Doctor and activist


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Category: Asia Pacific

One China or Two?

29 April 2021

The One China policy was basically the recognition of reality. Mainland Communist China won the revolution in 1949, and when China got its economic act together the world needed to trade with it as it was far more economically significant than Taiwan.


Chiang Kai-shek, the Kuomintang leader, was defeated by Mao Tse Tung and fled to the island that had previously been called Formosa, now Taiwan. He maintained the idea that he would lead a counter-revolution, so there was One China.  This counter-revolution became increasingly ridiculous with time, but was not abandoned.  The Communists claimed Taiwan and treat it as a rebel province, and they stated that there is One China and that the price of trading with them was to have Taiwan excluded from the UN and other international bodies. That has been the situation for many years, and almost all countries accepted the One China policy, and stopped recognising Taiwan, even if they traded with it.

By definition, if there is One China, who governs Taiwan is an internal Chinese matter. We may not like what China does in Hong Kong, with the Uighurs or in Taiwan, but it is the US that has accepted the One China policy for years. 

After WW2 at Bretton Woods it was assumed that free trade would allow countries that were competitive to rise, and those that were not competitive to fall. This was so that there would not be war over markets.  But the system that the West set up gave an advantage to countries with lower wages, and if they were smart enough to get the fruits of their labour rather than stay as colonies with foreigners owning their industries, they rose.  So China rose and is now a world power and the US are now seeking to intervene in Taiwan and re-create a two-China policy. One can hardly expect China to accept this massive loss of face. 

The assumption was that Taiwan would eventually solve its differences with mainland China peacefully.  After recent events in Hong Kong, this has become less likely in the short and medium term, but is still viable or even inevitable in the long term, which has always been China’s position.

China has done some sabre-rattling with flights over Taiwan and obviously the recent events in Hong Kong have made everyone nervous.

This article looks at the similarities of the Chinese way of doing business to capitalism.  It could be said that the model of an intelligent government cooperating with industry is more successful than a few large industries competing.  Competition works if there are many small producers competing in a market.  When there are a few oligopolies using trademarks or patents to make more money and not to share knowledge, the old adage that ‘private competition is the best way to run things’ starts to break down.  It may not just be cheaper wages that is allowing China to out-compete the US.

Starting a war because you are losing the peace seems a very unwise course of action. 

Australia has to stop being the US lapdog. We are not taking the right path.

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Myanmar, What is likely?

14 April 2021

The Myanmar Generals are shooting their population, who at present continue protesting.  As I have written before on my visit to Myanmar in 2017-8 my observation was that the population have no time for the military, who were hanging onto power and had kept Aung San Suu Kyi as a figurehead without power or real democracy.  The military were socially isolated, but in a highly privileged world of their own.

The government has a capital 4 hours from Yangon and totally isolated  from the reality of the rest of Myanmar.

If the people are willing to be shot as they protest, we might ask where this will go.  Gandhi used passive resistance against the British, where the people just kept coming as the police beat them with batons. The strategy was to look for a changed response from those doing the beating.  I am unsure whether this will work in Myanmar.  Perhaps the military will just keep shooting. 

But if there is a national strike and the economy falters, what then? Will the Chinese step in and help?  For how long? Myanmar also has immense internal problems with ethnic armies fighting the central government. These are quite well armed, but have been confined to their own provinces.  Will they link with the people against the common enemy, the military junta?  Will the world take action?  Probably not militarily against a well-supplied army fighting for their own country- this might actually allow the government to get legitimacy against the foreign threat, and no country is likely to want to be in the front line.  The UN is unlikely to be able to act anyway with Russian and Chinese  arms sales and UN vetoes.

I fear that there will be immense bloodshed.  The question is whether change can be achieved. There is little doubt that the people want it and have waited a long time, so will be willing to sacrifice a lot. 

Here is Peter Hartcher’s opinion from the SMH of 13/4/21

Trump’s example playing out in Asia, the world has to intervene

The generals of Myanmar decided to follow Donald Trump’s example. Like Trump, they declared a free and fair election to be a fraud. Like Trump, they made an unconstitutional grab for power.

