China's modernisation and its discontents
The catastrophic 50 mile toxic oil slick that is blighting Manchuria is only one symptom of the growing problems of China's modernisation. In openDemocracy earlier this year, the deputy minister of the environment Pan Yue warned of the limits to growth that China's disastrous environmental degradation will impose. Chemical spills pass, but the degree of air and water contamination, the falling water tables, the loss of agricultural land and the creeping desertification are not easy to reverse. There is a more fundamental problem at the heart of this and other obstacles to China's political and economic health -- the turbid official reaction, the continuing preference for cover up over action, the lack of transparency and acountability in the Chinese political system that magnifies the effect of such events. In another symptom of a dysfuntional system, the Chinese government has been battling to contain the damage caused by a copper trader who placed a series of wrong bets on copper futures earlier this year.
Liu Qibing, who worked for the government entity, the National Control Center of the State Reserve Board -- buying up raw materials to feed China's building boom, thought world copper prices would fall as a result of the government's clamp down on building. He committed to buy large quantities. But Beijing's relaxed its ban on new projects and Chinese demand soared again, along with world prices. Facing huge losses, Beijing has been dumping copper on the market as fast as it can, to try to damp down prices and stem the losses. Liu Qibing is not , of course, the only trader to come unstuck - remember Nick Leeson. But his downfall seems to have caused by betting on government decisions that remain secret. Perhaps as Beijing counts the cost, its leader might reflect on the fact that transparency and accountability are not just optional add ons but are necessary for a healthy economy as well as a healthy political system.
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Goodbye Habeas Corpus
The US Senate has just approved the Graham amendment, a last minute attachment to the Military Authorisation Bill, which would deprive the prisoners in Guantanamo of access to the US courts and leave them entirely at the mercy of administrative whim or military kangaroo courts. Many of the prisoners in Guantanamo have already been incarcerated for up to four years without trial; some have been physically abused, others are on hunger strike and suicide attempts are common. Despite their being labelled evil men by the Bush adminsitration, only a tiny handful out of hundreds of detainees who have passed through Guantanamo has been charged and, even in these few cases, the charges are thin. Justice is long overdue for these prisoners. Guantanamo is a long assault on the rule of law and it affects us all. This weekend, concerned lawyers are working to see if this amendment may yet be overturned. Below, a statement from the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York lays out what is at stake.
CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS STATEMENT ON THE PASSAGE OF THE GRAHAM AMENDMENT
Bush’s New Assault on Democracy: Habeas Corpus Stabbed in the Back
The Bush Administration, through an amendment introduced by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, has just successfully stripped federal courts of jurisdiction to hear applications for habeas corpus brought by those unilaterally declared enemy combatants without any process and held by the U.S. indefinitely throughout the world and even in the United States. This was accomplished by means of a last minute amendment to the Military Authorization Bill, brought up on the floor of the Senate without committee deliberations and virtually no advance warning to the American people that it was happening.
The Graham amendment will create a thousand points of darkness across the globe where the United States U.S.
While the Administration and its supporters have tried to characterize the men being held at Guantánamo as the worst of the worst against all evidence, the fact is that even the military has admitted that they often apprehended the wrong people. Most have no ties to Al Qaida, many were turned over to the U.S.
Dance the guns to silence?
Ten years ago today an internationally renowned author and activist named Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other men were hanged in Nigeria. He had accused the Nigerian government of genocide of the Ogoni people, and Shell and the IMF of complicity.
Today, a silent vigil outside the Shell building in London and meetings of activists in Britain, Nigeria and elsewhere mark the tenth anniversary of the executions. In less than an hour at the time of writing, the winner of an art competition for a living memorial will be announced.
It’s part of a rainbow of events over the last few months to keep questions of corporate accountability and human rights on the agenda.
Soyinka read a moving account of his experience at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in New Zealand ten years ago. He had realised, he said, that Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were done for when he was handed a leaflet from Shell saying they had no responsibility for what was happening. At the time Nelson Mandela was relaying an assurance he had received personally from Sani Abacha, the Nigerian dictator, to the effect that Saro-Wiwa and the others would be just fine.
Today’s vigil and the other events are organised by a consortium of organisations and led by Platform, a London-based arts and politics collective.
Platform has just published a book called The Next Gulf: London, Washingtonand Oil Conflict in Nigeria. The authors – Andy Rowell, James Marriott and Lorne Stockman – argue that “a new Atlantic Triangle” is being created that ties Britain, America and the Niger Delta together. “The first Atlantic Triangle was built on the exploitation of slaves; the second,” they say, “is the exploitation of oil and gas”.
Western interests in Africa are longstanding. But new kids on the block are becoming ever more active. China, for example, is rapidly expanding its footprint in Angola, Sudan, Nigeria and other countries on the continent.
