The big stories out of East Asia this weekend involved ceremonies, but not of the happy holiday variety. China celebrated the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong. In keeping with the recent push to tamp down lavish government expenditures, CNN writes that the celebrations were “relatively muted, by Chinese standards.” Still, the leadership attended ceremonies at Mao’s mausoleum and a symposium in the Great Hall of the People. As I wrote earlier this week, the focus on Mao actually provides Xi Jinping a chance to legitimize his own policy initiatives by tying them to the Great Helmsman.
Not everyone was pleased with the celebrations, however. Gao Wenqian, a senior policy adviser at Human Rights in China and a former Communist Party researcher, wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times that China “must purge Mao’s ghost.” “the cult of Mao,” Gao argued, “is the greatest obstacle to social transformation in China.” The debate over Mao’s legacy and place in modern China continues on.
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sparked international fury when he visited the Yasukuni Shrine. My colleague Ankit writes that Abe’s visit to the controversial shrine may be calculated more for a domestic audience than for an international one. Still, the international responses were swift and angry, as one might have expected. China’s Global Times wrote that the visit put Japan “onto a more dangerous path” and left the country “more isolated from its Asian neighbors.” Xinhua called the shrine a “symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism” and predicted that the visit “would drag Japan’s already-fragile relations with neighboring countries into an abyss.” For the Chinese government and media, the visit to the shrine is yet more proof that Abe is seeking to return to the militaristic, right-wing tendencies of imperial Japan. Recognizing the damage done by the visit, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo released a statement saying “the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”
In other news, China Daily reports on how China plans to deal with the issue of industrial overcapacity. This issue has been mentioned as a priority numerous times by China’s economic planners, but there’s been little detail so far on exactly how the government plans to deal with the issue. China Daily notes some concrete policy steps. For one, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is requiring nearly 1,600 companies in 19 industries to cut their production capacity — meaning these companies must “shut down part of their production lines” before 2014. China’s Banking Regulatory Commission is also going to prohibit credit support for projects in industries that have the worst overcapacity problem.
The Wall Street Journal’s China Realtime blog lists the areas to watch in 2014 as the Chinese government seeks to push forward with economic reforms. Their areas of concern include government debt, the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (and how many industries are excluded from the free trade approach), cash squeezes, ramping down heavy industry production, and the real-estate market.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that a stranded scientific mission ship near Antarctica is being rescued by the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon. There’s been a lot of discussion lately over global competition for resources the Antarctic and the Arctic, so it’s heartening to see an example of international cooperation in the region. Fox News also reports that China is planning to construct a fourth Antarctic research base, which will focus on climate change studies.
Speaking of exploration, an article on Xinhua [Chinese] attempts to answer the question, “why does China want to explore space?” The article seeks to explain why China, which still has relatively high poverty rates, spends government funds on space exploration. The article, which included an interview from China’s famous science fiction author Liu Cixin, emphasized the importance of having and striving towards dreams — and deemphasized the pursuit of money for its own sake. Ironically, however, the article also mentioned the inexhaustible mineral resources of space as a reason to continue exploration.