Monday 29 August 2011

Gaddafi: Who loves ya babe?

Just read this silly article over on CNN and had to throw in my tuppence worth. This section in particular got my goat:

"A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry now says the country “respects the choice of the Libyan people” and wants “to play a positive role in rebuilding Libya”.

The translation? Beijing thinks Moammar Gadhafi is about to be booted out and it’s switching allegiance to the folks that may eventually run the country.

Looking at this move through the prism of an oil-sprinkled lens, Beijing’s motivation comes into focus a bit more. China is the world’s second largest consumer of oil after the U.S. And Libya, at peak production, was pumping out a total of 1.5 million barrels a day. And 11% of that went where? You guessed it - China.

Since the conflict in Libya started in mid-February, that oil production has all but dried up. With the potential dawn of a new peace, it stands to reason that China wants to be best positioned with Libya’s leaders, whoever they turn out to be. Ah China, you fair-weathered - albeit very logical - friend."

Yes, 11% of Libya's oil went to China, but the vast majority of the rest of the remaining 89% went to Europe and the US. Before the 17th of February uprising it was EU states and the US who were seeking a closer relationship with the Gaddafi government, and oil firms like Total and Shell that were winning contracts in Libya whilst Chinese oil deals were being blocked. As Juan Cole points out:

"Libya was already integrated into the international oil markets, and had done billions of deals with BP, ENI, etc., etc. None of those companies would have wanted to endanger their contracts by getting rid of the ruler who had signed them. They had often already had the trauma of having to compete for post-war Iraqi contracts, a process in which many did less well than they would have liked. ENI’s profits were hurt by the Libyan revolution, as were those of Total SA. and Repsol."

Basically, whilst the big oil firms had nothing to gain from Gaddafi's downfall, China's leaders had no interest in his continued rule. As I've pointed out elsewhere, the Chinese were no friends of Gaddafi's, whilst it was the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and the US who enjoyed an unseemly relationship with such a brutal dictator, one which thankfully ended as soon as he opened fire on his own people with heavy weapons.

To say that the PRC was a 'fair-weather friend' of Gaddafi's government is nonsense. In truth Gaddafi had no friends, only various leaders in the US and Europe who were willing to overlook the nature of his government and mouth platitudes so long as it was convenient to do so.

No country's leaders had any great reason to love Gaddafi, but if anyone was close to him, it was the leaders of the countries of North America and Europe, not China.

[Video: Gratuitous Savalas]

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Global Times: Gaddafi lost because he lost the support of the people

As has been discussed elsewhere, Gaddafi never had very close relations with the Chinese government. China's leaders have not been long in repaying Gaddafi's uncooperative attitude. As soon as was reasonably practical, Chinese representatives met with those of the Rebel government. As soon as it was obvious that the Gaddafi government was finished, the flag was changed at the Libyan embassy in Beijing - something the Beijing government cannot directly control, but could certainly allow Gaddafi's remaining supporters to prevent if they so wished. All-in-all, the Chinese government's policies during this period have been very reasonable.

The same can also be said of this editorial in today's Global Times:

"Gaddafi's fate has told the world two things. First, never underestimate the power of the people. The Libyan civil war resulted from Gaddafi losing the support of his people, particularly those in the east. The spread of the Arab Spring and the help of Western governments were unlikely to have a deep impact without the support of the people.

The second lesson to learn from Gaddafi's demise is that a weak country cannot easily control its own fate. It cannot escape the will of the major powers.

If Gaddafi had woken up to public demands earlier and pushed reforms through before the West decided to remove him, he might have avoided a civil war and taken Libya down a different path. Now, Libya's future lies in the hands of the West."

Yes, the idea that Libya's future "lies in the hands of the West" does ignore the potential for democratic government in Libya taking it in quite a different direction to which the 'west' (by which what is presumably meant is the US, France, and Britain) wants to go. However, the US and the EU are the only real place where Libya's new government can expect help, and as such it is not too wrong to put it this way.

