Tag Archives: china

President Xi’s next five years – What should Europe’s strategy be?

For readers interested in geopolitics, an event organised by the Federal International Relations Committee may be attractive.

The online webinar starts at 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday evening (8th November) and will be opened by Lord Jeremy Purvis.

George Cunningham, the panel’s moderator, will welcome:

  • renowned sinologist Prof Kerry Brown of King’s College London;
  • Vera Kranenberg, a researcher at the Clingendael China Centre
  • Reinhard Bütikofer MEP, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with China
  • Ms Meia Nouwens, Senior Fellow for Chinese Defence Policy and Military Modernisation at International Institute for Strategic Studies

Anyone interested is asked to register in advance here.

The Federal International Relations …

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Tom Arms’ World Review

COP27

Egypt’s Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh is busily preparing for an invasion of Earth’s political leaders, their extensive entourages and the world’s media. They are not descending on the tourist spot for its sun and sand but for yet another climate change conference.

It will be a difficult one. Last year’s Glasgow get-together committed the developed to providing $1 trillion to wean the developing world off fossil fuels. That was before the Ukraine War and its accompanying energy and cost of living crisis. The money that was earmarked for solar and wind farms in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is now being spent on higher oil prices and state of the art weaponry for Ukraine. Even more money will be required to rebuild Ukraine.

On top of that, the preachy developed world is shelving many of its green projects in favour of quick fix fossil fuels to replace Russian natural gas. All of which means that it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to stick to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees centigrade. This is a difficult to swallow reality, but world leaders may have to switch the climate change emphasis from prevention to adaptability while at the same time trying to limit temperature rises as much as possible.

Putin

Putin is retreating. And it is a big retreat.

Crucial to his war aims is the strategic city of Kherson. It controls access to Russian-held Crimea by land and by the Dnieper River. The river is also a main source of irrigation and drinking water for the province that Russia annexed in 2014. This week the Russian President publicly announced the evacuation of civilians from Kherson. “It is too dangerous for them to remain,” he said. Military medical units have also evacuated and some fighting units have abandoned their foothold on the river’s west bank. Ukrainian victory in Kherson is not yet a foregone conclusion and some defense experts are predicting fierce house to house fighting in the near future.  But the prospects look good for a successful Ukrainian offensive.

Putin’s Kherson problems top another bad week for him in Ukraine. It started with him pulling out of the deal to allow much-needed grain-laden Ukrainian ships out of their ports. The pull-out was in response to an alleged British-organised attack on Russian ships in the Black Sea. Within days he was forced to reverse his position under international pressure and the refusal of Turkey and the UN deal brokers to support him.

Meanwhile, the Russians continue to bomb electricity and water supplies. Ukrainian teams are working around the clock to keep the country’s electricity grid running, but despite their efforts, 4.5 million Ukrainians are said to be without power as winter approaches. An increasing number of the artillery shells are coming from fellow rogue state North Korea which this week raised tensions by despatching 180 warplanes to buzz the border area with South Korea.

China

China is, of course, crucial to international efforts to apply pressure on Russia and North Korea to behave. This week German Chancellor Olof Scholz secured a diplomatic coup in persuading Chinese President Xi Jinping to publicly condemn “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.” The condemnation came in the joint communique at the end of Scholz’s one-day visit to Beijing. Xi refused to allow the communique to mention either Vladimir Putin or Russia by name, but, as Scholz said in the follow-up press conference, the inference was clear.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

China

We will probably never know the reason for the removal of Hu Jintao from the recent Chinese People’s Party Congress. Was it the result of the medical problems of a confused old man? Or was it a crude attempt by Xi Jinping to emphasise that he is now totally in charge?

79-year-old Hu was Xi’s immediate predecessor. His administration was known for corruption, market reforms and greater political freedom; all of which are being suppressed by Xi. There must have been some discomfort among the party grandees about Xi amending the constitution to allow himself to serve a third (and probably fourth, fifth…) term as party leader and president.

Publicly humiliating Hu could have been his way of warning off potential critics. There aren’t many left in the upper reaches of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi has used the party congress to eliminate rivals and confirm acolytes. Good for Xi but bad for the world. Having the world’s most powerful dictator surrounded by Yes Men is not good news.

Franco-German Alliance

The Franco-German Alliance has been at the heart of peace in Europe since 1962 when Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle buried a century of brutal animosity in a service at Reims Cathedral.  But what has been termed the “engine room of the EU” is now showing signs of stalling in the face of the energy crisis, the Ukraine War and relations with America.

