Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Birthday


Last night we were promised aurora. Either they didn't happen, or I missed them as my attention was elsewhere, but something much better happened instead: a 7lb 9oz miracle came into the world. Still trying to come to terms with it, but this is what it's all about, all of it.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

"Understanding" Putin

Compare this:


The German result, where the majority of those interviewed said they would not support assisting a NATO ally that was attacked by Russia, is particularly disappointing given that it was commitment of Federal Republic of Germany's (BRD's) NATO allies to defend it against Soviet aggression that ensured its existence during the cold war. 

Whilst German circumspection in those days might have been ascribed to the thought of their own country becoming the battleground for a NATO-Soviet conflict, in the question asked above no such excuse exists. Indeed it is the indomitable Poles who would be the most likely to find their country fought over in a NATO-Russian conflict in the above list but who are still amongst the most loyal to their commitment to their fellow NATO allies. Doubtless the strange sympathy some East Germans have for their former occupiers (totally unlike their immediate neighbours to the east) is also a factor here.

That the countries whose populations are least likely to wish to honour their commitment to their allies if they are attacked by Russia are also those whose leadership in the last decade have enjoyed the most cosy relations with Putin's regime is also something of a recognisable pattern here. From Gerd Schroeder's partying which Putin, to Berlusconi's dalliances with paramours on "Putin's Bed", to Nicholas Sarkozy's arms sales to (and excuse making for) Moscow, Putin's connections with the leadership in Germany, Italy, and France, appears to have legitimised his rule to an extent in the eyes of some in those countries. 

Of course, no leader of the past decade seems to have been totally immune to Putin's charms. Tony Blair is currently in St. Petersburg attending the even that has been dubbed "Davos for Dictators", whilst George Bush famously said that he was "able to get a sense of [Putin's] soul". Fortunately given the mood favouring further conquests of neighbouring country's territory in Russia, aggression against neighbouring states by a dictatorship is still regarded as something of a red line in the UK and US that people are not yet willing to reason away or "understand".

What Beijing still gets out of Hong Kong



I think it's worthwhile in these times when Hong Kong is only ever talked about as a millstone around the neck of the PRC government to reflect on the value that Beijing and the PRC elite as a whole still garner from Hong Kong being (at least in name, if increasingly less so in fact) a semi-autonomous part of the People's Republic of China. Ho-fung Hung over at China File does a good job of running down the concrete benefits of the H.K. S.A.R. that the CCP leadership still enjoys:

The crux of the issue is that Beijing still desperately needs Hong Kong as a front man to do lots of things. It uses Hong-Kong-registered entities to conduct sensitive deals such as the purchase of former Soviet carriers, the digging up of a canal in Nicaragua, and the hiring of a former Blackwater CEO to assemble team of mercenaries to protect China’s investment in Africa. It offers Hong Kong as a safe haven for its notorious friends like Mugabe to store their private wealth (Mugabe’s daughter graduated recently from the City University of Hong Kong, his wife is spotted regularly in the most luxurious shopping malls in Hong Kong, and the family owned a villa in the Jackie Chan Castle in Hong Kong). Hong Kong is also an important channel through which the princelings move their assets to the U.S. (After Bo Xilai’s downfall, it was disclosed that he maintained vast property in Hong Kong and his wife, Gu Kailai, has a Hong Kong identity card). And above all, Beijing needs Hong Kong’s autonomous status for developing a RMB offshore market, internationalizing the currency without liberalizing China’s capital account. All these require foreign countries, most importantly the U.S., to treat Hong Kong as a de facto independent entity and treat the migrants, goods, and capital from Hong Kong as different from those coming from mainland China. 
Whilst the propaganda value of Hong Kong's return to the motherland may well have been long since used up on the mainland, and the essential failure of the "One Country, Two Systems"  in Hong Kong means that the idea of attracting the Taiwanese into Beijing's orbit by offering it is now a dead letter, the value of Hong Kong to the CCP government is not so different to what it was during the 60's when it was the small opening through which China communicated with the outside world. Whilst nowadays the PRC's access to world markets is immeasurably greater than it was in the 1960's, there are still many ways in which it, as a still-developing country, benefits from the existence of a first-world economy over which it has easy access and control.

