TIME China

Think Your Flight Delays Are Bad? Try China, Where the Military Hogs Most of the Skies

Airplanes At The Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Air China aircraft stand parked at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel, the armed forces still control most of China’s airspace

Last week, I flew in and out of Shanghai over two days. Both flights idled on the tarmac for more than one hour. I felt rather lucky.

Airport delays are such a constant in China that a mere one-hour wait is practically a gift from the aviation gods. International flight monitors put Chinese cities at the bottom of a list of on-time takeoffs at major airports worldwide. On July 21, nearly 200 flights leaving from Shanghai’s two airports, Pudong and Hongqiao, were cancelled. Around 120 more planes were delayed from takeoff by two or more hours.

The same day, a notice attributed by state media to the Civil Aviation Administration of China warned that a dozen airports in eastern Chinese metropolises would suffer even more serious delays through August 15. The reason? An unnamed “other user” would be hogging the skies. That aerial monopolist is thought to be the Chinese military, which even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel still controls most of China’s airspace. On July 23, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, tweeted a picture of dejected looking passengers camped out on the floor of the airport in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China. The cause, according to the paper, was mass cancellations stemming from “planned military activity.”

On Monday, Jiao Xuening, a resident from the southern city of Shenzhen, described on his Chinese social-media account how he had been stranded at a Shanghai airport for almost six hours. “At first I was disgruntled,” he wrote. But then he listened to a stream of flight cancellations over the loudspeaker. “I was told my flight was merely four hours delayed and was not cancelled, so I became happy again.”

On July 22, the Shanghai Daily, the state-controlled newspaper in China’s most populous city noted that Pudong airport’s outbound on-time rate had nosedived to 26% the day before. “Shanghai’s air traffic control authority has refused to explain” the Shanghai Daily complained of the delays. “With the authority remaining tight-lipped about the reasons behind this, speculation has been rife on the Internet.”

Such conjecture, though, can be dangerous. Earlier this month, some people had speculated online that a dragnet around a “high-ranking official” had perhaps prompted the grounding of planes in Shanghai. The Chinese authorities didn’t take kindly to such gossip; nearly 40 “rumor-mongers” were detained or “held” for wondering online about the flight cancellations, according to the Shanghai Daily.

The chronic flight delays are a huge hassle. But the opacity surrounding their circumstances also speaks to the inefficiencies of doing business in China. In the first half of 2014, non-financial foreign direct investment in China dipped, compared to the same period the year before. Government paranoia about social instability is such that Facebook, Google and Twitter are inaccessible within mainland China. Major foreign news websites are also blocked by censors. Basic things overseas businessmen expect to do can’t be done.

Then there’s the suffocating air pollution, which has dissuaded some expatriates from traveling to China, much less living here. Now, with the routine airport delays, it’s no longer practical to, say, fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai in the morning, attend a few meetings and then return to Hong Kong by the evening. A Beijing-Shanghai-Beijing run makes more sense by the punctual high-speed train service. But that still means committing around 10 hours to traveling the rails.

In the meantime, customer-service representatives for Chinese airlines are trying to cope as best they can. Political sensitivities are such that the carriers cannot complain about the Chinese air force’s monopoly of the skies. Employees for Air China and China Southern said they were only informed about the continuing air congestion the day after the latest round of delays began on July 21. Air China says it will send text messages to passengers’ cellphones to update them on the latest scheduling. “Most of our customers understand the situation,” said an Air China customer-service staffer in a somewhat beleaguered tone. To cope with the long waits in airports notorious for meager services, the statement attributed to the Civil Aviation Administration of China dispensed further advice: “Flight passengers please bring with you food and water.”

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME China

Bubonic-Plague Death Triggers Quarantine of Chinese City

The 38-year-old victim may have come into contact with a dead marmot carrying infected fleas

Parts of a city in northwestern China are under quarantine after a local man died of bubonic plague, according to a state media report Tuesday.

A quarantine has been put in place for Yumen, a city of about 100,000 in Gansu province. No one but the original victim has shown signs of infection, Reuters reports.

The victim, 38, died July 16, apparently after coming into contact with a dead marmot, a rodent. Plague is a bacterial disease typically carried by fleas hosted by rodents. The disease is extremely deadly if not treated immediately.

