Guerrilla Gardening

What the foreign papers are saying.
May 2 2000 3:00 AM

Guerrilla Gardening

May Day, the workers' holiday, was marked by newspapers throughout the world Monday, with the main focus on London's third big anti-capitalist demonstration within a year. The Daily Telegraph reported that nearly 15,000 police officers were on standby to deal with any violence. In an editorial, it noted that the anti-capitalists' latest ploy is "guerrilla gardening," which involves urging people to plant seeds around London. "It perfectly illustrates the idiocy of the Green agenda," the paper said. "Taking a long-term interest in a site or business, investing one's labour and resources, and reaping the benefit is practically the definition of capitalism." Under the front-page headline "Red Flag Over London," La Repubblica of Rome noted that "the biggest city on the continent" (which it isn't, because it's not on the continent) and "the richest metropolitan area in Europe, the capital of finance and capitalism, is about to crown as mayor a politician of the extreme left, a populist on the edge of demagoguery, without a party behind him, indeed one whose party has expelled him." It said the anticipated election of former Labor Party Member of Parliament Ken Livingstone Thursday (the opinion polls show him way ahead of the official Labor Party candidate) would be "a triumph of anti-politics, a fine example of what postmodern politics is going to be like."

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In Japan, Asahi Shimbun said the May Day celebrations would be muted because of high unemployment in the country, but in China they are doing things in style. For the second year running, the Chinese government is giving workers a seven-day holiday from May 1 as a means of boosting consumption. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong said in an editorial that last year this "sparked off a spending spree that helped contribute to the achievement of a 7.1 per cent growth rate." The paper said, " 'Holiday economics' is a novel idea not known to have been tried elsewhere. Obviously, as hordes of holiday-makers go sightseeing, shopping and eating out at restaurants, the spending will translate into higher consumption figures in the national accounts. However, if the tally includes losses in productivity resulting from the idling of plants, equipment and labour, the picture may be different."

The official China Daily of Beijing reported Monday that the weather will be excellent during the seven-day national vacation and that tickets for trains leaving Beijing are sold out, even though an extra 134 trains were laid on. The Civil Aviation Authority of China arranged for an extra 1,373 flights to "scenic spots," the paper said. The Beijing Youth Daily reported Sunday that 1.78 million Beijingers plan to leave the capital this week. China Daily also reported that the Chinese government, for the first time in five years, has named "model workers" for the rest of the population to emulate. President Jiang Zemin had honored 2,946 workers "for their contribution in promoting the country's opening-up, reform and modernisation."

In an editorial Monday, the Straits Times of Singapore criticised U.S. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt for saying he will vote against granting China permanent normal trade relations with the United States because this might "sacrifice US leverage over China's behaviour on human rights and religious liberties." The paper said, "Mr Gephardt has got it upside down, and he probably knows it." What would be a recipe for serious trouble is denying China permanent trade status. With Taiwan continuing to be a festering sore in US-China relations, there is nothing else besides economic ties to get relations between the two countries back on track. A China enmeshed in the global trading system, and interested in maintaining that system, is in the long-term strategic interest of the US. … A China kept out of the WTO, subject always to the threats of US politicians and treated as an international outcast, will have no incentive whatsoever to become a responsible member of the global system."

The Straits Times reported a May Day address by the country's manpower minister, Lee Boon Yang, urging Singaporean workers not to fear globalization. "Globalisation, despite what the US labour unions are saying, will break down old barriers to trade and investment and create new markets and job opportunities," it quoted him as saying.

 The South China Morning Post led its front page Monday with the sale in Hong Kong, by the auction house Christie's, of two Chinese national treasures—the bronze heads of a monkey and an ox—looted by British and French troops from an imperial garden in Beijing during the Second Opium War of 1860. The pieces were reportedly sold for $16 million to a mystery buyer from the Chinese mainland. China Daily said the Chinese State Administration of Cultural Relics had urged both Christie's and Sotheby's in Hong Kong to stop sales of such looted treasures because they "hurt the feelings of people" and show "no respect for Chinese laws and international treaties." But according to the SCMP, Christie's said it had no intention of doing so.

In an editorial Monday, the Times of India supported the case of the Microsoft Corp. against the dismemberment proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice. "Microsoft has been a trailblazer in bringing latest developments in computer technology to the personal computer," it said. "What the user gets is not the dreary—and scary—language of technocrazy geeks but icons neatly displayed across the screen that perform magical tricks with just a mouse click. If others have been poor even at playing follow the leader, surely that is not Bill Gates' fault. … Some suspect that the US government's crackdown on Microsoft has more to do with its likely dominance over infotech rather than any real concern for business ethics. There are growing fears that the US might not be able to cope with security issues in the fast moving information age. The Internet could pose a real threat to high-security information, as hackers have already been known to tap into classified sites. Microsoft is threatening to become a supra-national power, and if it controls the very working of the Internet it could well become America's biggest security concern."

Il Messagero of Rome reported Saturday that seven out of 10 Italian men between the ages of 21 and 65 say that if they don't eat pasta, they don't want to make love. "Deprived of fettuccine or penne, they say they are nervous, lacking in physical and psychological energy, sad, and with little sexual desire," the paper said. "It is as if being forced to do without a dish of pasta automatically means that they must also reject the other pleasures of life."

Alexander Chancellor is a columnist for the Guardian.

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