China’s poverty alleviation: One of the greatest human rights achievements

One of the greatest human rights achievements in human history is China’s forty years of poverty alleviation – given the fundamental right to socio-economic wellbeing. The World Bank estimates that 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty, but still some remain in poverty. Given that one of the three great challenges for a xiaokang society is absolute poverty elimination, there is a resolute focus to achieve the target. The following is a useful background article from Xinhua News:

During an inspection tour to southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality this week, President Xi Jinping called for greater efforts to win the battle against poverty and realize the goal of building “a moderately prosperous society in all respects” as scheduled.

As the deadline to eradicate absolute poverty approaches, the country is gathering strength to focus on the nation’s poorest people, who mainly dwell in deep mountains with adverse natural environments and backward infrastructure, or have special needs.

It was China’s solemn promise to let poor people and poor areas enter the moderately prosperous society together with the rest of the country, Xi said in a letter to the International Forum on Reform and Opening Up and Poverty Reduction in China, which was held in Beijing last November.

The country’s poverty-reduction drive has been widely recognized as the largest such campaign in history, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointing out that China had contributed the most to world poverty alleviation in the past decade.

Here are some facts on poverty reduction in China.

PEOPLE FIRST

With the world’s largest population, China has been boosting its economic development on one major theme: improving people’s livelihoods. This has become a fundamental goal and a consistent priority in policy-making. A typical example is the development blueprint for building a moderately prosperous society.

— Under that blueprint, China will eradicate absolute poverty by 2020 and double per capita income from 2010 level.

— More than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty over the past 40 years. The country’s proportion of people living below the Chinese poverty line fell from 97.5 percent in 1978 to 3.1 percent among the rural population at the end of 2017.

–In the past six years, China lifted 82.39 million rural poor out of poverty, with the rural poor population down from 98.99 million in 2012 to 16.6 million in 2018.

— By the end of 2018, more than half of the 832 poverty-stricken counties had escaped poverty.

— Per capita income of Chinese people increased by nearly 25 times from 1978 to 2018. In 2018, per capita disposable income of rural residents in poverty-stricken areas stood at 10,371 yuan, a 10.6-percent year-on-year rise.

STRONG ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

With Xi Jinping in charge, China’s poverty-relief battle has made decisive progress and provided global poverty relief with Chinese solutions.

–Last June, Xi presided over a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee to review a plan on efforts in poverty alleviation, stressing that the battle against poverty was one of the “three tough battles” that the country must win to build a moderately prosperous society.

–Last October, the CPC Central Committee arranged a new round of disciplinary inspections targeting poverty alleviation, the first of its kind, to intensify local governments’ poverty-reduction efforts.

— To wipe out absolute poverty, governments at all levels have established anti-poverty special departments or leading groups, increased poverty-reduction budgets and ensured eastern economically developed regions to help underdeveloped regions in central and western China.

— State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have taken the lead to support the country’s poverty relief campaign. Ninety-six centrally-administered SOEs have offered targeted support to 246 poverty-stricken counties, or 41.6 percent of the key counties under the national poverty-relief program. They have also set up poverty alleviation funds of 18.18 billion yuan (about 2.7 billion U.S. dollars) and invested 14 billion yuan in nearly 100 aid projects.

TARGETED APPROACH

China has adopted a targeted approach, which requires officials to identify actual impoverished people and the factors that caused their poverty.

— A large legion of capable officials have been selected to guide poverty relief work. For example, officials with business savvy were sent to poverty-stricken villages, while officials with specialized industrial knowledge were sent to villages with an industrial base. As a result, each household or even family member has been given a bespoke poverty relief plan.

— Apart from setting a multi-year timetable, China also targeted different policies to different regions, including developing business, relocating the poor, compensating farmers in ecologically fragile areas, encouraging education and improving social security.

— The independent development of needy residents has been enhanced using areas including e-commerce, financing, tourism and infrastructure improvements.

— During his inspection tour in Chongqing, Xi said that people who still live under the poverty line or slip back into poverty due to illness should be the priority of poverty alleviation projects, and should receive support such as minimum-living allowances, medical insurance and medical aid.

 

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A photo for the ages: Xi Jinping on Chongqing poverty alleviation tour

China has set 2020 as the year for total alleviation of basic poverty, a key plank in the target to achieve a ‘xiaokang society’ – moderately well-off, healthy and secure for everyone. This was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping, who picked up an old Confucian term and reinterpreted it in light of Marxism, but it also pre-empts the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021. Or as Xi himself put it, stressing two sides of the dialectic of actually constructing socialism (liberating the forces of production and ensuring equality and justice for all): ‘Socialism means development. Development must serve the common prosperity for everyone‘.

