Tom Arms World Review – 4 April

Georgia’s Republicans may have shot themselves in the foot. The White-dominated local party dominates the state legislature and were shocked by Trump’s loss of George and the Senate victory of two Black Democrats. Something had to be done. So they passed legislation to vote by post; gives the legislation greater control over the conduct of elections; bans the provision of food and water to those standing in long queues to cast their ballots; reduces the number of drop-off ballot boxes and demands strict ID requirements for all voters. All of these are aimed at making it harder for African-American voters who vote overwhelming for liberal Democrats. But have they gone too far? The measures are clearly designed to reduce the Black vote. Could it instead galvanise it? The 2020 elections were a record turnout—67.7 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, the highest figure in more than 100 years. The reason was – still is—divided and politicised like never before. The liberal Democrats hated Trump and the conservative Republicans responded in equal measure in their feelings with Joe Biden and co. Attempts to restrict the Democratic vote could very well have the effect of encouraging Democratic activists to try harder at the mid-term elections in 2022 and the presidential vote in 2024. We proved in 2020 that we could break the Republican lock, the activists can argue. We have them on the run. Sort out your ideas and bring thermos flasks and sandwiches to the voting queues.

 

The US State Department regularly produces country reports for Congress. This is because Congress decides whether a state should be given Most Favoured Nation trading status, have sanctions slapped on them, or something in between. The country report  makes recommendation and Congress usually follows them. This week—in response to Beijing’s Hong Kong crackdown– the State Department advised Congress finish the job started by Donald Trump and end Hong Kong’s preferential trading status. Not good news for Hong Kong and China. For a start the Hong Kong dollar is tied to the US dollar. That is likely to end. Hong Kong also has its own visa arrangements with the US (and other countries) which makes it easier for Chinese to travel to and from America for study and business. That is expected to cease. Tariffs on Hong Kong goods will go up, especially those re-exported from Mainland China. Controls on technology exports to China will be extended to Hong Kong. University contacts will be reduced. However, there will be a beneficiary. Singapore has for decades offered itself as an alternative Far Eastern base. It is looking even more attractive.

 

France will go into its third national coronavirus lockdown this Sunday. Schools and non-essential shops will shut. Travel will be restricted and the number of ICU beds will increase from 7,665 to 10,000. Meanwhile Europe’s on-off relations with the Astra Zeneca vaccine continues. This week it was suspended in 15 EU countries and Canada. The vaccine is suspected to be responsible for a series of blood clots in patients under 50. The WHO and the European Medical Agency continue to claim it is safe. In the meantime more than 20 heads or government and international organisations have called for an international treaty on pandemic preparedness. But they have failed to answer the key question of “How?” This deficiency may be one of the reasons why the US refused to sign the final communique. Another could be fear that their powerful pharmaceutical companies may have to relinquish lucrative patent control and that they may have to internationalise their Centre for Disease Control. Russia and China were also conspicuously absent from the list of communique signatories. The Chinese nonappearance may be related to their opposition to their horror of transparency. This was pointed out as a problem by a WHO team investigating the causes of the current pandemic. The good news for the Chinese was that the investigators dismissed Trump’s conspiracy theory that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory.

 

One of the diplomatic tactics for dealing with China is to compartmentalise issues. Taiwan, South China Sea, human rights, Hong Kong, etcetera are in the “we gotta be tough” category. Dealing with the pandemic and climate is in the “let’s do a deal” category. The hope is that by doing a deal in one area, diplomats can create a climate of trust which can have a positive impact on the “gotta be tough” category. Well, this week Beijing toughened its stance on the pandemic. It has done the same on climate change. It was scheduled to attend this week’s key preparatory meeting for the November COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. It pulled out at the last minute. The fact is that Chinese President Xi Jinping reckons he has the West on the ropes and is in no mood for compromise anywhere.

