China “understands” the developing world

China is taking a page out of the American playbook in their massive global investment called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Image: Wikipedia

“Belt,” is short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation; “road,” is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road referring to sea routes.

In America’s version, the Marshall Plan, they invested $100 billion in the war-torn regions of Europe after the Second World War. The stated goals were to remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and improve European prosperity.

The unstated goals of the Marshall Plan were to establish an economic presence in Europe. The Soviets understood this. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in opposition to the plan in 1946, said: “If American capital was given a free hand in the small states ruined and enfeebled by the war [it] would buy up the local industries, appropriate the more attractive Rumanian, Yugoslav … enterprises and would become the master in these small states.”

According to China’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, the goals of the Belt and Road Initiative are: “To construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.”

It’s the largest infrastructure project ever with $1 trillion designated for South-east Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. The plan is expansive. It includes 71 countries that account for half the world’s population and a quarter of global GDP.

Western countries worry about ulterior motives. Jonathan Hillman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says: “It’s a reminder BRI is about more than roads, railways, and other hard infrastructure. It’s also a vehicle for China to write new rules, establish institutions that reflect Chinese interests, and reshape ‘soft’ infrastructure.”

Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today is less suspicious. He thinks China is developing sources of commodities in Africa so developing nations can improve their economies and be less dependent on Western demand.

“Secondly,” says Jacques, “and this is why I deeply resent the argument that China is the new colonial power in Africa, China understands the problem of developing countries. One of the big problems is developing infrastructure that delivers transportation, energy and the necessary building blocks of a more developed economy (New Internationalist, July/August, 2018).”

Maybe China can do global supremacy better than the Western world. Resource extraction by Canadian mining giants in Africa has been less than stellar. At a tantalum mine in central Mozambique owned by Pacific Wildcat Resources based in Vancouver a man was shot and killed, inciting community members to set some equipment ablaze. At the Montréal-based Kiniero mine in Guinea, the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners away. Soldiers also shot a woman and burned her baby

While American foreign policy amounts to bluster and bravado, China is climbing to superpower status by integrating itself into local economies. China will inevitably make mistakes but the Belt and Road Initiative is more systematic than the Western World’s haphazard corporate colonialism.

The U.S. talks tough about China but they can no more stop China’s ascendancy than they can stop the sun from rising.

 

 

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Some uncomfortable truths emerge in the U.S.-China power struggle

In his open letter to Canadians, I thought China’s ambassador to Canada was being obtuse by wilfully ignoring Canada’s legal obligations. Now I realize that legalities are not a concern of China’s.

image: China Daily

Under our extradition treaty with the U.S., Canada had an obligation to arrest the CFO of Hauwei Technologies, Wanzhou Meng, because the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that her company violating American trade sanctions on Iran.

Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye says that we should worry about our independence:

”While Canada has continued to stress its judicial independence, did it insist on that independence when facing the United State’s unreasonable request (Globe and Mail, December 13, 2018)?”

He doesn’t seem to understand the rule of law. International extradition treaties are not about independence, they are about legal obligations.

On re-reading the ambassador’s letter, I realize that I have been naive. While Mr. Shaye overlooks what’s inconvenient to his argument (who hasn’t done that on occasion?), he grasps the raw politics involved. Ambassador Shaye continues:

“The detention of Ms. Meng is not a mere judicial case, but a premeditated political action in which the United States wields its regime power to witch-hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.”

The use of the term “witch-hunt” in reference to Ms. Meng is unfortunate but his characterization of the politics is spot-on. U.S. President Trump admitted as much in an interview with Reuters. In reference to using Ms. Meng as a bargaining chip in his trade deal with China, he said:

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”

President Trump has just handed Ms. Meng a gift. Her lawyers will convincingly argue that the motives of the U.S. are political, not legal. Prof. Rob Currie of Dalhousie University, an expert in extradition law, agrees. “Oh yes,” he said, “He [Trump] has given her arguments, for sure (Globe and Mail, December 12, 2018).”

Trump wants to destroy Hauwei because it threatens U.S. global dominance. Canada does not extradite anyone when the motivations are political.

Now I realize that the failure of the Chinese ambassador to mention the legality of extradition is more than an oversight. It demonstrates that China is a lawless country. China has demonstrated that uncomfortable fact by the arbitrary and unwarranted arrest of Canadians Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor.

It’s uncomfortable because it demonstrates that China would not hesitate to violate any trade agreement it had with Canada that it found inconvenient.

