Tuesday 31 August 2021

Monday 30 August 2021

China contributions to the WHO: the facts

Wheeeere’s China?!
Email to Occasional Reader (OR) re discussion on China’s financial contributions to the World Health Organisation. Based on figures on the official WHO website.

China is 17th in the list of contributors. All its contributions are “Assessed contributions”. China makes Zero “Voluntary contributions”. 

Overall 0.6% of the WHO budget is from Chinese contributions. 

For comparisons:
  • Australia contributes almost as much as China in absolute terms, 50 times more in per capita terms and 10 times more adjusted for GDP/capita. In addition we make Voluntary contributions. 
  • US contributes 10 times more than China in absolute terms, 45 times more per capita and 8 times more adjusted for GDP/capita. The US contribution doesn’t include the Gates Foundation which is almost as much again. Or the UN contributions of which the US is the majority funder.
  • UK contributes 5 times more than China in absolute terms, 115 times more per capita, 28 times as much adjusted for GDP/capita.
  • All other countries in the top 20 pay more than China in both per capita terms and adjusted for GDP per capita. Most make additional Voluntary contributions. 
On the one hand, this cuts against those who say the WHO is in the pay of China. On the other, it makes a pretty strong case that China pays less than it should.



Sunday 29 August 2021

Bagram Air Base Afghanistan— large, secure, modern, safe.… soooo…

In the collection “Stuff Sun Tzu Never Said”
 … give it to your enemies just before you really, reeeely, need it. 

Saturday 28 August 2021

Covid “hygiene theatre”

Third letter down
In today’s paper pretty much unchanged from my submission (where, links to supporting evidence).

Prison island — thoughts on Australia’s Zero Covid Policies

From here
Australia is copping a fair bit of international attention for its Zero Covid policies (ZCP). “Policies” in the plural because it’s the States that are in charge of their own health systems, like the US, so there are six or seven different Covid policies, not one federal. But most (all?) are versions of ZCP, ie lockdown at first sign of infection and don’t rest until there are no cases. The alternative is “live with the virus”, treat it as a manageable risk, push high vaccination rates, protect the vulnerable; otherwise get on with life.

Early on the hard border closures seemed to work; Australia (and New Zealand) were highly praised. Now Delta has bowled them a googlie (or wrong-un?). All along I’ve been wondering “what’s the exit strategy?”. I heard that question asked only once at pressers on Aussie radio, ABC666. The answer was “Well… that will be a challenge” (or, in today-speak “So, considerations around the issue of facing the relaxation of current policies are going to be challenging”). In other words they don’t know.

Below is Alexander Downer writing in The Spectator about the pickle for followers of ZCP. Alexander was Australia’s Foreign Minister in the oughts (rather successful) and onetime Leader of the Opposition (rather less successful). Also an old colleague of mine — we were in the same intake of Foreign Affairs trainees in 1976…. 

Here he is asking the question again: what next for ZCP countries?

RELATED: "I'm a stranded Aussie. Get me back in there!"

(I realise some Occasional Readers won’t like Downer simply because he’s a conservative, a member of the horrid Liberal-Country Party coalition. Still, he writes well and sums up the issues and Aussie experience rather nicely, I think):

Friday 27 August 2021

How will Joe spin the Kabul bombing massacre?

My guess: by saying "see, that's why we had to leave".

Even though 60 130+people were killed by a suicide bomber at the Kabul Airport only because Joe was surrendering. Only because he was cutting and running. Only because he decided against all advice that he had to leave surrender right now. He just had to surrender. Now, not later. Now. Surrender even as there'd been no military deaths in years. And what was going on was a peace-keeping operation, not "forever war". 

So he surrendered and the terrorists smiled all the way to their glorious deaths, their heavenly virgins, murdering 60 other humans along their celestial way. 

But Joe, sleepy dozy Mr President Magoo, will say, "see,  man, that's why we had to leave; to stop any more killing of our troops". How many will buy that? Many, I suspect. 

I suspect President Magoo is going to get away with this... this unnecessary, this botched, this deadly, this hideous, this abject, this humiliating, this dangerous, this idiotic... surrender. 

Thursday 26 August 2021

President Magoo

Some ideas for the meme, based on the original
Somebody should do a meme on this. Photoshop Joe's old face over Leslie Nielsen (I dunno how...). Label the dog "Afghanistan and Allies" or some such. 

For surely we must now see Joe clearly as "eighth blunder of the world", just like the tagline above.

President Magoo: Leading everyone over the edge. 

Biden's Afghanistan catastrophe a tragic blunder. Completely unnecessary. Yet horribly tragic. While Joe, Magoo-like, another sunny ignorant Professor Pangloss, tells us it's all going just fine, "no malarkey"! When in fact withdrawal from Afghanistan is going just about as badly as it could

I mean, c'mon man! he does look like Magoo, doesn't he? (I'm not the first to note the similarities).