But where Trump was frustrated in his attempted coup, the generals of Myanmar were successful. Or so it seemed. There was a moment of quiet shock on February 1, when the army cancelled parliament and locked up the elected leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced a one-year state of emergency and installed himself as ruler. But resistance has built every day since. At first, it was demonstrations by students and young people, then the whole society seemed to join in. Truck drivers stopped delivering goods arriving at the ports. Workers went on strike, forcing banks to close. Civil servants stayed home, cutting government services. Doctors marched against the junta. The army restricted internet access to try to stop protesters organising.

The Myanmar military controls a multibillion-dollar business empire that funnels profits from jade, rubies, banking, oil and gas, construction and mining into the army’s pockets. These independent profits allow it to operate outside the structures of the state and to act with impunity.

So the resistance aims to shut down the economy as a way of curbing the army. It is starting to work. Myanmar’s economy thrived during its decade of democratic rule, growing at 6 per cent every year and doubling in size.

Now the World Bank expects it will shrink by 10 per cent this year. The financial information company Fitch Solutions says that “all areas of GDP by expenditure are set to collapse”, that a 20 per cent economic contraction this financial year is “conservative”.

And a second front against the army soon opened. The ethnic armies that once warred against the state had become largely inactive, but in the last few weeks the Karen and Kachin and the Shan and the Rakhine militias have joined forces with the civilian opposition. The ethnic armies are demanding that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, restore civilian government. And they are moving to take up arms.

“If the Kachin, Karen, Shan and maybe Rakhine insurgents were to engage in widespread military operations, however loosely co-ordinated, and at the same time there is an increase in violence in the heartlands, the Tatmadaw would face a huge problem,” according to Anthony Davis, a security analyst with Jane’s intelligence. He estimates the total strength of the ethnic armies at around 75,000 fighters.

Two fronts – the civilian opposition on one side and the ethnic armies on the other – is too many for the regime. Fearing exactly this, the Tatmadaw asked for negotiations with the ethnic armies. That was rejected. So the air force has started bombing them instead.

At the same time, the military has grown increasingly violent with the civilian protesters too. The army’s latest escalation came on Friday. It was bad enough that troops had been firing into crowds of peaceful protesters for weeks, worse that they’d started to order snipers to shoot unarmed civilians in the head.

But on Friday the army launched a dawn raid on a protest camp in the ancient capital of Bago, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at unarmed demonstrators. They killed at least 80 that morning, the biggest massacre in any one place since they launched their coup. The Tatmadaw has killed more than 600 civilians in total, according to a monitoring group.

The two resistance movements are in the process of formalising their alliance: “We are waiting on a daily basis for the announcement that a national unity government has been formed,” says Chris Sidoti, Australia’s former human rights commissioner and one of the three members of an international expert group calling itself the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

The “unity government” would include Aung San Suu Kyi’s National Democracy League and its elected members of parliament as well as civil society leaders and the ethnic armies.

“The military lacks legitimacy and it seems to be losing control,” observes the Australian federal Liberal MP and former diplomat Dave Sharma, who is convening a parliamentary sub-committee on foreign affairs and aid to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.

The UN’s special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, predicts a “bloodbath” unless there is some sort of intervention. The UN Security Council, however, is paralysed – vetoes by China and Russia prevent it from even condemning the coup, much less taking any action.

Sharma worries about a worst-case scenario: “If you have a protracted civil conflict it inevitably pulls in outside actors and you can have a situation where Myanmar becomes Syria in Asia,” as neighbouring countries take sides to protect their own interests. A failed state in the heart of Asia, in other words.

The conflict could spill across borders, driving big flows of refugees, as Sharma points out. “I think this problem is only going to get larger for Australia and the region. We will need to examine policy settings and co-ordinate with regional countries.”

There’s no evidence of any activity by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne – which is probably why it falls to Sharma, a mere backbencher, to try to stimulate debate, though he’s too polite to say so.