As the date draws near, efforts are being stepped up in all aspects. This includes ensuring that people do not slip back into poverty later. China’s standards for poverty alleviation are somewhat higher than international standards, so this makes the project – especially for local CPC officials on the front line – even more demanding.

Recently, Xi Jinping undertook an inspection tour in poor areas of Chongqing. As Xinhua News reports, the visit had many levels, from a forum to visits to a poor village in the mountains. But I was taken with this photo. Look at the faces of the two girls who are shaking the hands of the person whom Fidel Castro called one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders of the 21st century.

Without the Communist Party of China there would be no new China

This slogan appears at key locations and moments: Without the Communist Party of China there would be no new China.

For me, this is obvious. But let me copy an article from the People’s Daily that explains to some extent why this is the case:

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, recently published an article in Chinese on what the system of Party leadership means to China. He began his article by saying that last year the United States turned on China, launching a trade war. “In the face of such a blow, almost any country would panic,” he said.

In fact, many Chinese people did panic at first, but the panic quickly subsided, because it became quickly apparent that the United States could not so easily crush China in a trade war. According to Hu, the reason for this is because the Chinese system is just too powerful and, as a result, the US side was forced to seriously negotiate with China.

“China’s political system is the key asset to China’s rise,” he wrote.

The Communist Party of China is an essential part of China’s growth story. When you talk about the success of China, you must also talk about the role of the Party. China has risen high under the guidance of the CPC and Hu believes that as long as the CPC continues to mature and its leadership role is strengthened, China has a good shot of achieving national rejuvenation.

The Chinese political system has also led to a fairer society. “Without the leadership of the Party, one thing is certain. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen would be surrounded by large slums like Rio, Mexico City, and Mumbai,” Hu said.

Many people may not accept this assertion, but there is truth to it. If you look at what China is doing in terms of poverty alleviation, it is pretty astonishing. China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since initiating the reform and opening-up policy in 1978 and the country is on track to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020. In 2018 alone, official figures show that China lifted close to 14 million people in rural areas out of poverty.

And the Party’s organs at various level have been the fighting force in this battle against poverty.

China’s political system is the key to China’s rise, which is closely related to the well-being of more than 1.3 billion Chinese people. To continue rising, Hu pointed out, the country must continue to mature politically, firmly support the national system, and take its own path.

“If it was not for the strength of the Chinese system, when the United States launched a trade war against China last year, at the very least the renminbi would have been smashed,” Hu said. This is not an exaggeration. The fate of a country is often very fragile.

Hu pointed out that China is a huge country, therefore, even the migrant workers enjoy more space for living and more opportunities to grow than many of the people in other developing countries, and even the ordinary people in some developed countries. They are able to seek opportunities and earn a better living in the large market.

To see China in action look no further than the hard-working delivery people who run around the cities all day. China’s rise is being driven by the efforts and diligence of each Chinese person and their hard work has brought the country huge rewards.

“Living in China as a common citizen has the greatest average opportunity to improve one’s life,” Hu said. This is also true, because only in China can you find a large country with relatively balanced development and rapidly rising standards of living.

China is strong, both economically and politically. For this reason, the country is on very solid footing. China has encountered some difficulties, but nothing has put the brakes on its development. We need to better understand why that is the case.

Xi Jinping at work: Two photographs, 30 years apart

This photograph was taken in 1989 when Xi Jinping was working as local CPC party head in Ningde, Fujian Province.

And this one is from 8 April, 2019, 30 years later. Here, Xi Jinping is heading out to celebrate China’s tree-planting day.

As an aside, it is worth noting that China leads the world in re-afforestation. It has been a decades-long national project greening cities and the countryside, so much so that desertification is retreatng in many of the more arid regions.

Down to the countryside: 21st century version

Some years ago now, there was a slogan in China, ‘Up the mountains and down to the countryside [shangshan xiaxiang]‘, which came to be known as the ‘down to the countryside movement’. Back then, socialism meant that everyone was equal because everyone was poor, and the trauma of that period’s disruption still runs deep in China’s cultural memory.

