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Australia Continues Its Plunge Into Authoritarianism And Military Brinkmanship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 11:53am in

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Australia has joined the US and UK in an “enhanced trilateral security partnership” called AUKUS with the unspoken-yet-obvious goal of coordinating escalations against China. Antiwar reports:

President Biden and the leaders of Australia and the UK announced a new military agreement on Wednesday aimed at countering China. The pact, known as AUKUS, will focus on the sharing of sensitive military technologies, and the first initiative will focus on getting Australia nuclear-powered submarines.

US officials speaking to CNN described the effort to share nuclear propulsion with another country as an “exceedingly rare step” due to the sensitivity of the technology. “This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” one unnamed official said.

This deal will replace a planned $90 billion program to obtain twelve submarines designed by France, an obnoxious expenditure either way when a quarter of Australians are struggling to make ends meet during a pandemic that is four times more likely to kill Australians who are struggling financially. This is just the latest in Canberra’s continually expanding policy of feeding vast fortunes into Washington’s standoff with Beijing at the expense of its own people.

If readers are curious why Australia would simultaneously subvert its own economic interests by turning against its primary trading partner and its own security interests by feeding into dangerous and unnecessary provocations, I will refer them once again to the jarringly honest explanation by American political analyst John Mearsheimer at a debate hosted by the Australian think tank Center for Independent Studies in 2019. Mearsheimer told his audience that the US is going to do everything it can to halt China’s rise and prevent it from becoming the regional hegemon in the East, and that Australia should align with the US in that battle or else it would face the wrath of Washington.

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“The question that’s on the table is what should Australia’s foreign policy be in light of the rise of China,” Mearsheimer said. “I’ll tell you what I would suggest if I were an Australian.”

Mearsheimer claimed that China is going to continue to grow economically and will convert this economic power into military power to dominate Asia “the way the US dominates the Western Hemisphere”, and explained why he thinks the US and its allies have every ability to prevent that from happening.

“Now the question is what does this all mean for Australia?” Mearsheimer said. “Well, you’re in a quandary for sure. Everybody knows what the quandary is. And by the way you’re not the only country in East Asia that’s in this quandary. You trade a lot with China, and that trade is very important for your prosperity, no question about that. Security-wise you really want to go with us. It makes just a lot more sense, right? And you understand that security is more important than prosperity, because if you don’t survive, you’re not gonna prosper.”

“Now some people say there’s an alternative: you can go with China,” said Mearsheimer. “Right you have a choice here: you can go with China rather the United States. There’s two things I’ll say about that. Number one, if you go with China you want to understand you are our enemy. You are then deciding to become an enemy of the United States. Because again, we’re talking about an intense security competition.”

“You’re either with us or against us,” he continued. “And if you’re trading extensively with China, and you’re friendly with China, you’re undermining the United States in this security competition. You’re feeding the beast, from our perspective. And that is not going to make us happy. And when we are not happy you do not want to underestimate how nasty we can be. Just ask Fidel Castro.”

Nervous laughter from the Australian think tank audience punctuated Mearsheimer’s more incendiary observations. The CIA is known to have made numerous attempts to assassinate Castro.

So there you have it. Australia is not aligned with the US to protect itself from China. Australia is aligned with the US to protect itself from the US.

https://medium.com/media/e14beb7a1250a5d8f60618edecafa8bc/href

This new move happens as Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner announces his government’s policy for Covid-19 restrictions once the territory’s population is 80 percent vaccinated which will include “lockouts” during outbreaks wherein people will only be allowed to work and move freely in society if they verify that they are vaccinated using check-in measures which Gunner literally calls a “freedom pass”.

“I’ll say it again and again. If you want your life to continue close to normal, get your jab,” Gunner said. “For vaccinated people, the check-in app will basically be your freedom pass. For people who make the choice to not get vaccinated, no vax means no freedom pass. We’re working with other governments now to get this technology ready.”

This is in alignment with what we’ve been told to expect as the rest of Australia prepares to roll out the use of vaccine passports.

And we continue to see other authoritarian escalations in Australia which have nothing to do with Covid as well. Authorities have been proposing new legal provisions which will allow Australian visas to be cancelled and citizenship revoked in entirely secret proceedings based on information provided by secretive government agencies. The horrifying Identify and Disrupt bill which allows Australian police to hack people’s devices, collect, delete and alter their information and log onto their social media was passed through Parliament at jaw-dropping speed last month. Neither of these escalations are Covid-related.

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People who just started paying attention to Australian authoritarianism during Covid often get the impression that it’s entirely about the virus, but as we discussed previously the actual fundamental problem is that Australia is the only so-called democracy without any kind of statute or bill of rights to protect the citizenry from these kinds of abuses. This is why Australia is looked upon as so freakish by the rest of the western world right now: because, in this sense, it is. People call it a “free country”, but there has never been any reason to do so.

Covid has certainly played a major role in the exacerbation of Australian authoritarianism, but it’s a problem that was well underway long before the outbreak. Back in 2019 the CIVICUS Monitor had already downgraded Australia from an “open” country to one where civil space has “narrowed”, citing new laws to expand government surveillance, prosecution of whistleblowers, and raids on media organizations.

This slide into military brinkmanship and authoritarian dystopia shows no signs of stopping. The abuses of the powerful will continue to grow more egregious until the people open their eyes to what’s going on and begin taking action to steer us away from the existential dangers we are hurtling toward on multiple fronts. If there is any good news to be had here, it’s that if such a miracle ever occurs it will then be possible to immediately course correct and start building a healthy society together.