In last year's white paper on "One Country, Two Systems" the Chinese government explicitly stated that Hong Kong's autonomy came "solely from the authorization by the central leadership" and was subject to the central leadership's authorisation. It then went on to state that Hong Kong would only keep its autonomy so long as it "fully [respected] the socialist system practiced on the mainland". This was a clear threat that the PRC government did not see itself restricted by the Sino-British agreement and could withdraw Hong Kong's autonomy at any time if it felt that it was a threat to the PRC's rule - and given how widely the PRC government defines what threatens it in other areas, this could be at any point.

However, this threat seems pretty empty when you consider just how much especially the PRC elite, with their HK bank accounts, HK property, HK ID cards and so-forth actually benefit from the HK SAR's continued existence.

Whilst the PRC does have a far more pliable entity for these purposes in the form of Macau, Macau never enjoyed the credibility of Hong Kong as a financial centre. Moreover, much of the credibility that Macau did have pre-1999 has been lost amidst scandals surrounding the activities of organisations like Banco Delta Asia. Reducing Hong Kong to the same pliant state that Macau is in would likely lead to a similar loss of credibility, and hence usefulness.

[Picture: The future Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning is towed through the Bosphorous, supposedly on its way to Macau to become a floating casino after being purchased by a Hong Kong company that instead appears to have been a front for the People's Liberation Army. Via Wiki]

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Douche, Interrupted

If you haven't already, please go and read this masterful take-down by Alec Ash of yet another China expat memoir expounding the same lazy tropes as every other self-published expat memoir does over at Beijing Cream. I'm not even going to mention the title of the book, since it is somewhat incredibad, but here's the money quote from the review:
For someone who lived in China for sixteen years, it’s hard to believe how little of interest happened to Olden. He tries valiantly to keep things topical – the Belgrade embassy bombing, the Internet boom – but inevitably gets sucked back into the dull minutia of his sexpatscapades. In one meat market, he picks up a girl with the sparkling line “Hey – can I buy you a drink?” Her reply is “OK. First, toilet”, and I know how she feels.
Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

In Hong Kong: a bizarre end to Beijing's electoral reform program

As has been pretty much inevitable since Beijing's decision to offer what amounts to something only vaguely resembling democratic elections under universal suffrage, opposition parties in Hong Kong voted down Beijing's proposed reform package today. This was not a surprise as the proposal of government selection of 2-3 candidates for Chief Executive (CE) who would then be voted for in a popular election as a replacement for the current system of direct government selection of the CE, which at least allowed opposition parties to nominate a candidate for the post if not win, was almost tailor-made to be rejected by Hong Kong's pro-Democracy camp.

What was not expected was that the majority of votes cast in the Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) would be against Beijing's proposals, with the proposal being defeated by 28 votes to 8. Since the pro-Beijing camp is guaranteed a majority in the LegCo as only half of the LegCo's 70 seats are elected through universal suffrage, with the other half being selected by so-called "functional constituencies" (i.e., selected by businesses, trade unions, universities etc.) over which Beijing has powerful influence, this was a surprise.

The expected result was that Beijing's proposals would just barely miss the 2/3rds majority of all votes (i.e., 47 votes) required for them to pass. If there was any hesitancy about the result, it was the idea  that there might be last-minute defections from the pro-Democracy camp which would allow it to pass. However, rather than voting for the package, the majority of the pro-Beijing legislators staged a walk out supposedly because one of their legislators still hadn't arrived.