Plague is very rare but still exists, primarily in rural areas. The Yumen quarantine comes after three new cases of bubonic plague were confirmed in the U.S. state of Colorado on Friday.

TIME China

China Food Scandal Hits Starbucks

McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut have already taken action over claims that a food supplier used expired meat

Starbucks is the latest global chain to be pulled into a recent food scandal in China, involving Shanghai Husi Food Co.

The food-processing company came under fire after a TV report showed factory staff using expired meat, as well as meat that fell on the floor, in food products that had been supplied to chains including, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut.

In a statement on Weibo — the Chinese version of Twitter — Starbucks said that while it had no direct business ties with Husi, the chicken used for its chicken apple-sauce panini came from a supplier that purchased its poultry from Shanghai Husi. The sandwich had been on sale in 13 different provinces and major cities, but the coffee chain added that it has since been pulled from cafés.

The TV report on Shanghai Husi showed a factory-quality manager telling investigators, “Our company policy allows us to add expired raw materials to produce beef patties.” The report also found that processed chicken parts had been expired for nearly half a month.

McDonald’s and Yum! Brands Inc., the parent company of KFC and Pizza Hut, both issued apologies on Monday to Chinese customers.

The parent company of Husi, U.S.-based OSI Group, also apologized for the scandal and said it was cooperating with authorities. Shanghai food regulators shut down the Husi factory on Sunday, pending an investigation into the allegations.

Food safety is a hot-button issue in China, where scandals over toxicity and hygiene are commonplace.

TIME China

China’s Response to the MH17 Tragedy? Condemn the West

Experts inspect the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines plane
Search and rescue specialists inspect the crash area of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, carrying nearly 300 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was downed close to Russia's border with Ukraine on July 17, near Grabovo. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Despite memories of decades of Cold War frostiness, Beijing is now quite chummy with Moscow

On July 18, shortly after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed over eastern Ukraine, extinguishing 298 lives, China’s Xinhua state news agency cautioned against making snap judgments. The U.S. and other Western nations had begun to finger pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine for shooting down the Boeing 777 passenger plane, but Xinhua dismissed such accusations as “rash” and took the opportunity to swipe at Western democracies for their condemnation of Russia’s earlier military intervention in Ukraine:

The one-sided accusation is not surprising in light of their long-time stance on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, and their attitude towards Russia’s absorption of Crimea in March. But without convincing evidence, jumping to a conclusion will only heighten regional tension and is not conducive to finding out the truth.

Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday said it is Ukraine that bears the responsibility as the tragedy occurred over its territory. The tragedy, Putin said, could have been avoided should Ukraine’s eastern regions be in peace.

On July 21, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, ran a piece still cautioning that “no proof has been found so far to clarify the cause or identify the perpetrator.” Nowhere did the story mention the likelihood that pro-Russian rebels had trained a missile on MH17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The same day, the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-linked daily that can be counted on for nationalist commentary, did at least mention such a possibility — if only to decry Western governments’ speculation that Russia may have aided and abetted the rebels’ cause:

The Western rush to judge Russia is not based on evidence or logic. Russia had no motive to bring down MH17; doing so would only narrow its political and moral space to operate in the Ukrainian crisis. The tragedy has no political benefit for Ukrainian rebel forces, either. Russia has been back-footed, forced into a passive stance by Western reaction. It is yet another example of the power of Western opinion as a political tool.

The crisis in Ukraine had already put China in a difficult position. Despite memories of decades of Cold War frostiness, Beijing has boosted its ties with Moscow. The two neighbors share an antipathy toward Western democratic values and a mutual interest in natural resources. The first foreign trip Xi Jinping made as President was to Russia in March 2013.

Yet China also proclaims that one of its foreign-policy bedrocks is staying out of other nations’ internal affairs. Russia’s invasion of Crimea — which Xinhua delicately termed an “absorption” — cannot be considered as anything but a gross interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Beijing is struggling with separatist sentiment at home, most notably among Tibetan and Uighur populations in China’s far west. How can Chinese foreign-policy makers support an ethnic rebel movement over a national government, even if those separatists do have Russia’s tacit blessing?

China may soon have to reconcile this foreign-policy quandary. “It will bring about a severe challenge to China’s general strategy and diplomacy if America and Europe propose sanctions against Russia and demand China should join with them,” wrote Chinese security analyst Gao Feng in a widely disseminated blog post. “For China, the issue is which side it should choose. Without doubt, an ambiguous stance [by Beijing] will face criticism and moral pressure.”