Now, China is a distinct beneficiary of the massive project of ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihua]’. First launched by Deng Xiaoping, who knew very well that people would not see any benefit in socialism is they remained desperately poor, the project of socialist modernisation includes the thoroughly Marxist reform and opening up, the development of a socialist market economy, seeking truth from facts, liberating thought, and liberating the forces of production.

These days they speak of three ‘great leaps’: standing up, prosperity and strength. China is currently in the process of moving from the great leap of prosperity for all to the great leap of strength.

In this context, we find a whole new movement of ‘down to the countryside’ as this report from the Global Times makes clear:

10m Chinese young people to volunteer in the countryside within three years

China is planning to mobilize more than 10 million young volunteers to help promote cultural, technological and medical development in rural areas by 2020, a move local officials said would help revitalize rural areas that are suffering from an outflow of talented and young workers.

These young volunteers will be sent to rural areas, especially old revolutionary base areas, regions of extreme poverty and areas where ethnic minority groups live to promote local development and improve personal skills, read a recent document released by the Communist Youth League of China (CYL).

The move was hailed by many local officials, who said that it would help revitalize rural areas in the country that have been suffering from talent and labor outflows.

“We need young people to use science and technology to help the countryside innovate its traditional development models,” Zhang Linbin, deputy head of a township in Central China’s Hunan Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Zhang noted that young people are passionate and active, which is what rural areas need.

Taking his daily work as an example, Zhang noted that they were in urgent need of people who know computers because they were pushing forward a more standardized and digitized job in the town.

The rising level of urbanization in China has made more young people migrate from rural areas or less-developed regions to developed areas that have better resources and better income. This drains rural areas of their labor force.

To try to reverse the drain, the country has implemented a raft of policies in recent years to help rural areas attract skilled labor.

The document vowed to mobilize 10,000 student members of the Communist Party of China and the CYL to serve in rural areas as part-time local level officials, in order to train them in rural governance.

It vowed to build a number of training bases for young people in rural areas to start their own businesses or find jobs and to train more than 200,000 young people by 2020.

 

The Silk Road is active again: Thousands of trains now run the route

Many centuries ago, the routes of the ‘Silk Road’ used camels and whatnot for covering the thousands of kilometres between east and west on the Eurasian landmass. In more recent times, when Chinese planners were thinking about the reincarnation of the Silk Road – what is now known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – they took into consideration a number of factors: trains, even slower ones, are faster than ships; the US navy likes to bully others on the high seas; Central Asia, Russia and Europe will become more and more keen on Chinese products as the latter move to high quality production. One of the key solutions was actually a relatively old one: trains.

I am a great lover of trains, taking them whenever possible. And China is now the world leader in train innovation, technology and implementation. But the development of long distance cargo trains on the Eurasian landmass has largely gone under the radar. From a modest beginning back in 2011, when the first cargo train left Chongqing in China for Duisburg in Germany, it was the beginning of a monumental shift. Back then, there were perhaps a couple of routes trains could follow. Now there are many indeed and they keep increasing exponentially.

Every few days in the Chinese newspapers (for example, here and here), I read of yet another service that has opened, so much so that now there are now 65 routes between 48 cities in China and 40 in Europe. For example, in 2108 alone, 6300 trains with cargo made the journey to Europe, an incease of 70 percent from the previous year.

More detail in this recent article from Xinhua News, the largest and most reliable news service in the world:

URUMQI, April 9 (Xinhua) — The freight train service linking Chinese cities with Europe are breathing new life into the ancient Silk Road with its rapidly expanding network.

In May 2011, a rail route was opened between Chongqing and Duisburg in Germany, marking the start of the China-Europe cargo train service.

Boosted by the Belt and Road construction, the international train service has been expanding fast over the past eight years.

A total of 48 Chinese cities have launched 65 freight train routes, reaching 14 countries and more than 40 cities in Europe in 2018. Over 13,000 trips have been conducted by the China-Europe trains as of March.

Nan Jun, deputy general manager of the Xinjiang Xintie International Logistics Company, operator of Urumqi China-Europe train logistics center, has been a witness to the development of the train service, as 70 percent of the China-Europe trains exit or enter China through Xinjiang.

According to Nan, when the logistics center was opened in May 2016, only four international lines were available, with trains operating once per week. Now there are 21 international lines, with at least three trains operating daily.

International trains starting from Urumqi can reach destinations in Kazakstan in 48 hours, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 72 hours, Russia in eight days, the Netherlands in 16 days and Italy in 19 days.