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History repeats as Morrison provokes China hostility

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 4:58am in

Tags 

Asia, China

The official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014 was the high point in Sino-Australian relations. It has been all downhill ever since.

Within a few years prominent political leaders and bureaucrats were talking of war almost, it seemed, with relish. Public opinion swung in a similar direction. Australia had found a new enemy. It became popular to talk about “standing up to China”. Such a dramatic change takes some explaining given that China continued, all the while, to be our major trading partner by a long shot.

Many developments, both internal and external, played a part. But there is no doubt that there was a concerted, and indeed a coordinated campaign, to turn the ship of state about. Many hands helped – the defence and security establishment, the Murdoch press, right wing think tanks and no doubt willing American allies. But even the activists must have been surprised by the speed and the ease of the transformation. They had clearly tapped into deep ancestral currents of anti-Asian sentiment… either wittingly or not. That being the case it will be instructive to recall the events of a century ago when Australia was confronted with the rise of Japan which was even more spectacular and unexpected than the recent emergence of China as a great power.

It is well known that the Australian colonies were deeply concerned by the prospect of Chinese migration resulting in restrictive legislation in the 1880s followed by the adoption of the Immigration Restriction Act by the first federal parliament in 1901. But the fear was demographic and the attendant danger of what was openly called racial contamination. There was no concern about Chinese strategic power. The Australians had paid little attention to Japan’s victory over China in 1896 and the resulting annexation of Taiwan. But they were completely surprised in 1902 by the negotiation of a treaty between Britain and Japan and then deeply troubled by the spectacular victory of the Japanese forces over Russia in 1905 and particularly the destruction of the Russian fleet in the battle of Tsushima. This was hardly surprising. The Japanese victory was celebrated all over the non-European world as an epochal event. The great tides of history were shifting.
There was widespread discussion in both Europe and North America in the years before World War I about the likelihood of an impending race war. Such concern was greatly amplified in Australia. It dominated our thinking about the world. With race uppermost in the national psyche Australians came naturally to assume that Japan had hostile intentions towards them. On the other hand the idea of racial affinity, of the blood tie with Britain, fortified loyalty to the Empire. The fact that Australian leaders knew very little about Japan and had no diplomatic representation there – or anywhere else for that matter – helped perpetuate their inability to make pragmatic decisions about the world in which they lived.

Imperial government leaders knew how to exploit Australia’s widely known phobias. Their overwhelming ambition was to encourage the country to spend more on defence and above all to train an expeditionary force which would be ready for service overseas to augment Britain’s own small professional army. Given their alliance with Japan they found Australia’s fears jejune but useful. If they privately played the Japanese card Australia would willingly mobilise a force for Imperial service in Europe and the Middle East. And that was the way it turned out.

The irony of the Great War was that it was, above all else, a white man’s war. Japan fought with the allies, Turkey fought beside the Germans. Both France and Britain brought large numbers of Asians and Africans to Europe to assist the war effort. The Japanese believed that as a result they would now be accepted as equals among the great powers and humiliating racial prejudice would be left behind. Woodrow Wilson’s speeches about equality and self-determination were widely read in Japan and encouraged the hope that the projected League of Nations would enshrine the principal of racial equality. The question dominated domestic debate in Japan for months in late 1918 and early 1919.

The Japanese delegation arrived in Paris early in 1919 expecting to have their concern about racial equality recognised in the Covenant of the League of Nations. They received considerable support from assorted delegations and early encouragement from the Americans. The British delegation, having shown initial interest, moved dramatically in the opposite direction driven by the vociferous opposition of the white settler dominions – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. For his part Wilson kept an anxious eye on opinion in California, Washington and Oregon which were politically important to him. The opposition of the white settler societies was sufficient to defeat the Japanese proposal. Wilson overrode the considerable body of support by declaring that such a significant innovation required a unanimous vote. The Japanese were devastated and there was a widespread sense of national humiliation. No one was more jubilant than Australian prime minister Billy Hughes, who had been the most outspoken and unrelenting opponent of racial equality. He came away from Paris convinced that he had, almost single-handedly, defeated the commitment to racial equality which he asserted “95 out of 100 Australians rejected”. But what was clear was that the British and other dominion leaders as well as the Americans were only too happy to let the swaggering Hughes carry the heavy responsibility for defeating a proposal with widespread support around the world.

Hughes stood up to Japan provoking hostility that hadn’t been there before. A hundred years later Scott Morrison has played the same card with China. Like Hughes he has had little diplomatic experience. His brash manner which works well at home can appear oafish off shore provoking needless offence. And in many parts of the world, whether justified or not, Australia still has to live down its notorious history of racism. Clearly no one would seriously suggest that 95 per cent of contemporary Australians were opposed to racial equality but habits of thought that once grew from racist roots have survived in modified form. Many people find it hard to come to terms with the great changes that are currently underway and the shift of power and wealth away from the Western Europe and North America, developments foreshadowed by the earlier rise of Japan. It seems to be very hard for Australians to believe that China is entitled to the respect accorded to great powers. Many clearly see the Chinese as upstarts.

These ideas manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Chinese investment whips up opposition from people who have never hitherto taken a stand against the massive foreign ownership of our resources. There was the ill-disguised hostility to the rapid growth of Chinese tourists and students in the years before the pandemic and there have been many reports of an increase in racial abuse and attacks in the streets and on public transport.

