Friday, June 26, 2009

Peter Kwong Lecture Series on China

Focus on the Global South
UP Political Science Deparment
UP Third World Studies Center
Philippine Political Science Association


Peter Kwong Lecture Series on China

Lecture 1 - China’s “Peaceful rise foreign policy”: Impact and Limitations
July 7, 2009 (Tuesday), 2:30 - 4:00 p.m.
Third World Studies Center, Lower Ground Floor, Palma Hall, UP Diliman

Chinese leaders realizing the historical problems associated with rising powers, initiated “peaceful rise” foreign policy. It is to reassure the United States and the rest of the world that the rise of China will not pose a threat to them, and that they will, in fact, benefit from her economic expansion. China has begun to play a constructive role in international and regional institutions to support economic cooperation and political stability. She has also restored relationships with a host of countries by putting aside thorny problems that had previously impeded their trade and flow of investment. However, China’s arrangements to secure sources of energy and raw material with various governments for her ever growing economy have led to charges that she practices colonial-era unequal exchange – cheap manufacturing goods for raw material. Also, to assure a stable environment for trade, China is accused of building spheres of influence, often by supporting and making alliances with governments, some of whom have dubious political legitimacy. In establishing these spheres of influence, China has come into regular conflicts with the United States—the declining, but still the sole super-power power in the world . Besides, Chinese freedom of action is also constrained by her symbiotic economic relationship with the United States. It often has to operate under institutions set up that favor American interests. In the end, while reemerging on the world stage, China is narrowly focused on national interests, with little attempt to challenge the neo-liberal and neo-colonial global order into a system that would be equitable to the poor, developing and non-align world, which years ago, China claimed to be a member of. Finally, even with the economic ascendancy, Chinese consciousness is infused with the sense of a two centuries long humiliation at the hands of the west. Regular chauvinistic and nationalistic public outbursts threaten to undermine China’s attempt to project her “soft power.”

Lecture 2 - Impact of China’s rise on global labor standards
July 8, 2009 (Wednesday), 2:30 - 4:00 p.m.
Audiovisual room (PH 207), Palma Hall, UP Diliman

China’s recent spectacular expansion is predicated on the low cost of labor, made possible especially by the huge surplus of rural population that is steadily coming to the urban areas in search of work. The collapse of Chinese rural economy has already compelled 250 million farmers to migrate, and millions more every year are expected to keep packing into the labor market. Once in the labor force, these workers enjoy neither benefits nor social-welfare protection of any sort. In fact many of them do not even have “legal” residential status to live in the cities. Existing labor laws are regularly ignored by local authorities in the favor of the employers. Most of all, labor organizing is forbidden and organizers are regularly beaten, harassed and imprisoned. The government prefers this state of affairs, for improvement of labor conditions would only undermine Chinese low-wage advantages internationally, and erect obstacles to creating work for millions of rural migrants rushing to the cities for low-paying factory jobs. Meanwhile, dozens of Chinese interior regions are trying to out-bid each other for foreign investment by offering even lower wages. China’s primitive labor structure has greatly enhanced the power of global capital and placed serious downward pressure on global labor demands. However, as China becomes more and more industrialized and its workers therefore more proletarinized, they will inevitably form an effective movement in opposition to the employers, foreign investors and Chinese authorities. As the largest working class in the world, they will be the vanguard of international labor movements.

Lecture 3 - Chinese are everywhere!
July 9, 2009 (Thursday), 4:00 - 5:30 p.m.
Audiovisual room (PH 207), Palma Hall, UP Diliman

Chinese emigration has surged to produce the largest single emigrant group in the world: over 62 million by the latest estimates have spread to 150 countries around the world. The overseas Chinese population has doubled, and then doubled again during the last two decades. The Chinese emigrants today come from diverse parts of China and represent a wide range of professions. Still the most notable are Chinese emigrants of humble background, who are searching for low-wage jobs and establishing small businesses all around the world. Their number has been increasing further with the helped of Chinese government labor export programs. Not surprisingly, the increased presence of Chinese around the world has created anti-Chinese backlashes in the receiving countries. Typically, the Chinese are accused of undermining domestic labor standards and cultural values. Most often, the Chinese used by the employers in the host country to undermine the indigenous labor movement. The last anti-Chinese hysteria swept through the world during the upsurge in Chinese immigration to the New World in the 19th century. Recruited by greedy employers to work as cheap laborers, the Chinese faced resentment from earlier settlers and suffered racial attacks. Today’s simmering conflicts in many more parts of the world, mixed in with the widespread resentment against Chinese imports and the lingering Cold War-era fear of China, could easily ignite even worse reactions. Chinese government, however, remains indifferent to this ominous prospect. It has no incentive to temper with the exodus of its citizens, which is helping it solve domestic unemployment. It also benefits from the remittances the émigrés send home—some 20 billion U.S. dollars a year. At the same time, Chinese immigration has become an easy issue for politicians in host countries, who are interested in exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment to generate populist support at home.

