China says detained former Interpol chief accused of bribery
By GILLIAN WONG
Monday, October 8
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities scrambled to contain a public relations mess over the disappearance of the former Interpol president during his trip home to China, saying Monday that he was being lawfully investigated for bribery and other crimes.
But the government’s announcement did little to address concerns raised about the risks of appointing Chinese officials to leadership posts in international organizations. On Monday, the acting Interpol president told The Associated Press the agency had not been informed in advance of the Chinese probe into Meng Hongwei, who is also China’s vice minister of public security.
On Sunday, Meng’s wife made a bold public appeal from France to the international community to help locate her husband. The appeal — especially unusual for senior Chinese officials — cast an unwelcome light on extralegal detentions that have increasingly ensnared dissidents and allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials alike under President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian administration.
In a sign of the urgent and possibly unplanned nature of the investigation, the Ministry of Public Security said in an announcement that top ministry officials met in the early hours of Monday to discuss Meng’s case. The announcement said Meng was being investigated for accepting bribes and other crimes that were a result of his “willfulness.”
“We should deeply recognize the serious damage that Meng Hongwei’s bribe-taking and suspected violations of the law have caused the party and the cause of public security and deeply learn from this lesson,” said the announcement about the meeting, chaired by Minister Zhao Lezhi.
Meng is the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to a sweeping crackdown by the ruling Communist Party on graft and perceived disloyalty. Most officials investigated by anti-graft authorities are quietly spirited away for questioning, cut off from contact from their families and not allowed access to lawyers, sometimes for months.
But that wasn’t how it played out with Meng, 64, whose unexplained disappearance while on a trip home to China late last month prompted the French police to launch an investigation. The French government and Interpol also made their concerns known publicly in recent days.
By late Sunday night, China issued a terse announcement that Meng was under investigation and shortly after, Interpol said Meng had resigned as the international police agency’s president. Meng could not be reached for comment.
The revelation that Chinese authorities would be bold enough to forcibly make even a senior public security official with international stature disappear has cast a shadow over the image Beijing has sought to cultivate as a modern country with the rule of law.
Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Meng’s case shows how Chinese officials, no matter where they are, have to obey the Communist Party first and foremost. “This puts China’s internal political struggle over and above the international norms on the rule of law,” Lam said.
Rights groups had criticized Meng’s appointment as head of Interpol in 2016. They pointed to the lack of transparency in China’s legal system and the potential that the position would be misused to attack Beijing’s political opponents — by using the police group’s red notices to pursue political or economic fugitives, for instance.
“By putting him in the position of Interpol chief, China hoped to show its determination to govern by law,” said Zhang Lifan, an independent Chinese political analyst. “But now the spokesman is in trouble and it has definitely dealt a blow to China’s image.”
Zhang said the haphazard way the case unfolded suggested that officials were acting as if in some state of emergency. “China proceeded to do this in an unconventional manner without caring about its image. It is rather an insult to Interpol,” he said.
The acting president of Interpol, Kim Jong Yang, said it had not been told about the investigation of its chief. “I find it regrettable that the top leader of the organization had to go out this way and that we weren’t specifically notified of what was happening in advance,” Kim said in a phone interview.
“We still don’t have sufficient information about what’s happening (with Meng) or whether it has anything to do with Chinese domestic politics,” he added.
Monday’s statement on the ministry of public security’s website provided no details about the bribes Meng allegedly took or other crimes he is accused of, but suggested that he was also in trouble for political lapses.
Officials at the meeting were told that they “must always maintain the political quality of being absolutely loyal to the party,” the statement said.
Questions about Meng’s case dominated a regular briefing by China’s foreign ministry on Monday. The spokesman, Lu Kang, rejected the suggestion that China’s handling of the Meng probe would hurt the country’s image abroad, saying that it demonstrated Beijing’s commitment to tackling graft.
“This has shown the Chinese government’s firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crime,” Lu said. “It has also made very clear that this case fully demonstrates that the party is firm in fighting corruption.”
However, Lu did not directly answer questions about whether Meng would be formally arrested or allowed to hire a lawyer, or receive a visit from his wife.
Grace Meng, his wife, made an impassioned plea Sunday for help in bringing her husband to safety. She said she thought he sent an image of a knife before he disappeared in China as a way to warn her he was in danger.
She pledged to pursue “truth, justice and responsibility toward history” for her husband and young children’s sake, and “for all the wives and children, so that their husbands and fathers will no longer disappear.”
The emotional appeal was an extremely unusual move for the spouse of a senior Chinese official to take, given the risk that public lobbying might backfire and lead to a heavier punishment. Many don’t have a chance to speak up even if they want to: spouses of officials under investigation, if they’re in China, would likely be placed under 24-hour surveillance, Lam said.
“The terrible allegations made by Mrs. Meng provide the world with a rare window of opportunity to look at the way in which judicial processes are being handled in China,” Lam said.
