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China’s road freight problem and its solutions

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Shifting freight off China’s roads could be key to tackling air pollution in the 14th Five Year Plan period (2021-25), according to an annual report by the environment ministry. ​

Motorised vehicles have become a key driver of pollution; a single diesel truck creates as much pollution in China as 200 private cars. Diesel-powered goods vehicles are in fact responsible for 60% of the nitrogen oxides and 85% of the particulate matter pollution released on China’s roads, despite making up only 8% of all vehicles. These vehicles are thus a central target for pollution control measures.

Polluting road freight

National average levels of PM2.5 – the most dangerous particulate matter pollution for human health – dropped 27% between 2015 and 2019, according to the latest report from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. But nitrogen dioxide levels fell only 9%, while ozone actually rose 11%. The transportation sector is China’s third largest source of nitrogen oxides, second only to coal-fired power stations and industry. It is also the second largest source of ozone, after industry, accounting for 20% of the total.

Between 2013 and 2018, the number of heavy-duty diesel vehicles on Chinese roads increased an average of 4% per year. 

Li Ganjie, head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), said at a recent meeting on national environmental protection work that “the reliance on road freight remains unchanged,” a fact he described as a weak point in the MEE’s work to manage the environment.

According to the MEE’s “2018 China Vehicle Environmental Management Annual Report”, the nature of pollution in many Chinese cities is changing. What was once simply a product of coal-burning is now a more complex mix coming from coal, vehicles and secondary pollutants. Data released by the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress in mid-January shows that mobile pollution sources, not coal-burning and industry, are now the main cause of PM2.5 in the city, accounting for 45% of annual emissions.

Tackling diesel vehicle emissions is not easy. At the China Blue Sky Observers Forum in December last year, Ni Hong, a researcher at the MEE’s Vehicle Emissions Monitoring Centre, said that the majority of these vehicles are owned by their drivers, some of whom adulterate their fuel to lower cost. Vehicles may also avoid environmental checks, be driven above the speed limit, overloaded or in breach of emissions standards. The authorities do not have the capacity to carry out full checks, or to ensure that issues are resolved.

Another approach would be to rely less on roads to carry freight around the country and more on the alternatives.

Costs associated with shifting to rail or water

It is cleaner to move freight by rail, rivers, canals and coastal shipping than by road. Commonly accepted industry figures show rail uses one-seventh of the energy needed to move the same goods by road, and produces one-thirteenth of the nitrogen oxides and PM2.5. Transportation by water, meanwhile, uses one-fourteenth of the energy and produces one-fifteenth of the pollution.

But the bulk of China’s freight still travels by road. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that in the past decade the proportion of road freight has fluctuated around the 76% mark, while water transport has increased a little in the last five years and rail freight is actually decreasing. Road freight accounts for too much long-distance transport of commodities such as coal, ores, and iron and steel. Progress in moving these bulk goods off the roads is slow.

Speaking at the forum, Xu Honglei, a senior researcher at the Ministry of Transport, said this is down to distorted pricing. There is fierce price competition in the road freight sector, with varying degrees of unhealthy competition, low prices and overloading. Meanwhile, market reforms of the rail sector are proceeding slowly, with transportation costs not coming down. “When moving bulk goods a distance of less than 800km, door-to-door prices for rail are usually higher than for road,” he said. “And road freight haulers offer a single price, while rail freight includes various miscellaneous fees.”

In a 2018-2020 plan for restructuring the transportation sector, the State Council called for “deeper market reforms of rail freight prices, a complete and flexible freight pricing system, and the use of the market to allocate resources,” in order to increase the amount of freight moved by rail. But so far, rail freight market reforms have had very little effect.

Zhao Jian, director of Beijing Jiaotong University’s China Urbanisation Research Centre, recently wrote in Caixin that when taking administrative measures to move freight from road to rail, the government needs to improve efficiency and speed in order to meet market needs. That means looking at how the railways are managed, and carrying out more extensive reforms.