 

The Myanmar military government offered a unilateral ceasefire this week. But not to the street protesters. In fact the number of deaths is now hovering around the 600 mark. No, the unilateral ceasefire is being offered to tribal secessionist rebels who have been fighting central government for decades. The military has offered them a ceasefire because it is does not want to fight on multiple fronts. And there are a lot of them. Myanmar is plagued with 135 ethnic groups who have spawned ten currently active rebel armies. Aung San Suu Kyi’s semi-democratic government had limited success in negotiating ceasefires. But the rebels have taken advantage of the turmoil in the streets oYangon to step up their activities. In the past two weeks the Kachin Independence Army attacked a police station and their Karen counterparts seized an army outpost. The rebel groups have also offered their support to the street protesters, including the provision of arms. In the meantime, Myanmar refugees are flooding across the borders into India, Bangladesh and Thailand. At the UN, efforts to secure Security Council-backed  sanctions are blocked by a Sino-Russian veto, and Russia is emerging as the generals’ chief ally and arms supplier. The US and UK are leading efforts to organise a non-UN sanctions regime.

 

This week saw the British reported on Downing Street’s new media centre. The focus was on the $3 million dollar price tag, Tory blue décor and oak panelling. They missed a story. The media centre is an unwelcome constitutional development as it provides a tool for the prime minister to bypass parliament. Under the British political system (and the many countries who use its political template) parliament is supreme. Executive power is held by a constitutional monarch (or president in most countries) who vests those powers in the leader of the political party which commands a majority in parliament. That leader—or prime minister— makes decision and proposes legislation which is then put to parliament who have the responsibility of scrutinising the government’s actions and approving or rejecting them. A key part of the process is that it is parliament who is first officially informed of government actions—not the general public via a televised media centre. This way parliament acts as a check on the government. It is no surprise that the media centre is the brainchild of eminence grise Dominic Cummings who made no secret of his disdain for the principles of parliamentary scrutiny and sovereignty. It is a disdain which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly demonstrated that he shares.

 

Swiss women this week had only one thing to say to Swiss men—“knickers”. After years of campaigning the female members of the Swiss citizen army won the right to exchange the men’s underwear they have been forced to wear for undergarments that take account of their curvier figures. Swiss men have never been known for their embrace of feminism. The land of bankers and cuckoo clocks was almost the last Western country to give women the vote—in 1971. “Their brains are too small,” explained one politician. One European country remains the last bastion of male electoral dominance—the Vatican.

* Tom Arms is the Foreign Editor of Liberal Democratic Voice. His book “America Made in Britain” has recently been published by Amberley Books. He is also the author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War.”

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17 Comments

  • nigel hunter 4th Apr '21 - 12:00pm

    So Johnson/Cummings (working in the background) informs the public first of his intentions.With Johnsons expertise at selling ‘fibs’ it is another way of causing division in the public. With protests being controlled are we heading for govnt by decree NOT the elected representatives of the people?

  • Brad Barrows 4th Apr '21 - 1:22pm

    In future it would be helpful if Tom Arms actually read information for himself rather than relying on partisan media reports. Specifically, he would find that his claims regarding Georgia’s voting legislation are a very distorted view of the legislation. For example, the legislation has a section about ‘restriction of campaign activities or public opinion polling within the vicinity of a polling place’ and states “No person shall solicit votes in any manner, or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display and campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector…” It goes on to say that self-service water dispensers can, however, be provided by poll officers.

    So that becomes an outcry about suppressing the vote? I think you will find that party workers in the UK are also banned from giving gifts, including food and drink to voters in the vicinity of polling stations.

  • @ Brad Barrows “In future it would be helpful if Tom Arms actually read information for himself rather than relying on partisan media reports”.

    How do you know he didn’t ?

    I always find Tom’s comments thoughtful, interesting and helpful….. whether I happen to agree with them or not.

  • @Brad Burrows and David Raw. Thank you David for your defense and thank you Brad for taking the time to read my article and comment. Brad, you are quite right if you noticed a liberal bias in my piece. But then I am a Liberal Democrat. Having said that I think you missed the main thrust of my argument: That the new Georgia electoral laws are likely to galvanise African-American voters to work harder to defeat Republicans. Not because the new law is necessarily unjustified, but because it is perceived by the African-American community as “Jim Crow Part Two.” As we know, perception/belief is a vitally important part of politics (and many other spheres of activity) and Georgia’s African-Americans believe that the Republicans are attempting to curtail their voting rights. The state Republicans have thus provided the Georgia Democrats with a Sequoia tree trunk to beat the Republicans senseless.

