Tom Arms’ World Review: Capitol anniversary, Kazakhstan, Turkey, EU/China

Capital Hill one year on

In his inaugural address President Joe Biden said he wanted to be a unifying figure. For the past year he has sought to do that by largely refraining from attacking Donald Trump and his “election lie” and by staying aloof from the congressional inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots. This week he climbed off the fence and took off the gloves with this speech in the Rotunda at Capitol Hill. He accused his predecessor of “spreading a web of lies” that led to the 6 January assault. He lamented that the “threats to the constitution have not abated” since he took office and attacked Trump for caring more about his “bruised ego than the democracy or our constitution.” If Biden’s intention is to unite, his speech may have been a mistake. Staunch Republicans have denounced it and even the centre-right Wall Street Journal labelled it divisive.” Biden’s address coincides with the launch of a book entitled “How Civil Wars Start.” The author, American academic Barbara Walter, has spent years, studying civil wars around the world and has sadly concluded that America may be going down the same path as Egypt, Syria and the former Yugoslavia. Ms Walter says one of the main causes of civil war is politicians exploiting ethnic divisions for political gain. She points out that Republicans are appealing to Whites and Democrats to a coalition of ethnic minorities and the country could—based on the experience of other countries—she says that the US may be heading inexorably towards violent conflict. Can it be averted? Biden’s speech may have been divisive but could he afford to continue to ignore Trump’s outrageous claims on the anniversary of the Capitol Hill riots?  The situation has certainly not been helped by Trump’s rambling over the top response to the Biden speech.  Americans should dispense with the phrase “it can’t happen here” and start seriously thinking about how to stop a civil war happening.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is currently discovering the cost of keeping the lid on dissent. Since independence from Moscow in December 1991 the government has blocked access to the internet, kept a tight rein on the traditional media, controlled the courts and organised elections which resulted with the government regularly winning 100 percent of the vote. After 25 years in office Nursultan Nazarbayev handpicked his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019 but retained power behind the scenes as chairman of the country’s Security Council. Since independence the country has enjoyed major economic growth as it exploited its vast oil, gas, goal and mineral resources. But the cash has not filtered down to the country’s 18 million people who inhabit a country the size of all pof Western Europe. Their average income is only $3,000 a year. The man and woman in the street, however, did enjoy a few perks such as a cap on the price of liquefied petroleum which is used to run most of the country’s vehicles. It was the lifting of that cap which provided the spark that blew the lid off the Kazakhstan pressure cooker this week. So far it has been reported that 26 protesters (President Tokayev labelled them “terrorists” and “bandits”) have been killed. More than a thousand have been injured and 400 hospitalised. Tokayev has ordered troops to shoot to kill future protesters. He has also called on his friend Vladimir Putin for 2,000 “peacekeeping” troops under their collective security treaty. Russia has a major stake in Kazakhstan. There is a large Russian-speaking minority; Russian military bases; major gas pipelines and the world’s largest—Russian-owned– satellite launching facility. The Russians are keen to see stability return to an important ally and were probably behind the decision to re-impose the price cap on LPG fuel for the next six months.

Turkey

“Experts, the public is sick of experts,” is a phrase that was coined by Michael Gove during the Brexit debate. It is now been adopted with a vengeance by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The advice of virtually every economist in the world—and the one followed by almost every government—is that when prices go up, the country’s central bank raises interest rates. Not Turkey. As inflation has risen, President Erdogan has ordered the central bank to lower interest rates for the Turkish lira. Since September central bank rates have dropped from 18 to 14 percent. Inflation—surprise surprise—has climbed to twenty percent and the lira has fallen 40 percent against the dollar. For the first time in years a currency black market is emerging on the streets of Istanbul and Izmir. Erdogan has countered the problem by guaranteeing the value of Turkey’s $300 billion in bank-held personal savings against the dollar. So far this has cost Turkey’s central bank $20 billion of its foreign reserves. If the lira continues to fall—which it almost certainly will—than the cost to the bank could run into an unsustainable hundreds of billions of dollars. The good news is that a collapsed Turkish lira could make the Turkish Riviera THE place to holiday this coming summer—pandemic allowing.

The EU and China

The EU’s difficult relationship with China and Taiwan has been underscored by tiny EU member Lithuania allowing the opening of the Taiwanese Representative Office. Usually the diplomatic niceties of allowing Taiwanese representatives in a county are circumvented by using the name of Taiwan’s capital and labelling their premises the “Taipei Representative Office.” Not so, in Vilnius who used the name of the country and incurred the wrath of Beijing not only for Lithuania but also the wider EU. The Chinese quickly downgraded diplomatic relations and restricted trade with Lithuania and its 2.7 million citizens. At first the Baltic state remained defiant. But then, this week cracks appeared in their principled stand when Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda expressed doubts about the wisdom of his country’s over the sign on the door and suggested that the office should have been labelled as coming from Taipei instead of Taiwan. China’s foreign ministry said recognising a mistake was the right step, but more concessions were needed. The change of direction was clearly the result of unofficial Chinese boycott of selected goods—not only from Lithuania but from the wider EU. China has denied any boycott, but the EU has threatened to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation. The situation is complicated by a disagreement within the Lithuanian government over the wisdom of closer relations with Taiwan/Taipei. And then there is the fact that the EU as a whole may have extensive trade with China but only one percent of Lithuania’s exports go there. Finally, Taiwan this week forcibly entered the fray by announcing it was investing $200 million in plucky Lithuania and buying 20,000 bottles of Lithuanian rum that were turned away by Chinese customs officials. The story continues to run.

