Tom Arms’ World Review

China’s mis-step

China has made a rare and serious diplomatic misstep. It came from its ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, who told a television interviewer that the former Soviet states “don’t exist” because “they don’t have effective status in international law.”—Oops.

The result was an immediate outcry and demand for   clarification/retraction from foreign ministries across Europe, especially the former Soviet states who live in perpetual fear of the reimposition of the Russian yoke.

The Chinese obliged. The embassy in Paris said that the ambassador’s remarks were “personal” rather than “official policy.” In Beijing the official spokesperson more or less disowned the comments stressing that China was among the first to recognise the former Soviet republics as “sovereign states” and has refused to  recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea.

But the Europeans were not mollified. Lu Shaye is a prominent “Wolf Warrior” – a moniker attached to a Chinese official who advocates a hard line against the West. It was thought that the hardliners were sidelined at the end of last year. Lu Shaye’s flammable comments have re-ignited their presence.

One of President Xi Jinping’s reasons for sidelining the hardliners was a policy of improving relations with Europe. This would drive a wedge between Europe and America, weaken NATO and the US position in the world and improve China’s position.

The fly in this diplomatic ointment is Russia. A strong alliance with Russia is important to both XI and the wolf warriors. But good relations with Europe is more important to XI then Lu Shaye and the wolf warriors.

Ambassador Lu Shaye’s comments indicate that the Wolf Warriors are still prowling the corridors of Beijing and the problem for Europe is that the Chinese could be a Trojan horse filled with Russians.

Taiwan

Meanwhile, back in China, the Communist Party has been again been rattling its Taiwan sabres. This time it arrested two Taiwanese while they were visiting relatives in Mainland China.

Both arrests are designed emphasise the Chinese Communist Party’s position that Taiwan is party of China and thus the law of the Peoples Republic of China applies to the residents of Taiwan as well as those on Mainland China.

The more prominent of the two arrestees was the publisher Li Yanke. He was born in Shanghai and left in 2009 to set up a publishing business in Taipei. Many of his books are highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Li Yanke was visiting relatives in Shanghai when police arrested him for “endangering state security.”

Perhaps more significant was the arrest of the less well-known 33-year-old Yang Chih-yuan. He was actually detained in August but was not formally arrested and charged until this week. The crime: “suspicion of secession.” He is the first to be charged with this alleged crime.

In 2019 Yang Chih-yuan helped to found the Taiwan National Party which proposed that Taiwan drop its claims to be the legitimate government of all of China and declare itself a separate, independent country. The TNP failed to make any headway in elections and has since been dissolved. Yang Chih-yuan himself is seen as fringe political figure in Taiwan.

But Beijing is concerned that the fringe may become the mainstream unless it is brutally stamped out.

The competing claims to China date back to 1949 and the Chinese Civil War. In that year, Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang army fled to Taiwan and established what was effectively a “government-in-exile.” Only twelve countries (including the Vatican) recognise that 1949 claim and have full diplomatic relations with Taipei. It is impossible for any country to have diplomatic relations with Beijing and Taipei.

Reunification is the top foreign policy priority of the Chinese Communist Party. As long as both entities claim to be the legitimate government of all of China then Beijing can assert that it has the right to unite Taiwan with the mainland—by force, if necessary.

But if Taipei drops its claim to represent all of China and declares itself an independent political entity, then the number of countries prepared to diplomatically recognise it would increase. Taiwan would then become an even bigger problem for the Chinese Communist Party.

Biden v Trump

In 2020 the world watched a US presidential election between two old men. In 2024 it is likely to watch an election between two older men.

Joe Biden is almost certain to win the Democratic Party nomination for president. He is the incumbent and there is a strong tradition of incumbent presidents waltzing through the primaries virtually unopposed to be crowned at the party convention.

This week President Biden announced that he would seek re-election. If he wins, Biden will be 82 on election day. He will be 86 when he leaves office. At the moment, Trump is the man most likely to win the Republican Party nomination. He is no spring chicken at 78 in November 2024.

Nikki Haley, one of the other declared candidates for the Republican nomination, this week warned that the actuarial odds are that if Biden wins he will die in office. If that happens, the country gets Vice President Kamala Harris.