Zhao Jian wrote that rail freight in China remains, in great degree, a monopoly. The China State Railway Group keeps overall control of all railway assets and finances nationwide, with 18 regional railway bureaus managing local freight operations. Zhao thinks this renders railway freight companies unable to respond to market demands. Regional railway bureaus cannot earn income directly, as payments must pass through the China State Railway Group. Nor can they set their own prices or purchase or dispose of assets, and they have no incentive to reduce costs. As each bureau covers too small an area, and rail freight in China usually travels over 700km, they are often unable to guarantee shipments will arrive on time, respond to rapidly changing market demands, or adopt modern logistics systems – and so they lose a great deal of business.

At the forum in December, Xu Honglei also pointed out that rail, road and water freight networks are not interconnected with infrastructure allowing goods to move between them. Meanwhile, dedicated railway lines to serve ports, logistics zones and large industrial and mining firms are underdeveloped; they suffer from poor quality links to the rest of the network.

Peng Chuansheng of the China Waterborne Transport Research Institute at the Ministry of Transport told China Dialogue that unless customers have their own docks, trucks are still needed to shift water freight from docks to factories. “It might work out cheaper for the company to just use road freight,” he said.

Improving rail and water freight

Experts say faster market reforms and better infrastructure and transportation links are needed to allow rail and water freight to reduce costs and make use of their competitive advantages.

Zhao Jian thinks the best way to boost the vitality of rail freight firms is to break the railway monopoly. In his Caixin article, he suggested restructuring the 18 railway bureaus into three larger regional rail companies, with the China State Railways Group to be a holding company, responsible for managing capital. The three new companies would have control within their regions and be able to set prices and acquire or dispose of assets, become market actors in their own right. He told China Dialogue that this approach could be trialled by expanding some railway bureaus to cover wider areas. The Harbin and Shenyang bureaus could be restructured into a single bureau covering north-east China, for example. This would reduce the barriers preventing rail freight from making use of its advantages.

Commenting on the lack of freight infrastructure, Xu Honglei said at the forum that work to build railway main and dedicated lines should continue, rail services to businesses and logistics zones should be improved, and links at freight hubs improved. On water freight, Peng Chuansheng said the government should encourage companies to have their own docks, giving them a direct link with ports.

There is no doubt that some transportation of bulk goods could be shifted from road to rail and water. However, road still has an advantage in parcel freight, and China’s express delivery sector is growing rapidly. Data from the postal authorities show 50 million express deliveries were made in 2018, up 26.6% on the previous year. These rapid deliveries of smaller items must still be made by road. Peng Chuansheng said industrial restructuring and changes in the energy mix will mean goods being moved will be smaller and lighter, but more valuable, requiring faster deliveries and better services. Rail and water freight cannot yet provide these. 

The rapid growth of parcel deliveries by road reminds us that while changing the freight transportation mix is important, reducing emissions from road freight remains an urgent task.

From our partner chinadialogue.net

Gao Baiyu is one of our researchers on the Beijing editorial team. She has a master’s degree in computational journalism from Syracuse University.

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East Asia

Bushido Spirit Resurrected? Japan publicly bared its swords against China

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Recently, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso declared that Japan will join forces with the US to “protect Taiwan.” There has been a lot of turmoil, but even though the US directly announced that it will follow the “One China policy,” Japan has not given up its secret intentions. Japan’s new “Defense White Paper,” which was just approved, not only continued to link the US, but also displayed greater animosity toward China.

The Japanese government just finished the 2021 version of the “Defense White Paper,” according to the Global Times, but both the cover and the substance of the white paper are full of “provocative” meaning. The first is the front cover. According to the image released by Japanese media, the cover of Japan’s new “Defense White Paper” is an ink drawing of a warrior on horseback. According to a spokesperson for Japan’s Ministry of Defense, the horse samurai on the cover represents the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s commitment to defend Japan. However, after seeing it, some Japanese netizens said that it was “extremely powerful in fighting spirit.”

