Friday, October 18, 2019

a small reminder

The pursuit of happiness is a lifestyle choice. A brief moment for me as film director!

which movie I embedded in Mexico blog in 2015

and I should add this quiet Armenian music for contemplation in savage times. "Lullaby for the [non-voluntarily] Travelling Child", from Roots Revival. Also see website.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Australia's strategic folly: lessons from Barbara Tuchman

Also published on John Menadue's blog

We in a situation where decisions that seem simple can commit Australia to fundamental errors of strategic judgement. The decision to send a ship and a plane and headquarters staff to a new venture with the United States in the Middle East is foolish. It is described in isolation by the government but is additional to ongoing ADF operations in the Middle East, which have lacked legality since 2003.  The late US historian Barbara Tuchman wrote two books of great relevance: about the lack of non-military options in 1914, and the tendency of governments to make decisions contrary to their core strategic interests. The first of those, The Guns of August, saved us from nuclear war in 1962, the second, The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam, is less well known because… well, because statesmen are not foolish and don’t make mistakes. 

In early 1962, American historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the beginnings of the First World War: The Guns of August, UK title August 1914. It quickly appeared in the best seller list of the New York Times. President John Kennedy read it and urged his National Security Council to read it. Then in October 1962 came the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is generally recognised that Kennedy’s reading of The Guns of August was a major factor in the rejection by his National Security Council of advice from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go to war. Tuchman’s lesson was that the war went as it did because of the absence of alternatives to war in strategic thinking. 

 But Tuchman’s lesson was forgotten well before the 9/11 events of 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Not only did the invasion fail, but our vocabulary, our benchmarks and capacity for debate and strategic though have been shifted dramatically. Military options rule and strategic advice in Australia as in the US has come to mean the advice of the military, intelligence and security industries. Trump’s first National Security Advisor, A R McMaster rose to his brief fame as author of Dereliction of Duty, which begins with a diatribe against Kennedy for rejecting the advice of the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

In 1984 Tuchman published The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, setting out as commonplace the paradox of governments adopting courses contrary to national interest. Less popular than The Guns of August: who wants to acknowledge folly? Apart from Tuchman we should take note of Clausewitz, so often quoted for observing that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. What is generally forgotten is Clausewitz's advice that statesmen should be aware that war, once embarked upon as an instrument of policy, tends to drive out policy and pursue its own ends. As has happened in Afghanistan and the Middle East and now with China, where policy arises significantly from navy heroics in the South China Sea, where we are supposedly entitled to venture, though China makes scandalised headlines sending a surveillance ship to observe US-Australian exercises in Australia.

I have argued the folly of raging against China recently here

Is it a folly to be sending a ship, additional aircraft and headquarters staff to the Gulf to safeguard shipping? While both sides of an argument may call the other foolish, I offer these considerations:

* First, that the government’s decision is in the direction of war as opposed to diplomacy. It is as much about war avoidance as the ventures of knights in crusades to protect holy sites in Palestine centuries ago, where war drove out policy. 
* Forget about notions that this is just a small operation, we are not just joining up with a tanker-escorting minor team, the US Navy deployments at this moment are public here. Australia’s current Middle East deployments are listed here. Use Wikipedia for details.
* Our entry into the Vietnam war began with small numbers of advisors, and crept upwards. We lost;
* We went into the Iraq war in 2003 on the basis of spurious arguments and deceits, we helped remove a very bad government by violence and made Iraq ungovernable; we effectively handed Iraq to Iran;
* We have never had the guts to review our involvement in the Iraq war by serious inquiry, unlike the UK. No one here is politically accountable;
* the Iraq invasion was illegal as have been our ventures since in support of US forces in Iraq and Syria;
* at the present time just as in Iraq after the invasion, US leaders and planners, much as here, have had no idea of how to manage the peace, sustain order, achieve a future. The focus of US policy recently has been to more destabilisation in more places, now with the tweets of Trump and the fist shaking of Bolton creating uncertainty and adding to the resolve of the threatened and revelation to many more of the ineffectuality of US war dances;
* the US has overturned a nuclear agreement with Iran endorsed by the UN. The US has threatened sanctions against allies who have sought to sustain that agreement. There is no international legal basis for such sanctions;
* In the Middle East it is Israel, not Iran, that has a nuclear weapons force... and now the Trump team are helping Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear industry and capability;
* There is a lack of historical awareness of the fundamental central conflict in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iran basically Shia and Saudi Arabia Sunni; Iran via Hizbollah the only country to defeat Israel in war; Saudi with direct connections to Al Qaida, Islamic State and the Taliban. 
* The word ‘oil’ is now on the table: now there is a noble crusade to save oil from bad guys. But all these decades have been about oil, control over oil reserves, by violent means. The US has become an exporter of fossil fuel energy and its need for imports has declined since 2006 … as has its need for markets grown. In this new phase, the US has disrupted Venezuela’s oil production (for years before and then contributing to the recent crisis), the US has fought against Europe, especially Germany, securing new gas supplies from Russia, demanding purchase of US fracked gas instead, and the US has sought a total blockade of Iran’s oil exports (though interpreters of oil prices suggest the embargo may not be working). The US has diminished its dependence on oil imports, but its readiness to control oil by domination or disruption is undiminished.