The end result is that just enough votes were cast (36 or 37 depending on sources*) for the vote to be quorate (35 votes are required), with the majority of pro-Beijing legislators spared from actually ever having voted for the package. It is hard to think that this wasn't by design, but what purpose it might achieve is a total mystery. Whilst much of the campaigning by the pro-Beijing side in favour of the government's proposals seems to have been half-hearted (giving a thumbs-up from the top of an open-top bus seems to have the limit of the amount of effort a lot of pro-Beijing politicians were willing to make) casting a vote for the package would hardly have been a stretch. Whatever ignominy might be involved in voting for a defeated package, it can hardly be as bad as turning up and then refusing to vote for the package that you supposedly support.

Zooming out, this means that (for the first time ever?) a Beijing-proposed package of policies has been defeated by a vote in an (at least partly) democratically-elected chamber. Even the Article 23 security laws were never actually put to a final vote, and whilst a previously-proposed expansion of the electoral committee was voted down, this wasn't directly proposed and championed by Beijing. Depending on whose polling you believe the result may also reflect the opinion of the majority of Hong Kong people.

The government's reaction so far has also been somewhat odd. We are told that the NPC's "decision" on the Hong Kong voting system "will stand", as if it were an interpretation of the law rather than a policy proposal. How exactly a package of proposed policies can "stand" when it has been defeated is beyond me, and this announcement probably reflects more the CCP's refusal to acknowledge failing in anything, past or present. Perhaps this is to be taken as an indication that the CCP believes that it met its commitment to deliver universal suffrage in the territory by 2017 through its offer of quasi-democratic elections and need do no more?

At the very least it seems that there is unlikely to be any further packages of proposals put forward. The CCP government refused any real negotiation of the initial proposals, denied the existence of any "Plan B" in case of defeat, and despite the claim of some pro-Beijing politicians that Hong Kongers could "pocket" the reform package and demand more in future the government recently declared that regardless of how the vote went that it would be the only offer made.

Some may seek to blame the pro-Democracy camp for blocking what would at least have been elections for the CE post under a system in which all Hong Kong citizens could have voted, but the fact that the package would essentially have blocked opposition politicians from even competing, and that the government refused to set even a vague timetable for further reforms to follow it, left them with no choice in this matter. Hong Kong's current political system allows an opposition to compete, if not win political control, but the CCP's proposal would have denied them even this.

*Global Times counts a single abstention in the total, I think this represents the LegCo President Jasper Tsang. EDIT: Since no "abstain" votes were counted, it seems that GT is just wrong on this. One pro-Beijing legislator (Poon Shiu-ping) apparently confused by the walk-out, apparently just sat there without pressing a button to vote. Amazingly, what Poon Shiu-ping did is still more credible than blindly following the party leaders into a walkout for essentially no reason, since he did at least stay in the chamber. As Big Lychee points out, nothing is more demonstrative of the slavish obedience of the pro-Beijing block.

EDIT2: This seems pretty relevant -


[Picture: Hong Kong's Legislative Council building in Admiralty. Via Wiki]

Monday, 25 May 2015

"Ambiguous warfare" in Manchuria and the Ukraine.


