Archive for the 'Analysis' Category

The New World Order: A Land Grab Looms

Masaola Forest, Madagascar. Photo by glowingz.

Masaola Forest, Madagascar. Photo by glowingz.

SEOUL — SOUTH KOREA’S DAEWOO LOGISITCS recently locked down half of Madagascar’s arable land for agriculture exports back home, according the Financial Times. But the real kicker, and what has the London paper using words like “neo-colonialism,” is that Daewoo isn’t expecting to pay a dollar for the land.

The Indian Ocean island will simply gain employment opportunities from Daewoo’s 99-year lease of 1.3m hectares, officials at the company said. They emphasised that the aim of the investment was to boost Seoul’s food security.

“We want to plant corn there to ensure our food security. Food can be a weapon in this world,” said Hong Jong-wan, a manager at Daewoo. “We can either export the harvests to other countries or ship them back to Korea in case of a food crisis.”

The local Maeil Business Newspaper (매일경제) bitterly refuted the Times’ report on Friday. The paper said Daewoo will invest 6 billion dollars over the next 20 years into the East African island nation. It added that while the South Korean government has not directly responded to the FT’s coverage, Seoul sees the report as a “malicious distortion.”

In an unashamedly biased front-page story Friday, the Maeil asked: “Could (the FT report) be a sign of greed over Europe’s lost hegemony in Africa, once considered its back yard?”

Also on Friday, the FT reported that Kuwait and Qatar, along with Asian nations including South Korea, are looking to scoop up land in Cambodia in return for sizable investments.

The trend is worrisome. Should food shortage fears like those that rippled through Asia earlier this year spike again, capital-rich nations will surely start to horde. Poorer agricultural nations will be left in the lurch, and unable to feed their people, they’ll resort to outside aid. This would give birth to a new power structure that could indeed be characterized as colonial.

If Daewoo’s Hong is right about food becoming a “weapon,” and he may be, then our world is set to open a new dystopian era. It’s hard not to wonder when reading quotes like these whether humanity has lost its vision; whether we have regressed from modern civilization into a new global feudalism.

(Edited on November 22, 2008)


Morals & Global Society: Let loose in Dubai, Button Up in Singapore?

Chinatown night, Singapore. Photo by e-chan.

Chinatown night, Singapore. Photo by e-chan.

SEOUL — WHEN A BRITISH COUPLE was arrested in July this year for having sex on a Dubai beach, it was perhaps not a symbol of the Islamic nation’s moral heavy-handedness. A recent New York Times piece by Michael Slackman, and an accompanying photo slideshow, paints the emirate as an honest place where people are left to their own devices — to go to the mosque, to drink beer, to dance, to hire prostitutes.

Two commenters (so far) on the the NYT’s Lede blog, which had a short post explaining the article, lauded this freedom as the reason Dubai has not given roots to terrorism, and credited the emirate for improving the image of Muslims.

Others were less than pleased:

Sorry to bust your idealism, but the “prostitute indicator” is NOT a measure of a society’s prosperity or progress.

Dubai had better start “cleaning” its streets of the prostitutes – and relegate the “open sex trade” way back into the shadows, IF it wants to remain an Islamic nation.

Rich and prosperous non-Muslim secular countries, like Singapore (which Dubai models itself after), have done as such, in the name of Asian values. It all falls back on how citizens want their country shaped, and what morals and values they deem important.

I’d like to know what the Dubai citizenry makes of this?

— Posted by LogicGirl

LogicGirl (and at least one similarly-minded commenter) may have a point, but her argument falls apart when it comes to Singapore. A 2006 podcast with the Times‘s correspondent in the city state reveals that while there might be laws against walking around your own apartment naked, Singapore is not as buttoned-up as it may seem. Prostitution is legal and regulated, with working girls (and presumably men) carrying identification cards to prove they’ve checked out in terms of HIV and other diseases.

Reporter Wayne Arnold says Singapore’s reforms have largely been driven by the same reasoning by which Dubai has chosen not to wield the stick of the Shari’a–because it wants to be a world player:

Singapore has taken some extraordinary steps to change its authoritarian image. The government has lifted restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly. Entertainment laws have been revised to allow nightclubs and bars to stay open late. Casinos, once strictly forbidden, are now legal

Sims: What does Singapore’s former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, think about this remake that’s taking place there? Because he was probably singularly responsible for Singapore’s severe image.

Arnold: He has spoken about this quite a bit publicly in the last couple of years. And it’s no secret that I think at first he was hesitant — and his own biography speaks to this a little bit — I think he originally didn’t see a lot of need for this frivolity. Singapore was all about doing business and making sure things got done efficiently.

Sims: Mm-hmm.

Arnold: Now I think he admits that he may have erred on the side of severity, and he now agrees that as Singapore matures and it tries to attract new industries and become a major international city that Singapore will have to let its hair down.

[Edited 2008-09-26]

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