Tom Arms’ World Review – 28 February 2021

President Joe Biden must have mixed feelings about the public’s continued fascination with the Donald Trump story. On the one hand it is a distraction from his own agenda. And on the other, it allows him to move forward quickly and efficiently while attention is largely engaged elsewhere. He is doing the latter. This weekend Biden will celebrate 50 million covid-19 vaccinations, putting his administration well ahead of the target 100 million jabs in 100 days. He is also expected to shortly push through Congress a third major pandemic spending package. This one is worth $1.9 trillion and will focus on the poor minorities and women. The only part of the deal which has won Republican approval is $110 billion for business support. Meanwhile, Trump’s problems continue to make headlines. The biggest is that the US Supreme Court has refused the ex-president’s appeal to block a subpoena to obtain Trump’s tax records for the past ten years. Cyrus Vance Jr., the South Manhattan District Attorney leading the charge, believes that the records will reveal massive fraud involving taxes, bank dealings and insurance. Trump has denounced the investigation as part of the continuing “deep state” “witch hunt” and is keeping the Republican spotlight shining on him with a keynote speech this Sunday at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) In Orlando, Florida. His strongest Senate supporter, Lindsey Graham, said Trump “is going to dominate the Republican Party for years to come.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson must have mixed feelings about the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100,000 deaths, a locked-down economy and a crippling debt is bad news. But at least it is deflecting public attention away from his disastrous Brexit deal. The biggest problems this week have been predicted and predictable—fishing and Northern Ireland. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy which made British waters part of a larger European lake open to all EU fishermen was one of the main reasons for Brexit. The problem is that the deal Boris Johnson has struck with Brussels has possibly worsened the plight of the British fishermen. At the root of the issue is the fact that the fish that are caught in British waters appeal to European palates and those netted in European seas appeal to hungry Brits. And because of various quota and hygiene regulations now in place it is becoming difficult to impossible to land fish in each other’s ports. Then there is Northern Ireland with the new trading border in the Irish Sea. This is to keep open the border between the northern and southern halves of the island of Ireland and, hopefully, avoid a return to “The Troubles” of the last quarter of the 20th century. But this means import and export controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. The British government has responded by proposing that the uncontrolled period of trade between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain be extended to 2023. That is unacceptable to Dublin and Brussels. Any restrictions in trade links between Northern Ireland and the British mainland are unacceptable to the protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who want the current Northern Ireland Protocol jettisoned and a hard border drawn between Eire and Northern Ireland. This, of course, would torpedo the Good Friday Agreement and re-open the prospect of a return to intercommunal fighting.

China is in a quandary over Myanmar. It wants stability on its border with the Chinese province of Yunnan. It is also wants to protect its multi-billion dollar investment in the deep-water port of Kyaukpyu. There is also the issue of safeguarding the interests of 1.6 million Chinese living in Myanmar and at the same time appear consistent in its policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. Basically, Beijing and Xi Jinping don’t care who is in power in Myanmar as long as they don’t threaten Chinese economic and geopolitical interests and their rule keeps angry crowds off the streets. The problem is that the military is failing in the latter task. Thousands continue to demonstrate in protest against the 1 February military coup which overthrew 75-year-old de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Most of the international community has called for UN sanctions against the new regime, but these have been blocked by China. Not because the Chinese government loves generals, but because it doesn’t want to rock the Burmese boat. Beijing has invested heavily in the port and special economic zone of Kyaukpyu which is a key link in its “string of pearls” which performs the dual role of a seaborne economic link to the Middle East and Africa and the geostrategic task of encircling regional rival India. But perhaps more important is adherence in Beijing’s strict policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of third countries. This is an essential element of Chinese foreign policy as it helps China to fend off criticisms of its own human rights abuses.

The German conviction this week of Syrian torturer Eyad al Gharib highlights the determination of German prosecutors to employ the little-used legal principle of “Universal Jurisdiction.” This judicial tool dates back to a 1949 Geneva Convention which says that States have the right—nay, the obligation—to prosecute people on their territory who have committed unspeakable acts in other countries such as torture and crimes against humanity. Eyad al-Gharib was a small cog in the Syrian torture machine known as General Intelligence Directorate (GID). That is why his prison sentence is only four and a half years. Another reason is that he is giving evidence against 58-year-old Anwar Raslan, a former mainspring in the GID who is alleged to have tortured, murdered, raped or sexually assaulted 4,000 victims. He is facing life imprisonment. Although al-Gharib was a relative small-fry, his trial stretched to several weeks to allow dozens of witnesses to give hundreds of hours of testimony. Their evidence will be used to convict Raslan and be made available to state prosecution services in other countries so that they can bring actions against any other Syrians who have committed state-sponsored crimes and then sought refuge in their jurisdiction. The Germans are, of course, taking the lead on the issue of universal jurisdiction as partial atonement for their own sad history.

