Lessons from Africa (Part Two)

Lessons from Africa (Part Two)

China’s investment in Africa has useful lessons for Pakistan. In the second part of Lessons from Africa, Asad Abbasi takes a closer look at how Chinese investment has affected Africa and who has benefited from this investment. 

Africa is a continent with more than 50 countries, each with different legal and political institutions, so comparison with Chinese investment in Pakistan— at first sight— does not seem appropriate. Yet, the impact of Chinese investment in Africa holds potentially important lessons for the South Asian nation.

In 2003, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences warned that China is facing resource shortages. The report recommended that in order to meet current and future demand, China need to import additional three billion tons of iron, half-billion ton of copper and hundred million tons of aluminium in next twenty years.

It was around this time that China’s interest in Africa re-emerged. In 2002, trade between China and Africa was £10bn, by 2013, it was more than £170bn. China has become ‘Africa’s largest trading Partner’.

Though trade represents large proportion of China-Africa relations, it is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that acts as a guide for shifts in global investment.  It is therefore interesting to study China’s investment in Africa. According to Premier Li Keqiang, China will raise its Foreign FDI in Africa to $100 billion by 2020. China has diversified its investment in Africa since 2003, but significant portion has always been channeled into fulfilling the demand for resources. Furthermore, the recent slowdown in Chinese economy has brought a reduction in overall investment from $3.54bn to $568m— declines of 84 percent compared to last year. However, investment in the extractive industry, during the same period, has doubled. After all these years, who in Africa has benefited from China’s investment?

Antonio R. Villaraigosa / Creative Commons License.
Antonio R. Villaraigosa / Creative Commons License.

 

Growth and inequality

China’s need for resources, according to Ha Joon Chang, is the biggest factor of high growth rates in Africa since 2000. During this time, there has been a hundred percent increase in number of millionaires living in Africa.  However, the number of people living under poverty line (less than $1.25) have also increased from 411.3 million in 2010 to 415.8 million in 2011- a difference of 4.5 million people (equivalent of the entire population of New Zealand)
According to Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, African ‘development’ has made the rich richer, while the poor have remained poor. He points out that African development has raised growth and poverty together, because the benefits of increasing wealth are ‘gobbled up by super rich’.  A World Bank report has also acknowledged that inequality in ‘unacceptably high’ and warned that inequality is unlikely to subside anytime soon. One of the main problems is the lack of proper distributive institutions.  According to Joseph Stiglitz, countries like Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique, need to build ‘institutions, policies and laws needed to ensure that resources benefit all of their citizens’.

Due to the high levels of Chinese FDI, African markets are now pegged to China’s internal demand. Any fluctuation therefore causes job losses and uncertainty in many African countries. Take Zambia, for example. Copper accounts for 70% of Zambian exports, so the recent decline in Chinese demand means that price of copper has halved since 2011.  As a response, Glencore plc, Swiss mining company, announced to halt the production of copper for 18 months at Mopani mine, resulting in a 26 percent reduction of copper production and around 4000 job losses.

Furthermore, due to the decrease in copper exports, the Zambian Kwacha dropped 4.6 percent against the US dollar. Commodities are priced in US dollars and therefore decrease in Zambian Kwacha against the dollar has increased the prices of commodities across Zambia.

So what does the story of Chinese investment in Africa tell us? Yes, there has been rapid growth and rise in employment. But it is accompanied by rise in high inequality, fluctuations in employment and only a small increase in actual wages. Can this be classified as ‘economic revolution’?

Jubilee Debt Campaign / Creative Commons License. Picture of Nick Dearden.
Jubilee Debt Campaign / Creative Commons License. Picture of Nick Dearden.

 

Conclusion

China’s investment in Africa raises questions around whether the euphoria for CPEC is justified at this point in time. It highlights that for economic stability, government cannot be reliant on one industry; it shows that growth does not necessarily mean development. It also indicates that when economic opportunity arises, particularly in the form of substantial FDI, the government has to take steps to ensure that the benefits are distributed as equally as possible.

There are policies that Pakistani government can implement that would increase the likelihood of equitable distribution. For example, Pakistani government could impose a windfall-profit tax on Chinese corporations extracting minerals in Pakistan and channel the income into developmental projects. Windfall profits are ‘sudden and massive profits’ that can happen due to changes in price. The profits depend on the fluctuation in prices and therefore cannot be ‘foreseen’ by concerned parties.

But the argument against imposing such a tax is that windfall tax policy is counter-productive. At present, Pakistani government should do everything to ‘attract’ Chinese investment. By imposing a tax on profit, Pakistani government will scare the incoming investment. This objection, though, a good political tactic, has, a bad rational basis. With windfall profit tax, additional tax will be result only of sudden and massive profit. If there is no additional, massive and unforeseen profit, then there will be no additional tax. How will this scare Chinese investment?