More to the point, GT is quite correct that, had Gaddafi had greater military might at his command, he might still have crushed the rebels even in the teeth of protest from the Arab, African, and NATO countries. This lesson is not and will not be lost on the present leaders of Syria and Iran. Whilst, barring mutiny, the PLA is always likely to have the strength to deter intervention in any CCP crack-down against internal opposition, the leadership is likely to be confirmed in their efforts to keep the military happy through higher spending in the wake of the Arab spring.

They are also correct to say that where Gaddafi really lost was when he lost the support of the population - something which might have happened as long ago as the mid 1970's. The CCP presently, by-and-large, has the support of the majority of the Chinese people. However, in view of the looming economic and financial crises in the world at the moment, keeping that support seems likely only to become a greater problem in the future.


As someone who blogged anonymously so that I could work to expose dirty secrets of certain individuals, only to then have one of those individuals, years later, engage in a campaign of threats of violence after finally putting two and two together, I have great sympathy with Paul Campos, outed author of the "Inside The Law School Scam".

By all accounts, US law schools essentially ask for hundreds of thousands of US dollars in fees without giving their graduates a fair shot at getting a job capable of supporting those fees after graduation. The result is many US law graduates saddled with debt they cannot repay. Whether this is a scam or not is up for debate, but it would appear that Campos's detractors are pulling no punches:

"ScamProf is the failed academic who has done almost no scholarly work in the last decade, teaches the same courses and seminars year in and year out, and spends his time trying to attract public attention, sometimes under his own name, this time anonymously. These are important facts about ScamProf, since he is indeed scamming his students and his state, and his initial posts were tantamount to a confession that he's not doing his job. His colleagues, in any case, now know who he is, and are quite understandably angry, since the reckless genearlizations [sic] are naturally read as commentary on them."

It is not hard to see some of the over-reaction coming from Campos's (overwhelmingly
law-school based) critics as being the result of guilty consciences. Campos seems much more popular amongst law students and practising lawyers. Here's a sample:

"Campos is a hero. If the ABA wasn’t so corrupt and would make common sense determinations like NOT accrediting new law schools, there would be no scam. Most law professors are out of touch and have never had any practical legal experience. The ABA is such a disgrace and is responsible for this debacle of the oversupply of lawyers."


"Over my 44 year career I have counseled many students . . . Until recently I was able to tell them that if they did well in law school they stood a reasonable chance of being able to accomplish their goals one way or another. But at least in this century, and for a bit of the last, I have been increasingly hard put to be enthusiastic about their admirable goals. In the last five years I have become downright pessimistic about them. I know many other lawyers, and a few law professors, who are similarly pessimistic."

Not having studied law in the US, I feel that except for the element of being outed, this isn't my argument. All I would say is that Campos would probably have been better off staying anonymous- half of the interest in his blogging was based on the feeling of getting the inside scoop - but now he is bound to be painted as unrepresentative. Moreover, because he outed himself rather than waiting to be outed, he is open to accusations of self-aggrandisement.

Sunday 21 August 2011


Not much commentary to add to this except that, in Syria and Libya, we are being shown side-by-side examples of both the costs of intervention and of non-intervention.

Yes, the crowds celebrating the entrance of the rebels into Tripoli do not tell the whole story. This seeming victory has been bought at the cost of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of lives, as well as much in the way of money and diplomatic capital, nor will it be secure until a democratic government is installed in Tripoli. However, the cost of non-intervention would have been to stand by watching as, month after month, thousands were killed and disappeared into jail cells for torture.