Lecture 4 - China's one-party rule and global implications
July 10, 2009 (Friday), 2:30 - 4:00 p.m.
Audiovisual room (PH 207), Palma Hall, UP Diliman

One-party rule is the founding principle of socialist systems intended to guarantee the “dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. the working class. Yet, at present, Chinese Communist party maintains one-party system even though the country is no longer socialist. In fact, the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989 was the party’s attempt to ward-off challenge to its monopolistic hold on the country. During the last two decades the party has enacted no political reforms. The problems of corruption and abuses of the one-party rule go on unimpeded. The result is the mushrooming of political unrests. Workers go on strikes because the government sides with exploitative owners, peasants riot to protest land encroachment by politically connected developers. Independent businessmen are unhappy because they cannot compete fairly against the monopoly of officials. And as China’s economy grew during the past twenty years, so did people’s consciousness of their rights. They are outraged by the lack of legal protection against tyrannical government decisions. Yet the party remains solely focused on maintaining “stability,” so as to hold onto its political power. It is fearful that any relaxation would lead to the dissolution of communist order, just as Gorbachev’s perestroika had done to the Soviet Union. China’s repressive system is rigid but brittle, because it lacks a fail-safe system to ward off serious popular challenges. Ironically, claiming still to be socialist, Chinese government is using the harshest methods to suppress labor organizing. It is the responsibility of labor, overseas Chinese and international human rights communities to put pressure on the government to allow the Chinese people to speak out and to force the government into political reforms. This section will be accompanied by the viewing and discussion of a HBO documentary “China’s Unnatural Disaster,” that I co-produced last year.

About the lecturer: Peter Kwong (PhD Columbia University) is Professor of Asian American Studies and Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College and Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Pareng Barack, Filipinos in Obama's America

Lecturer: Benjamin “Boying” Pimentel

Sponsors: UP Third World Studies Center and Anvil Publishing, Inc.

Date: June 18, 2009 / 2:30-4:00pm

Venue: Third World Studies Center Conference Room

Lower Ground Floor, Palma Hall

University of the Philippines Diliman


A little over a month after Barack Obama took the oath of office, the mood and tone in Washington DC has changed dramatically. But, as many had expected, the new American president has had to do a lot of difficult juggling of competing interests in a tough time in US and world history.

The United States is still reeling from the most serious economic downturns since the Great Depression, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still raging. The Obama Administration has, at different times, baffled and angered the right and the left on its pronouncements and policy decisions when it comes to such issues as the financial rescue package and what to do with detainees at Guantanamo.

But there have been small and even significant signs of a more engaged government in both domestic issues and foreign policy.

For Filipinos in America, Obama’s ability to rebuild a battered economy is clearly important. More than two million people of Filipino descent live in the US, many of them immigrants who also send money to loved ones in the archipelago. The collapse of the economy has hurt them and their families in the Philippines, and Obama’s recovery efforts will be critical.

His administration’s stimulus bill included a benefits package for Filipino American World War II Veterans who have been fighting to receive the same privileges given to regular US military veterans. The package will be a major boost to thousands of Filipino families, although other community advocates say it is inadequate and falls short of true justice for these men.

Immigration and health care are expected to be major issues that Obama will be focusing on in his first year. Both also are of importance to Filipino Americans. Some Filipino American activists, veterans of many battles involving people of color, are gearing up for major changes.

In its dealings with the rest of the world, Obama has won praise for efforts to win over more allies, and reach out to adversaries. However, it’s unclear how much will change when it comes to American policy toward the Philippines. The Visiting Forces Agreement remains a controversial issue for many Filipinos, and the sudden release of the American serviceman convicted of raping a Filipina has angered critics of American presence.

Obama’s own attitude toward the Philippines remains vague. He’s likely to not take a dramatically different approach than the previous administration. That is, he will expect any Philippine administration to be an ally. Gloria Arroyo certainly cannot be expected to raise the issues that advocacy groups deem important to move US-Philippine relations forward.

Obama himself probably won’t pay attention to the issues that are important to segments of the Filipino American community and activist Filipinos in the Philippines – unless these groups manage to put in enough effort to be heard.

My book, Pareng Barack, Filipinos in Obama’s America, came out shortly after the historic election. It explored the reactions of Filipinos in America to his incredible campaign, Filipino American attitudes toward race and the potential impact of Obama’s presidency on both the Filipino community in the United States and the Philippines.

I hope to elaborate on my personal thoughts on how Obama’s leadership has made a difference, and on the questions that remain.

About the Lecturer

Benjamin Pimentel was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle for 14 years, and now covers technology for Marketwatch. His bestselling book UG, An Underground Tale was published in 2006. His first novel Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street was adapted for the stage by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Pilipino and won the National Book Award Juan C. Laya for Fiction in 2008.