This is just one policy. If Chinese FDI injection is to support Pakistan’s development, it is essential to get the policies right, no matter how cumbersome they may seem in the face of the current euphoria.

This article was originally published on the London School of Economics South Asia Blog and is reproduced with the writers permission.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Lessons from Africa (Part One)

Lessons from Africa (Part One)

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is generating euphoria in Pakistan. In the first part of the two part series ‘Lessons from Africa’, Asad Abbasi briefly looks at the global context of CPEC. 

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is set to be the biggest investment of any kind on infrastructure in Pakistan. By 2030, China will invest a total of $46 billion in energy, transport, fibre optics and Gwadar port. It forms part of the 3,000 km corridor that China is building with the aim of reducing the transportation time of oil and goods from the Middle East from 12 days to 36 hours.

CPEC has brought euphoria in Pakistan. A recent survey shows that the ‘majority of people (in Pakistan) believe that China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) will have a good impact’. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has called CPEC the ‘future’; the President has called it a ‘benefit to the region’, while the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Sindh have hailed it as a ‘gift’ and ‘life line’.

IAEA Imagebank / Creative Commons License. Picture of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Right).
IAEA Imagebank / Creative Commons License. Picture of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Right).

Above all, Chief of Army Staff, most powerful man in the country, has vowed to protect CPEC and is making ‘all the efforts’ to ensure its success. It is likely that no less than ten thousand special security troops will be placed to protect ‘CPEC projects’.

Is it the titillation of $46 billion that excites everyone? Is development for all automatically guaranteed with this investment? The first question is perhaps rhetorical, but the second is important. I address it by looking at China’s investment in Africa, which shows that if proper institutions are not built and workers are not protected then economic growth will foster severe inequality.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

In Pakistan, CPEC is advertised as a prelude to growth and development.There are reservations from political parties, who fear that Punjab, province of ruling party, will get superfluous share of the wealth and insist a ‘rightful’ share of CPEC investment should be divided among all provinces However, as all parties are keen to take advantage of CPEC, it is likely that a resolution will be found in the near future.

nznationalparty / Creative Commons License
nznationalparty / Creative Commons License

 

For Pakistan, CPEC might represent ‘prosperity’, ‘unity’, etc., but for China it is just one small part of Yi Dai Yai Lu. This is usually translated into English as “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) but according to Tim Summers, senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, the English translation fails to convey the dynamic meaning that the phrase encapsulates. Yi Dai Yai Lu conjures up two different epochs of Chinese history: Silk Road of Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) and modern silk maritime trade routes from coastal China. The aim of the project is to connect China with 65 countries in Asia and Europe. China estimates that OBOR will add $2.5 trillion to its trade over the next decade.

The recent fall in local demand means that Chinese factories are producing more than they sell at home. This ‘overcapacity’ of Chinese firms means that China needs to look elsewhere to make efficient use of its capital.  One Belt One Road provides opportunities for Chinese firms to invest abroad. PwC estimates that since 2013 ‘projects worth $250 billion have already been contracted’ to Chinese companies. In future, OBOR will bring even ‘more investment opportunity for Chinese enterprises’.

There is one problem—trust. There are many reservations about Chinese investment. The Heritage Foundation estimates loss of deals worth $200 billion due to ‘nasty surprise of some sort’. Some say it is because stakeholders in many countries do not trust state-funded Chinese investment. China will have no such complication in Pakistan, particularly as the two countries have been developing an increasingly cosy relationship for some time. Investment risk will be minimal since it is closer to home and Pakistani Army has vowed to protect it, so CPEC is a win-win for Chinese corporations. Is it also win-win for Pakistan?

 
This article was originally published on the London School of Economics South Asia Blog and is reproduced with the writers permission.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Free Trade or Protectionist Policies?

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Free Trade or Protectionist Policies?

China is seeking to invest $46 billion in Pakistan. Intuitively this may seem like a good idea, however, by applying Ha Joon Chang’s ideas, Asad Abbasi believes we should re-consider the supposed virtues that this foreign investment will bring to Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is seen as the next big thing.  It is seen as a developmental messiah that will take Pakistan towards a modernized and developed state. A reading of Ha Joon Chang’s Kicking Away the Ladder suggests that Pakistan should concentrate on building its industries if it wants to develop. Without industries, no country can develop.

CPEC has generated much enthusiasm in Pakistan. China is investing around $46 billion dollars in Pakistan. The energy sector will get approximately seventy five percent of the investment. Approximately twenty   five   percent will be allocated to the transport sector. The remainder will be invested into fiber optic and improvement of the Gwadar Port.

The exact details of the plan are not available but political opinion is seething with optimism: From the Prime Minister’s perpetual support for CPEC to the Army Chief’s vow to protect this project ‘at all costs’. It is no doubt that CPEC has political connotations but does it make economic and, more specifically, developmental sense?