[Picture: Former dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, at the African Union summit in 2009, via Wikicommons]

Tuesday 16 August 2011

One Europe

There really isn't any other interpretation. Having, along with many other British Euro-sceptics, predicted this for years, it is somewhat gratifying to see this confirmed, although this is surely much sooner than any but the most die-hard of Euro-sceptics predicted. From the Guardian:

"France and Germany have set out plans to create the first "true European economic government" headed by a single appointed leader, as part of major moves to synchronise tax and spending to save the failing eurozone.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced the dramatic proposals after a two-hour mini-summit. They also called for the imposition of tighter restrictions on member country's deficits and announced a synchronising of the tax policies of their own two countries. Sarkozy has also secured the support of Merkel for a Tobin tax – a financial tax on all international transactions – to raise funds to ease the crisis engulfing the European economy.

. . . .

The European Council president, Herman van Rompuy, will be asked to head the new economic government, and will set and enforce a deadline for all 17 eurozone members to reduce their deficits, putting pressure on countries such as Greece and Portugal to shore up public spending."

Let's be clear on this though - this isn't the victorious take-over that many Euro-sceptics (and some Euro-enthusiasts) predicted.

Instead it is a final stab at rescuing the project of a single European currency - a project which Euro-sceptics couldn't be accomplished without some kind of unified economic management beyond committees and well-meaning agreements. The mistake of Euro-sceptics back in the nineties was to think that the proponents of a single European currency were being disingenuous when they said that the independence of member states would be maintained. Instead, the advocates of the Euro were being honest - with disastrous consequences when the unworkable formula of a single currency without unified economic governance started to unravel.

It is, however, a sign of the all encompassing crisis in world affairs at the moment that this news is not being more widely carried. Whilst the BBC are carrying on the front page, the Guardian and the Times aren't.

[Picture: Frau Merkel chats with Monsieur Sarkozy, Munich, 2009. By Sebastian Zwez, via Wikipedia]

Monday 15 August 2011

Chris Gelken Tips His Hand

I'm very late in seeing this article, but I guess it's no great surprise to see former CCTV 9 and (Iranian state-owned) Press TV anchor, and present CEO and "Ridealist" Chris Gelken carrying on like a member of the anti-immigration far-right on returning to the UK after 23 years away. Take it away Chris:

"The England I visited wasn't the England I left 23-years before. I was hearing and seeing things I never thought I would see.

What began, I am sure with the best of intentions, has gone badly wrong. Reverse discrimination, unparalleled and unrestricted immigration, a real fear among some officials of offending certain "minorities" (I hate that word) that has reached the point where some people are being excluded or discriminated against simply on the basis of being Anglo-Saxon.. or some other "ethnic" variety.

I met with British Asians and have recently communicated with Asian groups who are terrified of Afro-Caribbean organized crime and gangs in Britain's inner cities, I have spoken with British Afro-Caribbean's who are seeing their future stolen by mass immigration from new members of the European Union.

I personally lost my temper with a barman who responded to my question, "Excuse me mate, what is the pie of the day?" with a barely comprehensible "Pie.. er, er, er, is like a, how you say, hard bread with a, er, er, er, filling inside."

Something has broken in Britain, and I am trying to understand it."

It seems that the mere presence of people of foreign descent in the country is enough to render it, in Chris Gelken's eye, 'broken'. This is the face of the kind of "progressive" "journalist" who would work for the propaganda machines of multiple dictatorships.

[UPDATE] - Chris Gelken denies that he wrote the above-quoted section. However, the editor of The Latest insists that this is not the case. Read the comments below and make up your own mind.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Dalian Protests Scrubbed From (Digital) Existence

Fresh from David Bandurski's excellent China Media Project, a striking example of exactly why even talking about "whether it would be right" to stop people communicating via social messaging is playing with fire:

"Posts began appearing earlier today on Chinese social media sites, most notably Sina Microblog (Weibo), saying that a mass demonstration was happening in the northern city of Dalian to oppose a chemical plant that has been placed near residential areas. Posts were quickly controlled, however, and now all related material is being scrubbed from the internet. . ."

So what was this demonstration about? Here's the BBC:

"Authorities in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dalian have ordered the closure of a chemical plant after a mass protest over pollution.