Sitting alone at last night’s artist evening was a well known protestor from Tiananmen Square who now lives in exile in Britain. What chance that Chinese companies in Africa be held to account?
Don't be a lawyer in China
President Hu Jintao's visit to the UK has stimulated a discussion in the British media about whether Britain should stand up to China on questions of human rights and the rule of law , thus risking China's disfavour, or whether it's legitimate to concentrate on expanding economic ties and keeping criticism private. Tony Blair, asked what he would talk about with Hu Jintao, began his list with economic issues. His list never did reach human rights, or China's public desire that the EU arms embargo, imposed after Tiananmen, should be lifted.
Britain holds the EU presidency at present, but all progress on lifting the embargo was halted when China passed the Taiwan Anti-Secession law, giving Beijing the right -- in Chinese law at least -- to use force against Taiwan. It was a pretty spectacular own goal by Beijing.
Equally ineptly, just as Hu Jintao is trying to present an image of reason and sophistication in the West -- as president of a rising superpower that fully endorses the rule of law -- back home his security services have been busy -- shutting down legal firms who are brave enough to take legal cases defending workers and activists. Gao Zhisheng, for instance, who has defended religious practitioners in China (where religious freedom is supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution) had his firm shut down for a year at the weekend. In March, another lawyer, Guo Guoting was threatened with suspension for publishing an article critical of China's legal system. Guo, in turn, had defended another lawyer Zheng Enchong, known for his willingness to take cases involving victims of property disputes. Zheng was jailed in 2003.
Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Booth are both, of course, lawyers. Perhaps professional solidarity might move them to mention to President Hu that if he really wants to project an image of a country embracing the rule of law, locking up lawyers is not the best way to do it.
Have we hit the ground yet?
“Baghdad, France”, “The Siege of Paris”, "Intifada at the City Gates”, are just a few headlines intended to describe the situation in the Paris suburbs.
The situation is indeed more than worrying and the French government is all of sudden scared that these “barbarians” (as qualified in the Sunday Times) could no longer be contained in their ghettos and “are now at the gate”.
Being French and born and raised in Paris I can say that what has been referred to as “urban guerrilla warfare” is just the result of an ongoing problem.
Since the fall of the French Empire, immigrants believing in the idea of “France, terre d’accueil” have tried escaping what the French had left them with (unemployment, violence, tribal wars, racism, and authoritarian regimes).They were piled up in what is known in France as “cité-dortoirs” (dormitory towns) as close as they could to the city of lights.
For the past 15 years, the banlieues of Paris have suffered from an increasing level of violence.
Will the past events lead to more social reform? Will the government
try fixing what it created? Or will Jacques Chirac use this opportunity
to pass more repressive laws against the insecurity threats?
As one of the characters of La Haine says it concluding the movie"
C'est l'histoire d'une société qui tombe et qui au fur et à mesure de
sa chute se répète sans cesse pour se rassurer : Jusqu'ici tout va
bien, jusqu'ici tout va bien, jusqu'ici tout va bien, mais l'important
c'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterrissage ".
“It’s the story of society falling down and while it’s falling it reassures itself: so far so good, so far so good, so far so good, but how you fall doesn't matter, it's how you land!”
The strange ways of Falungong
Hu JIntao, the president of China, is due for a big welcome during his two day state visit to Britain: not only does he get to stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, but the town is to be floodlit in red, in perhaps a misjudged attempt to make him feel at home. The East, of course, isn't really Red any more. Perhaps it's a sign that Chinese Communism has morphed seamlessly from threat to heritage, without passing through anything as definitive as collapse.
There are vocal opponents of the state visit of course. Mr Hu is a particularily resonant figure for the Tibetans, for instance, since he was party secretary in Lhasa in 1989, when Beijing ordered a brutal crackdown on demonstrations and imposed martial law, months before the more celebrated repression in Tiananmen Square. Also much in evidence in London over the next few days, though he claims the timing is a coicidence, is Chen Yonglin, formerly the first secretary of the Chinese consulate in Australia, who defected in June and has since been a vocal critic of the regime. Mr Chen appeared at what was described as a press conference in London's Foreign Press Association, along with three British politicians. The press conference was sponsored by an organisation identified only as the FSC Centre. Inquiries produeced the response that this was the "Future Science and Culture Centre" in Cambridge. You may be none the wiser, and nor was oD. But it began to feel like Falungong. And so it proved.
Now there is nothing wrong with Falungong putting its case against the Chinese government: they have as much right to do that as anyone else. But why the subterfuge? And why the video crews filming the audience, as well as the speakers? And why the still photographer taking pictures of everyone who asked a question? If Falungong advocates democracy and truth, as they say they do, how about a little transparency in their own operations?