Tag Archives: china

The fight for Hongkong continues subtly

When Britain prepared to transfer the sovereignty of Hong Kong, London signed the Treaty with Peking to pave the way for a ‘One Country Two Systems’ (1C2S) Chinese rule over Hong Kong. Although the people of Hong Kong were not consulted, the plan seem logical at the time – it solved one of Britain’s moral liability and such power sharing / devolution is actively implemented within Britain and other decolonised territories. The governance model, was of course, not a new political model but a well-oiled framework used frequently by 1982.  When revealed to HongKongers that the question of Hong Kong will be resolved on 1st July 1997 under 1C2S, veteran democracy politician Martin Lee said “This is a moment when all Chinese people should feel proud”. He went on to mention that it could be a progressive way for Mainland China to catch up with the Rule of Law and way of life that Hong Kong had demonstrated for the Chinese people.

Such were the goodwill and courage from HongKongers. There were no plans to scuttle the will from Peking or London; there was no mutiny planned to bring instantaneous seismic changes to how Mainland China should be governed. But certainly HongKongers actively find ingenious ways to be represented even when seldom conferred, in order to treasure their identity. They challenged the crisis where the territory’s dollar crashed, and stabilised by pegging HK Dollars to the US Dollars through reserves achieved from the economic success of HongKongers. Also, the pro-democracy camp devoted time into social welfare, work rights and endeavour as much electoral reforms as possible drawn up since the times of Governor Mark Young. Although diplomats will only voice their concerns of a Chinese controlled 1C2S, HongKongers actively engage to give it the best chance and to make do with a future penned in other cities. The people of Hong Kong may never have had full democracy in their land, but certainly can express themselves in a democratic way.

Therefore, it could never be true that the people of Hong Kong destabilise or bring foul to their hometown. When 2 million clashed with the government on the streets in 2019, it was an act of perseverance of our efforts. There was a moment when there could have been a progressive way forwards, or at the very least, where both parts of China can excel in each of their own ways.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Nine weeks. This is how much time – according to the International Grain Council – that the world has before the Ukraine War sets the world on an unalterable course towards world famine. This is because in nine weeks Ukrainian farmers will start harvesting the winter grain crop and start moving it to portside harbours to be shipped out via the Black Sea. The problem is that those silos are already filled with 200 million tons of grain from the previous harvest because of the Russian naval blockade and destruction of Mariupol. If that grain is not moved – and moved quickly – the winter harvest will simply rot in the fields and the same fate awaits the Ukrainian autumn harvest and every subsequent harvest until the silos are emptied and the blockade lifted.

On top of that, Western sanctions are blocking the export of Russian grain. Between them, Ukraine and Russia, account for 20 percent of the world’s grain production. They also contribute mightily to the global stores of rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds and oil, barley and (with Belarus) potash for fertiliser. Africa and the Middle East obtain 40 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia – 95 percent of it shipped via the Black Sea.  The UN is desperately trying to negotiate a naval corridor to rescue the grain. Turkey is also trying to mediate and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara this week to discuss the problem. But a diplomatic solution seems unlikely. Russia refuses to cooperate until Western sanctions are lifted. Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its grain and Moscow says the responsibility for clearing the mines it laid blocking the harbours is Ukraine’s responsibility. Until those issues are resolved the grain stays in the silos and the harvest in the fields.

During Cold War One the US and Soviet Union flexed their economic muscle to compete for economic influence in the developing world. America – with its deeper pockets – won. Now the battle is between Washington and Beijing and the economically powerful Chinese are pulling ahead. They are now the number one trading partner for most countries in Africa and Asia. But most worrying for the US is the growth of Chinese investment and trade in what it regards as its backyard – Latin America. Between 2002 and 2019, China’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean grew from $18 billion to $316 billion. China is now the number one trading partner with every major Latin American country except Mexico. With this trade comes political power and influence.

Chinese success was the driving force behind President Joe Biden’s decision to call this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles but the gathering was not the success he had hoped for. Various initiatives were discussed: a new development bank, training for 500,000 health workers; a food security programme and a “climate partnership.” But the US only invited what it regarded as democratic governments to the summit which excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This angered many of the other attendees (including neighbouring Mexico) who registered their displeasure by sending their foreign ministers instead of the head of government as requested. As the US Congress pores over the details of any Latin American programme there will doubtless be strings attached to any trade or aid deals. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese. They are interested in only in the money, markets and access to strategic raw materials. The governments with which they deal are free to champion or suppress human rights without comment or interference from Beijing – for now.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29th May 2022

The 27 EU heads of government are meeting in Brussels next week to supposedly confirm plans to stop imports of Russian oil and gas. It may not happen. Decisions have to be unanimous. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has signalled that he will block the move.