Cargoes traveling on the China-Europe rail routes have also been expanding in categories, from electronics and grocery products initially to some 200 categories including mechanics, chemical products, textiles and foods.

Local products in Xinjiang have also caught these trains heading for Europe. For example, locally produced tomato ketchup has arrived at the dinner tables of Italians, thanks to the train service.

The Alataw Pass and Horgos of Xinjiang are the two ports through which the trains enter or exit China.

Wang Chuanjie, head of the Alataw Pass Customs, said the port now sees an average of seven international trains passing through it every day, compared to only one every month several years ago.

Staff at the two ports have been working to improve customs clearance efficiency for the trains, from 24 hours previously to less than 14 hours.

Ning Jizhe, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said earlier this year that more places would be connected by the China-Europe trains.

China will continue promoting the commercialization of the trains and upgrade the trains with digital technologies, he said.

Educating and inspiring the next generation of socialists in China

You have to hand it to the Chinese, since they know how to ensure generational succession in a socialist country. Education in Marxism and socialism with Chinese characteristics has always been part of the curriculum, but it is continuing to undergo major improvements – as this article from the Global Times shows:

An online platform has been established for elementary and middle school students to learn about new socialist thought and Chinese classics as part of a campaign to consolidate their belief in the Party and inspire them to be reliable socialist successors.

The Ministery of Education (MOE) and Chinese Young Pioneers National Working Committee co-launched the campaign in January to allow students to better understand socialism in the new era through reading Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and classics President Xi has quoted in his speeches.

The campaign will last through this year.

The People’s Daily has opened special website rmrbsn.cn and mobile app to better enable students to read the articles selected specifically for different age groups.

On the platform, articles for lower grades feature illustrations and explain the Chinese Dream, China’s ethnic groups and the Silk Road. Classical texts are mainly about ancient virtues and wisdom, such as the importance of persistence and that knowledge is only understood profoundly through practice. Teachers and education bureaus can log onto the two platforms to track students’ reading activities.

This year is an experiment, and “we hope the reading activities will be normalized in the future,” Gong Jieke, an official from the MOE, told the Global Times.

Mu Siqiong, a student at Tsinghua University High School in Beijing, told the Global Times that her school had just assigned the reading tasks to grade 10 students this week on the two platforms.

“The articles are short and easy to understand,” Mu said, noting that she is interested in the classics because “they are informative and instructive.”

Schools across China, including Beijing, East China’s Jiangsu Province, Central China’s Henan Province and Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, have also held collective reading and knowledge quizzes as a part of the campaign.

While you were (not) watching North Korea: Business is booming (updated)

Recently, the DPRK was forced to set a limit on foreign tourists coming to the country. The number has jumped to about 100,000 a year and the country’s facilities are struggling to cope. When I first visited in 2015, there were perhaps 20,000 Chinese tourists a year and 5,000 non-Chinese tourists. Now the total number has jumped to 100,000. Our visit in October of 2018 verified this rise, for more and more hotels were catering for travellers.

Alongside the tourists are an increasing number of foriegn investors, most of them Chinese. Business is booming north of the DMZ. As a recent article in the Global Times indicates, the DPRK is actively seeking further investment. The article is careful to point out that the lawyers’ group touring China is anticipating the lifting of sanctions, but the reality is that some investment is already taking place.

Earlier, I copied the initial article about the team of Korean lawyers touring China, but I have now replaced it with this follow-up, called ‘Chinese entrepreneurs eye new opportunities in N. Korea economy’:

With North Korea stabilizing its economy and giving development a high priority, Chinese companies and entrepreneurs have been actively but cautiously exploring more investment opportunities in the North Korean market.

They are more inspired as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on Monday reported to have visited the renovated and expanded Taesong Department Store in Pyongyang, which is seen as a positive sign for the country to further develop its economy.

According to nkews.com, Kim said the new “modern department store” would provide Pyongyang residents with “fine quality” goods including groceries, clothing, shoes, housewares and stationery. He was also reported to have said that the shop will “sufficiently produce and sell quality daily necessities and mass consumer goods for the convenience of the people,” the report said.

Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that the move could inspire many Chinese companies, since it could be seen as a sign of North Korea’s willingness to import more daily necessities as it strives to improve its residents’ living standards.

