Archive for the ‘China’ category

Porcine Pickle

May 30, 2007

Turns out the Chinese have a strategic pork reserve salted away for a rainy, pig-poor day. As I can now attest from personal experience, the Chinese put pork in everything. Even the tickets I got to see the Terracotta Army smelt suspiciously like rashers of bacon. Now it seems they’ve gone one too many times to the trough like greedy, little … well, you get the idea. Fears are mounting that an apigalyptic doomsday is not far off. All this, ironically enough, taking place in the Chinese Year of the Pig (see above).

The good news for all those who fear imminent domination by the Chinese juggernaut is that we have now clearly located their Achilles’ trotter: if China gets too big for its britches, simply bomb the strategic pork reserve and squeal with delight as Hu Jintao surrenders to our will.

Rorex? Louis Vuitton?

May 29, 2007

I wish to extend small-d’s most sincere apologies to our legions of readers. While my partner in thought crime has been doing yeoman’s work getting drunk with brilliant, serially-offensive British journalists, I have been visiting our future imperial overlords in the great nation of China and so have wilfully neglected this humble blog. I therefore submit to you, gentle reader, a bashful “Rorex? Louis Vuitton?” which, judging by one’s experience when strolling down the merry streets of Beijing and Shanghai, is the standard form of Chinese greeting.

I must confess that a fortnight on holiday in the land of the dragon and massive internet censorship has left me a little perplexed as to what’s going on in the world. In their infinite wisdom, the duly appointed leaders of the People’s Republic of China mandate that a certain percentage of media coverage be “good news.” Candy-floss puppy dogs and such. Unfortunately, it appears the stodgy open society here in the US has not yet adopted this handy little check on the free flow of information. To wit, a cursory glance at the papers reveals Palestinians still killing each other, Iraqis still killing each other, and Republican presidential hopefuls denying evolution (survival of the thickest). It’s all terribly depressing.

But have no fear, I promise to bone up on all that’s basically irrelevant to your day-to-day life and get back to you forthwith to inform you what you should think about it. No need to thank me. It’s my pleasure.

(Pictured above: your overseers-to-be)

Rogue Aid

February 15, 2007

Rather lazy for a blogger to just cannibalize off the New York Times op-ed page but this piece by Foreign Policy editor (and interviewee of yours truly) Moisés Naím describes an emerging and disturbing trend in international relations so adeptly and succinctly, it’s worth all the gnawing on the Grey Lady’s bones. Filthy-Lucre Quote:

“In recent years, wealthy nondemocratic regimes have begun to undermine development policy through their own activist aid programs. Call it rogue aid. It is development assistance that is nondemocratic in origin and nontransparent in practice, and its effect is typically to stifle real progress while hurting ordinary citizens.”

Further cash-money quote:

“States like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have the cash and the will to reshape the world into a place very unlike the one where we want to live. By pushing their alternative development model, such states effectively price responsible aid programs out of the market exactly where they are needed most. In place of those programs, rogue donors offer to underwrite a world that is more corrupt, chaotic and authoritarian. That sort of aid is in no one’s interest, except the rogues.”

The Story of Angola

November 21, 2006

In 1975, the central African country of Angola cast-off the colonial regime of Portugal and declared independence. The country promptly descended into civil war. Because of the larger context of the Soviet-American struggle this civil war was rapidly transformed into a proxy war. As James Traub reports in a terrific piece from this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine, by the end of 2002 more than a million people had died and about a third of Angola’s population of 12 million had fled from their homes. Angola was a quintessentially broken country.

Angola is still a broken country. But Angola has oil, immense deposits of which lie under the South Atlantic Ocean in Angola’s territorial waters. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ruling regime’s longtime patron, the past decade found a war-torn nation adrift. America was not so keen to provide aid to an obnoxiously corrupt and brutal regime. In March 2002, the IMF reported that the nation’s finances remained hopelessly opaque despite efforts to reform Angola’s bookkeeping. Things were at an impasse.

Enter China. Though a long source of infrastructure development throughout Africa, the Chinese have for the past number of years been proactively on the prowl for oil and influence partners throughout the third world. And, perhaps most importantly, China extends its hands with no strings attached. Suppress the role of a free press? No problem, we do it too. Brazenly rob billion in oil revenues from the public coffers? No problem. Angola has replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s oil source.

China comes to Africa offering aid without conditions. As Traub notes, China’s official Africa policy seeks “a new type of strategic partnership [which] respects African countries’ independent choice of the road of development.” (Read: We do not care about human rights. We do not care about good governance. We abhor transparency.) This is how, as my thought-partner noted, China is positioning itself to become the 21st century’s illiberal superpower. The story of Angola overlaps with the stories of Sudan, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and elsewhere.

And with $5-billion in Chinese oil-backed loans the Angolan economy is booming. Construction is everywhere. Conference centers are being constructed in close proximity to international airports that are being built. And yet, in Angola one in three children dies before the age of 5, and the life expectancy is 38. Development, Chinese style. – a process, as Traub describes it, “imposed from above and answerable to no one.”

Big Brother (In-Law)

November 17, 2006

Yet another example of how carbon energy resources are allowing repressive regimes to persevere, resisting pressure to become less odious from outside and within. Burma’s military junta, truly one of the most despicable authoritarian regimes in the world, takes little notice of American sanctions imposed to protest its jailing of democracy activists because it has its “brother-in-law,” China, to take care of it and exploit its carbon wealth. Note the rise of China as both a ravenous new consumer of carbon-based energy, thus raising its value, and the alternative customer of choice to the United States for those governments that would prefer not to have any questions asked about their human rights record.

Quite simply, China is positioning itself to become the 21st century’s illiberal superpower. Whether it can continue to grow in wealth and influence without its own authoritarian system collapsing from within is the attendant question. Meanwhile, America and the global economy’s reliance on carbon-based energy is empowering a creepy set of oleaginous authoritarians. For essential further reading see “Crude Awakening,” Joshua Kurlantzick’s superb article in The New Republic (sorry, behind subscriber wall) on the emergence of this “axis of oil.”