Jiang retired as general secretary of the CCP in November 2002, launching a generational shift in the leadership of China. All but one of the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the CCP’s inner policymaking circle, retired along with Jiang. The remaining incumbent member, Hu Jintao, was chosen to succeed Jiang as the party’s general secretary. Hu also succeeded Jiang as president of China in March 2003. However, Jiang retained his post as head of the Central Military Commission, which controls the military, and was expected to exert considerable behind-the-scenes influence in the governance of China.
The new leadership immediately faced a public health crisis, working to contain the spread of a pneumonia-like illness that had emerged in the southern province of Guangdong in late 2002. By February 2003 new cases of the illness were reported in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and Canada, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue a global alert. Scientists identified the illness as a new contagious disease of unknown cause, naming it severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). By the time WHO declared the SARS outbreak contained in July 2003, more than 8,000 cases had been reported in 32 countries, and the disease had caused 800 deaths. China’s initial failure to report the outbreak of a contagious disease attracted much international criticism, and even the Chinese news media exposed official efforts to conceal the outbreak. Meanwhile, China pursued an ambitious space program, which had been the focus of accelerated development since late 2001. Signaling to the world its technological advancement, China launched a piloted spacecraft into Earth orbit in October 2003, becoming only the third nation to accomplish this feat.
Astronaut Yang Liwei orbited the Earth 14 times over a 21-hour period in the spacecraft Shenzhou 5 (Divine Vessel 5) before returning to Earth on October 16. The successful launch and orbit demonstrated China’s commitment to its space program, which also included plans for other space missions. In 2007 China launched its first spaceflight to the Moon, sending an unpiloted lunar orbiter there on an exploratory mission. In 2004 the legislature of China approved a constitutional amendment that provided the first legal protection of private property since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
In 2005 the legislature passed a law authorizing the use of military force against Taiwan if its government moved toward a formal declaration of independence. The anti-secession law heightened cross-strait tensions. Tensions thawed somewhat when the leader of Taiwan’s KMT (or Nationalist Party), Lien Chan, met with CCP officials later in 2005. This meeting marked the first visit to the mainland by a KMT leader since the Nationalists withdrew to Taiwan at the end of China’s civil war in 1949. In the early 2000s China’s economy ranked as the world’s fourth largest, after the United States, Japan, and Germany. China reported that its economy grew 9.9 percent in 2005, marking the third consecutive year of nearly 10 percent growth. In 2007 the country’s economy expanded by 11.4 percent, reaching its fastest growth rate in 13 years. In March 2008 Buddhist monks in Lhasa, Tibet, led a series of protests against Chinese rule, marking the failed Tibetan uprising of 1959. The initially peaceful protests turned violent as protesters engaged in arson and attacks against ethnic Chinese.
Protests also erupted in Tibetan-populated areas of neighboring provinces. The Chinese government responded to the unrest—the most widespread and prolonged in the region since the 1980s—with a police crackdown. Clashes between Chinese security forces and protesters resulted in an uncertain number of deaths. The crackdown brought international condemnation and, only months before the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing were to commence, raised questions of China’s human rights record. The passing of the Olympic torch in cities around the world became a magnet for protests against China’s policies. In July 2009, one of the worst incidents of ethnic violence for nearly a decade broke out in the Xinjiang region. A march protesting the treatment of Uighurs in an eastern Chinese factory sparked a series of riots between Uighurs and ethnic Han in which nearly 200 people were killed and over 1,000 were wounded. "China" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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