But of greater long term consequence is the sudden and rapid growth of the belief that China indeed has hostile intent and is a serious threat to our sovereignty and security. The echoes of our earlier obsession with assumed Japanese hostility are all too apparent. We have clearly not learnt that if you assume we have an enemy and act accordingly, that eventuality will come to pass. And as we did at Versailles 100 years ago we turn for security and reassurance to the white Anglo-Saxon members of the exclusive Five Eyes Club.

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The Singapore mouse that taught the China elephant

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 4:52am in

Tags 

Asia, China

Compare Singapore’s dextrous diplomacy with the clumsy manner in which the Australian government handles its relationship with China.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor and famous military leader was reputed to have said, “There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will shake the world.” 

During Napoleon’s lifetime, and for the next 13 decades, while China slept, she was savaged by the Western powers and Japan; had her ports forced open to imports of opium in exchange for her valuable tea and silk; and her coastal cities carved up into foreign “concessions”.  What was particularly galling to the Chinese people, in China and elsewhere, was the story circulating about a sign in a Shanghai park which stated: “No dogs or Chinese allowed”. While there were some stirrings and attempts at internal repair, and the salvaging of national pride (e.g. fighting the Americans and her allies to a stalemate near the 38th parallel in the Korean War) during the Mao era from 1949 to 1976, much of the period was a nightmare – e.g. Great Leap Forward, Hundred Flowers Movement, Cultural Revolution. In economic terms, she was still slumbering. Her dreams of creating a workers’ utopia based on the Russian model failed.

Nevertheless, wakeup she did in the mid-1980s under China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who famously turned communism on its head telling the Chinese people, “Poverty is not socialism.  To be rich is glorious”! But how? How does a Rip Van Winkle learn the ways of modern capitalism without a good teacher? They went looking for a teacher and found her in Singapore, one of the tiniest of countries in the world with the then population size of 2.736 million people; and a land area of 728.6 square kilometres. Such a surprising choice was a logical one according to Bai (“Changing Tides”, Global Times, 2017):

“Beijing has long been obsessed with what it calls the Singapore model, praising the city state’s success in maintaining a single-party rule, a relatively uncorrupt government and a robust and inclusive economy … viewed Singapore as an example that Asian culture, especially Confucianism, can provide an alternative to Western democracy … been fascinated by Singapore’s success in achieving advanced economic industrialisation without undergoing substantial political reform.”

Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in 1978 and was suitably impressed. The learning episode truly began when Singapore’s late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew visited the Chinese city of Suzhou in 1992 with his Deputy Ong Teng Cheong. Suzhou, the Venice of China, was in a state of dilapidation. He was approached by the Mayor of Suzhou, Zhang Xinsheng, with the proposition that Singapore invests 10 per cent of its US$50 billion in reserves to build an industrial city modelled after Singapore. After some political orchestrations on the Chinese side, the project was approved.

However, right from its inception, both sides were thinking on cross purposes. In Lee’s own words (From Third World to First: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew 2000. pp 719-724):

“At first Zhu thought my proposal was another money-making idea on behalf of our investors. I explained that my proposal was in response to many delegations that had come from China to study us in a piecemeal manner but would never understand how our system worked. With Singapore and Chinese managers working side by side, we could transfer our methods, systems and know-how.” (“Zhu” was Zhu Rong Ji, China’s Vice-Premier).

However, before the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) had a chance to succeed, the law of unintended consequences struck. Lee lamented, “Instead of giving SIP their full attention and cooperation as was promised, they used their association with Singapore to promote their own industrial estate, Suzhou New District (SND), undercutting SIP in land and infrastructure costs, which they controlled.” Nevertheless, LKY declared the SIP a “partial success”. The tutoring continued.

By 2017, some 50,000 Chinese officials had received training in Singapore. A special programme was created in Nanyang Technological University to cater specifically for Chinese officials. The outcome of the coaching was success beyond expectations. Brutally cracking down on corruption like LKY, Xi Jinping set China on a trajectory to become the third major power in the world, some would say poised to overtake the US economically and militarily. However, as China found its feet, the fascination with the Singapore model waned. Fractures started to show, not the least of which was Singapore’s support for The Hague’s ruling in 2016 in favour of the Philippines over a West Philippines Sea and Scarborough Shoal dispute; and the non-attendance by Singapore of the Road and Belt Initiative Forum in Beijing in 2017. The reasons are best summed up in the following analysis by Ruan Zhongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies:

“China’s relationship with Singapore is still better than many other bilateral ties. The ethnic and cultural bonds as well as economic ties between the two countries remain strong. But as China’s influence grows, Beijing expects to be treated accordingly, and Singapore is struggling to adapt to that change.”

The hard reality is that relationships and expectations change when the protégé supersedes the teacher. However, in testimony to tiny Singapore’s ability to manage differences with China, PM Lee Hsien Loong officially invited Chinese Premier Lee Keqiang to visit Singapore. This was preceded by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s statement in an interview that Singapore was a strong supporter of China’s Road and Belt Initiative (Global Times, 2017). In a parallel manner Balakrishnan gave CNA an interview a couple of days prior to VP Kamala Harris’s visit, stating categorically that Singapore will not be anyone’s stalking horse. In that visit, she had an orchid named after her. Compare this dextrous diplomacy with the clumsy manner in which the Australian government handles its relationship with China. For the sake of rapprochement with China, will conservative LNP voters ever allow one of our native orchids to be named Vanda xijinping? It is probably easier to countenance a Vanda morrison or a Vanda dutton. 

China heeded Confucius’ advice about learning: “三人行, 必有我师” usually translated to mean, “Of three people walking, one will be my teacher.” Implicit in the saying is the exhortation to be humble. Contextually, such a quality is imperative in small countries striving to survive among giants.