Scuffles had broken out on Sunday between police and thousands of protesters calling for it to be moved.

Officials ordered the plant's closure "immediately" and pledged to relocate it, state news agency Xinhua said.

Last week a storm broke the dyke around the plant, sparking fears the paraxylene (PX) it makes could spill.

PX is used in fabric manufacture and can be highly toxic.

About 12,000 residents took part in the protest, some of them moving across the city chanting slogans and waving banners."

The scale of these protests can be assessed from the pictures coming out via Weibo like the one above - and at the very least involved several thousand people.

Of course, it should be remembered that these marches pose no direct threat to the government, and are instead aimed pretty squarely at Fujia PX. However, at least some in power will be concerned by the ease with which many thousands of people were able to mobilise using social media to take part in what was a peaceful, but unauthorised demonstration.

I am still not convinced, though, that this is the kind of came changer that some, Custer at China Geeks for example, make it out to be. When it comes right down to it, if communication over Weibo does start to cause problems, the government can and will simply pull the plug on it.

[Picture: Thousands march to demand the closing down of the Fujia PX chemical plant in the city of Dalian in Eastern China. By Weibo user Zhaodongling, via CMP]

Saturday 13 August 2011

Seven Of The Best

JB, my old China from my Taiwan days, author of The Writing Baron, has nominated me to do seven links for Tripbase's My Seven Links project.

Before I begin, though, I guess I should say a few words about why exactly (other than sheer inertia) it is that I've kept this blog going. When I started it back in 2007 my main purpose was to use it as a way of keeping in both Chinese affairs whilst keeping up with Chinese. Since then, however, I have also found it a great way in which to crystallise my own thoughts by writing them down, whilst subjecting them to the criticism of those outside my immediate family and social group. It serves, I think, as record of my very much unfinished journey away from easy answers (toppling the CCP etc.) towards better solutions.

Anyway, enough with my pomposity, on with the links -

1. My Most Beautiful Post

Since the main themes of this blog have been totalitarianism, propaganda, strife, and political unrest, I don't think there has been much in the way of beauty in any of the things I have written. That said, I'd go for "The Taiwanese Green Union" - that poem described perfectly everything that's great about Taiwan in simple, moving details.

I guess I'll have to try harder not to be so gloomy in future.

2. My Most Popular Post

Believe me, I wish it wasn't, but whilst there are other posts that have been up much less time and have got almost as many hits, my original post exposing Chris Devonshire-Ellis's less than entirely truthful description of his qualifications and experience ("Chris Devonshire-Ellis is NOT a lawyer") is my most popular post both in terms of comments and visitors. Even now this post still gets a good number of hits per day, and the reasons why are obvious. Pretty much everyone else who had tried to discuss this topic up to that point had been scared off by CDE's bogus threats against the jobs and livelihood of the poster, so there are few other sources where people can get this information.

I still occasionally get threatening emails from this most unsavoury man asking me to take this post down - sorry Chris, it's staying.

3. My Most Controversial Post

Definitely in terms of disagreement against the post, and disagreement amongst the posters, my post comparing certain features of Japanese and Chinese culture ("Japan and China - a culture clash waiting to happen") was the most controversial. The thing is, though, it wasn't meant to be. Indeed, in terms of actual criticism of the situation in Japan I have written other posts which went much further, but the fact that Japan's popular Searchina website, as well as other websites, guaranteed that some people would see who were not in total agreement with it.

4. My Most Helpful Post

It's not often you get to explain to people how things are in what is a highly secretive and not well understood organisation, but I'm glad I was able to do so in my post describing my experiences during my time at Foxconn ("Trouble In Foxconn's Forbidden City"). Even now I get asked a lot of questions about my time there, many of them along the lines of how I could have worked for such a company - this post is about as good an answer as I can muster.