I've recently been doing a bit of amateurish research into the 1931 Manchurian "Incident" (a curiously anodyne word for the brutal invasion, conquest, and annexation under the paper-thin excuse of establishing an independent state) with the half-formed idea of doing some kind of project on it. Whilst there aren't really any good histories written specifically on the subject, there is a wealth of material that touches on it in passing, as well as information collected for the 1946 Tokyo war crimes trials and the 1932 Lytton Commission. Going through it, it is striking how closely Japan's 1931-33 aggression in Manchuria parallels the "ambiguous warfare" of modern-day Russia in the Ukraine. These parallels include:
  • An attempt to seize part of a state following a change in government of the whole of it. In the case of China, Japan's aggression followed the defeat of Marshal Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-Lin) by Chiang Kai-Shek's northern expedition, their intervention to prevent the KMT armies pursuing him into Manchuria, and their assassination of the Marshal in favour of his son who then proved much less amenable. In the Ukraine, the Russian seizure of the Crimea followed the overthrow of the Moscow-friendly Yanukovich government.
  • An ambiguous situation created by the presence of locally-based troops. Japanese troops were already based in Manchuria to supposedly defend their railway there, a situation that made it not immediately clear that an invasion was in fact underway. In the Crimea, Russian soldiers were already present due to their basing rights in the peninsula.
  • Propaganda warfare and information-control. The Japanese barred the area around Shenyang (Mukden) to foreign journalists, held press-conferences relaying their version of events, and even employed foreign journalists such as George Gorman and H.W. Kinney to write articles for Japanese-controlled English-language media such as the Manchuria Daily News. The parallels to Russian propaganda outlet RT (and, for that matter, CCP-controlled outlets like Global Times and CCTV 9) hardly need be pointed out.
  • The abuse of ceasefire agreements. Between the initial seizure of Shenyang in 1931 and the conclusion of the 1933 Tanggu Truce, the Japanese repeatedly concluded cease-fire agreements with the Chinese and then broke them, seizing ever-larger chunks of Manchuria. We have seen the same process at work in Eastern Ukraine, with the first Minsk Protocol concluded, then broken, and now the second Minsk accord teetering on collapse.
It is easy to draw parallels from past evils to the modern day and seek to condemn modern day evils as the equal to the previous ones, but that is not my intention here. The likelihood of Russia invading the rest of the Ukraine and slaughtering the population of the capital city as the Japanese did in China in 1937 is low. What is important to note here is that the "ambiguous" or "hybrid" warfare that Vladimir Putin has been credited in some quarters as essentially inventing is in fact nothing new, and that the effect of allowing it to succeed unpunished can be to inspire more open forms of aggression.

Just as a failure to respond to Japan's aggression in Manchuria helped to inspire more open forms of aggression from Italy and Germany, the ongoing failure of the international community to reverse Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of its territory may well cause people both in China and elsewhere to wonder if they could not also do the same thing. Indeed, China's recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, with construction of island-bases there (itself a form of ambiguous warfare) having greatly accelerated since March 2014, may be the product of exactly this kind of thinking.

[Picture: Japanese troops enter Shenyang, 1931] 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The View From The Polling Station


I spent a few hours today standing outside a polling station wearing the rosette of a political party whose identity I'm sure will not surprise regular readers of this blog. The atmosphere was friendly - I saw several parents taking their children with them into the voting booth to show them what democracy looks like. There were a few gripes, and a few "I'm not voting for your lot"s, but they mostly fair enough. The representatives of various parties took turns to hold the leads of the many dogs whose owners took them to the polling station with them, and otherwise chatted quite naturally. Regardless of all the nonsense some of the political parties put out, the UK is still a very healthy democracy - the ongoing sentiment of rolling-crisis is a mirage. Whatever the results of this election - and they are likely to be somewhat messy - the UK will muddle through much as it always has done.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Timely Correction


As far as I know, the PRC has never retracted, or re-examined, its claims that UN forces in Korea during the Korean war used bacteriological and/or chemical weapons. This is a pity because evidence that has come out since the collapse of the USSR puts it beyond doubt that this never, ever happened. As the USSR council of ministers itself resolved on the 2nd of May, 1953 (after Stalin's death):

For Mao Zedong

"The Soviet Government and the Central Committee of the CPSU were misled. The spread in the press of information about the use by the Americans of bacteriological weapons in Korea was based on false information. The accusations against the Americans were fictitious."

To give recommendations:
To cease publication in the press of materials accusing the Americans of using bacteriological weapons in Korea and China.

To consider it desirable that the Government of the PRC (DPRK) declare in the UN that the resolution of the General Assembly of 23 April about investigating the facts of the use by the Americans of bacteriological weapons on the territory of China (Korea) cannot be legal, since it was made without the participation of representatives of the PRC (DPRK). Since there is no use of bacteriological weapons, there is no reason to conduct an investigation.

In a tactical way to recommend that the question of bacteriological warfare in China (Korea) be removed from discussion in international organizations and organs of the UN.