Sidoti has a list of policy ideas for Australia. One is to join the US and Britain in imposing sanctions on the Tatmadaw’s commercial empire. Another is to join the two-year-old genocide prosecution of the Tatmadaw in the International Court of Justice.

A third is to work with Thailand to make sure humanitarian help flows into Myanmar. Fourth is to work with ASEAN, which is having trouble bringing coordinated pressure to bear on the Tatmadaw, partly because ASEAN can only act with the agreement of all 10 of its members and Myanmar is one of them.

Who would represent the country at an ASEAN meeting? Australia could help break the impasse by convening a larger initiative to mediate with the regime, including some key ASEAN members plus the US, China, India, Timor-Leste and Japan, suggests Sidoti.

Finally, Canberra should stand ready to recognise a united national front as Myanmar’s legitimate government the moment it is announced. The coup attempt didn’t work for Trump, gratefully. The world has an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t work for Myanmar’s military either.

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A Look at the NDIS (National Disability Insurance System)

14 April 2021

The whole model of the NDIS is wrong. It is all about turning care into a commodity for private profit. The con was that the people with disabilities would have ‘choice’ and could buy services from a range of providers, who would compete to give great service. But there are big structural faults.

Firstly, big corporations want big profits, so this creates an overhead so there is less money available.

Secondly, people are assessed by ‘experts’ so how much money you get based on a single interview. They are not people who actually do the job and could allocate compare the needs of different people in an area. The assessors are an overhead- another layer of managers.

Thirdly, once the money is allocated, those who have it will be encouraged to spend it whether they need it or not. And of course, this will favour those who present well (usually the middle class) and totally disfavour those who did not get a ‘package’.

Fourthly, the ‘market’ model does not work. Those who need the services do not necessarily know who can give them what they need. They are vulnerable to sales pitches from a limited number of providers and they may not even know about other options. In some geographical areas there may be only one provider, so there is no competition anyway; the provider can set the price and the profit.

Finally, the government can just lessen the amount of money and packages available.

When I was in a Parliamentary Committee looking at disability, the first thing we tried to find out what how many people were disabled. No one had wanted to keep records.  People who had tried to get services from a provider and been knocked back because there were no places assumed that there would be a list there and if a place came up they would be offered it. Wrong. Usually there was no list, and a new person got the place if they happened to know someone or turn up at the right time. But at a broader level, experts we asked about how much disability there was either told us how many people were on various schemes and tallied these up, or looked at AIHW (Aust. Institute of Health and Welfare) figures, which said what percentage of the population had a disability and multiplied this by the population. The second method gave figures that were about 10x the people on benefits. So it was very obvious that if there was a supposedly universally available system the cost was going to blow out enormously because of the unrecognised demand.

The solution in my view was to have a universal support system that was community-based, like a district nurse model, and then ask the people actually doing the job, who needed more, and who could be helped to get their own home help from a number of people who would be registered in classes of carers. The government would then buy services in response to the needs identified and quantified by those doing the job. The essence of this was the empowerment of those actually doing the job. NDIS actually does the opposite. It is about the government shovelling money to the private sector with some middle ranking experts supposedly swooping in and saying how much money is needed. If they were embedded in the service delivery framework, they would be discussing needs and relative needs with those actually delivering services.  

But modern management and politics assumes it knows best and those at the bottom need to be ‘managed’, i.e. told what to do. My experience is that people doing a job usually know more about it than anyone else and the intelligent use of their expertise is the most solid base for management. My experience is also that putting people in charge who are there for the money rather than the job are unlikely to do a better job than those who are more concerned with the job than the money.

I put this in a paper to Kevin Rudd’s’ 2020 Vision’ in 2000, but never even got an acknowledgement. The NDIS, like the Aged Care Act of John Howard seems to have used ‘choice’ as a Trojan Horse for a market model and privatisation.  We need to start again.  This is just a suggestion of a better model, but given the power of money in politics I am not hopeful of change.