Hungary is dependent on Russian fossil fuels for 100 percent of its energy needs. These can only be delivered by pipelines because Hungary is landlocked. All the pipelines run from Russia. The other EU countries have offered to give Hungary a two-year grace period to find alternative sources. But Orban maintains that he has no alternatives and that stopping imports of Russian gas would destroy the Hungarian economy.

At the same time, the newly re-elected Hungarian leader has used the war in Ukraine to declare a state of emergency which allows him to effectively rule by decree.  Orban claims that the Ukraine war “represents a constant threat to Hungary.” He has already used his new powers to impose fresh taxes to finance an increase in defence spending. Many fear that Orban will abuse the state of emergency to bypass parliament and suppress critics. He is already under attack from Brussels for damaging Hungary’s democratic institutions and the EU is threatening to withhold development funds because of that and allegations of corruption. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “Hungary was already no longer free, now it is no longer a democracy”.

With all this talk about Taiwan and ambiguous or clear US policies on the issue of whether or not to defend the island, one thing has been slightly overlooked – chips. To be precise advanced semi-conductor computer chips. Taiwan produces 92 percent of the world’s advanced semi-conductor computer chips. The remaining eight percent come from South Korea. These tiny electrical conductors are to technology what oil and gas are to industry and transport. Without them our computer-dependent world would come to a sudden halt.

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Observations of an expat: Xi in Trouble

“We do things better than the West,” is the oft-chanted mantra of the Chinese leadership.

And since Covid emerged from Wuhan the authorities have proudly pointed to their handling of the pandemic as proof of the superiority of the Chinese system as infections and deaths soared in Europe and America while China’s Zero Covid Policy seemed to be keeping a lid on the virus.

That is changing, and the change is threatening President Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

Xi’s problem is that his Zero Covid Policy is making Chinese people think that his cure is worse than the disease.

The policy involves complete lockdown to prevent the spread of infection. In Shanghai recently that meant that China’s commercial hub and the world’s busiest port was shut down.  All 27 million residents were barred from leaving their homes except for medical emergencies.

Babies were separated from their parents. People could not go to the shops to buy food and officials locked people inside their homes. Food and medical supplies were rationed. They were meant to be delivered but too often never appeared.

Shanghai is China’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. Its citizens are used to the trappings of Chinese economic success and enjoy a relatively free lifestyle. They objected to the lockdown and the policy behind it.

The Communist Party censored the objections but tech-savvy residents managed to circumvent the Great Firewall of China to post videos on Western social media of people banging pots and pans in protest and displaying banners which read: “I want my freedom back.”

Shanghai is beginning to return to normal, but Beijing and its 22 million inhabitants is heading for the zero policy lockdown. So far this year 373 million Chinese have suffered severe lockdown measures.

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Book review: “The Avoidable War” by Kevin Rudd

As the title of the book suggests, the author believes meeting jaw to jaw would be far better than catastrophic conflict and war between the US and China.  He also lays out in painstaking detail no less than 10 different scenarios, as a “cautionary guide” to policy makers navigating the dangerous waters in the decade ahead.

Would America have their Waterloo moment with China taking over Taiwan militarily or will it relive a new Korean stalemate with protracted military conflict and large- scale casualties on both sides?  Of course, ideally China and the US could also find themselves within a new world order without the need for military confrontation (Xi’s Optimal Plan).

At an interview last month following the launch of the book in Washington, Rudd said that writing the book was like giving birth to an elephant.  Indeed, the book is no light reading from a heavy weight Sinologist, former PM of Australia and current President and CEO of the Asia Society think tank.  Yet I raced through the chapters without too much effort, finding the tone and style flowing and engaging. Rudd also managed to dissect complex issues into bite sized chapters, shedding light on China’s concentric circles of concern and influence.

The kernel that lies within the first concentric circle is of course the Chinese Communist Party and the politics of staying in power.  Rightly or wrongly, Xi and the leadership believe that China needs strong central leadership lest it dissolves into bickering camps or breaks up like the Soviet Union had in 1991. With Xi Jinping thought now embedded in the Chinese Constitution and the removal of 2 fixed terms of the Presidency, the next 20th Party Congress in the second half of 2022 is likely to deliver the result he wants.

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Observations of an expat: more global moves

The Ukraine War continues to create tectonic shifts on the global diplomatic scene.  This week it has helped Beijing stake its claim to Afghanistan and Central Asia as a Chinese sphere of influence.

Also in Asia, New Delhi has become the centre of diplomatic ferment as East and West bid for support from the South Asian giant.

