Friday, May 18, 2007

China's " New Left"

There is a rising New Left in China opposing the calls for capitalist democracy from the West, and the vast inequality created by China's rapid development and industrialization. The social and economic divide between the rural provinces and urban metropolises is increasing with wealth being polarized in small enclaves surrounding big cities. The environmental consequences of haphazard urban sprawl are also causing staggering levels of pollution of air and water sources.

One critic of Chinese government policy is Wang Hui an editor of a leading Chinese intellectual journal. Wang participated in the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. He advocates a Chinese social alternative to the neo-liberal market economy. He remarks in an interview the nature of the situation in rural China today,

"Local officials used their arbitrary power to become successful entrepreneurs at the expense of the rural populations they were meant to serve, and had joined up with real estate speculators to seize collectively owned land from peasants."

Wang Hui and other intellectuals are trying to remind their government of it's obligation to the peasants and workers of Chinese society. The Chinese government continues to repress many left-wing voices of descent even as activist and intellectuals in rural provinces have pressured the government into instituting recent anti-corruption and social welfare reforms. As the most populated country in the world, a restless rural poor and urban slum population is a threat to the stability of China and by extension the global economy. In the future, leaders of the CPC will have to honor the calls for social and economic justice among its’ marginalized and poor masses, which could possibly move the party in a leftward direction and open the government to democratization.

The coming Beijing Olympics in 2008 could provide a showcase for leftist voices of dissent of a magnitude not seen since the protests of 1989. Such a demonstration would be a symbol of resistance to China’s current economic model of development, and bring the world’s attention to a less attractive side of capital Globalization.

Our New Scramble for Africa

Throughout recent history the continent of Africa has been cut into various slices suited for the imperial appetites of European powers. With the fall of European colonialism and a second wave of challenges to French and British neo-colonialism, the 21st century is witnessing a new scramble for Africa by the great powers. The United States, in sharp economic and cultural decline has turned to its military might to sustain its waning influence over International Affairs. In recent months President Bush has outlined his plans to create a new military command base to oversee Africa which will be known as AFRICOM. The scarcity in oil- resources and sky rocketing prices, have led both China and the U.S. to position them selves for strategic control of the region. Richard Haas the president of the Council on Foreign Relations notes,

“By the end of the decade sub-Saharan Africa is likely to become as important as a source of U.S. energy imports as the Middle East.”

In light of the mayhem recently unleashed by the Bush Administration in the Middle East perhaps Africa would rather China as a business partner.

The focal, permanent U.S. military base in Africa lies in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, giving the United States strategic control of the maritime zone through which a quarter of the world’s oil production passes. In West Africa, the U.S. military's European Command has established forward-operating stations in Senegal, Mali, Ghana, and Gabon as well as Namibia, involving the upgrading of airfields, the pre-positioning of supplies and fuel, and agreements for swift deployment of U.S. troops. The Pentagon is thus moving aggressively to establish a military presence in the Gulf of Guinea that will allow it to control the western part of the extensive trans-Africa oil strip and the crucial oil reserves now being discovered. The U.S. has found itself in the position of financing, and aiding corrupt and dictatorial African governments to protect its capital assets in Equatorial Guinea, Chad, and until recently, Mauritania.

According to the Wall Street Journal in its April 25th issue, the U.S. military’s European Command is also working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to expand the role of U.S. corporations in Africa as part of an “integrated U.S. response.” Britain and France are working closely with the United States to secure Western imperial control of the region against other actors including India and China. An action fueled by China’s growing influence on the continent. The Council on Foreign Relations maintain,

“China has altered the strategic context in Africa. All across Africa today, China is acquiring control of natural resource assets, outbidding Western contractors on major infrastructure projects, and providing soft loans and other incentives to bolster its competitive advantage.”

The new scramble for strategic hegemony in Africa is non-unique in that it remains a struggle among great powers for cheap resources, pillage, and stratagem not for the measurable development or welfare of the African people. The words oil and terrorism have replaced food and justice in the rhetoric of greedy kleptomaniacs in Africa looking to profit from new interventions in their countries.

After the Storm: Why the World Bank and IMF Must Change

"I have concluded that it is the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership."

- Paul Wolfowitz

The World Bank is no stranger to controversy and stories of corruption. But the recent fire storm surrounding Paul Wolfowitz and his alleged favoritism has invited a larger conversation about the distribution of power with in the World Bank and its sister the International Monetary Fund. The World Bank president has traditionally been appointed by the US government, while the Europeans have chosen the head of the IMF. Developing nations and organizations are calling for a more fair and open process in deciding the leadership of the world’s preeminent financial institutions asking for, "transparency of process, and competence of prospective leadership without regard to national origin".

The calls for a non- U.S. or European dominated structure have resonated for years now as the economic emergence of countries like China and India have challenged the very nature of the current economic world-system. The National Intelligence Council, a U.S. government think tank, predicts that by 2025, China and India will have the world's second- and fourth-largest economies. This growth is opening the way for a multi-polar era in world politics. This tectonic shift will pose a challenge to the U.S.-dominated global institutions that have been firmly in place since the 1940s. Votes in the World Bank are said to reflect the size of a countries economy and not its’ population, however Europe still maintains an over-represented position on the bank’s board as compared to the China and India who are underrepresented.

In light of the Wolfowitz scandal and beyond voices will continue to push for the World Bank and IMF’s leadership to begin reflecting the people and world views of the poor nations they claim to serve. Even more importantly as non-western nations begin to take more substantial roles in the world-system it remains to be seen if the current distribution of world economic authority will remain in the benefit of the global north.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Food for Gas: U.S. Ethanol Policy is "Genocidal"

While the Bush Administration continues to play footsy with U.S. farmers, energy companies, and green environmentalist over ethanol, I can’t help but notice the warnings from the global south which get very little if any airtime in our regal media outlets. As often expected, what materially benefits the 1st world or core countries comes at the fatal expense of millions of those living at the peripheries of the global economic system. America is beginning to use corn to create ethanol biofuel, which will subsequently be combined with petrol to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. One problem though, theres not enough corn in the U.S. to fill the gap even after the obscene amount of subsidies U.S. farmers are likely to receive.

Fidel Castro, the sickly former leader of Cuba and the third world’s Non-Aligned Movement asks a few fundamental questions about America’s drive for ethanol in a recent article.

"Where are the more than 500 million tons of corn and other cereals which the United States, Europe and wealthy nations require to produce the gallons of ethanol that big companies in the United States and other countries demand in exchange for their voluminous investments going to be produced and who is going to supply them?"

Of course the U.S. is going to feed its’ drive for alternative based fuel by turning food crops into cash and energy crops in the global south. The Economist, one of the leading financial magazines in the country ironically agrees with President Castro’s assessment of our ‘genocidal’ drive for food based ethanol.

"As more land is used to grow corn rather than other food crops, such as soy, their prices also rise. And since corn is used as animal feed, the price of meat goes up, too. The food supply, in other words, is being diverted to feed America's hungry cars."

The demand for ethanol has pushed corn prices to record highs, and economists warn that the rise in prices will likely hurt the world's poor. In the future the U.S. should probably discontinue pursuing self-interested energy policies that will inevitably lead to mass starvation among those in the global south. We should go "green" but not at the expense of the the worlds poorer peripheral nations.