Li Guang, foreign trade manager of Hot Tex Woolen Co, a fabric supplier in East China’s Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times on Monday that North Korea has huge demand for textiles, and the move is a positive signal for companies like his that always want to ship more products to the country. “But since uncertainties remain, our export volumes are limited,” Li said. Li’s company exported fabrics worth $20,000 to North Korea last year.

Li said he’s also planning to attend the Pyongyang International Trade Fair to assess the situation and look for more opportunities in the country. North Korea offers “an ocean of opportunities,” said Li.

Apart from export opportunities, Chinese investors have also shown increasing interest in the market by taking trips to North Korea to get “a full understanding of the investment environment of the country,” an insider told the Global Times on Monday.

The insider noted that most investors still have a “wait-and-see attitude” since UN sanctions have not been lifted yet, but “they expressed willingness to invest in the country.”

The willingness is also bilateral. “Local authorities in North Korea also provided foreign investors with much convenience and they particularly welcome Chinese investors,” the insider said.

In a move to attract Chinese investors, a North Korea-based law firm visited China on April 1 to introduce its foreign investment laws and policies, and it promised to protect the rights of foreign investors in accordance with the laws.

Lü said that as neighboring countries, China and North Korea also enjoy certain advantages on business cooperation given their sound bilateral ties, well-established cooperation foundation and convenient transportation.

“There are many sectors where Chinese investors could invest, such as electricity and transportation,” said Lü, adding that bilateral trade will also gradually increase as tensions on the peninsula ease.

“Until then, China will continue to adhere to the UN sections, as it does now,” Lü added.

60 years of democratic reform in Tibet (updated)

The Chinese State Council has released a white paper celebrating 60 years of democratic reform in Tibet. You may find the full text in English here.

The facts speak for themselves: from 1959, Tibet (along with a number of other minority nationality areas) has been liberated from an archaic form of serfdom. Since then, the basic human right of socio-economic wellbeing has been fostered, the forces of production have been liberated (so much so that the Tibet Autonomous Region now has one of the highest growth rates in China), the common people of Tibet have taken control of their own future, the ‘third pole’ of Tibet has developed significant environmental protection policies, and Tibetan culture and religion have thrived. You can read the details for yourself.

Also, a full section of the Global Times has a series of articles on improvements in Tibet and the decline of the ‘separate’ group in India. Indeed, of the 15,000 or so in Dharamsala, 100 a year leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Many long to return to Tibet itself (as also the diapora community in Nepal). While life in Tibet improves year by year, the 14th Dalai Lama has less and less invitations to visit elsewhere. Watching how his reincarnation works out will be intriguing. You can be sure that the people of Tibet will find the reinicarnation there, in line with China’s policy of managing the 300 or so reinicarnations of living Buddhas, while the current Dalai Lama keeps changing his mind. Sometimes, he says he will not be reincarnated, while at other times he says his reincarnation will appear in India (for purely religious reasons, of course). Will we find ourselves with a split incarnation, where one becomes two – as Mao suggested for Chinese Marxist dialectics?

Back to the white paper, from which I would like to quote the following:

Before he was forced to flee Tibet after a failed counter-revolution in 1959 (sponsored by the CIA), the 14th Dalai Lama had the following:

Before democratic reform, the family of the 14th Dalai Lama possessed 27 manors, 30 pastures and over 6,000 serfs, and annually wrung out of them more than 462,000 kg of highland barley, 35,000 kg of butter, 2 million liang of Tibetan silver, 300 head of cattle and sheep, and 175 rolls of pulu (woolen fabric made in Tibet).

After 1959, the following was a result of the liberation of the serfs:

The serfs, who had been exploited and enslaved for generations, finally won freedom. They took ownership of more than 186,666 ha of land and other means of production. When their slave indentures and so-called IOU were burned in fire, they sang and danced to celebrate their liberation. In early 1960, about 200,000 farm households in Tibet acquired land certificates. Benefiting from policies such as the harvest of a farmland belonging to the one who sowed, lower rents for land, reduction in interest on loans, and the cancellation of old debts, the peasants gained more than 500 million kg of grain in total, over 750 kg per person.

Tsering Drolkar, a 68-year-old peasant from Khesum Shika of Nedong County said, “We had been providing corvée labor our whole lives. We never owned a single piece of land, what we worried about was how to find food for survival. Now with the land given to us by the people’s government, we will no longer go hungry.”

Perhaps the best is a new song that the liberated serfs began to sing:

The sunshine of the Dalai Lama touches only the nobles, while the sunshine of Chairman Mao showers on us poor people. The noble’s sun is setting and our sun is rising.

