The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Classic Pen: The New Amsterdam

Minorities Crime & Drugs in China

The meanest bowl of la mian – steaming sweet noodles and meat that renew life on a frosty winter evening – you’ll ever find will be in a Uighur restaurant. Fortunately for survival, the dish can be found for 40 cents in noodle stalls located in neighborhoods throughout China. Less auspiciously for Chinese authorities, the widespread presence of ethnic minorities is, combined with the drug trade, making domestic control increasingly harder to maintain.

People from the Xinjiang (the place) Uighur (the people) Autonomous Region, China’s most western province, are noticeably different-looking than the ethnic Han that make up around 95% of the nation’s population. On average, the Uighurs are taller, with sharper features and lighter eyes. They appear more like Central Asians as they are indeed from that corner of the world. Unlike the officially atheistic Chinese, they are Muslim and wear a doppa, or Uighur hat.


Visine: Gets the Red Out

Uighurs are overwhelmingly a friendly, hospitable, and decent people. As is inherent in human nature, however, a small minority exists with less savory motives and the will to resist. They also have legitimate grievances: Xinjiang was only really pulled into Beijing’s orbit in the 1950’s when the People’s Army arrived. In a successful effort to prevent independence – similar to that witnessed in former Soviet states with similar histories in Central Asia – China has been moving its citizens to the province by the millions in an effort to pacify the Uighurs through demography and breeding; the Han now make up 50% of Xinjiang’s population. Furthermore, widespread human rights abuses and the absence of choice in the political arena lead to increasing frustration and unrest among Uighurs. Beijing’s solidarity with America’s war on terror is frequently thought to stem from domestic desires in Xinjiang. Remember the screeching woman on the White House lawn during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech in April? She was Uighur, and never would’ve been heard in China.

Yet as long as the central government possesses a monopoly on force restive groups find it virtually impossible to challenge its rule directly. Instead, dissent will undermine the state through other outlets. With little stake in a system that discriminates against them, some minorities seek profit through street crime and drug smuggling. Noodle stalls and niu rou (meat stick) vendors often sell hasheesh alongside their edibles. During 2005 they became even bolder, approaching shaggy-looking foreigners on Shanghai’s main tourish promenade. They also sustain a healthy trade in stolen goods, lifting cell phones and wallets, and push imitation Marlboros.

An Unhappy Bunch

The Uighurs are not the only groups in China with varying loyalties: Tibet has long been a high-profile cause celebre, and the people in Southern China – Guangdong and Hong Kong – don’t consider themselves Chinese because they aren’t Han and don’t speak Mandarin, but Cantonese. Economic dynamism has led to relative calm from Hong Kongers who were more than a little uneasy when the People’s Army arrived as the British pulled out in 1997. And while they have very different aspirations and live under widely divergent conditions than the Uighurs, they are increasingly pushy about their freedoms. Mongolian, Laotian, and Burmese groups also call the PRC home.

Definitely Worth the Trip

Nationalities from far beyond Asia are developing a presence in the country as well. In May, in conjunction with the United States, China seized 300 pounds of cocaine from a Colombian narco-gang with local partners in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Even more disturbingly, less than a mile from Zhongnanhai – the Chinese leadership’s central headquarters in Beijing- lies Sanlitun Rd and its shady cousin, Sanlitun South. The former is a dull stretch of karaoke bars with awful beer that guidebooks tout as having the best nightlife around. Just a few blocks away, hidden on all sides by apartment blocks, emerges an expatriate college student’s dream: a dusty dirt road where animals roam freely, lined by tiny alleys with wild-west bars that stay open all night serving Coronas for 50 cents. Indeed, the latter looks more like Mexico than what you’d expect to find in the heart of the Chinese capital. Less benignly are the Nigerian lookouts that man each end of the street offering everything from marijuana to crack to the passerby.

