BEIJING — China's central government has imposed new requirements to severely limit the population in the country's "mega-cities." In the booming capital, whose population has topped 20 million, the focus has been on using economic regulations to stem the rising number of inhabitants.
“Controlling the population by controlling business categories” is one of the key new policies, and includes relocating outside the city limits sectors such as the production of furniture, building materials, garment and small commodity wholesaling.
Another measure that will affect even more people is “controlling the population by controlling housing.” A series of campaigns to crack down on illegal group renting, as well as illegal suburban house construction, will be intensified.
Beijing officials also plan to raise public transportation costs, such as subway and bus fares, as well as other price hikes to local services such as water and electricity. The stated goal is to “let prices play a role in population regulation” by raising living costs, and “squeezing out a part of the floating population.”
Meanwhile the Beijing government has once again modified its target of population control and set a goal of maintaining the capital’s permanent population at around 21.8 million by 2015. This means that over the next two years the city’s residential population is not to grow by more than 650,000 persons.
So, can this series of measures actually work? And more broadly, is it the role of the government to regulate population so closely?
First things first
Lu Jiehua, a professor of sociology at Peking University, reckons that Beijing’s population and shortage of resources are indeed acute, and it is commonly acknowledged that its population has to be controlled. However, the authority has to be clear about the limits of its own role.
Beijing's goal: not more than 21.8 million by 2015 — Photo: See ming-Lee
In Lu’s view, the government ought to first determine its economic and industrial policy before taking aim at population control — not the other way around. “The authority has to decide the industrial layout, and let the market determine the jobs available. And then individuals will decide whether they are to stay in Beijing or leave.”
Lu also notes that in its 2004 City Plan, Beijing positioned itself as “China’s capital city, a world city, a famous cultural city and a city comfortable for living.” It is neither a financial center, nor an economic center. Thus, Beijing should effectively move out of the many economic functions it currently hosts.
Finally, the government ought to acknowledge that population is not purely a burden. “For a city to develop, to be dynamic and to have vitality, it needs people," Lu says. "If all Beijing cares about is how to reduce its population, and then everybody leaves — high-end and low-end workers alike — how is it going to achieve any economic development?”
Lu notes that even while the Beijing government talks about using economic incentives to control the population, it has mostly relied on strict limits to housing and residency permits in an attempt to push out temporary migrant workers.
“A city’s needs are pluralistic,” Lu notes, “even the so-called high-end population needs services from middle and low-end laborers while the latter also require the basic needs of shelter and food for themselves."
And Lu worries that this new round of population control will again have the greatest impact on low-income groups. Meanwhile, the living costs for all in Beijing — from the migrant population to the labor burdens of business are all going to go up.
“This goes against the spirit of inclusiveness that Beijing claims to have.”
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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