When historians look back at 2017 what will they remember most? Certainly political upheavals the world over – from Trump’s surprise election, to Brexit, to the rise of nationalism in Europe – will deserve their own chapters in our schoolbooks. Most important, and probably not so evident just yet, will be the debut of China as a true global leader. It’s precisely these political changes to the world order precipitating China’s strategic shift. Key to its moral and ethical positioning is the country’s stance, investment, and direction on developing a more sustainable future.
We’ve already looked at how China’s outpaced the rest of the world on green investments. There’s also a tightening noose around the necks of factories still flouting environmental regulations. At last count, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has shut down 40 percent of China’s factories and reprimanded 80,000 individuals for emission’s violations. All of this is part and parcel of a New Era for China, one where the country is less the world’s factory and more its premier service provider.
Cracks in this veneer, however, are also starting to show.
This past month, Beijing began a highly controversial 40-day clean up of unsafe buildings throughout the capital. Largely seen as a means to evict migrant workers, which number over 8 million in the city, the move highlights just how intricately linked issues of development, urbanization, and society truly are.
The number of children left behind in villages by parents looking for work in major cities continues to climb. There are now over 65 million left-behind children being cared for primarily by aging grandparents. This is an unsustainable construct with immense negative implications for the family unit, parents, and children. Yet, finding a solution in this quickly developing country has remained elusive.
The poster child for China in 2017 would have to be its shared bike operators. From Mobike to Ofo and everyone in between, these have come to dominate both streets and headlines. There are now more than 1.5 million bikes in Shanghai alone, crowded precious urban infrastructure and causing a major headache for planning officials.
At the onset of this new year, it will be fascinating to see how a country the size of China continues to right itself. What major announcements and investments will it make? What measures will it take to iron out the kinks in its system? More importantly, what best practices can it export to the rest of the world to fast track environmental protection and sustainable development in a time of such uncertainty?