5. The Post Whose Success Most Surprised Me

I could say my post on cat-fighting Thai air-hostesses, but thinking about it, that's not all that surprising. Instead, I'll go with this post on China's somewhat uneasy relations with Gaddafi's Libya, which got a lot of traffic from people wanting to find out more about this complex issue at a time when there were less posts on this than there are now.

6. The Post Which I felt Didn't Get The Attention It Deserved

This post on Cuba following China's path - essentially I was trying to do the same thing I had done with China and Libya, but the reading public just didn't want to know. A pity, since, once I had had a look at the stats it seemed that the general meme of Cuba as a failing economy compared to China was not the entire picture - for starters, Cuba is richer in per-capita terms than China by about 50%. Ah well, can't win 'em all.

7. The Post That I am Most Proud Of

That would have to be this 2009 post on the situation in Xinjiang which I wrote whilst I was covering for Matt Steinglass on his old blog whilst he was on holiday. It's not that I think there's anything particularly fantastic about this post, but it, and a few of the other pieces I wrote back then, were quoted on Andrew Sullivan's blog. Since Sully was and is something of a role-model to myself and many other bloggers, this was a bit of a proud moment for me.

And now my five nominees:

1. Just Recently, big supporter of this blog, and a fellow ex-expat China-watcher.

2. Qing-era historian Jeremiah Jenne of Jottings From The Granite Studio. At least when he gets back from his summer holidays (bloody academics!).

3. Former Nanjinger and nowadays poetry/arts writer David Horton, of Union Herald.

4. Wukailong and Steve of Pacific Rim Shots. I know it's a bit early, but since there's two of you I'm sure you can come up with something. If I have any complaint about your blog, it's that you're both far, far too nice and reasonable!

5. And, in a vain effort to prevent this list turning into a total sausage-fest, I'd like to nominate travel-writer and Hong-Konger Joyce Lau of Joyceyland.

Obviously no pressure on any of you, it's all voluntary, but I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with.

Friday 12 August 2011

David Cameron isn't going to censor Twitter

. . . not least because there is a whole grab-bag of national and European human rights legislation which would prevent such an incredibly counter-productive move, not to mention the centuries of British tradition of respect for free speech which would be set at nought by it. However, this statement is simply propaganda gold-dust for every corrupt, repressive, and dictatorial regime in the world:

" . . we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

Here's Xinhua crowing:

"We may wonder why western leaders, on the one hand, tend to indiscriminately accuse other nations of monitoring, but on the other take for granted their steps to monitor and control the Internet.

They are not interested in learning what content those nations are monitoring, let alone their varied national conditions or their different development stages.

Laying undue emphasis on Internet freedom, the western leaders become prejudiced against those "other than us," stand ready to put them in the dock and attempt to stir up their internal conflicts."

Meanwhile, the police, who the majority of British people rightly credit for developing - somewhat tardily - the tactics necessary to quell the riots, are showing us exactly why it would be both wrong and counter-productive to block social networking sites in such circumstances. From the Greater Manchester Police's Twitter feed:

And this man is far from the only looter caught via social media. The police have been posting tweet after tweet throughout the day about arrests carried out based on information obtained by the public through photos on Flickr, through bragging on Twitter feeds and Facebook, and through other web-available sources such as Craigslist and eBay. Unlike mobile phone calls, communication by text, even through encrypted networks, leaves an electronic paper trail which police can later use as evidence. No snooping or espionage is needed to do this - all of this information was either posted openly on the internet, or was provided by members of the public with access to it.

It is hard to believe that the majority of this information would have been entrusted with the police if it had firstly not been possible to upload it, and secondly, the police were seen as being in the position of censoring the media. I no more credit David Cameron's suggestion that censorship or restriction of access might be considered, than I do his various other tough-man poses regarding the use of water cannon (dismissed by the police as unsuitable) and plastic bullets (always issued in riot conditions, but only for use in the most extreme conditions).

