Hu Jintao on China losing the culture wars

In a major essay published this week in a Communist Party magazine, President Hu Jintao revisited the argument that China must become a strong cultural nation, both for its people and for the prevention of Western encroachment. "We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China," it warns.

Chinese mandarins have long bemoaned the lack of recognition for their official culture, or why culturally, as Hu puts it in his essay, "the West is strong and my country is weak."  Chinese censorship, as opposed to Western imperialism, is a much more likely culprit. Every year Chinese press wonders why their country can't seem to win a Nobel Prize in literature or peace; ironically, in most cases banned from mentioning dissident writer Gao Xingjian, who won in 2000, or Liu Xiaobo, who won last year. The government recently announced new restrictions to curb "excessive entertainment" on TV. Zhang Yimou's recently released biopic on the Nanjing Massacre, the most expensive movie ever made in China, hews so close to the line its portrayal of ‘Chinese martyrs' and ‘Japanese devils' to render it unwatchable. Examples abound.

More specifically one can point to the government's demand that art and language serve the party and the nation. Looking for an example? Hu's essay, titled "Resolutely Follow the Cultural Development Path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Work to Build a Socialist Strong Culture Country," should be a primer on how to force language to serve politics. No anecdotes enliven it. Repeating slogan after slogan, it reads like a monotonous chest thumping: "Only if we resolutely follow the guidance of Marxism, and let the advanced culture of socialism guide the way, will we be able to lay the foundation for the cultural development of socialism with Chinese characteristics." When China's top leaders stop using Newspeak, or better yet when someone inside China can loudly and directly mock them for it, China's cultural industry might be able to "perfect the deployment of culture" that Hu claims he wants.      

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The Coca-Cola kingdom

Coca Cola has recently been criticized by political activists for its ongoing support of Swaziland's King Mswati III. The king has come under international and domestic scrutiny for his lavish lifestyle in a country cited as one of the poorest in the world. While the company states that the King doesn't receive any direct benefit from the company's operations, activists still say that its presence constitutes a vote of confidence for the regime.  The company has flown the Mswati out to its headquarters in Atlanta, and has taken out ads in Swazi newspapers celebrating the monarch's birthday. 

According to activists cited by the Guardian, Coca-Cola alone contributes to nearly 40 percentof Swaziland's GDP. Though a real figure is undoubtedly difficult to procure, (especially since Coke isn't releasing any information), some studies have found that the number is a bit further from the truth.

Nearly half of Swaziland's exports are based on sugar and drink concentrates, the vast majority of which belongs to Coca-Cola. It's membership in several common markets, including the South Africa Customs Union (SACU) which includes South Africa and Botswana, has allowed it to ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product per year. As a result, Swaziland is the lead exporter of Coca-Cola products in Eastern and Southern Africa.

In a USAID Report from April 2008, researchers estimated that 35 percent of Swaziland's foreign exchange earnings came from Coca Cola's operations within the country. Foreign Exchange earnings are the proceeds from the exports of goods, and returns on investments in convertible currencies.  From the report:

In 1987, Coca-Cola made one of the biggest capital investments in Swaziland to-date by establishing a plant dedicated to the production of concentrates used in Coca-Cola beverage products. Coca-Cola Swaziland, also known, as "CONCO" is the largest supplier of Coca Cola concentrates in Africa, with production plants also located in Egypt and Nigeria. Having recently celebrated 20 successful years of operations in the Kingdom, CONCO is by far the largest foreign exchange earner for the Kingdom, contributing to 35 percent of GDP21.

It's a bit more difficult trying to figure out what portion of GDP Coca-Cola is actually responsible for. The World Bank estimated that exports contributed to 58 percent of Swaziland's GDP in 2010, which in dollar terms would be approximately $2.1 billion.  Assuming that 38 percent of exports were still drink concentrate as the USAID stated, Coca Cola would still be responsible for nearly 22 percent of Swaziland's GDP, just by selling bottles of Coke to Eastern and Southern Africa. This of course doesn't include the numbers from Coke purchasing Swazi sugar, labor, marketing and everything else that goes into making the nectar of college students everywhere.  It's certainly a bigger footprint than the 18 percent the Swaziland Sugar Association estimates, but a lot less than the 40 percent number going around in the media.  It's key to note that this number is not the amount that they pay in taxes to the Swazi authorities, as the number is being portrayed. 

While it doesn't help that statistics in Swaziland aren't exactly easy to come by, having one company control such a large portion of a country's total output in the 21st century is still striking.