The Chinese Public Celebrates A War Ship It Doesn’t Know Very Much About

China’s media and general public are abuzz about the country’s first aircraft carrier, a converted Soviet-built behemoth that set off earlier this month on its maiden voyage. But they’re missing some key information, like how much it cost, and what it’s e

Varyag, the first Chinese aircraft carrier
Varyag, the first Chinese aircraft carrier
WANG Xiaoxia

BEIJING -- China is celebrating the maiden voyage of its first aircraft carrier, which took to the seas Aug. 10. The "new" ship is in reality anything but. "Varyag," first known as "Riga," was actually built by the Soviet Union. Its construction began in the mid 1980s. But the Soviet Union fell and the ship was transferred to Ukraine before being bought for "entertainment purposes' by a Chinese company believed to be a front for the Chinese Army. Having spent more than 30 years in a dockyard, the carrier was finally converted as a military ship in the Chinese port city of Dalian.

Though Varyag isn't officially in service just yet, it is receiving quite a lot of attention. Its launch made headlines on most Chinese news sites and the population as a whole seems to have fallen in love with it. Varyag is a boost to Chinese patriotism, after decades of Western domination over the seas since the 19th century. With this new ship, China is experiencing an unprecedented "big power climax" that even the Beijing Olympics didn't generate. Dubbed "Chinese naval nationalism" by the West, it explains why the carrier is receiving overwhelming support not just from the general public, but also from the intellectual elite.

But there have also been a few disappointments to go along with all the excitement. Many Chinese, for example, complain about the fact they still don't know the ship's new name. The media continues to refer to it as Varyag, the name of a Nordic people that migrated to Eastern Europe during the 10th century. Anything that relates to China's national security is highly secret, including the name of a military ship - and its cost for that matter.

So how much did China spend on this aircraft carrier? Not only does the public want to know, it also has the right to know. In a country where civic awareness is growing, especially on national affairs, such issues are gaining ground. A Shanghai newspaper published an article estimating the cost of converting Varyag, but based solely on Chinese military experts' speculations drawn from American examples.

So how do Americans know how much their government spends on its aircraft carriers? Following the idea that "when one doesn't know where their money goes, one doesn't pay," the U.S. government is required to tell its tax payers what their money is spent on. The Department of Defense must make its annual budget public and transparent. All defense R&D spending must be submitted to Congress through detailed reports.

In the United States, even if a project is given the go-ahead, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), also known as the "congressional watchdog" or the "taxpayer's best friend," keeps a check on the operation's possible flaws, as well as the whereabouts of the funds. In 2007, the GAO published a report about excess spending for the Ford Class aircraft carrier and also criticized the R&D department for the delays that caused the cost to increase. The supervision system guarantees that American taxpayers' money is spent on U.S. interests efficiently. Each year, the GAO investigates numerous governmental institutions saving Americans billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses.

Despite its success, even this monitoring mechanism doesn't guarantee efficient military spending. The United States has long had to deal with having only one manufacturer capable of building an aircraft carrier, therefore forcing it to deal with a monopoly. As a result, the U.S. Navy has decided to split its next generation destroyer contract between two shipyards, avoiding a monopoly and building a competitive atmosphere in America's military construction field for the future.

The Chinese, on the other hand, don't have much access to these kinds of key details. How efficient is the new ship? How much did it cost? Was it worth it? Were there unnecessary expenses? They aren't getting any answers. Maybe we'll find out something one day through a conflict, or a war. Or just like we did with the train accident three weeks ago, when we were painfully surprised to learn that the railroads companies operating under government contracts are only moved by profit.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Wikipedia

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!