Category Archives: Development

The Road to “United States of Europe” Is Rather Bumpy

KRASI SHAPKAROVA

For the past one month Ukraine has found itself at a crossroad and based on the plentiful accounts in the media, the country has only two choices in terms of direction—Europe or Russia—one of which should lead to prosperity and the other to further degradation. Since November 21, Independence Square in Kiev has been overtaken by protests against the current President, Viktor Yanukovich, and demands for his resignation abound. The protests are a consequence of the president’s failure to follow through with the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The deal could mark an important step toward European integration for Ukraine and the suspension of talks between Yanukovich and the EU under the alleged insistence of Russia highlights the biggest obstacle to a smooth process.

Image: BGNES

Image: BGNES

The protests have largely been peaceful, but on several occasions the situation escalated. On November 30, for example, witness reports confirmed beatings by riot police and prompted various human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), to voice outrage at the police brutality against civilians and journalists. HRW has subsequently demanded a thorough investigation, but while the ruling party acknowledged the complaints, it also dismissed them as unnecessary and as the means to cause panic and chaos. On December 8, the statue of Vladimir Lenin was toppled as protesters voiced their intention to eliminate Soviet influence from their country. Russian officials have reportedly expressed surprise over the attention the situation in Ukraine has attracted both domestically and internationally.

Most analysts appear to agree on two important characteristics of the recent events in Ukraine:

  • First, the increased tensions reflect the polarization between European and Russian economic pressures. Claims abound that President Yanukovich’s decision became a reality after significant push from the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, while Western leaders have threatened Ukraine with possible economic sanctions, a BBC report indicates that Yanukovich and Putin have reached an agreement that would lead to significant economic assistance from Russia. The bailout package is expected to pull the Ukrainian economy out of the gutters and “keep the country from bankruptcy next year”. Putin’s desire to alleviate the struggles of the Ukrainian economy is seen as a clear sign of his intention to keep Ukraine close and the European Union at a distance.
  • Second, the protests in Kiev are a perfect example of a generational rift: the younger generation tends to support the idea of a united Europe and a common European identity while the older generation insists on strong connections with Russia. Older generations, having lived though the impact of another union, the Soviet that is, seem a bit more skeptical as to the impact the EU could have and voice concerns that the independence of their nations is still in jeopardy. Conversely, the younger generation is fed up with the difficult economic situation in their native countries and see accession to the EU as an opportunity to move West and find better jobs.

Interestingly, the two most prominent characteristics of the developments in Ukraine correspond to the two ideals behind a united Europe—economic interdependence and a common identity. Economic integration was the major focus of the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community (EEC), precursors of the EU, with the idea that those bound by economic interests will not be concerned with waging a massive and murderous war against each other. For a while, Europe seemed to be on the way to a bright future marked by peace and economic interdependence.

Another, and a bit more problematic, theme accompanying the establishment and enlargement of the EU is the search for the so-called common European identity. A shared cluster of characteristics, distinct to Europeans, is expected to smooth and ease the ultimate integration of all European countries into a community living harmoniously. As Delanty points out, however, this concept of a common regional identity sprouted out of and has been sustained by separation rather than by integration and peace. It is also important to acknowledge Peter van Ham’s observation about the enigma of what exact values, beliefs, and shared hopes would constitute the roots of this budding European identity and the likelihood of such an identity to allow Europeans to feel socially connected on a larger than the commercial level. The intention is for a diverse group of nations to come together under the umbrella of Europeanness and exist and prosper as one body. Moreover, a certain ‘European Gemeinschaft’ is viewed as a necessary prerequisite for the successful enlargement of the EU. It is not clear, however, whether the European identity already exists and the path toward integration is meant to solidify that identity or if the integration itself is supposed to create and reinforce the so-called European identity. The ultimate hope is that an emphasis on a common identity, along with economic interdependence, would reinforce the unification of European states and turn Europe into a powerful actor on the global stage.

In the last two decades it has become painfully clear that with former communist republics seeking admission, the two EU pillars of economic stability and common European identity are threatened and a truce is unavoidable. The idea of a united and strong Europe might still just be that: an idea. In Ukraine, some emphasize, what stands out is “the imaginary Europe that has captured Ukrainians’ minds”. A common market and identity that can keep nations together can only work if a basic level of economic and social development already exists. The original member states relied on and acted out of a shared political and economic template that was not what the new members are familiar with. The economic disparities between the long-time Western members and the new Eastern members place a strain on the union and jeopardize the hopes for economic stability across Europe. Indeed, a discussion about European disintegration has become prominent, especially in the first decade of the 21st century. Support for the EU and its mission has fallen in several of the more powerful European states such as Britain and France.

No doubt the region referred to as Europe is comprised of significant cultural, political, economic, and religious diversity. To have these distinct areas join into a united supra-national organization will take effort, time, and most of all compromise. The economic differences are so enormous that the integration under a common market seems unlikely. Former communist nations have standards of living that are at least 40 percent lower than the standard of life in older members of the EU. Political differences are also significant and while the early accepted Baltic nations are working hard at developing stable democracies, many nations in the Central and Eastern region have found themselves in more repressing regimes than at the end of the Soviet era. Different economic standards ultimately result in distinct ways of life, diverse beliefs, and a color palette of worldviews that in turn create issues with the concept of a united Europe. While language diversity is respected in the union, the cultural and social history it is accompanied by has so far not faced a warm welcoming. In terms of geography, all EU countries technically belong under the umbrella of Europe, but in terms of culture and way of life, not all within the confines of the old continent feel European or are treated as such. While demanding respect for all members within a specific state, the older members of the EU have yet to show a similar practice toward EU citizens across the EU regardless of their country of origin.

Recent reports indicate that President Yanukovich and his government have agreed to resume talks about the deal with the EU, but considering the information provided above, it is clear that a smooth integration would likely not be a reality. Indeed, while an agreement with the EU would in the long run benefit the country, the protesters on the streets of Kiev should not expect an immediate improvement in terms of economic development. This has certainly been the case in Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007. It seems that the leaders and governments of developing nations seeking admission into the union know that aid is coming with the membership, and they also know that to a degree, they have to help themselves. And as Framer shrewdly observes, these leaders help themselves the same way political elites everywhere do it: by helping themselves “to whatever they can get their hands on”. While corruption prevails and EU aid disappears down mysterious alleyways and bank accounts, those who suffer the consequences are the common people who really do not care who is in control as long as they have a decent life and are able to provide for their families without having to leave the country and be underpaid, and hated and abused for being there and allowing themselves to be underpaid. So while an entry into the EU is viewed as the way out of economic depression and into prosperity and development, one cannot help but be haunted by the questions asked by Eduardo Galeano, “How many people prosper in prosperity?/How many people find their lives developed by development?”

Ultimately, what is crystal clear is that former communist nations in Europe will not be left alone—either by the EU or Russia. Both powers claim to advocate for the small sovereign nations to be allowed to exert their independence, but no one really lets them make the decision on their own. A country is left to choose between the influence of one big entity over another and who is to say what choice comes with more negative consequences. Considering the continued economic hardships, the high corruption levels, and the escalating mistreatment of immigrants in the West, it is no surprise that some in the newest EU members believe that one repressive and discriminatory regime has simply been replaced by another. Former communist nations are treated like immature younglings who need the guidance of an adult to mature and civilize. Whether that adult is the European Union or the former Soviet Union is truly irrelevant. Churchill may have believed that building “a kind of United States of Europe” is the future of a prosperous Europe, but after over sixty years of hard work and construction, the road to a united Europe still resembles more the Soviet era remnants dissecting Eastern Europe than a German autobahn. As a person who has been on both, I must admit, I am not a fan of either.

