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Global Summit: An International Perspective

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Konstantin Sonin
(Charles Maynes)
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The outcome of this weekend's G-20 summit may still be a mystery, but many of the countries attending have their own goals for the meeting as the economic crisis ripples out from the U.S. across the globe. So we thought we'd hop through some time zones and look at the summit from a few different national perspectives. Our first guests join us two oil-producing states - there's a little argument over which one is producing more oil these days. Abdullah Al Alami is an economic researcher based in Saudi Arabia. And Konstantin Sonin is an assistant professor at the New Economic School in Moscow.

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John Moe: Abdullah, I'll start with you. Going into this weekend summit, what's on the agenda for Saudi Arabia? What are they hoping to accomplish?

Abdullah Al Alami: Well, I think King Abdullah is going to deliver a strong message. He is going to tell the world that we have plenty of oil and we are going to deliver, so trust us. We are also suffering. Just the fact that we are the largest oil producer country in the world does not necessarily mean that we are outside the financial crisis. We are suffering as well. Some of our projects are going to be delayed. Oil prices are going down. So he's going to say, I think, that we are all in the same boat.

Moe: And Konstantin Sonin, what about Russia? What are they, what are they trying to accomplish this weekend?

Konstantin Sonin: I think for Russian leaders, it's extremely important to assert the Russian role in world affairs. So basically they will put forward a very ambitious geo-political agenda. They will try to abstain from talking about economic, particular economic issues, and probably they will try to become a kind of a voice of non-American countries, of countries that are outside of the American sphere of influence.

Moe: What will a successful summit look like from the point of view of your respective governments?

Sonin: Generally, the big success of this summit is already in the fact that countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Australia, India--the countries that play a major role, probably not less than those that are already in the G-7 group--they are invited. And this is, I think, the biggest success. And from the Russian standpoint, the main success will be if the Russian voice will be heard, and will be heard in proportion to our contribution to the world gross product.

Moe: Abdullah Al Alami?

Al Alami: I think the message, like I say, that the King is going to deliver is not only for international purposes, but also for local purposes. Like the American dream, the average American citizen would like to own a house and have a good job--just like that, an average Saudi citizen would like to, you know, get a job, a decent job. He'd like to own his own home and maybe raise a good family and have his kids go through some quality education and with some quality medical care. That's probably the average Saudi dream, so the message that the King is going to deliver, the level of success is how will the average Saudi citizen react to that? Not only how the rest of the world will react to the Saudi King's assurances, but how will the average Saudi citizen also react to the message?

Moe: Abdullah Al Alami and Konstantin Sonin, thank you so much.

Sonin: Thank you.

Al Alami: Thank you for hosting us.

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We heard Konstantin Sonin mention China there, and that country is certainly a big player in the world economy today. China's economy is still growing despite the global financial crisis, but it IS slowing down. That's got the government so concerned that this week it announced what it called a $586 billion stimulus package. Some of that spending isn't really new money, but it's still a big package. At the same time, the government doesn't want folks to panic. I spoke with Jocelyn Ford, an independent journalist based in Beijing, and asked her what signs of a slowdown she's seeing there.

Jocelyn Ford: You know, in my neighborhood, interestingly enough, the first sign was from the recycling industry. Now in China, what happens is this is a job where people come into the city from the countryside. They're driving these tricycle carts; they come door to door, and they pay you for your empty plastic water bottles, your empty tin cans, your old newspapers. And then they cart them out to the suburbs to a big, huge, massive-piles of junk--and they sell it there and they make money on the price in between. Well, I heard that, you know, shortly after the Olympics, around September, the price of all this waste had just fallen so much that a lot of these people were out of a job-- essentially, couldn't make a living. But a lot of people have been fairly optimistic: "Oh, China can, you know, China's different." And in part--you know, China's finance banks are still fairly closed off to the world economy-but in part that's also because of what I call the Happy News. The censors have been endeared, saying the usual, "This is good, we're doing OK, folks. Uh, there's a little bit to worry about on the horizon, but we'll pull through."

John Moe: And Jocelyn, when you say "happy news," what does that mean?

Ford: I once worked inside China's state media for China Radio International, and basically we were told, "You can have a few critical articles or news reports out there, but we want the vast majority of them to be upbeat and positive." So often times what we'd do is, you package a story as, "There was this problem but we've solved it, or we're on our way to solve it." You do not report on problems before they're solved. And we've seen a certain amount of that with the Chinese media in the financial crisis.

Moe: So it's almost outside the realm of pure propaganda and into a way of finessing the economy, which is so much based on psychology and anxiety.

Ford: If you want your people to keep on spending to keep the economy going--because now domestic demand is all that much more important in China, for both China and the world--then why not print news that's going to make people feel a little bit better? They're trying to stop housing prices from falling to stop people from getting too scared and not buying stuff. And so, we're not going to print all that bad news all the time.

Moe: Weekend America is going to be the new official Happy News organ of the United States government. I think we should apply for a grant.

Ford: Your economic problems will be over. The world will be a better place. Hey! Join the crowd.

Moe: Jocelyn Ford is an independent journalist based in Beijing. Jocelyn, thanks.

Ford: Thanks. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

  • Music Bridge:
    Modern By Nature's Reward
    Artist: Jonas Reinhardt
    CD: Jonas Reinhardt (Kranky)

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