At the same time, the EU has ditched its “talk about trade only” policy with China to join the US in pressuring Xi Jinping to come out against the war.

In the meantime, Putin has turned the energy screws on Europe by demanding that they pay for his gas in roubles in order to support the sanctions-damaged currency.

The move has been welcomed by Beijing who think that the Western alliance will collapse in the face of the energy crisis. The EU and US however, remain united in demanding that China must not help Russia circumvent sanctions, climb off its rickety fence, act like a responsible global power with a stake in the world order, and pressure Putin to stop the killing in Ukraine.

But let’s start first in Afghanistan and central Asia where China has organised a multilateral initiative to stake its claim to replace the US as the major foreign power in Central Asia following the American retreat.

The diplomatic manoeuvrings started last week with a visit to Kabul by Chinese delegation led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi described his guests as “the most important high-level delegation received by Afghanistan.”

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Ukraine’s Chinese characteristics

Today’s FT headline reads “China offers role as peacemaker”. The article says more carefully “China signalled it was ready to play a role in finding a ceasefire in Ukraine…” But would it be a trusted impartial negotiator?

At the Olympic Games last month, Presidents Putin and Xi said that friendship between their countries had “no limits” and no “forbidden” areas of cooperation. Beijing has joined Moscow in opposing further NATO expansion.

Since then, even if Beijing has refused to term President Putin’s assault on Ukraine as an “invasion”, it has been profoundly uneasy about Russian recklessness.

Clearly this is because of China’s unequivocal stance on sovereignty and territorial integrity concerning Taiwan, used as an excuse as well to justify its claims in the South and East China Seas which they are asserting militarily.

Hence China’s abstentions at the UN Security Council twice on the invasion of Ukraine. And comments by China’s Foreign Policy Chief Wang Yi just before the invasion at the Munich Security Conference about the importance of maintaining territorial integrity “including Ukraine’s”.

China’s fence-sitting so far allows it to take advantage of the current situation where it can: the famous win-win situation quoted often by Chinese leaders which many interpret as China wanting to have it both or all ways.

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The silence from the Government on the Winter Olympics in Beijing is eerie

When a person here at home comes forward to say they are sexually assaulted, we expect a criminal investigation. We also expect debates in our legislations and police funding why further crimes are not prevented. What we will not expect is for the victim to be disappeared and reappeared by a state media while there is neither investigation nor freedom for the person being sexually assaulted to be approached. In China, when tennis star Peng Shuai accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, she is confined into further danger and injustice. Our Government has stayed eerily quiet when major sporting events are held in countries with tarnished human rights records. While sources say Downing Street is mulling the diplomatic boycott we call for, the continuous inaction is fuelling legitimacy for the autocratic regime.

The Chinese Communist Party loves to portray sports. While Hollywood sometimes glorify breaking the curse of the ‘Sick Man of Asia”, Beijing is just as fascinated pushing for strengthening physique with national figureheads. Chinese leaders are shown swimming against fierce waves in the Yellow River. When President Xi does not swim, he is demonstrated to enjoy football. Probably he may also think it is not worth ending his President for life title in the Yellow River. It is interesting David Cameron played along with the Chinese leader in his portrayal, giving him a visit to Manchester City during Xi’s state visit. It is another ignorance to the fact the Chinese leadership always has a hidden agenda. The Winter Olympics simply cannot improve human rights record in China. In fact, allowing Beijing 2022 to be held normally will contribute to the Chinese party’s narrative.

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World Review: America and China, Austrian vaccination and India’s farmers

It has been an interesting week for Sino-American relations and China in its own right. It started with the two countries agreeing to cooperate on climate change policies. There were no details in this proposed pact, but a start had been made. This was followed by a three-hour virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Both sides basically re-stated long-held positions on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and human rights. But it was done in a friendly manner which meant another reasonable start. Then things started going downhill. The Americans are very upset about the new Chinese hypersonic missile and are being loud in their condemnation. Then Biden said he was considering refusing to send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics. The athletes can go, but the normal contingent of accompanying politicians are now expected to stay at home to protest Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

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Evergrande and China’s controlled rosy picture hanging by a thread

China’s economy is heavily skewed towards property development and the policy derives from party factional wars to control wealth, power and influence. Evergrande is part of this vicious cycle. This resulted in property value accounting for 71.35% of household wealth (Li & Fan, 2020). Similarly, this out of proportion asset balance is reflected in the Chinese political system disproportionate logic of a balance of power. It is important to understand the complication of this economic model so one is not fooled by the rosy pictures when China’s economy is portrayed.