Those are broad strategic problems with entanglement in the Middle East. There are battle-related issues. The United States is poking a stick, threatening war, with a country geographically bigger than France, Germany and Britain combined. Iran has borders with Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan; over the Caspian Sea a short distance to Russia and Kazakhstan (plus an abundance of non-state actors in the region). Iran is not a ragged revolutionary country as in the 1980s when the US grabbed Iraq from Soviet arms and supported Iraq in a long, disastrous war with Iran, that Iraq lost. Iran is now a highly organised state with thousands of years of state management experience. Iran has built more than any other on the terrorist legacy of Lawrence of Arabia. Iran now has effective links and power involvement, not least in suppressing IS, from the border of Pakistan to the Mediterranean. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps [Pasdaran] makes Iran a superpower. No scoffing and baiting and shouting campaign will make Iran defeat-able. Compare with the fantasy expectations of 1914. 

After Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017, with celebration of arms sales and talk of alliance in the region, Saudi Arabia organised with others the isolation of Qatar, not least in fury at the open news reporting of Qatar’s Al Jazeera news agency: border and air and sea space were closed to Qatar. Since then Qatar has, not least for food, built up relations with Iran and Turkey. Turkey is now buying air defence missiles from Russia and again is advancing in Syria against US interests. Qatar and Iran share ownership of the world’s largest natural gas reserves...While Qatar is host to the major US base in the Middle East

All this… now in the context of destabilising and unpredictable utterances from Trump and Bolton. We should be very glad the Iranians are so quiet and patient. But quiet does not mean inactive. As Robert Baer observed in See No Evil, when the Pasdaran moved into Lebanon in the 1980s no reports to headquarters were required, headquarters only needed to follow the BBC News. 

Government must take the public into its confidence and encourage more open sensible discussion of international strategic issues. Whether media can do that is uncertain. It will never be easy to step back from integration of minds and forces with the US, but it will only be more difficult later than sooner. A good ally is one that gives sensible advice, not just one that just slips into someone’s order of battle without national debate.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Tangled relationships in north Asia: resources

This week a meeting in Beijing between the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan failed to budge either side from the impasse in trade relations. I am not writing a considered review of this situation yet. Here is some background.

At the end of the week South Korea announced that it would not renew a 2016 agreement with Japan for sharing intelligence directly with Japan. Sharing will still occur via the United States.

The stresses in ROK-Japan relations have a long history.

In the early 1800s the Kingdom of Joseon in Korea was loyal to the Qing Dynasty in China, and observing the military interventions in China of European imperial powers and the opening by force of Japan by the United States, Joseon was determinedly a 'hermit kingdom'... until Japan succeeded in an opening by force of Korea after the manner of the opening of Japan by the US. Imposing an unequal treaty. Korea was a colony of Japan until the end of World War 2 and a peace treaty was not signed until 1965.

The 1965 treaty is at the centre of current controversy. For Japan it was a conclusion of issues of reparation. For the ROK not so, a situation aggravated by the treaty having been entered into by the dictator president Park Chung-hee. Also part of the issue is that Japan at the time wanted to make payments to individuals directly. South Korea rejected that and said it would do whatever disbursement. The Park administration in fact used the reparation funds for the most part for major infrastructure projects, notably the Seoul-Busan freeway and the Pohang Iron and Steel mill... foundations for South Korea's development since.

In the past few years there has been agitation in South Korea for reparations for comfort women, sex slaves of Japanese forces in World War 2. The daughter of Park Chung-hee, Park Geun-hye, was president of the ROK from 2013 until impeached in 2017 and had signed an agreement with Japan to bring the comfort women issue to closure — an agreement considered inadequate by public opinion and the present ROK government.

There has been persistent anger in in Korea and China at the way the Japanese Government has sought to alter history and its role in WW2 and longer wars with Korea and China, notably through revision of officially shaped textbooks.

The Moon adminstration in Seoul has sought a new relationship with North Korea and the two Korean governments have succeeded in reducing the arms along the demilitarised zone. At the same President Trump has embarked on negotiations with North Korea. In this process, Japan has felt excluded, President Abe also anxious about prospects of trade conflict with the US.

see link at left
Abe faced elections recently and succeeded in getting a solid majority but not sufficient in size to allow amendment of the constitutional restraints on defence. In securing the elections he played right wing cards especially against Korea. Apart from particular issues in debate, there appears to be a fundamental issue of views in Japan, and views of Abe, of Korean people as unequal to Japanese. This is explored in depth here, article the header of which is alongside here.