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Common prosperity should be valued in China and not disparaged by critics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/09/2021 - 4:57am in

Tags 

China

Recent news on China has been replete with items about “cracking down” on the rich, celebrities, the use of videogames by young people and growing inequality.

Meanwhile, China’s President Xi Jinping has been pushing for more emphasis on the common prosperity of all. In August, the State Council Information Office issued a paper on “Moderate Prosperity in All Respects”. With its theme of prosperity, it deserves more examination than our mainstream press has given it.

To be sure, such documents go out of their way to propagate the achievements of the Chinese Communist Party and always present a rosy picture. They are not particularly thrilling reading. But they do contain a good deal of concrete information. This particular document gives ample evidence of advancing prosperity not only in the Chinese economy but in its society as well.

To be fair, Western journalists have given a good deal of publicity given to the elimination of extreme poverty. They usually go on to say that this achievement is more than balanced by China’s terrible human rights record. But it seems to me that to eliminate extreme poverty in a country like China, which was mired in poverty not so long ago, is an astounding achievement. It’s never been done before at anything like the speed China has managed.

The overall assumption adopted in the document “Moderate Prosperity” is that “poverty is the biggest obstacle to human rights”. It follows that greater prosperity has led to better human rights. That’s not something most people in the West want to hear, because of an assumption that human rights should be conceived in terms of the rights and freedoms of the individual. However, it is surely perfectly reasonable to judge human rights by prioritising the well-being of the millions over the rights of the few.

Any concept of prosperity encompasses many factors. At the basic level, it includes gross domestic product per person, which in China has risen from RMB385 in 1978 to RMB72,000 in 2020, impressive even if inflation is taken into account. It also includes food intake and quality, housing, education, literacy, entertainment and health, just to take a few crucial examples.

I single out three statistics from the document that certainly reflect health and prosperity, and overall well-being. One is life expectancy at birth, which rose from 67.8 years in 1981 to 77.3 in 2019, incidentally the same as in the United States in 2020. Infant mortality rates fell from 37.6 deaths per 1,000 live births round the late 1970s to 5.4 per 1,000 in 2020, just lower than the United States, where it was 5.69 per 1000 live births the same year. Maternity mortality also fell sharply from 43.2 per 100,000 in 2002 to 16.9 per 100,000 in 2020. That compares with 17.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2020 in the United States.

In other words, in these crucial areas, China is doing slightly better than the United States, which assumes it has the right to cast judgments on others. Considering the backwardness in the late 1970s and the rapid advance in these matters that surely matter to the average person I don’t find it surprising that the World Health Organisation regards China as a role model for developing countries.

The document also raises some other interesting and important issues. For instance, it has a section on minorities. It will surprise nobody that it gives a very positive picture of minority participation in national government, education levels, standard of living and overall prosperity.

What I find significant is that it still endorses the idea of singling out ethnic minorities for attention. This makes the whole idea that China’s government wants to eliminate any ethnic group simply ludicrous. Since this wish is an essential component of genocide under the United Nations definition of the term, it also gives the lie to the attempt to stigmatise China for the “genocide” of the Uyghurs, which I believe a truly outrageous claim.

And then China gets a very bad press for its environment, with many media caustically pointing out that coal mines are still being developed there. On the other hand, the document has quite a few statistics claiming improvements in the environment, including the quality of drinking and other water, and in the air. Both negative and positive claims could be valid, but there is no doubt that the Chinese government takes the threat of climate change seriously.

In his splendid article in Pearls and Irritations on September 8, Geoff Raby took up several issues involved in “common prosperity”. In general, he seemed to me to cover the relevant ground very well and I have only a couple of comments to add.

He saw the shift from Deng Xiaoping’s notion of making China rich to Xi’s emphasis on “common prosperity” as implying a desire to close the wide inequality gap in China, even though the cost in arousing opposition among particular groups or people could well be high. I think he is right. China has become very unequal in terms of individual wealth, much too unequal. The widening of inequalities cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely, and the political risks of doing so could be fatal.

But is “common prosperity” such a bad thing? Karl Marx in his “Critique of the Gotha Programme” of 1875 called for a very high degree of equality as a hallmark of a fair society. But he wanted shared wealth, not shared poverty. Certainly, Deng Xiaoping never advocated an indefinite process of the rich getting richer at the expense of everybody else.

The media is fond of asking whether we are seeing the beginnings of another Cultural Revolution. To be fair, most commentators are saying it is not. But as one who was actually living in China during the first few months of the Cultural Revolution, I want to be more forthright: the comparison is totally ridiculous.

I’ll never forget the Red Guards ransacking churches, mosques and temples, destroying cultural objects, humiliating artists, teachers and educated people, driving some to suicide, hanging placards around the necks of their targets accusing them of being reactionaries and worse. I was personally not affected and left China very soon after it began, but many of my friends, both Chinese and foreign, suffered greatly. I’d add that the attacks on individuals at that time and now are of a totally different order. We just are not seeing now the kinds of extended public humiliation that results in large-scale suicide within society, as there certainly was during the Cultural Revolution.

Yes, a lot of what the press is saying about how things are in China should be said. But there is much too strong a tendency to paint a over negative picture of China and belittle its achievements.

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The Winner in Afghanistan: China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 8:45pm in

Who does not command the World Island cannot command the World.

What are the recent Chinese policy changes really about?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 4:57am in

Tags 

China

Something extraordinary seems to be happening in China recently, so extraordinary that many are scratching heads asking what this is all about? 