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World Review: Coups, budget, Brexit, hypersonic China, dictatorships and weaponizing energy

This year the world seems to be suffering from a pandemic of coups. Myanmar, Guinea, Mali, Chad Ethiopia (although technically it is a civil war) and now Sudan. There were also attempted coups in Madagascar and the Central African Republic. It is not surprising. The combined forces of covid-19, Jihadism and long-standing ethnic divisions are taking their toll and the first victims are almost always the poorest countries. Sudan is a prime example. The per capita income is just under $4,000 a year. It ranks 181 out of 225 countries in the wealth stakes. In Sudan’s case neither covid nor Jihadism appear to have played a direct role in the military power grab, although both contributed to general dissatisfaction. It seems, however, the prime driver was good old fashioned greed coupled with fear and a hunger for power. For the past two years the country had been in a political transitional period following the removal of Omar al-Bashiri. The military was gradually returning control to civilians, in particular to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. But according to the military, problems arose when competing civilian politicians tried to develop individual power bases within the army, thus raising the spectre of civil war. Their argument carries little weight with either Washington or Brussels, both of whom have cut off aid to Sudan. The Western capitals are concerned about Sudanese developments because of the danger of the civil war in neighbouring Ethiopia spreading into a destabilised Sudan and the combined problems of the two countries destabilising the upper reaches of the Nile River basin and the Horn of Africa.

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World Review: Tensions east, in NATO, in Facebook and in Boris’s Britain

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms comments on the implications of a mutual defence pact between Greece and France for Turkey’s role in NATO. Heading for cooler climes, Covid-19 has reached Antarctica but for those who as destined to suffer or die from malaria in sub-Sharan Africa, a vaccine has been approved for to tackle the disease. Tension are building in the east and Taiwan, China, the US and other countries are in danger of falling into the trap of unintended consequences. Can Facebook be held to account? And how can Boris boast about Britain being one of the world’s wealthiest countries while branding it “broken”?

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World Review: Brexit, China, Korean famine and the French at large

In most China shops I have visited there has been a prominently displayed sign that reads: “If you broke it you own it.” The same sign needs to hang over the door of 10 Downing Street. Boris Johnson led the Brexit campaign. He was elected on a “Get Brexit done” platform. He and his Brexiteering cabinet have broken the British economy with shortages of food, gas, petrol, turkeys and even children’s toys; and yet they refuse to own responsibility for their actions. They blame it on the pandemic and international circumstances. To be fair, the pandemic and world conditions are major contributing factors, but Britain is suffering more than any other Western country and the reasons—as trade association after professional body keeps telling us—is Brexit. The fact is that Johnson and Co had no plan A, B or C beyond the exit door.

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World Review: US ballots, the Quad, Britain as a “vassal state” and vaccinated Africans

In this weekend’s review, Tom Arms reports auditors have discovered that Donald Trump received 261 fewer votes in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Joe Biden 99 more undermining those that called the election result the “Big Lie”. Could the crisis at Evergrande slow China’s economy and that of the world? The “Quad” is a new Indo-Pacific alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia designed to counter the rise of Chinese. India is the outlier in the group perhaps its including might mean it will look more towards the US. France has recalled its ambassadors to Australia and America over the nuclear submarine row but their man in London stayed put, the French claiming Britain has become a “vassal state” of the United States. In another row, vaccinated Americans can visit the UK but vaccinated Africans cannot.

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China: What should be our long-term response?

This year’s autumn conference will see the launch of the party’s Federal International Relations Subcommittee on China to help the party and its members understand and deal with the multifaceted challenges of a rising authoritarian China.

In March 2019, when the UK was part of the EU, the Joint Communication EU-China: A Strategic Outlook came out. It defined the EU’s approach to China in the following way:

China is, simultaneously, in different policy areas, a cooperation partner with whom the EU has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner with whom the EU needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.

The broad-based nature of the relationship allows us to take such a differentiated approach, although it must be said that the possibilities of cooperation are continually narrowing as China takes more strident positions in the world, backed by its Wolf Warrior diplomacy.

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Dates for your diary: The rise of China and 40 years on from the Limehouse declaration

I thought it might be worth sharing a couple of things I’ve registered for this morning.

On Thursday 30th September at 11 am,  the Paddy Ashdown Forum will be hosting a debate on China. The motion is “This House believes that China is interested in coexistence rather than domination.”

This will be a hybrid event, both in person at the National Liberal Club and online. It’s the sort of thing you can listen in to if you are still working from home.

You can get more details and register here. 

The second is a virtual  event being hosted by Queen Mary University and the Mile End Institute on 22nd September at 6:30 pm on the Limehouse Declaration 40 years on. Can the SDP teach us anything today? A panel including Vince Cable, Lib Dem peer Julie Smith, Polly Toynbee who was one of the founder members of the SDP and senior lecturer Peter Sloman. You can register for that one here.

