CAMBRIDGE, England — There has been much talk in China recently about hegemony. Some of it has been about denying that China has hegemonic interests in East Asia. But most of it has related to the United States. One wonders if everyone in China understands what is being complained about. I have this image of Chinese President Jiang Zemin with his grandchild on his knee asking “Granddad, what’s hegemony?”

Jiang could have gotten some clues from the Daily Mirror, one of Britain’s largest tabloid newspapers, on July 4, Independence Day in the U.S. “The USA is now the world’s leading rogue state,” it screamed across its front page. “Mourn on the Fourth of July,” it advised its readers in a banner headline.

The Daily Mirror’s complaint was that the U.S. is not only becoming unilateralist but that it is using its superior power to mold the world in its own interests. As examples of its hegemony, it lists the “unsigning” of the Kyoto Treaty on the environment; Washington’s attempt to block the establishment of the International Criminal Court and its successful campaign blocking the court’s jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers; the blocking of proposals for increased aid to the Third World at summits in Rome (by absence) and in Canada and Indonesia (by design); and its expansion of agricultural subsidies that will disrupt world trade. It also suggests that the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns and its support for Israel’s illegal activities in the Palestinian territories are justified in U.S. eyes in terms of securing U.S. access to oil and gas and its policy of “containing” China.

The paper made its point, but it could have gone on and added how the U.S. has reneged on the ICBM treaty with Russia; unilaterally imposed protection on its steel industry in contravention of its WTO obligations; gone ahead with its national and theater missile defense systems knowing that this will spark an arms race with China; and that it is attempting to force Europeans to eat hormone-drenched meat and genetically modified food by forcing us to import them and refusing to allow them to be labeled as such so that consumers can make proper choices.

We cannot say we were not warned. U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that the Bush administration would “proceed from the firm ground of the national interest and not from the interests of an illusory international community.” So there! That’s what hegemony means.

This “America first, at whatever cost to you” doctrine has been well illustrated in the last few weeks. While you have been keeping your eye on the big picture, the international chicken legs and trash communities have been in turmoil because of American policy.

Early last week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told the world that his “patience is about ready to run out” with Russia. He added the threat that if the U.S. does not get a deal on its own terms soon then “we will have to look at other steps, including trade retaliation.” Over chicken legs?

Many Americans only eat easy-to-handle and easy-to-cook chicken breasts. Ever wondered what happens to the rest of the chickens? Well, the feet, heads and other parts go to Jamaica in container loads. They are processed into “Thick and Creamy Cock Soup,” a Jamaican favorite. And the legs go to Russia. This trade is not chicken feed (sorry). It represents the single most important commodity in U.S. exports to Russia, running at almost $700 million a year. At least it was until earlier this year.

As we all now know, salmonella C is easily transmitted to humans through chicken meat. The Russians are also worried that U.S. chickens are stuffed full of antibiotics. They would like to inspect U.S. chicken-processing plants and assure themselves that the chicken meat they buy from the U.S. is free of salmonella C and antibiotics. The Americans refuse to allow them to do this.

The American government simply asserts that U.S. chicken meat is safe, because their poultry producers say it is. The Russians have announced they want new veterinary certificates, saying the old ones were inadequate. They have placed an embargo on the trade unless new certificates are used. Hence the U.S. threat.

The U.S. chicken industry wants Washington to force the Russians to accept the chicken meat on its terms. Just as they are trying to force European consumers to unwillingly and unwittingly eat hormone-saturated meat and GM food.

Meanwhile, over in the trash trade things are also heating up. You probably are not aware that there is a treaty banning trade in hazardous materials: the Basel Convention. And yes, you guessed it; the U.S. is the only developed country not to have signed it.

Ever wondered what happens to the more than 20 million computers U.S. businesses and homes throw away each year? They are shipped to China. This trade is banned under the Basel Convention because computers contain toxic materials, including heavy metals. China is a signatory of the Basel Convention, but these containers get past customs easily. There is a large industry based on recycling what is useful in the old computers and dumping the rest, much of it hazardous toxic waste. The work is carried out by low-paid workers, men, women and children — few of whom are provided with adequate protective clothing. China is now proposing to clamp down on this trade. But don’t hold your breath. Few people expect the U.S. to stop shipping its old computers there.

Now do you understand what hegemony means? If you don’t like it, lump it.

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