Friday, May 9, 2008

Today's Wall Street Journal provides two looks into the complicated world of globalization. Hola Venezuela! Ni hao China!

Today's WSJ has two interesting stories, one on President Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, and one on the cultural and economic changes undergoing in China. These stories are important to understanding America's future, a point made true by the 'globalized' world in which America today finds itself -- can it be? -- sort of maybe, perhaps . . . struggling?

1. Chávez Aided Colombia Rebels, Captured Computer Files Show

A cache of controversial computer files closely tying Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez to communist rebels seeking to topple Colombia's government appear to be authentic, U.S. intelligence officials say.

The trove -- found on a dead guerrilla leader's laptops during a military raid in March -- is likely to ratchet up pressure for the U.S. to impose sanctions on one of its most important oil suppliers.

The files that have been made public so far have largely confirmed Mr. Chávez's well-known sympathy for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But a review by The Wall Street Journal of more than 100 new files from the computers suggests that Venezuela has broader and deeper ties to the FARC than previously known.

This story is interesting because if the US sanctions Venezuela for having relations with FARC -- whom the US considers a terrorist organization -- President Chavez might threaten to cut off its oil trade with the US. Such a move would make more even more volatile an already troubling global oil trade, and would help raise domestic oil prices in the US even further.

Of course, Mr. Chavez has his own domestic worries. Last December Mr. Chavez lost an electoral referendum on constitutional reforms that he proposed, reforms which would have expanded his power (and staying power) within the country's political system.

2. The World's Best Chinese Food

Protests, traffic and pollution are three things visitors to Beijing expect to encounter at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. But the city has something else to offer attendees willing to venture beyond hotel and tourist restaurants: some of the best food on the planet.

Dumplings here are lusciously plump and thin-skinned. Peking duck is incomparably tender and juicy. And then there are the dishes that will surprise most Western visitors, from hot corn juice to purple lily roots with pumpkin.

The article goes on to use food and restaurants to illustrate the social and economic change that has begun in Beijing.

It's a world away from the state-owned restaurants that defined Beijing dining as recently as a decade ago, with contemptuous staff and bland, greasy fare. In recent years, these have been eclipsed as private enterprise and exploding personal wealth have turned Beijing into a magnet for restaurants from the provinces. Now, ask Beijingers for recommendations and you'll get a list of places specializing in cuisine from as far away as Guizhou in the Southwest and the Silk Road in Xinjiang, north of Tibet. These restaurants have come up so far and so fast that Beijing now rivals Shanghai, its sister city in attracting newfound wealth, as the most interesting and varied dining scene in China.

"Today I think the restaurants in Beijing are better than in Shanghai or Guangzhou because of their variety," says Eileen Wen Mooney, a Chinese-American and longtime Beijing resident, whose book on the city's restaurants is set to come out next month. "The people in Beijing really want to explore new things."

If over the next few years and decades China does indeed play a larger role in shaping the destiny of the USA, as scholars like Princeton's G. John Ikenberry seem to believe will be the case, then learning about China -- its culture, its politics, its economics, and its psychology -- will be indespensible to a decent American future.

This article points out some of the ways China's economy appears to have undergone recent transformation toward a more free-market model of fulfilling social demands.

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