The reports we see every night about the G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, could not be more aggravating. As the planet heats up and everybody from the middle class down feels the pain of rising food, oil and commodity prices, the leaders of the world’s richest countries are carousing with each other and feasting on meals that select Japanese chefs have reportedly been practicing for six months.
One such meal probably contains more calories than a poor child in Africa will absorb in a week. And yet, those leaders have the gall to pretend to be seeking solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. While we swallow advice on how to reduce gas consumption, cut down on meals, remove ties in the office and forsake the car for the city bus or the bicycle, G8 leaders and their spouses are flown from all over the world for meetings that appear more hedonistic than constructive, and from whose outcome we can expect very little results.
In his book The White Man’s Burden, William Easterly, an economist at the World Bank for 16 years before he was kicked out over the publication of his first book, shows us why the West’s “Big Plans” — everything you will be hearing and reading about coming out of Hokkaido this week — have been failing.
Easterly writes why despite US$2.3 trillion in foreign aid in the past five decades, global poverty has yet to be alleviated and millions continue to die from preventable diseases, or why calls for ending poverty made 50 years ago are the same calls we heard 20 years ago — and again at the UN Millennium Project in 2000 — and today.
The gist of Easterly’s argument — which applies not only to development aid, but also to other challenges such as global warming — is that the “Planners,” his term for the big Western agencies (UN, IMF, World Bank, G8 and so on) have no accountability and are so remote from the work done on the ground that their Big Projects have failed and will continue to fail. It is not sufficient to attend a summit and claim that donor countries ought to double or treble the aid they give to Africa.
Throwing money at the problem will not work, is wasteful and aside from providing good sound bites (remember the good publicity that accompanied US President George W. Bush’s announcement that he was increasing aid to Africa, just as he was planning an illegal war against a sovereign country), accomplishes very little, if anything at all. World leaders will continue to fail in their mandate if they continue to see problems as general issues, such as “poverty,” “global warming” and “pollution.”
What is needed — and what they have utterly failed at, given their distance from reality — is a close-up look and sets of mechanisms that are adapted to specific environments. In other words, addressing “poverty” in Bangladesh may not necessarily require the same type of intervention that would work in, say, Ethiopia.
Cynics are right to criticize the G8 summits, past and present, but as long as populations care more about what Bush calls Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or whether the latter is truly Bush’s lapdog, than calling those leaders to account and pressuring them to lower themselves back to our level, things will not change. There used to be a time when it was “us” and “the rest” — the West and the “Third World” — which, though a blatantly unfair situation, did not make us in the West overly uncomfortable.
After all, despite the injustice, the problems our leaders failed to resolve did not threaten to affect our lives. Aside from eliciting pangs of guilt as we saw Africans dying by the thousands on our TV screens, most of us did not connect as the crisis was out there, easily forgotten once we switched channels.
But this is changing. Nowadays, only the wealthiest do not feel the pain. In due time and as global warming and pollution continue to intensify, no one — not even the ultra-rich —will be spared. Is that the point we want to reach before we tell our leaders that the distance they have created between themselves and the rest of us is unacceptable?
Are we so selfish and hypnotized by our own comforts that the world needs to go up in flames, sparing no one, before we use our rights as citizens to tell our leaders to act, to cease dining like gastronomes and really do something about the scythes that are gathering above our heads?
Or have we just all given up, let down by the repeated failures of the Kyoto Protocol and the many commitments made and invariably missed by the world leaders while they continue to enrich the rich, plunder the Earth and destroy the environment?
If they really cared, the G8 leaders and their spouses would ask for a bowl of rice for their last meal. Not caviar and shark fin.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei and the author of Smokescreen: Canadian Security Intelligence after September 11, 2001.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) expressed “deep concern” over the staggering rise of COVID-19 cases in India, and offered to supply medical equipment and vaccine doses to the country, but his overtures sparked debate in India’s academic and political circles about his sincerity to help, particularly as it was followed by a vulgar display of schadenfreude over the hundreds of thousands of cremations of deaths caused by the virus in the country. The vast majority of Indians were already angry and frustrated with Beijing needling the country on a number of issues, including imports from China, which were abruptly stopped
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has
As the US’ mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues at a record pace, one question under debate is what the administration of US President Joe Biden should do with its extra doses — and especially where to send them. One country that should be at the top of a donation list is Taiwan, in recognition of the help that it provided to the US at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. After weeks of pressure, the Biden administration announced that it is now “looking at options to share American-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses.” By summer, it is clear that anyone in the
Recent news has not been good for the image of Taiwan’s police. After a questionable arrest and detainment of a music teacher in Taoyuan made the headlines last week, news broke that officers at Songshan Precinct’s Zhonglun Police Station in Taipei allegedly deleted security footage showing a group of men storming into the station and damaging a computer on April 16. While the video incident is still being investigated, a group of people on Monday night released hundreds of cockroaches into a restaurant where Taipei’s voluntary police force was hosting a banquet. The guests included senior officers such as Taipei Police