One thing that Xi Jinping is very clear about is that “Houses are built for living, not for speculation”. Maybe that is something we could learn.

In this short essay, I will first outline what it is that has been happening. Then I will follow up with some articulated global reaction before I get to what I think it is about.

What is it?

Li Guangman, an unknown social media commentator, a retired former editor of an obscure science and engineering journal, posted a short essay on some social media. This would have meant nothing, as there are literally millions of social media posts every day, but for the fact that this piece by Li has been reprinted in almost all of the Chinese heavy weight official media outlets.

The fact that these important mouthpieces of the Chinese government reprinted Li is extraordinary enough. But what is utterly and totally unexpected is that, Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, the English edition of which is often cited as the mouthpiece of the CCP by the Western media, came out with a critique of Li. Hu Xijin accuses Li of misinterpreting  Chinese recent policies, and declares that this kind of misinterpretation is dangerous.

Li Guangman’s blog post is titled “Everyone Can Feel a Critical Change is Taking Place” in which Li claims that there is a profound transformation in every sphere in the Chinese society, from the economy to finance, from culture to politics, a transformation that can be as significant as a revolution. This revolution “crushes dry weeds and smashes rotten wood” and is like “chopping off the poisoned bone to save the body”, the latter phrase famously used by Xi Jinping in reference to his determination to combat corruption within the CCP.

Li’s polemics is set within the political context of the Chinese authorities’ imposition of regulations on several industries including:

  • Regulation on real estate speculation – reflected in Xi Jinping’s well-known utterance that “Houses are built for living, not for speculation”
  • Regulation on an increasingly expanding education industry of private tuition. Education is so competitive that parents deploy all their financial resources not only try to get their kids into the best schools but also give their kids extramural lessons on various subjects, from piano lessons to English, from swimming lessons to math studies. By some estimate, the labour force engaged in private tuition is twice as large as that employed in all the normal schools!
  • Regulation on the increasingly expensive health care industry, including curbing over prescription, increasing investment on expensive modern medical equipment catering for the wealth of the elderly at the expense of prevention of disease and the poor
  • Regulation on the entertainment industry for tax evasion of celebrities’ obscene high income, on some celebrities’ anti-Chinese identity politics while making huge amount of money from the Chinese market
  • Regulation of the too big to fail companies such as Alibaba and the gaming industry by decreeing that children under 18 can only play online games for no more than three hours a week
  • Propagating the narrative of “common prosperity” to which the rich are encouraged to set up charities to make contribution to the society with the idea of the so-called tertiary distribution of wealth

Li argues that the average Chinese can no longer cope with the life pressure of “three mountains” of expensive health care, competitive education and unaffordable housing. The three mountains are so heavily suffocating that the young Chinese simply do not want to have children, even though the Chinese authorities have reversed one child per family policy by encouraging families to have more children.

Hu Xijin, in his critique of Li, notably not disputing the factual problems pointed out by Li, challenges Li’s interpretation. Hu argues that recent actions by the Chinese government and CCP are policies designed to regulate the market, to stop capital from barbaric growth, and to restore social justice and equality. To Hu, this is a continuation of China’s reform and therefore it is not seismic revolution. Hu insinuates that Li is instigating revolution that will interrupt China’s orderly process of reform and development.

What Is the global response?

One predictable response by some both in and outside China is that this could be the initiation of Xi Jinping’s Cultural Revolution. Li’s blog is compared with the hand-written poster on a newspaper wall put up by some university lecturers in Peking University in 1966, which heralded the start of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In post-Mao China a very effective way of shutting anybody up is to say “You are talking the Cultural Revolution language”. The Western respected Professor Zhang Weiying at Peking University also joined in by saying that there is a danger that the government’s regulations will kill the golden goose of the market economy in China.

Another global reaction is also predictable: the clichés of “thought control” and “personal power struggle”, as reported by the Australian Financial Review on September 4 with a typical title of “WHY CHINA IS CRACKING DOWN ON EVERYTHING”. But to be fair to Western commentators, the Chinese society is not a liberal one and there is a lack of transparency. So here is a conundrum: Whom to believe? The editor of Global Times Hu Xijin or the obscure person Li Guamgman? Who is behind whom?

There are also other mixed messages. For instance, on September 2, Xi Jinping announced the intended establishment of a stock exchange in Beijing to serve the Chinese small and media private enterprises (there are three existing stock exchanges in China, in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen). In fact, Xi Jinping repeatedly reassures the outside world that China is going to be more open. As an indication, one of the largest American investment management companies Blackrock announced its sole owned investment enterprise in China, against the outcry of George Soros.

What is it about?

My first interpretation is that the Li versus Hu incident, followed up in fierce debates in the social media, indicates the Chinese society is dynamic and diverse and there are internal debates and discussions about political, economic and social issues. The Chinese are not just passive victims of elite power struggle but agents of their own life. Even within the CCP, there are not only members representing diverse interest groups but also members of diverse ideological strands. For instance, in a new book Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China by former high flying capitalist Desmond Shum, the now-retired premier Wen Jiabao, who seems to represent a more liberal tradition within the party, is shown to be out of touch and naïve. He did not seem to be aware that when he was in power his wife and mother enriched themselves to be billionaires via inside dealings.

My second interpretation is that the CCP under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been searching for a narrative for China’s further development. On the one hand, it recognises the dynamics of the market and individual entrepreneurship. On the other hand, it also recognise the increasing gap between the rich, the too rich and the too poor. Anti-corruption is only an ex post facto correction. Elimination of absolute poverty is also just an ex post facto correction. The “let some get rich first” narrative is no long viable. What is a sustainable model of development that can bring “common prosperity” to this vast number of people amidst increasingly serious domestic challenges of socio-economic issues as well as the increasingly hostile external geopolitical environment?

