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

Some pundits are beginning to worry about the impact the US mid-term elections may have on continued American support for Ukraine. At the moment it is looking as if the Republicans may gain control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and there is a growing isolationist wing on the right of the Republican Party.

For instance, if the Republicans win control of the lower chamber, Kevin McCarthy will become Speaker of the House and control the legislative agenda. He recently went on record to say that Americans “are not going to be inclined to write a blank cheque to Ukraine.” Josh Hawley, the senator from Missouri and a wannabe far-right standard bearer, went further and said that American aid to Ukraine “allows Europe to freeload.”

US aid for Kyiv is substantial. At $52 billion it is twice as much as all the other NATO contributors combined. Especially helpful to the Ukrainian military have been America’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

But not all Republicans want to back away from Ukraine. Their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is foursquare behind Volodomyr Zelensky and President Biden’s Ukraine policy. Opinion polls also show 73 percent of the voters supporting Ukraine. But that figure is down five percent from three months ago.

Iran

This past Thursday (27 October) saw 40 days since 22-year-old Mahsa Amin died in Iranian police custody after being arrested for being “improperly dressed.” In the Shia religion the 40th day after a death is when families and friends gather for the equivalent of an Islamic memorial service.

In Iran this week they chose to mark the day with increased rioting. There is now a real possibility that angry rampaging women could topple Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. Previous demonstrations have been about elections, prices or living conditions. Current disturbances are more basic. “Death to the Dictator,” is the cry being increasingly shouted on the streets of Tehran, Esfahan, Bushehr, Arak….

Another feature of past demonstrations/riots was the ability of the regime to urge their supporters to launch counter-demonstrations. Counter-demonstrations have been inconspicuous by their absence. This could be a sign that 83-year-old Ayatollah Khameini is losing support among senior clerics. But opponents should be wary of celebrations. Not only could they be premature but there is the danger of what follows. In 1979 there was a recognised alternative to the Shah. The current revolution is leaderless. That means there is a real threat of a political vacuum if Iran’s mullahs ae violently toppled. Political vacuums are fraught with unknown dangers.

Northern Ireland

Anyone who thinks that Boris Johnson “Got Brexit Done” should cast their eye across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland. Because of Johnson’s cack-handed handling of the troubled province’s relationship with the EU, Northern Ireland has failed to form a government and is facing yet another election to its devolved Stormont Assembly.

All of this is damaging the Good Friday Agreement, essential services in Northern Ireland, the local economy, threatening a wider, nasty EU-UK Trade War and endangering US-UK relations. At the heart of the issue is that the largest Northern Irish Party, Sinn Fein, wants Northern Ireland economically tied to the EU because it knows it will speed up eventual political unification with the southern half of the island. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on the other hand wants to break with the EU and tighten economic ties with mainland Britain for the exact opposite reason.

The Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by Johnson favours Sinn Fein and the DUP are refusing to form a power-sharing government (as stipulated by the Good Friday Agreement) until the Northern Ireland Protocol is ditched. Meanwhile the EU is threatening a trade war with the UK if the protocol is scrapped. The Biden Administration is angry because Washington is co-guarantor to the Good Friday Agreement. It seems that Johnson’s “oven-ready” deal is not even “half-baked.”

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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8 Comments

  • nigel hunter 30th Oct '22 - 11:18am

    Northern Ireland. What would happen if the Alliance party came out on top? NI has the same problems as the rest of the UK, food and fuel troubles to solve.Could they come thru the middle?

  • The partition of Ireland in the 1920s has some historical lessons for any settlement that might eventually come about in Ukraine. If a political solution is to be found to accommodate the competing desires of the populations of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea between Ukrainian and Russian identities, then the troubles that Northern Ireland has experienced with its sectarian violence have to be avoided.
    When British troops were withdrawn from the Irish free state after the negotiation of a treaty by Lloyd George and Churchill with Michael Collins, garrisons remained in barracks in the North. A bitter civil war ensued between pro-treaty and ant-treaty forces in the Irish free state and in the North the Loyalist majority established a repressive administration at Stormont. We are still living with the consequences of these actions today.
    Lloyd George had received heavy criticism for the deployment of mercenaries in the form of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to supplement regular British forces and police in Ireland, leading to a campaign of terror and widespread atrocities against the civilian population in republican sympathizing areas. These elements had to be withdrawn together with regular troops, just as Putin will have to withdraw the Wagner group and Chechen forces that are supplementing Russian forces.
    When that time comes, President Zelensky’s administration in Kyiv will have to think hard about how to avoid a continuing civil war in the separatist regions of the country, if the country is secure an enduring peace and join the European Union.