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Observations of an Expat: Nation Building

To nation build or not to nation build? That is the question vexing Western capitals in the wake of humiliating defeat and failure in Afghanistan.

Is it nobler to continue to attempt to export/impose Western political and cultural values to the rest of the world or does Afghanistan spell the end of a policy which has dominated foreign affairs since the end of World War Two?

When NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 they had clear goal: Remove the ruling Taliban from power so that the country ceased to be a base for international terrorism.

But then the policy changed to nation building for two reasons.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29 August

Afghanistan

As Kabul descends into chaos it is becoming painfully clear that this is largely due to poor political leadership in the West. America – Trump and Biden – bear the lion’s share of the blame. Trump for laying the groundwork and Biden for failing to jettison Trump’s work and the serious miscalculation that the government of Ashraf Ghani could hold back the Taliban tide.

But the Europeans also have to accept a big share of the blame, especially British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The British were the lead European partner in Afghanistan. They have (or had) the second largest NATO military force and have a historic involvement in the country. President Biden made it clear back in April that he would withdraw US troops by 9/11 at the latest. Boris did nothing. It was not until the Taliban was banging on the gates of Kabul that he started trying to organise European NATO to persuade Biden to remain in Afghanistan or, at the very least, substantially delay US withdrawal. Even then something may have been salvaged if Boris had not been leading the charge. As one former senior diplomat said: “He has virtually zero credibility with the Biden Administration and every EU capital. He is regarded as lazy, untrustworthy and a political lightweight.”

Western diplomats are fleeing Afghanistan in droves. In fact, most of their embassies now stand empty. But that is not the case with the Russians. Their diplomats are operating at full tilt strengthening relations with the Taliban with whom they have been quietly working for several years. Taliban leaders have been in and out of Moscow since for some time, and at one point the Trump Administration was accusing the Russians of supplying the Afghan Islamic rebels with weaponry. The charge was successfully denied. But the change of regime has been warmly and publicly welcomed by the Russians who maintain that the Taliban victory will bring peace and prosperity to the streets of Kabul and hills and valleys of rural Afghanistan.

Part of the reason for the Russian diplomatic offensive in Afghanistan is to fill the political vacuum left by the West and exploit America’s humiliation and discomfort. But there are also practical considerations. Russia retains wide-ranging economic and military interests in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is concerned that instability, Jihadism and a rogue Taliban will destabilise the other Asian stans and encourage Chechen rebels. They are also concerned that a failed state in Afghanistan will result in an increase in the drug trade with Russia. Moscow still has painful memories of their nine-year war in Afghanistan, but practical politics have won the day.

The UK

More signs that Brexit is beginning to bite. It has taken longer than expected, but the reality factor is replacing the fear factor. As predicted by Remainers, it is the lack of EU immigrant workers which is causing the current problem, especially in the agricultural and trucking industries. The two sectors rely on what is classified as unskilled labour to harvest the crops and move those products to supermarket shelves while still fresh. Unskilled jobs have been traditionally filled by immigrants, mainly because they are dirty, physically exhausting, and low-paid and involve long hours. British workers don’t want them. The result is that the number of lorry drivers is down by 20 percent and agricultural workers by at least 25 percent. Supermarkets are seriously worried about empty shelves.

The response of British Home Secretary Priti Patel is “pay more money and hire British workers.” There are several problems with this diktat. First of all, there is already a general labour shortage caused partly by Brexit and partly by Covid. Next, although, agricultural work and truck driving are classed as unskilled, that is a labour fallacy. Anyone who has spent a day picking strawberries or trying to drive a heavy goods vehicle will testify to the fact. So recruiting indigenous Brits will involve a training period. Which means a delay. Then there is the impact that such a move will have on inflation. Increasing the salaries of 320,000 lorry drivers and 176,000 agricultural workers will have a significant impact on wage inflation. It will also substantially increase the cost of products across the entire range of commerce as transport costs are added to the retail price. Already supermarket chains are paying drivers bonuses of up to 25 percent to move goods to shelves before they spoil. Unable to compete with the private sector will be the public sector, which means, for instance, that local councils face the prospect of a shortage of drivers of dust carts to collect rubbish.

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World Review: Capitol Hill riots, Iran withdrawal, ice cream wars, China and the Taliban

In this weekend’s column, Tom Arms reviews the inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots and whether the Republicans are right to stay away. The American withdrawal from Iraq after 18 years will allow Tehran to expand its influence and move up to the border with Israel. Ice cream producer Cherry Garcia is crossing spoons with the Israeli government over its decision to stop sales of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with a predictable reaction from the Israeli government. Beijing has made it clear that it is sticking to its policy of non-interference in other in countries’ domestic affairs, despite meeting with the Taliban this week.