“It’s not a pretty picture.”
Associated Press writers Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and John Leicester in Lyon, France, contributed to this report.
Why trade deficits aren’t so bad
October 4, 2018
The trade deficit, and how much a country exports or imports, is only part of the story.
William D. Lastrapes
Professor of Economics, University of Georgia
William D. Lastrapes does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Most Americans seem to think international trade deficits are a bad thing.
A March poll, for example, showed that more than two-thirds think the U.S. should take steps to reduce the trade deficit with China, even if a resulting trade war drives up consumer prices.
That’s in large part because of the notion expressed by some that the U.S. is “losing” if it has a trade deficit, one of the main justifications used for fighting a trade war with China.
As I’ll explain, such a notion is bad economics.
One of the first things budding economists learn is the principle of “comparative advantage.” A country has a comparative advantage when it can produce a product or service more cheaply than others.
For example, the U.S. specializes in producing wheat because it is cheaper to do so here than in Japan, while Japan specializes in producing cars for the same reason. Specialization with trade allows consumers in both countries to buy more wheat and more cars.
Much economic research has shown that when countries trade with each other, global wealth grows, and all countries gain.
What this means for trade deficits
Policies that aim to reduce trade deficits hinder trade and work against the potential gains from comparative advantage.
A country like the U.S. runs an annual trade deficit with a partner country when Americans buy more goods and services from the partner than they sell to it. As a result, money flows out of the U.S. to the country, which sounds bad.
But that’s not the end of the story. Those foreigners with the trade surplus – let’s say in China – now have extra saving that needs to be put to work. A lack of productive investment opportunities at home means they look to other countries – like the U.S. – to profitably use their money.
In other words, money flowing out to pay for imports flows back in to help pay for productive investment in new capital. The U.S. is an appealing place for the Chinese to put their money because the U.S. is really good at producing capital goods. Put another way, it has a comparative advantage in investment.
In 2017, Americans bought about US $552 billion more goods and services from abroad than foreigners purchased from the U.S. But foreigners sent about that amount right back to the U.S. to help American businesses build factories, create jobs and increase growth.
In short, trade deficits mean that international capital markets are working the way they should. They do not imply a loss of American wealth, or that other countries are “taking advantage” of the U.S.
Richer as a result
In general, trade imbalances are driven by natural market forces and reflect efficient borrowing and lending across the globe. And while it is always important to consider the consequences of international trade for inequality and the distribution of the gains from trade – there are no guarantees that those gains will be evenly distributed – the end result is higher overall global economic growth.
Trade deficits can be a problem when those deficits are due to government borrowing in countries with weak economic and political institutions, or in smaller countries where free capital flows might be destabilizing.
But for well-functioning economies like the U.S., trade deficits are not an inherent problem. In fact, we’re better off having trade deficits than imposing tariffs and restrictive trade policies to prevent them.
Trade deficits make America great.
A Quiz on Christopher Columbus
By J. Mark Powell
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Christopher Columbus was a significant figure in world history. His reputation may have taken a beating in recent years, but federal workers still get a paid day off work in his honor. Which makes this the perfect opportunity to revisit the famous explorer’s life and legacy.
Take the quiz below and test your knowledge of the man who discovered the New World (except, of course, for the Vikings who beat him to it and the native peoples who were already here).
1. Where was Columbus born?
A. Rome, Italy
B. Madrid, Spain
C. Genoa, Italy
D. Paris, France
2. What was his occupation?
D. All of the above
3. Where did Columbus intend to go on his famous voyage?
B. East Indies
D. South America
4. What was he hoping to find in the New World?
5. After he was turned down by three countries, who finally sponsored Columbus’ trip?
A. The czar of Russia
B. The pope
C. The king and queen of what is now Spain
D. The king of England
6. Which of these was NOT one of Columbus’ ships?
D. Santa Maria
7. Where did Columbus make landfall?
A. San Salvador, Bahamas
8. In all, how many voyages did Columbus make to the New World?
9. When did Columbus Day become a federal holiday?
10. What state’s capital is named in the explorer’s honor?
D. New Hampshire
Answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-B, 4-C, 5-C, 6-B, 7-A, 8-D, 9-C, 10-B
ABOUT THE WRITER
J. Mark Powell is a historical novelist and former broadcast journalist. His weekly offbeat look at our forgotten past, “Holy Cow! History,” can be read at jmarkpowell.com. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
How Columbus, of all people, became a national symbol
October 6, 2017
William Francis Keegan
Curator of Caribbean Archaeology, University of Florida
William Francis Keegan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Christopher Columbus was a narcissist.
He believed he was personally chosen by God for a mission that no one else could achieve. After 1493, he signed his name “xpo ferens” – “the Christbearer.” His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. His arrogance led to his downfall, that of millions of Native Americans – and eventually fostered his resurrection as the most enduring icon of the Americas.