French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for an EU-wide agreement to cap gas prices and share resources. Such a move was approved in principle at a recent EU summit but Germany’s Olof Scholz is dragging German feet on agreeing the details. At the same time, the Germans have been using their buying power to secure gas supplies at the expense of less well-off EU members. So far the Germans have filled about 90 percent of their storage capacity while countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are struggling.

There are also differences over defense and how military and economic aid should be directed towards Ukraine. The Germans are keen to use Ukraine to tie Washington closer to the defense of Europe. France sees the war as an opportunity to increase European defense cooperation and are angry at the Germans’ cancellation of Franco-German projects involving a new generation of fighter aircraft and battle tanks. Scholz and Macron were keen to smile for the cameras and minimise their differences at their most recent meeting, but they also postponed a 26 October regular Franco-German ministerial conference until “sometime in January.”

US and Ukraine

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Observations of an expat: elephants and grass

When the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. So goes the ancient proverb of Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe. And at the moment, the adage is particularly apt.

The war in Ukraine is creating an energy and food crisis. This is combined with the effects of climate change, recession and the continuing effects of the Covid pandemic. The world is in the thick of a perfect political and economic storm of global proportions.

Within the developed world, allies are starting to bicker as rich countries use their buying power to outbid their less well-off neighbours in order to hoard dwindling resources.

Money allocated for the welfare of people at home and abroad has been redirected to pay for the wasteful costs of war.  $350 billion has been set aside for rebuilding ravaged Ukraine.

Meanwhile drought, famine and war are ravaging the Horn of Africa. In Kenya the UN reports that 4 million people are “food insecure.” In Ethiopia the fifth drought season in succession is exacerbated by a civil war. And in Somalia Islamic fundamentalists and drought are estimated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to have displaced 6 million people.

On the other side of Africa, desertification in Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria is forcing farmers off the land and providing fertile recruiting conditions for Boko Haram.  Nigeria is also suffering from recent floods which destroyed 175,000 acres of farmland and displaced 1.4 million people.

Africa is not the only continent to suffer. It will take Pakistan years to recover from its recent floods. A quarter of the farmland was lost in a country where a quarter of the country’s national income is dependent on the agricultural industry. The total damage will exceed $40 billion or about one-sixth of the country’s GDP.

In the meantime, Western countries are borrowing heavily to finance subsidising energy price. This is on top of record borrowing related to the Covid pandemic. The World Bank and IMF have declared their financial policies “unsustainable.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Putin’s hold on power

Vladimir Putin’s hold on power must be slipping away. But which Kremlin insider might replace him? Well, according to the constitution, the Prime minister – who is Mikhail Mishustin – is meant to succeed the president if he has to suddenly resign or is incapacitated. Mishustin has been responsible for the dealing with the economy which is reeling from sanctions. He has done a reasonable job and is in the front rank of successors, but not regarded as a number one possibility.

That could be Nikolai Patrushev, former head of Russian intelligence organisation the FSB. He is known to be a hard-line ultranationalist. Another hardliner is Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov who has been publicly urging the Russian president to use tactical nuclear weapons. Also in the running is Mikhail Mizintsev, another hardliner who is known as the “butcher of Mariupol” and has recently been brought back from the front to be Deputy Minister of Defense. Dmitry Medvedev kept the presidential chair warm for four years from 2008 while Putin sorted out the constitution. He is another possible and recently warned that Putin “is not bluffing” about nuclear weapons. There are several more potential usurpers in the Kremlin wings. At the moment they all have one thing in common—they are ultra-nationalist right-wingers committed to the war in Ukraine.

China

Public protests involving banners, smoke and loud hailers are rare in China. They are virtually unheard of on the eve of a Chinese Communist Party Congress. The reason is that they can be life-threatening for the protesters.

But that did not stop two brave souls from unfurling banners from an overpass. One read: “Let us strike from schools and from work and remove the dictator Xi Jinping.” The other focused on Xi’s unpopular Zero Covid strategy and said: “No restrictions. We want freedom. No Lies. We want dignity.” The protesters were quickly surrounded by police and carted off, but videos quickly made it onto social media. China’s censors meant they were just as quickly erased from the local internet, but not before they could be reposted for the rest of the world to see. The protests are a huge embarrassment for Xi who is expected to be confirmed as president for a third term by the 2,500 delegates gathering in Beijing on Sunday. The fact that the men were willing to risk – quite possibly sacrifice – their lives for their protest indicates the depth of opposition to Xi Jinping.

