politics - The Trawler.org
Chinese government officials have become notorious for owning or buying expensive luxury items, cars, and houses despite having a meagre official average income of 5000 yuan per month. According to Wang, from 2005-2007 about 100 court cases of bribery were conducted on government officials that received bribes during the Chinese Lunar New Year. The most common bribes were small luxury items such as wristwatches.
However, discipline officials of the Chinese Communist Party have maintained that “[they] would have no way of knowing that eyeglass frames could cost several million yuan if a bribed official had not confessed of his own accord to owning them.” Wang believes that this argument is unsatisfactory – He argues that while it is true that “not only Party discipline officials, but also the general public are unlikely to know at a glance the value of a piece of wristwatch jewelry or a pair of eyeglasses…discipline officials should know from common sense that what corrupt officials wear and carry are quite different from the apparel and style of a clean official.”
Wang notes that recently, internet users in China were able to expose the corruption of Yang Dacai, a senior local official in charge of workplace safety. Internet users studied recent pictures of the official and determined that during a public appearance late August, Yang sported eyewear that was worth at least 138,000 yuan (USD 22,000). Further research revealed that the official wore at least 11 different expensive watches on various public occasions, and led to the commencement of an investigation into Yang’s finances by the Chinese central government.
Wang asserts that it should be the job of disciplinary officials, and not that of the general public, to catch corrupt officials like Yang. He argues that even if disciplinary officials cannot be expected to know the price range of certain luxury items, they should automatically flag an official for suspicious behavior if he or she fails to “dress like the rank-and-file he or she deserves [in other words, dress simply and not overly luxuriously].”
It is potentially problematic to assume a necessary correlation between an official wearing luxury brand fashion with their engaging in corruption. According to Wang, there is a clear dichotomy between what corrupt officials wear and what clean officials wear, which may not be an accurate portrayal of Chinese society.
Modern Chinese society has a flourishing consumer culture in which luxury brands have become coveted symbols of status. It is conceivable that a “clean official” would seek to own the luxury items their means allowed. Admittedly though, corruption in the Chinese political system bears more investigation and attention than is currently given.
In a recent, emotionally charged opinion piece for the Toronto Star, Margaret Wente criticizes liberal intellectuals and the US administration for “blaming a crude anti-Islamic video for the widespread outbreak of violent street protests by angry Muslims.”
Wente argues that it is an oversimplification to claim the video to be the main reason behind the outbreak of violent anti-US riots, which led to the murder of Chris Stevens (US Ambassador to Libya) and three US diplomatic security officials. Rather, she believes that the infamous video gave existing anti-American factions in the Arab world a “handy pretext” to begin rioting.
Wente postulates the existence of a “clash of civilizations” between “Western” and Muslim culture. She notes that Western commentators are ignoring an essential point when they suggest that the outbreak of violence could have been avoided if the video had not “rile[d] people up by insulting their religion.” The essential point – according to Wente, is “that the Muslim world abhors the crime of blasphemy far more than it values religious freedom or secularism or free speech.”
In a nutshell, Wente claims that Muslim culture is inherently more prone to “being offended” than Western civilization. For Wente, the outbreak of violence is the consequence of a profound “difference in values” between the West and Islam. “In Western culture we insult religion all the time and think nothing of it. We fight for people’s right to put a crucifix in urine and put it on display and call it art.” By contrast, Wente notes that in addition to the infamous web video, Muslims “have been offended by a handful of obscure newspaper cartoons and by an obscure Dutch film.”
In summary, Wente believes that “if we [the West] value our freedoms, we are bound to offend a lot of Muslims a lot of the time. We can’t do much about it and we probably should not apologize.”
While there may be some truth to Wente’s assertion that in general, Western societies tend to more readily embrace freedom of speech, Wente overgeneralizes in her depictions of the two cultures. Additionally, her assertion that the difference in cultural values is the primary source of conflict ignores the political and historical context in which the US-Arab conflict takes place.
For a different perspective, Marc Armbinder argues in an opinion piece for The Week that while the violent protest is unconscionable, responding aggressively (or insensitively) is an unnecessary escalation that would only lead to more violence.
