer numbers, these goals are being realized. Contracts signed during the course of the fairs totaled 785 billion yuan (US$127 billion) in direct foreign investment — a catchall term including money put toward virtually any business acquisition or other commitment. At last year’s expo opening ceremony, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang (汪洋) said he expected the next few years to be “the most active and fruitful period yet” for cooperation between Yunnan, Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-countries and South Asia. He appears to have been correct.

The numbers for direct foreign investment in Yunnan dwarfed those concerned with Chinese ventures in other countries, which reached 155 billion yuan (US$25 billion). In total, 903 overseas firms inked deals to begin or expand existing businesses in the province. The largest of these involved the fields of tourism, energy and infrastructure development, logistics, education, and environmental protection.

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Highlighting Yunnan’s growing importance as a trade and investment hub, 20,000 businesspeople as well as dignitaries from 31 countries attended. Among the most notable were Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao (李源潮), the president of the Maldives, Laos’ prime minister and high-ranking representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

India’s Minister of State External Affairs, VK Singh, also attended. He represented the expo’s feature country, a place of honor this year replete with a dedicated “museum” devoted not only to the Subcontinent’s most advanced industries, but also its history and culture. At a separate event held during the expo, Singh officially opened China’s first yoga college at the Yunnan University of Nationalities campus in Chenggong.

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Giving India such recognition was no random decision, but instead a calculated diplomatic move aimed at encouraging the world’s second most populous country to embrace China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The brainchild of President Xi Jinping, the proposal looks to propel regional integration between China and the countries of Central and South Asia, India chief among them.

While enormous deals and industry-specific conferences were carried out behind closed doors, the general public tuned out in droves to this year’s expos. In preparation, organizers printed half a million tickets. It did not prove to be enough, as 740,000 attendees passed through the gates at the Kunming Dianchi International Convention and Exhibition Center, shattering last year’s attendance numbers by 500,000.

An exhibitor from Taiwan, surnamed Li, told reporters she had signed deals to sell dried fish to Carrefour, Parkson and Golden Eagle while at the expo. She, like many other exhibitors, ran out of things to sell two days before the expo concluded. “Everyone has been so friendly and warm,” Li said, “I hope to see them all again next year.”

This article, written by Patrick Scally with images by Yereth Jansen, was first posted here on Gokunming.com.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Economic development, Foreign policy, GMS, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

Dali Old Town to charge entry fee

Dali Old Town; Image: Yereth Jansen

Dali Old Town; Image: Yereth Jansen

Dali, ancient seat of the Nanzhao Kingdom (南诏) and famed across China for its triumvirate of 1,200 year-old pagodas, will soon have an entry fee for tour groups. Beginning September 1, travel agents booking group trips to the city will be charged a one-time “maintenance fee”.

The 30 yuan per person charge will be added to the price of all group packages that include tours of Dali Old Town (大理古城). In addition to the fee, all companies operating within a 2.5 square kilometer “key protected area” of the old town will be charged a “preservation tax” equal to one percent of each businesses’ gross annual income. The entry surcharge for tour groups does not apply to those traveling independently or to locals living in the old town.

Money raised through the fee will be put towards historical preservation efforts and upgraded safety measures. Over the past four years, the Dali municipal government has reportedly spent 160 million yuan (US$25.8 million) on renovation and upkeep of older traditional buildings. However, more money was deemed necessary and instead of dipping into city coffers, officials decided to pass the cost on to visiting tourists. According to Dali’s Deputy Party Secretary, Yang Junbiao (杨军标):

Relying only on fiscal spending was insufficient as a means to maintaining Old Town. Requesting maintenance fees and asking for support from society at large will help fix the problem of [our] monetary deficiency and widen the availability of maintenance money. This is a useful way to protect and elevate Dali Old Town.

A similar fee was first discussed in 2009 but eventually put on hold until 2014. At the time, tour operators and local merchants strongly opposed establishing a surcharge and were also concerned with perceived transparency and oversight problems concerning how the money would be spent.

It appears some of these fears have now been alleviated, as the local government outlined its planned expenditures. Each year, Yang said in his announcement, two million yuan (US$322,000) will be put toward protecting and renovating historic buildings, with special focus on Bai minority residential structures. Also, a one-time outlay of 30 million yuan (US$4.8 million) has been earmarked for unspecified upgrades to the town’s fire protection infrastructure.

This last concern is being given high priority in old towns around the province following a January 2014 fire that destroyed much of Shangri-la in northwest Yunnan. The blaze raged for 14 hours and razed hundreds of traditional homes and businesses, highlighting the need for more serious fire precautions in similar historic towns composed almost entirely of interconnected wooden buildings.

This article was originally posted here on GoKunming by Patrick Scally.

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Filed under China, Yunnan Province

Yunnan’s governor looks to smooth relations with Myanmar

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One of the top government officials in Yunnan is spending time this week in Naypyidaw, capital of neighboring Myanmar. Provincial governor Chen Hao (陈豪) began a three-day diplomatic trip May 6 by meeting with Burmese president Thein Sein to discuss a litany concerns on both sides, as well as ways to promote the increase of legitimate bilateral trade.

