Tom Arms’ World Review: China and the US, democracy and Brexit fallout

There has been an acute outbreak of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. It has been brought about by an even more acute outbreak of Sinophobia. It appears that the one—and possibly only—thing that upon which Democrats and Republicans can agree is their common fear of the rise of China. But most of all, they worry about they worry about defeat in the technology race which provides the essential tools for all the above. That is why the Senate this week voted by an overwhelming majority of 68 to 32 to pump $250 billion over five years into and development in America’s high-tech industries. It needs it. They worry about losing the values debate, the economic competition and the military debate. At the core of the technology business is semi-conductors and America’s global share of production of semi-conductors has dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2021. Meanwhile, China, this year surpassed America’s spending (private and public) on R and D spending in high-tech. Xi Jinping has said that he aims to have China self-sufficient in the production of semi-conductors and other high-tech products and services by 2025. It is a short jump from self-sufficiency to global dominance. US and Chinese competition in this field should be great news for the rest of the world because the likely result is more and better technology services for the rest of us. It should also spur other countries to follow suit for fear of falling behind. Israel and South Korea already invest more of their GDP’s on research and development than anyone else—4.6 percent according to the latest available figures. Britain has recently announced that its R and D investment will rise to more than $250 million a year to turn the country into a “science super power.”

One of the pillars of a democratic system is free and fair elections in which the largest possible number of people vote. The numbers are needed to give credibility to the result. That is why Australia introduced compulsory voting in 1924 after a poor turnout in the 1922 election. It is also why in Belgium, a non-voter finds it difficult to obtain a job in the public sector; and why ancient Athenians ostracised citizens who failed to turn up to cast their ballots. In short, the more who vote the easier it is for the elected government to do its job. Big turnout equals credibility. Which begs the question: Why is the US Republican Party so intent on making it more difficult to vote? Well, the short answer is Trump’s claims of election fraud. It is also the wrong answer. The fact is that there is very, very little voter fraud in American elections. The right-wing Heritage Foundation reported that they could find only 1,296 cases of proven voter fraud between 1992 and 2020. That is out of billions of votes cast in that 28-year period in federal, state and local elections. So why are the Republicans so keen on making it more difficult to vote? Because more voters usually lead to the election of more progressive or, if you prefer, left-wing politicians. This has certainly been the result of research in Swiss cantons which require compulsory voting. And American psephologists concur that compulsory voting favours the Democratic Party. So, the answer is that the Republican Party is not interested in widespread support to bolster its credibility at home and abroad, democracy or the US constitution. It is interested in power at the expense of democratic values.

One of the generally accepted and slightly derogatory definitions of a diplomat is “an honest man (or woman) sent abroad to lie on behalf of their country.” Certainly, the main purpose of any country’s foreign policy is to protect that country’s national interests. That is why diplomats will try to avoid outright lies, but will stretch the truth, prevaricate, equivocate and dissimulate in pursuit of their clearly-stated and known goals. And their counterparts know this, respect it and make allowances for it. This is especially true when it comes to negotiating things such as trade agreements which then become international law. But when the negotiations are over, the dust has settled and agreements signed the lying stops. Interpretations of what was agreed continue ad nauseum, but downright lying and law-breaking stops. If it doesn’t, the country that continues obfuscating will not be trusted in negotiations elsewhere and its conduct of foreign policy and protection of national interests will suffer accordingly. This is a major reason it is important that Britain respect the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Accusing Brussels of “legal purism” or now claiming that the “fantastic” deal that it signed in December was done so “under duress” is counter-productive and damaging to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Global Britain” policy. It has already annoyed proud Irish-American President Joe Biden who has warned Boris Johnson of repercussions if the protocol is not respected and damages the Good Friday Agreement. EU negotiator Marcos Sefcovic said after deadlocked talks in London this week that Brussels’ patience is “wearing thin.” And Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the protocol was “the only solution and must be implemented completely.” But it is not only the row over Northern Ireland which is creating distrust problems. This week British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons Health and Science Select Committee that Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, lied when he told the same committee that Hancock lied to the prime minister about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Well one of them lied. Or both. But the point is that lying has become the preferred coinage of political debate in a country which once prided itself on its word being its bond.

* 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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16 Comments

  • Nigel Hunter 13th Jun '21 - 9:28am

    Free and Fair Elections.You can say the same for over here.

  • The problem with compulsory voting is you are forcing people to vote when they don’t give a damn or can’t see anyone worth voting for. Why would anyone think that was a good idea?