‘No link’ between National Security Law and exodus

Click to enlarge and clarify 

Right. And I’ve got a lovely bridge over at Tsing Yi to sell you. And... there's 'no link' between the Pharaohs and the actual Exodus. Got it.

By the way, they’ve been saying there’s no “exodus”. Just like Jen Psaki, White House spokesperson, is saying there are no Americans “stranded” in Afghanistan. So before they were misleading. Now they’re out and out lying. On our front page. 

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Merkel’s murderous mendacity

I’m just watching Merkel speak to the Bundestag about Germany’s role in the Afghanistan fiasco.

Addressing the issue of why Germany hadn’t got its Afghan allies out of the country earlier, she said “we didn’t want to give the impression we were cutting and running”.

But that’s exactly what she did. What Germany did. What American did. What they all did. They are all -- we are all -- cutting and running.

Of course they were all forced to follow the doddering footsteps of that feeble old dolt Joe Biden. Whatever. They are all they are cutting and running. Cut. Run. Before next Tuesday. 

Which will leave thousands of Afghanis who helped the allies to face the Taliban’s revenge. For many this means death.

Do for Merkel, saving face by being duplicitous has taken precedence over people's lives. Merkel is responsible for this. What a tawdry affair. What a disgrace. What a humiliation. Not just for Merkel, for Germany, but for the United States, for the imbecile Joe Biden. Utter humiliation. 

Oh dear…

South China Morning Post, update bias report

Click to enlarge and clarify
I did the first review of opinion reporting in the South China Morning Post back in January 2020, then in June 2020, and just now the most recent. I look at the most recent three weeks of the paper, focussing on the opinion pages -- Editorials, Op-eds and Letters. I count only the ones that deal with China or the Hong Kong government, policies and practice.

I assign them three categories, all decided by me, so there's no doubt some of my own bias may creep through, though I do try to be disinterested. And I don't hold it out to be terribly serious or rigorous. It's a Q&D look at it, you might say.

The three categories are:  Critical, Pro or Neutral. "Critical" means that a piece criticises Beijing or the Hong Kong government about some aspect of policy or practice; "Pro" obviously, the opposite. The "Neutral" category might be an article that makes suggestions about policy to the Hong Kong government, or makes a balanced criticism of, say, both the US and China.

Anyway, here it is in the chart above, for what it's worth. There's an uptick in the number of "Pro" articles, op-eds and letters and corresponding drop in the number that are Critical. I guess that's not too surprising. Neutral is steady. 

All up, given what's been happening here -- for example what I posted this morning about retroactive censorship -- it's a reasonable picture, better than we might have expected, and shows, perhaps, that the editors of the SCMP are being brave. Or perhaps it's that Beijing doesn't care about an English language paper -- let the gweilos play in their little sandpit.

Censorship to be retroactive

Front page today’s SCMP
Great news! More censorship! 
Now they — our patriotic apparatchiks— can decide if any movie any time, past, present and future, breaches the National Security Law. Hurrah!

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Why all the plexiglass dividers? [Letter to SCMP]

UPDATE: printed on 28 August
Dear Editor,
My local coffee shop installed plexiglass dividers a month ago. I asked them why, especially at this stage of the pandemic? They said that Food and Hygiene officials had been around to insist they install dividers or be closed down. 
Now, I wonder. Two months ago the WHO and CDC were already advising that "the science"— which we are assured guides our enlightened government — told us that the Covid coronavirus is spread through the air. Plexiglass dividers are no use in stopping its spread. Some studies show they may impede airflow and increase the risk of infection. Ventilation is much more important. 
So why on earth is our government wasting resources forcing our hard-hit F&B outlets to waste more money on useless plastic? It's not like we need more plastic in the world!
Harvard public health professor Joseph Allen calls this sort of thing "hygiene theatre".  
Surely it's time for the curtain to come down on this pantomime. 
In the name of science!
Pf, etc...

China’s economy at an ‘inflection point’ as Xi Jinping embarks on sweeping regulatory crack down

I remember very clearly Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour (南巡 nán xún ) to Shenzhen in 1992. Sitting next door here in Hong Kong, it struck me so strongly at the time that I had a vivid dream, so powerful that I remember it to this day. 

In my dream, I met the diminutive Deng in his tent, the square camouflage tent of a field commander on the high plateau of his native Sichuan province. I asked him about his vision for China, and he started to talk, all the time puffing on foul filterless roll-ups. I realised, in my dream, that I was getting a monster global scoop. Only problem: I was having trouble with his guttural Sichuan accent — trouble shared by his own Politburo, so spicy was his accent, so I forgave myself, in my dream — his speech, my scoop, peppered, as it were, with regular globules of phlegm aimed at the bronze spittoon, sitting in a corner of his tent, pinging as they hit the mark….