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Observations of an Expat: China Goes Big Bang

China is building underground silos capable of housing nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. In doing so, they are potentially quadrupling their nuclear arsenal overnight; abandoning an established strategic policy of minimum deterrence and threatening to start a domino-like arms race.

The Chinese have had nuclear weapons since 1964. Exactly how many warheads they have is a state secret, but analysts estimate that the number has been stuck at 250 for a number of years. They wanted just enough to deter an attack but not enough to seriously threaten and thus invite a first strike attack from either the US or Russia. The medium-sized arsenal also fitted in with Beijing’s self-image of a regional rather than global player and, the money could be better spent on climbing out of the economic doldrums.

But times change.

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Wera Hobhouse calls for Olympian steps to halt Xinjiang atrocities

In a Commons debate on Thursday, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse warned it would be unacceptable for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, senior diplomats and officials to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. To do so would give credibility to a regime that is accused of genocide in Xinjiang. Western countries had to take a stance against China’s human rights abuses.

Hobhouse told MPs is totally unacceptable that peaceful demonstrations during protests on the field of play or in medal ceremonies are barred by the IOC under the threat of sanctions. Given the ongoing human rights abuses, is it at all justifiable for the games to go ahead?

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Observations of an Expat: Happy Birthday CCP

There were massed choirs, bands, marching soldiers, clapping children, thousands and thousands of red and yellow balloons and a military flypast. Some 72,000 hand-picked and thoroughly vetted party members packed into Beijing’s Tianmen Square to perform a carefully choreographed warm-up act for a speech by President Xi Jinping to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party.

The main thrust of Xi’s address was that the Communist Party was now China and China was the Communist Party. The two entities have been declared indivisible. The Mandate of Heaven has fallen on the shoulders of the party’s leadership and that the only way that China can continue to develop and take its natural leading place in the world is through dogged loyalty to the diktats of the Chinese Communist Party.

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Reflection on Vince Cable’s article “Shouting at China over alleged Uighur genocide won’t help” in The Independent

Embed from Getty Images

I am at disbelief at Vince Cable’s assessment of the atrocities faced by the Uighurs people and the allusion of self-censorship based on emotional feelings in his article in The Independent yesterday.

The Uighurs are indeed facing a crisis and consequences of genocide that requires international attention. The 38th parallel between North and South Korea can sometimes be comparable to a pristine natural reserve, but one will not celebrate such as an achievement. The economic progress in China may also be a beauty. However, it is pushed forwards by the same autocratic regime that self-inflicted a famine causing the death of 1/3 of its population. Should then the fortune of economic progress be a remedy in consideration of atrocities and corruption by parties in the Chinese regime?

Vince noted he accepted sterilisation occurred to Uighurs in Xinjiang, however denies it amounts to genocide. I disagree with this interpretation. Indeed sterilisation is an occurrence to support the One Child Policy. Yet, the Uighurs population is noted to be put into forced sterilisation programmes in facilities where they do not have the freedom to venture about or out. These are the concentration camps appearing around Xinjiang noted by satellite pictures and filmed by the BBC.

Vince’s argument is that because there are other races and people of different beliefs who are caught up with the acts of sterilisation, therefore when ethnic Uighurs faced internment at facilities and then are put through sterilisation, ergo the lack of genocide. If this interpretation is correct, then one can apply a denial to Auschwitz because more than one group of people are being systematically mistreated and killed. I find the notion of denial disturbing and will utmost disagree to any denial of genocide.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

