World Review: US ballots, the Quad, Britain as a “vassal state” and vaccinated Africans

In this weekend’s review, Tom Arms reports auditors have discovered that Donald Trump received 261 fewer votes in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Joe Biden 99 more undermining those that called the election result the “Big Lie”. Could the crisis at Evergrande slow China’s economy and that of the world? The “Quad” is a new Indo-Pacific alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia designed to counter the rise of Chinese. India is the outlier in the group perhaps its including might mean it will look more towards the US. France has recalled its ambassadors to Australia and America over the nuclear submarine row but their man in London stayed put, the French claiming Britain has become a “vassal state” of the United States. In another row, vaccinated Americans can visit the UK but vaccinated Africans cannot.

Remember Arizona. No, not the ship that was sunk at Pearl Harbour. The US state that was going to lead the way in overturning the 2020 US presidential elections and put Donald Trump back in the White House with a voter recount. After several delays the auditors have discovered that Trump actually received 261 fewer votes in the key Maricopa County and Biden 99 more. This is a huge embarrassment for the ballot counters, Arizona Republican state senators who ordered the recount and, of course, Trump and all of his “Stop the Steal” supporters. This was the ex-president’s best chance of proving that the “Big Lie” was actually the “Unvarnished Truth.” Cyber Ninjas is pro-Trump. Its CEO went on record as supporting the “Stop the Steal” campaign. Their auditors even went to the extreme of checking ballot papers for bamboo fibres to verify an outrageous conspiracy theory that Biden votes were shipped from China. Trump meanwhile continues to push the voter fraud story (as long as Republicans lose). He is now claiming that California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsome rigged his recall vote, even though the Republican candidate Larry Elder has graciously conceded. In other Trump news, the ex-president is suing his niece Mary and the New York Times for publishing details of his tax returns. He is not claiming that the story is untrue, just that it invaded his privacy rights. Finally, the Congressional committee investigating the 6 January Capitol Hill riots has subpoenaed Trump advisers who were in contact with the ex-president on the key date. They want to know exactly what he did, said and was thinking.

If China’s economy slows down then the rest of the world slows down. It is now the second largest economy in the world and the globe’s largest manufacturer. It has managed to withstand the coronavirus storm while the rest of the world faltered. But it is facing a major financial crisis as its largest real estate developer—Evergrande—faces ruin and bankruptcy. Like many property companies, Evergrande borrows to build. But it borrowed too much, and last year the Chinese government decided it needed to curb the company by limiting the amount of money Evergrande and other real estate developers could borrow. The company reacted by selling properties at a discount which, of course, affected their ability to pay the money they had borrowed to build them. It now owes a staggering $300 billion and this week failed to make an $83.5 million bond payment. Stock markets around the world took a dive. The Chinese government is making noises that it will refuse to bail out Evergrande, but that may change their minds when the impact of the company’s failure is fully assessed. It is not just the future of hundreds of thousands of jobs building 1,300 major projects in 280 cities. No, it is the financial impact. Evergrande owes money to 171 Chinese domestic financial banks and 121 other financial institutions. If they are not paid by Evergrande then they will have to foreclose on other companies and/or loan less money. This will impact on Chinese companies’ ability to expand and continue to provide manufacturing capacity to the rest of the world. It is a bit like the sub-prime mortgage scandal from which we have not yet fully recovered.

The Quad are meeting today (Friday) in Washington in the wake of the US/UK nuclear submarine deal. In case, you are wondering, the “Quad” is a new Indo-Pacific alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia designed to counter the rise of Chinese. India is one of the most interesting members and a bit of an outlier. It is the biggest with a population of 1.388 billion that rivals that of China. It is the only member of the Quad that shares a border with China which is disputed and has resulted in one war and several deadly clashes. It also has good relations with Russia and, despite the disputed border, shares membership of a number of regional organisations with Beijing. Its security concerns differ from the other three members. They are focused on the South China and East China Seas, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong. India wants to beef up the Quad’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean and is worried about China’s historic links with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a key supporter of the Ghani government in Kabul and he is now concerned that the Taliban will support terrorist activities in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Historically, India’s relations with the US have been at arms-length. It is a big purchaser of Russian military hardware and at the moment their purchases are the subject of some congressional sanctions. This could, however, change dramatically in an alliance in which America is the senior partner.

France recalled its ambassadors to Australia and America over the nuclear submarine row. Their man in London stayed put. Why bother, argued French diplomats, London is not the centre of “Global Britain”. It is the HQ of Irrelevant Britain. Or, as Clement Beaune, French Minister for European affairs, Britain has become a “vassal state” of the United States. The French have consistently taken a dim view of the Anglo-American special relationship. Charles de Gaulle repeatedly vetoed British membership of the Common Market on the grounds that if it came to a crunch, Britain would always choose America over Europe. Brexit was the ultimate proof that DeGaulle was right. The problem that the British government faces is will America choose Britain over Europe or some other region of the world. So far the signs are not good. Boris went to the White House this week to plead for a US-UK trade deal. Biden’s response: “No way Jose.” Riding on American coattails on the sub deal, Afghanistan, and Iraq is not enough. What the proud Irish-American president really wants is implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol that Johnson negotiated. So does the US Congress. They won’t get it. Boris Johnson is on the verge of implementing Article 16 of the treaty which basically says that if it isn’t working—which it isn’t—then he can scrap it. That won’t help the special relationship, relations with France, The EU or anywhere else in Europe except a few die-hard Eurosceptics such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

The one thing that Boris Johnson did walk away from the White House with was an agreement to allow vaccinated Americans to visit Britain. He and his spokespeople are touting this as a great Boris victory. In fact, the lifted travel restrictions apply to all of Europe—not just Britain—and the EU had a much bigger say in the negotiations than did the UK. Not everyone, however, is happy about the deal. Africans are furious. As part of the Covax scheme, the UK has been sending millions of vaccine doses to African countries. People are being jabbed and presented with vaccine certificates. The British government, however, says that tested Africans who have been jabbed with British-produced and distributed vaccines cannot visit the UK. Why they ask is that so when America—which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world—is encouraged to fly its citizens to British shores?