  • Joseph Bourke 4th Apr '21 - 8:32pm

    Tom,

    your comments on the US/China relationship are interesting. We were just discussing this (sort of) on another thread.
    Japan started in business as a land-grabbing power in a small way at the end of the 19th century. Moving cautiously, while its modern navy and army were still in the infant stage. Japan took over several strategically placed groups of small islands not far from its homeland without having to fight for them.
    After WW1, America set out to control Japan. First by limiting them in the Treaty of Versailles and; secondly by ending Japan’s relations with Britain since the US had been suspicious of this alliance all along.
    Following Japan’s invasion of China, tensions escalated between the US and Japan. In 1941, Cordell Hull had to make a decision between increasing military support to China or creating more sanctions on Japan. Hull chose to create sanctions that threatened Japan’s oil supply and would force the Japanese military (who controlled the government) to retreat.
    We know what happened next. Let’s hope the strategy of compartmentalisation works and getting tough on Taiwan and the South China Sea doesn’t lead to unintended consequences.

  • “Japan started in business as a land-grabbing power in a small way at the end of the 19th century”.

    And when would you say the pre and post UK started, Joe ?

  • Joseph Bourke 4th Apr '21 - 9:58pm

    David Raw,

    based on Irish history that would probably be when the Norman Knight Strongbrow arrived in Leinster with his Welsh army and never went home.

  • Brad Barrows 5th Apr '21 - 9:26am

    @Tom
    Thanks for taking the time to reply. I have no difficulty with people reaching conclusions based on their political leanings, but I always object when people – of any and all political persuasions – deliberately misquote or selectively quote to try to strengthen the point they wish to make. That is not just ‘bias’ – it is a form of dishonesty. The Liberal Democrat message will be all the stronger if the public come to believe that the party does not engage in such conduct.

  • @ Brad Barrows ” I have no difficulty with people reaching conclusions based on their political leanings”.

    Most obliging of you, Mr Barrows.

  • @ Joe Bourke Apart from congratulating you on getting a point at the John Smith stadium on Saturday, just thought I’d let you know that my lot (Danish Vikings) were a step ahead of Strongbow. They captured York in 866 (and stayed) under the leadership of the magnificently named Ivar the Boneless.

  • John Marriott 5th Apr '21 - 12:59pm

    Joe Bourke’s China/Japanese/US reference is very apposite (however,Joe, please let’s not have another rerun of what happened with comments on Gillian Douglass’s article last Monday on social care, which ran and ran, and was still running this morning).

    There have been quite a few articles in the press recently, which identify the PRC as being potentially a greater threat to western democracy than was the Soviet Union. Whereas our fight with this former Superpower was basically ideological, our ‘fight’ with China is more economic. Quite frankly we have been caught napping. We have allowed ourselves to become so reliant of Chinese manufacturing as well as allowing the PRC to acquire precious metal mining rights, especially in Africa but elsewhere as well. Technology is another area where the Chinese have a potential stranglehold. We’re already seen how they deal with countries like Australia, which had the audacity to question their willingness to come clean about COVID.

    We are in danger of boxing ourselves into a corner. It’s time to fight back, start making more things at home and treating the PRC with more caution before it’s too late.

    Overreaction? Maybe. Paranoia? Possibly. Eternal vigilance? ALWAYS worthwhile.

  • Joseph Bourke 5th Apr '21 - 1:52pm

    John Marriott,

    Dani Rodrik in his 2011 book “The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy” https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/cid/publications/books/the-globalization-paradox-democracy-and-the-future-of-the-world-economy makes a similar case. He says says that the nation-state, democracy, and globalisation are mutually irreconcilable: we can have any two, but not all three simultaneously (he calls this a “trilemma”).

    All over the world, the “nation” has been revolting against globalisation in the name of democracy. That became clear when US President Donald Trump imposed the first of a widening set of tariffs against Chinese goods, with China retaliating in kind. The Biden administration has not reversed this policy.
    The trigger for America’s turn to economic nationalism is its widening trade deficit. But the deeper reason is the correct perception that the resulting current-account deficits are not “benign” when they are being financed by inflows of short-term capital, or “hot” money.
    Joe Biden needs to be as wily as Richard Nixon was when it comes to China and Russia and not pursue policies that drive them together in confronting the West.
    The Economist leader this week https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/03/31/global-supply-chains-are-still-a-source-of-strength-not-weakness argues
    “Resilience comes not from autarky but from diverse sources of supply and constant private-sector adaptation to shocks. Over time, global firms will adjust to even long-term threats, including tension between America and China and the effects of climate change, by gradually altering where they make fresh investments. This is a perilous moment for trade. Just as globalisation begets openness, so protection and subsidies in one country spread to the next. Globalisation is the work of decades. Do not let it run aground.”

