BY THE EDITOR
2018 is more eventful than many other years in China’s modern history, hence it’s a lot harder for us to choose the top ten news stories.
The trade war between China and the United States, for example, may be the biggest story in the world for many people, but it failed to make the top on our list.
We decided to pick some other story which we think may have more profound, far-reaching impact on China’s destiny in many years to come.
That’s the county’s constitutional amendments, which, in a rather drastic change, scrapped term limit of Chinese president. The trade war came the second.
Most of the chosen stories were about China’s political economy. To be precise, we tended to pick stories which led to discussions on how China should be governed, and in which direction the country is heading toward.
We also managed to select some other news about China’s diplomacy and foreign affairs, science and society that happened in 2018, which is set to be remembered as a milestone, if not a turning point, in China’s relations with the world.
Below is our list. We wish you a happy and prosperous year in 2019!
1. Constitutional Amendments
China approves the most drastic constitutional amendments in decades in March. We think this was the biggest China story in 2018 because it matters how China will be ruled in the years to come.
The 21 proposed changes to the constitution all point to one objective: to strengthen the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party and institutionalise its rule by blurring the line between Party and state.
“Xi Jinping Thought”, political theory of the Chinese president, was included in the Constitution. Term limits on the presidency and vice-presidency were removed, and the Communist Party’s leadership role was spelled out.
This was the first amendment to the country’s fundamental law in 14 years.
The People’s Republic of China enacted its first Constitution in 1954. The current Constitution was adopted in 1982 and amended in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004.
From 1988 to 1999, amendments included reform of land-use rights, a legal status for the private economy, the theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, replacing the phrase “planned economy” with “socialist market economy,” and incorporation of Deng Xiaoping Theory.
The most recent amendment in 2004 protected private property and human rights and gave the Theory of Three Represents constitutional authority.
2. China-US Trade Conflicts
A trade war erupted earlier this year when US President Donald Trump complained China was not doing enough to address a trade imbalance between the nations.
The US imposed billions of dollars of tariffs on China’s imports. China fought back with retaliatory tariffs on American products. Officials from both countries have been meeting for months, and when the two biggest economies in the world lock horns, everyone else feels the tension.
Earlier in December, both agreed to suspend new tariffs to allow for talks. Hopefully both countries are moving to the right direction.
3. Grand Celebration on Marx’s 200th Birthday
China held a grand gathering to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx on May 4. Xi, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, delivered a speech.
Xi said Marxism not only profoundly changed the world, but also profoundly changed China, leading the country to create an unprecedented miracle of history. On the road ahead, the CPC will continue upholding Marxism and creating the bright future for mankind envisioned by Marx and Friedrich Engels.
4. China Vows to Open Up Further
China held a grand gathering on Dec 18 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the country’s reform and opening-up, a “great revolution”, Xinhua News Agency said, that has changed the destiny of the Chinese nation and also influenced the world.
In a 1.5-hour-long speech that was aired live on China’s central television and major news portal websites, Xi called for the unswerving implementation of reforms, saying China would expand efforts at opening up and ensure the implementation of major reforms.
This year, China has also unveiled measures to broaden market access, improve the investment environment, increase imports, and build new ground in opening-up.
During Nov 5-10, the first China International Import Expo was held in Shanghai, underscoring the country’s determination to remain open in the years to come.
5. Kim’s Three China Trips
On June 12, the first ever Pyongyang-Washington summit took place, with Kim Jong-un, top leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) meeting with US President Donald Trump in Singapore and reaching consensus on the peninsula’s denuclearization and peace regime.
Situation on the peninsula has taken a turn for the better this year. China played a big role. Kim paid three visits to China and had three North-South summits.
Kim’s visit to Beijing between Mar 25-28 was his first known international trip as leader and first summit meeting and received more coverage on KCTV, Pyongyang’s official news channel, than anything else so far this year.
On April 27, Kim crossed the military demarcation line in Panmunjom to attend a historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
6. China’s Economy Slows Down
Hit by a trade war and a slumping global economy, the world’s second largest economy is attempting to avert a slowdown.