I do not think Xi has a well-defined narrative, yet, just as we do not have one in the West either. “Common prosperity” as a “China dream” is fine, but how to get there?

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Foreign judges on Hong Kong’s top court give backing to judiciary

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/09/2021 - 3:53am in

Tags 

China, Politics

One of Hong Kong’s greatest assets has always been the rule of law. What better way, therefore, for anybody wishing to harm Hong Kong than to undermine its legal system.

Once the insurrection erupted in 2019, its backers quickly realised that the judiciary was an obstacle. Judges were not only holding rioters to account and punishing protest-related violence, but also issuing orders to prevent doxxing and keep the city running. In retaliation, petrol bomb attacks were launched on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, the High Court and the Shatin Magistrates’ Court, and judicial officers were threatened.

Elsewhere, the protest movement’s sympathisers also focused on the city’s legal structures, including its judges. On November 6, 2019, for example, the chairman of the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, who embraces every anti-China initiative going, indulged himself at the HKCFA’s expense. While the judges were struggling to maintain law and order, and long before the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, he stoked concerns over the presence on it of British judges, claiming they gave the appearance of UK complicity “in a system that is undermining the rule of law”.

This, of course, was gibberish, coming from an individual with no understanding of the integrity of Hong Kong’s judicial system, let alone its high standards. Under an established arrangement, overseas judges, of whom there are currently 12, sit by invitation as HKCFA non-permanent judges, and they have served Hong Kong well since 1997. As the judges themselves confirm, the system works well, and its continuation is supported not only by legal professionals but also by the wider community, irrespective of political affiliation.

Whereas exhortations by the likes of Tugendhat were discomfiting, the attempts at judicial weakening became more sinister once more senior figures weighed in. On September 18, 2020, for example, the former Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the future of all the overseas judges needed to be considered as their presence was providing “cover to what is a totalitarian regime”. In a particularly ugly slur, he declared that, whereas judges in the United Kingdom and Australia were “free to reach decisions without fear or favor”, this was “not the case in Hong Kong”, for which, of course, he provided no evidence.

Unfortunately, fallacies of this type extend beyond the Conservative Party’s hard right, and have also contaminated the opposition Labour Party. On June 12, for example, its Asia and Pacific spokesman, Stephen Kinnock, appeared at what was called a “Stand Up For Hong Kong” rally in London, and indulged in some inflammatory ranting. Having declared that its legal system was “completely broken”, he announced that “our judges must stop sitting in the Court of Appeal”, by which he presumably meant the HKCFA, although the difference between the two courts appears to have eluded him.

In any event, it was a great pity that, before unleashing his venom, Kinnock did not speak to Lord (David) Pannick, the eminent British barrister who often appears in the HKCFA, and could have briefed him before he made a fool of himself. Indeed, on March 22, Pannick told the House of Lords that he had conducted a case there only two weeks previously, and “the court seemed to me to be as independent as it has been since 1997”.

However, nobody has tried harder to harm Hong Kong than the UK’s foreign secretary, the hapless Dominic Raab. Once the National Security Law was enacted on June 30, 2020, he prattled away endlessly about it having violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, without ever appreciating that it said nothing whatsoever about national security. He did this to lay the groundwork for a series of initiatives designed to weaken the city, such as an arms embargo, and his suspension of the UK-Hong Kong Fugitive Surrender Agreement has hurt both jurisdictions, with only criminals having benefited. It was, moreover, only a matter of time before he turned his attention to the HKCFA.

On November 24, 2020, succumbing to pressure from the likes of Duncan Smith, Tugendhat and Kinnock, Raab said he was considering the situation of the British judges on the top court. He announced consultations with Lord (Robert) Reed, president of the UK Supreme Court, over “whether it continues to be appropriate for British judges to sit as non-permanent judges on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal”. This, of course, played very well with those who believe that the best way to undermine Hong Kong is to strike at its judiciary, but there was an obstacle. Raab and his acolytes reckoned without the HKCFA’s overseas judges, who have repeatedly made it clear that they will not act contrary to their consciences, let alone be pushed around by him or anybody else.

The former chief justice of Australia, Robert French, who has sat on the HKCFA since 2017, declared that he had no intention of resigning, as he had “the greatest admiration for the chief justice and the other permanent judges of that court, and for their commitment in maintaining its independence”. From Canada, the former chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, the first female to be appointed to the HKCFA in 2018, declared that she also would be holding her ground. She said the court was providing a “very high level of judging”, ensuring that the law was “very vigorously applied”, and its judges represented “the highest traditions of impartiality around the world”. Both French and McLachlin have recently accepted new three-year terms of appointment in the HKCFA, as also have Lords (David) Neuberger and (Robert) Walker, which will be welcomed by everybody who wishes Hong Kong’s legal system well.

From the UK, moreover, Lord (Jonathan) Sumption, who joined the HKCFA in 2019, pulled no punches in its defence. On March 18, he wrote in The Times that the calls for British judges to withdraw were designed “to pressure Beijing to change its position on democracy”, that the National Security Law contained “guarantees of human rights”, and that the overseas judges “will serve the cause of justice better by participating in the work of Hong Kong’s courts”. In what was clearly a devastating rebuke to Raab, he emphasised that, “as a Hong Kong judge, I serve Hong Kong people”, and that “I must be guided by their interests, and not by the wishes of UK politicians”.