 

The Greening of Beijing

For the past two weeks I have walked well over 100 kilometres – in Beijing.

Until now I have regarded my little corner of the city as an oasis, outside of which is the bewildering maze of one of the largest cities in the history of human civilization. To be sure, I am accustomed to taking the massive metro system to all corners of the city. But this practice makes no difference to the sense of living in a maze. One speeds along underground, emerging at one’s destination in another part of town.

Walking is completely different.

Initially, I simply set out to find a bicycle shop for local supplies for my new Brompton foldup bicycle. Before I knew it, I had checked my Baidu map (much better than the woeful Google maps) to locate another bicycle shop. By the time I found it and returned home, I had walked in a south-westerly loop of about 10 kilometres.

I was hooked in a way that I had not expected. The next day I walked north to a church and bookshop, ambling back via another route. Soon enough I was off again, walking north again to find the old Summer Palace grounds, known in these parts as Yuanmingyuan. Having been inside before and knowing the ruins (a result of one of the European colonial rampages in the nineteenth century), I preferred to walk there and find another way home.

Now it was time for a serious hike. To the west of where I live begin the mountains that encircle Beijing. A favourite is Xiangshan, Fragrant Mountain, which I have climbed in the past. But now I decided I would walk to Xiangshan, a distance of some 14 kilometres. On the way I found the Beijing Green Belt, a carefully designed strip that runs along the western reaches of town. Soon enough I was striding along, absorbing the trees and the first blossoms of spring. Few were enjoying them at the time, for people were flocking to Xiangshan and its fabled spring flowers. By the time I reached the village itself, at the foot of the mountain and outside the city, I was done, so I took the new metro back home.

More walks followed, to the massive Yuyuantan Park, south of where I live and full of people out and about and celebrating spring. But I was most thrilled by Xizhuyuan Park, or Black Bamboo Park. It had been a chance discovery on another walk, a green space that set a whole new standard for such spaces.

Originally it had been a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) minor palace area, but it had been closed for many a long year. What had they been doing in the meantime? It turns out that the Beijing City government had been working on a new plan for the greening of the city. Black Bamboo Park would be one of the model green spaces. It had opened only recently.

Inside I was amazed. The old buildings had been restored, but more importantly trees and birds and plants were everywhere.  As I walked along the lake, a ranger with much excitement pointed to the water. There was a turtle – an amphibian that is most sensitive to environmental conditions since it moves between water, land and air – enjoying the clean water of the lake.

After my first visit to this particular park, I was able to map out an ideal walk. Initially I would head west along Wanquanzhuang Road, deep in the outer regions of Beijing where few foreigners tread and where locals do their thing. Then I would pick up the western Green Belt, along the Nanchang River, which was yet another new development. The river itself had been cleaned up and its environs were full of trees, blossoms and recreational spaces. It led me to the Black Bamboo Park, where I once again relished the breakthroughs in green planning and implementation. For the final leg, I walked along some four kilometres of the major Zhongguancun Road, but I did so by walking through one green space after another.

By now I had walked in all directions of the compass, east, north, west and south. I had hiked into the centre of the city, to its outskirts and the mountains, to historic sites of colonial humiliation, and along the ever greater number of green spaces.

Above all, I was most struck by the greening of Beijing. Not so long ago Beijing was a leitmotiv of the worst of city living. Row upon row of high-rise building, with an air quality that had become proverbial. Indeed, some foreigners and Chinese people from other parts assume that Beijing is still like that.

Not any more: the city government has been fully aware that residents would no longer put up with such conditions, so it had set about for many a long year to clean up the city. Some of the strictest environmental laws in the world are enforced ever more strongly, but this is only a beginning. Whole new standards have been set for a greening of the city. The air quality would be tackled through many policies that has seen it gradually improve year upon year. Green spaces would abound, with designer planning and implementation, as only the Chinese know how. And water quality would be at a level where sensitive animals would feel at home, whether turtles or the fabled ducks – not the type of Beijing Duck that you eat at a restaurant.

How is all this possible, especially in a city that had become a parable for environmental degradation?

Long-term planning is the answer. A stable government that is able to implement five-year plans. This is of course a communist local government that is committed to a green Beijing. Forget the ‘Greens’ of bourgeois democracies, with their liberal policies that have become political footballs. Only a communist government committed to ‘ecological civilisation’ can achieve what I experience here in Beijing.