A consortium of 35 Chinese companies were formed that will be investing in Pakistan. If Chinese firms and corporations will be investing in Pakistan then, theoretically speaking, it should pose no developmental problem. Open borders should benefit everyone. Ha Joon Chang would argue the contrary.

Chang’s Argument

In Kicking Away the Ladder, Ha Joon Chang looks at historical evidence and finds that countries develop by protecting their industries. Chang prescribes similar policies to developing countries. Protect industries now, free trade later. Free trade policies were successful, Chang argues, when countries were already developed.

Chang, I felt, is giving parenting advice: care for them at first, give them all the help you possibly can and when you feel confident and when they feel confident, let them compete with the world.

Jose Camoes Silva/Creative Common License
Jose Camoes Silva/Creative Common License

 

Only by protecting industries can a developing country prosper. Letting
developing countries grow, according to Chang, is beneficial to all. In the long run this ‘will bring greater benefits to the developed countries as well.’ The policy recommendation for development is simple— to protect the infant industries and focus on growth.

A Game of Ladder

The name of this book comes from Friedrich List’s observation. Writing in the 19th century, List observed that old economies achieved success in ways different from what they preached to the new economies.  List writes, “someone who attains greatness kicks away the ladder so others cannot pursuit them easily”. With new historical evidence, Chang shows that List’s observation is even truer for our contemporary time.  All the developed countries achieved growth by protecting their industries and now they have become fervent preachers of free trade.

Key Concept

The policies that helped now developed countries (NDC) to grow in 18th and 19th   centuries were strongly protectionist. The protectionist policies were unique, suited to the characteristics of each country. The policies included: “export subsidies, tariff rebates on inputs used for exports, conferring of monopoly rights, cartel arrangements, directed credits, investment planning, manpower planning, and research and development and promotion of institutions that allow public–private cooperation”.  When an industry matures, only then should countries opt to remove trade barriers and follow a free trade policy.

In the 18th and 19th centuries all the now developed economies (NDC) adopted infant industry promotion except Switzerland and the Netherlands (the Swiss and Dutch were already advanced economies in the 18th century and therefore could afford to have open trade policies). The economic corridor will not allow Pakistani industries the luxury of protectionism.

Growth and Development

The idea of protecting industries is just one part of Chang’s overall argument. In this book, you can discern between Chang’s view on development and Sen’s Development as Freedom. Whereas Sen argued for  freedom  to  be  soul  of  development  policy,  Chang  believes  that economic growth is the key ingredient for development. The developmental process is multi-dimensional, argues Chang, but without growth it is difficult to imagine any type of development.

Growth will be achieved only through protectionist policies— just like developed countries did in the past. Except, this time policies of developing countries have to be even more intensive to achieve any result. This is because gap between rich and poor countries is too large and only a very intense protectionist policy will have any effect.

Institutions and development

In Pakistan’s case, just protecting industries will not suffice. Corruption, tax evasion by individuals and corporations are few of the several economic issues that require robust regulations.

With development, Chang argues, governance and institutional issues will be resolved. According to Chang, institutions are not the engine of growth. Institutions as they are now defined were present, in a vague form, but took “decades if not centuries” to develop into useful parts of the economy. Improvement in democracy, bureaucracy, judiciary, property rights, corporate governance, financial institutions and welfare are few of the effects, and not causes, of developmental process. According to him, for generations, these institutions were ineffective and inefficient. These institutions became effective once a certain threshold of growth and industrialization was achieved.

This is still a big debate and counterpoint is provided by new institutionalist writers such as Douglass North, Acemoglu and Robinson and Timur Kuran.

Conclusion

CPEC is small part of ‘One Belt, One Road’ spanning across many geographical borders. Each country has to look at its developmental needs before evaluating the project. In Pakistan, CPEC, is only generating praise and euphoria but no critical discussion. When more details become public, a more comprehensive evaluation will also emerge. Chang’s Kicking Away the Ladder is a start of this critical evaluation.

Asad Abbasi has a Master’s degree in Political Economy of Late Development from the London School of Economics.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The oppression of the Falun Gong: China’s spiritual crusade

The oppression of the Falun Gong: China’s spiritual crusade

This month is the 16th anniversary of the Chinese governments crackdown of Falun Gong in 1999. The persecution of Falun Gong has a surprisingly low profile in the UK considering the millions of victims. Particularly so when compared to the high level of sympathy the neighbouring Tibetan cause has elicited. Here Paula Williamson tries to understand why and readdress the balance.

The solemn declaration ‘never again’ is periodically sworn at the anniversaries of historic atrocities. Yet when it comes to ongoing atrocities, we are not as responsive as one might think. this raises the question, at what point is an atrocity against a group so systemic, so widespread and destructive, and so morally outrageous that it compels action?