It’s uncomfortable, as well, to awaken to the reality that our neighbour and largest trading partner is no longer our friend; whose president would use us as a bargaining chip as well.

It’s entirely possible that Trump ordered the arrest Ms. Meng to punish Canada for our failure to prohibit Huawei from entering Canada’s construction of our new 5G network.

It’s not beyond Trump’s machinations to betray anyone on a whim -as his widening circle of former advisors and friends would surely attest.

 

Big Food vs. Canada’s Food Guide

The interests of the food industry don’t always coincide with healthy eating. What’s at stake is Canada’s new Food Guide. It’s a big deal.

image: Globe and Mail

Canada’s Food Guide is widely respected. Seventy-five years after its first launch, it’s the second most requested government document after income-tax forms. It’s distributed to dieticians and doctors for patient advice and to schools and hospitals for creating meal plans. The new guide will be around for a long time, so it’s important to get it right.

Understandably, big food lobbies want the new guide to endorse their products. Even intergovernmental departments disagree on what should be recommended. One agency, Health Canada, wants the new food guide to “shift towards more plant-based foods,” less red meats, and to limit “some meats and many cheeses” high in saturated fats.

Another agency, Agri-food Canada, disagrees. They are in the business of promoting the sale of red meat and dairy industries. Last year, AAFC officials wrote a memo marked “secret” in which they worried:

“Messages that encourage a shift toward plant-based sources of protein would have negative implications for the meat and dairy industries.”

The pressure on Health Canada comes from other food manufacturers as well. Recently, the “Canadian Juice Council” surfaced. Nutritionists had never heard of them before their bright orange booth appeared at the annual conference of the Canadian Nutrition Society. Nutritional biochemist Dylan MacKay said: “I’d never seen or heard of them before and I’ve been going to CNS conferences for years (Globe and Mail, November 23, 2018).”

The origin of the Canadian Juice Council was obscure despite the presence of a web page and a Twitter account (with 2 followers). Food reporter Ann Hui isn’t surprised at the obscurity:

“And no wonder. The Juice Council doesn’t exist in the way you might expect: as an institution disseminating impartial facts and information about juice. Rather, it was created by the lobbying arm of the beverage industry – in a practice known as ‘astroturfing,’ used by lobbyists in all kinds of industries to create the appearance of a grassroots movement and a larger chorus of voices than actually exists.”

Ann Hui found that the Canadian Juice Council was an invention the Canadian Beverage Association whose members include Canada Dry Mott’s, Coca Cola Canada, and PepsiCo Canada. The industry supports 60,000 Canadians workers, 20,000 of those directly.

The Canadian Beverage Association is worried about changes in the Canada Food Guide that would remove the equivalency of whole fruit to juice. The old guide says that a half-cup of juice is a substitute for one portion of fruit.

The new guide, to be released soon, will advise Canadians to avoid drinks high in sugar. One 12-ounce bottle of orange juice contains about the same amount of sugar as 12 ounces of Coke – more sugar than the World Health Organization recommends for the average adult in a single day. Excess sugar consumption is linked with heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The government is in a hard spot –do they support an industry that employs thousands of workers in the making of an unhealthy product or the health of Canadians who consume it?

Have your FPTP and vote PR too

One voting system doesn’t fit all of B.C.  That’s why I like the Rural-Urban system of proportional representation. It recognizes the vast geography of parts of our province and the diversity of people in others. Rural-Urban PR is one of the three systems offered in the mail-in ballot on October 22.

image: Fair Vote Canada

Rural-Urban PR was recommended by Canada’s former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley. It was used in Alberta and Manitoba for 30 years where Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton used Single Transferable Vote to elect multi-member ridings from 4 to 10 MLAs and the rest of the provinces used First-Past-the-Post to elect rural MLAs.

Dense urban areas lend themselves to a Single Transferable Vote, a system proposed by the citizens’ assembly in 2004. STV combines small ridings into larger ones that would be geographically related such as in the Fraser Valley. Instead of electing one MLA from four ridings, four MLAs would be elected from one riding.

STV uses a ranking system similar to what’s now used in Kamloops’ municipal elections. Unlike Kamloops, where we have no political parties, candidates would be listed by party affiliation. A ballot would look something like the one below.

example of urban ballot

Four parties are running plus one independent.  Choose as many candidates as you wish in order of preference where 1 is your first choice, 2 is next and so on. If your first ballot doesn’t elect a candidate, your second choice could because it’s transferable.

