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Russia’s “Richest Man” Conviction Raises Questions

By Mark Breckles
February 11, 2011

Russia’s once-richest man has been sentenced to jail—again. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, already serving an eight-year sentence in a Siberian prison for tax evasion, was found guilty of stealing 218 million tons of oil. Khodorkovsky faces another 6–14 years behind bars.

It appears the sentence is politically motivated and orchestrated by former Prime Minister Vladmir Putin. Khodorkovsky was known to fund political parties (communist and liberal) opposing Putin, and he also expressed his own political desires.

Being perceived internationally as a step backward for a country trying to modernize itself, the move scares off investors who criticize the Russian judicial process as abusive. Human rights groups, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sounded off against the sentence, saying it raises “serious concerns.” CNN blasted the Russian government’s “abuse of justice.”

On the contrary, Khodorkovsky seems to have a shady past. His arrest was supported by the Russian people, who believed Khodorkovsky robbed the nation by fraudulently privatizing companies. He vocally supports the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the successor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Bolsheviks.

But just who did the Russian government sentence here: A far-left, communist-supporting thief? Or an innovative, outspoken opponent of the Kremlin?

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Nothing Settled in the Ivory Coast

By Mark Breckles
February 11, 2011

The problem is simple: two men run for president; only one can win. On November 28th, citizens of the West-African nation the Ivory Coast went to the polls and cast their ballots. The only winner was Chaos. Officially, the voters decided against re-electing their President, Laurent Gbagbo, who served for the past ten years. But despite losing, Gbagbo claimed victory, triggering riots and protests in the streets. The incumbent, and now-illegitimate president, refuses to hand over power. Instead, he has issued a campaign of violence against his rivals.

Local militias and security officers with ties to the government have been accused of night-time raids. The forces have targeted neighborhoods which largely supported Ouattara (the opponent) in the election. Soldiers loyal to the illegitimate President have been accused of taking people in the night. Sometimes the people who were kidnapped return; sometimes they don’t. People have gone unaccounted for. Abducted, imprisoned, or killed, many are still missing. Thousands have fled. The U.N. estimates a death toll of 247. Attempts at investigating claims of mass graves have been unsuccessful. Gbagbo wants none of it.

People have taken to the streets to protest the electoral fraud and government-crackdowns. Cars have been set afire; buildings, vandalized. The army continues to ignore the protests as well as stonewall Ouattara from taking office. But Ouattara, who has been recognized as the legitimate President by the U.N., plans to do some protesting of his own.

“We have come to the point where I believe seriously that force should be used to remove Gbagbo!” Ouattara recently said. He has also called on foreign companies and banks to cease business with Gbagbo. Ouattara remains indecisive on whether labor strikes would be utilized. Like he stated, if the stalemate continues, military action seems inevitable in an already unstable region.

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China’s March into the Future

By Peter Rice
February 11, 2011

Around the world, Chinese investors are building roads, railways, factories, and oil wells and engaging in other ventures to satisfy their growing appetite for raw materials. The mounting influence of this populous country has caused some distress in the United States as it witnesses commercial might transforming into political muscle. Whether it be stories of Shanghai’s superior test scores, “tiger moms” relying on tough parenting, or U.S. debts, China seems to have a growing influence over the world. Could it be that China is now the shining city upon a hill?

Entrenched in a struggle with Islamic terrorism, the United States has cautiously watched China as it established itself as an ally with Russia and dealmaker with North Korea in its attempts to shape the future of Asia. Beyond this, China has also been seen launching diplomatic offensives in Europe and Latin America, while playing peacemaker in Lebanon with its contributions to U.N. troops. China’s international role certainly seems to be on the rise, causing many to question: could the country that has faced unspeakable horrors through invasions, civil wars, and revolutions over the past two hundred years now be destined to claim the twenty-first century as their own?

In this young, new century of ours, who is to write the history? Will China’s rise in power be managed peacefully by the international community? Or will it follow the path of Germany and Japan of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century and lead to the outbreak of another world war? Time will surely answer these questions; but until then, let us hypothesize for a moment.

It was only a little more than sixty years ago when Mao Zedong stood atop Tiananmen Gate, overlooking a mass of faces, while proclaiming that the People’s Republic of China was victorious in vanquishing the Nationalist regime, withstanding a Japanese invasion, and uprooting years of foreign encroachments on China’s soil. Mao and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had climbed to a position of power on the backs of those supporting a homegrown revolution. As a reformist, Mao Zedong sought to rebuild China’s wealth, international respect, territorial integrity, dignity, and overall power. These were the yearnings of the people as well. By working towards these goals, the CCP had gained loyalty and legitimacy. Consequently, Mao’s successors have done little to waver from his vision of China’s future.