©longtrekhome/Creative Commons License
©longtrekhome/Creative Commons License

In terms of the morally repugnant, the Chinese state’s persecution of the Falun Gong certainly stands out; reports of abuse – extreme torture, sexual assault, disappearing people and forced organ harvesting – have been alarmingly frequent over the past 16 years. The case of Falun Gong represents a systemic effort to wipe out a major spiritual group in China. It alsorepresents one of the most disturbing crimes against humanity of the 21st century based on the scale of the persecution and the horrific acts of abuse the perpetrators are accused of.

However, at one point the Falun Gong in China numbered 70 million and would regularly gather in public parks to practice their gentle tai-chi and meditation exercises throughout the country. The crackdown since 1999 has pushed the spiritual practice completely underground. Little is known on how many still practice in secret.

China is notoriously wary of spiritual groups, especially those with perceived foreign links. With those following Falun Gong reaching into the high millions and their leader domiciling in the US, Falun Gong became a sore spot for the Government. Despite previously enjoying official state sanction and followers at the highest levels of government, Falun Gong was branded an evil cult, anti-socity and anti-humanity by the state, titles that commentators have pointed out as jarring with Falun Gong’s principle tenants of Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance.

The secretive nature of the persecution has made the death toll difficult to estimate. Estimates range from 2,000 to the tens of thousands. Whatever the death toll may be, the incarceration numbers are huge. In fact, at one point, the Falun Gong made up almost half of the three to five million people detainees who make up China’s network of detention centres, so called “black jails”, labour camps and psychiatric wards that make up China’s penal system. These numbers have since dropped, but investigative journalist Ethan Guttman suggests that at any one time there are approximately between half a million to a million Falun Gong detained in China.

A 2006/2007 Kilgour-Matas report suggests that the sheer mass of Falun Gong interned has made them the unwilling main source of organs for a state’s organ transplant system based on executed prisoners. The report won Kilgour and Matas Noble Peace Prize nominations and inspired the birth of the international non-profit organisation Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH). DAFOH estimates that between 2000 and 2008 65,000 interned Falun Gong practitioners had their organs harvested for profit by the state.

©Andrew Ratto/Creative Commons License
©Andrew Ratto/Creative Commons License

The work of investigators like Kilgour, Matas and DAFOH has convinced a handful of parliaments, including those of the US, Canada, Taiwan, Italy, Spain, Australia, Israel, Taiwan and the EU, to respond with resolutions condemning China and preventing their own citizens from participating in China’s organ tourism. Australian transplant hospitals have also restricted training for surgeons from China. The UK is yet to join in such actions.

16 years on many have never heard of the persecution. Attempts to bring the issue into official discourse has had mixed success. Nobel Peace Prize Nominees Kilgour and Matas have made multiple trips to Westminster and the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness over organ harvesting of Falun Gong. While both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament have been responsive in allowing hearings, this has yet to turn into headline making momentum and Falun Gong has but sporadically made it into UK press.

China may be ripening in amenability to reconsidering its stance on Falun Gong. China has seen a significant shift in power with its new leader, Xi Jinping, representing a victory over the conservative Maoists who initiated the crackdown on Falun Gong. As a result, political will behind the persecution may be losing its driving forces.

Within the past month alone, over 10,000 legal complaints were delivered to China’s Supreme People’s Court charging former President Jiang Zemin, under whose leadership the persecution was conducted, with unlawful imprisonment of the Falun Gong, torture, corruption and abuse of power amongst other crimes. The fact that these legal complaints are being acknowledged by China’s legal system is a major step forward.

Xi Jing Ping, China’s current leader, it set to come to the UK in October. The time is right for Britain to finally do the Falun Gong justice by registering loud collective outrage over this ongoing atrocity. Hopefully China will take note.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

With the stage set in the capital city of Ufa, Bashkortostan, there was excitement and anticipation in the air. As the EU attempted to reach an agreement on how best to deal with Greece,Mridulya Narasimhan explores the BRICS leaders meeting in Ufa on the 6-7 July. 

Why they matter, why now?

Once seen as an incongruous body with no standing, the BRICS now seem to increasingly be gaining everyone’s attention. Google Trends shows the word ‘BRICS’ increased its search history 12 times between July 2015 to July 2015.

In 2007, the US economy was double that of BRICS – as of last year, the combined BRICS economic output almost equalled U.S’s GDP. Individually, these nations have had their share of stagnations but their collective contribution to global GDP only continues to rise.