If you like one party only, vote for candidates only in that party. If you like one party but a candidate in another, you can vote accordingly.

Ballot counting occurs in rounds. First choice candidates are placed in piles and if ballots exceed a predetermined threshold, they are elected. The second choice of those elected MLAs is transferred so that someone else could be elected. The process continues until all the positions are filled. Finally, the losing candidate’s votes are transferred and a final count done.

Counting ballots in rural ridings is simpler. Unlike the First-Past-the-Post system used in Alberta and Manitoba, there is an extra regional vote.

example rural ballot

In the second part of the ballot, you vote for vote for just one candidate. The successful candidates will be determined by the proportion of votes received. In this ballot there are 16 candidates running but not all will be elected.

The advantage of Rural-Urban PR, in general, is that voters select the candidate of their choice. In the existing system, parties select that candidate. This relieves pressure on parties to select the candidate most likely to win because the vote is essentially a popularity contest.

The advantage of the urban portion of the system that candidates would represent the mosaic of voters and opinions found in metropolitan areas.

The advantage of the rural system is that one candidate still represents a geographic area while another represents a larger region.

If you can order from a menu, voting is not complicated. The president of Fair Vote Canada says: “If you can order a coffee at Tim Hortons, you can vote.” I agree.

New Zealand’s experience with electoral reform

I sat down with Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, to talk about her country’s experience with electoral reform. She was in Kamloops on June 21 at a reception held at a local pub where about 70 people had gathered.

   image: Wikipedia

“You have five minutes for the interview,” the organizer of the event told us. We made our way to a quiet table.

Two referenda were held in New Zealand, she told me. The first in 1992 was non-binding. It asked whether voters wanted to retain the present first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or if they wanted a change. And if they wanted a change, which of four systems of proportional representation did they prefer?

The results were overwhelming with 85 per cent in favour of a change. Of the four systems, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), was a clear favourite.

A second referendum was held a year later. This time the referendum was binding and the results closer with 54 per cent choosing MMP over FPTP.

I wondered how proportional representation had changed the culture of political parties. MMP leads to minority governments, Ms. Clark told me, which means that parties need to get along, not only after election but before. “Be sure to make friends”, she said, “you never know when you’ll need them later.”

After 20 minutes, I had asked all my prepared questions and we just chatted. “I thought the interview was only going to be five minutes,” the organizer scolded when he found us. Ms. Clark returned to the group where photos were taken and she gave a speech.

Afterward, I thought about the similarly of our upcoming mail-in referendum this fall to the one in New Zealand.

Two questions make sense to me: Do you want a change? If so, want kind do you want?  However, a B.C. lobby group called Fair Referendum disagrees. In a robocall call, they said that there should be just one question. I had to chuckle. The Fair Referendum proposal illustrates what’s wrong with our voting system. They want a single question with four choices, three of which are a type proportional representation and one being the existing FPTP. Those in favour of change will have their vote split three ways and those who don’t want change will have one choice. The ballot is rigged so that even if, say 60 per cent want change, 40 per cent will make sure it doesn’t happen. It seems obvious that’s what Fair Referendum hopes for.

The referendum, to be held from October 22 to November 30 by mail-in ballot, is shaping up along party lines. The Greens and NDP favour proportional representation and the BC Liberals oppose it.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone says the referendum would be biased in favour of the NDP and that’s probably true –but only because the BC Liberals choose not to cooperate with other parties.

The Greens and NDP have made an extraordinary effort to be nice to each other because, as Ms. Clark suggests, it’s the only way that future governments under proportional representation will work. It’s a shift in party culture that the BC Liberals have yet to realize.

 

Empty pipelines spill no oil

The Kinder Morgan pipeline should be built for the same reason as the pyramids –as a national monument.

The pyramids employed workers but served no practical purpose other than an grand burial site for the pharaohs. The humble graves of the workers would have served the pharaohs just as well.

   Composite: David Charbonneau

Construction of the People’s pipeline will employ well-paid union workers. It’s supposed to carry crude oil to Asia but that market doesn’t exist. Therefore, it will serve as a wonderful monument to the “National Interest.”

The pipeline should be built because it serves political interests. Premier Notley’s hopes to be re-elected depend on completion of the pipeline. In her letter to Maclean’s, she said:

“And together, we are building this pipeline — with B.C. workers, using steel made in Saskatchewan, from ore mined in Quebec. Now, it’s time to pick those tools back up, folks. We’ve got a pipeline to build.”

