Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘China’

Turkey’s COVID-19 Aid

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th April, 2020

COVID19 - Turkey aidIt was probably a surprise to many people in Britain that Turkey has sent a significant consignment of medical supplies — predominantly personal protection equipment (PPE) — to Britain, though presumably a welcome surprise. Actually, this is not the first time this has happened, as 10 days ago another such shipment arrived at RAF Brize Norton. China’s offer of COVID-19 assistance to many countries, including Britain, has received a lot of media attention, as has Cuba’s despatch of doctors and nurses, to predominantly developing countries hit by the pandemic. But Turkey’s efforts have had less press coverage, at least until now. But in fact Ankara has received requests for help from 88 different countries and has so far been able to spring into action for more than 30. This is despite the fact that Turkey itself has the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the Middle East. However, the Turkish government is proud of the fact that it closed schools and universities just one day after the first confirmed case was identified. Subsequently it has implemented weekend curfews (the first rather hurriedly, prompting a spate of panic buying) while urging people to maintain social distancing at all other times. Some cynics might argue that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is engaging in this COVID-diplomacy, like the Chinese, as an exercise in soft power. But Ankara insists that the motivation is in fact entirely humanitarian, as, it would say, has been its sheltering of over three-and-a-half million Syrian refugees.

RumiThough Turkey has officially been a secular state since the time of Kemal Atatürk, Islamic beliefs, including charity and compassion, are at the heart of the ruling AK Party’s ideology, or so it would argue. In a nice touch, the virus aid consignments to Britain as well as being branded with the UK and Turkish flags also bore a well-known saying by the 13th century poet Jalaluddin Rumi: “There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness”. With Ramadan approaching later this week, we can expect more of this kind of diplomatic discourse. There is of course an irony in the current situation regarding Turkish aid to the UK as during the EU Referendum some of the Leave campaign, including Dominic Cummings, raised the (completely fabricated) “threat” of 70 million Turks arriving in this country as a result of Turkey’s supposed imminent membership of the EU. I don’t recall Boris Johnson objecting to that. Yet of course part of his family lineage is Turkish. Anyway, the government in London has thanked Turkey appropriately for its assistance at this time of need and in Britain’s post-Brexit reality doubtless both sides will be keen to see a distinct warming in relations..

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Democracy in Decline

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th March, 2020

Freedom House report 2019In the 1980s and 1990s there was reason to celebrate, as military dictatorships in Latin America came to an end and Communism collapsed in Europe. But in the 21st. Century democratisation has gone into reverse. According to the latest annual report from the Washington-based NGO Freedom House, democracy is under assault in many parts of the world, including the United States itself. “Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world,” the report laments. China comes in for intense criticism for its “totalitarian offensive” against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as well as its “relentless campaign to replace existing international norms with its own authoritarian vision.” Russia is lambasted for last year’s “stage-managed” elections, from which genuine opposition was largely excluded, while Iran used live ammunition against demonstrators last autumn, reportedly killing hundreds.

But it is not only the usual suspects who come under Freedom House’s critical gaze. The 2019 Report highlights how democracy and associated freedoms are in retreat across much of the supposedly democratic world. “Many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest,” the report says. “In fact, such leaders — including the chief executives of the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies — are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.” Donald Trump comes under fire for exerting pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence and safeguards against corruption. Moreover numerous foreign governments have mimicked Trump’s attacks on “fake news media”, developing policies or legislation that have criminalized or suppressed free speech in their countries. More than half the world’s democracies have declined in political terms over the past 14 years, Freedom House opines, the worst example being India, which under Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi has registered “alarming departures from democratic norms”. Boris Johnson’s government in the UK is too new to figure in the report, but signs here in Britain are troubling too.