A new article in The Saturday Paper 10/4/21 looking at the cost blowout and blaming those who need the services has a depressingly familiar ring.  The blowout was eminently predictable and cost control by victim-blaming at the bottom is more likely than looking for corporate rip-offs at the top.  This is what I see every day in Workers Compensation and CTP insurance.

www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2021/04/13/exclusive-documents-leaked-secretive-ndis-taskforce/161829180011445#mtr

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Myanmar’s Army is murdering its people.

4 April 2021

One of the impressions that I had visiting Myanmar was that the army was a society unto itself. It seemed to have no contact with and no respect for ordinary people, and they felt no warmth for it. It was like an occupying force. The artificial capital, Naypyidaw is 4 hours from the biggest city and former capital, Yangon and is in the mountains. It has had a fortune spent on it, presumably Chinese money, with 8 lane tree-lined streets with almost no cars or people and large multi-storied international hotels with almost no lights in the rooms at night, and almost no one at breakfast. The military junta seems totally divorced from the people, which is presumably how they could be surprised that they lost the elections so dramatically.But they will shoot the people to retain power and if people without guns are going to take over from a government with guns, it is going to be horrific. I am reminded of East Timor trying to get independence- was it 28% of the population killed?

https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/asia-news/2021/03/29/myanmar-military-protesters/?fbclid=IwAR2efTa0rQ84c9EiP4r2-NBWG5d3UyDwYZOXtCMkgnVyEoZqwxxFYJ3IgSk

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Myanmar-A Coup. What next?

5 February 2021

The history of Burma was that it was colonised by the British, who had colonial wars with increasing control from 1824 to 1885.  It was occupied by the Japanese in WW2, which helped its independence movement and it achieved independence from Britain with some struggle by General Aung San in 1948. 

It had not been a united country, having a lot of tribal and ethnic wars and tensions. General  Aung San negotiated a ‘Union of Burma’, but he was assassinated by conservative forces before the new country came into being.   

It had relatively unstable governments until a military coup in 1962 under General Ne Win and has been under military junta control since.   An uprising of the people in 1988 was brutally suppressed and n 1989 the junta changed the country’s name to Myanmar.  They held elections under a new Constitution in 1990.  Aung San Suu Kyi, who was the daughter of General Aung San, who had defeated the British and who had been educated in Britain and who had returned in 1988 won a landslide victory with her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).  The junta seemed completely surprised by this, but did not allow her party to take control.  She was placed under house arrest.  The world was highly critical of this and she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991 “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

In 2003 the junta claimed it had a ‘roadmap to democracy’ but nothing much changed, with Aung San Suu Kyi still in house arrest.  In  2005 the national capital was moved out of Yangon (which had been called Rangoon) to get it further from the population centres to a hilly area 370km away in Naypyidaw. 

There were major protests in 2007.  In 2010, the junta, recognising that they were unpopular, but also that the world’s sanctions were biting, released Aung San Suu Kyi and held some elections, but the NLD boycotted these as a farce. In new election in 2012 the NLD won in a landslide with 41 of the 44 contested seats, but the junta had stopped Aung San Suu Kyi from being President and kept a number of seats and key Cabinet posts for themselves.

Now the military has had a coup. The people are not happy, but are aware that the military will deal with any uprising brutally and ruthlessly. Aung San Suu Kyi herself has been arrested for the trivial crime of having 6 unauthorised walkie talkies.  Presumably she wanted to be able to talk to her immediate staff without the junta hearing every word.  In a sense that is a symbol of her situation and the power of the junta.

I have taken an interests in Burma/Myanmar because when I was in Parliament the elected NLD members who should have been the legitimate leaders of Myanmar came to Parliaments around the world and were photographed with groups of MPs to show that their legitimacy was universally recognised outside Myanmar.  I kept in touch with NLD contacts and visited Myanmar in late 2017. It is a third world country which was trying to use rapid growth in tourism to bring itself up. There were quite new tourist buses, but a shortage of accommodation, and this was expensive for a third world country and for its standard.  Aung San Suu Kyi was nominally in charge as ‘State Counsellor’, with the NLD supposedly doing her bidding.  In reality, she was something of a powerless figurehead with the SLORC junta keeping real power.  She was doing what she could and it was hoped that democracy would gradually win and the junta would gradually fade, but this was certainly not happening quickly.  The local people were not well educated, and most had poor English, but as my contacts pointed out, they were not game to talk about politics anyway- they supported ‘the Lady’ as Aung San Suu Kyi is known, but the military were very much in control and it seemed that there was no love lost between them and the people. 