On Dec 21, China’s leadership signed off on an economic roadmap for 2019 that features aggressive stimulus measures, including tax cuts and monetary easing.
Yet Beijing’s top officials are not optimistic. Xi warned the country would be faced with “unimaginable tempestuous storms”.
The Chinese leadership needs to make hard effort to boost confidence with the economy. They face some of the most difficult policy decisions they have had to make in years.
7. State-Owned vs Private
China released new rules promising to treat all firms equally from a regulatory standpoint, whether they are foreign, private Chinese companies or state-owned enterprises.
The new rules, which go into effect immediately, contain a “negative list” of four banned types of business, and a further 147 categories where government permits are needed. For all sectors not on these lists, all companies can “enter equally,” according to the document published by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Commerce on Dec 25.
This year, the Chinese leadership, including Xi himself, had repeatedly voiced their support for the country’s private sector, the driving force behind the country’s economic miracle over the last 40 years.
Facing a rapidly slowing economy because of the trade war with the US, Xi and senior leaders of the ruling Communist Party have put on an unusually friendly face for the country’s private businesses since the summer, publicly acknowledging their struggles and promising to help.
But it remains to be seen whether the government will take the necessary steps needed to revive business confidence.
What is clear is that Xi needs the private sector, which accounts for about 60 percent of country’s economic activity and 80 percent of its jobs, even though he may prefer a statist economy.
8. Telecoms Giants Hit Rocks
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei and the eldest daughter of the company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec 1.
Meng is sought by the US for allegedly lying to banks as part of an effort to evade sanctions on Iran. She was released on bail later in Vancouver, where she is under private guard at one of the two homes she owns there.
China’s telecoms giants, Huawei and ZTE in particular, have met unprecedented headwinds in the west this year.
In late Dec, Trump is reportedly considering an executive order in the new year to declare a national emergency that would bar US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE.
The US was the first of the Five Eyes security alliance to ban Huawei from providing equipment for its national 5G rollout. Australia and New Zealand have since made the same decision, leaving Canada and the UK as the only members not to have done so.
However, the UK’s spy chief said in a speech this month that the inclusion of Chinese telecoms firms in 5G networks needed consideration. Earlier this month, British telco firm BT said Huawei would not be eligible to provide equipment for its core 5G network.
ZTE was fined more than $1 billion by the US in 2017 for breaking sanctions that barred it from selling products, some of which potentially contain American-made components, to embargoed countries such as North Korea, Cuba and Iran.
9. Gene-Edited Babies
Chinese scientist He Jiankui stunned the world in November when he claimed to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies.
The former researcher at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen was dubbed “China’s Frankenstein” after releasing a YouTube video in November in which he said his team had modified the embryos of twin girls to effectively switch off an HIV-related gene because their father had the virus. He also revealed there had been another pregnancy involving a gene-edited baby.
It unleashed a storm of criticism over the ethics and transparency of the work, its medical necessity, and the scientist’s responsibility for the lives of the gene-edited children.
The Ministry of Science and Technology launched an investigation into the case and ordered He not to undertake any further research. International experts have described He’s claim as “unexpected and deeply disturbing” and called for an independent assessment to verify it.
10. Vaccine Scandal
China’s lawmakers are considering the first draft of a law aimed at tightening control of a vaccine industry beset by scandals over faulty shots, fake data and fraudulent labelling.
The draft law is the latest effort by Beijing to restore public confidence in the murky industry after many Chinese have lost faith in the system.
China’s two major vaccine makers – Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products – were found selling faulty DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) vaccines that were given to children as young as three months old under government health programmes in Chongqing, Shandong and Hebei provinces. Changsheng Bio-tech was also found to have systematically forged data in the production of rabies shots.
Some 18 people, including Changsheng Bio-tech chairwoman Gao Junfang and other executives, were arrested and an investigation is still under way. Top officials were also sacked over the scandal and many other cadres were disciplined – drugs regulator chief Jiao was told to make a “deep self-inspection”.