Soviet workers responsible for participation in the fabrication of the so-called "proof" of the use of bacteriological weapons will receive severe punishment." 
Every so often there is speculation that the CCP may, for example, decide to rehabilitate politicians who at various times had unjustly fallen foul of the historical CCP leadership, most often it is those behind the Tiananmen demonstrations are discussed in these terms. However, this is yet to ever happen, since it is painfully difficult for the CCP leadership to allow admission that it ever failed or was wrong about anything - in fact, since Deng's era it is hard to think of anything new beyond the admission that Mao was wrong an (undefined) 30% of the time that constitutes an admission of failing.

Perhaps something like the Tiananmen square demonstrations is still too recent, and too painful an incident for the Chinese authorities to reopen, but if something now as distant and uncontroversial as the CCP's long-abandoned (and not now taken seriously by anyone) claims of biological warfare in the Korean war cannot finally be admitted as fake, then it is hard to ever conceive of what might be admitted as a mistake beyond the generic admissions of failings during the Mao era. This inability to admit failing creates an ever growing number of controversies which the CCP denies even exists, and an ever-growing list of people aware of these controversies. This attempt to create a "country without history" cannot continue forever.

[Picture: A Korean-war-era Chinese Communist propaganda poster]

Friday, 17 April 2015

Why is political criticism seen as a personal insult?

This graph from Alex Massie's latest post over at The Spectator says a great deal about the current state of British politics:


At heart, the measure of how likely people are to see criticism of the political party they support as a personal attack on themselves is a measure of the sheer tribalism of their supporters, the degree to which they're political loyalties stem entirely from how they see themselves. As can be seen, no party is free of it, but (with the exception of the mildly Welsh Nationalist Plaid Cymru party) the more fringe the party is in nature, and the more extreme its policies are, the more tribal their supporters are likely to be.

Most prominent on this graph are the Scottish Nationalists, whose grass-roots supporter's ability to see any criticism, however substantiated by fact, as an insult to which they are entitled to respond with insults, will be familiar to anyone who has attempted to follow the development of "The 45" on twitter, and their hounding and jeering of journalists insolent enough to report unfavourable news about their leader.  We see similar behaviour from the self-proclaimed "People's Army" of the UK Independence Party, a nationalist movement in all but name. Whilst the Greens are not a nationalist party, that their support stems much more from their supporter's self-image than from any policies in their manifesto is hardly surprising when you consider that the Green Party's manifesto is in large part an un-costed shopping-list of things it is trendy to be seen to believe in.

To anyone those familiar with Chinese affairs, the phenomenon of people defending politicians who do the indefensible, and responding to criticism with angry invective purely because they have been taught to uncritically identify themselves with those politicians is nothing new. To see it become such a mainstay of British poltics is disappointing, however.

Happily, the likely failure of all of the fringe parties to make any great impact after the next election, and the compromises that will have to be made if they wish to make an impact, are likely to result eventually in a more realistic outlook amongst their supporters. For the time being, though, the supporters of the fringe parties can still engage in magical thinking whereby all that need happen is for Scotland/Wales to become independent, or the UK to leave the EU, or for 'neoliberalism' (whatever that is) to be brought to an end, and all their problems can be solved.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Caribbean Notes


Two weeks ago my wife and I flew back into a typically cold, wet and horrid British January after having spent a wonderful time sailing around the Eastern Caribbean on a much belated honeymoon. Before those warm memories are driven entirely from my head, I thought it best to run off a quick post about some of the places we went to, with the caveat that, having only visited these places for a couple of days each, I cannot possibly do each place full justice:

Cartagena, Colombia
The city was surprisingly nice, especially given that I had expected Colombia to be the roughest stop on our trip due to the security situation there. Whilst heavily armed police were in evidence in some parts of the city, however, the atmosphere was relaxed. There was both no sign of the FARC, nor any sign of concern about them.

The old town of Cartagena is a gem, if one with parts that were over-run by tourists. The gold museum, entry to which is free, was a great place to visit, and the food we had at a restaurant in the less-touristified Getsemani side of town was first rate.

