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Commentary Week In Review

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week's notable op-eds.

Dawn of the Migration Age

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon argued in the July 10 Guardian that "we should welcome" a new era of mobility, which has the potential to bring millions out of poverty worldwide.

Noting that, at the opening of the 21st Century, it has become "commonplace to say that we live in a globalised world," the secretary general wrote:

Less well understood is that globalisation is taking place in stages. We are in the second: the age of mobility. . . . As we enter the age of mobility, people will cross borders in ever greater numbers in pursuit of opportunity and a better life. They have the potential to chip away at the vast inequalities that characterise our time, and accelerate progress throughout the developing world. To take just one example: last year migrants sent home £131bn (about $266 billion USD), three times all international aid.

He went on to argue that rather than "looking at potential developmental gains from migration, governments have been slow to adapt."

"The result is accelerating illegal migration, social tension, discrimination, loss of faith in government and empowerment of criminal networks," he wrote. "Earlier eras witnessed migration on a similar scale. At the turn of the 20th century, approximately 3% of the world's population was on the move."

Breaking Point of China's Communists

Tom Plate argued in the July 13 Japan Times that "for all its wealth production, China has now spawned a titanic income gap between rich and poor, an urban-rural cleavage wider than its awesome Three Gorges Dam and a bubble economy that looks to be at some point inevitably puncture-worthy."

According to Plate, the "ability of the Communist party to ride out the rapid and wild rise of China is far from certain."

His article analyzed what he described as a heated debate about the fate of the China's communists occurring inside and outside the country:

In France, for example, a major philosophical clash has occurred with a sophisticated ferocity that perhaps could only take place among the French. At its simplest level, it pits the opposing views of famous French philosopher Francois Jullien against his foremost critic, the French-Swiss scholar Jean-Francois Billeter. The core of their semi-civilized clash involves the former's view of the essential Confucian superiority of the "People's Republic of Confucius, Sunzi and Laozi" — as he might reverentially put it — and the latter's view that any reference to Confucian ideology is little more than a transparent attempt to justify the party's imperial rule.

Billeter worries that the mythification of Chinese rule beclouds the West's understanding of China's fundamental realities. Professor Henry Zhao of Sichuan University quotes Billeter in the March-April edition of the London-based, intellectually zany New Left Review as emphasizing the urgency of the current situation: Although "in the past the Europeans and the Chinese lived apart, this ancient separation is no more. Today we are facing the same historical moment, and should act together and understand each other."

The return of Confucian themes in China and in academic writing about China is, "beyond doubt," writes Zhao in a deeply penetrating analysis, "ideological in its agenda, an attempt to fill the vacuum of values in modern-day China. Spurred by China's increased economic strength, [Confucian] 'fever' will develop rapidly."

One-Party Monopoly Coming to an End

Maybe by coincidence, Isabel Hilton argued in the July 12 Guardian that the number of people in China speaking out against local tyrannies and corruption has begun to surpass the government's ability to silence or control its critics.

Tangentially, Hilton noted that, two years ago, the "Chinese government published a white paper on democracy that opened with the stirring proposition that 'democracy is an outcome of the development of political civilisation of mankind. It is also the common desire of people all over the world.'"

"Earlier this year," she observed, "the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, announced that 'democracy, law, freedom and human rights' were not exclusive to capitalism."

Hilton noted, however that "the white paper went on to explain that 'democracy with Chinese characteristics' had been the [Communist] party's gift to the Chinese people and there is little sign that this has changed."

She also pointed out that: "On June 25, Hu Jintao, the party general secretary, told an audience at the Party School, the communists' most important thinktank, that 'greater participation' by the people was desirable -- as long as it did not jeopardise the party's rule."

Government In Denial

Suggesting America's leaders are in denial about the danger, Norman Ornstein's June 12 Washington Post piece argued that no branch of the U.S. government is presently prepared for a decapitating strike.

"The recent car-bomb threats in Britain were stark reminders that terrorists continue to probe for ways to attack us -- and not every attempt will fail or be repelled," wrote Ornstein. "That this danger extends to the United States was made clearer in May when the White House announced National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 to create a national continuity policy -- ensuring that federal agencies could still operate, with clear lines of authority, in the event of a devastating surprise attack on Washington."

He went on to assert:

During the Cold War, elaborate top-secret plans existed, including bunkers for the president, vice president, Supreme Court justices and members of Congress. If nuclear missiles were launched by the Soviet Union, there would be 30 to 90 minutes' notice to evacuate top officials by plane, train or automobile. On Sept. 11, 2001, the era of notice preceding attacks ended. This underscored the fact that none of our branches of government had plans to keep operating if hit in a serious way. An attack on Congress that killed or incapacitated a large number of members would mean no Congress for months. Each house needs half of its members to be present for a quorum to do any official business. The House of Representatives can replace deceased members only by special elections that take, on average, four months. The Senate, under the 17th Amendment, allows states (usually governors) to appoint replacements to fill vacancies, but neither house has a mechanism for replacing incapacitated members.

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR's Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.