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The People’s Republic of China is the most populous country in the world, with an estimated population of 1.35 billion people. The country’s economy has experienced massive growth in the last two decades, making it the second largest in the world after the economy of the United States. The socio-cultural climate of the country has also changed greatly in the recent past. According to Xu (2012), the social environment of China has changed greatly from what it used to be during the Qin Dynasty.
Following the end of the Second World War, the country embraced a political system that did not encourage socio-economic and political relationship with the West. However, this approach of governance has changed since 1990 when the country made a concerted effort to become a member of the World Trade Organization. In this study, the researcher will review some of the major historical events in China since 1990 that had impact on its social, cultural, political, and economic climate.
1997 Hong Kong Sovereignty
The transfer of administrative authority from the United Kingdom’s government to the Chinese government on July 1, 1997 is one of the major historic events that have had major socio-economic and political impacts on this country. In 1984, the British government and the rulers of China reached an agreement where they decided that the administration of Hong Kong will be handed over to China under some conditions. The conditions were met and this city became part of China in 1997.
This came with massive economic implications. According to LaFleur (2010) , “Hong Kong ranks the third most important international financial centre, after London and New York City, and has a major capitalist service economy characterized by low taxation and free trade” (p. 87). The decision to hand over the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China boosted the economy of the county. It also helped in promoting capitalism in the country at a time when it was obvious the country could not ignore capitalism any longer. However, this move also had some socio-cultural impact. When a section of residents of Hong Kong realized that the sovereignty of the country is to be transferred to China, they moved to other countries such as the United States, Canada, and European countries (Wu 2006, p. 90).
Chinese from mainland moved to Hong Kong, specifically to trade, and this helped in the integration of the culture of the West, which was very common in this region. It had a major political impact on the political structure of the Chinese government. Although the country was semi-autonomous, it had to rely on the military and foreign policies of the mainland China, a fact which meant that the territorial rule of the Chinese government had expanded. It strengthened the political position of China in the global arena.
2001 Accession to World Trade Organization
The accession of China to World Trade Organization involved a lengthy debate between China and the defunct General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). As mentioned above, after independence, China tried to close its borders to international trade in an effort to strengthen its local companies (Ianchovichina & Will 2001, p. 424).
The country was convinced that its massive population and the vast natural resources would enable it to trade internally and strengthen its developing companies. However, this changed in the 1990s when the leadership of the country realized that China needed the world in order to achieve economic success. The political leadership of this country realized that it had to find a way of becoming a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which later changed to be the World Trade Organization. The United States and other leading members of this body put a number of conditions that China had to meet in order to be allowed membership into this organization (Xu 2008, p 58).
This included dropping of unfair trade practices that limited the ability of other world companies to trade in the country. It was forced to open up its economy to the global society. The desire to become a member of the World Trade Organization forced the country to adhere to the socio-economic and political demands of the leading members of this economic block. The country finally became a member of this organization on December 11, 2001 (Basu & Bandara 2009, p. 56). It led to a massive competition in many industries in China as various companies struggled to enter the Chinese market. The competition has been one of the main reasons why China has become the second largest economy in the world. Its military system has also expanded a great deal as the country enjoyed economic prosperity. The move also saw many Chinese embrace the Western culture and social practices as the interaction between China and the rest of the world increased.
2008 Olympic Games
The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing is one of the most important historic events in China. According to Jianrou (2014), China was awarded these games on July 13, 2001, a few months before it was finally admitted into the World Trade Organization. Chinese government, and the people of China, had finally agreed that it was important to increase integration with the global society. The Olympic Games had massive socio-cultural, political and economic impacts on the country.
Soon after China was awarded the opportunity to host Olympic Games, the government started a comprehensive plan to improve its infrastructure in Beijing and other cities around the country. The government built unique stadiums that remain tourists’ attraction centers to this day. Roads leading to Beijing and the rail system were modernized, a move that had a great economic impact on the country. The security was also beefed up in the country, and this led to direct improvement of the business environment.
During these games, China was offered a rare opportunity to showcase its social and cultural heritage to the global society as the world’s media turned its attention to the country. The Chinese also interacted with people from all over the world who came for the games, and this influenced their social and cultural lives. The attention that the country received globally and the success of the games had a positive effect on the political climate of the country. According to Jianrou (2014, p. 1), for the first time, China was offered the opportunity to convince the global society that it is a country that is willing to interact with the world, and ready to interact with countries socially, politically and even economically.
2010 Google Censorship
According to Zuchora (2010, p. 56), the 2010 Google censorship by the Chinese government is the most conspicuous of the efforts by the Communist Party to suppress the freedom of press. Chinese government was coming under intense accusation of human rights violations against the Tibetans. The media was already prohibited from covering the crackdown on the rebellious Tibetans who were calling for the democratization of the country’s political leadership.
