The Chinese Morning Edition

The Sierra Leone political activist Zainab Bangura recently said, “People say China is a sleeping giant, but it’s wide awake. It’s the elephant creeping up behind us. Only, it’s so big we can scarcely see it moving.” That the editorial … Read More

By / December 27, 2007

The Sierra Leone political activist Zainab Bangura recently said, “People say China is a sleeping giant, but it’s wide awake. It’s the elephant creeping up behind us. Only, it’s so big we can scarcely see it moving.” That the editorial staff of the International Herald Tribune failed to see the elephant squat across the cover of their print publication this morning is an inexcusable disgrace. The paper ran this morbid headline “Hunger outpaces UN efforts in Darfur” right next to this cheery one “Chinese products change lives for neighbors” without the slightest hint of connection, let alone irony. Anyone who pays attention to world affairs for a living should know that the why? raised by the first headline is directly answered by the second one. The five-years-and-counting genocide in Darfur owes its longevity (and apparently recent up-tick in child malnutrition) to the protective interest of Chinese capitalism. Every UN effort at intervention has faced either a de-clawing at Chinese insistence or the threat of a Chinese veto. This covers five Security Council resolutions aimed at disarming the Khartoum regime, imposing sanctions on them, or sending forces into the region to protect civilians. Consider Resolution 1706, for example, which:

authorized more than 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers and civilian police to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in Darfur. China abstained, and would have vetoed the measure had language not been inserted that “invited” the consent of the Khartoum regime. The National Islamic Front declined the “invitation” and refused to accept the U.N. peacekeeping force.

China’s motivation in all this can’t get any more basic: they have astronomically lucrative oil deals with the Sudanese government. These asymmetrical contracts permit China to suck the country dry of reserves claimed as their exclusive property in exchange for their promised veto. What’s more is that the oil relationship has fostered a secondary arrangement whereby the Sudanese government has contracted Chinese companies (many state-subsidized) to build bridges, roads and other infrastructure that facilitate the extraction and export of their purchased oil. Most sickening is that China’s not merely content to protect their death squad business partners in the UN; they also sell them the very weapons used in the ongoing slaughter. (At one time I could have sworn there was an army of Americans for whom “No Blood For Oil” seemed a mission statement. I’ve yet to see them or their placards swarm Union Square for an anti-China rally.) That’s China, but what about the rest of the UN? From the first Tribune story: “For the first time since 2004, the malnutrition rate, a gauge of the population's overall distress, has crossed what UN officials consider to be the emergency threshold.” A non-stop massacre has been running longer than the television series Lost and the UN just decided that it’s an emergency. The story goes on, “As a result, people in Darfur are beginning to lose hope, and that may be another factor taking a toll on their health, several aid officials said.” That reminds me of a line from Jimmy Breslin’s comic mobster novel, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight: "He died of natural causes as his heart stopped suddenly when six men stuck knives into it." What does this have to do with China’s “life-changing” products? The knives that China’s stuck into Darfur contribute to what’s known as the “China Price.” This is the low, low manufacturing cost China’s able to maintain and use to lure foreign investment. According to Business Week, “In general, it means 30% to 50% less than what you can possibly make something for in the U.S.” Obtaining their natural resources from countries that others refuse to patronize is one of the many unscrupulous ways that China keeps costs down. This contributes to their ability to sell cheap goods to their neighbors. From the second Tribune story:

Cheap Chinese products are flooding China's southern neighbors and consumers in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are laying out the welcome mat. The products are transforming the lives of some of the poorest people in Asia, whose worldly possessions only a few years ago typically consisted of not much more than a set or two of clothes, cooking utensils and a thatch-roofed house built by hand.

The article is positively celebratory. It does allow this: “The enthusiasm for Chinese goods here is tempered by one commonly heard complaint: maintenance problems.” Well, there are a few more complaints. Aside from the Darfur genocide, here’s what else goes into the production of cheap Chinese goods: industrial slavery, intellectual piracy, environmental catastrophe, and an absolute disregard for health and safety standards. China is indeed awake. As for the staff of The International Herald Tribune –it’s hard to say. The paper is a hodgepodge of international stories, and is presented as a resource for the global community. In that way it’s sort of the United Nations of newspapers. Which explains everything.

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