In a country that places a premium on prying into both its own citizens’ and foreigners’ lives, combined with the blatant visibility of the practice, one wonders how it can exist without the authorities’ complicity. This is doubly so given that the Nigerians are legally in China on student visas. How they got the visas is not so difficult to discern: Nigeria is a significant source of Chinese oil imports, and thus the necessary immigration papers get filed rather quickly. Yet the opacity of the government means that its role in the drug trade – whether through tacit approval and taxation or active facilitation – cannot be ruled out. Do high-ups have knowledge of it? Could it be that the Colombian drug bust accomplished two tasks at the same time: cracking down on a rival gang without connections while showing America’s Drug Enforcement Agency that it’s a good-faith partner in the War on Drugs?

If so, not only is it grossly illegal and disingenuous but illogical. Both petty and violent crime are on the rise in China, and figures will continue to climb in the future. China’s leaders should be careful about the short-term profits they seek from the trade, as the networks it creates will undermine their authority and prove impossible to stamp out. Politically, the communist party exerts a firm hold on power, but increasing revolts – numbering 87,000 last year according to party reports – will lead to a day, unlikely to be soon, when this changes. When it does the Uighurs, Tibetans, Cantonese and others will hardly help slow its fall.

August 26, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Business, China, Emerging Markets, War on Drugs | 1 Comment

Classic Pen: On Prose and Politics

VIA MEDIA
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, The Four Quarters

Of the events of the 1930’s leading up to the Second World War, no other event inspired young ideologues more than the Spanish Civil War. Young Intellectuals enlisted in droves to fight on both sides, including the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. The socialist backed International Brigade, funded in part by the Soviet Union, allied with Spanish Republicans in an attempt to defeat the Spanish fascists led by General Francisco Franco in a war that served as a precursor to the war that by 1940 engulfed most of Europe.

A portrait of the artist as a young man

Nancy Clare Cunard, a left wing intellectual living in Paris at the time, sent out a questionnaire to two-hundred writers living in Europe. She posed the following question: “Are you for or against the government of the Republican government of Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism? For it is impossible any longer to take no side.” The Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot responded with a “neutral”, leading to the assumption by Cunard and others that he was either politically ignorant or sympathetic to the fascists. This was not true, however, as he was a believer in “via media” or the “middle way”, a belief that moderation is the only stance that takes into account the shortcomings of human nature. During a debate between T.S. Eliot, a fascist writer, and a communist writer, T.S. Eliot mentioned the following:

“Fascism and communism, as ideas, seem to me to be thoroughly sterilized. A revolutionary idea is one which requires a reorganization of the mind; fascism and communism is now the natural idea for the thoughtless person. This in itself is a hint that the two doctrines are merely variations of the same doctrine: and even that they are merely variations of the present state of things…. What I find in both fascism and communism is a combination of statements with unexamined enthusiasms.”

Eliot believed that these “unexamined enthusiasms” led to irrational decisions during a time when rational thought was completely necessary.

This example of moderation is still relevant today, as we are faced with an increasingly polarized nation where sides are being taken and decisions are being made, sometimes irrationally. It is always important to take a step back and objectively examine issues in context. At thescreamingpen.com we attempt to place news events in context, while providing non-partisan analysis and perspective.

-JPL

August 22, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Business, China, Energy, Europe, Financial Markets, Flat Tax, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Out of the Shadows

Cambodia’s Good Fortunes

When speaking of the Asian tigers, Cambodia isn’t one of the countries that come to mind. For most of the past 40 years this Southeast Asian nation has been plagued by civil war, foreign domination, and even genocide. The reprehensible, murderous Khmer Rouge was beaten back long ago but it continued to play spoiler in the west and northwest near the Thai border until just five years ago, emerging from jungle sanctuaries under cover of darkness to battle despairingly against government soldiers. Ordinary Cambodians hated them.