Donald Trump

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Observations of an Expat – Russia: Chinese Vassal

Russia’s dependence on Chinese markets, sanctions busting finance and political support is turning it into a vassal of Beijing.

The bromance between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin was unbalanced to begin with. The Chinese economy and population are ten times that of Russia.

Russia is a primary commodity producing country which makes it more susceptible to the economic winds of change should its raw products – mainly grain, gold, oil and gas – drop. China, on the other hand has emerged as an advanced, complex economy which is far more dependent on good relations with its Western markets than on relations with Russia.

The only arena in which the Russians have been perceived to have the upper-hand in the Sino-Russian relationship is in the defense arena. But now that is on the wane. Putin’s litany of Ukrainian failures has severely damaged Russia’s reputation for military prowess.

Nuclear weaponry is the only arena in which Moscow retains an overwhelming advantage with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. But rest assured that the Chinese are just as worried as everyone else about Putin’s threats to use nukes, and is applying the maximum political pressure to deter him. They will gain nothing and lose everything by allying themselves with a country that uses nuclear weapons to illegally annex another country’s territory.

The one thing holding the Xi and Vladimir together is their mutual suspicion/hatred of the West coupled with a firm belief that the days of Western liberal democracy are numbered and the rise of firm autocratic governments is inevitable. For that reason, China is unlikely to ditch Russia, but it will extract a hefty price for its support.

The question is: What is the price? For a start, Russian oil and gas. Since the 1980s most of Moscow’s energy exports have headed west to Europe. Russia is already redirecting 76 percent of its oil which formerly went to Western Europe. China has upped its annual Russian oil imports by 135,000 barrels daily. But the Chinese – like the Indians – are being offered discount prices to keep them on board. China will demand that they pay even less, and if Russia continues to lock itself out of Western markets than the law of supply and demand will support their case.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The sanctions gamble

Ukraine and Russia are engaged in a weapons war. The West in Russia are engaged in an economic war of attrition. The West’s main weapon is sanctions. Putin’s main weapons are European dependence on Russian oil and gas, food supplies to millions and the perceived decadence of Western populations. Europe had hoped to build up a reserve of stored gas supplies for the winter by importing as much Russian gas as possible until December. But Putin this week scuppered that plan by cutting piped exports by 80 percent. Germany has stopped lighting public buildings at night and has turned off the hot water in public sports centres. The price of energy is rocketing around the world, fuelling inflation and costing jobs.  There is a real prospect of energy rationing in Europe and possibly further afield. But what about Russia? Putin has admitted that Western sanctions are “a huge challenge.” The Mayor of Moscow has said the city has lost 200,000 jobs. Businesses have been forced to close and inflation in Russia is 16 percent. Analysts at Yale University this week reported that “imports have collapsed” and domestic production has come to a “complete standstill.” But here is the rub, Putin believes that Russians are tougher than their European and American counterparts. Western support for sanctions will collapse, Putin believes, when European and American consumers can no longer afford their long car journeys, overheated homes, exotic foods and multiple holidays. It’s a gamble. For both sides.

Pelosi visit threatens Xi’s position

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a two-hour face to face in cyberspace this week. They discussed Ukraine, climate change and lifting some of the Trump era tariffs. But top of the list was Taiwan and the proposed trip to the disputed island by Speaker of the House of Representatives, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have vowed “resolute and forceful measures” if the visit goes ahead. The Ministry of Defense has threatened that the “Chinese military will never sit idly by.” In Taiwan, the authorities have been conducting air raid drills. At the heart of the problem is China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and its stated willingness to use force to impose it. To date, however, Beijing’s emphasis has been on diplomatic pressure. It has successfully isolated the Taipei government by hounding other nations to break off relations and blocking Taiwan’s membership of international bodies. Anything that smacks of international recognition of Taiwan is strongly opposed by Beijing, and a visit by a high-profile American politician who is third in line to the presidency is extremely high profile—especially given Ms Pelosi’s strong anti-Beijing position. She has repeatedly attacked the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record, entertained the Dalai Lama, unfurled a pro-democracy banner in Tiananmen Square and supported Hong Kong demonstrators. In short, she is not well-liked in Beijing.  But there are other problems related to President Xi’s position within the Chinese Communist Party. It is not strong at the moment. He is viewed by many as having badly managed the covid pandemic and China’s response to the war in Ukraine. In October the Party will hold its national congress at which Xi is expected to be voted a third term. It is important that the vote is a general acclamation rather than a mere majority vote. Failure to stand firm on Taiwan—added to covid and Ukraine—could undermine that.

The Brexit Conundrum

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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

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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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