* 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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21 Comments

  • Chris Moore 9th Jan '22 - 10:00am

    Losers of an election refusing to accept a result has been a proximate contributor to civil war in various countries, including Spain, my own adopted homeland.

    We as a party have a very poor recent record in this regard: refusing to accept the Referendum result was neither liberal nor democratic. Revoke if it had been imposed would have been a very dangerous error. I hope the party has learnt from this.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Jan '22 - 10:47am

    “It is still a mystery what forces exactly are behind the rebellion in Kazakhstan. While I had presumed that it was a CIA operation it may have been outsourced to Britain’s MI6. There are also still other possibilities.” (Moon of Alabama)
    https://www.moonofalabama.org/

  • “Experts, the public is sick of experts,” is a phrase that was coined by Michael Gove…

    That’s a misrepresentation. This is what he actually said…

    I think the people of this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying they know best and getting it consistently wrong.

    – Interview with Faisal Islam, Sky News, 3d. June 2016.

  • Andrew Tampion 10th Jan '22 - 7:24am

    But Martin Parliament passed the European Union ( Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 which gave clear democratic authority for the outcome of the referendum. In the House of Commons the vote was 494 to 122 in favour of passing the Act. Given this fact banging on about the advisory status is pointless, counterproductive and therefore foolish. Thiswas done after complaints about breaches of referendum law had been widely aired; so these must have been taken into account by Parliament.

    For me the error by EU supporters generally and Liberal Democrats inj particular was to ignore the clear unhappiness with the way that the EU was developing as illustrated by the way that UKIP’s vote share increased.

    If Gordon Brown had held a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, as many believed had been promised in the 2005 Labour Party manifesto and was supported by Liberal Democrars at the time, then I think Brexit could have been avoided.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '22 - 7:43am

    Chris Moore: The only circumstance in which Lib Dems would have “imposed” the Revoke policy would have been a Lib Dem majority government, in which case we could argue that we had a clear democratic mandate (under the current system) to do so. Later mandates trump earlier ones, and no Parliament can bind its successors — that’s how Parliamentary democracy works. So the fact that Parliament “ratified” the referendum result by voting to invoke Article 50 is also neither here nor there — what Parliament can do, Parliament can undo.

    So if there were to be civil war as a result of a newly elected government reversing Brexit, it would have been due to Brexit supporters being unable to accept the result of the election providing the mandate to do so. I don’t think civil war would really have happened though — that was an empty threat by people who were all mouth and no trousers. It was, however, tacitly encouraged by the government of the time, to provide a paper justification for a mooted (though legally dubious) proposal to invoke the Civil Contingencies Act if it could not get its Brexit plan through Parliament.

  • Chris Moore 10th Jan '22 - 8:51am

    @Martin and Alex,

    You’ve both provided legalistic arguments as to why you think it would have been OK to Revoke the Referendum. Very nice indeed. But it has nothing to do with my post.

    Those who voted to Leave were not and would not have been persuaded by such reasoning.

    Win an overall majority on 38% of the vote and Revoke? Good to know that any subsequent extreme unhappiness and disorder would have been entirely down to ignorant Leave voters failing to understand democratic precedent.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '22 - 9:09am

    @Chris Moore: Whether or not Leavers would have been persuaded is irrelevant. Any attempted insurrection to stop the newly elected government from implementing its democratic mandate would have been a similar attack on demoracy to the insurrection on Capitol hill a year and four days ago, and would have been treated the same. But I don’t think it would have happened, as it was mostly empty threats aimed at egging on the government to railroad its Brexit plans through Parliament.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '22 - 9:12am

    PS Nice you called mine and Martin’s arguments “legalistic”. At least this means we believe in the rule of law and using lawful means to get our way. I think the law and constitution should trump an old advisory referendum won by dubious means.

  • Interesting to observe see the ‘legalistic’ arguments about Brexit being chewed over on LDV …….. with no mention of the undemocratic fact that over 62% of the electorate in Scotland (once a Liberal/Lib Dem stronghold which provided four party leaders in my lifetime) voted to remain.

    Our chums in the South East of England (which now appears be the sole focus of Lib Dem ambitions) shouldn’t be too surprised if an independent Republican Scotland eventually emerges from the Cuckoo’s egg cooked up by Farage/Johnson and their assorted Brexiteer pals in the right wing press.

  • One, I don’t think that referendums generally have a place in a f democracy.