In a recent opinion article for Caixin Online, Zhang Yuanan discusses the growing bilateral economic relationship between China and Germany. Zhang notes that over the years, Angela Merkel’s attitude toward China has shifted from “hardline to pragmatic.” She has already visited China twice this year, and her “visits with Chinese leaders outnumber those with US President Barack Obama.”
Zhang draws a parallel between today’s Sino-German ties and the US-UK relationship in 1946, remarking that both Winston Churchill and German officials described their bond with the US, and China as a “special relationship.” However, Zhang notes that the two relationships are not comparable due to various differences [most notably on the subject political ideology and human rights] between the Chinese and German governments. Regardless, Zhang notes that ideological differences aside, both China and Germany have shown an inclination towards closer cooperation.
In August this year, Germany agreed to push the next round of Sino-German talks – which were originally scheduled for 2013 – to end August 2012. The intent behind this change was to allow chancellor Merkel to establish contact with China’s future leader and facilitate talks on strengthening collaboration.
Zhang argues that while Germany will never undermine its European neighbours in the diplomatic front, it will seek to establish economic ties unilaterally with China. For a long time, the EU has tried but failed to create a unified trade policy with China. Rather, “each of the 27 members has been secretly trying to establish…commercial links with China individually.” Given the myriad of differing positions, interests and needs, it is likely that this de-collectivized diplomacy will persist in the near future. Moreover, Zhang notes that Germany is one of “the few EU countries that are economically complimentary with China” as it provides expertise [something China lacks] in exchange for Chinese market share.
As part of her new pragmatic perspective on China, Merkel seems to have “sidestepped issues such as human rights and patent protection,” and discouraged the EU from starting an anti-dumping procedure regarding its photovoltaic dispute with China. Given Germany’s occupying the “leading position” in the EU since the debt crisis, Zhang wonders whether Sino-EU relations will inevitably morph into Sino-German relations. With two weeks left until the next China-EU summit, it remains to be seen whether chancellor Merkel will push for a partnership with China based on the interests of the whole EU, or that of the German economy.
A recent article in China Daily asserts – like Zhang – that China and Germany will remain close trade and economic partners. However, it remains to be seen whether Merkel’s soft line with China will be politically palatable to the German public. German observers seem critical with Merkel’s reluctance to discuss human rights issues in her recent China visit. This article from the Spiegel Online compiles a number of warnings by German commentators that “Berlin should not let itself be seduced by Beijing’s attention.”
MCPARLAND: “Free trade with China is one thing, corruption-free trade is another” (National Post, CA)279 days ago by Hermonie.Xie
In a recent opinion article for the National Post, Kelly McParland cautions against rushing into free trade with China. Recently, Ottawa has considered exploratory talks on a free trade agreement with China. Last Sunday, PM Harper signed the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, which establishes a system for resolving disputes on laws and practices that impinge on foreign investment.
While he recognizes the importance and value of seeking free trade with China, McParland questions the ability of China’s opaque political structure to provide the legal and political reliability needed for a trade pact that is palatable to Canadian businesses. While “China has the trappings of a modern western business culture,” below the surface the country remains a place “where law is what the government says it is, on any particular day”.
McParland points to a few recent political scandals to show a China ridden with corruption. In August, Gu Kailai – wife of ousted Chinese leader Bo Xilai, was tried “for the murder of a British consultant she feared was about to reveal the extent of the family’s corruption.” McParland notes that the murder itself might have been covered up had it not been for “a bit of bad luck in which a local police official approached the US seeking protection from Bo”. While top-ranked Communist officials have modest salaries on paper, “unofficially they can buy their kids Ferraris.”
The icing on the cake is the recent mysterious disappearance of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who has been missing for nine days and skipped scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the PMs of Singapore and Denmark. Thus far, the international community has failed to get a clear answer from Beijing on his whereabouts and his health condition.
For McParland, all of this suggests that China will play by its own rules with no regard for the international community. For this reason, he does not believe China will make a good trading partner for Canada despite its wealth and economic sophistication.
Terence Corcoran argues a different perspective in his editorial for the Financial Post. In this article, Corcoran makes the argument that in a world filled with talk about retaliation and protectionism, Canada’s trade talks with China is a step in the right direction – so long as Canada can handle the challenges and risks in dealing with China’s state-owned-enterprises.