China’s quest for greatness and modernity has caused campaign convulsions, which temporarily disrupted the people’s productivity and caused the loss of life. Yet in spite of this, China has managed to become a leading industrial power with a growing economy producing innovators who are pushing science and technology to new levels. Moreover, their ability to increase their diplomatic prowess and military power, while maintaining peaceful relations with its neighbors, has attracted the attentions of many who marvel at their unique blend of capitalism, democracy, and authoritarianism. Yet the road to superiority is never straight.

This January, Hu Jintao, President of China, made a visit to the White House and remarked, “China’s future, and destiny, are increasingly tied to those in the rest of the world.” This confident statement is grounded in the fact that, in the days of a global recession, China has managed to overcome a financial slowdown by directing its infrastructure to produce economic expansions. As a result, China is now making significant investments at home and aboard, which is only fueling their need to acquire raw materials in order to maintain their current infrastructure while contributing to further economic booms. All of which seem to vindicate their system of government and state-owned enterprises.

From the United States’ point of view, it is essential to question how China’s economy powered through this economic crisis. In realizing the implications of China’s success, the U.S. must either make attempts to work peacefully alongside this growing power, or set the stage for possible conflicts in the future.

To begin, China’s success in navigating the current economic challenges can be largely contributed to their authoritarian political system that has the ability to make complex decisions quickly. Of course, this success is marred with social inequalities, abuses, and corruption that lead some to question the ultimate stability of this system. Yet, the CCP manages to maintain the solidity of China by appealing to the voices of the masses, while periodically hedging against social unrest by deviating investments and resources to secondary parts of the country. In this way, China is able to walk a very fine line. Thinking in Darwinian terms, it seems that China, who has seemingly outpaced the United States in responding and adapting to the changing economic environment, has proven to be fit for survival. But does that mean that the American system is outdated?

Simply put, the answer is no. In the history of the United States, there are countless examples of its resilience. Its strength emanates from its citizens and constitutional checks and balances, which manage to push the boundaries forward in a slow and steady pace while maintaining the ability to explode in productivity. As a nation that values individualism and human rights, the United States is a country that opens its arms to all peoples with the gift of freedom. Of course, one’s freedom will inevitable infringe on another, making it necessary to engage in honest debates that address problems from multiple points of view. The solutions that eventually surface are never perfect, but they are usually a step in the right direction. With this in mind, the recent polarization and ideological rigidity of American politics has created challenges in the United States’ quest to rise out of the recession. However, if the peaceful debates continue to press forward, there is no reason to assume that the U.S. cannot regain its economic footing.

Thus, the future of the United States and China seems bright. But will these two powers be able to step into the “Era of Cooperation” that President Obama is desperately seeking to achieve? The answer is not a clear one. China’s shift from strong and central figureheads of state to a layered power structure has created factions with high levels of influence over the government. Even though ultimate authority still resides with Hu Jintao and his government on a theoretical level, there are questions about who actually makes the final decisions. Evidence of centralized hobs of power influencing governmental decisions is unquestionable. For example, before the Copenhagen’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in 2009, Chinese officials were said to have been close to reaching a deal that would place a cap on their global and national carbon emissions with the United States. However, certain factions and special interest groups within China opposed the deal as an unnecessary constraint, causing China to back away from an agreement at the summit. If corporation between the U.S. and China is to be successful, the U.S. must take China’s factions into consideration as well.

If China should even want to corporate with the United States, there are a few hurdles that they must jump. U.S. manufactures have desperately cried out against China’s strategy of undervaluing their currency to make their exports cheaper than their competitors. In order to create more jobs and reenergize the American economy, many U.S. exporters believe changes here are necessary. There have also been accusations that intellectual property violations have been committed against U.S. companies, such as Microsoft who says, “Only 1 customer in 10 of Microsoft products in China [are] actually paying for them.” Not to mention that many Americans question China’s violations of human rights. Just recently, Liu Xiaobo was denied the right to receive his Noble Prize in person because he was still serving an eleven-year sentence in Northern China’s Jinzhou Prison for advocating radical changes to his country’s one-party communist political system. To Americans, denying certain freedoms and liberties is unacceptable. But these opinions are based on Western conceptions of human rights, making it difficult for China, who sees increasing income and living conditions as their service towards human rights, to generate concessions of wrong-doing. In all, China’s ability to meet these kinds of criticisms will ultimately determine the type of relationship that it has with the United States.

As long as China works towards maintaining international norms and rules, while promoting security and peace, there is no reason why their rise to power should spark another world war. The United States can certainly benefit from China’s successes, while maintaining its prominence in the world. By focusing on the things we have in common, and working to resolve our differences, both countries should be able to co-exist in the twenty-first century. Through the development of a universal cultural spirit of hope and creation, the issues that fill our newspapers today will become the solutions we read about in textbooks tomorrow. Remembering that the sun also rises, we can march into this young new century of ours knowing that we are the writers of history.

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