30 August: see also this. “Abe’s refusal to engage with S. Korea marks end of Japan’s status as peaceful country,” says Haruki Wada

South Korea also perceives moves by Japan to diminish relations with Korea, in its relegation to a minor position in the Indo-Pacific strategy, rather than a close team in north Asia. There are complex emotions.

For further current news and discussion in Korea, see these:  (Arirang TV news, well presented)

and for Japan is limited value gives you a range of sources to explore.

And for wider regional:

both out of Hong Kong.

Best to hunt Asian sources rather than depend on news organisations elsewhere. And to regard all sources as reflecting local opinion and perspective, rather than certain evidence. We should similarly look with care at the quality and perspective of media in Australia, the US and Europe, tending so often be briefly caught up in passing violence. The Guardian is especially (and very disappointingly) guilty of this in the Third World, rushing a generalist to bash out a story and duck off to the next big thing. This is a problem that arises increasingly when even the media we would like to trust most are confronted by limited budgets requiring fleeting coverage of more and more.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Australia in the Persian Gulf

Australia is sending a frigate, an aircraft and headquarters staff to the US led task force notionally to protect tankers in the Gulf.

I have just made this comment on a paper at The Conversation entitled "Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?"

This is what I wrote:

The biggest problem is that they indicate no awareness of regional issues, they seem to have no understanding of ‘the enemy’, no idea of the impossibility of a conventional war with Iran. No sense that escalation is likely to get out of control.. and in no circumstance will we have full control of this deployment.
The deployments of US forces in the middle east are much greater than this suggests and in no way focused on escorting tankers.[Red Sea, North Arabian Sea, Carrier Strike Group 12]
Under the heading “What is the conflict between Iran and the US about?” the author neglects to mention the long historical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, thus between Sunni [Saudi] and Shia [Iran]. The headlong rush by Trump to embrace the Saudis in 2017, and sell more weapons, while threatening violence on Iran. The unilateral US disruption of the nuclear agreement (approved by the UN) and threats to allies who trade with Iran. Saudi as the home variously of Al Qaida, IS and the Taliban and guilty of astonishing war crimes in the civil war in Yemen, which is a proxy war with Iran, Saudi and partners supplied in that war by the US and UK. Australia, having been one of the illegal invaders of Iraq in 2003, an act of naive folly that rendered Iraq ungovernable and handed Iraq to Iran, with continuing air force deployments in the middle east, strike aircraft and tanker aircraft to refuel US aircraft in the air. But we shouldn’t mention all that, shouldn’t mention our complicity in the disastrous destabilisation of the middle east in the last two decades.
Israel, not Iran, is the middle east country with a formidable nuclear weapon force, never mentioned by nice people; the US currently assisting Saudi Arabia with nuclear capability. Iran the only country ever to defeat Israel, via proxy Hizbollah, 1982-2000 and 2006. Iran geographically bigger in size than Germany, France and the UK combined. Iran with close relations with Russia and China and with millennia of experience in strategy, the most skilful inheritor of the terrorist fervour begun by Lawrence of Arabia.
The US has a large base in Qatar… which deserved mention, as does also the fact that after Trump’s visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE and cohort broke off relations with Qatar and closed the border and sea and air space to Qatar
… whereafter Qatar, host to the major US presence, has steadily built relations with Iran and Turkey (other things aside, for food), Turkey buying missiles now from Russia despite US protests. Turkey currently advancing again into Syria against US interests. So the big US base in the middle east is in a country mainly linked to ‘the other side’.
Can someone in office explain all that to the smiling people at the top of the article. Or if they know all that they should explain it all. Explain it better than did Minister Reynolds in the presence of the US Secretaries of State and Defense recently
“The request that the United States has made is a very serious one and it is a complex one. That’s why we are currently giving this request very serious consideration. We will ultimately, as we always do, decide what is in our own sovereign interests, and we certainly discussed this issue during our ministerial consultations. But again, no decision has yet been made.”
The concept of and description of this intervention by Australia as in the article and as apparently in the minds of the worthies in the top photo is utter folly and very dangerous. The prospect of finding ourselves in a wider war, far beyond the nonsense argument offered, is high.
The reality is that government and parliament have for too long relegated strategic thinking to the defence force. The Australian Defence Force is largely embedded in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. We are not an independent country.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Hong Kong and Londonderry and the global crowding of everything.

This posted to John Menadue's blog on 15 August

DENNIS ARGALL Hong Kong and Londonderry and the global crowding of everything.