But BRICS is not just another economic bloc with the sole intentions of harnessing trade relations- the summit was indicative of an economic partnership between nations as well as a strategic alliance with intent to develop long-term diplomatic ties. With India-China border tensions, China’s closeness to Pakistan, Russia at loggerheads with the West while India reaches out to them, there is little homogeneity amongst the member nations. What seems to however hold them together is the realisation of their growing importance and the common goal of shifting the locus of control away from the West.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

The BRICS solution to break the West’s (including IMF and the Bank) economic monopoly is plain and simple – introducing competition. Headquartered in Shanghai, the New Development Bank finished its first board meeting and will soon be operational to lend internationally. Headed by India’s K.V Kamath, the bank is set to start off with a capital of $50 billion which will be hiked to $ 100 billion in less than two years.

India – The odd man out

India seems like they might be caught between a rock and a hard place. China and Russia see the BRICS as an instrument to do away with the US hegemony while India is looking forward to a new-found albeit tactical ‘friendship’ with the US. Russian relations with the United States have reached boiling point a few times in the recent past.

China too has been in loggerheads with the US over maritime disputes in the South China Sea with the latter alleging that China’s strategic moves are provocative in nature. The relation is no better off between Brazil and US after it was recently made public by Wikileaks that the US intelligence has kept surveillance over President Dilma Rousseff and her aides. It will certainly be interesting to see how India manages to earn its keep at BRICS while continuing to forge a relationship with the U.S.

The new economic order – or just another ‘BRIC’ in the wall?

Without doubt, BRICS seems to make for a great example as far as unity in diversity is concerned. But what does not go unnoticed is also that these nations are not on the same page as far as agendas are perhaps concerned.

Brazil, India and South Africa are thriving democracies while China and Russia are believers of vigilance; wary of liberal ideas and open markets. With such different ideologies, the one main common thread that remains is the trade economics and development.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

Another key question that remains unanswered is where does China’s priority lie? It remains to be seen how China will choose to prioritise the BRICS agenda as China’s main priority is the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. With BRICS members also being a part of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and India and Russia being its second and third largest stakeholders, there seems to be a clear conflict of interest as so which institution shall get priority and the active role China chooses to undertake with regard to BRICS is yet to be seen.

The BRICS members have made it clear time and again that inclusive growth, economic prosperity and transparency are its raison d’être. But what is yet to be clarified is how much say each nation will have? Brazil, Russia and India will contribute $18 billion each, South Africa $5 billion and China intends to contribute $41 billion to the New Development Bank – a clear indication of their financial clout. If these numbers are anything to go by, goes without saying that key decisions will most certainly be influenced by China.

Lastly, even with this new economic order in place there, none of the nations presented a very clear plan of how to take things forward. Although, India did manage to present a ‘ten-step program’, the initiatives that include a soccer tournament, audit cooperation, a film festival etc. seem more like team-building exercises with little significance.

It is far too early to know what the future holds for BRICS but the summit is certainly a step closer to BRICS acknowledging its potential. These nations, together, can either develop a strong esprit de corps or can be the reason why BRICS, like many others before them, fades into oblivion.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Politicised youth: from physical to cyberactivism

Politicised youth: from physical to cyberactivism

High youth voter turn-out in Scotland’s recent Referendum acts as a counterargument to those asserting that political apathy is the inevitable future for youth in the developed world. Paula Williamson asks: how is the current  generation of newly politicised youth presenting their views in a way that feels meaningful to them?

Democracy can be a wily beast, taking many forms and appearing in some unlikely places. This holds even more true when youth are involved. Young people around the world are increasingly utilising technology in innovative ways to engage and actively shape political discourse. China is a particularly strong example of this shift.

China’s rapid economic and social liberalization coupled with growing materialism in the 80s and 90s has also raised concerns about decreasing social concern among youth. However, China’s historical “opening up” in the 80s and 90s also paved the way for the introduction of the Internet. Technologically savvy youth in China are now using Internet technology as a powerful democratic force that is gradually but perceptibly changing the way the Chinese public interacts with the state.

©Peter Morgan/Creative Commons License
©Peter Morgan/Creative Commons License

In 2012, a contemporary of mine suggested a dissertation subject that stumped the Faculty. Her research topic was on Chinese political engagement through microblogging. All but one of member of the Faculty had a firm idea of what blogging entailed, let alone microblogging.

Yet, one cannot attempt to understand public thought and public discourse in contemporary China without exploring the role of the Internet. The exponential growth of the Internet has caught many, including many venerable China experts, by surprise. Yet its profound impact on Chinese society is undeniable. Formally, all publications, including Internet, are controlled by the state’s Central Propaganda Bureau. Yet in actuality the Internet has offered unprecedented open spaces for China’s youth to engage in political dialogue and even, to a limited extent, influence government policy.

Rough estimations of China’s Internet use suggest that over 650 million people are now, in 2015, using the internet. The bulk of China’s digital consumption comes from those aged 35 and under. This population group makes up 73% of China’s total online population and account for more than 80% of the total online hours in China.

“No aspect of contemporary Chinese life has the potential to be as politically transformative as the Internet.”(US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 2011).

