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Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao walks a fine line to avoid being politically hijacked


Image by Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao alluding to the fact that several companies, including Muji, are believed to purchase cotton harvested by ethnic Uyghur prisoners in Xinjiang. Image used with permission.

Being in the middle of two countries currently engaged in one of their worst rows in years is a difficult space to navigate, even more so if one is an outspoken visual artist. This is precisely the case of Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian cartoonist known for his stand on human rights, freedom of expression and fight against racism who, even while being targeted by Beijing supporters, finds himself increasingly isolated and alienated by all sides in Australia.

Born in mainland China, Badiucao sought political asylum in Australia where he is now a citizen. His art seeks to act as a voice of reason, denounce political instrumentalization and support human rights globally.

A turning point in bilateral relations between Australia and China came in 2020, significantly worsened by a series of economic, political and ideological disputes that still remain unsolved. Until last year, both countries enjoyed an economic honeymoon: in 2014, Canberra and Beijing announced their relationship to be a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. By the time they reached the peak of their economic integration in 2019, China had absorbed over a quarter of Australia's trade, and in that year alone, 1.4 million Chinese tourists had visited Australia.

By 2020, the partnership deteriorated as Australia raised serious concerns about issues of human rights and democracy in the context of the many Chinese-Australian citizens, Hong Kong and pro-Taiwan students that were targeted and sometimes attacked by pro-Beijing supporters in Australia. Beijing rejected the criticism and retaliated by imposing a series of bans on key Australian imports. The situation escalated towards the end of 2020 when China decided to stop purchasing key commodities, such as coal, from Australia — a ban that possibly caused power shortages for millions of Chinese.

In an interview by phone with Global Voices, Badiucao suggested that the diplomatic fall-out should not have come as a total surprise:

I think the problem has been present for a very long time, because it was never mutually beneficial. China sees Australia as a ground for infiltration, from education to politics to media. For such a long time, the Australian government was short-sighted about this relationship, it only saw the economic benefit, but [not] much beyond. 

The COVID-19 pandemic did not help matters. Many of the estimated 260,000 Chinese students who were in Australia in 2019 were prevented from returning, and Canberra accused Beijing of a lack of transparency in its management of the pandemic. The impasse has damaged both sides: society and government bodies have engaged in anti-China or anti-Australia movements, some of them violently racist.


Wine label designed by Badiucao calling for other countries to buy Australian wine after China banned its imports. Image used with permission.

To explain the crisis, Badiucao points to a fundamental difference in values and tolerance for criticism between the countries:

Australia has realized that this toxic relationship has to end and that basic values, such as freedom and democracy, can no longer be overlooked. Canberra wants to make clear [that] the relationship must be mutually beneficial, and that Beijing needs to know the difference in their value systems. However, China is not used to any kind of criticism of its government, and responds in an outrageous manner, particularly under Xi Jinping's strategy of wolf warrior diplomacy. 

The cartoonist believes the crisis is a healthy eye-opener not only for Australia, but for the rest of the world, when determining whether to depend economically on China:

I think that because of the geographic locations of China and Australia, we are the first country in the free world seeing the problems of this relationship. China is not willing to play by the rules like other democratic countries. I hope there could be an alliance against those bully threats China can project on countries like Australia, as in the case of the wine exports.

A narrow space for democracy

While this crisis might indeed be a wake-up call, Badiucao is finding it increasingly difficult to make his voice heard in Australia. While the right and far-right have a strong anti-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) line, that discourse, he explains, often includes elements of xenophobia and racism. Many on the left, meanwhile, are afraid to criticize China in the name of political correctness, lest they be accused of supporting racism.

Within Australia's Chinese communities, the narratives are even more complex and do not favour Badiucao. An estimated 1.2 million Chinese Australians (nearly six percent of the total population), come from very different geographies, as Badiucao decodes:

We often overlook the differences within the community: there are second or third generations; they don’t really know much about what is happening in mainland China, and they might have a sense of nostalgia more related to Jackie Chan movies. There are also recent Hong Kong immigrants who have a different understanding of their identity and political stand. But here is the bottom line: we have to tell the difference between people [and] government. The Chinese government does not represent the Chinese people. Unfortunately, some Chinese-Australians are brainwashed by platforms […] in Australia.