The uproar in Hong Kong has become very serious, with a situation as developed in 1989 before Tiananmen: of leaders unable to cope and an uprising implacable in resolve and unable to focus on achievable objectives. The comparison should not be overdrawn but Hong Kong now is threatening greater consequence than did Tiananmen. Tactically the police have made mistakes in dealing with trapped demonstrators as on Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland in 1972, staining decades with misery.
This is written on the night of 12 August 2019, events are unfolding but I make observations that may endure.  
Looking at the live YouTube Hong Kong coverage of long days of peaceful protest, degenerating regularly as families have gone home into tough guys shifting to confrontation with police, there was generally a pattern of police restraint.  But things deteriorate.
Without doubt ordinary police are suffering from fatigue, as much as demonstrators. But this does not explain the way things have gone awry.
There has no doubt been a strategy of restraint on the part of the Hong Kong Government, also a strategy of not conceding to violence and not allowing public places to be occupied indefinitely. The government and police have not had answers to  the way attacks have evolved. Intelligence would seem to be lacking. Political and administrative leaders have been flat-footed and uninspiring, affronted not leading.
As of Monday 12 August protest anger has shifted up a notch following an incident in a rail station where a bean bag pellet fired at short range destroyed a woman’s eye. Notch by notch the distinction between the mass of demonstrators and the more militant may reduce. Demands increase. And with Hong Kong airport occupied and all departures cancelled, Chinese official media are now running film, with drum beats, of Chinese armed police units lining up in Shenzhen two days ago.  This official video refers to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on People’s Armed Police, text here:
It may seem odd to compare with events on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 30 January 1972, given that Londonderry had a population as I recall, of about 26,000 at the time.
But the great loss of life on one day in Derry, 28 wounded of whom 14 died promptly, another person weeks later, was caused by tactical error much as evident in individual skirmishes in Hong Kong. The paratroopers sent into Derry were untrained for the circumstance and they cut off paths of retreat for demonstrators. A complex of descent into horror occurred then in Derry as develops now in Hong Kong. Although a British army officer attending the Australian Chief of General Staff’s annual exercises later in 1972 was able to provide already an account of tactical error in Londonderry in such terms, such official awareness did not prevent the consequences of that day rolling on through long decades of nastiness.
Tactical mishandling of conflict in Hong Kong in recent and coming weeks will cast long shadows. In both Londonderry and Hong Kong, bitternesses have run deep. Everything is magnified, intensified. The scale of distraught in Hong Kong is now off the chart and climbing.
In 1982 an American ethologist coined the term “behavioural sink” to describe the collapse of behaviour resulting from overcrowding, shown in experiments with rats. As is commonplace in the social sciences, this hypothesis vanished down its own behavioural sink, a rabbit hole of debate about the relevance of rat experiments to understanding human behaviour. But it seems to me at a minimum relevant to examination of the state of the world approaching 2020; a useful metaphor.
I think of ‘crowding’ now not just physical or geographical but also the volume, velocity and excitement of what floods most people most days, through the internet, elevating awareness of global bad spots, local political, economic and social atrocities, through diverse megaphones. This is a new neurological and psychological experience for individuals. The internet has of course been an engine of insurrectionist uprising for some time but things get more disruptive.
Hong Kong offers a dramatic example of a ‘behavioural sink’, with
  • High population density,
  • Entrapment of ordinary people in a society dominated by an extraordinarily rich elite,
  • The role of ordinary people being to serve the local and visiting rich from other countries and the Chinese mainland, the role of the very rich to buy and sell anyone and anything (not entirely unusual)
  • For twenty years or more any ordinary person falling out of work after age 40 in Hong Kong has had great difficulty finding new employment,
  • Whereas forty years ago Hong Kong was unique as a doorway to China, now Hong Kong is a relative backwater as many other places in China have grown from nothing to greater than Hong Kong as doors to the world,
  • The current political system with mildly democratic elements is shaped by a deathbed conversion to participatory democracy by a departing British tenant,
  • Historically riddled with spy organisations and movements for foreign religions and political agendas,
  • Pervasive awareness of news and worse via the internet leading now to organising of rebellion via the internet
  • Governed by the upper crust of all the foregoing, led by a chief minister with history and reputation as a tough administrator… but politically na├»ve,
  • Policed by police not of the elite but for half a century of high standard of integrity with a union speaking out now about their misery and resentment at being put in the middle of the current street situation… and remaining mainly restrained … but lacking tactics to deal with the way situations have developed
  • Living with the time bomb of end of special status within China in 2047, as agreed with Britain in 1997. But 2047 is as far ahead as the Tiananmen events are in the past. China’s GDP per capita passed $300 in 1989, passed $8000 in 2015. But who thinks, in troubled circumstances, how things may be thirty years ahead?
Hong Kong is only one of many places on the globe in torment, driven partly by impacts of economic management and by imperial attitudes of political leaders, diverse chiefs going wilful as the world is whacked by the singular and monstrous contributions of the rule-breaking unruly Trump, kneecapping cherished beliefs and institutions at home and abroad, enabling the utterance of untruth in all directions daily with scarce rebuttal…  bringing news everywhere that uprising against authority can succeed.
In 1989, in days leading to the Tiananmen Incident, there was comparable circumstance in the incapacity of leadership to cope and the implacable unwillingness of the besiegers of the state to compromise and adopt realisable objectives.
What follows now in Hong Kong will have consequences beyond China.
Dennis Argall is a former Australian ambassador to China. His undergraduate studies were in social anthropology, his masters degree from the Australian Defence Force Academy.