Colon, Panama
Sad to say, Colon itself proved to be a quite forgettable and insalubrious town, and the area near the docks had a particularly threatening feel to it - police on bikes eventually rolled up on us as we wandered the streets near the port area to and told us in no uncertain terms that the area simply wasn't safe to walk around in.

By contrast, Portobelo, 40 minutes by taxi from Colon, was well worth a visit. Black vultures flocked around the fortresses of the old town, and the sun beat down upon the bay where, 400 years before, Sir Francis Drake (who the local museum labeled a "pirate") had been laid to rest. We were slightly concerned to see groups of locals with their faces painted black who were carrying long, heavy bats standing at points along our route to the town collecting money from passing cars, until we learned that they were actually celebrating a local festival and were likely dressed as the Black Christ of Porto Belo. The calamari we ate there was simply excellent.

San Lorenzo, across the Panama canal (the locks of which we also visited at Gatun) from Colon proved to be a ruined Spanish fortress standing in the middle of virgin jungle. Standing on the ramparts of the old fort and looking down on the bay below, where brilliant blue water lapped at the edge of dense jungle, you felt you knew what things would have been like there in the days of the conquistadors.

Whilst Colon itself was nothing special, one of my abiding memories of the whole trip was our leaving of the place - a cloud of black butterflies seemed to flock around the ship and followed us until we were several miles out to sea, a strange and beautiful experience. We caught one final, perplexing sight of land - a flare-gun had been fired in the city for some reason - and then as the flare fell, the sun set and we were off on the next part of our journey.

Montego Bay, Jamaica
It's a shame to say this, but the town of Montego Bay also proved to be more than a tad unmemorable, which combined with all the warnings we heard of robberies there (true or not, I don't know), and the continual and tiresome shouting from touts, put us off from doing too much exploring there. Except for a visit to the civic centre to see the exhibit about Sam Sharpe, who was hung by the British in the main square outside the museum 181 years ago this year, we saw little of the town.

Doctors Cave Beach, on the other hand, was immaculate. The coral reef which we snorkeled on was an exquisite riot of colour, with fish of every size wizzing over the coral. Everyone should swim on a coral reef at least once in their life.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Roughly an hour's drive from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen is definitely part of the the same holiday resort world as it's more famous neighbour, which is not to say it was unpleasant. Actually, after the unsettling atmosphere of Colon and Montego Bay it was quite welcome.

The Mayan ruins at Tulum which we visited (we didn't have enough time to get to Chichen Itza) were spectacular, if seemingly over-run by iguanas. It was odd to think that only half the old buildings there have been explored properly, with many more remaining buried or un-protected in the surrounding mangrove swamp. My advice to anyone who wants to go there is to take your swimming clothes, as there is a beach directly below the main tower that makes an excellent break in the middle of a hot Mexican day.

Havana, Cuba
Having lived in China certain aspects of Cuba were not unfamiliar - the propaganda slogans one saw around Havana, for example. A visitor to the propaganda-packed Museum of The Revolucion (the exhibits of which bear only a tangential relation to history) would have found little to choose between it and some of the museums in Beijing.

Others aspects were, for me, quite new - the generally ruined state of many buildings in the capital was something I had heard about but not expected to be so omni-present. Even the North Korean-style monuments at Plaza De La Revolucion looking somewhat time-worn, with cracked and over-grown curb-sides.

Indeed, with the long queues we saw forming outside bakeries, the talk of shortages of basic necessities (although this may just have been a local version of the powdered milk scam - grifters and beggars were, despite what you may have read elsewhere, prominent on the streets of Havana), my wife was reminded of Poland in the 1980's. I have heard journalists ascribe the state of modern-day Cuba to the embargo, but pretty much every country governed according to Marxist economics has ended up this way (the main square in Wroclaw was almost falling apart by the end of the 80's), so colour me unconvinced.

