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Category: International

China may get a naval base less than 2,000km from Australia

24 March 2022

This is a worry!  Here is the article from the SMH

China set to sign first security deal in the Pacific on Australia’s doorstep

By Eryk Bagshaw  March 24, 2022 — 7.33pm

Singapore: China and Solomon Islands are set to sign off on a security deal that will see Chinese warships based in the Pacific and shift the balance of power in Australia’s region.

The agreement will give China the power to use its military to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands and give Beijing a base for its navy less than 2000 kilometres off Australia’s coast. The base would be the first time Australia has had a strategic adversary within striking distance of its coastline since World War II.

 “China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands,” the draft framework agreement states.

“Solomon Islands may, according to its own needs, request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces to Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property.”

The draft, released online on Thursday afternoon and verified by the Australian government, is a sharp escalation in the relationship between the two governments after protests, riots and looting gripped the island nation in November.

The conflict was driven by COVID-19 measures, ethnic tensions and regional tensions between Honiara, the capital, and its most populous province, Malaita, but it was also linked to allegations of corruption involving Chinese infrastructure deals and Honiara’s decision to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

The draft states Beijing and Honiara will enter into the agreement with the view of “strengthening security co-operation, mutual respect for sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit”.

Anna Powles, a senior lecturer in international security and a Pacific diplomacy expert at New Zealand’s Massey University, said the draft agreement was “very significant”.

“The security agreement is one of the first of its kind in the Pacific; its scope is broad and suitably vague and its provisions range from maintaining public order through to protecting Chinese citizens and assets, and providing humanitarian and disaster relief,” Powles said.

“The agreement also contains several ambiguous and potentially ambitious provisions with geopolitical implications including that China is seeking logistical supply capabilities and material assets located in Solomon Islands to support ship visits.”

Powles said the agreement suggests logistics and supplies will be available in the Solomons to support the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

“If it comes under force, the agreement also contains references to China’s ‘own needs’, which could refer to China’s strategic interests; China’s pursuit of its strategic interests in the Pacific is of direct concern to Australia and its allies and partners.”

Australia also sent troops and federal police to the Solomon Islands after a request for assistance from its Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, in November. The request was made under a 2017 treaty between Australia and Solomon Islands to request help from Australian armed forces and the Australian Federal Police in the event of civil unrest, but that agreement would be put under a cloud if the deal with Beijing goes through.

Solomon’s opposition MP Peter Kenilorea told the ABC he was deeply concerned by the development. “This has implications for the Pacific islands region, including Australia,” he said.

China has been courting Pacific island nations to establish a military presence in the area, but the Solomons deal would be the first time the Chinese navy has an operational presence in the region beyond the South China Sea.

In 2018 China approached Vanuatu about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific, triggering urgent discussions at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington. Thursday afternoon’s draft document, first released by a Solomons’ opposition adviser, sent officials in Canberra scrambling to verify its authenticity. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age confirmed on Thursday evening that the Australian government believes the document is genuine, deepening concerns about China’s intentions in the Pacific.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton were contacted for comment.

The base will increase the risk of confrontation between the US and China as Beijing ramps up its competition with Washington, threatens Taiwan’s airspace and refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra was contacted for comment.

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Ukraine- a Perspective

6 March 2022

Putin had said that he would not invade, so clearly he was lying.

It may be true that Russia wants buffer states between it and Western Europe and this is why it demanded from the US that Ukraine never be allowed into NATO. 

It is also true that the US promised Russia as its empire collapsed in 1990 that the newly independent countries would not be allowed to join NATO and that NATO would not move eastward.

Of course the countries that had just escaped from the Soviet Union wanted a security guarantee by to joining NATO.   NATO did not have to approach them, and may have appeared cowardly not to offer them the protection that they sought.  Whether NATO could defend Estonia against a Russian land-based approach is another question.  It is likely that NATO would not have let Ukraine join, as being surrounded by Russia on three sides, it might have been considered indefensible.

From a Russian point of view, the presence of close US bases is very disturbing and they are now in Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan.  One of Russia’s major demands was that there be a buffer zone between it and the West.  The history is relevant.  Russia has had the armies of Napoleon and Hitler sweep across their land where there are no natural barriers. By the same token, they swept the Germans back in WW2 and retained part of Germany and all of Poland Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Czechoslavakia and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They kept them, dropping the ‘Iron Curtain’ and engaging in the ‘Cold War’ until the inefficiency of their communist economy made it crumble, leading to the collapse of the USSR, Russia’s empire.

The Russian economy is now the 11th in the world with GDP of $1.6 trillion, only two places ahead of Australia on $1.4, (with Spain in between).   They have however, the legacy of the immense military power and high military and space technology, and the memories of Empire that must be very important to Putin, the Cold War warrior who used to head the KGB.  Whether Putin is motivated by fear of the West, dreams of recreating the Russian Empire, difficulties in domestic politics or deluded foreign intelligence reports seems hard to say.  It is unlikely that just promising that the Ukraine would not be in NATO would probably not have stopped the invasion, but Russia was treated with a contempt that must have rankled.  The Eastern European Countries joined NATO, which must have seemed in danger of irrelevance if peace had reigned.   Russia’s worries about encirclement were ignored, presumably because it was assumed that there was nothing that they could do about it and they were economically weak.

It is interesting to look at Western assumptions since WW2. Because both world wars were over access to markets, the pressure at the Bretton Wood conference in 1944 was to have free markets so that if countries traded well they would rise, and if poorly they would fall, but either way, there was no world war. Germany and Japan rose in this system.  The US, which was responsible for 40% of world GDP in 1960 has been quietly sinking and is now only 24%. Much of their manufacturing has gone offshore so the arms industry has greater significance.  The US have had ownership of major companies, but as these have become global they are not under control or fully taxed by any country.  The US has been the only superpower since the collapse of the Soviet Union and has had an assumed superiority, which is helped by the fact that as the US Dollar is the world’s currency and since the Gold standard was abolished in 1980, they can simply print more money.