[Picture: Social networking of a different kind - notes posted on the smashed windows of a shop in Clapham Junction as 300 volunteer "Riot Wombles" worked to clear up the mess left behind by the looters. Picture taken by Tom Goold, a former colleague of mine in Japan, on his way back from work on Wednesday evening.]

Thursday 11 August 2011

"I don't believe in society"

. . . why is "Because I can" a sufficient motivation?

I guess you could restate "Not believing in society" in such numerous ways with enough leeway in the interpretation that it could be seen as in some way fundamental to the answer. I don't believe in society, I don't believe in consequences, I don't believe I can succeed, I don't believe in authority, I don't believe I will ever afford these trainers, I don't believe you will ever help me, I don't believe I can be stopped - all of these are a part of saying "I don't believe in society". Without that belief, society does not function effectively.

Lacking the belief in these things, simply being able to riot becomes motivation enough . . .

My brother, over Facebook today.

PS - I'd appreciate if y'all would leave a comment or three over at my bro's place when he finally posts the piece he's doing on the riots. The above is his sentiment, and I think it's a good one.

[Picture: A burnt-out car on Clarence road, Hackney, London, uploaded by Flickr user StolenGolem, via Wikipedia]

Tuesday 9 August 2011

The Rioters

From a Sydenham youth worker:

"When we saw my boyfriend’s bike being stolen by two hooded monsters, we ran out to get in back. I saw the youth in their faces, and shouted ‘stop I’m a youth worker!’ After some reasoning he gave the bike back. My boyfriend walked back to re-chain to our friend’s bike, but I remained. I couldn’t just let them go without asking why? He told me ‘what man, I gave the bike back?’. I replied, ‘I don’t care about the bike. It’s just a bike. I care about you. What about you? What are you good at?’ He looked at me, his smaller friend silent the whole time. ‘What are you good at!’ I yelled. ‘Nothing’. Tears pricked my eyes. Familiar tears. The ones I leave the classroom sometimes to have in the toilet. ‘Don’t say that. Don’t say nothing.’ He had no words for me. ‘You’re better than this. You’re better than being a thief.’ He was silent. What he didn’t do was run away or get angry. He didn’t pull out whatever it was he cut the bike lock with and he didn’t jab it in me. He simply looked at me, without any answers."

In the short term, the present strategy of flooding the streets of London with 16,000 police officers, enforcing the law throughout the city, and avoiding the use of any of the heavy-handed methods moronically being suggested by certain people within the media seems the best way forward. In the long term, policing in London needs to change to better avoid the antagonism that is well known to anyone living in London's poorer areas, and whilst I don't believe that more spending can be the answer, some solution must be found for the violent and crime-ridden lives of Britain's urban youth.

[Picture: Riot police in Walworth Road, Elephant and Castle, London, taken by Flickr user hozinja, via Wikipedia]

Monday 8 August 2011

London's Burning

There are times when the expat may be given to feel that he or she no longer understands his or her country of birth. This is certainly how I've felt watching the news of the riots in London (and, now, other cities) over the past few days, although none of the people I know in London seem to understand them either.

My confusion on this is not for lack of knowledge of potential causes. The police reports about the shooting that sparked these riots seem very dubious and certainly worth investigating. Anyone who has seen the way in which certain members of the Metropolitan Police are given to harassing young men walking through certain areas in the city of London in the hope of getting an easy arrest will understand the extreme anger towards the police among youth in the city. Whilst I think it's rather early to be blaming the policies of the present government for this, the closure of youth clubs in many areas of the city cannot have helped.

However, the violence, which now seems to be growing to a scale larger than those of the riots of the early 80's, if not the same intensity, appears not,now at least, to be aimed either at the police or the government. Instead, it appears to consist merely of opportunistic arson and looting. The victims appear to be those living in the same neighbourhoods as the rioters. Whilst the initial riot was sparked by anger in the black community over a police shooting, the rioters now appear not to be of any particular background other than poor and disaffected.

[Video: A woman remonstrates with local youths in Hackney, via my good friend The Writing Baron]