Badiucao thinks the Australian government is not doing enough to communicate this distinction between the Chinese government and being Chinese, and that it needs to invest in the Chinese-Australian community much more efficiently in order to counterbalance Beijing propaganda filtering through WeChat and TikTok. 

Cartoons for human rights

For Badiucao, the best way to spread the message of universal human rights is through his art. Political cartoons require no or little translation and can be immediately understood worldwide. Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on his outreach. Offline art events have virtually stopped, but Badiucao has always relied on social media to share his art, which has worked to his advantage.

His cartoon transposing the iconic Beijing 1989 TankMan to the context of Trump's America shows how powerful his integration of global images can be:


Image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square iconic Tank Man transposed to the context of Trump's America, by Badiucao. Image used with permission.

Political satirical art may be global, but Badiucao warns against the manipulation around this form of freedom of expression that occurs in authoritarian countries like China. In November and December 2020, Wuhe Qilin (乌合麒麟 ), a satirical artist based in mainland China, released a series of photoshopped images pointing at an investigation conducted by Australia's own military, which found that the country's soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Badiucao explains why one should be very careful when comparing the role and function of cartoon art in China and in democracies:

I wouldn't use the term ‘artist’ or ‘political cartoonist': the whole narrative [that] he is an independent artist who cares about human rights in Afghanistan is bogus. Here is a telling detail: the work he posted on November 23 on Weibo has no signature of the user ID and no time stamp, which is mandatory as per Weibo regulations. This could indicate Wuhe Qilin himself provided the original copy to the Chinese authorities. Besides, for a long time, he smeared Fang Fang, the author of the Wuhan Diary, [portraying her] as a villain hired by the CIA. He is not an independent artist, because there is no such thing as independence in China. If you don’t collaborate, you don’t have a shred of space to survive or you end up in prison. 

Baiduacao responded to Wuhe Qilin via a series of images showing a PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldier repeating the same gesture aimed at Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong people, wondering whether China would allow Wuhe Qilin to be critical of his own country's violations of human rights:

New Year, Same Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/01/2021 - 2:01am in

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Oceania

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The COVID-19 pandemic has left the entire working class living with a new level of uncertainty. There have now been cases reported on every continent after researchers and military personnel on Antarctica recently reported their first cases.

Many of us are suffering financially, mentally, and medically on a level we never have before, and this weight is even heavier when we try to carry it alone. We look forward to hearing from all like-minded internationalists in the new year.

ICO

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A Quick Glimpse at the Current State of the Pandemic in Oceania

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 2:09am in

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Oceania

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The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, infecting tens of millions, killing over a million so far and leaving many survivors with recurring or permanent health conditions.(1) The region of Oceania has had tens of thousands of virus cases and around a thousand deaths. However, it has been hit even harder in the form of other pandemic related factors, such as border closures, unemployment, and a rise in mental health issues and domestic violence.

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Solomon Islands bans Facebook for ‘harmful content’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 4:16pm in

An official claims Facebook is merely being ‘suspended’ for an indefinite time


Students studying at a computer lab in University of South Pacific Solomon Islands Campus. Photo from Flickr account of the Asian Development Bank, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Cabinet of Solomon Islands has issued a temporary ban on Facebook for what it considers ‘harmful content’ disseminated on the social media platform. It is unclear when the ban will begin and how long will this last.

The ban was proposed by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Communication and Civil Aviation Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka.

Agovaka told Solomon Times why the Cabinet came up with this decision:

Abusive languages against Ministers, Prime Minister, character assassination, defamation of character, all these are issues of concerns.

The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to safeguard our young people from harmful content. At the moment there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet and even young kids can be able to download harmful stuff from the internet.

Agovaka said the government has not yet finalized the details with internet service providers about how the ban will be enforced. He added that press freedom will not be affected since citizens can still publish or air their sentiments on other media platforms.