A victory for Chinese feminists this week. A Beijing divorce court ruled that a husband had to pay his ex-wife for her duties as a housewife. Mr. Chen was told to cough up $7,700 as a one-off payment for Ms. Wang’s five years of housework, childcare and looking after elderly parents. He also has to pay her $300 a month in maintenance. This is a landmark ruling in China because the Chinese—to put it bluntly—are one of the world’s most patriarchal societies. Their emphasis on the male sex is based on the need for strong men to produce food in agricultural work and has been reinforced over the years by the tenets of Confucianism and Taoism. The Chinese Communist Party also played its role in stiffening Chinese society’s patriarchal leanings with its one child policy from the late 1970s to 2016. It provided extra compensation for families with one daughter and in rural areas it allowed families to have a second child if their first was a baby girl. The legacy is a demographic male-female imbalance with roughly 119 boys to every 100 girls. Ms Wang, it seems, will have little trouble finding a new husband.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.

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11 Comments

  • Asean foreign ministers are preparing to hold a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the political crisis in Myanmar, Asean diplomatic sources said on Friday.
    It would be the first such meeting of the 10-member group since Myanmar military ousted the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.
    Meanwhile on going protests with in Burma have become linked with the Milk Tea Alliance democracy protests that link Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan where tea is drunk with milk unlike China.

  • Peter Martin 28th Feb '21 - 11:21am

    @ Tom,

    ” Eire” ???

    I’ve pointed out the sensitivities of misusing this term before. You wouldn’t use the word Deutschland unless you were writing in German. So why use “Eire” unless you’re writing in Gaelic?

    But if you won’t listen to me try this letter in the Irish Times.

    “Many countries have names on their stamps and coinage different to that used in the English language. Helvetia (Switzerland), Norge (Norway), Sverige (Sweden), Belgique Belgie (Belgium), are a few examples. In none of these cases is the native language name used to describe these countries in English.”

    https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/what-s-in-a-name-1.81461

  • Strange that we have always used the word Eire when sending correspondence to my wife’s relatives in Donegal, beautiful county by the way and lovely people!

  • Brad Barrows 28th Feb '21 - 1:05pm

    I have to point out that the Chinese government’s one child policy was designed to prevent the population of the country growing to unsustainable levels. This, unfortunately, had the consequence that in a society were many families in rural areas felt the need to have a son, baby girls were either aborted prior to birth or smothered shortly after birth. It was because of this that the Chinese government choose to allow a second child in rural areas if the First was a girl – not because they thought girls were valueless but to try to save them from being killed prior to or just after their births.

  • John Marriott 28th Feb '21 - 1:53pm

    @Peter Martin
    I don’t know where you were brought up or how old you are; but my generation often used the word “Eire” to refer to the part of Ireland below the border. Before the last war, it was also referred to as “The Irish Free State”, at least until they renounced the Crown in 1938, I believe. If all you can pick Mr Arms up on is his use of a perfectly acceptable word, in my eyes at least, then you must clearly be getting desperate for something to lecture us on.

    Why, I even remember an old Michael Bentine joke from the 1960s, that went something like this:
    “I got a letter than other day that I was expecting. It took over three weeks to reach me. When it arrived someone had written on the front of it ‘Sorry, opened in Eire’ “ Boom boom!😀

  • Paul Barker 28th Feb '21 - 6:00pm

    Both the article & some of the comments are very Soft on both The Chinese Dictatorship & the Anti-Human implications of The “Club of Rome” & other early “Green” movements.

    China,s supposed policy of Non-Inteference is a complete fiction, even now they still encourage & Fund dozens of Maoist Terrorist groups across the World & they are quite willing to use direct Military threats as well. They invaded Vietnam in 1979 & are still Occupying parts of India & Pakistan.

    The “One-Child Policy” was based on Nonsensical Theories developed, to our shame, in the West. There never was an Overpopulation Crisis, it was a hysterical reaction to a temporary surge in World Population. In fact the Rate of World Population Growth peaked around 1970 & World Population in total is expected to peak in the 2060s. Most Wealthy countries, including The UK, would have had declining populations for Decades without Immigration.

  • Peter Martin 28th Feb '21 - 9:17pm

    Your generation would have used lots of words which probably wouldn’t be used now.

    The change from “Republic of Ireland” to “Ireland” , as the accepted name for the country was part of the Good Friday agreement. This is when using the English language. If you’re using Gaelic then Eire is fine.

    There is an entry in Wikipedia about the name of the Irish State.

    Please try to move with the times amd avoid terms like the “Irish Free State” unless you’re referring to a historical usage.

  • Peter Martin
    I like many others will still call the country Burma as it is more inclusive for those who live there.

    Suffering under the regime. Appeal for world help
    https://www.khaosodenglish.com/opinion/2021/02/27/opinion-the-everyday-terror-of-life-under-myanmars-coup-regime/

  • john oundle 1st Mar '21 - 12:18pm

    Martin

    ‘ The US will implacably oppose anything that might destabilise the Good Friday Agreement. ‘

    That of course includes the new NI protocol.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Mar '21 - 1:11pm

    One result of the 2019 GE was that the government is no longer reliant on the DUP for governing. I suspect we are heading for a long term special relationship for Northern Ireland that will benefit its citizens. We are also beginning to see a strategy for keeping Scotland part of the UK by investing heavily in the country though I have doubts it will work and would prefer some frank negotiations as part of a reform of our constitutional arrangements that would of course include N Ireland.

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