From a content standpoint, the white paper keeps the substance of advocating “China menace,” talking about China’s military might, aircraft carriers, Diaoyu Islands, and so on, and also includes the significance of “Taiwan stability” for the first time. A new chapter on Sino-US ties is also included in the white paper. According to the Associated Press, the United States is expanding its assistance for the Taiwan region, while China is increasing its military actions in the region. This necessitates Japan paying attention to it with a “crisis mindset.”

Japan has recently grown more daring and rampant, thanks to a warlike cover and material that provokes China and is linked to the US. Japan has recently bared its swords against China on several occasions.

Not only did Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga take the lead in referring to the Taiwan region as a “country,” but after meeting US President Biden, he issued a joint statement referring to the Taiwan region, and tried his best to exaggerate maritime issues such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Deputy Defense Mizuho, and Deputy Defense Mizuho. It has all made inappropriate statements on Taiwan and publicly attacked the “One China Principle.”

After China clearly voiced its disapproval, Japan not only refused to be constrained, but actively increased its antagonism toward China. Do they truly believe China is simple to provoke? The tensions between China and Japan will undoubtedly worsen as a result of Japan’s publishing of this white paper. Although Japan has the bravery to provoke, it lacks the guts to initiate an armed war with China. After all, even the United States, on which they have traditionally counted, would not dare.

It is simple to employ force against China, and if the Japanese Self-Defense Force want to fight the People’s Liberation Army, it is preferable for them to be prepared for any catastrophic outcomes. Furthermore, China has long been Japan’s most important commercial partner. Even with Japan’s sluggish economy, they should be wary of challenging China. If they refuse to examine this, China may let them face the consequences of economics and trade.

Furthermore, the US has declared unequivocally that it will pursue the “One China Policy” and has intimated that it will not “protect Taiwan” with Japan. The stance of the United States demonstrates that, despite Japan’s determination to constrain China on the Taiwan problem and invitation to the United States to join in “safeguarding Taiwan and defending Japan,” the United States is hesitant to offer such refuge to Japan. As a result, Japan should be clear about its own place in the heart of the United States and attach itself to the United States, although it may be beaten by the United States again in the end.

In reaction to this event, the Hong Kong media stated that Japan should focus on making friends and generating money rather than intervening in Taiwan’s affairs, saying that “provoking Beijing is a fool’s errand.” As a result, if Japan continues to challenge China, they will be exposed as a total fool. And how good will a fool do in a game between countries?

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East Asia

Hong Kong Issues & the Impact on China’s Domestic Politics

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Hong Kong after years under British colony was handed over to China after the leash period was over and China being the governing state swore that it will protect the uniqueness of Hong Kong and let it function under its established capitalist system under “one state, two system” policy for the period of 50 years. These 50 years ensure Hong Kong to enjoy the freedom under the China security Umbrella. In contrast to China, the Hong Kong political system consist of multiple parties. Some of these political parties fall under the Pro-democratic camp as they supports the positive reforms in democracy. The other camp is of Pro-establishment, they are known for their support for the mainland China as they consist of basically people from the business sector. In the Hong Kong the Pro-Business supporter or pro establishment are known to be more of the dominant group because of their relation with the China but they have less support of the voter in contrast to the Pro-democratic camp.

Though in the wake of the recent Issues and the conflict with the mainland China it seems that the promises that were made at the time of handover are just fading away. Recently China decided to take some bold steps as it decided to intrude and intervene in the political system practiced In the Hong Kong which seems to a crackdown by Mainland China against its opposition. These audacious step of China triggered the massive protest in the Hong Kong driving international attention and Condemnation. What prompted and highlighted the situation more was when China in 2020 passed a national security bill and implemented an extremely comprehensive definitions for crimes such as terrorism, subversion, secession, and collusion with external powers. This bill was said to be controversial as it was a strain for the Hong Kong to establish itself as a full democracy. China also further accelerated the situation by arresting many pro-democracy activist and lawmakers which were protesting against the bill. What factors lead China take such steps was when the political groups in Hong Kong became more radical and formed Anti-Beijing parties threating the China Position and its control over the Hong Kong?  Student and youngster took the street to protest for the establishment of the political system that is more democratic in nature, starting to call themselves Hong Kong Nationals rather than identifying themselves as Chinese National.  Several of these groups separated in 2020, as Beijing cracked down on political opposition. This all threaten the Chinese position and control over the Hong Kong and its political setup. These steps by Mainland China have hushed many Hong Kong citizens who was fighting for democracy and encouraged others to abandon their lifestyle and escape the city.