In a recent opinion article for the Toronto Star, Carol Goar discusses the reality of sky-high post-secondary tuition costs in Ontario. Goar notes that students in Ontario “appear to have accepted the decision thrust on their generation by former Conservative premier Mike Harris and echoed by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty that it’s a “good deal” to go into debt to attend university because they’ll reap lucrative benefits”.
Over a seventeen year period spanning the Harris and McGuinty governments, student debt grew by 80 per cent and the average tuition fee in Ontario grew from $2,458 to $6,640. While McGuinty asserted that rising fees did not deter young people from enrolling in university, Goar noted that most students do not have a choice in the matter since many entry-level jobs require post-secondary training. Goar remarks that there is a lack of discussion by the public on the “quiet death of society’s commitment to ensure that each generation does better than the last”.
This willful blindness is helped by the apparent quiescence of Ontario students to tuition hikes. Goar notes that while students in Ontario are aware that “they’re paying more and getting less,” unlike their Quebec counterparts, they are not prepared to stage mass protests, cancel classes and clash with the police. She argues that a distinct communication gap exists presently between students and the government that prevents further dialogue and progress on this issue.
Finally, Goar points to a number of questions that Ontarians should be asking:
“1. Why Ontario can no longer afford to offer affordable post-secondary education to its students as it did for five decades? Could it have something to do with the hefty tax cuts of the late 1990s and early 21st century?
2. Why McGuinty and his ministers focus exclusively the cost of post-secondary education when there is sizeable payback.
3. And why Ontario provides less support to its universities (54 per cent of budgets) than any other province except Nova Scotia. It is far below provinces such as Newfoundland (69 per cent) and Saskatchewan (68 per cent). And it falls short of the national average (61 per cent).”
Goar’s assertion that Ontario students are complacently accepting the tuition hikes is not entirely true, although the scale of Ontario protests pale in comparison to their Quebec counterparts. Roughly 1000 students protested in May to demonstrate solidarity with the Quebec protesters, and in June the Ontario Students Mobilization Coalition brought together 300 students from universities across Ontario (compared to more than 300,000 in Quebec) to protest post-secondary school tuition fees in front of George Brown College.
Doug Saunders’ latest column looks at the effects of outside interference in the countries of the Middle East. His view is that foreign powers have treated these countries as “black boxes;” places where one makes inputs (money, weapons, etc.) and expects outputs in return. The result of these policies is that the countries of the greater Middle East become tools for achieving objectives, without much thought of the long-term effects of these inputs on domestic politics and society in the countries affected.
Saunders’ perspective on this issue is refreshing. Issues in the Middle East, whether economic malaise, political authoritarianism or ideological extremism, are often not contextualized in Western media. Many of the problems in this region result from the actions of outside actors. The United States and other foreign powers have supported numerous dictatorships in the region, providing money, weapons and training. These governments have in turn crushed political opposition, undermined the growth of a healthy civil society, squandered national resources on corruption and nepotism, and often exacerbated confessional tensions. Westerners then have the nerve to ask, “why are there so many problems in the Middle East?”
In his latest column, Jeffrey Simpson discusses the gross inflation of election spending in recent years in the United States. The cost of running a Presidential campaign in the US has skyrocketed, with candidates and their parties spending hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. Simpson notes that a series of supreme court rulings dating back to 1972 have removed most of the restraints on political contributions in the name of free speech. This liberalization of donation rules has led to a ballooning of campaign contributions.
This increase poses significant problems. The most obvious is, of course, the buying of political influence by moneyed interests, whether they be corporations, unions or any other. This type of influence buying reduces the power of individuals and increases the power of organizations, something with a questionable impact on democracy in that country.
More insidious, Simpson notes, is the impact that the constant need to fundraise has on politicians and political parties. Rather than developing policies, engaging with regular people and generally governing the country, politicians must continuously fundraise. This constant pursuit of money takes up a great deal of time and undermines the efficiency and focus of elected officials.
This should not be a liberal vs. conservative argument; it is one of power within a democracy and how its leaders spend their limited time. This is an issue that should cross the political spectrum.