There are 120,000 Facebook users in Solomon Islands.

The announcement garnered widespread criticism which prompted Permanent Secretary of Communication and Aviation Moses Virivolomo to clarify that Facebook is merely being suspended. But the official gave no timeline about the suspension.

The Facebook ban or suspension is seen by critics and the opposition as an attempt to silence citizens who are exposing irregularities in government.

Opposition Member of Parliament Peter Kenilorea Jnr reminded the Cabinet about the importance of upholding freedom of expression in a democracy:

As leaders, we will face resentment from factions of a demanding and at times dissatisfied public. Much of the dissatisfaction and mistrust, whether real or perceived, will be aired. Sometimes these need to be aired. After all, we, leaders, need to be held accountable by the electorate that place us in positions of power. We need to face the music from time to time. This is democracy.

But as leaders, let us not attack one of the main pillars of democracy upon which our nation rests – the freedom of expression. Let us not mute the voices, however angry, of those that we have sworn to serve.

Malaita Provincial Premier Daniel Suidani, a local official, also disagreed with the decision to ban Facebook:

Do not go into public life and make laws and decisions for your own good or for your own protection as is seen with the banning of Facebook.

Doing this will only lead to further frustrations. You can be guaranteed that going against your people only leads to failures.

The business sector is not supportive of the ban. Jay Bartlett, the board chairperson of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), said the Cabinet should be focusing on other more important matters:

It is the Government’s prerogative to make such a decision, but as a Chamber we believe that there are other pressing issues that requires our collective focus.

Ms Gloria Hong, a member of SICCI representing small businesses, argued that Facebook is an essential platform to interact with consumers.

Using social media helps us to build brand awareness, increase our customer base, and connect with customers.

In my view, banning Facebook is a threat to businesses, especially the small businesses who cannot afford to run advertisements on radio, newspapers and on TV.

Tourism Solomons CEO Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto warned about the repercussions for the tourism industry:

It goes without saying the platform has become vital in our efforts to keep the Solomon Islands top of mind and competitive on the world tourism stage for the time when things return to normal.

No other social media platform comes even close to what we have been achieving with Facebook.

And not just for our tourism sector, but for all Solomon Islands businesses and the wider community in general which uses Facebook as a key means of communication across our 992-island archipelago.

In a letter sent to the Solomon Times, Floyd Manata from Port Moresby said banning Facebook is not the solution:

We need to be very careful about dealing with certain things regarding this time where the world technology is changing every 6 months. Today it's Facebook next year probably TikTok. But hey think again is this the best solution to the problem?

Before you ban Facebook you should establish or come up with policies that will facilitate the issue of cyber crime and cyber security. Do we have one in place at the moment?

Facebook told ABC Australia that it is ready to discuss the issues raised by the Solomon Islands government:

We’re reaching out to the Solomon Islands government to discuss today’s decision.

This move will impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific.

Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze said the ban will deprive users of vital information that can save lives during a pandemic.

Given how important it is for people to quickly access information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government may not just place political discourse and participation at risk, but even lives. Total bans on websites or internet information providers will almost never be justifiable under international human rights law.

Dan McGarry, an independent journalist living in Vanuatu, has a proposal for Pacific governments which are unhappy over the social impact of Facebook and has considered plans to censor or ban the popular social media website:

Pacific governments need to start a dialogue, not just with social media giants, but with other national regulators too. They need to learn from others’ mistakes, and leverage others’ successes.

‘Life and Limb’: Foresters on the front line of climate change in Vanuatu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am in

The documentary follows Vanuatu's foresters


Foresters in Vanuatu. Source: Facebook page of Vanuatu Department of Forest.

One of the films being screened at the ongoing 2020 Eugene Environmental Film Festival is ‘Life and Limb’ which features the work of foresters in Vanuatu.

The Eugene Environmental Film Festival highlights initiatives around the world that share  “a deep connection and responsibility to protect the environment and work in solidarity with others in the struggle toward environmental justice.” This year the festival is free and all films are screened online.