The key Western assumption after Bretton Woods was that major powers would trade and hence territorial wars would be unnecessary.  Just as the medieval folk assumed that God would fix everything, the West largely assumed that having the world a market would fix things.  Unsurprisingly this has proved too simplistic.  Unfair trade, national and corporate predatory behaviour and the ability of some to set prices better than others has led to some countries becoming poorer as their assets are stripped, like the losers in a Monopoly game that never ends.  The assumption that no countries wanted empires stood in ironic contrast to the behaviour of the US, which has had many little wars to further its interests, not to mention Russia and China.

Germany is worthy of mention here.  It was punished by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WW1 and the resentment and economic hardship led to the rise of Hitler and WW2. After WW2 the Allies had learned their lesson and the US aid of the Marshall Plan poured in to stop communism.  Germany was rebuilt and joined its traditional enemy France to form the EU, which it then dominated.  Internal EU trade made war extremely unlikely, though there is a still significant friction in the Balkans. Germany went one step further, getting gas from Russia, which creates a mutual inter-dependency, which was assumed to make war less likely.

But when Russia collapsed in 1990 due to uncompetitive nature of its industries and it consequent foreign trade problems, it received no sympathy, and no aid. Predatory capitalism bought assets at rock bottom prices from those within the power structure who had power to sell them, and organised crime was significant.  Putin, an ex-KGB chief took the trouble to become personally rich, but moved in to control the oligarchs, lessen corruption, get foreign capital and industries and develop oil and gas.  His deal with the oligarchs was basically to control them somewhat, but let them keep their money as long as they did not get into politics.  Per capita GDP in Russia has risen 385% since 2000 as against the EU’s 162%, helped by high oil and gas prices in the early years. But Russian per capital income is still $US28,219 a year as opposed to the EU average of $US41, 539.  Russia has also had an inflation rate almost double the EU, which has somewhat taken the gloss off the wage rise.

Putin himself is still a Cold War warrior, who resents Russia’s loss of power.  He has eliminated dissident voices in his immediate circle, and so the advice he gets may be quite distorted.  There were stories from the Communist period that Russian intelligence was skewed to favour a Kremlin faction who might reward the source of the intelligence.  The pro-Russian nature of the Donbas region provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk and of Crimea may have led Putin to believe that Ukrainians either wanted to join Russia, or would accept it relatively easily if it happened.   He had marched into Georgia, taken the countryside easily and the people had given little resistance.  The referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk in May 2021, which were highly controversial in their legitimacy and execution because of both separatist and Ukrainian army violence, may have also given him reason for his belief.

Russia has 146 million people Ukraine 44 million, so taking over the country and occupying it will be extremely difficult even if military victory is achieved.  Bombarding residential areas was done by the Russian in Syria and achieved victory there, but the Russians left the local Dictator, Assad, to deal with the consequences.  Assad’s humanitarian record is appalling, and there has been little publicity about the outcome.  But the Ukrainians are the same ethnic stock as Russia and such a traumatic victory is very unlikely to achieve a stable transition of government if Russia chooses to stay. 

The role of the US has been criticised. They have been keen for NATO to take a hard line, broke their word in NATO’s eastward extension, put bases in Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan and dismissed Putin’s request for a promise not to offer Ukraine membership, saying it was a Ukrainian decision.  A harder line from NATO will help US arms sales, a disruption of oil and gas will favour their own industries, and after all they are separated from any problems by the Atlantic Ocean.

The Germans are having a major re-think on their priorities, as they rely on Russian gas for 15% of their generation. They were phasing out nuclear power since Fukushima in 2011, and like many other countries are a little delayed in the difficult switch to renewable power.  A power shortage is likely to affect their industrial competitiveness and they are now signing up to the US demand for 2% of national income to be spent on arms.

China is likely to help Russia as it can turn it into a vassal state.  The Chinese economy is $17 trillion, which is roughly ten times the Russian one, so the cost of bailing them out by buying their energy and wheat is really only small change. They will take a bit of criticism from the rest of the world, but it will be worth it.  They will continue to work with the Russians to lessen the power of the US dollar as the world’s currency.  They will see how much Russia has suffered financially and in reputation from the invasion, and may then ease up on Taiwan- after all they only have to wait until a pro-Beijing government gets power there, and if that takes 30 years, so be it- they can afford to wait.  They harbour historical resentments against the West as Russia does, so with an economy ten times the size of Russia and growing have a capacity that Russia lacks.  This remains a problem.  They have consolidated Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and are expanding the area they control in the South China Sea.  What they will conclude from Putin’s Ukraine adventure remains in the realm of speculation.

The rise in gas prices should help Australian producers, but it will take a long time to scale up to meet the demand, and shipping is a problem. The other problem that the Australian gas industry has is that they sold gas on the assumption that could frack large parts of Australia, and resistance from groups concerned about the effect of this on the water table and farming has made this gas less available, so they have already have trouble meeting their contracted obligations. 

So what are the effects of the Ukraine invasion likely to be?

Putin will be very reluctant to stop and is likely to kill a lot of civilians in his efforts to save face and win.  This is tragic for the people of Ukraine and will result in a lot of refugees.  If he tries to hold Ukraine against a widely supported insurgency there will be a large number of Russian casualties continuing.  The Afghan war led to the fall of the then Russian government and many believe that even with the worst repression Putin will not survive this folly, particularly as he has created a Europe much more united against him and sanctions that will be significant for the Russian people.  An assumption is that he cannot reactivate the Gulag system of Stalin in this day and age, but a number of our other assumptions seem to have been wrong.