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

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10 Comments

  • Matt Wardman 26th Sep '21 - 11:19am

    Quite strongly disagree with most of these interpretations eg Brexit is not a pivot to the USA; it is a withdrawal from the growing political centralisation of the EU.

    And Article 16 does not scrap the treaty; it suspends parts of it where those are having over-detrimental and requires an immediate conversation process about the issue.

    I would expect in due course Section 16 to be triggered by the UK side on the damage being caused to NI society by the ‘our understanding is the canonical version and we demand you implement it, or else’ stance being taken by Brussels, and a Trusted Trader scheme to be implemented in accordance with the commitments made last December, and about which Brussels is currently stalling.

    My impression is that a wide trusted-trader scheme will solve a significant section of the problematic questions.

    But no time to write an essay.

    Next week a story will be a new spat over Jersey and fishing, as the ‘interim grace period’ ends on Sept 30. Mr Macron is already setting out his stall – he has said he wants a “consultation body”, which I think is outlawed by the Treaty provision requiring Comms via the EU-UK, which I think was why direct talking to the Jersey Government has been blocked, and has criticised Brussels for not being politically committed enough.

    And some is going to get the blame for this from his soapbox.

    Very inscrutable, French presidents – especially those in danger of being outflanked by extremists.

  • Matt Wardman 26th Sep '21 - 11:20am

    Typoo: “over-detrimental impacts on society”

  • Talking about vaccines, my wife and I have successfully downloaded our vaccine certificates from the NHS Scotland website apropos a visit to the Western Isles and Iona later this year. Quite smart and multicoloured.

    It now nestles snuggly without discord in my wallet alongside my driving licence, senior railcard, gov.scot travel card, national records of Scotland ID card, National Records of Scotland readers ticket, University ID card, Blackwell Rewards Card and Co-op membership card. Some of these items (shudder, shudder) even have my photograph on them.

    So far, I’m pleased to report I have had no adverse symptoms, after effects or knocks on the door from the Security Services or Police Scotland’s finest. I hope this brings some comfort and a reduction in anxiety for Alex C-H.

  • Peter Martin 26th Sep '21 - 2:16pm

    ” The British government, however, says that tested Africans who have been jabbed with British-produced and distributed vaccines cannot visit the UK. Why they ask is that so when America—which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world—is encouraged to fly its citizens to British shores?”

    Is this really true?

    A quick look through the restrictions which will apply after the 4th Oct shows that the USA is still going to be on the Amber list.

    But then so is Algeria, Benin, Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo etc. The last time I checked these countries were in Africa.

    https://www.gov.uk/guidance/red-amber-and-green-list-rules-for-entering-england#red-list

    America only has the highest number of cases if we believe that the official numbers from Brazil and India are realtively accurate. There are many unreported cases everywhere in the world so none of them are totally accurate, even from the UK and USA. However we might expect that the more highly developed and wealthier countries would submit more accurate figures than the less developed.

  • Peter Martin 26th Sep '21 - 2:37pm

    @ Martin,

    “The ‘political centralisation’ stuff was hooey , strictly for political anoraks and oddballs.”

    There must be an awful lot of oddballs out there! The “oddball” David Owen made the point that he’d have been happy to have stayed in something like the old EEC but the EU was quite a different organisation and was taking the concept of ‘ever closer union’ far too literally.

    The Leave side had many different reasons for wanting to leave but opposition to “ever closer union” or increased political centralisation was a common aim. ‘Bennites’ on the left and ‘Redwoodites’ on the right were all saying that they wanted UK laws to be made in a UK Parliament. A one sized fits all approach across the whole of the EU was never going to work.

  • primroseleague 26th Sep '21 - 8:12pm

    as a dyed in the wool fence sitter, I voted remain but could see some arguments for leaving. Had EFTA been an option that’s where my vote would have gone. I could see the chaos of leaving the EU without a fixed destination coming, so wouldn’t vote for it, but my vote to remain was not a vote to stay in the EU, just not one to leave on those terms. I continue to be keen on UK EFTA membership, but wouldn’t support rejoining the EU now we’re out. But there’s enough common cause on everything else to still be a LibDem.

  • primroseleague 26th Sep ’21 – 8:12pm:
    I could see the chaos of leaving the EU without a fixed destination coming,…

    The fixed destination is to be an independent country having taken back control of our money, borders, laws and trade. There’s still work to do on that.

    I continue to be keen on UK EFTA membership, but wouldn’t support rejoining the EU now we’re out.

    The UK has signed comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with all four EFTA members. As the World’s fifth largest market, we’ve already signed more than twice as many FTAs with other countries than EFTA has. Currently, we are negotiating FTAs with several more countries and have applied to join The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – a vastly larger and faster growing market than EFTA. There’s no reason why the UK would want to join EFTA.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Oct '21 - 4:59pm

    Our foreign policy does need to start reflecting the reality that the countries of the world are becoming more equal. With the weakening of the USA, alliances of the willing will prevail as is seen in recent events. We should have a more pragmatic foreign policy though still valuing those countries that respect the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

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