THE INDEX — July 2, 2010

Israel and Turkey initiated a series of secret meetings this week, in an effort to mend a relationship damaged by the Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship bound for Gaza in late May.

Turkey is demanding Israel compensate for the loss of nine Turkish lives by publicly apologizing for its action, allowing for an international investigation, and releasing three vessels seized during the raid. While Israel has yet to agree to Turkish terms, there are already plans for future meetings between the two countries.

These meetings, however, have created quite a stir both within Israel and Turkey. Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli foreign minister, claimed he was not notified of the secret talks and stated that this incident could cause “serious harm” to his shaky coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

Blogger Mustafa Akyol also expressed resentment, writing that the Turkish-Israeli relationship was beyond repair. Citing an Israeli war hawk’s might makes right mantra, Akyol stated, “Well, that might be a popular belief in Tel Aviv and Occupied Jerusalem, but not here in Istanbul. In fact, our creed tells us that the exact opposite is true: Right, sooner or later, makes might.”

—Yaffa Fredrick


In an effort to address growing labor unrest, a number of Chinese provinces have increased the minimum wage.

Around ten provinces (although China Daily puts this number at 18 or more) have raised the minimum wage by an average of 20 percent, and in some cases as much as 33 percent, with more provinces expected to do the same in the coming months.

The hope is that such measures will quell the rising worker discontent that has led to strikes at Honda and Toyota plants and suicides by FoxConn workers.  Such incidents highlight the hardships of China’s working class: 12-hour work days, crowded living spaces, few holidays and extreme poverty.  "There is no way to see the future with the wage we are making. Living and working like this, my life has no direction," a Honda worker told AFP, "I dream of one day buying a car or an apartment, but with the salary I'm making now, I will never succeed. The living standards of Chinese workers are pitiful."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao spoke out in solidarity with workers earlier this week, recommending that companies “gradually raise employees incomes.” He told workers, “Your labor is a glorious thing, and it should be respected by society.”

Some see the minimum wage increases as steps in a better direction and signs that China is beginning to see its business sector beyond just cheap labor.  Even so, many disagree.  “The intentions are good but they won’t help to solve labor unrest,” Liu Kaiming, the director of an NGO studying labor issues in China, told BusinessWeek, “The percentage increases in pay appear high but wages are still low and with rising inflation and higher living costs, these increases won’t help workers much.”

In Guangdong province, home to the highest concentration of factories in China (including Honda and Toyota’s), the minimum wage is around 1,000 yuan ($150) a month as of an April increase.  As of Wednesday, Beijing’s is around the same.  But in poorer parts of the country, such as Henan province—which is attracting more and more businesses because of the low cost of operating there—the minimum wage is 600 ($90) yuan a month.  In the words of Geoffrey Crothall, an editor of the China Labor Bulletin: “The basic problem is that even after this increase, the minimum wage is still a very low wage.”

—Caroline Soussloff

A drought across Thailand is expected to affect 44 provinces and cause damage to crops worth 14 billion THB ($43 billion), according to Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Theera Wongsamut.  Droughts have been a big problem in the past, including when the country experienced a food shortage in 2008, as Thailand produces one third of the world’s rice exports and the figure represents just over one seventh of the country’s GDP.

—David Black

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