History and the statuses of Hong Kong and Taiwan in China

I wrote the following paper two days ago, it became too long and unwieldy for John Menadue's blog. Difficult to cover multiple dimensions and several centuries in a short note. I will be trying to convert it into shorter notes, but I am concerned that making it brief tends too often to lead to that standard current era genre of "I'm just so smart, take my word for it" adopted now by everyone and dog, as truth and awareness of wider context and history vanish. 
So here below is my disorderly draft, as is for now.

...but first, see this Caspian Report video essay released since my writing below. Caspian Report becomes more professional, I wonder who sits in the back room. This video essay raises questions. I might question some of the argument, or inflection, but it's a valuable start point. I marvel at the geostrategic circumstance of writing from Azerbaijan... where you have the geostrategic at the breakfast table and on the bus, not just in mental speculation.

Also valuable in this moment is the series of essays produced twenty four hours ago by the South China Morning PostThe SCMP, in Hong Kong for a very long time, is owned these days by Jack Ma, who created Alibaba, something of a parallel with Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, owning the Washington Post. See this video from the World Economic Forum to understand the Jack Ma perspective, as counter to China as monolithic boogeyman role cast by many commentators.

Here then is my draft paper of 29 August, on the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong.
It is written with Australian readers in mind, but of wider value.


The situation in Hong Kong becomes more difficult. And reporters covering Hong Kong increasingly bring Taiwan into the story. It is useful to have an understanding of the history underlying the status of Hong Kong and Taiwan in China and the attitudes that come from turbulent history.
If you depend on the news from the Australian Broadcasting Commission (let alone the less responsible) you will understand our neighbourhood in East Asia not with balance but mainly in violent terms, with a rush to cover demos more familiar in tabloid rabblerousing. And with curious fear of change in the balance of power, promoting the security and strategy industries in their militaristic focus in international affairs. It is easy to see how government ministers could be perplexed.
More level heads can be found regarding Hong Kong.
“I can understand the disquiet of Hong Kong people subject to a China that under Xi Jinping has increasingly stressed the control of the Chinese Communist Party, over every sphere of life in China and not just in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong lost that battle before it even began.
“Ever since the end of the Qing Dynasty in the late 19th century, the legitimacy of Chinese governments – Imperial, Republican or Communist – has rested on the ability to defend China’s sovereignty and its borders.  I don’t think Beijing is eager to exercise direct control over Hong Kong. But the unity of China is not a matter on which any Chinese government will ever compromise.”
“Harsh Truths for Hong Kong” Bilahari Kausikan. former head of the Singapore  Foreign Ministry, July 9, 2019.
“A Hong Kong ruined by instability, anger and perpetual protest works for no one — not for the government, nor for the protesters, nor for Beijing. It would be a tragedy for the world to see this wonderful and vibrant city avoided by visitors, its population divided and demoralised. A resolution in which the grievances of the protesters are addressed, the administration is restored in credibility, and the Beijing government is recognised for having acted responsibly and respectfully might seem like a distant prospect at the moment, but it is precisely this outcome that all parties, and the world, should support.”
“On the Brink” Inside Story 16 August 2019, Kerry Brown, former Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London.

On 19 August the South China Morning Post published four essays, which are invaluable to understanding the evolution of the situation. Start here, links at end of each to the others.
As regards Taiwan, there is much focus on the current Taipei administration’s approaches. toying lightly with independence, playing with support in the US, especially among Republicans. But with the 24-hour news cycle and perhaps twenty-four-days-awareness of history, there is no mention that while the KMT (Kuomintang) lost the Taiwan presidency in elections in 2012, it won local government elections in a landslide in November 2018... and perhaps could win the 2020 presidential elections. The KMT sees Taiwan as part of China, has been central to China's political history from the 1911 revolution. The KMT is a member of the International Democratic Union, as is the Liberal Party of Australia; John Howard was chair of the IDU 2002-2014. 

Decades ago my advice to defence staff colleges and other audiences in seeking to understand China and other issues was to avoid focusing on some point on the rim of a wheel of the bouncing vehicle and try to understand the vehicle and its movement as a whole. 
With concern to broaden perspectives, my purpose here is to provide historical background to the status of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

China sees two hundred years of history leading up to 2049 as in two parts. First, a century of invasion and ‘unequal treaties’ in which China was wrecked by western imperial powers and Japan. The second century, from the 1949 revolution, a century (not without ruckus) of reordering and recovery of status… as the ‘Middle Kingdom’, literal translation of the Chinese word for China. 
China in the 1700s had been an economic power comparable to Europe. But was closed to the enlightenment ripping through Europe and to the Industrial Revolution.