While I’m less optimistic about the future of fossil fuels than Notley, I would rather see her re-elected than Jason Kenney, leader of United Conservative party of Alberta. A progressive premier with delusions about the future of oil sands is better than a retrograde one with similar delusions.

The People’s pipeline will bring the feuding NDP family members back into the fold where they can return to civility. This spat has been an embarrassment for the NDP for the new leader Jagmeet Singh.  Until recently, the NDP was one big happy family; unlike other parties, there is only one party provincially and federally.

The pipeline should be built to strengthen our federation. Prime Minister Trudeau is correct in asserting the nation’s right to move goods to market over the objections of provinces. One province should not have the ability to stop the national transport of commodities.

While the symbolism of the pipeline is strong, the financial rationale for the pipeline hinges on flawed logic. Finance Minister Morneau claims the pipeline is required to get oil to “tidewater” so it can be sold at higher prices than in the U.S.  Economist Robyn Allan is not so sure:

“The facts don’t support the argument. The economics aren’t there. This project is financially compromised and not commercially viable (Globe and Mail, June 2, 2018).”

The fantasy is that Asia will pay more for the goop than it could be sold for in North America. However, in recent years, heavy crude has consistently sold for significantly less in Asia than the U.S.  Refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are ready; they have been re-engineered to process the heavy crude of the oil sands.

Just one per cent of the oil in the existing pipeline flows to Asia. Another pipeline won’t change that fraction. Most oil goes to California and Washington State where it is refined and sold back to Canada as expensive automotive fuel.

The financial reality is that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. is a better bet in getting crude oil to market. The off again/on again pipeline is breathing new life under the Trump administration.

The pipeline should be built and remain empty. Everyone will be happy, workers and environmentalists alike.

Facebook is a Canadian utility

So many Canadians use Facebook that it should be regulated like any other Canadian utility. No broadcaster or telephone company would operate in Canada without government oversight. We should make it comply with our regulations as with other communications utilities.

      image: Tod Maffin

It’s the most-used Canadian social media. Ninety-four percent of Canadians aged 18 to 44 have a Facebook account. Overall, 84 per cent of us have an account and 80 per cent check the site daily according to The State of Social Media in Canada, 2017.

Now, Facebook is about to become more integrated into our lives with an announcement May 1, 2108, of a dating service. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “And if we are committed to building meaningful relationships, then this is perhaps the most meaningful of all.”

Facebook’s phenomenal rise has made it a monopoly. Canadian professors Andrew Clement and David Lyon say:

“In light of Facebook’s overwhelming grip on the social networking industry, the commissioner of competition should investigate the company for its monopolistic behaviour (Globe and Mail, April 23, 2018).”

Facebook’s ascent has left governments behind. Other communications industries have taken decades to mature and regulations have kept pace. Regulators have had time to insure that TV, radio and telephone companies meet Canadian standards of privacy, identity and sovereignty.

“The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) should learn to treat social-media enterprises as utilities,” says Clement and Lyon.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of Facebook’s grip. It seems so personal that there’s a conspiracy theory claiming Facebook is eavesdropping on people’s conversations through their smartphones and using that insight to serve ads. Tech expert Avery Swartz finds this ironic:

“People find it hard to believe that computers could know so much about them, even though they are voluntarily feeding their information into the machine. For private citizens, Facebook’s targeted advertising is creepy. For advertisers, it’s captivating (Globe and Mail, April 23, 2018).”

Facebook doesn’t sell users’ data to advertisers. It sells access to data, so advertisers can target their ads to specific audiences. No wonder that advertisers like Facebook. They can place an ad for as little as one dollar a day and ad campaigns can be created for $100.

Targeted advertising is hardly unique to Facebook. It’s been around much longer than the internet. Big businesses target consumers by placing ads on certain TV stations at specific times. They distribute flyers to targeted neighbourhoods.

However, the issue is not targeted advertising. It’s the way that Facebook treats Canadians and whether its practices align with the values and practices imposed on other communications utilities.

There’s been a campaign to #DeleteFacebook but given how integrated the social medium is in the lives of Canadians, it’s not likely to succeed. An Angus Reid survey revealed that only four per cent plan to delete their accounts.

“Given its business model,” add Clement and Lyon, “Facebook on its own cannot meet the objectives of Canadian media regulations – advancing Canada’s identity and sovereignty, its social and economic fabric, universal accessibility, neutrality, affordability, openness, public accountability and rights protection.”

Canadians like Facebook. Now’s the time help Facebook like Canadians by making it truly ours.