I travelled to Mandalay, the second city, in a modern tourist bus of Chinese origin.  The Chinese had been helping the junta in exchange for economic concessions.  In a way this bus was reassuring.  Most of the cars in Myanmar are right hand drive, either old British or relatively new Japanese, but in 1989 the junta had decided that the country, which had driven one the left, should drive on the right as most other countries did.  So it was safer in one of the buses where at least the driver could see when overtaking on the fairly basic roads.

Mandalay has a large fortified palace in its centre, complete with moat.  It has been taken over as a military base.  Tourists are allowed in through a military checkpoint, but can only walk up the central path to the royal building and temples, and the greetings are not warm.

I was advised not to bother to go to the capital, Naypyidaw as it was sterile and there was ‘nothing there’.  I went anyway. It was a complete contrast to Yangon, which is crowded and dirty, with little access to the banks of its polluted river.  Naypyidaw had an 8 lane highway through its centre with trees and gardens reminiscent of Canberra.  The Parliament was modern, though it could not be accessed and the National Library was modern also, and about the size of Wollongong’s.  There were no buses to get there- Naypyidaw needs taxis to go everywhere, so there was almost no one in the library. The librarian who spoke excellent English told us that this was the normal number of people.  There was a hotel precinct that had a number of very large hotels that were modern, extremely cheap and built by the Chinese.  We noted at night that there were only half dozen lights on in the hotel that had had hundreds of rooms and there were few people at breakfast.  There were no local people apart from hotel staff near the precinct, and they told us that the local people lived a suburb away and it was not really a walking distance.

Aung San Suu Kyi was much criticised for not acting on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims, but there is a lot of prejudice against this group historically, as they were felt to have no right to have come, which related to a border skirmish a long time ago.  Even with its ethnic divisions Myanmar is 88% Buddhist.  Had Suu Kyi spoken up for the Rohingyas, she would have had lost much local support and, as my contacts pointed out, she had enough trouble as it was. 

The situation looked untenable.  The NLD government was not allowed to govern. The military were obviously undemocratic, unpopular and unprogressive, but supported by Chinese money and trade deals. The loosening that was hoped for had not happened and did not look likely.  Here we are 3 years later.

The NLD had another landslide in the November 2020 elections.   More proof of the unpopularity of the junta, and still they do not want to move.  A re-run of the 1987 and 2007 brutally suppressed revolts does look likely.  Myanmar is unlikely to shift the junta without a lot of blood being spilled.

Here is Kevin Rudd’s opinion- and he was ex-Foreign Minister.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=esHnsZQ59ms

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Chinese Doublespeak as their World Influence Rises

4 February 2021

President Xi Jinping has installed himself as leader of China for the foreseeable future. Central to this is the domination of the Chinese Communist Party.  It does not really matter what a party calls itself if it has unchallenged power.  It objectives will set the policy of that nation totally.

The West has for years preached competition as the route to efficiency, but at the same time its governments have made trade deals that disfavour developing economies, and assume that their companies will be the ones getting access to markets. As they have done this, they have tended to turn a blind eye to the development of monopolies and oligopolies in the multinational companies and a blind eye to their tax avoidance; perhaps because the companies in tax havens buy US bonds as they have to store their money somewhere. Western governments have become weaker relative to multinational corporations.  The Chinese model has a government able to make the rules for the whole economy and focus on priorities in a way that the West has rendered itself usable to do.  This is effectively a new economic model, the implications of which do not seem to have had the attention that they deserve.