A poll of 1,000 Twitter users in China found that of the top twenty reasons why people access the site, almost a third of them are political: “to know the truth and open the horizon”; “no censor here, this is the taste of freedom that I enjoy”; “it allows me to keep my independent citizen conscious”; “feel that as a party member I should learn more about this world”; “it is an inevitable choice for a journalism student”.

Through microblogging sites like Twitter or the Chinese site Weibo, the public has become actively engaged in ensuring official accountability and the rule of law for the first time in contemporary China. Environmental activists have been naming and shaming polluting factories online. In another case, authorities dropped slander charges against a journalist when he put his case to the public through the Internet and received overwhelming support. Traditionally authorities have remained aloof from the masses, yet cases like this one are no longer unheard of.

The Internet, like all publications, falls under the remit of what was formally called the Central Propaganda Bureau, now referred to as the Central Publicity Department. Despite its role managing public discourse, this arm of the government is a highly secret institution, its address and phone numbers are classified and its presence does not appear on official government organograms. Yet, it is a mighty megalith with offices throughout China at the provincial, municipal, and county level.

©Adam Valvasori/Creative Commons License
©Adam Valvasori/Creative Commons License

Still, the spread of internet access and IT literacy has posed a significant challenge to the Bureau. The sheer mass of online activity is becoming increasingly difficult for state censors to monitor. Moreover, China’s youth have been coming up with tactics for evading state censorship and these tactics are rapidly evolving. For example, a web based linguistic counter-culture has emerged where a series of metonyms are used to circumvent state censors in what has been described as the Chinese people’s “cat and mouse game” with the state.

And, a new generation of Internet firewall circumventing software has also been born in China, particularly during the state’s crackdown of the spiritual movement Falun Gong. The impact of such software has spread beyond China and it has been suggested that they played a notable role during the Arab Spring in allowing protestors to circumvent state censors and organize themselves through Facebook and other social media.

The rise of computer literacy, the spread of cyber cafes and now the introduction of a new generation of cheap Chinese made smartphones is swiftly breaking down barriers to Internet access for the Chinese people. In some ways, the Internet is fast becoming a true movement of the people in China. Moreover, it is a movement that has been forged by socially conscience, politically engaged young people with the technological know-how to circumvent state censorship.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Tigers: Why More of Us Means Less of Them

Tigers: Why More of Us Means Less of Them

Wildlife trafficking was one of the topics of 2014. It rose to prominence with politicians and monarchs alike intervening to heighten its importance. Here, Sean Mowbray discusses the greatest, but least discussed, challenge facing wildlife conservation in 2015 – an ever growing human population.

Tigers are one of the species that typify the problems of human population growth in developing countries. In order to preserve wildlife populations it may be necessary to look beyond the obvious and question whether these species have any place in a world increasingly full of those beings which pose the greatest threat to them.

Tiger populations have diminished dramatically in the last century. A survey of available estimates from TRAFFICWWF and the EIA suggests there are between 2,000 and 3,500 remaining in the wild. The IUCN has also noted a 50% decline in the population since the 1990s. The outlook for improvement is bleak as it is also stated that decline in some areas may be irreversible. Across the thirteen countries that make up tiger range, multiple pressures have combined to place tigers in the midst of a fight against extinction in the wild. Poaching, loss of habitat and human – tiger conflict are all important factors in the decline of populations.

© USFWS Mountain-Prairie /Creative Commons License
© USFWS Mountain-Prairie /Creative Commons License

Hunted to Extinction

Like elephants, rhinos and so many other species, tigers are hunted out of a human desire for their parts. Whether they are being consumed in centuries old Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or are acquired to show off wealth, all parts of the tiger are sought after inside and outside of Asian range countries.

Between January 2000 and April 2014, an estimated 1600 tigers were poached. It is likely that the true number of tigers poached is higher given the limitations of border security. Poaching is thought to account for nearly 50% of tiger deaths in some areas of India. Tigers are under such threat due to their value and vulnerability. As they lose their territory they become easier targets for those who would seek to profit from their death.

Shrinking Forest, Shrinking home

Tigers have now lost around 93% of their historical range due to rampant deforestation to make way for urbanisation, agricultural expansion including the spread of palm oil plantations and other destructive industries. Loss of habitat has placed great pressure upon tiger populations as they are now forced to remain within often isolated areas of forest where there are diminished levels of prey, inhibiting their chances of survival.

In demanding more and more from the land to feed a rising population or provide homes for new families, the home of the tiger is being sacrificed at the altar of progress. It is a challenge equal to poaching in magnitude. By reducing the tiger’s natural habitat and opening up forest to exploitation, would be poachers can hunt and bag the animals with greater ease. In a sense the tiger is brought to the poacher, an issue that is also increasingly putting human populations at risk.

Revenge Killings

As their forest home shrinks tigers must look further afield for food. In some cases this has led tigers to range into human settlements.