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Britain Casts Itself Adrift

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2019

03ED2EAA-8A9B-4ADE-B461-49A127C5F5BEHot on the heels of the Conservative election win last week, guaranteeing that Brexit will happen on 31 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear that after leaving the EU, the UK will cease to be subject to EU rules and regulations. The government must know full well that this determination, if followed through, will mean that there can be no frictionless trade agreement with the EU27, either at the end of the projected transition period — arbitrarily set and enshrined in law by Mr Johnson’s Hard Brexiteers as 31 December 2020 — or ever. There is no way that the EU is going to compromise on its standards (from which British consumers have benefitted for nearly half a century) just to please London. So inevitably the UK economy will pivot towards the United States, the land of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. US pharmaceutical companies are already salivating at the thought of the killing they may make by foisting higher-priced drugs on the NHS. Of course, trade with the US will not in the foreseeable future make up for the inevitable shortfall in trade with the Continent and the Republic of Ireland. But Brexiteers argue that the UK will now be “free” to look elsewhere for trading partners (ignoring the fact that it always was). These presumably would include the Big Four BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, one should note that those four emerging powers do not share our values, let alone our standards, unlike the EU. I am not saying that Messrs. Bolsonaro, Putin, Modi and Xi are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but I would not fancy being stuck alone on a desert island with any one of them.

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No Intenso Agora **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th December, 2017

2A6569B5-2901-474C-8FF8-134B88199B8D1968 was a milestone in European history (with resonances beyond), thanks mainly to the May “events” in Paris and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Both of these historic moments figure large, mainly in evocative black and white, in Brazilian João Moreira Salles’s documentary No Intenso Agora. But so, too, does colour home movie footage of his mother’s 1966 tourist trip to the People’s Republic of China with a group of similarly well-heeled art aficionados. As that was right at the beginning of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, some of those moments are a rich record, of temples boarded up to prevent vandalism by Red Guards and idyllic scenes (including of Shanghai’s Victorian Bund), now long since swept away by manic development. But no attempt is made by the director, through the narrator, to even hint at the horrors going on out of sight in China. Not a Red Guard rampage in sight, only singing children and cheering workers. Nor is a truly relevant link made to the twin stories of youthful revolt in Europe two years later. In the French section, we see extended clips of General de Gaulle and Daniel Cohn Bendit, and lots of good street action and workers’ strikes, but little sensible analysis. The Czech section is even thinner, and the attempt to bridge the two through coverage of the funerals of young victims in Prague and France rings false. Then right at the end there is a weird set of images, in which we see Chairman Mao age from young revolutionary of the Long March to a barely conscious old man. What on earth was that all about? Presumably João Moreira Salles felt that he had created a unified whole, but I couldn’t see it. Moreover, at over two hours, with some film clips, in both China and Europe, unnecessarily, even clumsily, repeated, the film is a good 30 minutes too long.

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Europe Coalesces as Britain Falls Apart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th November, 2017

D1AF3920-7B78-406C-A1FD-FA42B713BF62In last year’s European Referendum, UKIP and other arch-Brexiteers argued that the European Union is sinking and is bound to break up, whereas the developments of the past few months have shown that, on the contrary, the EU is pulling together while Britain, mismanaged by a Brexit-drunk Tory Party, is steering the country straight for the rocks. A year ago, the UK was one of the fastest growing countries in the OECD, whereas now it has sunk to the bottom. In contrast, even the previously afflicted nations of Southern Europe are picking up. Moreover, since Emmanuel Macron became President of France, there is a new spring in the EU’s step; “Mutti” Merkel is no longer the sole voice of EU strength. The Franco-German alliance is back with force. The great tragedy is that Britain ought to be one of a troika helping direct the EU, at a moment when China and other emerging economies are in the ascendant. Instead, craven to Little Englander nationalists and the running dogs of global capitalism, Theresa May and her unholy crew are deliberately destroying Britain in order the try to satisfy the most extreme Btexiteers. Britain can have a golden future, as a leading member of the European Union. Cast adrift, alone, it’s bones will be picked over by the carrion crows who unfortunately own the worst parts of the British media, and to whose insistent tune Mrs May dances along with Mad Hatter Boris Johnson and the rest of that unsavoury crew.

