• Quarantined Chinese peacekeepers discharged after return from Ebola-hit Liberia
By Liu Tong and Li Yun
A team of 558 Chinese soldiers were given the all clear on Sunday of December 21 after showing no signs of the Ebola virus for over-20 days.
They had been quarantined following an eight-month peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
As the 16th batch of Chinese peacekeepers sent to Liberia, their mission coincided with the unexpected outbreak of the deadly infectious disease. Not only the Liberian government caught with its guard down, but so were the UN peacekeepers.
However, Chinese soldiers managed to avoid infection while helping to construct the first Ebola treatment center in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. According to the soldiers, the treatment center was completed in late November more than 30 days ahead of schedule.
Chinese military forces have played an active role in helping West African countries fight Ebola. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sent several rounds of aid as well as doctors, nurses and other medical experts to the region.
The 16th batch consisted of a 240-member transportation battalion, a 275-member engineering battalion and a 43-member medical team. All the soldiers were from the PLA Beijing Military Area Command.
• Ruble slump not to threaten RMB: experts
By Zhan Yan
The recent plunge of the Russian ruble has triggered worries of a run on emerging economies’ currencies, but experts have played down the effect it will have on the renminbi.
Researcher at the Institute of Finance and Banking, under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Peng Xingyun on Tuesday of December 23 was upbeat that the ruble’s depreciation would not weaken the Chinese currency in the long run, although he acknowledged it would have short term adverse effects.
China’s economy is adapting to its “new normal”, characterized by slower growth but higher quality, which, it is hoped, can provide a solid foundation for a strong currency, Peng said.
Amid China’s efforts to boost the internationalization of the RMB it will try to avoid a sharp depreciation of the currency, he said.
Drastic RMB depreciation could cause trade-related friction between China and the United States, as China has a trade surplus against the U.S., Peng said.
The ruble’s recent depreciation has exerted no significant impact on China and China’s economy and capital flows are normal, said Wang Yungui, an official of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange last Thursday at a press conference.
The spot exchange rate of China’s currency dropped below 6.21 against the U.S. dollar last Thursday, the weakest point in almost five months.
Wang believed it to be “normal depreciation,” stressing that the market was playing a more active role in pricing the yuan along with the central government’s exchange rate reform measures.
Peng said the driving forces causing the ruble’s depreciation did not apply to the RMB.
Russia’s economic reliance on the oil industry was exposed as fluctuations in the price of crude oil triggered the ruble’s slide, Peng said.
In addition, Russia’s political relationship with the United States and Europe has been strained, and this also played a role in the currency’s slump, Peng said, adding that speculative market activity had aggravated the situation.
The ruble’s fall against the dollar on Dec. 15 was a record-low since the currency’s crisis and default in 1998.
Since the beginning of this year, the Russian central bank has raised its key interest rate by 6.5 percentage points to 17 percent.
During a year-end press conference last week, President Vladimir Putin praised efforts by the central bank and the government to stabilize the currency and noted that it would take at most two years for the economy to rebound.
• China to reform pension system for staff in gov’t, public institutions
By Ren Ke and Xu Bo
China will reform its pension system for staff in government, Party bodies, and public institutions, Vice Premier Ma Kai said in a report to the top legislature on Tuesday of December 23.
Ma delivered a report about China’s social security system at the ongoing bi-monthly session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, saying the reform will establish the same pension system with urban employees.
In accordance with the central authority’s arrangement, several departments have drafted a plan for the reform based on extensive studies. The draft was then approved at the executive meeting of the State Council and by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
The basic idea of the reform is to build a pension system for Party, government and public institutions with the same qualities as that for enterprises to break the long-held dual system.
The reform will be carried out nationwide simultaneously with reforms of the salary system, Ma added.
China has the world’s most public servants and staff of publicly-sponsored institutions, with government and public institutions major employers.
As the Chinese population is expected to reach 1.43 billion in 2020, the State Council is implementing a plan to make a pension system that covers the whole population.
Ma said the government is trying to cover 900 million people with the pension system by 2017, and 1 billion in 2020, raising the coverage rate from the current 80 percent to 95 percent.
• China’s social security system improves
By Ren Ke
Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai said on Tuesday of December 23 that the national social security system has been basically established, with recent measures expanding and increasing coverage.
When delivering a report at the ongoing bimonthly session of the National People’s Congress (CPC) Standing Committee, the top legislature, Ma said a pension insurance program, covering residents of rural and urban areas, had been established.
As of the end of November, 837 million people had joined the system.
The pension system for private employees has now expanded to not only cover employees of state-owned and collective enterprises but to all firms, social organizations and the casual- and self-employed.
As for the universal healthcare system, Ma added, it almost covered the whole population.
In addition, the government is promoting critical illness insurance to lessen the financial impact of life-threatening conditions. It is also working toward the unification of the rural and urban healthcare systems.
