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The Ghost Headlines

Brian M. Loux

November 10, 2001: The world’s most populous country, China, was officially admitted to the World Trade Organization on Saturday after a 15-year battle -- a monumental change to the world trading system [BBC News Online].

I’m sorry. Did I surprise you? I didn’t mean to -- though for the past week the news clip above has dumfounded just about every person to whom I have presented it. And the date is correct: over a week ago.

It was perhaps Bone of the most cataclysmic and decisive events of this month that will no doubt influence world affairs for the rest of the 21st century. Unfortunately, media conglomerates didn’t see it as such. I searched every newspaper I could think of, but I couldn’t pick up more than a summary of Ari Fleischer’s press statement. I thought indymedia.org, a news web site devoted to covering social justice issues and the like, would be a sure bet for coverage. It did not have any links to what went on at the WTO meeting, and had only recaps of the protests and discussions of WTO policy. BBC did cover the story and had a few analysis pieces, but placed the link in a small square on the side of the page. When Flight 587 crashed the next day, it was officially the Bermuda Triangle of world events.

I was confused as to how the implications of the WTO and Operation Enduring Freedom are not of equal gravity. A system that tortures religious dissidents, allows and promotes child slave labor, suppresses women, and rules a little strip of land called Taiwan by intimidation will be able to reap the benefits of the globalist economic system and, to a great deal, steer its course.

Some have argued that China’s introduction to the world market would force them to play by our rules once they see that our ways are better. Unfortunately, the rules of trade that the WTO hammers out do not touch rules of production or society. When the British turned over Hong Kong, the New York of Asia, in 1997, and the U.S. Congress gave it Most Favored Nation status, the only new policy China made was what to do with the extra money. How could funding a system fail to break it down? I’ve always wished that the Republicans would be so bold as to try this tactic on Cuba and show them the blessings of capitalism by lifting the embargo -- Cuban refugee vote be damned.

This is not the end of the story, though. Taiwan was also admitted, and in a savvy move, Bush waited until both countries were inducted to promote both admissions. Thus he appeased China’s economic interests and Taiwan’s interests for independence, and scoring a double (though temporary) victory for the GOP. Thank heaven for small favors, right?

Wrong. This does not counter what China stands to gain. Furthermore, Taiwan’s protected agricultural sector will take a hit once it lowers trade barriers, which will most likely force them to expand their trade with China to bounce back. Other countries as well will love to increase investments with China as their markets have taken less of a tumble during the year.

Bush’s move also spells out drastic implications for American foreign policy. During Clinton’s term the right wing consistently criticized his foreign policy and use of martial force. In an essay in Time magazine, Charles Krauthamer said that Clinton’s actions in Kosovo, despite his lack of action in areas like Congo and Zaire, made for poor policy. In other words, Clinton’s call for the United States to be the humanitarian police for the world was flawed because we did not and could not address humanitarian concerns in every crisis zone.

Yet Bush is being praised for his similar foreign policy with his war on terrorism. Equally pleasing to the ear as Clinton’s goal, the definition of terrorist is entirely arbitrary. Why is China not on our list of terrorist countries? Some 8 months ago we were ready to fight the country because of a standoff over a downed spy plane. We criticized them as inhumane for the reasons like the ones above. But today it is not a terror-based system but a valued trading partner. China and many other organizations like it could easily fall under terrorist agencies. We cannot wage a true war on terrorism because we lack the means to stamp it out everywhere. Why do we praise this policy that is different in name only?

I learned the news by dumb luck. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted Republicans to toast the news; I wanted the Green Party to flood my e-mail with rants; I wanted the stock market to jump 2% on Monday, November 12, and have economists cite China’s induction bolstering American businesses for the boost, not have it shoot up on November 15 and have them somehow link it to consumer confidence because of the victory in Kabul. I wanted MIT students to discuss it over lunch (OK, maybe that’s asking too much).

I was appalled at Bush’s hypocrisy, and moreover, the simple implications of what unfolded at the WTO meeting last weekend. But by far most disgusting was the idea that events of this magnitude can and probably will continue to go unnoticed by the public eye. No matter what you think of the war or what counts as important to worldly affairs, remaining single-mindedly focused on the ongoing military campaign will allow issues of great importance to be decided and fought over by a select few and not the majority of concerned citizenry. When the war does come to an end, we could find ourselves in a world dramatically different from the one we are presently ignoring. And what a headline that will be.