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China: Economics, Political Control And “The Pursuit Of Happiness”

Editorial: A French daily sees links between Arab uprisings, American founding fathers and China's hard choices.

China: Economics, Political Control And “The Pursuit Of Happiness”

America's Founding Fathers considered the "pursuit of happiness' one of man's "inalienable rights," alongside "life and liberty." And so it was that theright to happinesswas inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, adopted on the 4thof July 1776.

There is no way of knowing whether the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, is a regular reader of the writings of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and the other great figures who gave America its founding creed. Either way, Monsieur Wen has recently spoken about the Chinese people's right to pursue their happiness. The world should congratulate him for this, no doubt, and also encourage him to take the widest view possible of his compatriots' "happiness."

Wen Jiabao chose to speak about happiness during the National People's Congress, a common ritual in the Chinese Republic. The Prime Minister spoke about his country's economic achievements during the past five years and presented a blueprint for the coming five-year plan.

He thus confirmed the new strategy that the Chinese leaders intend to adopt: an economy based on domestic demand as much as on exports, and a development model that is friendlier to the environment. Wen Jiabao said that he expected an annual growth rate of 7% over the next five years, compared with 11.2% on average since 2005. The government promised to tackle inflation- 4,9% is the official figure, but in reality it is probably much higher. Wen also pledged to fight against the gaping inequalities within Chinese society. In order to achieve this, he said, people's consumer power must rise and corruption must be eradicated.

In addition of the permanent talk of economic growth and harmony, the Chinese Prime Minister's decision to speak about people's happiness and well-being was seen in the local press immediately as "a major political issue."

There is no denying that the entire world stands to benefit from a more balanced Chinese economy. The country's trade surplus, and the savings it has accumulated, represents one of the biggest and most dangerous imbalances of the world economy.

Still, can one be blamed for thinking that the Communist leaders' concern for the wellbeing of their people, so lavishly displayed at the Congress, has something to do with the present political context? China cannot be impervious to what is currently happening in the Arab world. It certainly cannot watch with an indifferent eye as autocrats are denounced and ousted

Over the past three weeks, groups of activists -- empowered by new electronic communications -- have been continuously calling for protests to take place in every big Chinese city. Judging from the authorities' crackdown and arrests of activists and intimidation of foreign journalists, the government is taking the threat very seriously.

In the context of rising social tensions, the regime is trying to regain some legitimacy. And this requires an improvement of political openness. That's it, Comrade Wen, another push and you're almost there!

Photo - Decade Null

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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