Asia File: 'Jobless' enters Peking lexicon

ONCE, there were no unemployed in China, only those described as 'waiting for work' or 'resting'. Now 'unemployment' has entered the party lexicon and this week the Ministry of Labour issued its most pessimistic projection on job prospects in the new China.

By the year 2000 the ministry expects 268 million jobless - that is, more than the population of the United States. The most worrying increase will be among city residents. This year it is expected to jump by one quarter to 5 million, but by the year 2000 the ministry expects it to reach 68 million. In the countryside, 200 million are expected to be without work by the turn of the century.

Such statistics fail to describe fully what is happening. There are at least 60 million rural migrants floating around China looking for work in the cities; another 30 million from small towns are also on the move. An unknown proportion fail to find jobs but do not feature in this year's jobless figures.

China's rapid economic growth cannot soak up the huge numbers of unemployed and has not improved prospects for the millions of under-employed in loss-making state enterprises.

ASIDE FROM Taslima Nasrin, few people are more relieved about the feminist writer's escape from Dhaka to Sweden than the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia. Mrs Zia was under pressure from foreign governments to ensure Ms Nasrin's safety from Muslim fundamentalists who were baying for her death. Aid donors made it clear that if any harm came to Ms Nasrin, it might jeopardise handouts. Ms Nasrin provoked the fundamentalists with her outspoken views on the Koran. This week, she received a writers' prize in Stockholm where her location is being kept quiet; extremists have called upon Sweden's 200,000 Muslims to help bring 'the infidel' back to Dhaka.

NICK NUGENT, a senior BBC representative, is in Afghanistan to seek guarantees from faction leaders that journalists from foreign news organisations can operate safely. This follows the murder last month of Mirwais Jalil, a freelance correspondent for the BBC's Pashto and Persian services - the first time, World Service executives believe, a correspondent has been killed because of their work for the BBC. It is unlikely that Mr Jalil's murderers will be brought to account, but a fund is planned in his memory to train young Afghan journalists. Details are available from the Mirwais Jalil Trust Fund, BBC World Service, Bush House, London WC2.

IT'S the silly season in China too, and there has been a run on pig's feet in the markets of Chifeng in Inner Mongolia after word spread that Chairman Mao Zedong and General Chiang Kai-shek were preparing to do battle in the netherworld. According to a report in the official China Commercial News, an un- named medium passed on the news that the two former adversaries were in need of earthly recruits to go over to the other side for military service.

There was only one way for a man to avoid such conscription; he must eat 98 special dumplings made by his mother and two pig's feet provided by his mother-in-law. 'All the butchers' shops have had very good business, and are always crowded with old women,' the newspaper said. Could this simply be a clever ruse by the city's pig's feet sellers? Any breach of the 'law against unfair competition' should be dealt with by the courts, thundered the newspaper. 'Otherwise, tomorrow maybe horse's feet and donkey's feet will also be popular.'

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