However, individuals were still reporting about the events of the crackdown to the global community using cameras and posting them on YouTube. While the government was telling the world that there was no human rights violation in the country, the YouTube was reporting a different story. Videos of the Chinese police brutally beating unarmed Tibetans was a clear indication to the world that what the Chinese government was saying was very different from the truth. The government became very uncomfortable with the activities of Google which was reporting the civil strife in the country.
The government made direct efforts to frustrate the activities of Google in China, and this led to the resignation of Kai-Fu Lee as the head of Google China in 2010 under very unclear circumstances. However, this did not stop Google from availing some of the videos posted on its site confirming police brutality against the Tibetans. According to Harding (2012), “On March 23, 2010, Google was under China’s tight control and censorship” (p. 32), This forced Google to redirect all the searches from Google.com to Google.com.hk, following the decision by the top management at Google to transfer operations to Hong Kong.
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This was a massive blow to the political image of this country. It was a clear indication that China was willing to do what it takes to ensure that the media in the country only reports what they consider appropriate. It was also a confirmation that the freedom of press in China did not exist because the government controlled most of such operations. This had a negative socio-economic impact on the country. The image of the country, especially among the world democracies, was damaged. It affected China’s bilateral trade with a number of countries protesting against the dictatorial regime in the country. The social culture, that most Chinese were trying to spread around the world, was also affected. The Chinese lost the moral authority to sell their culture to the world because the global society closely related this culture to the brutality of the government against dissenting voices.
China’s Relationship with Australia
The relationship between China and Australia, also known as the Sino-Australian relations, began on December 21, 1972 when the two countries signed a diplomatic relation agreement (Jikun, Ninghui & Rozelle 2003, p. 1295). These relationships were largely motivated by economic factors, though it has had a massive impact on the socio-cultural and political environment of the two countries. According to Reilly and Yuan (2012), China was attracted by rich minerals in Australia.
During the 1970s, China was experiencing a rapid economic growth, and it needed minerals as raw materials for its growing industrial sector. However, the fact that the country was not a member of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade limited the sources of raw materials. Most of the members of this organization were not willing to trade freely with China for the fear of the repercussions from the leading members, especially the United States. The trade agreement between China and Australia offered a rare opportunity for this country to get access to the raw materials that were readily available in Australia. China also had the opportunity to export its products to Australia which is one of the leading economies in the world.
The trade ties between these two countries have remained intact even in the current times, and China remains one of the leading importers of Australian exports. According to the report by Tok (2013), “Australia’s exports to China was estimated to be A$64.8 billion, while China’s export to Australia was worth A$41.1 billion in 2010-2011 period” (p. 72).
The most important thing in this bilateral trade is that the minerals from Australia are used in the manufacture of several products that are later exported to other countries around the world. The exports have earned this country massive income, boosting its economy even further. Palmer and Chao (2009, p. 276) say that Australia is one of the few leading economies in the world that was not affected by the 2008 world economic recession because of its massive exports to China.
Most of the Chinese have moved to Australia for academic purposes. This has led to sharing of the cultural beliefs between the two countries over the years. Australian culture has influenced the social beliefs and practices of the elite Chinese, especially those who have spent time there for academic purposes or for trade. Zheng (2012) says, “As of September 2011, there were 150,000 Chinese students studying at Australia tertiary institutions” (p. 28) This massive population would later impact the lifestyle of many Chinese once they return home after completion of their studies. It has played a leading role in promoting English language in China. Australia is one of the few leading economies in the world that have not been very critical of the political leadership in China, although there were some strains because of the close ties between Australia and the West. This relationship has also affected Australia socially, culturally, politically, and economically.
China under the Leadership of Xi JinPing
President Xi JinPing took the leadership of China with a promise to transform the government system in the country. He came to power at a time when China was facing political conflicts with its neighbor Japan, and economic tension with the West. He has been forced to find an internal solution to corruption, nepotism, and other social injustices, while still addressing the international problems. According to Makinen (2014), President Xi is offering a new leadership to this country that has helped to promote integration, besides promoting positive relationship with the international community. Makinen (2014), says, “Xi has called for a renewed campaign against corruption, continued market economic reforms, an open approach to governance, and a comprehensive national renewal under the neologism Chinese Dream” (p. 1).
The recent investigation against some of the top government officials is a clear indication that he is a leader determined to transform the face of this country by fighting some of the vices that have affected China for a long time.
There have been major historical events in China since 1990 that greatly impacted the social, cultural, political and economic climate of the country. Hong Kong Sovereignty in 1997, accession to World Trade Organization in 2001, the Olympic Games in 2008, and the 2010 Google censorship are some of the major events that have had major impacts on various sectors of the country. The leadership style of President Xi JinPing and the close ties that China is determined to maintain with Australia and other countries around the world also show the transformation of the socio-political and economic structure of China.
List of References
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