Passport

Beijing bails out exporters, but not golf caddies

NPR has an interesting piece on China's recent moves to prop up small coastal export businesses who are hurting with the slowdown in demand from the United States this holiday season:

Official statistics show that thousands of factories in Guangdong province have gone bankrupt this year. In the latest flare-up of unrest, laid off toy factory workers protested in Dongguan on Nov. 25, flipping police cars and smashing company offices.

This has Beijing worried. It has decided to protect exports by increasing export tax rebates and halting the three-year-long appreciation of China's currency against the dollar. And local governments in the delta have used billions of dollars to bail out small and medium enterprises.

China's top economic planner, National Development and Reform Commission Director Zhang Ping, defended the bailouts at a recent press conference.

"Helping these companies get through their current difficulties is entirely necessary and appropriate," Zhang said. "Otherwise, if too many factories go bankrupt, it will lead to many workers losing their jobs, and could increase social tensions and unrest."

On the other hand, Marketwatch reports that the country's growing golf sector was not so lucky:

Mission Hills, the self-proclaimed biggest golf club on Earth and recent host of the World Cup of Golf event, is sacking 2,000 employees, or 20% of its staff, according to a recent Bloomberg news report.

Yes, that's right. A golf course had 10,000 employees. At what point could a golf course be "too big to fail"?

(Hat tip: China Digital Times)

Passport

Congo peace talks as (un)promising as their moderator

Peace talks opened in Nairobi today between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the rebel group led by General Laurent Nkunda. There is one reason -- above the many other good ones -- that I am unfortunately a skeptic: the U.N.-appointed moderator, Olusegun Obasanjo.

At first glance, Obasanjo is a great pick. He's an African statesman who helped bring democracy to Nigeria after a history that included a brutal civil war, a string of military dictators (he was one of them), and years of economic decline. "Baba," his nickname meaning "Papa', aptly characterized his ruling style: a benevolent elected dictator who -- for the most part -- had control over an unwieldly country.

But then there are the details. Obasanjo managed those various parties through patronage -- granting monies here and there, favoritism or punishment to this and that. He was the master of holding peace summits with little goal other than the summit itself. Behind the scenes, the governors under his watch paid off militants, sometimes supported them, and skimmed oil wealth off the top. The status quo was stable only so far as everyone could be paid off. Today, without his personality to manage the situation, the delta is on the brink of exploding.

Then there are the elections. In Obasanjo's last days as president, he tried (unsuccesfully) to change the constitution so that he could run for a third term. In the neighborhood I used to live, rumor had it that truckloads of money were delivered to the homes of skeptical senators. When elections did take place, they were so massively rigged that the ruling party easily won.

So can Obasanjo bring the two sides together in the DR Congo? I sure hope so. Perhaps his wiley personality can do just that. I just hope his example isn't the one they follow.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images