When Portuguese ships had entered the Indian Ocean from 1497, those ships were technologically comparable to the great number of Chinese, Malay, Javanese, Indian, Arab and African vessels they encountered.  Later, larger Dutch ships with more advanced firepower defeated all, including for example Portuguese in the Moluccas in what is now Indonesia; on the island of Banda murdering the local population, custodians of all nutmeg trees, and replacing the locals with slaves.

The Portuguese had been raping and pillaging and trading at Canton (Guangzhou) in China from 1516, but more stable relations led to a 1554 treaty which eventually allowed Portuguese settlement and warehouses at Macau, but not fortifications. The uproar in Hong Kong won’t be followed in Macau. A story about Macau in the days of the end of Portuguese empire here; more history here.
The Qing dynasty 1644-1912 opened more readily to trade, after taking Taiwan from the Koxinga in 1683. The Koxinga were supporters of the Ming dynasty, which was defeated by the Qing in 1644, wise in the ensuing violence for the Koxinga to duck off to Taiwan, as Chiang Kai-shek would do in 1949. …Speaking of political violence in the mid-1600s I’m reminded of English history.
The Koxinga drove the Dutch out of Formosa (Taiwan) in 1662. The Dutch had taken Taiwan from the Spanish in 1642, an outcome of the Eighty Years War. Taiwan’s colonial history began with a Portuguese settlement in 1544, a settlement that became Spanish after 1580 when the Hapsburg kings of Spain became kings of Portugal. But New Spain, headquartered in Mexico City, was too busy coping with Dutch and British warships at Manila to defend Formosa. 

Trading through Canton, the British had found themselves in the early 1800s in that very modern situation of having an adverse trade balance with China because Chinese products were very popular back in Britain. The remedy? — Grow opium in India and demand its use in China. When Chinese authorities said the British could not bring opium into China the British insisted and there followed the First Opium War [1839-1842] which set a pattern of European powers bringing pressure for concessions by Chinese rulers local and national, going to war when resisted… and then demanding concessions as reparation. The British dominated the opium business and thus had a particularly nasty role in China’s degradation, on a huge scale and more devastating than what the Dutch did to monopolise the nutmeg trade. The great trading houses of Hong Kong and Hong Kong's upper crust of wealth, arose from that. Current uproar reflects not just issues with Beijing but class struggle in Hong Kong and the tin ears of the mighty.

Towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, end of the 1800s, there was an uprising against the foreign– the Boxer Rebellion– a wild rejection of foreign things and beliefs, of foreign dominance and the presence of foreigners in China. Imperial powers came to the rescue, again with demands for reparation and predilection to pillage and loot. Portrayed in our world in such movies as these. The Australian War Memorial, an institution that does not have the courage to recognise punitive expeditions against indigenous people in Australia, says this about Australia’s role in the Boxer Rebellion.

The territory we know as Hong Kong had two parts in origin. Hong Kong Island was seized by Britain during the First Opium War in 1841, ceded to Britain in 1842, became a Crown Colony and expanded to include in the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 in the Second Opium War. Context here. The New Territories, beyond Kowloon, were a 99-year lease from 1898. It was in the years before that lease expired in 1997 that London and Beijing negotiated return of the whole to Beijing. 
Lost from general sight is the role of China in World War I. The Qing had been overthrown in a revolution in 1911, led by Sun Yatsen, founder of the KMT. But the centre did not hold, warlords took power in various places. With Japan entering World War I on the side of the Triple Alliance against Germany, Japan took the Chinese province of Shandong from Germany, much as Australia seized New Guinea from Germany. China sent 100,000 workers to Europe, to support the military effort against Germany, offers of troops rejected.  China hoped to get Shandong back in the peace settlement. But Japan kept Shandong. The curious role of Australian Prime Minister Hughes in this, revealed recently, reminds us of deep racist roots in Australia and of how statesmen may regard lesser places and peoples as toys, or proxies and fail to understand how things they do can have extensive and unintended, unacknowledged consequences.

Loss of Shandong thus to Japan in 1919 by the Versailles Treaty precipitated the ‘May Fourth Movement’. Whereas the 10 October 1911 nationalist uprising (still marked as National Day in Taipei) faltered, the May Fourth movement profoundly changed China and saw the founding of the Communist Party, which then worked with the Nationalist Party (KMT) in a United Front for some years. Central figure in the May Fourth Movement was the Dean of the Arts Faculty at Peking University Chen Duxiu, who was one of the founders of the Communist Party in 2021 and its first General Secretary. Whereas the Boxer Rebellion had rejected the foreign, the 2011 revolution and May Fourth Movement were led by modernisers looking abroad for ways to overturn the feudalism of the Qing. Gregor Benton has just published a book on Poets of the Chinese Revolution including Chen Duxiu and Mao. Deep historical traditions are embedded in Chinese political life. 
May Fourth is a key date marked in the official calendar… and by dissidents. Like this dissident statement this year. 