© Tambako The Jaguar/Creative Commons License
© Tambako The Jaguar/Creative Commons License

In his book Bones of the Tiger: Protecting the Man-Eaters of Nepal, Hemanta Mishra, a distinguished conservationists states that one tiger – named the Champawat Man-Eater – was responsible for some 436 attacks upon humans, an infamous record from the 1950s. The book also notes the factors that can lead a tiger to become a man-eater. In many cases the tigers are maimed or infirm limiting its ability to hunt effectively, human beings can present a relatively easy target in this case. Similarly the reduction of its natural prey drives the tiger to pursue alternative sources of food.

The Common Denominator

We have seen that poaching is perhaps the greatest danger to tiger populations, but if we consider the long term view, the picture becomes a little different and a lot more difficult to confront. Nowadays, tiger populations are being squeezed from all sides as their habitat is torn down to provide precious wood, minerals, food products and space for a human population that has no indication of slowing its growth. As our population grows and grows we will place even greater strain upon the land, bringing the threat of extinction ever closer as tiger habitat is reduced to even smaller pockets of forest.

The three causes mentioned above can all be connected back to human population growth. It presents a development challenge that is controversial for obvious reasons, but action upon population growth from the perspective of the biosphere is of vital importance. Otherwise in the conflict between human beings and nature there will inevitably be one victor, and our world will be a lesser place for it.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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South-South Cooperation

South-South Cooperation

Traditional international development has often focused on countries of the global North sending aid and expertise to those in the South. This model is fraught with problems such as inequality, and regressive conditions that prevent developing countries from achieving self-sufficience, rendering them dependent on foreign aid. Preeti Dhillon proposes that South-South cooperation may be a new development model that addresses these gaps. 

In the most widespread development model, Western countries and institutions set the development agenda and help developing countries progress by providing aid or expertise. This post-war remnant has rightly borne much criticism, ranging from accusations of neocolonialism to charges of inefficiency. There is now a new model on the block: south-south cooperation. That is, developing countries helping each other, by sharing technology, ideas, trade and foreign direct investment. Whilst this idea is not necessarily new, it is only since the 1990s that developing countries have had enough resources of their own to make this a reality. The UN has set up the ‘(UNOSSC)’, and has even declared the 12th of September as the ‘United Nations Day of South-South Co-operation’. Does this fashionable model overcome the problems associated with north-south development?

The numbers regarding this new development model are staggering. Southern countries export more goods to other countries of the south than to developed countries. South-south trade accounts for more than 25% of the world’s total trade. New regional trade agreements between developing nations are increasing: in Latin America alone there are more than 20 intraregional trade agreements. South-South cooperation has seen job creation, built infrastructure and increased trade. The success of South-South cooperation is seen to arise from having fewer conditions attached to projects and trade than is commonly seen in the north-south trajectory. Moreover, south-south relationships are supposedly built on solidarity and a shared past, getting rid of the language of ‘donors’ and ‘recipients’. This equality in development has been welcomed by the world at large.

Overall, how different is the south-south relationship to that of north-south? There are a few key trends in south-south cooperation that undermine the success trumpeted by so many of this supposedly unifying partnership.

©Mjbdodane/Creative Commons license
©Mjbdodane/Creative Commons license

For five years, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner. China’s presence in multiple African countries is now firmly established. As much as it may seem that China is building infrastructure in Africa from sheer goodwill, these relationships carry as many conditions as traditional aid agreements. China has financed a myriad of projects, from rail systems to healthcare, from opera houses to education. The projects are not based solely on the needs of the recipient communities, but are often an exchange for access to the natural resources that the countries possess. For example, in Mozambique, China has built an agricultural research centre, provided soft loans and grants for development of basic services, and has even provided computers and music equipment to ministries. It comes as no surprise then that two Chinese companies have signed an agreement to explore and mine minerals in the country, for the next twenty-five years.

However, this new form of conditionality is not as detrimental as the effects of exploitation. Papua New Guinea has the world’s third largest rainforest, and the land has traditionally been owned by tribes and clans who used the land for subsistence. Now, nearly one third of the country is owned by foreign companies, who extract tropical wood from the forests whilst leaving communities without a means to feed themselves. The largest logging firm comes from Malaysia. It is estimated that within seven years, 83% of the accessible forest areas will be gone or severely damaged. The wood gets exported to China, and from there to the west.

On a wider scale, southern participation in land-grabbing is rife. In Ethiopia, the two countries leading the way in land deals are India and Saudi Arabia. Land grabbing displaces and prevents local communities from being able to meet their needs, increasing their food insecurity and stripping them of basic rights. In Ethiopia, where chronic hunger is a problem, food produced under foreign southern ownership is usually exported, or even sold to food aid distributors. African nations are also land grabbing in their home continent, as the example of South African company ‘Congo Agriculture’ and their 80,000 hectare agreement with the Congolese government shows.