If we see the motivation of the China Communist Party after consolidating power was to ensure and invest on the stability, CCP does everything and take every measure they have to in order to preserve the Stability of the Country so for this purpose most of the spending by the party was for the stability that is on the police system, training centers and national defense system that ensure the preservance of stability internally. If we study the CCP history, the power tenure of Xi Jinxing was clearly marked with the same preservance of stability as well as consolidation of power. He did it by benefitting those who were loyal to his leadership for example the pro-business man group in Hong Kong or Pro establishment camp. He sidelined those who were in the opposition as he did with the Pro-democratic wing that were protesting in the Hong Kong. China while introducing the National Security bill right after the massive protest did fuel the situation but it is also clear that China was somehow successful in inflaming the nationalism among people and pitting it against those who ever criticizing in and out of the country. China used the coincidental and the inflamed nationalism for its own benefit. Xi Jinxing handling of situation by doing massive arrest and crack downs on the opposition clearly reflects that regardless CCP and the XI jinxing knowing that such move will prove to be disastrous either seen from the diplomatic, geopolitical of economic lenses still go for it. It shows that the leaders only cared about the political requirements and reinforce inner control ignoring the damages it can have on the geopolitical or the economic situation of the country. All over in the history it had been debated that one day Chinese leadership might implement an aggressive foreign policy or even go for a war just for the sake to distract the public and international attention from their domestic issues. Hong Kong offered that very opportunity that could benefit the Chinese leadership, but without the risks and costs of a war. So I must say the situation handled by the Xi Jinxing was merely motivation but the thirst for consolidating power over Hong Kong rather than benefitting either of the mainland China or Hong Kong.

This situation had also impacted the internal politics of the China both diplomatically as well as economically. Diplomatic in a sense that the world had witnessed the massive protest in Hong Kong and a little later China decided to implement the National security Bill just gathered the Attention of the supranational actors and countries. Due to the Pandemic and its origination from China, it was exposed to the world and all the things happening in China was keenly observed. In such a scenario taking such rigid steps brought the world Attention not in the favor of the Country. Admits the Pandemic as well as the crackdown many countries including USA start to reinvent their policies for China. It was a great chance for the Rivals of China to hit it where it hurts. As Hong Kong served as a great technological hub for the China, deteriorating situation and implementation of such broad definition of terrorism compel many business to close down or relocate themselves thus negatively impacting the already crumbling economy due to pandemic. For example the head office of New York Times announced its relocation to Seoul amidst the deteriorating situation in the Hong Kong. Other than that many technological firms relocated themselves as there were facing restriction and censorship in their activities from China.  This happened due to the constant threat of arrest if they did not comply with the demands and the instruction given by the authorities. So Hong Kong issue and the handling of it by the Chinese Government did have many repercussion for the domestic politics of the China. If China keep following on this step and keep seeing Hong through thorough the Nationalist perspective it will Sabotage China Fight for freedom at the larger scale and Hong Kong will time to time rise up again to mold the domestic narrative build by the China and to break its monopoly, which will be a constant threat to China.

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East Asia

100 Years of the Communist Party of China: A Glorious Journey

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As the Communist Party of China (CPC) marks its centenary, it gives a very strong message to the whole world. The message is: an alternative system is not only possible; it exists, it is working and it is thriving.