Waking up, I watched, the world watched, as Deng’s pro-market economy policy — branded “socialism with Chinese characteristics” but really just the Communist Party getting out of the way — unleashed a forty year growth frenzy. It was all about encouraging the private sector. Which boomed to become over 60% of output and 70% of employment.

And now, it seems, Xi Jinping wants to reverse that. Because he’s cranky at high tech. Including the owners of the SCMP, our local paper and the prime English language paper in Asia. 

As Xi cracks down on the private sector, he is supporting State Owned Enterprise dinosaurs. Let’s see how this shift pans out. An “inflection point” they’re saying. Maybe it will be the pothole that many in the west have been hoping will ruin China’s economic suspension. An own goal, maybe?

“We are witnessing an inflection point in Chinese economic life that could prove every bit as significant as Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour nearly 30 years ago,” said Larry Brainard, chief emerging markets economist at TS Lombard in a research note on Monday. In 1992, the former Communist Party leader toured key Special Economic Zones in the south to reinforce China’s reform and opening up. [Link]

ADDED: A prescient take from four years ago, Bloomberg's Tom Orlik noting that emphasis on the SOEs was being pushed at the 19th Party Congress: 

China's state planners appear to be in the ascendant. Industrial strategy loomed large in Mr Xi's speech. The call for a "stronger, better, bigger" state sector was echoed. If that's an indication of where policy-makers' priorities now lie, then it's a troubling one. Deng's clearest lesson for Mr Xi is that market reforms -- not state planners -- are the path to China's national renewal [in the Bangkok Post, 26 October 2017]
It's like I always say. There's nothing magic in what China has done in the last 40 years. It's the magic of market forces. When unleashed from Five Year and Ten Year Planning of the socialist economy 

“Appalling old wax works”

Today’s SCMP front page. Ugh…
That’s what Prince Charles called them in his diary note on the eve of handover June 30, 1997 — "appalling old wax works". And he’s right!

It’s depressing to see the front page of our local paper increasingly taken over by photos of our self-important local officials. So many appalling masked waxworks. The Press of authoritarians. 

While we are lectured by Beijing to “grasp opportunities offered by the mainland”.

~ sigh…

Sunday 22 August 2021

Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s ‘zero infection’ policy unsustainable, expert warns

Debate on "Zero Covid Policy" vs "live with the virus" is hotting up:

“We can maintain the zero-infection streak, but Hong Kong cannot isolate itself forever as we are an international business hub. Our strategy needs to change over time,” [Professor Ivan] Hung said. “But without achieving a very high vaccination rate of up to 90 per cent, we don’t have the conditions to open up,” he added. [Link]

The debate is hotting up, at least here in Hong Kong; I'm not sure about Australia. The Chief Minister of the ACT in Australia, Andrew Robb, this morning was asked about the path out of Zero Covid, a question I've asked repeatedly, and his response was "it will be a challenge". In other words, he doesn't know.

Meantime, in China, I noted a debate on the issue of "Zero Covid Policy" vs "live-with-the-virus", but it turns out that the China expert suggesting the latter, Zhang Wenhong has been brought into line, lately suggesting that he was "misquoted". Right. He'd just undergone a Chinese version of being cancelled, as Cindy Yu notes: "His university is now investigating his doctoral thesis over allegations of plagiarism which were dug up in an online witch-hunt." UPDATE: He’s been cleared.

The countries currently following a ZCP seem to be: Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, China and our very own Hong Kong.  

ADDEDHow does ‘zero-Covid’ end? From Hong Kong to Australia and New Zealand, questions mount over exit strategy  by John Power, 21 August.

I'm going to post Cindy Yu's article below the fold, with thanks to The Spectator, which will view this as me lending my print copy of the magazine:

Bamboo -- The Tradition of the Future

Click above to go to a lovely video on bamboo
I looove Bamboo. Even the word. In Chinese, 竹, zhú, a pictogram, doesn't even need explaining, the two tall shoots (culms), some early glyphs of the character here
I've built stuff out of bamboo -- benches, plant holders, cutting boards, bamboo culm brush holders... Nowadays you can get boat interiors in bamboo, light, hydrophobic. 
We have a bamboo grove in a stone pathway -- very Asian....
Our bamboo grove. Next to my study

Thursday 19 August 2021

The ugly truth about Critical Race Theory (CRT)

Click screenshot to go to video
Christopher Rufo exploded onto the CRT scene a little while back and explains it well. I've seen his writings for a while, and now he's interviewed by the lads at Triggernometry -- Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster. These lads, btw, are two leftie stand-up comedians who fell afoul of woke strictures -- in Konstantin's case, he refused to sign a contract for a performance which said that he couldn't say anything "offensive" (!). So they've become kind of anti-woke warriors. Still of the left. Just not of the wokearati....

There are POC, some of the Left, some of the Right, who criticise CRT as well: people like Amala Ekpunobi, John McWhorter, Jason Riley, Coleman Hughes, Chloe Valdary. And the elder of them all, Thomas Sowell.

