Environmental Devastation In Bohai Gulf, China’s 'Cradle' Of Fishing

As industrial development booms along the northeast coast, stretches of waterways are being destroyed by massive pollution. Attempts to cover up the damage in Bohai Gulf failed, and both local fishermen and environmental activists are demanding better pro

A bridge over the Bohai Gulf (gaobo)
A bridge over the Bohai Gulf (gaobo)
Chung Ang

The innermost bay of the Yellow Sea on the northeastern coast of China, the semi-enclosed Bohai Gulf, used to be known as the country's "cradle of fishery," once accounting for 40% of China's fishing output. Now, in ecological terms, it is dying a rapid death that mirrors the region's breakneck economic development.

According to the "Tianjin Marine Environmental Quality Bulletin," none of the three coastal water monitoring sites near Tianjin, the major city of the area, meets the water requirement standard for marine life protection and secure human use. China's State Oceanic Administration official was even more blunt: "Bohai has basically lost its function as a fishery."

With significant oil and gas reserves in the adjacent region, Tianjin was chosen by Chinese authorities in 2006 as the third national pilot area for development, after the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in Guangdong, and the Shanghai Pudong New Area.

With Bohai's emerging economy, water quality has plummeted. While the GDP of the area rose nearly 40% between 2005 and 2010, the polluted area has also risen from 15 to 22% of this inland sea zone that totals 77,000 square kilometers, with an average depth of less than 20 meters. The natural rate for water recycling is some 60 years (some experts say it's as much as 200 years).

Along parts of Bohai's shoreline, including Jinzhou Bay, zinc levels have been detected as high as 2000 times the safe standard, while lead readings were 300 percent above acceptable levels.

Attempted coverups

Among the industrial sectors in full swing, local governments tend to favor the heavy chemical industry, as it accounts for the largest GDP contribution and longest industrial chain and job creator.

The pollution related to the petrochemical industry, though proportionally small, will cause the most severe damage to the region's marine ecosystem over the long term since the ocean itself cannot break down heavy metals like lead and cadmium.

This year alone, serious oil spills caused by the two major petrochemical exploiters of the region – China's National Oil Corporation and its joint venture partner - America's ConocoPhillips -- have occurred three times in a two-month span. The Chinese authorities tried to cover up the disaster but the public learned of the news from the foreign press, and were duly outraged.

Currently, 80% of Bohai's pollution comes from the land surrounding the gulf, and is piped into the gulf by three waterways including the Yellow River. Sources include agriculture fertilizer and pesticides, industrial wastewater and urban sewage effluent discharge.

The effects are devastating, with the industrial destruction of China's largest land reclamation project site and vast wetland areas and tidal flats, which serve as nature's purification organs through settlement, filtration and decomposition of major polluting elements. The coastline region traditionally has had an economy based on fishing, and countless residents risk seeing their livelihoods quickly evaporate.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo- gaobo

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!