  • LibDems need to understand that globalisation is rapidly going into reverse. Long supply chains don’t work any reliably anymore. If a car needs 30,000 components and you cannot source one of them, you cannot finish the cars and sell them to pay the bills. Of course COVID and Ukraine accelerated this process, but the trends are much deeper.
    VW were purchasing metal parts from Ukraine and are also finding semi conductor (chips) shortages. If Taiwan were invaded there would be a massive shortage of chips for all manner of high tech products and equipment.

    China is about to take a steep decline.

    USA is fast reshoring manufacturing work from Asia to domestic and other NAFTA countries, although with automation, requiring far less workers than in the heydays of the 50’s to 70’s. They have a giant new textiles plant in a southern state that takes in raw cotton, spins it, turns it into cloth, then makes and dyes the clothes all on one site with hardly any workers and at lower cost than by hand by 250 poor Bangladeshis.

    The Tories are still waffling on about Global Britain, when that Just in Time overseas sourcing model will not work any more, problems from Brexit aside.

    LibDems need policies for the world that is arriving and not Orange Book policies tinged with 19th Century notions of free trade. We need an active industrial strategy.

  • @John– a good but depressing insight. Globalism depends on and reinforces world peace and security. But if that peace is endangered states have to entrench to ensure security of vital industries. Such entrenchment then feeds competition as opposed to cooperation and increases the danger of war. As Liberals I think we have to work for increased cooperation while being aware of the dangers in case of failure. A sort of plan for the worst and hope for the best scenario.

  • William Francis 31st Oct '22 - 10:16am

    @ John

    Deglobalisation isn’t what’s happening, as we haven’t seen WW2 or great depression style shocks to international trade. What is going on is decoupling from China. Regionalisation and friendshoring are happening, not a return to the 1930s.

    Mass reshoring would require not only protectionism that makes the 30s look pro free trade but also the complete deindustrialisation of the South and East Asia. Bangladeshi textile workers shouldn’t lose their jobs, and the Bangladesh economy should be deindustrialised out of some atavistic desire to rebuild the Bradford textile industry. If anything we should be buying more from the developing world to build a broad anti-China alliance based on commercial ties.

    Yes, a more active industrial policy is needed, but it is not practical or ethical to call for autarky. What we need to invest in an educated workforce, more public sector R&D, better infrastructure, less shareholder primarcy and rejoin the single market.

  • David Garlick 31st Oct '22 - 10:59am

    @John
    Sadly you are correct. Political instability led by Russia and closely followed by a ‘gentle’ China is a fact. The Climate Crisis will eclipse that and more.
    I expect land, water, and food wars unless the sharing imperitive of Macron becomes the norm across the planet. Even if it does as the UN and Fraser of Dad’s Army would say “We are Doomed”.
    Cheerful propect isn’t it!

  • Peter Hirst 31st Oct '22 - 1:37pm

    This blog was presumably written before the result of Brazil’s election was known. A return to more leftish policies is more than welcome. Let’s hope Lula can deliver and help the Amazon rainforest, improve his country’s democracy and its less well off people.

  • John 30th Oct ’22 – 1:53pm:
    LibDems need to understand that globalisation is rapidly going into reverse.

    In the real world, global trade has rebounded to record levels…

    ‘Global trade hits record $7.7 trillion in first quarter of 2022’ [July 2022]:
    https://unctad.org/news/global-trade-hits-record-77-trillion-first-quarter-2022

    It would be be even higher if there was more capacity…

    ‘Surge in container freight rates choking global trade’ [February 2022]:
    https://thehaulagenews.com/surge-in-container-freight-rates-choking-global-trade/

    The impact of these high rates has been serious. A specific example reported is export of pepper from Vietnam. Vietnam Pepper Association has reported that high logistic costs have resulted in a loss of export markets. For exports to the US in 2020, the freight costs per 40 foot container was $2,000-3,000 but in 2021 it had surged to $13,500.

    Orders for new container ships are also at record highs…

    ‘Container-ship building spree not over yet; new orders still rising’ [June 2022]:
    https://www.freightwaves.com/news/container-ship-building-spree-is-not-over-yet-new-orders-still-rising

    Orderbook nears 30% of container-ship capacity on the water. […]

    “This is already the fifth largest year on record for container-ship orders and we are only halfway through the year.”

    Global trade is likely to continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate, helped by falling freight rates as shipping capacity is expanded.

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