America’s Republican Party is at a political crossroads. Does it ditch or back Donald Trump? Kevin McCarthy, Leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, knows which direction he prefers. He recently flew to Florida to visit Mar a Lago to kow tow to ex-president Donald Trump. The fact is that most of the Republican members of the lower house represent rural constituencies whose voters continue to declare their loyalty to The Donald. These Congressmen and women are up for re-election in one year and nine months. On top of that, Trump has let slip the rumour that he is considering setting up a third political party to be called The Patriot Party. This would, of course, split the Republican vote. Some polls claim that as much of the third of Republicans would move to a Trump party. But Republicans also have their anti-Trumpists. Most of them are in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Minority Leader, was a Trump acolyte for four years. But after Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and the Capitol Hill riots, the worm turned and declared: “I never want to speak to the man ever again.” Senators, unlike the lower house representatives, are elected for six years and their state-wide constituencies include large left-leaning urban constituencies. Republican senators, therefore, are more likely to join the ditch Trump campaign. But even in the Senate the anti-Trump movement is not so strong among Republicans that they can find the 17 Republican members needed to convict the ex-president in his forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a stark warning this week about the future of the unity of the United Kingdom. In fact, he said that the UK was in acute danger of fracturing and becoming a “failed state.” The main current causes are the political stresses and strains caused by Brexit and the pandemic. Scotland is leading the threatened break-up. The Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In its 2014 independence referendum one of the main reasons the independence route was rejected was fear that the Scots would lose membership of the European Union. In May there were will be elections for the Scottish Parliament and polls indicate a landslide victory for the Scottish National Party. Its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised a demand for a fresh referendum if the pollsters are correct. Northern Ireland also voted against Brexit and the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU has put Northern Ireland firmly into the economic orbit of the EU and Eire. There is thus a growing feeling among the Northern Irish that reunification of the island is now inevitable and moving ever closer. The Johnson government’s handling of the pandemic has worsened matters. There has been little effort by Westminster to consult or coordinate public health actions in the regions. In fact, in most instances the national governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken the initiative which Westminster has belatedly followed. Gordon Brown wants a commission to review how the UK is governed and a campaign that that emphasises the advantage of union such as the NHS and a common defence. Is it too little too late?

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Observations of an expat: A bad year

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2020 has been a bad year. It is certainly the worst I can remember and I have been around for 71 of them.

The main cause is, of course, coronavirus or covid-19. It started in Wuhan, China almost exactly 12 months ago, and as the year draws to a close about two million people worldwide have lost their lives to this deadly virus.

Coronavirus has destroyed lives and livelihoods and although vaccines are now being distributed, it will be some time before the world returns to normal—if ever.

The Chinese were initially slow to respond to the threat. Whether their tardiness was in response to a lack of medical knowledge or political considerations is unclear. It was most likely a combination of the two.

The Chinese appeared to have relatively quickly stopped the spread of the virus; helped partly by long years of experience of pandemics and epidemics and partly as a result of a tightly-controlled society. As a general rule, Asians have fared better than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Most scientists have ascribed their relative success to experience of dealing with similar viruses such as SARS (an earlier form of coronavirus) and Avian bird flu.

Those that have fared better than most were countries who could quickly and efficiently shut their borders to the rest of the world. Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia are four examples, although almost everyone is suffering as winter and covid-fatigue set in.

The worst hit were the countries of the West – Europe and North and South America. There the combined emphasis on individual liberties, lack of experience and knowledge, political ineptitude and an emphasis on wealth over health led to the greatest number of deaths.

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Observations of an expat: Taiwan

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Hong Kong has taught the Chinese leadership that they can’t win the hearts and minds debate. One country, two systems, has not worked.  Neither will Beijing be able to buy support with their economic performance.

All of this raises questions about the future of Taiwan, and recent moves by Beijing are causing an increasing number of misgivings about the possibility of a peaceful solution to a problem as old as the People’s Republic.

Fears that the Chinese Communist Party is moving ever closer to a military solution have been fuelled by recent events. Last month 40 fighter jets from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted a series of sorties over the sacrosanct median line that runs down the middle of the Taiwan Straits.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen responded with a call for tension-reduction talks with Beijing. China’s President Xi Jinping wasted no time in replying. The following day he rejected negotiations, issued a threat to invade Taiwan and released a video of training exercises simulating an invasion of the island.

So what would such an invasion look like and what are its chances of success? Well for a start, the Chinese forces are about five times the size of the Taiwanese military, and they are backed up with nuclear weapons.

But that is not the complete story. Two-thirds of Taiwan is mountains which are much easier to defend than open plains. On top of that, there are only a handful of beaches suitable for Chinese landing craft. If the PLA does successfully land it will face a determined military of 174,000 professional soldiers and a million reservists.  They—and the political hierarchy—will be ensconced in a bewildering labyrinth of mountain tunnels.

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26 September 2020 – conference day 2 press releases

  • Liberal Democrats condemn health inequalities “exposed in technicolour” by Covid crisis
  • Liberal Democrats demand Raab steps up sanctions against China over treatment of Uyghurs
  • Liberal Democrats call on Government to tackle ‘Long Covid’

Liberal Democrats condemn health inequalities “exposed in technicolour” by Covid crisis

In her first keynote address as Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care spokesperson Munira Wilson will condemn the health inequalities “exposed in technicolour” through the COVID-19 crisis, and call for a Minister for Wellbeing to ensure that Government decisions are “fundamentally in keeping with health and wellbeing.” She is expected to say:

The coronavirus has not just laid bare the fundamental problems facing our NHS and care sectors, it has exposed in technicolour the health inequalities facing the UK, and shown us why we need to rethink the way we see healthcare as a whole.