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Focus on Haiti: Hypocrisy and Reparations

ALISON LOWE

Clinging to a sinking ship in the middle of the Atlantic, competing mercilessly with each other for mere survival, waiting for a helping hand that came too late, that upturned sloop that over 100 Haitians were found hanging on to could have been Haiti itself.

Haiti has been in the spotlight again. This time not at the bidding of a natural disaster, a tragedy on an epic scale that demands our attention and suggests an equally immediate and grand response, but in light of a series of events, each of which point to the ongoing desperation of those who live on this island just 680 miles from the Miami, and in even closer proximity to its Caribbean neighbours.

First it was protests, which received relatively little press coverage, but were not altogether ignored; the people rose up and demanded more from their government in the face of increases in the cost of living, and high levels of corruption. Then it was the ruling by the supreme court of the Dominican Republic in September, stripping all of those born to migrants since 1929 of their citizenship. The ruling primarily impacts Haitians – potentially as many as 200,000, some claim. And in the last two weeks, Haitians were again in the spotlight as they found themselves upturned and holding on for dear life in the waters of The Bahamas. Just another Haitian sloop disaster, but this one on a grander scale than most – 30 died, while over 100 clung on for their lives.

Cumulatively, this recent spate of Haitian tragedy represents yet another reason to stop and consider the Haitian situation – that of an economic and social leper in its region, and the world, many of its people so unwilling to continue to live in their own country that they risk life and limb to go abroad, only to be shunned wherever they go.

These tragic incidents should cause a sharpening of the debate that has arisen on reparations, in which Caribbean nations are now suing their former colonial masters for compensation for slavery. If indeed there is any country in the world more eligible for such reparations it is Haiti, given that they not only suffered slavery during the time it existed, but its economic slavery extended until when they were forced to compensate their own former slave masters to the tune of an estimated $17 billion in today’s money. If there is one glaring cause of Haiti’s under-development, it would be the draining of resources from the island into the pockets of France for over 120 years while others were able to use their resources to invest in institutions and develop their people. A chorus of voices called for repayment after the 2010 earthquake, but the calls have since subsided.

The tragedy of Haiti today requires a complex and nuanced response, both from those within and without the country itself. I do not pretend to have the answers in this regard. But if the past several weeks events should serve to highlight anything it is that the plea for reparations from the Caribbean cannot be so easily dismissed, as those who are being called upon have sought to ensure.

While Haiti may have officially rid itself of colonial masters in 1804, it remained in economic slavery – handing over the fruits of its own labour – until 1947. What would some of the world’s most developed countries look like today if they had been forced to surrender billions of dollars to another country over such an extended period of time?

To illustrate the difference on a more local level, there is a distance of just 500 or so miles between the capital of The Bahamas and Haiti, and even less between the closest islands, and yet the disparity in indicators is like a chasm. The average yearly salary in Haiti is $250 while in The Bahamas official figures peg it at $21,000. This is not coincidental, and while many factors would have contributed, the French indemnity is surely of enormous significance. The earthquake of 2010 brought focus to the matter of repayment, but just like the aid that was promised then, the voices spoke louder than the actions that followed.

Meanwhile, although their Caribbean brothers and sisters, not to mention the rest of the world, expressed disgust at a ruling that stripped Black Dominicans of Haitian descent of citizenship in the Dominican Republic, their actions ooze hypocrisy. While they may unite in protest, The Caribbean has not come together in any meaningful shape or form to discuss the Haitian situation, despite proclamations of solidarity within the region, and the fact that a developing Haiti should not only be an ethical call to action for the region but also represents a hugely untapped economic opportunity for all within it, given Haiti’s population of almost 11 million and the strain unchecked migration places on the resources of other countries.

Of course, the region is in a quagmire, and each country alone is struggling not to slip back, but this does not excuse the decades long turning of the region’s back towards Haiti, and should not entirely preclude action today.

Hypocrisy highlighted by recent events around Haiti does not stop with its neighbours. Most notably, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemns the Dominican Republic on the one hand for its callous treatment of Black Dominicans of Haitian-descent, yet has sought to absolve itself of responsibility for a major cholera outbreak in Haiti, one which has infected over 650,000 and left 8,000 dead since October 2010, reintroducing a long forgotten disease to that country and contributing to the conditions which surely drive people abroad.  The UN has pledged to help Haiti overcome the epidemic, but maintains it has immunity from prosecution and has officially rejected legal claims made on behalf of affected Haitians.

The very vulnerabilities that drew these nations and institutions to intervene in Haiti have made it all too easy for them to quietly – or even flagrantly – fail to live up to their responsibilities to do no harm.

While many Caribbean nations struggle, Haiti’s reality suggests the need for soul searching both on the part of its Caribbean neighbours and its former colonial rulers. Haiti clearly has the strongest case for reparations, given its extended enforced financial servitude post-slavery, and perhaps it is for this quite unassailable cause that Caribbean nations should lobby. It would be in the self interest of all to build up their neighbour.

Meanwhile, Caricom itself must come together to look at how it can help its neighbour, rather than engaging in acts of outright hostility, indifference, or posturing. While statements have emanated from the political leadership in the wake of the Dominican ruling, condemning the treatment of Haitians, this is the easy part.

The migrants who survived the Haitian sloop disaster in the Bahamian islands may have been repatriated to Haiti now, but in reality they remain as they always have: clinging to an upturned and unstable reality, fighting for life in desperation and indignity, promised salvation but instead waiting for assistance that always seems to come too late. Recent events are yet another unfortunate reminder for the Caribbean, the UN, and to all of us to re-examine their responsibilities to Haiti.

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TKR’s Holiday Guide to Talking International Politics

If you stuff your mouth full of food at all times, you won’t have to talk to anyone!

The upcoming holiday season means family time, and thus plenty of opportunities for giant fights to break out around the dinner table.  Or perhaps your family is more civilized than ours (and by some happy coincidence, share the same opinion on everything) and can discuss the world’s on-going events without someone leaving the dinner table and storming out the door.  Or maybe you’re sharing the holidays this year with your spouse/best friend/partner/college roommate’s family and they are brave enough to discuss global politics.

In the event that you’re not quite up to speed on why the NSA is pissing off the world, the U.S.’ current relationship with Iran, what’s going on in Syria, or other goings on in the international community, The Korbel Report is here to help you successfully navigate your way through the holidays.

 To start, let’s determine if you need this article. You don’t need this article if:

  • Your Dad can name more than 5 heads of state;
  • Your uncles can explain the intricacies if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict accurately;
  • Your grandma understands that less than 1% of the U.S. budget is allocated to foreign assistance;
  • Your sister dismantled chemical weapons factories in Syria; or
  • Those at the table who have studied abroad outnumber those who haven’t.

You do need this article if:

  • Your aunts think Africa is a country, not a continent;
  • Your cousins mistook Chechnya for the Czech Republic;
  • Anyone at the table thinks that the Fukushima disaster had anything to do with Pearl Harbor;
  • You have a cousin who just finished his/her first semester of college and took one political science class and is suddenly an expert on Israel and Palestine;
  • Your brother in law thinks Benghazi is still worth impeaching Obama; or
  • You’ve fallen down a job-specific rabbit hole, and aren’t sure what’s going on in all parts of the world.

We’ve broken down some of the most pressing, headline-catching international stories that might come up around the holiday punch bowl in the hopes that you can drop some knowledge on your relatives, impress your in-laws, or at minimum, give you a little ammo against the ill-informed. 

