BlackBerry pioneer says global village wants Canadian voice .. but is it true?

May 11th, 2008 | By | Category: Countries of the World

In the midst of the manufacturing blues, and the rise of the new petro resource dynamism in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even Newfoundland, Jim Balsillie’s Research In Motion, inventor of the amazing BlackBerry, is one thing that says Southern Ontario still has an interesting future. So when Mr. Balsillie tells the Canadian Press annual dinner that “Canadians need to become more involved in global issues and make their voices heard,” someone ought to be listening.

His main point is: “It’s not that the Canadian voice isn’t valued, it’s that we’re not there, we’re not voicing … You gotta do what you can.” You also have to pay more attention to what the world wide web says about the global village today. Beyond the sadness of Lebanon and Myanmar/Burma, e.g., what about Hu’s recent path-breaking visit with Fukuda in Japan? Or the Hong Kong maid from Indonesia who is in “court after sex with boss’s teenage son“? What about the “violent-and spreading-Maoist insurgency” that threatens India’s “runaway growth“? What’s going on with the euro? Or democracy in Kuwait? And how come Australia has two of the world’s 10 “most stylish cities,” but Canada has none?

1. Sadness of Lebanon and Myanmar/Burma …

Yet another crazy wave of violence in Lebanon “was triggered when the government declared Hezbollah’s military communications network illegal. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday the government decision was a declaration of war.”

Broadly speaking, it seems (and for what such fine points are worth), Hezbollah is Shia, and the government is Sunni (and Christian, etc, no doubt). Iran supports Hezbollah. The US and Israel support the government. Iran is blaming the US and Israel for this latest burst of trouble in a much troubled land. The US and Israel are blaming Iran. What could Canada do here – beyond praying that the Lebanese people find something better to do with their time than murdering each other, over whatever it is they have such violent feelings about? (And in any case the latest word here from Canada’s self-proclaimed national newspaper is “Crisis eases in Lebanon.”)

As far as the recent “devastating cyclone in Myanmar” (aka Burma) goes, Canada actually is already trying to do something there. As we write: “A reconnaissance unit from the Canadian Forces’ Disaster Response Assistance Team is en route to Thailand to pave the way for a deployment to cyclone-stricken Myanmar.

“The country, also known as Burma, has not accepted Canada’s offer to send DART to help the starving survivors of a cyclone that observers have projected could claim as many as 100,000 lives. But the recce’ team is preparing for the possibility Canada’s offer will be accepted and is setting up a site in Thailand, which is adjacent to Myanmar.” Noting such headlines elsewhere as “UN Resuming Aid to Myanmar After Dispute With Junta” (i.e. the military dictatorship currently running Myanmar/Burma), we can only say good luck!

2. “Fukuda, Hu put focus on future … Japan, China bypass history issues, hint at gas-field deal in crucial summit”

In Canada’s wildest Jim Balsillie-type dreams, there could be some very vague analogy between Japan and China on the one hand, and Canada and the United States on the other. (The population ratios, e.g., are similar.) But, as Mr. Balsillie is complaining, for starters no one in Canada – or certainly far too few – is or are taking any such dreams seriously. And if you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else … etc, etc?

On the other hand again, Japan’s historic ambitions vis-a-vis China – even though some say there is no real or even unreal difference between Japanese and Chinese culture, etc, etc, etc – have not led to the kind of more or less friendly relations that Canada enjoys with the United States. (“You’re not from a foreign country,” Chris Matthews on MSNBC TV said with a wide smile to a guest the other night: “You’re just from Canada.”)

Nonetheless, Japanese “Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed Wednesday [May 7] to make 2008 the year for boosting their nations’ mutually beneficial’ relationship, as Tokyo hosted the first Chinese leader to visit in 10 years … The previous visit, made by Jiang Zemin in 1998, saw Japan criticized for its wartime invasion of China.

“In a joint statement issued by Fukuda and Hu, Japan and China agreed simply to squarely face history and move toward the future.’ No specific mention was made of the history issues that have badly strained bilateral ties in recent years … Later, at a joint news conference, Fukuda said the two nations have made major progress’ in their feud over joint development of a gas field straddling their disputed exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.”

3. But did the Indonesian maid in Hong Kong make her employer’s teenage son happy?

The global village is a more mysterious place than you might think – as this recent Reuters’ report illustrates: “A 45-year-old Indonesian maid admitted having sex with her Hong Kong employer’s 14-year-old son after watching Internet porn together, a newspaper reported on Tuesday [May 6] … A court heard how the maid, a divorcee and mother of two, had sex with the boy in a relationship that lasted five months …

“The boy tried to end the affair, but she refused … The teenager eventually confessed to the relationship to the leader of a Christian group he belonged to and the maid was arrested … The maid, Suwartin, had worked with the boy’s extended family for 11 years and pleaded guilty to five charges of committing an indecent act with an under-age partner … She later apologised and said she would live with the shame of what she had done for the rest of her life’ … She will be sentenced in two weeks’ time … Maids from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are often the subject of court cases in richer neighbours such as Hong Kong and Singapore, but usually as victims of abuse rather than offenders.”

4. The Wonder That Is India Today …

Like China, and other richer neighbours such as Hong Kong and Singapore, India has a bold new economic future in the global village.