We have seen the impact of poor and overcrowded housing, insecure employment and our broken welfare system on not just our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing.

We have seen those health inequalities play out in real time, most shockingly in the disproportionate impact of COVID on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, on people with disabilities, and on the poorest.

When we think about the future, it’s clear that going “back to normal” is not an option. It is time to re-boot and re-think the way we live our lives, and the Government’s role in helping us to do so in a more sustainable, healthier way.

That starts with making someone at the Cabinet table responsible: a Minister for Wellbeing who will scrutinise the Government’s actions and ensure they are fundamentally in keeping with health and wellbeing.

As well as this, in the same way that Equality Impact Assessments pushed equality up the agenda, we need to introduce wellbeing assessments to make sure new laws empower people to live healthier lives.

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China and its challenge to Liberal Democracy

Anti-Chinese rhetoric is growing, and it is amazing how seamlessly our enemy number one has shifted from Islamic extremism to an expansionist China with barely the blink of an eye. 

No longer do we have a War on Terror but the spectre of a new Cold War. 

Accusations against Chinese President Xi Jinping are beginning to mirror those against Middle Eastern dictators when complexities of cultures and societies were concertinaed into cartoon-style characters of evil such as with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. 

We all know what happened there and, unless we are vigilant, we may be walking into another disastrous trap. 

With gulag-style camps in Xinjiang and the crackdown against political dissent in Hong Kong, such criticism against China are justified. 

The question is, however, what can liberal democracies do that is effective. 

A first step is to look more at ourselves and reestablish liberal democratic values that in the past two decades have fallen into a sorry state of repair. 

Liberal democracy was once heralded as a beacon for delivering security and freedom. Failure in the Middle East and North African conflicts has shredded that reputation. 

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Why Britain should worry about Kashmir

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Kashmir is one of those decades-long conflicts which rarely makes it into the mainstream UK media;  until recently. In June this year 20 Indian soldiers died in fighting with Chinese soldiers, on the border between Indian-administered and Chinese-administered Kashmir.

So what is the nature of the conflict and why has it become much more dangerous this year ?

Central to the recent upsurge in violence, lies China-India relations. To understand, we must start with ‘British India’.

After Indian independence following WW2, Kashmir was divided into Pakistan administered and Indian administered territory, with two smaller areas controlled by China. Both the Pakistani and Indian administered sides are majority Muslim, except (Buddhist) Ladakh, on the Chinese border.

India and Pakistan have more than once gone to war over territory, and so have India and China.

When Indian administered Kashmir was established, the spectre of future Kashmiri independence was raised, and significant autonomy provided for in Article 370 of the Indian Constitutions, later also by Article 35A.

Among these provisions were restricted involvement of the Indian state (foreign policy, defence etc). Land ownership and receipt of public services like education and health were restricted to Kashmiris. Article 370, leading potentially to independence, was a factor in the measure of acceptance by Kashmiris of Indian administration early on.

However, in the late 1980s an insurgency by Muslim Kashmiris against Indian administration started, with various forms of support, overt and covert, from Pakistan. This rise in violence against Indian rule was largely a result of gradual erosion of autonomy and democracy;  and fading prospects of independence.

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Under China’s Shadow

The new “cold war” in the far east, in reaction to China’s economic power and military build-up, is set to cause the United States to strengthen its military presence in the region. There is speculation that Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Elizabeth is going to be permanently based in the far east. It certainly will make its maiden voyage through the South China Sea. But what of the nations in the SE Asian area?

Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines certainly reject China’s claims to all of the South China Sea. Indeed, the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling at The Hague sided with the Philippines and rejected China’s “nine-dash line” maritime claims. However, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries as a block are unlikely to side with the United States. Trade with China now exceeds that of the EU in the ASEAN region and the countries look to China to revitalize their economies especially in the wake of the fallout from covid-19.

While China seeks to resolve disputes through its Code of Conduct with ASEAN, this document suffers limitations. Its geographical scope remains undefined. Does it include all of the South China Sea or only parts of it?

Second, its legal status has not been defined. Unless it is binding it will be ineffective.

Third, the applicability of international norms remains doubtful. As mentioned, China has ignored the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Ruling. The Code of Conduct needs an effective monitoring mechanism for enforcing international law and norms. China must not seek to impose its will unjustly on others. It has fired on Vietnamese fishing vessels and in the past, China has asked Vietnam to stop oil drilling with a Spanish company and threatened war if the Philippines tried to enforce the Court of Arbitration ruling or drilled oil in the disputed areas. Indeed, China seeks to exclude foreign oil companies from the South China Sea.

Fourth, there is no agreement on the dispute mechanism.

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