During past 100 years of its existence as a political force, CPC has achieved marvels on all the fronts that it had to deal with. The journey started, in my view, by giving Chinese people a confidence that ‘we can do it; we can deal with internal and external challenges successfully.’ That is how the CPC got itself established in the minds and hearts of Chinese people in its foundational decades – 1920s. Through 1930s and 1940s, the party – though young and fragile at that time – registered a phenomenal role against the Japanese aggression.

The proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949 indeed was the most important feat in the history of the CPC and Chinese people at large. Yet, as is globally realized, the tough task starts after the establishment of the state – its preservation, its development and making it a nation known globally for its mettle. CPC performed exceptionally well on all these counts.

Through initial decades of founding of PRC, the Party worked very hard to ensure well-being of Chinese people – the world’s most populous nation – and meet their needs of livelihoods, food, education, health and other amenities. The journey was slow, but steady. Through this pre-reform and opening up period, dealing with calamities like famine as well as negative fallouts of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was not easy; yet, CPC showed that the Party and its leadership can steer the country through these difficult times.

Obtaining the rightful place for PRC at global fora such as the United Nations, strengthening the country’s defence including making it a nuclear power, and establishing a leadership role for the country among the developing world were momentous achievements of that time.

The post-reform and opening up period started a whole new chapter in the history of CPC and China – one that the world knows today as miracle. Today, the People’s Republic is one of the strongest and most important nations on the face of the earth. Be it economic growth and development; poverty reduction and social uplift; scientific advances and innovation, as well as a potent role for global development, China is visible as a force to be reckoned with.

This has been possible with sincere, well-thought-out, responsive and forward looking strategies and policies of CPC’s central leadership, implemented through its provincial and lower local cadres, across the country.

Lifting more than 800 million people out of absolute poverty and now being a country free of absolute poverty, having achieved a level of modest prosperity – and that too within given timeframe despite the challenges posed by globally-threatening pandemic – is a feat that humanity, not only China, should write with golden words in its history. CPC has made it clear that with dedication to people, engaging them constructively in the process of national development, and giving them confidence, everything is possible.

The advent and successful moving forward of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) now becomes the most promising feather in the cap for CPC, today led by visionary Xi Jinping and his able comrades.

My study of China in general and the Communist Party of China (CPC) in particular, over past about two decades, makes me say with conviction that the whole edifice of the Party and its work are truly people centric. Its selection of the cadres, from bottom to the top, is based on qualification, dedication, integrity and capacity to deliver. You get what you deserve. You have to deliver, or else, pave the way for others to do the same better than you. This is a system that brings the cream of the society to the top.

A distinctive feature of CPC’s strategic planning, functioning and deliverance is adaption to changing ground realities and trends. Thus, the Party – as I have observed – beautifully blends change and continuity it its system and structure of the governance of the country.

As an international observer, the way CPC has ensured equitable distribution of the benefits of growth and development, amongst it regions as well as ethnic groups, is profoundly impressive, for me. It is inclusive. The beauty of it is that no one feels left behind. Even in case of selection and promotion of its cadres, CPC ensures inclusiveness and representation. Not only all the regions of the country but its various ethnic groups are duly represented and become part of the decision-making for the nation.

CPC, the world needs to know, also follows a constructive consultative mechanisms with eight other political parties of the country – it is not a one way traffic or a one party show. Input and feedback from other parties is incorporated, where so needed and feasible. The Party is now fostering linkages and collaboration with political parties across the globe, sharing experiences mutually.

The notion that western democracy is the only workable political model for the world holds no ground. 100 successful years of CPC become one of the strongest reminders for the world that alternatives not only exist but have proven feasible; much more successful than disruptive, destabilizing, distorted ‘democracy’ that the west continues to experiment with and wishes to impose upon the rest of the world.

With close to 91 million members, CPC becomes that largest political party on the planet. Yet, my exposure of China gives me reasons to say that every single citizen of China has immense confidence in CPC – believing that the Party is taking their nation in the right direction, in a glorious manner.

It is time for the CPC experience to be showcased to the world, prominently. In coming years and decades, CPC is all set to take China towards unprecedented heights – domestically and internationally.

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