SYRIA
What’s going on there:
It hasn’t grabbed U.S. headlines since President Obama’s threat to intervene, but the conflict in Syria continues to rage on.  On August 21, Government forces in Syria used the nerve agent sarin to attack the town of Ghouta near Damascus.  A UN team of chemical weapons investigators later confirmed the attack.  In the wake of the chemical weapons attack, President Obama warned Syrian President Asad that it would face American military intervention if there were signs that its chemical weapons arsenal was used.  After President Obama’s threat, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Syria to allow weapons inspectors into the country and take control of their stockpile, resulting in a deal in Geneva in September.  Since then, Syria has handed over control of their chemical weapons (prompting the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to go to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), and the Syrian Army and its allies have launched offensives near Damascus and Aleppo.  As winter approaches the nearly 2.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, food, water, shelter, medicine are still scarce, coupled with freezing temperatures.  Many (especially children, who comprise of half of Syrian refugees) lack food, fuel, shoes, blankets, for decent shelters that are necessary to live in what is expected to be one of the harshest winters in years.  According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, approximately $4.4 billion is needed to support refugees for the upcoming winter, and only half of that amount has been raised.  Finally, in the most recent news regarding Syria, a report was released this weekend that concluded that over 11,000 children in Syria have been killed during the conflict, and are being targeted intentionally, by snipers, as well as being summarily executed and tortured.  

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Mark my words, the Syrians will have nuclear weapons next.”
“Those people are barbarians.  We should just stay out, because they just all want to kill each other.”
“You know who’s the real winner in all of this?  RUSSIA.”
“Why don’t we just bomb them?”

How to respond:
Option A) You can get into a debate over intervention vs. non-intervention, even though the possibility of military intervention by the U.S. seems non-existent at this point in time.  Of course, this could lead to a real dark place in which you and your relatives get into a deep discussion about previous U.S. military and humanitarian operations (Somalia, Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo), which then in turn, may lead to a discussion about American exceptionalism and the U.S.’ place in the world.  However, this could also lead to accusations about one’s level of patriotism and result in someone leaving the table.  Proceed with caution.
Option B)  Casually mention with a hint of snark that you play Call of Duty and you think you can figure out how to end the conflict based off of your video game experiences.
Option C) Make an impassioned plea to your family to donate to organizations like Oxfam, the Red Cross, the UNHCR, and other credible organizations to help Syrian refugees this winter.

THE NSA & EDWARD SNOWDEN
What’s up with that?
In early June the world found out something shocking: all this information we are transmitting to each other via email, phone, Skype, and snapchat (ok, maybe not snapchat…that’s secure) is being recorded—and guess what? The government wants to look at it! And they do look at it. Edward Snowden, a private contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton worked for the National Security Agency, broke ranks and leaked massive amounts of information to the London newspaper, The Guardian, about the NSA and the extent of its spying on everyone from US citizens to world leaders, all in the name of keeping ‘Murica secure. Snowden reveals his identity days after the first leaks, and then pisses off his girlfriend by running away to Moscow from Hong Kong, where he had gone to escape U.S. law enforcement. In a turn of events that anyone who has had to travel via Miami International can empathize with, he then realizes the transit area of Moscow area is far more punishing than any U.S. jail and starts to seek asylum elsewhere.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Snowden is a hero/Benedict Arnold.”
“I’m with France/Germany/Britain/Canada on this one. Spying on your own people is just wrong!”
“This whole thing is just made up. There’s no way the wizard in the computer box could do all that. I can’t even set up my own email.”
“What’s that? Well, of course it snowed in Russia.”
“I don’t want Obama listening to my conversations with grandpa!”
“Why don’t we just bomb him?”

How to respond:
Option A) Point out that as Snowden remains in Russia with temporary asylum, his revelations have sparked a much needed debate about how we balance information privacy against national security in an age where all of us so willingly hand over the most intimate details about our lives via the Internet. Whether you consider Snowden a patriot, a dissident, a traitor or a vain-glorious celebrity-seeker, what is undeniable is that his actions have sparked a contentious but necessary discussion about what governments do in the name of our own protection, about the reach of corporations, and the relationship between the two.
Option B) Go more direct, and suggest that it is utterly contrary to any notion of democracy for a government that we elect to steal our personal information without our consent, whether in the name of our own good, or not. Just ask me first, okay?
Option C) Deflect: Because at the end of the day, why was Auntie Sheila Googling “octopus porn”?
Option D) Write an exasperated Facebook status update about how backward “the other side” of your family is. When your cousin reads it out over dessert, self-righteously accuse him/her of spying on you NSA-style, once you’ve had a few more seasonal libations.

THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
What’s going on with that:
This Labor Day, Business Insider gave a great overview of the global marketplace, touching on a few key themes. The United States has experienced better than expected growth. The EU is making a steady comeback, putting the Euro back on stable footing. Amid concerns that the Chinese government was going to crash–hard–the Chinese economy is still growing at a pretty steady rate. But even amid positive growth, many are still concerned about the number of jobs at home, and how an increasingly globalized world impacts the national economy.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Why don’t we just sell more bombs? That’d make up some room in the budget!”
“This is all Obama’s/Bush’s/Wall Street’s/ high taxes’/China’s/Europe’s/the foreign aid budget’s/the military budget’s/etc. fault.”They took our jobs!

How to respond:
Option A) Ugh, getting into the technicalities of the global economy and its impact at the local level (say, on your poor uncle who just got laid off) is truly challenging. Heck, most economists don’t even agree on exactly what’s going on in the economy most of the time! If you’re reading this because most members of your family don’t know the difference between a fixed and floating exchange rate, this might be a good time to give ’em one of these:

Option B) The economy, by-and-large is getting better in the United States, the EU, and China. The real concern is that many developing economies (Brazil, India, etc.) that were on the rise before the 2008 recession were hit hard, and haven’t recovered well. This not only hurts those countries and the people in them, but it weakens the overall global economy.

U.S. – IRAN RELATIONSHIP
What’s going on there:
The US and Iran have been at odds with one another for over three decades, and many believe now is the time to act. Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani assumed office in August and many believe a rapprochement is now possible. Serious talks have been taking place between Iran and the P5+1 countries (comprised of the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, plus Germany) on reaching a compromise on Iran’s nuclear program. Major improvements were made during the Geneva talks at the beginning of November, but a deal was not formally made due to hesitations by France (not by Iran or the US). While President Obama has stated many times that military action is not off the table, many see a diplomatic resolution as the only viable solution. Given the American public’s wariness of another war in the Middle East, Iran’s threats of an all-out regional war and the blockage of the Strait of Hormuz if Israel or the US were to strike, and the innumerable logistical issues with striking a country as vast as Iran, military action would be both naive and dangerous. As for Prime Minister Netanyahu, over twenty years ago, he solemnly swore that if action were not taken, Iran would have nuclear weapons within five years. And this same rhetoric has been used nearly every year since. It is becoming very clear that Israel’s uncompromising stance is becoming more and more unpopular as both Iran and the US seek common ground.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Israel is going to attack Iran if the US doesn’t take a more firm stance. They seem really serious this time.” (Try not to spit mashed potatoes on great-aunt Janet when you try to stifle your scoff after hearing this one.)
“Why don’t we just bomb them?”
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How to respond:
Option A) Discuss how great it is that last weekend, the U.S., Iran, and 5 other non-important world powers signed an agreement that would temporarily halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions on the country.  Because, hey, global compromises on nuclear programs are something to be thankful for!
Option B) Sit back and roll your eyes while your family calls Obama weak and powerless while discussing how much this hurts Israel.
Option C) Mention to your family you can look up on the internet how to build a nuclear weapon.  However, proceed with caution on this one, since the NSA is probably watching.