ADDED: if you go to the New York Times site and search CRT, there’s nothing but fulsome praise of CRT, interspersed with attacks on Christopher Rufo and Very Bad "alt-right" or "far right" who are characterised as the only ones critical of CRT. Thery're not the only ones. As Rufo shows in the vid above (also here)

HKU Students arrested over motion on police attacker

The crackdown continues
It’s “terrorism”. Though who are the terrorists and who the terrorised is a question…

Wednesday 18 August 2021

What does Sharia Law say about women?

Veiling is mandatory for women under Sharia Law
We watched the first Taliban press conference in Kabul last night and jolly affair it was, too! 

On the status of women under the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, we were assured by a suave Talib spokesman, whose name I didn't catch, that women would enjoy full rights "consistent with Sharia Law".

This led to much head scratching by the commentariat after the show. It could be this, or it could be that. It might be strict; it might not, they opined.

So, as a public service I'd like to repeat below a post I did back in 2012 titled "What Sharia says about women". This is not me speaking. It's the summary of Sharia law as it relates to women, taken from the single most authoritative source of Islamic Jurisprudence, The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law,  with a stamp of approval from the Al-Azhar University of Cairo, which is a world authority on sharia law. 

The Manual is for Sunni Islam, the branch followed by the Taliban.

I'm not saying that his is how the Taliban will determine the treatment of women. I'm just saying that if they do indeed follow Islamic Law to the letter, then this it pretty much what it will look like for women in the new Afghanistan. We've already heard Taliban spokesmen talk of stoning and amputation, both of which are in the Classic Manual.

Anyway, here's a re-postt of the article, first posted on 1 July 2012:

Discussion: Afghanistan

There's several million articles on what happened and I won't even try to summarise them here. It's better to thank Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True blog, for hosting a discussion at his site. He links to Bari Weiss' Substack, which is widely read and I subscribe to. I think one can get through to the link even without having subbed. 

At time of writing (16:00 HKT) there were 88 comments at WEIT

Heeeeres... Jerry:

It’s a busy day today, though I have one piece of science to post. Right now, though, why don’t you talk about the focus of the news: Afghanistan?

If you go to Bari Weiss’s site, you’ll find seven diverse people, including ex-UN ambassador Nikki Haley (a Republican), discussing “Why we failed: the American exit from Afghanistan.” You don’t have to discuss the views in that piece, which range from “getting out was great” to “we should have stayed”, but there are a number of questions to discuss. For instance?

a.) Should we have stayed, even if that might mean an indefinite commitment?

b.) If “yes,” in what capacity should we have stayed?”

c.) Or should we have left Afghanistan earlier? If so, how much earlier?

d.) Was the Afghan army primarily to blame for the defeat by the Taliban? Or was it the corruptness of the Afghan government? Or both.

e.) Was the U.S. there, as many maintain, just to keep the money flowing into the pockets of defense contractors?

f.)  Why didn’t the U.S. military speak up earlier if they saw the war was unwinnable?

g.) What mistakes did the U.S. make in fostering this premature and hasty exit?

h.) Is this a serious blow to U.S. credibility, as a NYT op-ed maintained?

i.)  Is this a serious blow to Joe Biden’s credibility? Did his hunkering down at Camp David present a bad look for the U.S.?

j.) How did other Presidents, starting with W., screw up and contribute to this?

k.) Here’s the human cost of our incursion from the Associated Press:


American service members killed in Afghanistan through April: 2,448.
U.S. contractors: 3,846.
Afghan national military and police: 66,000.
Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states: 1,144.
Afghan civilians: 47,245.
Taliban and other opposition fighters: 51,191.
Aid workers: 444.
Journalists: 72.

Not to mention the $2 trillion the U.S. spent prosecuting the war. Given that, as in Vietnam, we lost this war, was this a waste of life and of effort? In retrospect, was there any value in invading Afghanistan and propping up the country and it military?

And so on. Weigh in below [Click here to go to the article and discussion] and, with luck, I’ll be back escorting Milady Science.

Why *not* to invest in China

“Wall Street English” in China =“Wall Street Institute” elsewhere
Click to enlarge. Link to article online  
This hits home for us. We were the first to establish a Wall Street English in Asia. We opened as Wall Street Institute at the beginning of 2000 here in Hong Kong. We were the Master Franchisees of the Italian-based company, founded in 1972. We then helped the China division get going and also the business in Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore. We opened in Tokyo ourselves in 2004 (exited in 2007; another story).

AFAIK, Wall Street Institute outside China is still operating. In China it’s known as Wall Street English because you can’t call something an “Institute” if it isn’t state owned — just one more case of China being more restrictive than anywhere else in the world.