  • John Marriott 5th Apr '21 - 2:25pm

    Since WW2, and probably even before that, the manufacturing capacity in the Western world has seen its products increasingly being initially undercut and eventually overwhelmed by products from the Far East. First of all it was Japan whose products, originally viewed as inferior, eventually became the ‘got-to-haves’. We stopped riding Norton and Triumph motorbikes and bought Honda, Kawasaki etc. We stopped buying Murphy and Bush TVs and switched to Sony, Hitachi etc. Then came South Korea with Samsung and Hyundai etc. At one time a South Korean shipbuilder could build a ship for the same price it cost a British shipbuilder in raw materials alone. In the days of Empire our clothing factories would import raw materials from our colonies and sell the finished product back to them. Now it’s nearly all done abroad.

    I suppose that it was inevitable that, as wages and working conditions quite rightly improved and the public appeared reluctant to pay the price, the low wage economies of the Far East became ‘go-to’ areas for products. However, how far are we prepared to go and how much more are we prepared to pay if that means an ever greater dependence on a Superpower like China, whose ultimate aim would appear to be more than simply economic hegemony?

    Perhaps we could start by insisting that all products made here clearly stated that fact. I was going to suggest that they display the Union flag; but that may offend too many people. If we did find a foolproof non offensive way of easily indicating a product’s country of origin, then at least people could know that there WAS a way of supporting what is left of our manufacturing base.

  • Joseph Bourke 5th Apr '21 - 3:23pm

    This is Vince Cable talking about the Institute for Prosperity https://zenoot.com/tv/special-report-sir-vince-cable-on-how-to-invigorate-uk-manufacturing/. It is the brainchild of the industrialist John Mills and headed by former Labour MP Caroline Flint.
    Mills is quite keen on intervention to reduce the exchange rate of sterling to parity with the dollar to revitalise manufacturing exports. Vince Cable, however, doubts that exchange rate intervention to achieve dollar parity is a realistic aim (although it could happen without intervention as it threatened to in Feb 1985 when it fell to $1.05 before the Plaza accord).
    Vince welcomes the investment super-deduction for plant and machinery in the recent budget. He also highlights the need for consistent industrial policy that survives changes of government and cites Germany as the model for long-term stability in areas like provision of apprenticeships and technical training.

  • Peter Chambers 5th Apr '21 - 10:11pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    > Resilience comes not from autarky but from diverse sources of supply
    Globalism does not ensure diversity of supply. Consolidation of supply chain can happen as costs reach the floor. This happened in the 80s as YKK made most of the zips in the global system. Later 60% of the resin used by IC (chip) fabrication ended up sourced from one Japanese town that then had an earthquake. Then the VME bus world settled on one single source firm that went bust and had to be rescued. Later the (then) new blue LED technology was almost all sourced from a fragile part of the PRC. And so on.
    Globalism and neo-liberalism do not ensure thriving diverse markets. The fact that I have to work with professionals having titles with “supply chain management” in them demonstrates that. This is acceptable for high value engineering, but not for SMEs and lower cost manufacturing. People depend on catalogue parts, which leads to market leader parts and critical mass. A world retreating from globalism has a fragility problem. What was that Mr Johnson said about business? Not very hopeful.

  • Joseph Bourke 6th Apr '21 - 12:18am

    Peter Chambers,

    when I first started work the problems encountered were with volatile prices for Nickel and Copper from mines in Africa and South America. I think those problems are still there. Today it might be more focused on Cobalt from the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rare earth materials appear to be almost exclusively mined and processed and China. The bulk of semi-conductor production is concentrated in the hands of a couple of firms in Taiwan and South Korea.
    I take your point about SMEs and lower cost manufacturing. But if there is one thing this pandemic has shown it is how inter-dependent we all are.
    When Tom Arms writes – Dealing with the pandemic and climate is in the “let’s do a deal” category he is alluding to the need for International cooperation on trade and environmental issues. When that starts to break down it spells trouble for everyone.
    There does need to be more focus at the government level of securing supply chains for critical materials and components, but that takes time and a strategic focus much longer than a parliamentary term.

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