Business Week in the United States, however, has lately been investigating “Naxalites-Maoist insurgents who seek the violent overthrow of the state and who despise India’s landowning and business classes. The Naxalites have been slowly but steadily spreading through the countryside for decades. Few outside India have heard of these rebels, named after the Bengal village of Naxalbari, where their movement started in 1967. Not many Indians have thought much about the Naxalites, either. The Naxalites mostly operate in the remote forests of eastern and central India, still a comfortable remove from the bustle of Mumbai and the thriving outsourcing centers of Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Bangalore …

“Yet the Naxalites may be the sleeper threat to India’s economic power, potentially more damaging to Indian companies, foreign investors, and the state than pollution, crumbling infrastructure, or political gridlock. Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth-and just when foreign companies are joining the party-the Naxalites are clashing with the mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success. The threat doesn’t stop there. The Naxalites may move next on India’s cities, where outsourcing, finance, and retailing are thriving.”

Most recently, Naxalities have been especially strong in the mining regions of eastern and central India, traditionally inhabited by so-called “tribals” or indigenous peoples – “who descend from India’s original inhabitants and are largely nature worshippers.” There are some parallels with the recent activities of Canadian mining companies at the edge of aboriginal lands in Northern Ontario, e.g. And some Canadian mining companies have been involved in eastern India as well.

Alcan Inc, still headquartered in Montreal (and now part of something called Rio Tinto Alcan – also alluded to in the Business Week article) has been a case in point. According to another recent report: “Thousands of tribal and low-caste people living in Kashipur, India prefer to die rather than abandon their lands to make way for Alcan’s proposed mine and refinery. Local residents have organized massive mobilizations against the project …

“In 2000, three protesters were killed and several others injured. Alcan suspended operations after the incident until it was satisfied that local authorities would responsibly enforce the law and keep order. The villagers have found an important ally in Canada. Alcan workers in British Columbia, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers union, have vowed that they will not smelt any alumina originating from Kashipur … On April 12, 2007, Alcan announced its intention to sell its 45% interest in India’s Utkal Alumina International.”

5. A Euro milestone … and Democracy in Kuwait …

The rise of a common (continental) European currency has been just one of many globalizing signs over the past number of years. It is also proof that “globalization” and “Americanization” are not one and the same thing – or even that China and India are not the only alternatives to Americanization, and so forth, on and on …

According to a May 1 article in the International Herald Tribune: “The euro turns 10 next January, a milestone that will be marked with celebratory speeches, inch-thick scholarly papers and a commemorative two-euro coin, designed by a Greek sculptor … By most yardsticks, Europe’s common currency has been a success, emerging as an alternative to the fading dollar for bond dealers, central bankers, Chinese exporters, even Jay-Z, the American rapper, who put a pop-cultural imprimatur on the currency by flashing a wad of 500-euro notes in a music video …

“Yet fissures are forming in the European monetary union that threaten to widen in coming months … Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain – the sun-drenched fraternity sometimes called Club Med – are struggling with eroding competitiveness, rising prices and bloated debts. Meanwhile, Germany, the sick man of Europe for most of the euro era, is suddenly vigorous again. Economically fit after years of reforms and fortified by brisk global demand for its machinery and other goods, it has fended off China to retain its status as the world’s export champion … Germany’s northern neighbors are generally doing well, too, which has rekindled talk of a north-south divide.”

Meanwhile, those who think that Turkey, where tourists can often at least get away with using euros instead of the as yet still prevailing local currency, is the only remotely serious “Islamic democracy” in the global village today might at least briefly consider the case of Kuwait. This “tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people” is approaching “its latest round of elections.” And “both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf” there are those who wonder if it isn’t suffering at the moment from “too much democracy.” Check out “In Democracy Kuwait Trusts, but Not Much,” in the May 6 New York Times, if you want to explore at somewhat greater length what is an interesting enough subject, for outward-looking Canadians and others too.

6. The world’s 10 “most stylish cities”?

Of course no list of anything in the world today should be taken all that seriously. But some are a bit more interesting than others. And a list of the “world’s most stylish cities” recently compiled by Simon Anholt, editor of the journal Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, is a case in point.

As this list sees the contemporary earthly universe: “Paris has La Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honor. New York is home to Fifth and Madison avenues … But none can match London’s cosmopolitan vibe. One third of the city’s population was born outside Britain … that’s 2.3 million Londoners sharing their cultural style, fashion and cuisine. This mix gives tremendous vibrancy to the city, the world’s most stylish … Sydney, Australia; Rome; Barcelona, Spain; Melbourne, Australia; Berlin; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Madrid, Spain, round out the top 10.”

Just to start with, no doubt, this is all too Eurocentric. It leaves out not just Asia and Africa, but most of the Western Hemisphere too. And here a Canadian in particular is bound to ask: How come Australia has two cities in the top 10, while Canada gets none – in English or French?

There is at least an official explanation: “Everyone loves Australia,’ says Anholt. It’s a fantastic brand, and it basically all comes down to Crocodile Dundee. That film did wonders for the image of Australian cities. It’s had so much airtime all over the world and Australia is now perceived as the perfect country: warm, rich, welcoming and civilized.'”

Maybe what Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie of Research In Motion should really be doing with his extra money is helping to bankroll some kind of similar movie about Canada? (Polar-Bear Harper? Or Deer-in-the-Headlights Dion? Or even Beaver Balsillie?)

Until then, at any rate, Mr. Balsillie has at least “spent $1 million to kick off the creation of the Canadian International Council, a public policy think-tank.” And, according to Stephen Brunt in the Globe and Mail: “With the US economy tanking, things looking up for Balsillie’s dream of owning NHL team.” Finally, we should all no doubt take the ultimate message to heart, again, again, and again: “It’s not that the Canadian voice isn’t valued, it’s that we’re not there, we’re not voicing … You gotta do what you can.”

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