As stated above Russian and China will become closer and China will redouble its efforts to undermine the US dollar as the world’s currency.  This will succeed eventually, but will be gradual and not necessarily a problem for us.

In the short-term we need to help the Ukrainians as much as reasonably possible.

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Loneliness and its solutions

25 February 2022


I sometimes watch Foreign Correspondent on ABC TV and by chance on 15/2/21 I came across this excellent programme on loneliness in Japan.


The ABC correspondent there looks at loneliness in the Japanese population from older folk dying alone, to younger people simply withdrawing from society.


Some of the older ones had no family or jobs. Some of the younger ones were so pressured to succeed and felt that they had failed, so simply withdrew from society. It seems that the pressure on kids all to be CEOs is an absurd and unachievable objective.


I am not sure that the situation in Australia is as bad, but I thought about some of my patients and could think of half a dozen immediately. With some of them , I am one of the only two or three people in the world they have any contact with, their relationships are tenuous.


None of them started with mental health problems. Here are some examples:


A 60 year old man worked for a security company looking after an insurance company. He was doing surveillance for them, but it took over his life as he was contacted 24 hours a day for various crises. Case management employees having conscience over what they were doing had to be rescued from self-harm in the toilets. Enraged claimants with refused claims threatened to blow up the company offices with cans of petrol. He saw staff high-fiveing as some claimant got a derisory settlement when they deserved and needed a lot more. It went on like this for years. When he said that he could not do this anymore he was treated as badly as any of the people he had dealt with. He told me this story, and I had hoped that with his considerable management skills and experience, he could be put into a less stressful position. But he deteriorated. Everything reminds him of the corruption of the world. He is estranged from his wife and they communicate with post-it notes on the frig. He goes for a walk at 11 at night so he will not have to speak to people in the street. One son has stuck by him and visits daily, and will build him a self-contained unit in his new home.


Another patient is a 62 year old ethnic taxi driver who was so badly bashed 11 years ago by a gang stealing his takings that he lost an eye, has never worked again and never recovered mentally or physically. He was divorced; lives alone and sometimes will not even answer the phone.


One is a 42 year old foreign student who came to study theology, wanting to become a pastor. Her English is not great. She is a trifle unworldly, and thought that the world is basically kind and people look after each other. She had a casual job in a motel and her boss asked her to move a bed down the stairs between floors. She said it was too heavy and she could not, but he threatened to sack her. She did it and got an injury to two discs in her back. She was frightened to have surgery, so was in agony for a couple of years and eventually agreed. She had minimal surgery, which was not successful. The insurer decided that she was not complying with what they wanted so refused to pay her. She was effectively broke and homeless, so an old lady from her church offered her a bed and food. But she lives a long way away and up a drive that is hard for my patient to walk up. She was effectively trapped. As a foreign person she did not even have Medicare for the minimal psychological help it offers (6 visits a year). Her mental health deteriorated and she shunned all outside contact, and would not even answer the phone. She has gone home to her family- I can only hope she improves there.


One is a 39 year old from a religious and teetotal family with a high sense of ethics. He was a top salesman of a computer company and became aware that they were ripping off some customers. He drew this to management’s attention, but they declined to do anything and he was labelled a whistleblower. Management supported him by putting out an email asking that he be supported for his mental health issues. He felt that this ostracisation was the end of his career, because he had asked them to behave ethically. He was certain that no one in his tight top group will now employ him, so he withdrew and started to drink to lessen the pain. His family then rejected him because of the drinking and his sales friends are estranged also. The psychologist gives him Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercises and I try to get him to drink less and somewhat ironically counsel him that you cannot withdraw from the world merely because the baddies generally win. He lives alone, answers the phone and is just able to do his own shopping, but is not improving much.


These are just some examples that I know. Coasting home as GP at least keeps you in contact with life. The point is that many people have broken lives, but just keep living. None of these examples have done anything wrong themselves. Is a sense of ethics a mental illness?


As everyone has to ‘look after themselves’ in a consumer-oriented society, more people will fall through the cracks, especially as the gap between rich and poor is enlarged by pork barrelling which puts resources into areas that need them less, tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for private schools and private health insurance, derisory welfare payments, and insurers allowed simply to refuse to pay without penalty.


People need basic support with universal housing and universal health case. They need jobs or at least occupations and an adequate income to survive. And we need outreach and support services that can be called upon.
When people say, ‘There are not enough jobs’, they are taking nonsense. Anyone can think of many worthwhile things that need doing. And there are plenty of people who would be happy to do them. The problem is that in a world where nothing can be done that does not make a profit, a lot of things that need doing are not done. That is where the policy change are needed. We cannot simply look at the money and see to what level existing activities can be maintained. We need to look at what needs to be done, and then work out how to achieve it. We need to decide that everyone has a right to live and those who have a good life will live in a better society if everyone can share at least a basic quality of life. There has to be recognition that the ability to be profitable need not be the overwhelming criterion for what is done. Tax may go up, but if there is real re-think of priorities, it is not likely to be all that much.


The link to the ABC program that initiated this tirade is below.
https://iview.abc.net.au/show/foreign-correspondent/series/2022/video/NC2210H002S00

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AUKUS Protest Letter- Please sign

17 February 2022

The AUKUS submarine deal is bad for Australia on many fronts.

It is bad financially as the submarines are very expensive, so we will have a lot less of them. It is bad in that they will not be available for a long time, so we will be short in the meantime.

It is of course bad environmentally as if/when nuclear submarines are sunk there will be radio activity released at random locations around the world. Technologically nuclear submarines may be more vulnerable than at first thought. Because the nuclear reactors produce heat, they raise the water temperature, which can be detected by satellites. How vulnerable this makes them remains to be tested in practice.

These nuclear submarines are long-range attack submarines, which the US have to project power- read attack Chinese shipping. We do not want to attack China, so they are not appropriate for us. We need defence submarines to operate in our more local area.