At the center of the talks is stability along Myanmar’s 2,000-kilometer shared border with Yunnan. The most high-profile concern is a three-month war raging between the Burmese military and ethnically Chinese Kokang guerrillas in Myanmar’s Shan State. What started as an internal Burmese issue in February quickly changed into a cross-border crisis when tens of thousands of refugees sought safety in Lincang Prefecture in Yunnan.

Already angered by the humanitarian situation, Beijing was positively incensed when Burmese warplanes bombed rural Yunnan villages not once but twice. Although the initial bombing caused only minor property damage, the latter claimed the lives of four Chinese farmers, leading Beijing to angrily summon the Burmese ambassador to China for a tongue lashing.

Chen’s trip is no doubt a delicate attempt to repair strained relations between Myanmar and China. Civil war, refugees and errant explosives are enough to make any relationship tenuous, but Chinese leadership is also concerned with the huge shipments of heroin, opium and methamphetamines that routinely leak across the porous Yunnan border.

And the concerns are not one-sided. Thein Sein’s government charges that illegal trade out of his country — especially in jade, gold, endangered species and old-growth timber — is promoted and financed by unscrupulous Chinese businessmen operating illegally in Myanmar. However, the touchiest issue may be that of human trafficking in women.

Already this year, Chinese authorities have made several notable stings, arresting dozens of people involved in buying, transporting and selling Burmese women to perspective Chinese husbands. The largest of these occurred in March, when police made 35 arrests and repatriated 177 women and girls to Myanmar after raiding a Yunnan company advertising “Myanmar women [who] cost you only 20,000 yuan”.

Chen has only officially been in power since January, and his province’s western border snakes along endless mountain ranges, beside lush river valleys and through dense jungle that are nearly impossible to properly patrol. The one possible bright spot, and something he will undoubtedly bring up repeatedly during his Naypyidaw visit, is bilateral trade and the third annual China-South Asia Expo opening June 12 in Kunming. But what can be accomplished regarding the lawless and sometimes dangerous border between Myanmar and Yunnan remains a giant question mark.

This article was written by Patrick Scally and originally published on GoKunming. It is reprinted here, in its entirety, with permission from the author.

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Filed under China, Human trafficking, Myanmar/Burma, Regional Relations, SLIDER

Three executed for Kunming railway station attack

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Three men from Xinjiang, all of them convicted of helping to carry out the brutal 2014 Kunming train station attack, were put to death earlier this week. A brief notice posted on a micro-blog managed by the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court announced the executions on Tuesday

Iskandar Ehet, Hasayn Muhammad and Turgun Tohtunyaz were convicted of premeditated murder and leading a terrorist group in September 2014. Their guilty verdicts and sentences were recently upheld by China’s highest judiciary, the Supreme People’s Court, clearing the way for the executions.

The three men did not physically participate in the shocking March 1, 2014 attack in Yunnan’s provincial capital. Instead, according to the now-accepted narrative, they were apprehended for illegally trying to cross the border out of China two days before the train station rampage. In a statement made shortly after the attack, then Yunnan Party Secretary, Qin Guangrong,characterized the captured men as Muslim terrorists, adding one had confessed to his crimes and admitted the group wanted “to join jihad”.

Parts of this narrative directly contradict previous press accounts claiming the suspects were captured following a 36-hour manhunt in Kunming undertaken by authorities after the train station bloodshed. It remains unclear when or where the men were actually caught, as no details of their arrests have ever been made public.

Alternately dubbed the ‘3.01 Event’ and ‘China’s 9/11’, the March 2014 attack left 31 people dead and 141 injured. Four of the assailants were shot and killed at the scene — in some accounts by a single police sniper in under 15 seconds. The lone female attacker, Patigul Tohti, was apprehended alive at the train station and later sentenced to life in prison at the same trial where Ehet, Muhammad and Tohtunyaz were condemned to die.

Making an already painful and opaque situation even more confusing, investigators who claimed the case was closed in mid-2014, announced last month that four new suspects had been arrested in Indonesia. Another five people thought to have helped orchestrate the Kunming plot reportedly escaped a police dragnet by Indonesian police.

Uncertainty of details aside, this week’s handling of the executions was far more subdued than the last time Kunming authorities dealt with a high-profile death sentence. The simple announcement was made on a micro-blogging service and did not mention the means of death or where the executions were carried out.

In stark contrast, Kunming judicial officials made waves both inside and outside China in 2013 for their handling of the execution of Burmese drug kingpin and convicted murderer Naw Kham. Authorities televised his final hours, producing an ill-conceived reality television show — complete with running commentary — that aired nationally. It ran for nearly two hours, ending with a live interview with Naw seconds before he was taken away and killed.

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Filed under Kunming Train Station Attack, SLIDER, Yunnan Province

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