So, we set up the first WSI/WSE in Asia in 2000 and sold the business it to a private equity firm in 2007. Thank goodness, we thought, shortly after, as the global financial crisis hit in 2008. And as I’ve thought ever since. Not once have we regretted having sold the business— it’s the reason we can live a comfortable life in Hong king. The pandemic and China crackdowns are more reasons to be grateful we’re not invested there.

The China business, Wall Street English, is hammered, not just by Covid, but by a new government crackdown on tutoring companies. That crack down was targeted at pre-adult cram colleges taking advantage of the brutally competitive education system in China. It was not aimed at adult education like WSE which just helps adults wanting to brush up English skills. Still, it looks like it got caught up. 

I’m reminded of our foray into real estate in China. In 2002 we bought a villa in a development in the suburbs of Beijing, Chateau Regalia. A beautiful place, 5,000-plus sq.ft. double garage, fabulous master bedroom, four other rooms all en-suite, fully Miele-fitted kitchen - family room, garden. So nice we even thought we might live there sometime (or at least J did). We rented it out instead and collected rent for some years. That’s when we started to see the downsides of owning property in China. 

Every month we had to report our rent to the local authorities and pay tax on the income. You couldn’t do it online. It had to be done in person. Which meant we had to hire a person to get on his bike (literally. And I mean “literally “ literally) and ride to the tax bureau, pay the tax and get a hand-written receipt. Which he would send to us and which we had to keep and present again to the tax authorities annually. Then we had this tax and that tax, added or increased, willy nilly. This sort of thing can happen in the west or Hong Kong of course, but there’s usually debate and forewarning and if it’s too onerous it can be taken to court. 

In the end we decided the hassle and risk of arbitrary taxation and fees was too great. We sold it. At a profit, which was nice, though about half the money we got was in Chinese renminbi which we were stuck with in China as it’s not convertible, to this day. We eventually got it out, but all up our direct foreign investment in China was more hassle than the profit warranted. 

Friends in China, property-owning mates, tell us the situation hasn’t changed. It’s still a hassle.

And now we learn from the article above that China is also closing down foreign investment in the whole education sector. So now over half of China’s economy is out of bounds to foreign investment. It’s really no wonder the west just got pissed off with it. 

By the way, among the prohibited investment areas, there’s nearly two hundred technology  companies shut out of China. Including this very blog site.  Why didn’t we push for reciprocity when we admitted China to the WTO? More fools us.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

A shift in the balance of power

Today's front page. Similar online
Likely first in line to recognise the Taliban government: Saudi Arabia, China, Russia.

Reminds me of the Mitchell and Webb scene, “Are we the baddies?”. With friends like these … etc. 

And China already licking its chops over minerals in Afghanistan. And presumably to draft the Taliban in to help them suppress Uygurs in Xinjiang. Last time around the Talibs weren’t at all kind to minorities even putatively Muslim ones. 

As Beijing says “We welcome this”,  not yet knowing — not caring one presumes — if Taliban redux will still run with its enlightened policies of the 90s: beheading folks in the public square, stoning women for having sex, cutting hands and feet (on opposite sides!) off bread thieves. 

Monday 16 August 2021

Scene from the Aussie Alps


An Occasional Reader sends the snow scene from last Saturday, a cross country skiing trail, up around Perisher way (I guess), in the NSW Alps....

They say "Attached a photo I took on Saturday, skating around the ten k trail in perfect conditions. Beautiful but not groomed anymore as resort closed. We can still go up there for exercise so very lucky!!"

Afghanistan: what did the West get wrong?

Cindy Yu interviews Dr Mike Martin and Andy Owen, click screenshot
I meant to post this the other day, then boom! the Taliban reach Kabul.... So, kind of overtaken by events. Which wouldn't have surprised these two, though.

Still, it's a very interesting interview, from 9 August, with a couple of guys that know a lot about Afghanistan and certainly add to my understanding of the Taliban and its various factions. 

The West’s mission in Afghanistan was clearly a failure - but what exactly went wrong? As the Taliban take their third provincial capital, Andy Owen, (bottom right, above) a former intelligence officer who spent time in the country, writes in this week’s issue that the West never understood Afghanistan enough. He joins Cindy on the show, together with Dr Mike Martin, author of An Intimate War, and a former British Army officer who spent two years in Helmand.

Sunday 15 August 2021

The ABCs of Afghanistan: Abandonment, Betrayal, Calamity

BBC screenshot: speed of Taliban reaching Kabul is breathtaking 
Joe Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." So said Robert Gates, Defence Secretary under President Obama. Asked about that assessment during the 2020 campaign, he said he sticks by it.

And now Biden is getting it wrong again. Abandoning Afghanistan. Betraying its people. Enabling the Calamity of the Taliban theocratic-fascist state.

I was shocked when he said US troops would be out by 911. As if that special date somehow signified “Mission Accomplished “. But it’s not; it’s a calamity. So here is the new ABC of Afghanistan— Abandonment, Betrayal and Calamity.

Biden said US can’t stay there forever. Maybe not, but to leave so chaotically? 