Once we have the submarines, whenever that is, we will have to build a base for them, which the US will want to use. So we will be paying for a base that makes us a nuclear target principally for the Americans’ interest. We will be locked into the US global military system.

In reality, there are now two world powers. One is rising, and one is fading. Our major trading partner, China is rising, and the other, the US, is spending far too much on military hubris, neglecting its domestic problems and its wage structure has made its industries uncompetitive. Its military-industrial complex seems to want to create tensions to sell arms, which the US economy subsidises and now relies on. This is not a good economic model for the world. For Australia to hitch its fortunes to fantasies of bygone hegemony is foolish indeed.

China is extremely unlikely to ‘invade’ Australia. They are on the east end of the world’s greatest land mass and are building the belt and road initiative to get to the markets of both Asia and Europe. Australia is a quarry and a food source and provided we trade fairly they have no need for geographical expansion down here. If they were to attack us, the US would look at its options and decide whether it could possible defend us and at what cost, and that would happen in a global context, not due to some sentimental or historic tie. We should remember what happened in WW2 when we were threatened and appealed to Britain. They sent two token battleships which were promptly sunk by Japanese aircraft off Singapore, said they would take us back when they had beaten the Germans, and declined to give us back the troops that we had in North Africa. East Timor was invaded the week after the US Secretary of State had visited Jakarta. It is extremely unlikely that the US did not agree not to interfere; they were playing a global game as might have been expected. Sorry East Timor. Sorry Australia?

On the submarines, the US got a good deal. Australia signed up for inappropriate vessels at some future date at some yet unknown price, and will have to build a base that the US can use. The British had a little glimpse of being a world colonial power again, which must have delighted the fantasies of Boris Johnson, who thinks he is the reincarnation of Winston Churchill. Australia upset the French, upset the Chinese, upset the Indonesians, locked ourselves into a dangerous alliance against our major trading partner, signed a blank cheque, and hugely restricted our future policy options, but gave Mr Morrison a few good headlines when he was looking bad politically. It was another milestone in the triumph of hubris and lobbying over sensible policy.

Since Australia already has a bad reputation for tearing up submarine contracts, we might as well use this reputation to tear up the AUKUS one. The only hope is that Labor, having won the election by being hopelessly timid, might actually be brave enough to look at the situation afresh.

Please sign the petition below.

https://openletter.earth/aukus-for-war-or-australians-for-peace-e21f6607?fbclid=IwAR0698GDGSCUg2_Vt5vVslpEs8n4oDdNGGYXqxde-i89X5Yeag1p37TlF2Q

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Will Russia Invade Ukraine?

6 February 2022

Probably not, but it is possible and they are likely to take some action.


The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was largely due to their economy being unable to compete with more efficient market-based ones. But US Secretary of State James Baker in 1990 promised Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards.


The Eastern European countries were effectively given independence. Their attitudes varied. The Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were very keen to have protection. Poland, which was abolished as a nation in WW2, simply being divided in half and incorporated into Russia and Germany by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 was also looking for protection.

NATO, led by the US has been joining up countries so that only the two closest to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have not joined. Now the US is now loudly proclaiming Ukraine’s ‘right’ to join NATO if it chooses. The US has a lot of hubris, a tin ear, an arms lobby that needs sales and a recent history of doing what it likes. It has also installed military facilities in some of the countries closet to Russia. Those with long memories may recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 when Russia tried to station missiles there and there was a major confrontation. The US has bases all over the world encircling its rivals. The Russians do not, and when they tried to these was a major confrontation. One can also note that there are no natural barriers to military advances in Europe. Napoleon and Hitler swept across Russia and Russia swept them back.


Ukraine, the former ‘breadbasket’ of the Soviet Union is the closest big country to Russia and also could control Russian access to the Black Sea so has special significance. Internally it has quite a varied attitude to Russia. Those in the Eastern part of the country are very pro-Russia, while those in the West would like more integration with Western Europe. There is a succession movement in Donbass, an eastern province, and Russia is accused of helping the separatists. The capital, Kiev, is on the Dnieper river, which bisects the country from north to south, just downstream of Chernobyl. In 2014 there was a coup which was shown to be CIA-supported. The Parliament was invaded, much like the US on 6 Jan 2021, but in Ukraine’s case the President fled and new government was installed, highly favourable to the US. Russia responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula, which has their key naval base in the Black Sea. It might be noted that in a plebiscite a huge majority of Crimeans supported Russia against Ukraine.


In an interview on 7.30 on 1/2/22 Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner pointed out the US hypocrisy on NATO membership. He also pointed out that Russia does not want to invade. There would be Western sanctions, but Russia would also be stuck with a guerrilla war situation having to suppress part of what they occupied perhaps indefinitely. They cannot count on being welcomed even into eastern Ukraine. Invading armies usually are not. They would lose a lot of face internationally and there would be trouble on side or another in selling their gas to Western Europe.


It might be overlooked with all the US statements on Ukraine that Germany, France and Italy, surely the heavyweights of Europe, have been very silent. Germany has decommissioned its nuclear plants, cut down on coal and now gets a third of its energy from Russian gas. It cannot replace that amount of energy in the short-term. They are very aware of what a war in Europe means. Europe is more economically integrated and in general, this is good thing.


Russia will be supported by China if the sanctions start to bite, and the US dollar is gradually becoming less important as a world currency, a trend that the Chinese are working hard to accelerate.Even the Ukrainian President is now on record saying that the US must take much of the blame for the current situation.


It seems that the US arms industry, which has spent decades having little wars to keep itself at the centre of that fading economy is lost in its own hubris. It sees this merely as an opportunity to sell arms to the Ukrainians. It is a market, and an economic game. The Russians have existential concerns, not to mention the loss of face. They are likely to take some action. Diplomacy needs to work and the US has to be restrained. Finland has lived on the Russian border for many years as a democracy that minded its Ps and Qs. The Ukraine should probably do the same.