So it was that, faced with judicial grit of the highest order, Raab had little choice but to back off, and so it proved. On August 27, Lord Reed announced that, after discussions with Raab and the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, he and his deputy, Lord (Patrick) Hodge, would continue to sit in the HKCFA, and that he had satisfied himself that the judiciary remained “largely independent” of government. He could, of course, have said “wholly independent”, given that the judiciary’s independence is constitutionally guaranteed by the Basic Law (Article 85), but he presumably felt, as a sop to Raab, that he needed to qualify his assessment. Since Reed had previously indicated that he would not serve or nominate judges to sit on the HKCFA if the security law undermined judicial independence or the rule of law, his conclusion that the judiciary’s decisions “continue to be consistent with the rule of law” is highly significant, albeit a statement of the obvious.

However, Reed’s decision has not gone down well with the traditional anti-China forces in the UK, who find the truth distinctly unpalatable. The Labour Party’s shadow Attorney General, Lord (Charles) Falconer, for example, said Reed and Hodge “should not let themselves be used by a government that the UK says is breaching the Sino-UK agreement on Hong Kong and is undermining the rule of law”, a slur both judges will deeply resent. As for Johnny Patterson, the policy director of Hong Kong Watch, the propaganda outfit operated by the serial fantasist, Benedict Rogers, he accused Reed of “providing a veneer of legitimacy to a system which no longer deserves to be considered a bastion of the rule of law”, and called his decision an “utter embarrassment”.

Determined not to be outdone, Luke de Pulford, another Hong Kong Watch functionary, who co-founded, and now co-ordinates, the rabidly anti-China Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, chimed in with a bizarre theory of his own. He claimed that Reed’s decision “has little to do with the rule of law, and a lot to do with massive pressure exerted by UK lawyers practising in lucrative Hong Kong who want the status quo”, a theory which, if nothing else, should amuse Reed. What, of course, people like Falconer, Patterson and Pulford find so hard to stomach is the realisation that, once objective observers assess the situation, their favourite fallacies crumble into dust, and not even Raab can turn things around for them.

Although Reed’s decision bodes well for the rule of law, the threats remain. After all, the judiciary has been targeted by the protest movement and its foreign allies precisely because it has been so successful in upholding traditional values and protecting Hong Kong from those who wish it ill, and they will not relent. Indeed, notwithstanding his endorsements, Reed still felt it necessary to declare, presumably to keep Raab onside, that he “would continue to assess the position in Hong Kong as it develops, in discussion with the UK government”.

When that discussion takes place, Reed will hopefully convey not only the views of his fellow HKCFA judges about the legal system’s continuing success, but also explain how the judiciary remains as impartial, professional and vibrant as ever.

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Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2021 - 7:12am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

September 9, 2021 Clyde Barrow on how Texas, a diverse, urbanized, sophisticated state, is run by a bunch of reactionary white would-be cowboys • Anatol Lieven, author of this article, on the US–China rivalry and the meaning of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Australia’s China experts feel the chill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2021 - 4:54am in

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China

Academics resisting Canberra’s line on national security fall under suspicion.

When Jane Golley announced she was stepping down as director of the Australian National University’s Australian Centre on China in the World, it triggered rumours that the distinguished academic may have been coerced into leaving the post she had held for four years.

Like many academics in Australia who focus on China, Golley is known for her balanced and objective views on China and its place in the world today, especially when it comes to Australia.

While her views may not reflect the trend emanating from Canberra and the growing anti-China sentiment being expressed in some quarters of the academic world in Australia, she nevertheless has maintained her integrity.

On leave from the university, Golley told China Daily that she had not been asked to step down as director, as some had claimed.

“The rumours that have been circulating are simply not true,” she said.

“I decided to step down. It was my decision. I have been with the centre for 11 years, four of which as director. It has been a wonderful experience. But also an all-consuming one, and it’s time for a change. That’s all. I will remain a member of the centre and with the ANU.”

Golley did, however, admit that in the current climate of strained relations between Canberra and Beijing, China had become a difficult subject, especially for academics who try to walk an unbiased line. “If you challenge the current line coming out of Canberra and Washington DC it can be very stressful,” she said.

Several academics, who did not want to be identified, agreed.

One academic told China Daily: “There is a growing divide between those academics who not only toe the anti-China line and encourage it and those who call for a more balanced, less menacing and a more nuanced debate on the Australia-China relationship.”

Federal government funding for academics working on China-related research can also be another problem if they are deemed to be working against the national interest.

The Australian newspaper reported on February 16 that several leading scientists at some of the country’s top universities had their research grants denied as the projects they were working on could “hand military or economic advantage to foreign adversaries”.

Although the government declined to identify the scientists whose applications had been rejected, the newspaper insinuated they were linked with China’s Thousand Talents Program.

The Australian in August last year claimed “dozens of leading scientists at major universities across the country had been recruited” under the program, prompting an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security into “national security risks affecting the Australian higher education and research sector”.

Claims unsubstantiated

The unsubstantiated claims and subsequent scare campaign have only deepened the rift between Beijing and Canberra.

Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, in an article in the Australian Financial Review, recently said: “The (Prime Minister Scott) Morrison government is wantonly leading Australia into a strategic dead end by its needless provocations against China.

“China is not the old Soviet Union. It is not attacking or forcibly incorporating countries into a grand union, nor is it exporting some kind of universal ideology.”

He added: “Its great problem is that it is now a state as large as the United States, and with the potential of being much larger – an unforgivable sin for American triumphalists. And that sin has radiated over those Australians with a fawning, obsequious attitude to the US.”