When people ask what’s the result of twenty years of war, well there’s this: for some years there was a glimpse of what a society could and should be. Women and girls got rights. Young women, and young men took new freedoms and opportunities and made something of them. That’s not me saying that. It’s Afghanis and people like Yalda Hakim, anchor on BBC, Australian of Afghani heritage and has been to Afghanistan  many times including just recently. She’s had on the show Afghanistan war veterans of all political persuasions. Who all support her. So there’s all of that, those achievements — often ignored wilfully and not, or forgotten — and now endangered. 

What was the use of the remaining troops on the ground? The answer comes now: to keep the Taliban at bay. Who are now in Kabul. It’s over. And for the sake of a few thousand troops.

As I sit here watching BBC, this anchor. Yalda Hakim, just back from Afghanistan, is registering the shock of Afghanis and Brits that served there. 

Over and over the words: “abandonment” and “betrayal”. 

Remember: the US had only 8,500 troops there.. [correction: just 2500]. For the US that’s a tiny commitment. They still have troops in Korea and Germany 60-70 years after those wars,  for goodness sake!

The UK did not need to follow the US to abandon our Afghan allies. But they did. Boris did. They are being despised by ex ambassador to Kabul, ex servicemen who served there, on both sides of the aisle. 

This is a disaster. Which is down to Biden and Boris. 

I don’t know what Australia is doing,  it last I looked the government was dragging its heels on giving refugee status to ex interpreters etc who helped us. [ADDED: ScoMo says we can’t help all who helped us. Shame on us]

By the way I’d meant to note a terrific one hour special on BBC just the other day by Yalda Hakim. She’s an Aussie from Afghanistan having been grated asylum with her parents at age three. She speaks warmly of progress that had been made in these past two decades. That will be demolished by the Taliban. 

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaneen is speaking to Yalda saying girls will still be allowed to go to school. But we know there’s at least two main factions within the Taliban, the political (Shaheen’s) and the military. The military are already stopping women going to university in Herat. Women is asking good hard questions of Shaheen. Shaheen denies the reports. Those who expect Taliban to power share with tolerance are going to be disappointed. Remember Shaheen is speaking from Doha and is the most west-friendly face of the Taliban. 

ADDED: as Yalda Hakim speaks to Shaheen, BBC chyrons Taliban (ie Shaheen) says “women won’t be beaten for leaving home alone” “women allowed to leave home alone” “woman can go to university” “women should feel safe” “lives people in Kabul are safe” “there will be no revenge” “we hope for a new chapter of peace” “there will be a free media” “stonings and amputations for the courts” “there will be no revenge” “we seek inclusive government “

BBC doing Taliban propaganda for them!

No mention of what Shaheen said about Sharia law. To be strictly implemented. You didn’t have to read too much between the lines to see that it’s going to be 1990s redux.

Sir Nick Kay, ex UK Ambassador for Afghanistan: “I hang my head in shame”

ADDED: Even CNN is “shocked” not just the speed of Kabul falling, but that Biden said just last week that the Taliban would not take over the whole country, ever, let alone in a matter of days.

CNN wonder is Biden cherry-picking the intel or ignoring the intel. For CNN to be shocked at Biden’s bad call, they had ignored Robert Gates’ spot-on assessment in the headline above. CNN are also railing against the “abandonment” and “betrayal”. Like they’re embarrassed obo the US. As they should be.

Turns out, by the way, that the US didn’t have even 8,500 troops but only 2,500. But just this small contingent was enough to keep the Taliban at bay. Had done so for a decade. Until they cut and ran. Because Joe. And the intel was way wrong on how quickly Taliban would take over. 

I’m watching CNN film of helicopters over Kabul, ferrying the US diplomats to the airport. It’s hard not to recall Saigon 1975 (and sailing mate here who was rescued as an abandoned mixed race baby (Afro-Vietnamese) from the oncoming Vietcong. Despite the obvious parallels Secretary of State Antony Blinken now on CNN saying essentially, "job done" We got rid of the terrorist threat, wash hands now, job done. Shame, shame, shame. 

Jake Tapper is giving Blinken a bit of a hard time. Quoting Crocker the ex US ambassador to Afghanistan saying Biden was either wilfully ignorant or simply didn’t care. Good to see them putting that heat on. The way the withdrawal was done was shockingly bad, says CNN. True, dat.

ADDED: CNN calls this withdrawal a “Trump-Biden Calamity”. Which is fair in the sense that there was a pin agreement between parties to have a power sharing arrangement in place by May this year. That didn’t happen. What Trump may have done as a result is pure counter-factual. What we do know is that the military did not want a precipitous withdrawal, which pleas Biden ignored. 