Columbus in chains
In 1496, Columbus was the governor of a colony based at Santo Domingo, in what is now the modern Dominican Republic – a job he hated. He could not convince the other “colonists,” especially those with noble titles, to follow his leadership.
They were not colonists in the traditional sense of the word. They had gone to the Indies to get rich quick. Because Columbus was unable to temper their lust, the Crown viewed him as an incompetent administrator. The colony was largely a social and economic failure. The wealth that Columbus promised the Spanish monarchs failed to materialize, and he made continuous requests for additional financial support, which the monarchs reluctantly provided.
By 1500, conditions in Hispaniola were so dire that the Crown sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate. Bobadilla’s first sight, at the mouth of the Ozama River, was four Spanish “mutineers” hanging from gallows. Under authority from the king, Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his brothers for malfeasance and sent them to Spain in chains. Columbus waited seven months for an audience at the court. He refused to have his chains removed until the meeting, and even asked in his will to be buried with the chains.
Although the Spanish rulers wanted Columbus to disappear, he was allowed one final voyage from 1502 to 1504. He died in 1506, and went virtually unmentioned by historians until he was resurrected as a symbol of the United States.
In the mid-18th century, scholars brought to light long-forgotten documents about Columbus and the early history of the New World.
One of the most important was Bartolome de las Casas’ three-volume “Historia de las Indias.” This book was suppressed in Spain because it documented Spain’s harsh treatment of the native peoples. His depiction of Spanish mistreatment of the Indians provided the foundation for the “Black Legend.” His account “blackened” Spanish character by depicting it as repressive, brutal, intolerant and intellectually and artistically backward. Whatever Spain’s motives, the conquest of the Americas destroyed native cultures and ushered in centuries of African enslavement.
Another was the personal journal of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage, published in 1880. The journal captured the attention of Gustavus Fox, Abraham Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the Navy, who made the first attempt to reconstruct the route of Columbus’s first voyage.
Renewed scholarly interest in Columbus coincided with political motives to deny Spain any remaining claims in the Americas. Spain’s American colonies declared independence, one by one, from the beginning of the 19th century. Simón Bolivar, and other Creole revolutionary leaders, embraced a classical philosophy that highlighted their Roman ancestry to a degree that “Spanish America” was converted to Latin America. The final assault came with the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the six-month Spanish-American War in 1898. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark.
Columbus likely would have slipped back into obscurity if not for American hubris.
The Columbian Exposition
In 1889, France put on what reviewers described as the most spectacular World’s Fair possible. Held on the Champs de Mars in Paris, its crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower.
Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Official Views of The World’s Columbian Exposition
After Paris, the United States set out to prove to the world it was the equal of Europe by staging its own World’s Fair. No one has claimed credit for the theme of the Exposition, but the stage was set when American writer and author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving, attempted to revive his flagging career by writing the first biography of Christopher Columbus in English, published in 1828.
His embellishments created the great hero whose legend the fair celebrated: “He was one of those men of strong natural genius, who appear to form themselves; who, from having to contend at their very outset with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity in braving and a facility in vanquishing difficulties.”
The Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World. President Benjamin Harrison presided over opening ceremonies on Oct. 12, 1892. That same day, the Pledge of Allegiance was introduced in American schools.
Chicago created the “White City” – a collection of nine “palaces” designed by America’s greatest architects, conceived and constructed in only 26 months. Outside the White City was the grittier Midway, which is now a common feature of carnivals and fairs. The fair gave visitors their first taste of carbonated soda, Cracker Jacks and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. An enormous 264-foot-tall Ferris wheel transported 36 cars each carrying up to 60 people on a 20-minute ride. More than 28 million tickets were sold during the six months the Columbian Exposition was open. Columbus was the darling of 19th-century mass media.
Seventy-one portraits of Columbus, all posthumous, hung in a Grand Gallery. Following Irving’s descriptions, Columbus became the embodiment of the American Dream. The son of simple wool weavers and someone who had a great dream challenged the greatest scholars of his day, and boldly went where no man had gone before. Better yet, he was Italian. America could deny that Spain had any part in the discovery of the New World.
President Harrison declared a national holiday to coincide with opening of the Columbian Exposition – Columbus Day. It was officially recognized by Congress in 1937.
In 1992, as the United States prepared for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the pendulum swung again. The devastating impact of his “discovery” on native peoples throughout the Americas led protesters to decry Columbus as a “terrorist.”
Columbus the man died more than 500 years ago. Columbus the legend is still being dismantled. His story illustrates the blurred borders between myth and history – how an architect of destruction was turned into a national symbol.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Oct. 10, 2016.
In a statement posted on a government website Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, the authorities said Meng Hongwei, China’s vice minister for public security, was being investigated due to his own "willfulness and for bringing trouble upon himself." (Du Yu/Xinhua via AP, File)