Vanuatu is a South Pacific nation of 80 islands. It is extremely vulnerable to climate change, in particular the threat posed by rising sea levels to coastal communities.

One of the environmental protection initiatives that the Vanuatu government has recently launched aims to make an inventory of forest lands on 12 major islands. This was last done 30 years ago.

Ginny Stein, a veteran Australian journalist and filmmaker, documented this work. Stein has been helping Vanuatu’s Department of Forestry as a volunteer and consultant.

Global Voices emailed Stein and asked what inspired her to document the work of the foresters:

After a long career as a foreign correspondent and film maker, I moved to Vanuatu to work as a volunteer in communications at the Department of Forestry.

The National Forest Inventory kicked off while I was there. I thought it was a great chance to teach foresters about the power of media in raising public awareness about what they do. I was fortunate to get a chance to work with them, to talk about filming using phones and tablets, before they departed for the field.

She added how her team decided to make a documentary:

They started sending me short video clips which I would turn into social media videos and post on the forestry Facebook page. At the same time, I had the chance to meet up with them in the field, on a number of islands where I would film with them. Over the course of six months, I realised we had enough material to make a documentary, which is how ‘Life and Limb’ came together.

The documentary follows a team of foresters who are part of the government project to make an inventory of the forest lands and offers a glimpse into their battle against climate change. It also shows the importance of the forest in Vanuatu culture and how logging for several decades has gravely affected the ecological balance in the country’s small islands.

It also narrated the impact of the rise in cash-crop demand on Vanuatu’s agricultural and forest lands.

View this post on Instagram

For the past year I have worked with the Forestry Department of Vanuatu to help protect one of this South Pacific Island's most unique and valuable resources….its forests. Foresters became camera operators as they began the first stocktake of the island's forests in more than 30 years. The proof of everyone's efforts…a documentary "Life and Limb" will be launched next week at the Australian High Commission in Port Vila. For the past few weeks, we have all watched from here in horror as Australia's forests have burned. Vanuatu, a small pacific island on the front lines of climate change, is one of a number of island countries that has chipped in to help Australian firefighters. This documentary is about Vanuatu's forests, but it highlights the value of forests to people's lives the world over. Tankio tumas olgeta blong Vanuatu and all who helped make it. #forestartist #forestmapping #forests #conservation #lifeandlimb #climateemergency #wildlife #wildseas #kauri #nabunga #forestry #climatechange #climate #sustainability #theworld #camera #documentary

A post shared by VanuatuForestryDepartment (@vanuatuforestrydepartment) on Jan 6, 2020 at 7:49pm PST

Stein explained some of the challenges faced by the foresters:

For the teams, the biggest challenge was getting to where they had to go, by boat, truck, or foot. And the weather. They were reliant on the support of communities. For me, connecting with them was the greatest challenge. And data is really expensive in Vanuatu.

The film was screened in Vanuatu in January 2020. Stein shared the feedback of the audience:

Showing the film the first time and watching the reaction of foresters was priceless. There was lots of joy and pride in what they had done. And a thrill of seeing themselves on the big screen. Taking it into communities was very rewarding. At Hog Harbour in Santo, people watched it at an outdoor screening. There was laughter and joy at seeing ni-Vanuatu working for their country. People really loved the music as well. I was lucky that Vanuatu's Cultural Centre gave me access to some of their archived music and that the Soul Harvest Choir also allowed me to use some music I recorded with them.

Finally, Stein’s message to the international community:

My message is please watch “Life and Limb”, and please support those on the frontlines of climate change who are working hard knowing there are great challenges coming their way. You can do that by taking action yourself, wherever you are. By learning more about climate change, and calling on your representatives to start taking action now.