Rep Michael McCaul (R) ranking member FAC, being interviewed by Jake Tapper. Says Blinken and co ignored intel that what would happen is exactly what has happened. Says China will recognise Taliban to get access to rare earths. Amazing: Jake gives McCaul full time and uninterrupted to say his piece. And even see,s that Jake agrees with him. McCaul makes point that the Trump-Pompeo promoted agreement on Afghanistan was “conditions based” and none of the conditions was met. Hence “Biden owns this”. It was his decision. Taliban can now say they defeated the Soviet Union and the United States. 

Yalda Hakim last night anchoring BBC coverage of the Taliban
entering Kabul. She seemed visibly shaken. She'd just done a
very good 1hr special on Afghanistan having recently returned
from a visit to the country

ADDED 16 Aug]: Commentators saying Biden spent his first 100 days undoing all of Trump's executive orders, except this one on leaving Afghanistan. OTOH: Trump was responsible for the negotiations with the Taliban which excluded the Afghan government. That was a catastrophic error of judgement according to commenters. Agreed. Why leave out of negotiations your main ally?? 

ADDED: Trump also under fire for having released Taliban prisoners without condition, during those negotiations. So: Afghan Army sees their main ally leaving and decides the game is not worth the candle, so lay down arms when the Taliban turns up. Pragmatic.

Friday 13 August 2021

City records 1.2pc drop in population as emigration rises

Today’s page 3. SCMP
The figures to note:in the year to end June 2021 almost 90,000 people emigrated from Hong Kong. In the same period almost 14,000 mainlanders immigrated. 

Right-wingers would call that a process of “replacement”. Well, not just right wingers. The students out in the streets, demonstrating and rioting, back in 2019, calling for “freedom and democracy” were also driven by fear of “replacement” as I found at the time. They were worried about mainlanders taking over their jobs, bringing their uncouth habits, smoking in shopping malls, letting their toddlers urinate in the streets, not queueing properly, talking loudly, talking … [shudder] …Mandarin!

It was this fear of mainlandisation that drove the protests. Or, at least, more so than the demands for freedom and democracy. They had their “Five demands; Not one less” (五大诉求,缺一不可 Wu da Suqiu, Que Yi Bu Ke). Initially not a single one of the Five Demands was for universal suffrage. When they realised this was not a good look for freedom and democracy activists, they replaced the fifth Demand — the one demanding our hapless Chief executive Carrie Lam resign — with the Demand for universal suffrage. But all along it was a fear, a nativist fear, that Hong Kong was being overtaken by mainland people and customs. That Hongkongers, Cantonese speakers, were being replaced. How do we know this? Because they said it. Openly. As I noted at the time,  eg here.

And it continues, now exacerbated by the outflow —  more than 6 times the inflow of mainlanders.

Me, I’ve got no issue with it. When I started noticing, a decade or so ago, that there was more Mandarin spoken around me, I was fine with it — I speak the language! I lived in China! The mainland!  But it wasn’t clear to me until 2019 just how much the locals resented mainlanders. Their cousins, after all. I’d had hints of it when I got into some spats with locals over the use of simplified Chinese characters (a mainland thing) vs Traditional characters (a Hong Kong and Taiwan thing).

When I did realise the full extent of the resentment, the vitriolic hatred even, towards mainlanders by locals — some of whom, a shockingly large number of whom had never even been to the mainland (!) — I thought it a kind of racism. Except they’re all Han. So maybe just a kid of bigotry. Certainly a kind of xenophobia. 

What else about a declining population? Will the trend it endure? We don’t know. But seems likely at least to slow growth. Long-term planning has assumed a population upwards of nine million by 2050. That doesn’t seem likely.  How does that affect policies, housing, schooling, environment, etc? I wait and see… 

And that wait will be here in Hong Kong. At least for now; at least as long as there's free access to the internet. If that is censored, then there's Plan B. Having Australia as a Plan B is a pretty good fall-back option....

Thursday 12 August 2021

iPhotos of note


From iPhone Photography Awards here.

Australia’s real-life dragon

Thapunngaka shawI, Australia’s very own dragon
A fearsome beast with wings spanning 22 feet. A mouth like a spear. The closest thing we've seen to a real-life dragon. That's how Tim Richards describes the Thapunngaka shawi, a flying reptile whose fossils he's been studying at the University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences. More…

[Take that, China!]

Embattled protest group set to disband

This comes hot on the heels of the “voluntary” disbanding of the Professional Teachers Union, our largest teachers union. It’s tue the PTU was “problematic”, vocal supporters of the 2019 protests and riots. But disbanding civil groups is a grim step towards authoritarianism.