Press stunned as Ukraine leader points finger at West

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The Chinese Way

4 January 2022

Everyone want to criticise China as an authoritarian state, but if you stand back and look at how they tackle challenges that we have, there may be lessons to be learned.

There was an interesting show on ABC TV last night hosted by Hamish Macdonald ‘The China Century’, Part 1 of 5.  It looked at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and their ruthless repression.  But next week it will look at how they have combined capitalism and strong state control.

Competition increase efficiency when it lowers prices, but note in the late stage of ‘laissez faire’ monopolies allow supernormal profits and their political influence puts them above the law.  Sometimes the loss of central control may also mean that a fragmented industry cannot produce state of the art products.  I read some time ago that the US is having a problem producing good fighter planes because the intellectual property is now spread over a number of competing companies, so no one company can be state of the art on all aspects.  A single body controlling the situation would not have this problem.

The other aspect is that the Chinese can write the rules for its industries and not simply assume that whatever makes the most profit in the immediate term is the best place to consume resources.

In Australia, our economy is totally out of whack because the tax concession of negative gearing has meant that everyone has simply invested in real estate as a ‘no brainer’ way of making money. But the rise in prices is in a sense arbitrary.  If a house goes up in price from $100k to a million, it is still the same house.  The difference is that the person who now buys it has $million debt.  The ‘profit’ is someone else’s borrowing.  So at a national level, we have the second highest level of private debt in the world (after Switzerland) and just pay interest to foreign banks.  We also have no money to invest in our productive export industries, or even think about them as real estate is so easy.  We note that developers distort the electoral process and do dodgy deals to get their approvals through, but once it is all done, we wring our hands- nothing can be done. The building stands, and it will all happen again next time.

We watch askance as our regulatory systems fail.  The Banking Royal Commission was initiated by a whistle-blower not the regulator, and nothing much has changed; one banker resignation, no one charged. We saw the Aged Care inquiry, the Casino Inquiry were both whistle-blower initiated as well.  We are up to 4 inquiries into iCare and nothing changes.  We hope that our buildings are OK, as the regulatory system has not been working too well there for about 25 years. 

We note that our rich are getting much richer and our poor poorer, but our government does not want to do much about that.  Hey if you can’t afford a Rapid Antigen Test, you can always wait and see if get sick.  ‘Universal health care’ is a good slogan.

We see our kids getting fatter and more addicted to computer games, but there is not much we can do about that. We are moving to high rise schools as so many were sold off in the 1980s and now there is no space for recreation, and we also saved on sport teachers and made serious exercise optional.

We worry that our electoral system is influenced by fake news, trolls and data analysis companies. We understand that the social media concentrates on putting like people together so they will stay logged in and be available to advertise to. We understand that a shock headline also attracts more interest and controversy, so we are hyper stimulated until we ignore what is important.  Advertising always affected media content towards making people more receptive to the ads and purchasing; social media has now put it on steroids.

The Chinese have taken all this on.  They have put a super tax on rich people and made statements about everyone having a decent life. They have tried to lessen kids times on computers and to increase their exercise. They have taken on social media, and most recently forced a major developer to demolish high rise building because the building permit was illegally obtained.  The developer is a major one, and already in danger of going broke.  Can anyone image this happening in Australia or the US? 

Many problems  in the world are universal, and watching what a truly authoritarian government can do is interesting. We have the contrast of our governments, that seem to want to be as small as possible and not even acknowledge problems, and theirs which seems to testing the limits of power.  We may not want to do it ourselves, but if we ever decide to do anything, it will be helpful to have information on the outcome of the range of possible actions.

Here is an article about Evergrande, the Chinese property developer which is going broke and now had to demolish significant assets.  It was in the SMH, from Bloomberg. 

Next Monday on ABC TV at 8.30pm the second article on China, considering its use of the combination of capitalism and central control.

China’s Evergrande halts trading after ordered to tear down apartments

By Jan Dahinten

January 3, 2022 — 3.29pm

Chinese developer shares tumbled following local media reports that China Evergrande Group has been ordered to tear down apartment blocks in a development in Hainan province. Evergrande halted trading in its shares.

An index of Chinese developer shares slumped 2.8 per cent as of 11.37 a.m. local time, with Sunac China Holdings and Shimao Group Holdings plunging more than 10 per cent. A local government in Hainan told Evergrande to demolish 39 buildings in 10 days because the building permit was illegally obtained, news wire Cailian reported on Saturday.

Evergrande gave no details on the trading suspension other than saying it would make an announcement containing inside information.

The government of Danzhou, a prefecture-level city in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, asked Evergrande to tear down 39 illegal buildings in 10 days, Cailian reported on Sunday, citing a document from the local government.

The report cited the document, which was dated December 30, as saying that the Danzhou government said an illegally obtained permit for the buildings had been revoked so the buildings need to be dismantled.

Evergrande didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment and calls to Danzhou authorities went unanswered on a public holiday in China on Monday.

The company on Friday dialed back payment plans on billions of dollars of overdue wealth management products as its liquidity crisis showed little sign of easing.

Property firms have mounting bills to pay in January and shrinking options to raise necessary funds. The industry will need to find at least $US197 billion ($271 billion) to cover maturing bonds, coupons, trust products and deferred wages to millions of migrant workers, according to Bloomberg calculations and analyst estimates.

Beijing has urged builders like China Evergrande Group to meet payrolls by month-end in order to avoid the risk of social unrest.

Contracted sales for 31 listed developers fell 26 per cent in December from a year earlier, according to Citigroup Inc. analysts. Evergrande’s sales dropped 99 per cent, the analysts wrote in a note dated Sunday.