The whole film can be watched by visiting the website of the Eugene Environmental Film Festival. Watch the film’s trailer here:

Australian government on collision course with Facebook and Google over news revenue

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 2:39am in

Tech giants fiercely resist compulsory bargaining code of conduct

Facebook News - U.S. website

Facebook News – U.S. website (Author's photo of computer webpage)

In what could be a world first if successful, the Australian government has drafted laws that would force tech giants Facebook and Google to negotiate with media companies over payment for linking to their news stories. The tech giants have responded defiantly.Flaw

The dispute has its seeds in a request by the Federal government for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). In December 2017, the ACCC was directed to consider the impact of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators (digital platforms) on competition in the media and advertising services markets. Its final report was published in 2019 and a draft bill was posted on 31 July 2020.

Draft legislation would establish a code of conduct, requiring negotiations between the parties that could result in payment to the publishers of the content. Compulsory arbitration would follow if agreement could not be reached.

As can be expected, most of the large media companies support the code, including the Guardian as it admits in its explainer:

The government, acting on the advice of its competition regulator, accepts the argument that the platforms benefit far more, and that their substantial market power means the news companies do not have the capacity to demand a better deal. It also accepts the argument that this lopsided relationship jeopardises the capacity of the media to continue to play their essential role in society.

The vested interests of Australian-based media may help to explain why there seems to be confusion about the difference between using links to news and publishing the actual content of the stories. They foster the common belief that the platforms are gaining advertising revenue from these links, money that should be going to the news producers.

Google and Facebook react

Apparently Google is prepared to pay for content and has undertaken some negotiations about doing this. They have mounted a publicity and lobbying campaign, with a letter to the ACCC posted on their platforms in Australia. The latest update to their open letter outlines their position.

They have also highlighted part of the proposed laws requiring them to give the big news organisations notice of changes to search rankings and algorithms. It warns that ‘Search and YouTube, which are free services, are at risk in Australia’ without being specific about their future.

Moreover, Google News in Australia is under threat, according to the tech giant.

Facebook has threatened to remove the news content from its site:

[…] we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.

It has already changed its terms of service in Australia to enable this to happen:

Effective October 1, 2020, section 3.2 of our Terms of Service will be updated to include: ‘We also can remove or restrict access to your content, services or information if we determine that doing so is reasonably necessary to avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts to Facebook’

Facebook has also offered a carrot:

We already invest millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, we offered to invest millions more. We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content.

Online commentary

The sums of money being talked about could well exceed $AUD 600 million [USD 40 million] according to Crikey’s Bernard Keane, politics editor at Crikey, an independent news website in Australia.

However, he rejects the government position arguing that it is stealing money from successful companies:

The government’s proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code would be a draconian regulation to force two explicitly identified companies, Google and Facebook, to hand an unlimited amount of revenue over to Australian media companies, justified by a fiction that those companies steal news content.

[…] The code is justified by a News Corp lie, that Google steals news content and makes billions of dollars from it.

Well respected Australian independent writer Tim Dunlop mused at length on Twitter about the government’s approach:

You can read the complete thread here.

Hal Crawford explained the case for change to New Zealanders at Spinoff:

Google, Facebook and other global companies are not sufficiently contributing to the public purse and the community life of the places where they conduct business. Both companies have made moves to support news locally, but these good initiatives are not yet enough to balance the books.

The role of News Corp

The Australian government has support from the big media companies especially Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In fact some see it as doing his bidding arguing that the code of conduct mirrors a News Corp submission to the ACCC. Kangaroo Court of Australia’s Shane Dowling has no doubt:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and the Scott Morrison government are conspiring in an attempt to shakedown Google and Facebook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

One of the slightly puzzling aspects of News Corp's strident position is that nearly all of its online news sites are behind paywalls. The national daily, The Australian, is a good example of a paid subscriber service only.

Others are riled by the fact the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) are excluded from the proposed scheme. This includes the Australian Greens party but others fear it would undermine their government funding and independence:

There are also concerns about the future of the Australian Associate Press news agency and the funding of regional newspapers.

This is not just shadow boxing. The tech giants face fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover in Australia if they do not comply with the code. That could amount to hundreds of millions.

The draft legislation has been the subject of a month’s consultation. It should be debated by the parliament before the end of the year.