Meantime on the mainland of our dear Motherland:
If Spavor is a spy then so am I
And I’m wondering is it’s worth visiting China, when (or should that be “if”?) China ever opens again? Maybe Xi’s thugs would find it appealing to frame-up an elderly ex spy diplomat-businessman from current hatred-target Australia …

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Xi Jinping’s foreign policy behind worsening China-Australia ties, say former PMs Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd

I know and have worked with both of these ex Prime Ministers of Oz. They're opposites politically: Malcolm of the Liberal Party (conservatives) and Kevin of the Labor Party. Here they agree. They blame current Sino-Australian tensions around 70% on China, especially Xi Jinping, and around 30% on Oz pollies. I agree with pretty much all their analysis.
Money shot from Rudd is: "China made it a five out of ten bad; Australian politicians took it to 8/10 bad".
Seems about right to me.
We need some back doors. Some quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy. From an Australian Kissinger. Like our first ambassador to China Stephen FitzGerald..
Read on…

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Temperature changes last 20,000 years

Click above to go to full, wonderful, scary, timeline. Courtesy xkcd.com

Beijing sticks to Zero Covid Plan, leaving borders shut

Today’s front page of SCMP print edition.  Online version.
Big dispute at upper levels in China. Leading epidemiologist Zhang Wenhong argues that “we have to learn to live with the virus”. Clerked health minister Guo Qiang pushes the Zero Covid Plan (ZCP). Zhang is described as “China’s Fauci” which is damming with faint praise or perhaps praising with fain damn even if the writer doesn’t mean it.

At the top it seems Xi Jinping favours the ZCP because that’s what seems to have worked early days in Wuhan and its province Hubei. Remember people locked into their flats?  13 provinces, 120 million people, locked down? Makeshift hospitals out up in a week? (To cope, by the way, with the fact that China has only one-tenth the ICU beds as the US).

We predict at our peril about Covid, as we’ve all got so many things wrong in this pandemic. Still, I predict that ZCP will fail. At least if China ever plans to open its borders. Which maybe it doesn’t. Who knows? It’s self reliant, after all. Especially since the rest of the world decided to “decouple” from it.

I’m on Zhang’s side in this debate. So are senior scientists in Hong Kong, like Dr Joseph Tsang, chairman of the HKMA. If it’s ZCP, then, says Dr Tsang,“there’s no end in sight” for getting back to normal or some semblance of normalcy. 

ADDED: Dr Zhang comes across as measured (IMO), noting that “most experts around the world believed  Covid-19 would not go away soon” and that we must “study how to coexist with the virus”, while Guo counters with ad hominem: that living with the virus is “irresponsible” and “reckless”. Given what we now know about the efficacy of vaccines even with variants, the spread of Delta and its epidemiological cycle, and the non-Covid damage of lockdowns, where is Guo’s evidence for that? Indeed given his focus on what the US is doing, we might be forgiven for suspecting his stance has more to do with US-China tensions than “the science”.

ADDED (15 August): our local SCMP editorial comes out against ZCP as a long-term policy. Here. [Internet Archive]

16 August: The Zero Covid Delusion

In Asia’s Covid-19 reopening debate, are scientists having too much say?

Directing arrivals to quarantine at HK airport 
John Power, sounding like he’s been reading my posts on Zero-Covid. As in: it’s more a hope than a strategy, for how do you get out of it when the rest of the world is nowhere near zero? How do you open up, ever? 

…the dominance of a relatively small group of experts from a limited number of scientific fields – in particular epidemiology and virology – has also raised questions about the kind of expertise informing the pandemic response, including whether more broad-based knowledge is needed to tackle a crisis with implications for practically every aspect of society.

Such questions have been especially pressing in “zero-Covid” economies in the Asia-Pacific, where authorities and prominent experts have adopted a hyper-cautious approach towards any loosening of restrictions, including some of the world’s strictest border controls. Although credited with keeping deaths to a minimum, a zero-tolerance attitude towards Covid-19 cases in places such as Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong has left authorities struggling to map out a path back to normality, even as other parts of the world such as Europe welcome the return of international travel. Read on…

Ive mentioned before how surreal it is to watch Australia from afar. Panicking when they get one case somewhere and locking everyone down. It’s over the top. Power has a go at Oz well. Interesting because the Post is not particularly agin’ zero Covid and our dear motherland is itself, as are we here in HK, pretty much on zero Covid “strategy” places as well.


Monday 9 August 2021

Calligraphy: dissing the philophers


My calligraphy, done for an o/s friend
"Reading Lao Zi" by the Tang poet Bai Juyi. Here's a translation, from Chinese poems


yán zhě bù zhī zhī zhě mò
cǐ yǔ wú wén yú lǎo jūn
ruò dào lǎo jūn shì zhī zhě
yuán hé zì ruò wǔ qiān wén

Those who speak do not know, those who know are silent,

I heard this saying from the old gentleman.
If the old gentleman was one who knew the way,
Why did he feel able to write five thousand words?

The "old gentleman" is the philosopher Lao Zi. It really ought to be called "Dissing the dude". That's what Bai Juyyi is really doing.... Prime Tang Dynasty trolling. Or gentle fun, if you wish.
Lao Zi (aka Lao Tzu) developed what became Taoist philosophy in the 6th C BC, around the time of Confucius.