Now China is asserting itself.  It has taken over Hong Kong to quell any idea of democratic movements.  It is doing bad things to the Uighurs.  It has fortified islands in the South China Sea.  It is building its military and flying over Taiwan, which it claims is merely a wayward province, so dealing with it would be ‘an internal matter’.  Most of the West has conceded that there is only ‘One China’ is order to be able to trade with China, so they will have trouble with opposing the theory of a Chinese takeover, not to mention the practicalities. China is taking a hard-line with Australia on trade, perhaps just to demonstrate its strength to and on an uppity middle power like Australia who shot their mouth off over COVID in Wuhan and would not let Huawei put in their 5G network.

But China is also preaching equality between nations, which is presumably aimed at the Third World, so that it will seem their champion against the Colonial West. It has raised many of its own people out of poverty. This may be necessary to keep its people controlled, but that policy is good.  Its building of infrastructure in Africa is soft power, which looks a lot like a more modern style of colonialism; but time will tell.

The Belt and Road initiative from Beijing to Western Europe incorporating South Asia as well will take in 65% of the World’s population. It also uses local currencies and the Yuan, which effectively means it excludes the US and the US dollar, which will hugely weaken the US as its significance increases.

Here are two articles, one highly critical of China, the other overlooking its militancy.

www.smh.com.au/world/asia/two-track-xi-reveals-china-is-in-no-mood-for-reconciliation-20210126-p56wvm.html

www.informationclearinghouse.info/56266.htm

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China and the Taiwan Question. 1/1/21

As China increasingly decides to assert its status as a World Power, Australia has been given the message fairly clearly.

Morrison foolishly, and perhaps encouraged by Trump in his pre-election hubris, criticised China’s management of the Coronavirus.  If China was looking for a middle-sized power to humiliate using its Trade power, Australia had stepped conveniently stepped into the role. This is still playing out. If China squeezes hard, we are likely to have a recession and Morrison will lose the election.  If not, probably not.

China is asserting its dominance over the South China Sea by building bases on the Spratly Islands, and the US and Australia are sailing through them to show that they still can, but this does not prove that the balance of power is not shifting quite dramatically China’s way.

China has asserted that it is not a democracy and that the Communist party will be dominant for the foreseeable future.  It did not tolerate independence in Tibet, nor with the Uighurs, and most recently with Hong Kong, moving to crush local democracy, lest anyone else in China get ideas.  The democracy activists in Hong Kong who tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat were caught, tried and imprisoned (ABC News 30/12/20).

Taiwan, which had an indigenous population as Formosa, became Taiwan, when Chiang Kai-shek, the pro-US, Nationalist loser of the Chinese Revolution fled there with 2 million Chinese in 1949.  Their safety at that time was guaranteed by the US Navy and their economy benefitted mightily from the Korean War (1950-53), where they industrialised to manufacture goods for the US war effort.  The US has effectively guaranteed their separateness from China.  China has never accepted that Taiwan is a separate country, regarding it as a renegade province that will eventually return to China by negotiation.  Taiwan agreed that there was One China, as it intended to overthrow the Communists and re-establish their Nationalist government.  This has become increasingly unlikely and is now at the point of absurdity, but political parties that are pro-reunification with the mainland have been doing quite badly in Taiwanese democratic elections.  The Taiwanese population enjoy both democracy and relatively high incomes.  They are naturally concerned with events in Hong Kong, as they are the next domino. 

If China wanted a military victory and to assert its new Great Power status moving across a short strait into its own backyard would seem the logical step, and it is doubtful that the US would have the capacity to prevent this, even if it had the will.

Frankly, Australia has to accept the reality that China has arrived at great power status.  We cannot get involved in a war over Taiwan.  We should take a more neutral position between the US and China, and think in terms of more intelligent trade bargaining and not selling out our assets to foreign powers of any colour.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56111.htm

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The China Trade Reality

China is a rising power with 1.3 Billion people. Its government is totalitarian, and focussed on improving its place in the world. From a Chinese point of view the West exploited it when it could, and it is now taking its rightful place as the Middle Kingdom, in the centre with others coming to it. […]

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