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jun '21 - 10:02am

    “Accusing Brussels of “legal purism” or now claiming that the “fantastic” deal that it signed in December was done so “under duress” is counter-productive and damaging to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Global Britain” policy.”
    Perfidious Albion?

    If one of us signed a contract and haven’t understood it properly before signing how far would we get with refusing to abide by it?

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/13/mistrusted-johnson-feels-full-force-of-eu-fury-as-brexit-wrecks-g7-summit
    “Their annoyance is unlikely to have been lifted by the presence at all the meetings of Lord Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, who was wearing union jack socks.”
    How pathetic!

  • Charles Smith 13th Jun '21 - 11:05am

    Biden spelled out his summit goals in an op-ed published on the weekend. One of the missions of this new alliance, he wrote, would be “confronting the harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia.”

    ‘The West’ is looking somewhat tattered and frayed after four years of President Donald Trump. Frequently contemptuous of international commitments, friendly with dictators and aggressive toward allies, Trump caused a well-documented plunge in European and global confidence in the United States’ ability to do the right thing.
    https://worldabcnews.com/biden-says-he-wants-to-confront-china-is-trudeau-willing-to-go-along/

  • It has already annoyed proud Irish-American President Joe Biden who has warned Boris Johnson of repercussions if the protocol is not respected and damages the Good Friday Agreement.

    Biden is “not well informed”. It’s the Northern Ireland Protocol which is “contrary” to the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement…

    ‘David Trimble tells Joe Biden that EU ‘intransigence’ on NI Protocol threatens Good Friday Agreement’ [June 2021]:
    https://www.portadowntimes.co.uk/news/politics/brexit/david-trimble-tells-joe-biden-that-eu-intransigence-on-ni-protocol-threatens-good-friday-agreement-3269026

    “It is wrong to assert that imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol protects the Good Friday agreement (GFA) and President Biden must resist attempts by EU countries to make him believe that it does. As the GFA’s co-negotiator, with John Hume, I understand better than anyone the central principles which enabled it to be sold to a sceptical and reluctant unionist population. I can tell the president, the protocol does not defend the GFA.” […]

    “If the EU cared at all about the careful balance built in to the GFA, then it would show flexibility in seeking a joint solution. Instead, it seems bent on a process that treats Northern Ireland as a political football.” […]

    “Personal and political sacrifices were worth it to win support for peace. However, now I fear for stability and peace if the protocol is imposed as the EU seeks. I appeal to those who are clamouring for its imposition either out of ignorance, vengeance for Brexit or economic advantage to understand the dangerous consequences of their demands.”

    ‘David Trimble: Tear up the Northern Ireland protocol to save the Belfast Agreement’ [February 2021]:
    https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/david-trimble-tear-up-the-northern-ireland-protocol-to-save-the-belfast-agreement-1.4489873

    The protocol lists 70 pages of EU laws to which Northern Ireland must adhere. This amounts to tens of thousands of separate regulations. In addition, all future EU laws on which no one in the UK or Northern Ireland is able even to discuss – let alone vote on – will apply to Northern Ireland. Moreover, they will be enforceable by the European Court of Justice. This amounts to a seismic and undemocratic change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and runs contrary to the most fundamental premise in the Belfast Agreement.

  • Peter Chambers 13th Jun '21 - 11:55am

    @Tom
    > Britain has recently announced that its R and D investment will rise to more than $250 million a year to turn the country into a “science super power.”

    UK R and D investment is not around $250 M. According to the House of Commons Library “In the UK in 2018, total expenditure on R&D was £37.1 billion, £558 per head, or the equivalent of 1.7% of GDP”.

    More granular coverage of proposed cuts (not a net improvement) to UK R and D are in this Guardian article. Figures from the UKRI show how Brexit and the proposed changes in DfiD will result in cuts to projects already in the pipeline.

    How could it be otherwise? Mr Sunak is looking for cash savings for the next budget. For an accountant, the wonderful thing about R&D cuts is that the benefit is now while the pain is in future financial years.

    The Commons library notes an aim from 2018, “The Government has a target for total R&D investment to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027”. I hope someone has told the Treasury.

  • Regarding David Trimble…. To (mis)quote Mandy Rice-Davies “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?”..

    He was a rightwing Unionist who opposed the Sunningdale Agreement… His problem with the protocol is that he views it as a weakening of Northern Ireland’s ‘Britishness’…He is now a member of the Conservative party and he campaigned strongly for Brexit..