    Two, if we have to have them then I think there should be a numerical threshold– say 60 percent have to vote for a change in the status quo. A big part of the problem was that the leavers margin of victory was so narrow.

  • The Guardian today, “Manufacturers have warned that Brexit will add to soaring costs facing British industry, amid concerns that customs delays and red tape will rank among the biggest challenges for firms this year.

    Make UK, the industry body representing 20,000 manufacturing firms of all sizes from across the country, said that while optimism among its members had grown, it was being undermined by the after-effects of the UK’s departure from the EU”.

  • Peter Watson 10th Jan '22 - 12:52pm

    @Andrew Tampion “If Gordon Brown had held a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, as many believed had been promised in the 2005 Labour Party manifesto and was supported by Liberal Democrats at the time, then I think Brexit could have been avoided.”
    Actually, I seem to recall that the Lib Dems were calling for an in/out referendum on EU membership at the time, and Tim Farron and others had to stand down from the front bench after defying the party whip and voting with the Conservatives for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

  • Chris Moore 10th Jan '22 - 2:36pm

    @Martin: you have a provided a legalistic argument. That doesn’t mean it’s right!

    Certainly the party – unwisely in my view – said it was in favour of the referendum and would accept the result. Only when it went the wrong way did we dig up a series of reasons to reject the result, none in my view of any real weight.

    I’m commenting on your style of argument.

  • Chris Moore 10th Jan '22 - 2:51pm

    Civil unrest after an imposed Revoke is about as unlikely as a coup d’etat after Biden’s election.

    All sorts of dubious arguments – including the feeble advisory/binding canard – were advanced by the Party after the Referendum went the wrong way. The politically and ethically best course of action was to accept the result, and argue for close relations with the EU. We could have supported May’s deal, for example.

    After 5 plus years of futility, we’re finally getting serious about what’s possible. But as a party, a degree of self-criticism is warranted for the wasted years from 2016 onwards.

  • @ Chris Moore “But as a party, a degree of self-criticism is warranted for the wasted years from 2016 onwards”.

    Indeed, although some of us of long standing, radical opinions and a lifetime of (successfully) slogging away as a local Councillor might just want to amend your 2016 to 2010, Chris.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '22 - 5:07pm

    Chris Moore: So you admit that civil war was an unlikely outcome of reversing Brexit. However, there was an attempted coup d’etat after Biden’s election, and the only people suggesting that civil unrest was either likely or desirable as a result of any Brexit direction were Brexiteers (and so they were the only ones who were een going to attempt such a thing).
    That the referendum was advisory is not a “canard” it’s a simple fact. Moreover it’s one that Lib Dems would not have held in that form if we had been in power, so why on earth should we be bound by it several GEs after it happened? We accept the “result” exactly for what it is, an advisory referendum result that, like any other vote that didn’t go our way, does not stop us from campaigning to win a fresh mandate that would override it. This is in the same way as the losers of an election become the “opposition” and campaign to win next time. What they don’t do is become uncritical cheerleaders for the elected government, so why should we go back on our principles and uncritically support a policy that we always opposed?

    Politically, “accepting Brexit” (in the way you think everyone should do, by self-censoring any criticism of the principle) would have been the death of us, as it would have meant no-one would have had any reason to vote for us. The two big parties had cornered the “accept Brexit” vote, so what would be the point in us muscling in on it? It would also have made us look like unprincipled poll-chasers. And voting for any Brexit deal would have significantly reduced our moral authority to criticise it when (as is happening now) it became deeply unpopular. We would be taunted with “but you voted for it”.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Jan '22 - 5:23pm

    We should be supporting Lithuania in its relationship with China. Though small its actions can be seen as revealing how we and China respond to such measures. China like Russia tests us continually and we must pass the test.

  • Charles Smith 10th Jan '22 - 9:09pm

    Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry said Sunday that 164 people have been killed in protests that have rocked the country over the past week.

    The figures reported on the state news channel Khabar-24 are a significant rise from previous tallies. It is not clear if the deaths refer only to civilians or if law-enforcement deaths are included. Kazakh authorities said earlier Sunday that 16 police or national guard had been killed. Authorities previously gave the civilian death toll as 26.
    https://worldabcnews.com/kazakhstan-says-164-killed-in-week-of-protests-over-sharp-jump-in-fuel-prices-other-grievances/

  • Peter Martin 15th Jan '22 - 10:10am

    There was never any possibility of an imposed revoke. That was nothing more than a Lib Dem pipe dream.

    A second referendum was a more realistic option and could have happened if the Remain forces hadn’t been so disunited. That, though, could have provoked civil unrest if the choice had been to remain in the EU or some pretend Leave option which no-one could have supported and would have led to a Leave boycott.

    But that’s all a ‘what if?’ now. It’s time to move on. For a start, Remainers need to find a new name. There’s no remain option any longer. To rejoin would require the EU to outline the terms first. There wouldn’t be any desire to have anything worse than the previous terms. But that’s what will only be on offer.

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