Bloomberg

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Australia at Glasgow COP26

4 November 2021

Just when you think it could not get any worse- it does.  There has been relatively little about Australia’s appearance and presentation at the Glasgow climate summit and the reaction to it; the media being preoccupied with the fact that President Macron of France called Scott Morrison a liar, and chasing abducted Cleo Smith in WA. 

Australia has had a SANTOS  stall at its exhibition at the Glasgow Climate Summit.  Santos is spruiking its carbon capture and storage, subsidised by guess who?  You and me as taxpayers, facilitated by Energy Minister Angus Taylor who is charged up with a $2.3 million donation from Santos to the Liberal Party.

Carbon capture is a complete nonsense. Coal is more or less solid carbon. To do some basic chemistry, a mole of carbon weighs 12gm and occupies 5.3 cubic centimetres. When it combines with oxygen it weighs 44gm and becomes CO2, a gas which takes up 22.4 litres which is 22,400 cubic centimetres or 422.6 times the volume of the original carbon at atmospheric pressure.  To capture the CO2, and then compress and store it will almost certainly take more energy than was released in burning it.  To halve the volume of a gas, you have to double the pressure, which takes 101 Joules of energy per litre per atmosphere.  The carbon dioxide is also able to penetrate barriers, such as going through solid concrete, and the sites suggested for the carbon storage are at 31 degrees, when carbon dioxide does not become a solid until minus 78 degrees.  So the whole process cannot be economic or sensible, and no ‘technology’ will make it so.

Everything in the above paragraph is high school chemistry, so no great knowledge is required here.  Only those venal or wilfully ignorant can dispute this. How the myth of Carbon Capture and Storage can still be peddled is beyond belief, excepting the explanation attributed to Napoleon, ‘In politics, absurdity is no impediment’.

The fact that Australia could have a Santos stall in its display in Glasgow shows the extent to which the Morrison government is willing to make us an international laughing stock for the sake of their $23 million, not to mention the subsidies, the greenhouse effects and the delays caused by this policy.

The other quote that seems apposite is Greta Thunberg’s, ‘Blah, blah, blah’.

www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/nov/03/australia-puts-fossil-fuel-company-front-and-centre-at-cop26?fbclid=IwAR3x1hmLa5dbh7nJ8i_IFx8PyZEAyzSIuIeJVMQOlZfLQfY0-nt9wXE1Wgs

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Nuclear Submarines- a horrendous folly to win an election?

30/9/21

Many of us despair at the Morrison government;  whether it is the callous approach to asylum seekers, Robodebt and welfare generally or the naked favouring of their constituency where JobKeeper payments are not required to be repaid.  The total breakdown in ethical standards where public moneys are rorted with grants to electorates that will favour them at the polls and might even be the reason that they were re-elected. The dismantling of public service capabilities and intellectual resources with the granting of private contracts for welfare payments with the Indue card, given to Liberal-friendly companies or to compliant companies to run detention centres or Great Barrier reefs research. The lack of support for TAFE and trade skills, replaced by skilled migrants on visas that have no Medicare or income support when they became stranded, the casualisation of university teaching positions with and no support or quarantine for foreign students despite the fact that education is our 3rd biggest export industry.  It just goes on and on.

The mismanagement of the COVID epidemic in terms of being unwilling to build quarantine facilities to allow overseas citizens to return home and the lack of purchase of vaccines, and their desultory distribution practices is the current big issue that is upsetting their popularity.  They were willing to throw money at JobSeeker when it went to big business, but now that it continues and has to go to individuals they want to end welfare and will stop payments as soon as vaccination rates hit 70% of the over 16s, which is only 57% of the population.  As I have said on this page before, this is a level of irresponsibility beyond all else, justified by the idea that the economy has to go on and only the aged and sick will die.  The divisiveness and callousness of this leaves one breathless, and as it plays out it is likely to be the end of the Morrison government.

So Morrison, the master media manipulator needs a very major distraction. China is asserting itself, which is clearly a problem, but the demonising of it seems very convenient for Morrison.  The French submarine contract was not good, but it seems that the nuclear one is worse. 

We were going to get 12 conventional submarines at a cost of $90 billion, the first coming in 2034.  Now we have dumped the French contract and get nuclear submarines at a cost of either  $3.45 billion each for the US Virginia model or $2.83 billion for the UK Astute model (2018 prices).  The delivery dates are likely to be around 2040, so our old Collins class ones will be a long way past their use-by date.  

The noted defence commentator, Hugh White had a very critical piece in The Saturday Paper 18-24/9/21, teased with ‘The old plan was crazy, the new plan is worse’.    Two ex-Prime Ministers, Keating and Turnbull were both highly critical of the decision in the SMH of 22/9/21 and 29/9/21 respectively. Turnbull even spoke at the National Press Club on the subject. www.smh.com.au/world/asia/morrison-is-making-an-enemy-of-china-and-labor-is-helping-him-20210921-p58tek.html

The deal, dubbed AUKUS, was announced by Morrison with US President Joe Biden and UK PM, Boris Johnson.  One could hardly believe this was not some sort of parody. The old Anglo alliance, rooted in history, but totally at variance from the image that Australia since Keating had been trying to project, a country engaging with Asia. 

Boris Johnson wrote a hagiographic biography of Churchill and fancies himself as a latter day Churchill, which is absurd hubris. The UK has no power ‘East of Suez’ as was demonstrated when 2 British warships sent to defend Singapore in 1941 were promptly sunk by Japanese aircraft.  Have they done anything significant here since?

The US is playing a far more strategic hand.  Australia has been a lap dog to the Anglosphere for all its history and this changed from the UK to the US in WW2.  Even in the absence of reasonable Peace lobby in Australia one might have hoped that the debacle of the Afghanistan war would temper our enthusiasm to go all the way with the USA, but it seems not.  The US is preoccupied with China. It wanted a base in Australia.  It may be hubris for the US to set up bases to try to contain China, but that is still where their thinking is at present.   Why would Australia need submarines to go to China except as part of a US force?