All this aside Havana was definitely an interesting place to visit, many of the colonial-era buildings had a faded grandeur to them, and the people were very friendly. Sitting in the department store at Plaza Carlos III, which opened in 1997, and seeing the new developments and restorations near the port area, it looked like Cuba is on the way to eventually rejoining the modern world and ditching the insane economic policies of the communist era. The US's re-establishment of relations with Cuba will hopefully greatly hasten this. Whether democratic reforms will also occur is impossible to say, but the Cuban leadership is at least likely to try to copy the example of China, and seek to stay in power by resisting any political reform.

Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Going from the dilapidated worker's paradise to the beating heart of one of the world's biggest tax-havens and playground of the plutocrats was quite a switch. Happily the Cayman Islands (over which the British flag still flies) turned out to the nicest and friendliest place we stopped at in the whole trip. My must-dos from the Cayman Islands include the local craft beers, which were delicious, and any of its seafood establishments.

We left port behind a Royal Navy warship, and started our journey back to Gatwick.

[Picture: A local fishing boat in the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama, where a planned stop was cancelled due to rough seas] 

As seen in Havana


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The United States: Rogue State.

There's pretty much no other way to read the details of the CIA's torture program without coming to a very simple conclusion : that the United States is currently harbouring people known to have committed war crimes of every imaginable variety including many of the very worst short of genocide. Inevitably, other countries, including quite probably the UK, were involved also, but the main driving force behind these war crimes seems to have come from the US's incompetent, scared leadership of the time.

If the United States does not investigate these crimes and punish those reponsible it will be little better than Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, the People's Republic of China, and other countries where human rights are regarded by those in power as having little consequence, except that we may at least hope that the torture program is no longer operational.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

China refuses to allow MPs to visit Hong Kong: a modest proposal


Here's how Britain should respond to China's refusal to allow a parliamentary delegation to visit Hong Kong: just as unreasonably as China has acted in blocking a perfectly reasonable attempt to see whether the PRC was sticking to the terms of the 1984 Sino-British agreement.

Let's start by cancelling the student visas given to the children of high-ranking CCP officials like Bo Guagua and Yang Li. After all, the mantra that Britain is "no longer a colonial power" and shouldn't try to interest itself in Hong Kong and Chinese affairs, then this must cut both ways - there is no reason for Chinese officials to be sending their children to the UK to learn in Britain if British officials cannot visit China to investigate affairs there.

As a second move, let's close down all Confucius Institutes  (Chinese state-funded educational centres, normally based in UK universities) that have been set up in the UK. As all good paranoiacs know, these are basically spy command centres, and tools of cultural imperialism. If "western values" that the UK's parliamentarians might spread like democracy are a threat to China, then by the same absurd logic, bodies designed to teach about Chinese cultural values may also be a threat to the UK.

Finally, if compliance with bilateral treaties between our two countries may not be monitored without accusations of "colonialism", then it is not only British officials who must be barred from travelling. There are a whole raft of treaties and exchange programs (e.g., this one) visit the UK: let's scrap the lot.

But of course, we're too reasonable to do any of this.

[Picture: the original modest proposal]


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Why North Korean tourism is ghoulish and wrong

As someone who has always had a slight yen to see what it is like to live in the world's last remaining Stalinist state, I have sometimes thought about visiting North Korea on tous such as those organised by the Koryo group. The one thing that has stopped me from doing so is the thought that foeign visitors may be used in North Korean propaganda as evidence of foreign support for the regime of the Kims, as well as the potential use of foreign currency earned from tourists in the Kim's various terrorism and drug-dealling enterprises.

A partial confirmation of this idea came in North Korean defector Park Yeon-Mi's live Q&A today in answer to a question about what the ordinary people of North Korea think about the outside world:

 Of course, beyond this, there is the distastefully ghoulish aspect of visiting a country which suffers under such a disasterous system merely for the rarity value, for the bragging rights of saying you saw a totalitarian dictatorship close-up. The nearest comparison would be taking photos at a deadly car-crash merely so you could say you had been there.

Am I wrong about this? At least it seems I am not the only one who thinks so.

[Photo: Tourists chat with local North Koreans. By Norman Harak, via Wiki