CHINA
What’s going on there:
China is at a crucial point in its planned development. The model that has caused its economy to grow at stupendous rates for the last couple of decades appears to be starting to falter, and the Communist Party is currently deliberating on which reforms to introduce in order to increase the sustainability of its growth and eventually overtake the US as the world’s leading economy, which has been a goal since the Mao era. The Chinese military is also rapidly modernizing and expanding its power projection capabilities, particularly in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea. This past weekend, China demarcated an “air-defense identification zone” over an area in the East China Sea, which covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.” Japan has protested this escalation in setting up such an airspace.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“The Chinese are going to try to compete with us militarily! I’m telling you, it’s going to be another Cold War if we’re lucky or another hot war if we’re not.”
“We owe so much money to the Chinese that it’s inevitable that at some point they’re going to come calling, looking to repossess – Sarah Palin said so.”
“Just look at what Communism does: hundreds of millions of people suffering from human rights abuses, toxic air and water, and a completely corrupt government that values money over human life.”
“We should all just start speaking Chinese now.” “We should stop them now, when they’re still weak.”
“You know, we have the Chinese to thank for Pacific Rim’s making enough money to warrant a sequel. I say, let them keep developing.”

How to respond:
Option A) Explain that China has mostly been an aggravation to its neighbors, and its economic ties to the US make future conflict between the two very unlikely. In discussing US-China relations, it is important to note that diplomacy is not a zero sum game, and in the future, there will be more that the US and China can accomplish together, rather than apart. For your McCarthy family members, it can be appeasing to note that the US still remains in a very integral and relevant role in the international community. Our soft power – encompassing our values, culture, and convening abilities – continues to outpace China. The US capacity for foreign aid is still the largest in the world, and it continues to be the largest donor to international, multilateral efforts.
Option B) Stare are your family as they eat Chinese food and complain about immigrants and just. say. nothing. 
Option C) Pick this to be the perfect moment to announce that you’ve recently acquired a Chinese girlfriend/boyfriend. If you want, say that things are getting really serious, so your parents should get ready to not only accept your new partner, but potentially half-Asian grandbabies!

THE UNITED NATIONS’ RELEVANCE
What’s going on:
Despite a recent bi-partiasan Gallup poll demonstrating that most Americans have a positive view of the UN, it’s certainly not uncommon to hear people screaming about how the UN is undermining U.S. sovereignty.  In 2012, Texas voters and voter fraud groups criticized the deployment of UN-backed election monitors for the 2012 Presidential Election.  There are a million and a half examples of how citizens, Members of Congress, and conspiracy theorists think the UN is destroying America and the rest of the world, but we don’t have time to get into all of them.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Why don’t they just use bombs?”
“The UN is destroying America!  All that good for nothing organization does is support terrorists trying to destroy this country/take our money/undermine our ability to do what we want!”

How to respond:
Option A) Acknowledge that yes, we all know the UN has a less than perfect record (ok, a downright awful record) when it comes to peacekeeping, addressing climate change, Syria, and a whole host of other issues.  However, the UN isn’t a crazy, independent organization run by aliens, it’s run by Member States (plot twist: The UN is the U.S. brain-child, created after the failure of the League of Nations), and if the world wanted the UN to work, it would.  If Members wanted to address climate change, they would.  If they wanted peacekeeping operations to work, they would.  You’ll recall the UN said no to George W. Bush when he wanted to invade Iraq; it didn’t seem to stop him when the UN said no.
Option B) Ignore the comment and pour more wine.

CUTTING U.S. FOREIGN AID TO FIX THE BUDGET
What’s going on with this:
American opinion towards foreign assistance has been polled since 1995. And the result? Americans have consistently overestimated the percentage of federal funding allocated to international aid. The overall median estimate is that the government spends 20% of its budget on assistance. Some more recent polls, perhaps reflecting our engagements in the Middle East, show that figure rising to 25%.

The same individuals were also asked to state what they believe a more appropriate level of funding is. Their response? 10% of our budget, which is 10 times greater than actual spending. Secretary Kerry would leap for joy if his funding could reach the levels that Americans believe to be appropriate (and for the sake of job security, we’d love it too). Though public estimates grow in accuracy with education level, those who have completed a college education or higher still estimate spending to be around 15%. It is extraordinary that these levels of overestimation are so persistent, though perhaps it is because there are no strong domestic constituencies calling for their Congressmen to send money abroad. But in this increasingly globalized world, what happens elsewhere impacts the factories and farmlands of America. And the Department of State and USAID contribute to the health and security of individual Americans, and their local economies, all while having less staff than all the members of military bands combined. So this holiday season, do your part to educate your loved ones, and spread some foreign policy cheer for the growth of American soft power abroad.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“These morons in Washington, all they do is spend, spend, spend!  We’ve got $17 trillion in debt, and we’re still giving money to countries that hate us?  I know how to solve the debt crisis – just stop giving terrorists like Pakistan money!”

How to respond:
This one is rather simple.  Politely point out that, give or take, 1% of the total U.S. budget is spent on Official Development Assistance (ODA), and wouldn’t have much of an effect on the U.S. budget.  If you’re feeling bold, you can always point out that in 2011, the U.S. spent 20% of its federal budget on the military and steer the conversation towards reducing military spending (which is currently happening).  However, if you’ve got a few Hawks in your family, this could be problematic.

Also, on a related note, please feel free to spread this graph, which shows that Obama has been keeping his pursestrings tighter than any of his recent predecessors, including both Bushes and Reagan.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Ron-Swanson-Re-Think-That-Move-Son-Parks-and-Recreation

On the whole, Americans know more about domestic affairs than foreign affairs (or they at least think they do). Most people are more likely to care or know about the things that are impacting themselves and their family: education, the economy—things like that. It’s much more personal than talking about what’s going on “over there.” There’s a lot that could come up here, but regardless of the partisan stripes found at your family’s table, misinformation is bound to rear its head.

What could potentially come up:
Immigration reform, the recent government shutdown, the debt ceiling, filibuster reform, the Tea Party, the American Care Act (ACA) aka “Obamacare,” the miserable ACA website rollout, new Common Core curriculum, weird conspiracy theories involving the Kenyan government, Ted Cruz, America is “morally corrupt” (please, someone, tell me what that even means!), Sarah Palin, gun control, abortion, the JFK assassination, Area 51…the list is almost endless.

How to respond:

Option A) Don’t walk—RUN. Remember that part where these issues are really personal to all the people sitting at your table? Remember how no one can even agree on how to roast the turkey? Yeah. Unless you have one of those families who miraculously agrees on all political issues, or who can—perhaps more miraculously—calmly and rationally discuss their differences, stay far, far away from discussing things like healthcare, the Government Shutdown, abortion, gun control, or comparisons of Obama or Ted Cruz to Hitler.  It will only end in head-banging frustration as one or more of your relatives angrily flips over a table full of poultry and stuffing.
Option B) Go for it. Either you’re from one of those miracle families, you’re very brave and on a “but I can teach them” kick, or you’ve got some metaphorical kerosene and match ready to burn up those familial bridges. We’ll leave it up to you to represent the point of view you find most pertinent on the issues of the day. Just try to remember that you’re probably going to have to see all of these people again.
Option C) Enjoy yourself, and devil’s advocate the heck out of everyone. “Troll” your family, as the kids say. If you make everyone’s politics into a big laugh fest, maybe you’ll steer the conversation back to something more tame and make it through dessert with everyone still on good terms.

You are now ready for a battle royale with your family.  We hope that we were able to help prepare you for your upcoming holiday obligations.  Eat, drink, passionately argue, and be merry!