©Mo Ibrahim Foundation/Creative Commons license
©Mo Ibrahim Foundation/Creative Commons license

As with north-south development, the new south-south model has a dark side. The 2009 UN conference on south-south cooperation described it as ‘ a partnership among equals based on solidarity’. Whilst this is an admirable sentiment given the history of exploitation based on the unequal north-south relationship, it also remains an aspiration rather than a statement of fact. South-south cooperation has been a welcome addition to the stagnant development paradigm, but should not be regarded as an unproblematic solution.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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USA, the fallen superpower?

USA, the fallen superpower?

The wane of the US as world superpower has long been prophesied. Warwick University student Karan Thakrar argues that recent world events are bringing this moment ever closer, and that one may be replaced by three.

 

Ever since the end of the Cold War, US dominance as a world superpower has been obvious. Their economic strength and the so-called ‘McDonaldisation‘ of global culture have resulted in the relative destruction of communism as a viable modern ideology. US military capacity is also unusually strong. The US spends $640 billion (£377 billion) on its military alone. Its defence budget is so big, it outspends the defence budgets of all the richest eight countries combined. Add to this a widespread feeling of American exceptionalism – the belief that the US is fundamentally different to other nations – which has contributed to some aggressive foreign policy in the 20th century.

A US soldier in Ameriyah, Iraq, 2007. © US Army/Creative Commons license

But is this declining? While the US has displayed willingness to back itself up with hard power, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in recent times this has not been the case, and as a result its influence on the world stage has diminished. The Obama administration has arguably been lacklustre in its performance on the international stage compared to previous administrations. Take the example of Syria. Obama’s famous ‘red line’ comment over Assad’s use of chemical weapons sparked a reaction from the US, who immediately started planning on bombing strategic sites in Syria. However, after the British Parliament voted against military intervention, followed by France, the US felt it did not have the support to proceed. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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India’s demographic dividend: public health impacts of the youth bulge

India’s demographic dividend: public health impacts of the youth bulge

As one of the world’s most populous and fastest-growing countries, India is currently in a state of demographic flux. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Hygiene student, Catherine Rushworth, explains the population mechanics at work and predicts some of the social consequences.

 

© Kyle Taylor/Creative Commons license

This year’s Indian elections captured the attention of the world, with the victor, Narendra Modi, calling out for the need to ‘wage war on poverty’. Less well noted was the fact that nearly half the voters were under 24, with 150 million making their first visit to the ballot box. It’s clear that the young will have a powerful influence over India’s future. However, this demographic shift predicts some critical changes to Indian society in the coming decades, including wide-reaching public health impacts as resources and infrastructure are stretched – potentially – to their limits.

Growth in the size of the working-aged population, accompanied by a decreasing fertility rate, is known as a ‘demographic dividend’, and has been used in the past as a propeller for development in several countries. Economists estimate that the phenomenon – deliberately engineered in China through its controversial one-child policy – is responsible for a third of the huge economic growth and development experienced in recent decades by the East Asian Tigers. This outlook is unlikely to await India, however, due to the country’s current lack of infrastructure to deal with the two main products of any demographic dividend: population growth and increasing life expectancy. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Taming the rhino: is farming the future of conservation?

Taming the rhino: is farming the future of conservation?

A rhino’s horn is its worst enemy, with poaching levels rising uncontrollably to supply the lucrative international black market. On International Day for Biological Diversity 2014, Sean Mowbray examines whether legalising the hunt could save Africa’s endangered rhinoceros species from extinction.

 

Three men walk through the undergrowth, two carrying high-powered rifles. In the distance the rhino is spotted. The first shooter calmly takes aim and fires. The rhino’s high-pitched squeal is heart-wrenching as it struggles to escape and further shots pound into its body. The gigantic animal crashes to the ground, another victim of the rampant poaching epidemic afflicting Southern Africa.

Rhino horn in packaging
Two rhino horns wrapped in cling film and hidden within a fake sculpture, confiscated by the UK Home Office. © UK Home Office/Creative Commons license

The trade in rhino species and their parts has been prohibited internationally since 1977. However, poaching rates in South Africa have hit record levels for the past six consecutive years (1004 individuals in 2013), a trend that – if it continues – would see the species become extinct in the wild by 2020. Driven by high demand in Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam, supply is maintained by sophisticated organised crime syndicates. One kilo of horn can reportedly fetch prices of up to $65,000, higher than the equivalent weight of gold and heroin.

In the face of this escalating problem, the South African government is currently deliberating submitting a proposal to legalise the trade at the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) meeting in 2016. The exact details of the planned proposal are vague but broadly envisage the creation of rhino ‘farms’, where the horns can be removed humanely from captive rhinos and then sold through registered traders. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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