Within mainland China dissident statements have not been post-it sized as we see in Hong Kong now, in the founding of the communist party by poets and artists, the feuding among leaders or at the Democracy Wall in 1978-79. Hong Kong, long insulated from the intellectual as well as political turmoil of the mainland, is catching up in recent decades. Dissidents who based themselves in Hong Kong after Democracy Wall and Tiananmen are not marginal now. Meanwhile the Asia Times reports that leaders in Beijing, at their summer confab at the beach in Beidaihe have reportedly retreated to belief that what is happening in Hong Kong is a ‘colour revolution’ involving many foreign countries; the SCMP reports on the interdepartmental muddle of China’s efforts to understand and deal with Hong Kong contributing to incomprehension.

Taiwan and other territory had been taken by Japan by the Treaty of Shimonoseki ending the first Sino-Japanese war 1894-5. During World War II, at the 1943 Cairo Conference, the UK, US and China (President Chiang Kai-shek leader of the KMT) issued a press release saying that at war’s end "all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, including ManchuriaFormosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China." The more formal Potsdam Declaration in 1945, the USSR now present, affirmed the intentions regarding those territories as expressed at Cairo.
During the period of Japanese invasion and occupation of China in that Second Sino-Japanese War 1937-45 the Nationalists (KMT) retreated their capital to Chongqing in Sichuan Province as Japan seized Beijing, Shanghai and more. Han Suyin’s memoirs provide a vivid account. The Communist Party was headquartered in Yan’an, mountainous country north of Xian. After 1945 the KMT came back down to Nanjing and in 1949, losing the civil war, fled with numbers and treasures to Taiwan, locating the capital of the Republic of China in Taipei, while the government of the People’s Republic of China took office in Peking (Beijing).

Australia pursued a Commonwealth initiative to seek a solution to the ‘China problem’ until the Offshore Islands Crisis of 1958 when Prime Minister Menzies announced that henceforward our China policy would be that of the US.

Nonetheless, while the Republic of China retained an embassy in Canberra we did not open an embassy in Taipei until 1966 (a one sentence cabinet decision without submission, after the very popular Chinese Ambassador buttonholed Prime Minister Holt at a party). The ROC had territorial claims larger than the PRC, including to the territory of the Mongolian People’s Republic. It has never sought recognition as ‘Taiwan’.

In 1971 the UN General Assembly by Resolution 2758 restored the seat of China in the UN to Beijing, including China’s permanent seat on the Security Council along with the Britain, France, the US and USSR (now Russia). In that period a number of governments shifted recognition of Government of China from Taipei to Beijing. Australia did so in December 1972, among the first actions of the Whitlam Government in a process of relating foreign policy to realities in Asia. Claimant to the title of Government of China, Taipei immediately withdrew recognition from governments shifting recognition to Beijing and expelled their embassies. Britain had never withdrawn its embassy from Beijing, recognising the People’s Republic of China. The shift of recognition to Beijing by France in 1964 disrupted NATO. Pakistan had recognised Beijing in 1951, nonetheless participating in SEATO and CENTO, elements of US ‘containment’ of China for many years, reminders of times past when Australia was participant in plans for war with China.
With a background of vicious fighting on the Korean peninsula (some of it currently being reviewed by the Moon administration in Seoul) North Korean forces invaded the south in June 1950. The Korean War 1950-53 is another subject but the US Seventh Fleet was promptly sent to the Taiwan Strait to inhibit conflict between the PRC and ROC. 

In the period of China’s revolutionary war, with Nationalist and Communist headquarters far apart and at war after the United Front of the 1920s broke down, the United States maintained a mission in Yan’an, to the Communists, as well as an embassy to the ROC in Chongqing. The “loss of China” saw the rise of McCarthyism in the United States, Senator McCarthy’s first target being those State Department officers whose careers had directed them into contact with the Communists, rather than those assigned to Chongqing, to the Nationalists. The Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chongqing government built its American connections from which to sustain conservative support in the US, through associates from that time such as General Chennault, who like other military leaders on other wars since, told the Congress that they would not have lost China is civilian government had given the military enough means to win. Without understanding broader contexts. 

