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• Chinese Government, Public Donate in Wake of Tsunami
• China Offers Families Cash Incentives to Produce More Girls
• Direct Flights Between China and Taiwan Approved for Lunar New Year

Chinese Government, Public Donate in Wake of Tsunami

In the aftermath of the natural disaster that wrecked havoc in South and Southeast Asia, the Chinese government has not been able to match donations provided by other world powers, but the Chinese public has contributed an unprecedented amount of private aid for a foreign catastrophe.

Beijing’s $64 million and several dozen aid workers pale in comparison to neighboring Japan’s $500 million pledge and the United State’s 13,000 troops sent to the region. Analysts have been mindful of the disparity between China’s regional ambitions and its relatively limited ability to contribute. Despite growing economic influence in the area affected by the tsunami, the disaster pointed out how far China still lags behind other regional powers in economic and military reach.

Analysts said that China and Japan see tsunami relief as a means to extend regional power, and it follows that each would pledge as much as their budgets could manage. It is telling to note that China’s $64 million is estimated to account for a full half of its foreign aid budget. Zhang Xizhen, a scholar of Southeast Asian economics and politics at Beijing University said, “During the Cold War… [Southeast Asian] attitudes toward China were suspicious and distrustful. Even now, there are many conflicts…But China is trying hard to change these attitudes. The Tsunami aid shows the emerging influence of China in Southeast Asia.” However, in comparison to Japan’s pledge of “a minimum” of $500 million, China’s contribution may not go far to sway opinions in South Asia.

What may go further to win South Asian hearts is the unprecedented outpouring of aid from Chinese citizens. The Chinese Red Cross has collected at least $3 million in cash and pledges – a huge amount taking into consideration that charity is quite rare in China and private contributions for foreign catastrophes are almost unheard of. This newfound generosity may be in part due to the Chinese media’s nonstop coverage of the tsunami and increasing disposable income in Chinese society.

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China Offers Families Cash Incentives to Produce More Girls

China is offering to pay couples a premium for producing baby girls to counter an alarming gender imbalance created by the country's one-child population control policy. Last year, 118 boys were born for every 100 girls in China, compared with a global average of 105 to 100. Faced by a socially destabilizing shortage of more than 30 million women by 2020, senior family planning officials stated that they would offer welfare incentives to couples with two daughters and tighten the prohibition on sex-selective abortions. "China has set the goal of lowering the sex ratio to a normal level by 2010", said Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

To reverse the trend, pilot programs are already underway in China's poorest provinces. In some areas, couples with two daughters and no sons have been promised an annual payment of $75.00 once they reach 60 years of age. The money, a significant sum in areas where the average income is around on dollar a day, will also be given to families with only one child to discourage couples with a daughter from trying again for a boy. Some regions have gone further. In parts of Fujian province, local governments have given housing grants of more than $2,000 to couples with two girls.

The state will expand welfare programs so poor couples rely less on producing a son to care for them in their old age. It will also push a "caring for girls" propaganda campaign to counter the preference for boys. But it is far from certain that the measures will be any more successful than previous attempts to reverse the preference for boys. Many families, particularly in rural areas, place greater value on sons, who are considered best suited to continue the family line, generate income and ensure that parents are cared for during their old age. As a result, a disproportionate number of female fetuses are aborted and girls are at greater risk than boys of being abandoned or sold.

While other Asian nations, notably India and South Korea, have experienced similar problems, China's demographic distortions have clearly worsened since the introduction of the one-child policy. In rural areas such as Hainan island, there are reports of classrooms filled mostly with boys and orphanages filled mainly with girls. In the future, population planners fear the lack of brides will create social tensions as men migrate and compete more fiercely for mates. Wife-selling, baby-trafficking and prostitution are all expected to increase as the first generation born under the one-child policy hits the normal marriage age. Despite such problems, the government insists the one-child policy is necessary. Since 1980, family planning officials say the restrictions have prevented 300 million births that would have otherwise have overwhelmed an overcrowded nation of 1.3 billion people.

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Direct Flights Between China and Taiwan Approved for Lunar New Year

For the first time since 1949, there will be direct flights between Taiwan and Mainland China after an agreement reached January 15 between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. In a temporary move toward achieving the “three links,” Taiwanese citizens will be able to take flights home to either Taipei or Kaohsiung from the mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou between Jan. 29 and Feb. 20 for the Lunar New Year.

In the past, the Taiwanese government has agreed to the idea of direct flights, but efforts to come to an agreement have always fallen short of the goal. The last major effort in 2003 still required token landings in Hong Kong or Macao, only a marginal improvement from the regular routine of changing planes in these cities. This year the flights will be “direct” but must still detour to pass nominally through Hong Kong or Macau airspace, a concession to Taiwan’s enduring security concerns.

Before the agreement, On TVBS, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian noted, “When a breakthrough is made in Lunar New Year charter flights between the two sides, it could be an important basis for normalizing cross-Strait relations.” Analysts are saying that the agreement will be viewed as a victory for Chen after long history of deteriorating relations with the mainland.

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