Gillard was the first Prime Minister to allow US troops to be stationed in Darwin, but the US wants a submarine base.  Australia may not have been willing to let the US have such a base as it would make us a nuclear target.  So the answer was simple.  Promise to sell us some nuclear submarines.  We would then need a nuclear submarine base and to maintain our subs.  Presto, Australia is paying for nuclear submarines and a base that our ally can use.  The US will not be able to contain China, which will sadly be demonstrated when China decides to take Taiwan.  China wants to be the dominant power in the world, and it seems that the world is going to have to get used to this idea.  China is likely to want to dominate economically and technologically, so the invasion of Australia is unlikely to be necessary and we should retain our economic and technical sovereignty, but rely  on diplomacy to look after our interests.

The French conventional submarines were as fast underwater as the nuclear ones will be, but have a lower range and lower costs. The French version of these is nuclear, so one of the reasons that they were chosen was that they could be re-engined at any time with nuclear propulsion with a lower-grade uranium, which was not weapons grade.    Naturally they had a lesser range, but if the object is to defend Australia, this may not have been a problem.  Nuclear submarines can stay underwater indefinitely, but their reactors produce a lot of heat, so if they are still they leave an area of hot water, which either is or will be visible to a satellite.  So the idea that they are less vulnerable to attack may not be correct.  It is not impossible that in future submarines will be as vulnerable to satellites, missiles and drones as battleships were to aircraft in WW2.

In terms of the perception of Australia oversea there are considerable downsides to the deal. 

The Chinese representative said to Stan Grant on China Tonight on ABC TV 20/9/21 that the submarines would make Australia a nuclear target. Grant seemed indignant and said that there were no nuclear weapons- it was just the propulsion.  Presumably the Chinese representative was referring to the fact that there would be a US nuclear submarine base on Australian soil, and he assumed that Grant knew that.  It appeared that Grant had not thought it through. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/china-tonight/series/0/video/NC2130H008S00

The Indonesians are concerned that we have long-range submarines that we do not really need for our coastal defence and that we are firmly partisan in the US-China standoff and have brought the conflict into their area, quite apart from any aggressive intentions that we might harbour against them. The old colonial ties are all renewed- what sort of country are we, Asian or Anglo?

The French are naturally furious, and they are very influential in the EU while we are on the verge of a free trade treaty. This is very poor politics on a very big trade issue.  We have unilaterally torn up a major deal. How reliable are we?

Morrison has been seen in happy snaps with the US and UK leaders. He is appealing to his Anglophile base. He thinks this parody of statesmanship can be spun into an election victory, some say as soon as November, before the COVID debacle reaches its final stage.  If Morrison can win again it will be the last straw in taking Australia down  a dismal and unconsidered path.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/clumsy-deceitful-and-costly-turnbull-slams-handling-of-nuclear-submarine-decision-20210928-p58ve3.html

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Corruption at Many Levels- the ripping off of Meat workers

1 September 2021

An article in the SMH on 31/8/21 said that there was a lot of bribery and corruption in the recruitment of Chinese to work in Australian abattoirs.

Abattoir work is physically hard and unpleasant, so rather than pay Australians more to do it, workers are recruited from overseas, like fruit pickers.  The government, perhaps because of political donations is happy to make special 457 visas for this, rather than insist that the jobs go to Australian residents. This is the case for both Liberal and Labor. (Marx said that people were more loyal to their class than to their country, but we won’t mention this now).

So the recruitment process has been corrupted as some foreign people will pay a lot to get into Australia and after working here for 2 years on totally exploited wages they hope to get a residency visa.  Recruitment agents may take whatever money they can get, and whatever other little sweeteners.  Fake CVs were used to claim that Chinese had good English skills and had worked in abattoirs, which is presumably unlikely as Chinese abattoir workers would not have the money to pay the recruiters.  This farce came to light naturally from a whistle-blower who was in on the deal rather than any regulatory agency, the Home Affairs Dept or the Meat Industry National Training Council (MINTRAC).  The Union was not mentioned in the story. 

Migration agents are a poorly controlled profession at the best of times, with many dodgy operators exploiting desperate people.

Australia should spread its wealth by paying people to do jobs like abattoirs and fruit picking, and if these products are more expensive in consequence, we need encouragement to Buy Australian produce. Of course ‘free trade’ treaties favour cheap imports, but if we are going to have the social harmony that comes from a reasonably equitable society, we have to spread the nation’s wealth.  Cheap meat should not just lead to a conga line of corruption and exploitation as a by-product.

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Afghanistan- a Callous debacle

26 August 2021

A brief history of Afghanistan. 

It was a monarchy where the British and Russians had striven for influence for centuries. 

The British had invaded in 1838 and installed King Shah Shujah, who was assassinated in 1842.

The second Anglo Afghan war was 1878-80 and gave Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

In 1919 Emir Amanullah Khan declared independence from British influence and tried to introduce social reforms, in particular education. He flees after civil unrest in 1926

King Muhammad Shar came to power in 1933 and tacitly supported the Germans in WW2 as the Afghans did not acknowledge the 1893 Durand Line, the British-initiated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he wanted to unify the Pashtun nation, which straddled the border.  His government came under pressure from an increasingly educated younger population. He voluntarily created a Constitutional monarchy in 1964, but this did not lead to significant reform and his government lost prestige due to its mismanagement of a drought in 1969-72. There was a coup by another Royal, Prince Muhammad Daud in 1973. 

The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan led by British-Indian-educated Nur Muhammad Taraki staged a coup in April 1978 and formed a secular leftist reformist government.  It was relatively pro-Russia and anti-religious.  It was more brutal than had been anticipated, and had internal infighting and resistance from conservatives and Muslims.  Taraki unsuccessfully appealed to Russia for help.