Taylor Gibson worked as lead author on this post, with input from several TKR staff: Alexander Bowe, Morgan Day, Maryam Kar, Alison Lowe, and Xian Zhang, with input from guest writer Michael Briggs.

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Billionaire Boom?

JESS HARIG

There are 55 billionaires on the continent of Africa.

That was the big news from Ventures magazine just about one month ago, when Ventures Africa reported a list of the richest people in Africa. The total number of billionaires, much higher than reported by Forbes in previous years, combined to a total worth of nearly $144 billion. The billionaires themselves live in just 10 of Africa’s 55 independent countries. This “news” was reported across various media outlets, in essence cheering on the new development and focusing on personal stories of the individual entrepreneurs who made the list.

My gut reaction to the news was strong. In essence it was: “Why the *&%$ does this matter?” Of all the economic news both good and bad, the personal stories of triumph or despair that could possibly come from this vast continent, why should I care about the existence of a few incredibly wealthy individuals? What does this mean for the other billion or so people living on the continent? Most of the reporting, thanks to due diligence, did make mention of the numbers of people living in poverty on the continent, and referenced the debate over growing income inequalities in many African countries. But when the World Bank reports that the number of people living in extreme poverty on the continent of Africa rose from 205 million to 414 million over the past three decades, is just a mention of the debate on inequality enough? To me, absolutely not.  But clearly, others would disagree with me. Many would see the existence of billionaires to be extremely positive, as evidence of strengthening capital markets, and the promotion of regulatory systems that allow for entrepreneurship. While these trends may be true, I believe what should matter when discussing things related to economic development is the plight of an everyday person, not a rich outlier.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not rejecting the notion that the ability of 55 people to become billionaires represents some positive economic trends.  I am also not complaining about this news because the reporting portrays Africa in a positive light. What I am rejecting is the dichotomous portrayal of Africa (in this instance, in the media) as either “Africa on the rise” – a place of youth, hope, opportunity – or “Africa: the Dark Continent” – a place of death, poverty and despair. In this case, clearly the media chose the former face of Africa.

The problem with either side of this coin is that it misses the nuance that is so important to understanding what is happening economically and socially in the diverse countries that comprise Africa. Reporting of this story hopes to portray Africa in a positive light, and seems to stay away from the more complicated, countervailing themes of income inequality and poverty. Journalists conveniently ignore problems or trends that cannot and should not be ignored.

One of the first trends I noticed in the reporting on the billionaires was a focus on the presence of several women on the list. As a feminist and women’s advocate, I am certainly pleased to see women doing well for themselves economically in Africa, independent of men. Reporters seemed to have fun with the female aspect of the list, with fun tag lines like “move over Oprah”, referencing the wealthy and powerful American who, according to this list, is no longer the wealthiest black female in the world. She has been replaced by Folorunsho Alakija, a Nigerian fashion designer and oil tycoon whose estimated worth is over $7 billion. But again, my thoughts go back to “why does this matter?”. It brings up questions that I struggled with throughout gender-focused courses in grad school. Does the presence of a few female billionaires mean empowerment for everyday women? Two other women heavily referenced in this context are Isabel Dos Santos, an investor and the daughter of Angolan President, Eduardo Dos Santos, and Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the widow of Kenya’s first President. While I would like to assume that these women are billionaires based improving economic conditions in Africa, I am fully aware of the nepotism and cronyism that plague industry and politics alike in Africa, I’m not so certain their inclusion on this list is a sign of improved gender equality or women’s empowerment. The articles reacting to these seemed to think these women were bucking the trend of “big men” ruling Africa, but at least two seem to have their wealth simply because of their connections to “big men”.

Another thing the reporting basically ignored, or chose not to delve in to, is the geographic disparity of where the billionaires are from.  Of the total 55 billionaires, 20 are Nigerian, nine are South African and eight are Egyptian. The fact that 20 of the 55 billionaires are from Nigeria is interesting. It’s no secret that many of Africa’s nations are plagued by corruption in politics and business. And Nigeria in particular is notorious for this, ranked the 37th most corrupt nation in the world. This known fact combined with the country’s disproportionate share of billionaires should raise some red flags. And furthermore, South Africa and to an extent Egypt are known economic outliers in Africa, with GDPs that far outpace most of their African neighbors.

The last aspect I’ll touch upon that I believe was underreported is the industries in which the billionaires on the list made their money. It’s no surprise that oil and gas industries are heavily represented on this list, particularly out of Nigeria. It’s also no surprise, at least to those of us interested in the environment or West Africa or both, that Nigeria has a dismal track record when it comes to oil and gas exploration. Their environmental practices are ruining the Niger delta, workplace safety is almost nonexistent, and corruption within the industry and government relations remains abundant. Not to mention the incredibly detrimental impacts of these trends on Nigerian communities who rely on the oil and gas industry for jobs. Obviously oil and gas was not the only industry on the list. Fields like telecoms, manufacturing, financial services and construction are also represented on the list, which I believe does evidence a changing and improving economic situation in Africa, as these are not extractive industries that have the potential to create long-term, skilled employment for Africans. However, based on what I gathered from the list, these industries are mostly gaining strength in South Africa and they may not yet be viable industries in all African countries.

So there you have it. My long-winded reaction to a very small piece of news that was both over-reported in terms of coverage, and underreported in terms of content and context. But where does it leave us? I can only speak for myself, but it leaves me with hope and a sense of challenge. It leaves me with hope because, yes, it is positive that entrepreneurship is taking hold in Africa on a larger scale than previously experienced. But the challenge is what I sense more – the challenge to change the way we view economic development. To dig deeper beyond the surface level “billionaires exist” to the more complex, and certainly more worthwhile ideas of who does this benefit? How did those billionaires come to be? And perhaps most importantly – what does this mean for the life of the everyday individual struggling to provide for their family? In essence, I’ll care more about these billionaires, these outliers, when I hear how they use their economic power to change the industries that made them wealthy – from industries that allow a few to capitalize, to industries that offer viable and safe livelihoods for the communities and families and everyday people who live in the African countries that they too call home.

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ALEXANDER BOWE

"Protect Medical Workers' Safety." Courtesy of Caixun.

“Protect Medical Workers’ Safety.” Courtesy of Caixun.

In the fall of 2009, I interned in the traumatology ward of Hangzhou Chinese Medicine Hospital in order to study sports medicine as part of my martial arts practice. I had hoped to see bone-setters at work, but the overwhelming majority of the patients were simply elderly people with bone spurs or degrading artificial hips that were giving them trouble. Unfortunately, the only thing that could be done for most of those patients was to give them herbal poultices and/or modern painkillers; I was told by the doctor whom I shadowed that back in the seventies and eighties – when the country was first beginning to develop – doctors saw a lot of car accidents and other industrial injuries. These days, however, all they got was old people with disintegrating bodies – great for China, but not so great for my ambitions of studying traditional bone-setting. Then, one day, a woman was rushed into our ER. She had been bitten by a poisonous snake while laboring in a field; she was still dressed in her work clothes and her hand had swollen up to twice its normal size. She had been driven into the city from her hometown, several hours away from our hospital. I asked why she hadn’t just gone to a more local facility and was told, “No one trusts rural clinics. They all think that you have to go to a big one in the city to get any kind of decent help.”