In Taiwan, in 1947, the Nationalists had violently suppressed a popular uprising. Chiang and his son as successive presidents of the Republic of China from 1949 did not permit political opposition in Taiwan until the ending of martial law in 1991. Wikipedia provides background to that period. A recent Brookings Institution paper sets out dilemmas now faced by Taiwan, of which China is just one. And notes that
Civil society activism reflects a growing disenchantment in some quarters with the performance of representative institutions. Even though the Taiwan public generally favors democracy as a political system, it does not necessarily approve the policy performance of their own democratic system.
There is some of that evident in public opinion polls in Australia. We advocate for democracy everywhere while democracy in too many places is in difficulty, unpopular, a weak instrument for addressing fast moving issues. We should be careful with our evangelisms, aware of shortcomings in our institutions and beliefs. 

Dennis Argall is a former Australian ambassador to China. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Pompeo view

The Secretaries of State and Defense of the USA visited Australia recently. I wrote this short comment for John Menadue's blog, published 9 August 2019.

DENNIS ARGALL. The Pompeo view

US Secretary of State Pompeo said a couple of things in Sydney recently that were wrong in fact. He articulated an absurd philosophy about foreign investment, unaware that he’d just accused China of thinking something similar. His utterances of high-minded principles in the Australia-US relationship and US strategic policy mask very dark realities.
Two statements in Sydney recently by US Secretary of State Pompeo need to be quoted and challenged.
First at an event hosted by the conservative Centre for Independent Studies:
“T[O]M SWITZER: Does Washington still believe unequivocally that the ANZUS alliance obliges Canberra to America’s side in the event of a conflict. The ANZUS alliance, does that oblige us to Australia’s participation in any conflict?
“MIKE POMPEO: Yeah, the ANZUZ [sic] alliance is unambiguous.”
The treaty is not ambiguous, but it doesn’t say what he seems to think it says.
Article IV of the ANZUS Treaty says:
“Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.
“Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”
Any presumption of automatic obligation is wrong.
Second, in remarks to press at the AUSMIN meeting in Sydney, arising from comparison of the US with China:
“The United States invests nearly $170 billion in Australia each and every year.  The United States is by far the largest investor here in Australia, accounting for more than 25 percent of all foreign direct investment.
“It’s easy sometimes to forget that the amount of private investment in the Indo-Pacific far surpasses the amount of government investment here.  Judging how private enterprise has been the engine for driving the astounding prosperity in this region over several decades, we hope all countries will welcome more of it.”
He’s entitled to his philosophy but the numbers are wrong. $170 billion is close to the total value of US direct investment in Australia (investments in which Australia has no share), but has no meaning in annual data. Annual growth has been $47bn and $33bn in the two years 2016-2018.
But the philosophy that nations do better proportionally with the level of US investment may suit a Rotary speech in Kansas but is not reflective of any balanced judgement by the investment-receiving country. Though it’s close to the thinking of the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University.
(Were any university organisation with China connections to publish a promotional paper like that it would of course be ridiculed.)
At the core of Pompeo’s perspective is this:
“Let me be clear:  The United States is a Pacific nation.  We care deeply about what happens here and we’re here to stay.  And I want all Australians to know they can always rely on the United States of America.  And just as we talk about Britain as a special relationship, we think of this as an unbreakable relationship.  It’s grounded in our shared values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.”
While that provides a framework for disparagement of others, the United States has a second to none record of intervention in democratic processes in other countries and support for repressive dictatorship. They are not alone, but they stand out in cloaking self-interest and violence in such sanctimonious language. Foreign policy based on threats of sanction or violence. Notably recently in Senator Rand Paul being authorised to offer the Iranian foreign minister a chat with the US president, with advice also that if he said no he’d be sanctioned (which he did, which he was). A situation in US domestic affairs too, of divided realities and sense of rectitude feeding to increasing violence; of electoral gerrymander; tricks to shape the membership of the Supreme Court, and tyrannical tweeting from a president who ignores law.
They now wish Australia to entangle with more military ventures in the Middle East. Thus far having no connection to the rule of law, our current entanglements lacking legal basis as did the invasion of Iraq in 2003, argued for with lies and based on nonsensical expectations. The 2003 Iraq war instantly turned a badly governed country into an ungoverned country, Iraq handed to Iran. Iran, now subject to threats, the only country to defeat Israel in war, via Hezbollah, 1982-2000 and 2006. Arguments from the US and UK for intervention reflect imperial dreaming. Former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has just published a book about Iran called “The English Job” making use of a very old Iranian expression “when things go wrong it’s always an English job.” This Al Jazeera article of 30 July contains a recent chronology and long-term perspective:
As to Australian thinking about the Gulf, Defence Minister Reynolds told journalists at AUSMIN this, which belongs to the genre of explanations to five year olds of where babies come from, forever the standard for consultation in Australia:
“The request that the United States has made is a very serious one and it is a complex one.  That’s why we are currently giving this request very serious consideration.  We will ultimately, as we always do, decide what is in our own sovereign interests, and we certainly discussed this issue during our ministerial consultations.  But again, no decision has yet been made.”
Dennis Argall worked in the Australian Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence, worked in other areas of government and held posts as counsellor and acting minister in Washington and as ambassador to China.