Despite Rouge devastation, the highest HIV infection rate in Asia, widespread corruption, and ineffective and unresponsive government, it is perhaps astonishing then that Cambodia saw 13% GDP growth in 2005 according to the IMF. For a Cambodian or any visitor to the country though this is unsurprising: having endured so much privation and devastation for longer than most can remember, Cambodians are ecstatic to know peace and ready to get on with things.


Angkor Wat: At least they didn’t destroy this one

Helped by tranquility and the friendly and sanguine attitudes of the Khmer people (as Cambodians are known), tourism has been a boon. Cambodia has possibly the world’s most awe-inspiring and fantastic attraction in the world: the temples of Angkor. Each year brings increasing numbers of visitors flooding north from the capital and east from more prosperous Thailand to visit Angkor Wat, bringing with them valuable cash to a region often ignored –political retribution, many suspect, for the Rouge’s former influence in the area – by the central government in distant Phnom Penh. Instead, informal patronage networks distribute cash to those who need it most. Tourist operators ferrying busloads of foreigners to their destination slow while passing cash to women on foot along the muddy roads. Less blithely, they are also required to make payment to government soldiers manning antiquated checkpoints.

While Cambodians won’t leave their future to the whim of outsiders, there is much that other nations can do to assist. Governments and aid agencies looking for a positive model of development aid should look to Japan’s grant that established the building of National Route 6. Ask any resident of Siem Reap – the busy town adjacent to the Angkor temples – what he is most proud of and he is likely to name the flat and evenly tarred road, a bustling artery that facilitates so much commerce and industry. Other laudable assistance include efforts to create sustainable aid by rebuilding temples destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, thus generating greater tourist revenue in future. A solid next step would be the paving of the 100-or-so-mile ruin that runs from the Thai border to Siem Reap, and which takes about 8 nerve-wracking hours to traverse. And after that, the replacement of Hun Sen, Cambodia’s long-serving, ruthless, inexorable, one-eyed Prime Minister.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

May 17, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, Business, Cambodia, Country Profiles, Emerging Markets, Foreign Aid | Leave a comment

Buying Korean

The Trouble with Entering the South Korean Market

There is perhaps no country with such loyal devotion to its homegrown companies as South Korea. Domestic all-stars Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and others have easily maintained dominance due to the fealty of Korean citizens and, also importantly, favorable relations with government, while foreign darlings from Apple to Hollywood’s movie industry have run up against tremendous difficulty penetrating the market.

While even conservative estimates of the worldwide market share controlled by Apple’s iPod put the figure around 25%, in Korea this plummets to 1.8%; Korean firms iRiver, Samsung, and Cowon are the clear mp3 industry leaders here. In cinema, government regulation mandates that movie theaters run only Korean movies for 146 days a year. From July this number will drop to 73 days per year, yet the reduction will be brooked due to robust demand for domestically produced movies.

 
Not Seoul Tasty

Allegiance to things Korean is found in sports too – from soccer to ice skating – and in health care, with many Koreans living abroad in the United States and Europe preferring to return home for complicated surgeries. Moreover, many Koreans question whether last year’s cloning scandal involving Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University, despite his own admission of falsification, was truly worthy of international opprobrium or merely an attempt by foreigners to undermine the nation’s scientific achievement. Foreign brands looking to enter the Korean market should be fully aware of this national mindset, which additionally doesn’t appear to be changing with the generations: young Koreans routinely preoccupy themselves with a firm’s nationality and prefer to “buy Korean.”

Difficult, but not Impossible

American brands looking to make inroads in Korea can take solace, however, in the success made by at least one foreign firm. With over 50 locations in the country as of May 2006, Outback Steakhouse – an American-based (Tampa, Florida), yet Australian-themed concept restaurant – is viewed as fine dining by many Koreans. Outback’s prosperity clearly may relate to its identification with “the lucky country,” a place better liked in Korea than is the United States. Next: Kangaroo-inspired iPods?

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

May 7, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, Business, Country Profiles, Korea, World Markets | Leave a comment