There were no mainland Chinese nationals on MH17. By contrast, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished in March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was filled with Chinese passengers. As the Malaysian investigation into that plane’s disappearance foundered, Chinese authorities allowed MH370 families to stage protests in Beijing — a rarity in a nation allergic to public displays of dissent.

This time around, official Chinese sentiment has steered clear of blaming Malaysia for the Ukraine disaster. Instead, West-bashing has predominated. “The West has successfully put itself in a position to dictate ‘political correctness’ in international discourse,” said the Global Times editorial on MH17 on Monday. “Those unwilling to work with Western interests will often find themselves in a tough position.” Criticism of the West even extended beyond the tragedy of MH17. On July 21, Xinhua publicized a new campaign of “intense ideological education for officials to strengthen their faith in communism and curb corruption.” First on cadres’ to-do lists? Keeping a “firm belief in Marxism to avoid being lost in the clamor for western democracy.”

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME China

In China, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut Probe Expired-Meat Supply

Controversies over food safety are a fact of life in China

+ READ ARTICLE

Health officials have temporarily closed a Shanghai-based meat supplier after it was learned that the firm, which supplies products to major American fast-food restaurants throughout China, may have been selling expired chicken and beef.

Both McDonald’s and Yum! Brands — owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, with over 6,200 Chinese stores collectively — asked their restaurants on Sunday to abstain from selling meat provided by Shanghai Husi Food Co. after Dragon Television, a local news outfit, reported that the meat company’s employees were repackaging meat and extending its shelf life by a year. McDonald’s and Yum! have launched their own investigations.

Yum!’s sales have rebounded in recent months after a fit of bad publicity early last year, when a state television agency alleged that KFC — the largest restaurant chain in China — was selling chicken containing excessive amounts of antibiotics. Yum! insisted on the safety of its food and said it was working to improve its supply chain.

TIME brics

The BRICS Don’t Like the Dollar-Dominated World Economy, but They’re Stuck With It

World For Money
Thomas Trutschel—Photothek/Getty Images

The latest summit of the world’s leading emerging markets took more steps toward replacing the U.S.-led global financial system. But change will come very, very slowly

When the BRICS get together for their annual summit — as they did last week in Brazil — they always make a lot of noise about changing the way the global economy works. They have good reason to be frustrated. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are gaining in economic power and crave the political clout to match, but standing in the way is a global financial system organized by the West and dominated by the U.S. They’re forced to conduct their international business in the unstable U.S. dollar, making their economies swing back and forth with the winds of policy crafted in Washington, D.C., and New York City. The West has ceded influence in institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) only grudgingly. To them, today’s financial system is out of touch with the changing times, and ill-suited to support the world’s up-and-coming economic titans.

So in their summit, from July 14 to 16, the five BRICS announced two major initiatives aimed squarely at increasing their power in global finance. They announced the launch of the New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, that will offer financing for development projects in the emerging world. The bank will act as an alternative to the Washington, D.C.—based World Bank. The BRICS also formed what they’re calling a Contingent Reserve Arrangement, a series of currency agreements which can be utilized to help them smooth over financial imbalances with the rest of the world. That’s something the IMF does now.

Clearly, the idea is to create institutions and processes to supplement — and perhaps eventually supplant — the functions of those managed by U.S. and Europe. And they would be resources that they could control on their own, without the annoying conditions that the World Bank and the IMF always slap on their loans and assistance. Carlos Caicedo, a Latin America analyst at consulting firm IHS, noted, for instance, that the New Development Bank “has the potential to match the role of multilateral development banks, while offering the BRICS a tool to counterbalance Western influence in international finance.”

In theory at least, the BRICS possess the financial muscle to make that happen. Four of the BRICS — China, India, Brazil and Russia — are now ranked among the world’s 10 largest economies. (South Africa, not a member of the original constellation of BRICs as conceived by Goldman Sachs, comes in a distant 33rd.) Yet the reality is more problematic. The BRICS at this point are simply not committing the resources necessary to make anything but a dent in global finance.