Many Chinese are extremely dissatisfied with the state of China’s healthcare system. The world has seen in the last couple of weeks just how frustrated some in China are over its healthcare situation, which causes many people to act under the same assumptions as the anecdotal snake-bitten farmer. China’s urban hospitals are constantly overwhelmed by patients who have traveled great distances, resulting in an even higher strain on the already insufficient system. The too-few doctors are being spread far too thin to be effective: according to the Wall Street Journal, in 2010 there were only 1.4 doctors per 1,000 Chinese, meaning that average appointments only last a few minutes. Chinese doctors are even notorious among expatriates for making shoddy diagnoses with potentially severe ramifications. China’s medical system has been broken for quite some time, in fact. Rising costs and under-trained professionals are just the tip of the iceberg.

During the Cultural Revolution, rural China relied on so-called “barefoot doctors” (chijiao yisheng), minimally trained medical workers whose expertise mostly covered basic hygiene, preventive healthcare, and family planning, since professionally trained doctors were rarely willing to work in remote areas. This system was highly effective in many areas but ceased in 1981 as part of China’s larger shift away from collective-based management. As a result of the shift from healthcare provided by collectives to privately managed healthcare, coverage in rural China dropped from 90% in 1981 to just 7% of all counties by 1999. Since 2002, government-funded rural health insurance in the form of collective medical schemes (CMS) that mimic the old barefoot doctor system in some ways has significantly increased rural coverage: by 2009, 94% of rural counties offered coverage under CMS. The amount of coverage provided under these schemes, however, is still relatively low: current premium subsidies are about ¥80 (roughly $13) per capita. The legacy of poor coverage since collectivism effectively ended and the current low coverage levels are some of the factors that drive rural Chinese to ignore their rural providers and travel to cities instead, which results in the overwhelming of urban infrastructure.

The rising costs of healthcare in China remain a huge obstacle even where coverage is available. By 2020, total healthcare expenditure is expected to hit $1 tn as China continues to modernize its infrastructure. A great part of this cost is due to the increasing ubiquity of Western medicines. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which relies mostly on formulas composed of plants, animals, and minerals, all of which are collectively referred to as “herbs,” is still common and is generally less expensive than allopathic medicine since it does not rely on costly chemical processing and manufacturing. However, the use of allopathic drugs has shot up over the last couple of decades while the prevalence of traditionally trained TCM doctors has declined: as of 2007, there were only 270,000, half as many as in 1949, while the number of Western-trained doctors had increased by a factor of twenty to approximately 1.7 million. Currently, as much of 40% of China’s healthcare expenditure goes to medicine, compared to 10-12% for most Western countries. Part of this abnormally high cost, as has been revealed in the wake of the ongoing GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical scandal, is due to corruption and bribery aimed at increasing profits. Public hospitals are often encouraged to over-zealously prescribe medications to patients in order to gain more revenue; this, combined with the high prices, amounts to an extraordinarily high overall expenditure on medicine.

The high cost of medicine and lack of sufficient coverage, however, are only two of the problems confronting China’s healthcare. The recent hostility toward medical workers has exacerbated doctors’ resentment of the poor working conditions that the overcrowded hospitals have created. In addition to the widely-publicized fatal stabbing in eastern Zhejiang on Friday, October 25, there has been a rash of attacks at Chinese hospitals over the last few years: in 2010, there were more than 17,000 attacks spread across 70% of China’s hospitals.According to a 2013 survey of doctors by the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, 80% of the respondents said that they would not want their children to enter the medical industry, up from a 2009 survey in which 62.5% of respondents gave the same answer. The number of responding doctors which expressed this opinion has consistently increased each time the survey has been administered since 2002. Most of the doctors who responded also indicated that their salaries “didn’t match how much work they put into their jobs, and that tense doctor-patient relationships and enormous amounts of pressure at work are creating a negative attitude toward their jobs.”

Clearly, both patients and medical staff are extremely dissatisfied with the current state of China’s healthcare infrastructure. It will be absolutely necessary to continue to modernize and ramp up government spending in order to both make care more affordable and to decrease the individual workloads of doctors. This will be especially crucial in the coming years as China gets older and thus becomes more susceptible to chronic degenerative diseases. In addition to the rising risk of cancer and heart disease, which are now China’s top killersaccording to a new study, half of all adult Chinese may be pre-diabetic, meaning that many Chinese will likely depend even more heavily on the medical infrastructure in the near future than they do now. At its current levels of coverage and quality, the system just won’t cut it. It is often said of China that its main problem is “getting old before it gets rich”; getting sick before it gets rich may be more than the system can handle, and it may once again become the “Sick Man of Asia” but in a more literal sense than ever before.

Alexander Bowe has an MA in International Studies from the Korbel School and is currently a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Tsinghua University.

Preexisting Conditions: A Brief History of the Modern Chinese Healthcare System

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Rebalancing Act, Part Two – On the Extremity of China’s Investment-led Development Model

DANIEL ROARTY

The recently released data on China’s 3rd quarter growth seems optimistic on the surface – while many analysts have been predicting a gradual slowdown in the Chinese economy, 3rd quarter figures show it accelerating from 7.5% growth in the previous quarter to 7.8% this quarter. However, rapidly expanded credit enacted earlier this year is mainly responsible for this acceleration – industrial output, energy output, and exports all slumped in the same period. Conversely, investments in transportation infrastructure and sewage systems skyrocketed. These figures lead to the conclusion that China is still heavily dependent on investment for economic growth and that it has yet to begin a long-awaited rebalance away from investment-led growth to consumption-led growth.

This post will investigate China’s rebalancing from a historical perspective, comparing China’s consumption to GDP ratio to that of other countries using data from the World Bank, and will end with some conclusions that can be derived from this comparative historical analysis. Continue reading

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China’s Main Internal Challenges In the Next Decade

ALEX BOWE

As China’s celebration of Golden Week, the holiday commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1st, 1949, winds down and millions of Chinese return to their everyday routines, it is a time to consider the obstacles that the world’s most populous nation currently faces. China’s famed economic growth has been slowing recently and many wonder if Beijing will be able to persist and maybe eventually overtake the United States. In a recent book, Yan Xuetong, the Dean of Tsinghua University’s International Relations Department and one of China’s most prominent public intellectuals, optimistically forecasts that China will, in fact, be able to maintain its growth. Yan argues in History’s Inertia (lishi de guanxing), his new book, that China should be able to maintain its economic boom over the next decade and maintain an annual growth rate of roughly 5% after that, which will be enough to see China become a global superpower. The key to achieving this, Yan asserts, is introducing substantive reforms that will allow the country to adapt and overcome circumstances just like during the “reform and opening” that Deng Xiaoping oversaw in the 1980s. Those reforms allowed China to recover from decades of stifling central control and grow into the powerful nation it is today. Here is a rundown of some of the main issues these new reforms will have to address in the coming years. All of these topics are worthy of extensive and in-depth exploration, but a brief overview will suffice for now.

Corruption: This is probably the most serious issue because no matter what reforms Xi Jinping and co. introduce, nothing will happen if Beijing can’t enforce them adequately and uniformly, and local government officials are notoriously evasive when it comes to doing things that they don’t exactly want to. As I predicted in an earlier post, Beijing seems intent on demonstrating that it is serious about cracking down on high-profile corruption; Bo Xilai’s life sentence, which was harsher than many expected, is a strong indicator of this seriousness. Beijing’s merciless conviction of one of the nation’s most well-loved and well-pedigreed rising political stars should have sent a clear message to those who might consider graft or using their offices for personal gain. Xi has gone on the record saying that tackling corruption is his highest priority; taking down a highly visible crook is one thing, but most Chinese are more concerned about small-time official corruption than headline-grabbing national cases. The local corruption cases are the cause of most of the things that make the Chinese lose faith in their government, such as poorly constructed infrastructure projects that collapse, contamination of food due to poor industrial oversight, and a general lack of faith in the justice system. For real success over the long term that will help maintain the public’s confidence in the government, Beijing needs to keep doing more to create a pervasive anti-corruption culture in all levels of government, not just catch the big fish.