The Cold War

It might be noted that US President and Russian Chief Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in June 1979 to discuss SALT 2 (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). 

(I read somewhere near that time that Afghanistan was mentioned and Carter, being somewhat naïve, said words to the effect that Afghanistan was in the Russian sphere of influence.  Carter’s horrified minders corrected him after the meeting, but Brezhnev took this to mean that the US would not interfere if Russia took action there.  I have been unable to confirm this story despite several efforts since, which either means that I imagined it or that it has been expunged from any written history that is available online).

The US began to help the mujahedeen in July 1979 to overthrow the Taraki government.  Taraki was overthrown and murdered by his protégé, Hafizuzullah Amin in September 1979.  The Russians invaded in December 1979.   The Russians were in some economic trouble, and it has been said that their government wanted a military victory that would distract attention and shore up the state.

President Carter refused to sign the SALT11 treaty and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US also increased training and weapons to the Mujahideen. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan insisted that all this aid go through him and hugely favoured a more radical Islamist agenda, also getting aid from Saudi Arabia to set up large numbers of Islamic schools.  The Mujahideen guerrillas overthrew the Russians.  The USSR was falling apart when the Russians, now under Mikhail Gorbachev, departed in February 1989.

The Russian Legacy

The Najibullah government, installed by the Russians lasted until 1992, when here was a civil war with the Northern Alliance fighting the Mujadiheen, which was not a united force, but a number of warlords, each with their own territory.

The Taliban

Taliban means ‘student of Islam’.  The Taliban emerged in 1994 from the Pashtun nation who straddled the Afghan-Pakistan ‘border’, considerably helped by the money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  They were seen as less corrupt than the Mujahideen. 

In 1996 the Taliban got control of Kabul and controlled two thirds of the country. 

In 1998 the US launched air strikes to get the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

In 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated.

9/11 Leads to the US Invasion

The US was shocked by the 9/11 (11th of September 2001) attack by Al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York and invaded Afghaistan, ostensibly to get Osama Bin Laden. Some have said that the US hawks wanted to invade and 9/11 merely gave them the excuse.  They won militarily in 3 months, but were always an occupying force.

Interestingly in 2007 the UN stated that opium production reached record levels.

The Allied occupation was by many different national forces, and each country had different rules for the area it controlled.  It seems that some countries simply paid the Taliban not to make any trouble.  The Australians went in because the US did and cited our national interest.  The only way that this was our national interest was in pleasing the Americans.

Exit Wounds 2013

The book ‘Exit Wounds’ by John Cantwell, the Australian commander from both Iraq and Afghanistan was written in 2013. He had been on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian Defence Force, but withdrew to treat the PTSD that he had hidden but had been suffering.  He stated that the war could never be won and it was his opinion that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  The pointlessness of the exercise was what caused his PTSD, and probably led to the feral actions of some of the forces, as is being uncovered. We might note that in a story on the ABC (26/8/21) a witness known as Captain Louise who was going to give evidence to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian War Crimes had her house bombed.  Her former husband is an SAS operator who told her of unauthorised killing and is under investigation after 4 Corners broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed Afghan in 2012 (Killing Field 16/3/20).  Clearly the hearts and minds of Afghans were not won. 

Corruption was rife in the Afghan government, and some of the 2009 UN election observers were killed in a bomb blast in their Kabul hotel. The UN could not insist on an independent investigation and the head of the UN team, who was not killed in the blast, was hurried out of the country. The re-elected government did the inquiry.  So much for democracy!

Australian Embassy Closed May 2021

The Australian Embassy was closed on 21 May 2021, 3 days before the last Australian troops left. Clearly our own intelligence was that things would not go well.  It made the investigations of war crimes more difficult and put the interpreters who had helped the Australian troops in much more danger.  An Australian digger who has tried to get his Afghan interpreter and his family since 2013 has been blocked and been unsuccessful, despite seeing Minister Dutton’s senior adviser 3 years ago.

Taliban Victory

The Taliban won a victory in a few weeks as government forces that we had been training simply declined to fight. Now there is a cordon around the airport and the Taliban are stopping people getting through to the Kabul airport, where the allies are trying to do an airlift of Afghan civilians.  The UN has been most desultory in not looking after locally recruited Afghan UN staff, who are at risk and do not even have foreign passports to allow them to leave.

The Europeans have asked the US to extend the deadline for evacuations, which is 31 August- 4 days away. The US has declined to extend the deadline.  Presumably this is because they are unable to even if they wanted to.  The Taliban surround the airport, and could easily shoot down any planes they chose or bombard the whole crowded area with huge loss of life.  American hubris would be very clearly shown.

The Debacle

It is a debacle- even when the Russians left the government that they established lasted a couple of years.  What is wrong with US intelligence- did they have no idea that the whole country would collapse?  It is hard to know why the Americans went into Afghanistan and why they stayed there.  One wonders if the arms industry is happy to have a war somewhere and really do not care very much how much damage it does or who wins.  One must ask what Australia is doing there and why we are so uncritical of the Americans.  Sadly, Australia does not have a Peace Movement worthy of the name and seem to follow the US blindly. But when the Australian military commander says we cannot win and we continue there for another 8 years, there is something absurd.

The fact that the Labor opposition said nothing is also a worry- does  our government work for us or the US?

The Fate of our Interpreters

Many people will be left behind outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport perimeter, or unable even to get near the city.  The Taliban have been searching them out and killing not only those who helped the foreigners, but also their families.  The idea that they have reformed seems very unlikely; the schools that taught them were radical Saudi Islam.  It is a horrible story that has not yet ended. 

www.smh.com.au/national/he-could-have-done-something-why-diggers-feel-let-down-by-scott-morrison-20210820-p58kks.html

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