Research firm Capital Economics estimates that the New Development Bank, with initial capital approved at only $100 billion, could offer loans of $5 billion to $10 billion a year over the next decade. Though that’s not an insignificant amount, it’s far lower than the $32 billion the World Bank made available last year. The situation is the same with the currency swaps. Set at a total size of $100 billion, the funds available would be a fraction of those the IMF can muster.

That’s assuming these initiatives ever get off the ground. This sixth BRICS summit is the first to produce anything beyond mere rhetoric, and it remains to be seen if they can cooperate on these or any other concrete projects. Despite their common distaste for the U.S.-led global economy and desire for development, the BRICS share as many differences as similarities. They have vastly diverse levels of development and types of political systems, and the bilateral relations between some of them are strained. India and China, for instance, routinely spar over disputed territory, while Brazil sees China as much as an economic competitor as partner.

Beyond that, all of the BRICS have serious economic problems to deal with at home. The new government in India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be hard pressed to implement the reforms necessary to jumpstart the country’s stalled economic miracle. Growth in Brazil, South Africa and Russia has been even more sluggish. China’s growth has held up, but it suffers from rising debt, risky shadow banking and excess capacity. And now Moscow has to contend with sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe over its aggressive policy toward Ukraine. It may soon face even greater isolation as the world probes its connections to the separatists in Ukraine, who reportedly downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 with the loss of nearly 300 lives.

Meanwhile, whether they like it or not, the BRICS will be stuck operating by the rules of the U.S.-led world economy for the foreseeable future. There is simply no other currency out there that can replace the U.S. dollar as the No. 1 choice for international financial transactions. China has dreams of promoting its own currency, the yuan, as an alternative, and has made some progress. But the yuan can’t truly rival the dollar until China undertakes some fundamental financial reforms — liberalizing the trade of the yuan and capital flows in and out of the country. That’s far-off. And until then, China’s massive reserve of dollars forces it to continually invest in dollar assets. Even as Beijing bickers with the U.S. over cyberspying and regional territorial disputes, it has been loading up on U.S. Treasury securities — buying at the fastest pace on record so far this year.

Still, the steps taken during this latest BRICS summit point to what may be the future of the global economy. Though their initiatives may be small and tentative now, they signal an intent to remake the global financial system in their own interest as they continue to grow in economic power. Perhaps one day it’ll be the U.S. that does the complaining.

TIME World

Plus-Size Parking Spaces in China Spark Accusations of Sexism

CHINA-SOCIAL-GENDER-TRANSPORT-OFFBEAT
Mall manager Yang Hongjun in front of cars parked in pink spaces in front of the Dashijiedaduhui, or World Metropolis centre, in the seaport city of Dalian, July 7, 2014. The parking spaces are distinctive: marked out in pink, around 30 centimetres wider than normal, and signposted "Respectfully reserved for women". Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Mall managers said women had trouble with navigating standard width spots

Extra-wide parking spaces outside a mall in China designed for women have sparked a debate on social media in the country over allegations of sexism.

The mall, located in the northern Chinese port city of Dalian, has 10 spaces with an extra 30 centimeters marked in pink outside the main entrance that were provided after women had trouble parking in the standard basement slots, managers said.

“We just wanted to make things easier for women, who make up most of our customers,” said manager Yang Hongjun, a woman herself.

China’s official line is that of gender equality—Mao Tse-tung said that “women hold up half the sky”—but in reality, sexism persists in the country. Beijing police said in a microblog last year that women drivers “lack a sense of direction” and often “hesitate and are indecisive about which road they should take,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Driving for both men and women is a perilous endeavor in China, where in 2012, 60,000 people died on the roads.

[AFP]

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TIME India

India Is Home to More Poor People Than Anywhere Else on Earth

Poverty of slums at New Delhi
Slum dwellers lead their life in poverty and unhealthy conditions in New Delhi, India on March 10, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

"We don't have to be proud of what we've done," one minister says

One third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India, according to the latest Millennium Development Goals report by the U.N.

India only managed to reduce its poverty rate (the ratio of the number of people who fall below the poverty line and a country’s total population) from 49.4% in 1994 to 42% in 2005 and 32.7% in 2010. By contrast, regional rival China brought it down from 60% in 1990 to an impressive 16% in 2005 and just 12% in 2010.

India also accounted for the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children not reaching their fifth birthday.

“We don’t have to be proud of what we’ve done,” admitted minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla to the Times Of India on Wednesday. “Poverty is the biggest challenge.”

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