Population and labor force: China’s population is expected to peak at 1.4 billion around 2026. While a population as large as this brings its own particular problems, the biggest threat to continued Chinese growth and stability stemming from this is the dependency ratio. The dependency ratio is the number of non-workers (i.e., dependents) to workers in an economy and is a crucial indicator of growth prospects; an economy that is too weighed down by elderly and children will have difficulty accumulating savings, among other things. China is aging quickly, setting up a series of major problems later on. This is tied to the fertility rate, which has been falling for decades and is currently 1.56. China’s labor force peaked in 2011 and saw a decline of .6% in 2012. As the labor force continues to shrink, China will be hard-pressed to keep up its economic growth. Beijing has been thinking about reforming the One Child Policy for some time but has only adopted the mildest of modifications. Improvements will not happen overnight even if radical policy changes are made; indeed, with a chronic problem like this, only long-term solutions can work, so radical adjustments would not help even if the Party wanted to take that route. Since there will not be enough working-aged adults in China to comfortably support both themselves and dependents in coming years, one solution may be to allow in more immigrants, but given the already huge population, this is politically sketchy at best. There have been other consequences of China’s artificially manipulated fertility, such as gender-based selective abortions that have caused men to severely outnumber women, but arguably the labor force issue is poised to create the biggest stumbling block for the country.

Pollution: China’s pollution problem includes both air quality and contamination of other natural resources. As was mentioned in an earlier post, Beijing is planning a massive 1.7 trillion RMB initiative to combat smog. This plan will reduce PM2.5 contamination by 25% , lower Beijing coal use by 50%, cap the number of vehicles at 6 million, and force 1,200 companies to either close up or meet stricter standards by 2017. This plan, if successful, could prove to be a model for the other Chinese cities that suffer the most from smog – Beijing isn’t even the most polluted – and go a long way toward satisfying the demands of the increasingly well-off urban middle class for cleaner living. The more the government is associated with unclean air, the less legitimacy it will retain in the eyes of the public as the effects become increasingly visible. Cleaning up the air and water will be crucial both to maintain the Communist Party’s legitimacy and to keep the health of the Chinese people from being harmed any further than is already unavoidable.

Water: China has about 6% of the world’s fresh water supply and has to provide for a fifth of the entire human race with that amount. According to the Wilson Center, however, one out of every two gallons of water in China is polluted. Half of all groundwater and 2/3 of all surface water is contaminated. This is largely from industrial pollution but also from power generation: 70% of all power in China comes from coal, consumption of which will increase as much as 30% in the near future. What’s more, the processing and use of coal requires a great deal of water, which is already scarce in much of China: 80% of the nation’s coal comes from water-scarce regions. Further complicating this is the fact that most of China’s water is in the south, whereas most of its agricultural land is in the north. The government has just finished a massive undertaking to re-route water from the southern, more heavily populated regions to the relatively sparsely populated north… in order to grow the food with which to feed the population-heavy south. China, as the world’s largest grain producer, desperately needs water to grow its food but at the same time is increasing its use in power generation, which demands more water, leaving less for domestic use. At current rates, China is expected to be more or less out of water as soon as 2030. Beijing desperately needs a solution here since water is literally the sine qua non of everything else it might wish to do: without a stable water supply, no country can hope to survive. A good place to start would be to cut back on energy that requires water – the tricky part is that most methods of conventional power generation also require water, not just hydropower – and to import more grain while decreasing domestic production, but this problem has no easy solution and few hard ones.

Human rights: Yan Xuetong believes that as China’s power draws nearer to the US’s, the differences in the ideological aspects of their political institutions will weaken, which will include their views on human rights. For the time being, however, Beijing is infamous for its problematic relations with ethnic minorities, its issues with human trafficking, and its harsh crackdowns on political dissenters. In order to be viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the world, Beijing must attempt to resolve these matters favorably. Even the issues that seem simple, however, like internet restrictions, are politically difficult: as long as the Party fears that an open and free internet will undermine its power, net access will remain restricted. Some observers were hopeful that a new free trade zone in Shanghai with unrestricted internet access might herald a new liberality in this regard, but these reports were ultimately proven false for now.

Much of early Chinese political thought strongly emphasizes the aspect of morality in the leadership of a state; if a state is governed with morality, others will naturally be drawn to it and validate its authority without a need for subjugation by force. In the 7th century BCE, Guanzi wrote, “If a country is large but governed by one who is petty, the country will be governed in accordance with that man; if the country is small but governed by a great man, the benefit to the country will be great.” Without this element of morality, only military strength will be able to maintain a country’s status, which will fade as its power does. This is the difference between “humane authority” and a hegemony or tyranny. If China is to become (and remain) a superpower over the next decade, humane authority will be the only way to both overcome its current obstacles and remain stable in the future. If it tries to hold onto power merely through sheer force and fails to address its underlying critical contradictions, as other superpowers have tried to do in the past, it may end up on the ash-heap of history, after all.

 

Alexander Bowe has an MA in International Studies from the Korbel School and is currently a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Tsinghua University.

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Should We Fear the GMO?

Photo source: AP.

MORGAN DAY

Few debates in the realm of agricultural development are more challenging (and aggravating) than that surrounding genetically engineered crops. Largely, the debate has been reduced into “point-counterpoint” style argumentation—should GMO foods be labeled?  Are GMOs detrimental to human health and/or the environment? Are GMOs the economic answer for agricultural and food security growth throughout the developing world? You likely have your own answers to some of these questions, with reasonable explanations for why you fall down on one side or the other.

My key frustrations with the GMO debate derive from an overwhelming  “us versus them” mentality in which “my team” has to win, even if the “other team” has some good ideas or points. As Jonathan Foley once said, “You’re either with Michael Pollan or you’re with Monsanto, but neither paradigm can fully meet our needs.” This is a nuanced issue, but the politicization of GMOs often results in emotionally-charged, ideologically-hard lined discussion. I certainly have my own biases, and generally am more in favor of traditional crossbreeding techniques than genetically engineering (GE) crops or animals. And I understand why GMOs are scary—there are many areas of uncertainty or of potential negative impact in their use. But fear alone should not be the driving reason behind opposing their use. In my time working and debating at The World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, IA, and over the course of my studies at the Josef Korbel School, three key “fears” surrounding GMO use arise again and again

1. Fear of environmental impact.
Remember Gregor Mendel and his pea plants? While he methodically selected for genetic robustness in his crops, he was not a genetic engineer in today’s sense of the term. GE or GMO crops, “are plants or animal created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology” which cannot otherwise occur naturally or through traditional crossbreeding techniques. This leads to philosophical questions about our role in modifying nature—do we get to play God(s)?—and if these modifications pose true threats to our environment and our health.

Apart from potential existential crises caused by considering our role in modifying (or not modifying) nature, GMOs do pose a threat to naturally-occurring flora and fauna, as their introduction to stable ecosystems can result in outcrossing or loss of biodiversity. For instance, many GMOs are created to be weed- or pest- resistant. Introduction of these resistant crops may lead “the [natural] development of more aggressive weeds or wild relatives with increased resistance to diseases or environmental stresses.” Biodiversity loss is a complex issue in and of itself, but increased GMO is one of the many drivers that leads to “the displacement of traditional cultivars by a small number of genetically modified cultivars,” either through farmer selection to grow GMOs, by GMO cross-pollination, or by market- and price-based marketing and consumer decisions to prefer GMO products over traditional cultivars.