Over 95 percent of Chinese citizens, over 1.3 billion people, are covered by various kinds of basic healthcare systems, the report explained.
As more and more people enlist in pension and healthcare insurance programs, the amount they are entitled to has risen. For instance, after adjustments in 10-consecutive years, pension insurance for enterprise retirees has been increased from 647 yuan (104 U.S. dollars) in 2004 to 2,070 yuan in 2014, according to Ma.
Employees and urban citizens’ healthcare insurance can cover about 80 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of aggregate in-hospital medical expenses, while 75 percent of rural citizens’ in-hospital expenses will be covered by insurance.
There have also been improvements to the social assistance and welfare systems, such as an increase to the minimum living allowance from 266 yuan in 2004 to 401 yuan this year for urban low-income citizens, while low income citizens in rural areas receive annual allowances of 2,673 yuan per capita.
However, Ma admitted, some problems still existed in the social security system, including an equality gap between urban and rural citizens, a lack of fund-raising channels and the needs for relevant legislation to ensure the rights of itinerant migrant workers.
• China sets up 21 new national nature reserves
By Li Huizi
China has set up 21 new state-level nature reserves, increasing the country’s total conservation area to nearly ten percent of the country’s land territory.
A circular approving the new reserves was issued on Tuesday of December 23 by the State Council General Office.
The newly-established nature reserves, with a total area of more than 6,200 square km, are scattered across 15 provinces and autonomous regions, including Liaoning, Fujian and Henan provinces and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
The reserves will become sanctuaries of 35 state-level endangered animal species, such as the Manchurian tiger, giant panda and golden monkey, as well as 12 kinds of rare wild plants.
The number of national nature reserves has now reached 428, covering 930,000 square km.
The reserves are important in protecting biodiversity and implementing international conventions, the circular said.
• China film box office may miss 2014 target
By Liu Tong
The opening of Hong Kong director Tsui Hark’s “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” brought some much needed hope to the domestic movie market, which has a 30-billion-yuan (4.82 billion U.S. dollars) box office target for the year.
But as time quickly ticks away, the world’s second biggest film market has only chalked up some 28 billion yuan as of Monday, according to China Film News.
Some analysts said that this December would see a three horse race between John Woo’s “The Crossing”, Tsui Hark’s “Tiger Mountain” and Jiang Wen’s “Gone with the Bullets”, the sequel to “Let the Bullets Fly.”
But these big-budget productions saw a lackluster response from moviegoers.
Even “Roaring Currents”, South Korea’s highest grossing film of all time, ended up being a dud in the China market.
Besides “The Taking of Tiger Mountain”, industry players are putting their faith in romance film “Love on the Cloud” as Christmas is a popular time for cinema trips.
• Human H5N6 avian flu case reported in south China
By Li Laifang and Xiao Sisi
A human H5N6 avian flu case has been confirmed in the southern Guangdong Province, Chinese health authorities said on Tuesday of December 23.
The patient, a 58-year-old resident in the provincial capital Guangzhou, is receiving treatment at a local hospital, said the Guangdong Provincial Health and Family Planning Commission. He is in critical condition.
The man tested positive for the H5N6 avian flu virus during a routine influenza and severe pneumonia check by provincial health authorities.
A further test by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the result on Monday.
No abnormal symptoms have ever been found among those who had close contact with the patient so far. Experts believe the infection is an individual case.
In April, a 49-year-old man from southwest China’s Sichuan Province was confirmed to have contracted the H5N6 virus and died in hospital. The case was believed to be the world’s first human H5N6 infection.
• China reviews murder conviction 19 years after execution
By Han Xiaojing, Wang Haiying and Wu Shuguang
The Higher People’s Court of east China’s Shandong Province announced on Tuesday that five judges are reviewing a rape-murder case 19 years after the convict was executed, as another man insists he is guilty.
The court is reviewing the case of Nie Shubin, executed in 1995 at the age of 21 for the 1994 rape and murder of a woman in Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang.
In 2005, Wang Shujin, 47, was apprehended by police for three unconnected rape-murder cases. During questioning, Wang claimed that he had raped and murdered a woman in a cornfield on the outskirts of Shijiazhuang in 1994 and that Nie was innocent. Hebei Higher People’s Court, which approved the death penalty for Nie in 1995, did not believe his claim in a retrial last year and Nie’s verdict still stands.
Wang’s claims have raised public questions of judicial impartiality.
In a similar case, a teenager named Huugjilt from Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was found guilty of the rape and murder of a woman in a public toilet in the regional capital Hohhot on April 9, 1996 and sentenced to death in May 1996. He was executed on June, 1996. An alleged serial rapist and killer, Zhao Zhihong, confessed to the murder when he was arrested in 2005.
Huugjilt was acquitted on December 15.