Austerity comes to China: No more shark fin soup at official banquets

The Chinese government has decided to ban shark fin soup at official receptions, the New York Times reports.  For decades, environmentalists have lobbied to end the practice of eating shark fin soup, popular in China and other parts of Southeast Asia, because of the toll it takes on endangered shark species. 

However, the decision, lauded by shark protection groups, was not driven by conservation concerns but by concern about the appearance of state-sponsored opulence, according to Chinese state media. The Chinese GSA announced on Tuesday the decision to ban the delicacy in order to avoid the appearance of government waste.

Of course, the move is more gesture than substance: party officials continue to enjoy the spoils of office in the form of privatization deals for family members and closed bids for government contracts. This latest announcement follows a series of moves in a broader campaign to reduce perceptions of inequality, including a 2011 ban on the use of the word "luxury" in advertising.

The impact the ban will have on government balance sheet remains unclear; Although China is known to be the largest consumer of shark fin soup, no figures were released on government-specific soup expenditure. 

TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images)


Kim Jong Un puts the party back in Workers' Party

Want some fries with your Juche?

Attempting to forge a new image for himself and his country, North Korea's youthful supreme leader Kim Jong Un is allowing women to wear pants, platform shoes and earrings, making more mobile phones available, endorsing previously banned foods like pizza, French fries and hamburgers — and he's giving kids free trips to zoos and amusement parks.[...]

Kim, educated in Switzerland during his early teens, has initiated numerous policy changes to allow people more freedom and entertainment in their daily lives. North Korean state TV last month showed an image of Kim in a straw hat with a huge smile paying a visit to Mangyongdae Amusement Park and pointing at its roller coaster.

North Korea specialist Dong Yong-Sueng tells ABC news that lifting the ban on women wearing pants and platform shoes has ushered in a "fashion revolution" in the country.

A boy ruler trying to win over his impoverished nation with cheesburgers and amusement park rides almost seems like a parody of itself, but it does seem like the restrictions on information and consumer goods flowing into the North are easing somewhat. 

The photo above shows Kim touring the previously discussed Pyongyang dolphin aquarium.