Ms Harris’ record as VP has not been great. She had two main jobs: to be the deciding vote in a 50/50 split Senate and sort out America’s Southern border problem. The first was easy enough. The second was a bit of poisoned chalice but she added a few more toxic chemicals to it.

In 2020, before Kamala Harris, assumed responsibility, border force patrols encountered 400,000 illegal immigrants. A year later the figure had quadrupled to 1,600,000. Border control is a big issue in American politics and Ms Harris is not controlling it.

The problem is that Biden believes that he needs Kamala Harris to secure his base in the Democratic Party. She is mixed-race which appeals to the large African-American population which leans heavily towards the Democrats. She also represents women who make up 55 percent of the population.

But the key to the White House may not be related to either gender or ethnicity. In an increasingly divided country It may simply be determined by party affiliation. Twenty-five percent of American voters are registered Republicans. Thirty-one percent are officially affiliated with the Democratic Party. However, 41 percent of American voters categorise themselves as “independents” or—as the political pundits would say—swing voters.

Joe Biden reckons that he can woo the swing voters while Kamala Harris wins over ethnic and female community. Perhaps, but given the president’s age, the independents will be looking at the candidate’s running mate more closely than in the past.

Sudan

Sudan is settling in for a prolonged civil war. The two rival factions—the RSF and the army—are evenly balanced. The opposing leaders, the army’s General Abdel Fattah al Burhan and the RSF’s General Mohmed Hamed Dagalo (known as Hemedti) have the sort of egos that rule out surrender.

The RSF is officially the Sudanese equivalent of America’s National Guard. Unofficially it is General Hemedti’s private army. It is well-trained in guerrilla tactics and has links with Russia’s Wagner Group and the United Arab Emirates.

General Burham’s army is better equipped with tanks and artillery and thus has greater firepower. It is backed by Egypt and to a lesser extent China which has been bartering military equipment for Sudanese oil since 2000.

Oil makes up almost 90 percent of Sudanese exports. It is found in the south of the country and travels to the Red Sea terminus of Port Sudan in two lengthy pipelines. Expect both sides to be fighting for control of the pipelines.

At the moment most of the fighting is in the streets of the capital Khartoum which is making it difficult for foreign nationals — most of whom are based in the city—to reach the airport and fly out of the country. France, Britain, China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Italy have all despatched flights to rescue people.

The exception has been the United States which, with 16,000 Americans, has the largest contingent of foreign nationals. The embassy has been evacuated, but official American policy is that private citizens have to find their own way home.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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2 Comments

  • This is not the first time that an emergency evacuation of British Citizens from Sudan has been necessary. Gladstone reluctantly sent General Gordon to Khartoum in 1884 (as Governor General) with instructions to restore order and then get back to Cairo. Gordon abolished the local slave trade and safely evacuated 2,000 British nationals and their dependents. Gordon, however, did not return to Egypt. He fortified Khartoum and prepared to meet the forces of the Mahdi, forcing Gladstone to send a relief column under the command of General Wolseley. The column arrived too late to save Gordon and his retinue and the anti-imperialist Gladstone was blamed for dithering. The following year the government’s budget was defeated, prompting Gladstone to resign with Lord Salisbury taking over as Prime Minister.
    The Liberals won the election, in 1892 and Gladstone returned for a fourth administration. He resigned in March 1894, having failed to retain the support of his Cabinet over Irish Home rule. Gladstone died in May 1898 at the age of 89 shortly before the battle of Omdurman in September of that year. Following the defeat of the Khalifa’s army in Sudan, Egypt and Sudan remained under British rule as a dependency of the Empire until after the second world war.
    President Biden might look to Gladstone as a precedent for Elder statesmen holding office into their mid-eighties, but is was never going to be smooth going then or now.

  • Peter Hirst 8th May '23 - 1:52pm

    It makes sense for Taiwan to drop its claim to mainland China if this will increase its recognition as an independent state. The only way China will drop its claim to Taiwan is if the global community recognises Taiwan. This probably requires as does many other issues a rejig of the UN.

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