Tom Arms’ World Review

China

China’s President Xi Jinping is in the traditional dead end political alley. Mass demonstrations and protests have prompted suggestions from government sources that Beijing is on the cusp of seriously relaxing its zero-covid strategy. But health officials reckon that if he does it could result in 680,000 deaths before the end of winter, according modellers at The Economist.

On the other hand, if Xi fails to relax his Orwellian approach to dealing with the pandemic then the economy and quality of life will seriously suffer and more protests, riots and demonstrations will follow. This will undermine Xi’s claims that only he and the Chinese Communist Party can deliver prosperity and stability.

Xi’s current problems also threaten Chinese claims that their political model is better-equipped to deal with problems than the corrupt West. Xi has only himself to blame for his difficulties. He has insisted on using Chinese-made vaccines instead of the more effective Western alternatives and failed to thoroughly vaccinate the elderly who are more likely to contract the disease and require the greatest care when they do so, thus leaving himself with the unpalatable choice of mass lockdown or mass infection.

Ukraine

President Joe Biden followed up the visit to French President of Emmanuel Macron with half an olive branch to Vladimir Putin: “I’ll meet and talk with you if you are prepared to discuss ending the war in Ukraine.”

Sure, replied Putin, as long as the end is on my terms. That, of course, would mean surrender and defeat for Ukraine and its Western supporters and just demonstrates that Putin has left himself with only two options – total defeat or total victory. The former seems the most likely at the moment.

Neither NATO nor the Ukrainian people show any signs of cracking and China appears to becoming increasingly disillusioned with their Kremlin ally. But more importantly, so are the Russian people.

According to Meduza, an independent Russian investigative news website, a recent Russian government survey showed that support for the “special military operation” has plummeted from 57 percent in July to 25 percent last month. The big drop is blamed almost entirely on Putin’s decision to send another 300,000 Russian men to the Ukrainian front. The returning body bags (6,000-plus according to the Russians and 25,000-plus according to the British Ministry of Defense) are having an impact. But there is no sign of a Russian let-up. This week Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that military spending would increase by 50 percent next year from four to six percent of GDP.

France

French President Emmanuel Macron can stick a Yankee Doodle feather in his cap following his state visit this week to the US. His was the first state visit of the Biden Administration. It was also Macron’s second such visit to the US (Trump invited him too). These two signal honours indicate that France – not Germany or Britain – is the European country to which Washington attaches the greatest importance.

This is for several reasons. The British cousin has reduced its standing by leaving the EU and alienating Americans with its position on Northern Ireland. Germany is the EU economic giant but remains a military minnow and Chancellor Olof Scholz has so far failed to fill the over-sized shoes of Angela Merkel.

France in contrast has the EU’s largest defense force and its Ukraine policies are close to those of Washington. On top of that, France is alone among European nations, in having possessions in the Indo-Pacific region, which, in American eyes, gives France a stake in containing Chinese expansion.

Hungary

The European Commission appears to have finally run out of patience with Hungary’s Viktor Orban. This week it announced that it was holding back $14 billion in regional aid and covid loans because of his government’s anti-democratic measures.

It should be remembered that the European Union is a democratic club. To benefit from membership governments have to agree to follow democratic rules. Orban and his Fidesz Party have been moving towards what the European Parliament calls an “electoral autocracy” ever since it came to power in 2010. It has rewritten the constitution and redrawn the political map to make it almost impossible for political opponents to win an election.

The judiciary has been packed with Orban supporters and the media is now almost completely controlled by the Fidesz Party. Billions in EU funds are alleged to found their way into party coffers or the bank accounts of Orban’s family members. On top of that, Hungary continues to drag its feet on support for Ukraine and recently attacked Volodomyr Zelensky’s government for discrimination against ethnic Hungarians.

The EU decision could go either way. With Hungarian inflation running at 20.10 percent (as of September), Orban desperately needs the cash. But on the other hand, he could attempt to turn the Commission’s decision to his advantage by using Brussels as a scapegoat for his own failings.

South Africa

South Africa – the continent’s second largest economy – is not having much luck with its post-Mandela presidents. Jacob Zuma was more or less a wash-out. He was forced out of office in 2018 amidst claims that he had used government funds to upgrade his farm and allowed the South Africa government to be “corruptly captured” by the powerful Gupta family. Since 2018 he has been in and out of prison on contempt of court charges and has yet to be tried for corruption.

His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, was seen as the poster boy for the rule of law and constitutionalism. But now that poster has been smeared. An independent commission reported this week that he too may have violated South Africa’s constitution. Allegations centre on $508,000 stuffed in a sofa, an unreported theft and a herd of buffaloes that was reported sold but never left his farm.

The South African parliament will on Tuesday debate what has been dubbed “farmgate” and later this month the ruling ANC will hold leadership elections. These were meant to be a routine re-election procedure, but that is now in doubt.

* 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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4 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 4th Dec '22 - 6:36pm

    Might it be the case that Covid deaths in China amount to 5,235 andin the USA 1,09 million?
    (Google)

  • Peter Martin 7th Dec '22 - 8:59am

    @ Steve,

    The Covid death figures you quote might be correct, so far, but they aren’t the final figures. Lock-downs can buy some time for vaccines to be developed but they can never be a permanent solution.

    The Chinese government is endangering the lives of millions of its population by refusing to purchase the best available vaccines on the world markets. It isn’t that they can’t afford them. They are reported to own over $1 trillion of US Treasury bonds!

  • Peter Hirst 10th Dec '22 - 1:33pm

    Regarding Hungary it’s one thing deciding to leave the eu and quite another to be kicked out. Jumping before you’re pushed is a phrase loved by the media in connection with resignations from government. It’s unlikely the eu will ever expel a country though it could make it wish it never joined.

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