    If anyone can show how having a hard border between N.I. and the Republic (the alternative to the protocol) is less harmful to the GFA than the current agreement, signed by Johnson, then please do..

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jun '21 - 2:00pm

    @expats
    Looking at https://factcheckni.org/topics/peace/does-belfast-good-friday-agreement-forbid-cross-border-barriers/
    “The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement does not exclude Northern Ireland or Ireland from establishing cross-border checkpoints and other security measures. However, an explicit objective of the UK Withdrawal Agreement is to minimise physical border controls.”
    Using cold meats as an example:
    In https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-brexit-latest-raab-northern-ireland-b1864933.html
    “The French president and the prime minister clashed when Mr Johnson complained that cold meats could not be sent across the Irish Sea from Britain, after the end of the month.”
    As far as I know they cannot be sent from anywhere UK to anywhere in the EU without appropriate paperwork since the end of the transition period. And the Northern Ireland problem in this context is about products sent from Great Britain which might end up in the Republic rather than remaining in NI for consumption there. So it seems to me there have to be some checks of the veterinary paperwork done somewhere – either on the border between NI and the Republic or on entry to NI from GB.

    And from https://britishmeatindustry.org/industry-news/post-brexit-meat-export-system-threatens-permanent-loss-of-trade-with-the-eu-and-northern-ireland/
    such problems are not going to go away any time soon.

    “If we could negotiate an agreement where the UK and EU are part of a common veterinary area, this would completely remove the need for veterinary measures and checks at borders. There are a couple of models for this, with the Swiss model being a good option. ”

    I don’t see any prospect of jingoistic UK government ministers moving away from their apparent position of refusing to align with such EU rules. And the EU seems to me entitled to maintain standards in imported food products.
    None of this is helped by statements from Raab about the EU ( https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/dominic-raab-hits-out-at-e2-80-98bloody-minded-e2-80-99-eu-ahead-of-talks-on-brexit-stand-off-on-northern-ireland/ar-AAKXZv5 )
    “They can be more pragmatic about the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that is win-win or they can be bloody-minded and purist about it”

    I think it reasonable to assume the EU understood what it was signing. Did Boris Johnson & Co understand?

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jun ’21 – 2:00pm………@expats…..“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement does not exclude Northern Ireland or Ireland from establishing cross-border checkpoints and other security measures. However, an explicit objective of the UK Withdrawal Agreement is to minimise physical border controls…..

    Absolutely; however, there is the ‘letter’ and the ‘spirit’ of the agreement and, because of the compromises made, the ‘spirit’ is paramount.

    ”Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, George Hamilton, has repeatedly said that a hard border would be damaging for the wider peace process.
    He has said that any new border infrastructure would be seen as “fair game” for attack by dissident republicans.
    In an interview, he also put the border in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, “If you put up significant physical infrastructure at a border, which is the subject of contention politically, you are re-emphasising the context and the causes of the conflict,” he said.
    “So, that creates tensions and challenges and questions around people’s identity, which in some ways the Good Friday Agreement helped to deal with.”

    Brexiteers seem to have forgotten how they applauded his ‘oven ready’ deal..To blame the EU for the flaws that were pointed out at the time (and dismissed as ‘project fear’) is duplicity of the highest order.

  • Andrew McCaig 13th Jun '21 - 8:27pm

    Well hidden in one article on this Sefcovic said that all that is needed to resolve the cold meat issue is a lable saying “not for export from N Ireland”. I think this is a typical dispute blown up unnecessarily by the Tories for political reasons.

  • Matt Wardman 13th Jun '21 - 11:30pm

    >It is also why in Belgium, a non-voter finds it difficult to obtain a job in the public sector;

    Is it true that public sector employers in Belgium get access to voting records? If not, how do they have that information?

    If so, astonishing and shocking. If not, discriminating on that basis is equally horrifying.

    I wonder how long that would stand in a UK Employment Rribunal.

  • David Evans 14th Jun '21 - 2:09pm

    The deal was signed by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives because they were under duress – the duress of an absurd promise to “get Brexit done” without anyone in the party with the wit or the wisdom to do it.

    It was the Conservatives that said “No deal is better than a Bad deal.” and they proved it by getting a deal that was much, much worse than No deal.

    Headless Chickens Coming Home to Roost is the right headline for this fiasco. The only problem is that we, the British people will be paying the price for Headless Chicken Johnson’s disaster for decades to come.

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