For many fearful of GMOs’ environmental impact, the use of pesticides and fertilizers necessary to maintaining healthy GMO crops is the most alarming. Although many biotech firms maintain that their product lines both effectively control weeds and decrease the overall use of pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals, studies show that GMO technology has risen since the wide-spread availability and use of GMO crops. (This impact has been most studied on RoundUp Ready crops). When considered in the context of general problems with commercial agriculture—labor codes or lack thereof, poor safety precautions for workers, environmental regulations to monitor and control agrichemical run-off into waterways—there are a number of negative impacts on environmental and human health inevitable with increased use of GMOs.

2. Fear of health impact.
Many of the environmental fears dovetail with fears about GMOs’ impact on human health. (We’ll side-step the issue of animal health for the time being, as the implications for animal well-being warrant their own nuanced debate). The World Health Organization determines the safety of GM foods by investigating “(a) direct health effects (toxicity);  (b) tendencies to provoke allergic reaction (allergenicity); (c) specific components thought to have nutritional or toxic properties; (d) the stability of the inserted gene; (e) nutritional effects associated with genetic modification; and (f) any unintended effects which could result from the gene insertion.” GMOs which are currently on the market have passed these investigations, and are currently deemed safe for human consumption. However, rigorous scientific studies have produced mixed results on whether GMO foods are safe for humans: “some have vindicated no safety differences between GE and non-GE varieties, while others have demonstrated potential harm.” This ambiguity among the scientific community about the safety of GM products (and about the best methods to test for safety) has led to fears about ingesting GM foods. Caution in this instance is sound, but I find myself wondering why consumers are eager to trust science to make us more healthy through pharmaceuticals, innovative surgeries, and other medical means, but not through directly modifying our food sources.

3. Fear of dependency or economic oppression.
Part of the argument in favor of GMO use is the promise of increased crop yield through minimizing pestilence and maximizing the amount of crop grown per acre or hectare. This has clear positive impacts for farmers, especially for smallholders with small amounts of land and resources. By growing more of a crop, farmers are able to maximize their economic gain, to reinvest in the farm, and to purchase necessities for their family like schooling, food, health care, clothes, and shelter upgrades. This can also result in an increase stock of food at local, national, and regional levels, allowing consumers access to more food and allowing governments more security in protecting national food stocks against the vicissitudes of the international commodities market. These impacts of GMO use seem relatively positive. Poor farmers can grow more, make more money, and potentially generate more food for their fellow man.

In the context of human and economic development, fear of GMOs is based on a fear of creating dependency on GMO crop inputs and the multinational agribusiness firms which purvey them. Agribusiness firms which sell GMOs and their associated products—seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.)—often carry strict patents and intellectual property protections which necessitate annual rebuying of seed (and the fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide made specifically to complement and support the seed), or the payment of a technology royalty to the company to continue using patented seeds. (As an aside, not all GMO seeds are sterile, although the technology to create sterile seeds exists. Many so-called “facts” about GMO seeds are actually more myth than reality, as Dan Charles’ article outlines.) Given the protections on seed technology and their relatively high level of enforcement, many fear that a dependency on agribusiness firms and their wares will outweigh the potentially positive outcomes of GMO use for farmers.

These fears exist for legitimate reasons, and I am truly concerned about GMOs’ impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, and on the environment. But we know these risks, and in identifying an ill we have the power to alleviate or eliminate that ill. As with any technological breakthrough, we should exercise an abundance of caution in how it is woven into the fabric of society. GMO use has resulted in Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution in the 1960s, to increased crop yields and increases in farmer livelihoods, and to more abundant food stocks in countries once depending on imports for the majority of their food. And what’s more, each GMO presents its own unique case, making it dangerous to declare all GMOs safe or unsafe. For each positive outcome GMOs have brought, there are hidden risks and obvious costs. But the moment we allow our fear of the unknown to deter scientific advancements—advancements with life-saving capabilities for huge numbers of people in the developed and developing world—is the moment that we give up on developing a better global food system, and a less-hungry world.

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Development? Adaptation? Or something in between?

JESS HARIG

This week I’ve been thinking back to a class I took my first year of grad school. It was focused on climate change – not the science alone, but the more nuanced concepts of mitigation, adaptation and resiliency. These ideas come back to me often when I hear climate change being discussed in the media and in more political contexts.

Here in the U.S. when we talk about climate change (yes, I am well aware it is not currently in the news, due to more pressing topics like, oh, I don’t know, our government shutting down), it is at worst focused on nitpicking valid scientific data, and at best more productively focused on options for mitigation. Mitigation, to be clear, refers to those practices that will help curb the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that human development produces in large quantity.  President Obama’s recent Climate Plan, and actions taken by the EPA over the past several years, sought to promote this idea of mitigation. But while mitigation is obviously an important concept–and I am in no way dismissing it’s place in the climate discussion–a sole focus on mitigation activities seems futile. Given the way that greenhouse gasses collect and remain in our atmosphere, it is too late to focus on mitigation alone – even if we were to stop emitting carbon, it would not be enough to stop the impacts of climate change.

Adaptation is starting to become the new buzzword, primarily in academic circles, and is seen almost as the next step after mitigation. Adaptation, for lack of a set definition, is the practice of dealing with the tangible impacts of climate change. It’s what happens after mitigation fails (or gets started too late). For example, changing farming practices to allow for continued food production in an increasingly arid environment might be an example of adaptation. Adaptation is also closely tied to the concept of resiliency.  Originally a scientific term that relates to ecological systems, resiliency applied to climate change is more socially focused. It’s the ability of people to be ok–to maintain life and livelihoods–even after climate change alters their lives. I tend to think of resiliency as a measurement of the level of people’s ability to adapt, though as I experienced in the class I referred to earlier, this is up for debate.

Now, to the ideas that really interest me. Or perhaps paradox is the word. The underlying factors that influence adaptation and resiliency are quite similar to indicators of “development”.  In a word: resources. If you have money, access to markets, the ability to purchase food, a road to drive on, a changing climate is (barring disaster) something that is in your capabilities to handle. As an aspiring international development practicioner, I struggle with whether or not adaptation to climate change is separate from traditional international development priorities and values, and funding. If access to livelihoods, infrastructure and other resources determines a community’s ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions, then do we need to even talk about adaptation to climate change? Should we maybe just focused on increased sustainable development that considers mitigation? More specifically what I struggle with is whether or not adaptation to climate change should be it’s own field of practice, with organizations devoted to its promotion. Or if simply increasing a community’s general level of development – infrastructure, economic productivity, social networks – will make communities more resilient, and hence better able to adapt to climate change.

I lean towards the side of separate but connected. To me, the fact that climate change impacts are already being felt in vulnerable communities, and the reality that international development is at times a slow-moving field, an explicit focus on adaptation seems necessary. But perhaps in the vein of sustainability and long-term view of development, it should still be a concept for international development agencies to struggle with and incorporate into their more general initiatives.

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Trouble in Mindanao

Overview of the city as government forces attempt to free hostages from the MNLF

Overview of the city as government forces attempt to free hostages from the MNLF

COLIN LAWRENCE

A lot of blood has been shed in the last few weeks: suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; shootings in Chicago, Kashmir, and Washington, DC; and hostage crises in Kenya and the Philippines. Some of these conflicts are well-known and well-publicized. Over 200 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered Zamboanga City and seven neighboring districts, taking hostages and boarding themselves up in government buildings. The historical background of this conflict is less well-known but no less important.

The fighting between rebel groups, based in Mindanao, and the Filipino government has been going on since the late 1960s.  Continue reading

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