Keating went on to say: “China’s rise is simply not in the American playbook – its very existence and at this scale is an affront to America’s notion of itself as the exceptional state, the proselytizer of divine providence.

“Australia is a continent sharing a border with no other state. It has no territorial disputes with China.

“Yet the government, both through its foreign policy incompetence and fawning compulsion to please America, effectively has us in a Cold War with China.”

Many Australian academics who have been at the forefront of forging solid relations with their counterparts and universities in China are now starting to feel the Cold War chill as their work comes under scrutiny by security agencies.

This article was first published by China Daily and is reproduced with permission.

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Xi Jinping wards off China-style populism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 4:58am in

Tags 

China

The focus on egalitarianism and crackdown on conspicuous consumption is just Beijing’s way of dealing with the inequalities associated with globalisation that have disrupted Western politics.

The door has now closed on 30 years of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening policies. Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” is the new policy orthodoxy. It now matters again whether the “cat is black or white” when catching mice; to “get rich” is no longer glorious.

Deng’s simple policy prescriptions settled political arguments at the centre and energised a nation, which changed the world as China grew rich.

China was as poor as a church mouse when Deng launched the economic reform and open-door policies. His first trip to the United States in 1979 was a financial squeeze for the country. As he said, “poverty is not socialism”. Things had to change, and they did.

The reality of contemporary China is much more complex and multilayered than what most foreign commentators appreciate. It is facile to be talking of the Cultural Revolution 2.0 or Xi wanting to create a new Soviet man. Policy both anticipates changes in society and the economy, and seeks to accommodate these changes.

China is today richer, more developed, technologically capable, more open, and more deeply integrated into the international system than anyone could possibly have imagined 30 years ago. Chinese society has changed profoundly as a result.

What has not changed is that the Chinese Communist Party still rules the country, despite these extraordinary developments. It has been able to adapt to and accommodate the great transformation of China. In large measure this has happened despite the odds against it, because it is highly effective in running the system it has created.

For the West, this is an inconvenient truth. For the vast majority of Chinese, this is a reality that they understand and support. They know that their lives are more prosperous, stable, and safe because of the Communist Party.

Xi Jinping Thought and ‘common prosperity’

The origins of Xi’s doctrine of “common prosperity”, with its emphasis on a more egalitarian distribution of income, go back to the 19th party congress in October 2017. Then Xi Jinping Thought was inscribed into the party’s constitution. It was “socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era”.

Common prosperity is the policy platform that Xi will take into the all-important 20th party congress in October 2022, when he will be returned for a third lustrum.

A researcher in one of the State Council’s think tanks explained to me that the doctrine of common prosperity is based on a view among the leadership that globalisation is in retreat around the world.

The leadership has seen that globalisation has become associated with rising income inequality, including in China, and it sees populist reactions against it that have disturbed elite politics from London to Washington and just about everywhere else in between. It fears the same in China.

The regulatory crackdown on the tech sector and the targeting of high-profile individuals such as Jack Ma of Alibaba and a host of companies from Tencent to Didi Chuxing, as well as delivery services that treat their employees badly, serves the dual purpose of keeping in check any individual or group in the private sector that may challenge party rule and legitimacy, while also responding to popular sentiment about inequality and unfairness.

The government’s attack on private education providers is part of the same policy. Access to education opportunities should be more equal and parents should be relieved of the pressure to pay for additional tuition for their children.

In all of this, the government has read the popular sentiment well. Little sympathy is expressed for the tech entrepreneurs or for educators who have amassed vast fortunes, or for the investors who have lost billions on the stock exchange in these companies. It is a moment of reckoning.

To many in the West, these interventions seem extreme and heavy-handed. But many governments in the West have also been trying to work out how to regulate the digital and new service industries that have grown rapidly, and which have avoided their responsibilities to pay taxes and look after the welfare of their workers.

China is governed by a system that relies on social engineering. From 1979, China had a one-child policy – at times brutally enforced. Faced with an ageing population, China now has a three-child policy. It may not work because young Chinese now prefer consumption over children. But that may also change if the pressures on families over the costs of education and housing are eased. That is how China works.

Stigmatising conspicuous consumption, outing movie stars for tax avoidance, and targeting opinion leaders who flaunt extravagant lifestyles are all part of changing the public narrative about what it means to be loyal, patriotic Chinese. Of course, it all serves the interests of the party, which remains the final arbiter of norms.

Restricting time that young people can spend playing games or condemning “sissy” media personalities are more extreme aspects of the new policy. Again, these play to popular sentiments. But those who lived through the real Cultural Revolution dismiss as absurd assertions that this is part of a Cultural Revolution 2.0.

Even in conservative and politically attuned Beijing, life has not changed much. China’s oldest and largest gay club, Destination, near the Workers’ Stadium, is still busy as usual. The late-night club districts are crowded, and congested with flashy European sports cars.

Nightlife is pumping and restaurants are packed, as China has avoided the COVID-19 restrictions experienced elsewhere. The 798 Art District is full of young people in provocative, alluring attire. Tattoos are in vogue among hipsters. If this is a new Cultural Revolution, no one in Beijing seems to have noticed.

The new policies do entail risks for China. The danger always is the over-interpretation at lower levels of policy pronouncements and, even more so, the central leadership’s sentiments. If this tendency is allowed to run too far, it could throttle the entrepreneurship that was unleashed by Deng’s policies – which has transformed China.

But although the state-owned sector is again privileged, there is no sign of that happening.

This article was first published by the Australian Financial Review and is republished here with permission.

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