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The Future of UK-China Trade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd October, 2017

JF addressing Chinese LibDems AGMLiam Fox and other Brexiteers in the UK’s current Conservative government are fond of saying that when we are “free” from the European Union, we will be able to enter into a great new dawn of trading partnerships with other big players around the world, not least China. Actually, it was David Cameron and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who really championed the idea of a bright future hand-in-hand with the People’s Republic, though they never imagined that would be something totally separate from EU-China trading relations. Theresa May, interestingly, has been a little more cautious in her embrace of President Xi Jinping, who has been expertly consolidating his authority at the Chinese People’s Congress this week. But despite the bluff reassurances of Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson, forging an advantageous new trading relationship with China is unlikely to be straightforward, for a number of reasons. First, until Britain formally leaves the EU — in principle on 29 March 2019 — it cannot make any bilateral arrangement with Beijing. Moreover, there are not sufficiently qualified negotiators in Whitehall to handle such a sensitive matter (as the EU has dealt with our trade negotiations for the past four decades) and little Britain, with 60 million inhabitants, is going to be at a distinct disadvantage in taking tough with the colossus of China, unlike the 500-million strong EU, which is still the largest trading bloc in the world. Bilateral trade is already skewed in China’s favour, and is likely to be more so in future, not less. Other factors make prospects mixed. China under Mr Xi is becoming more assertive in global affairs, having largely sat on the sidelines for many years, even within the UN Security Council. Many people in China believe the time has now come for China to reassert its pre-eminence in the world, as was the case prior to 1500 and the rise of European Empires. The four hundred years of European dominance, followed by a century of American hegemony, may in future be seen as a blip in comparison to China’s long supremacy. Then there is the issue of Donald Trump, who is repositioning the United States to be more isolationist (and certainly more self-centred), racheting up conflicts with countries such as Iran and North Korea in a way that risks souring US-China relations. Yet Theresa May aspires to be Mr Trump’s greatest ally, despite disagreeing with him over the Iran nuclear deal. This could prove awkward. In the meantime, the British government has downgraded human rights as a priority in its foreign policy, which is sweet music to Xi Jinping’s ears — though Britain must be careful to ensure that as a future relationship evolves it does not end up dancing to Beijing’s tune.

This is a summary of remarks I made as the guest speaker today in London’s Chinatown at the AGM of Chinese Liberal Democrats:

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Donald Trump out on a Limb

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd June, 2017

Trump climate changeLast night the US President confirmed Europe’s worst fears, by announcing that he is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He is on record as saying that he doesn’t really believe in global warming, and although his pledge to give coal-mining a boost went down well in certain areas of the country during his election campaign the potential impact on the global climate is serious. It is encouraging that not only the European Union but also Russia and China have reaffirmed their support for the Paris Agreement, though sadly Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May — keen to enhance her status as Mr Trump’s best foreign friend as Brexit looms — reportedly commented that the US President is free to do as he likes. Whereas that is factually correct, it is politically inept. Britain should not be seen to be aligning itself with a climate change denier at this crucial moment in history. Many world leaders, including former President Barack Obama, have cited climate change as possibly the biggest threat facing humankind, which is why it is so important that countries around the world limit their emissions and take other measures to slow and ideally reverse the trend of global warming. It was a great victory for common sense when China came on board. Now Donald Trump has taken the United States in the opposite direction. I suspect he rather enjoys being out on a limb, such is his monstrous ego. But those who go out on a limb run the risk of someone cutting off the branch on which they are sitting, and for the planet’s sake, I hope that is what will happen before too long.

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Let’s Cool It over Korea!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th April, 2017

Kim Jong-Un nukesJapan has reportedly drawn up contingency plans to evacuate 60,000 of its citizens who live in South Korea. This follows more sabre-rattling (or should one say, ballistic missile rattling) by North Korean hereditary despot Kim Jong-Un and the Americans diverting a naval force towards the Korean peninsula. President Donald Trump has said bluntly that he will “deal with” North Korea himself if he has to. Such bravado doubtless goes down well among Trump supporters, but not necessarily in either South Korea or Japan. They both have reason to worry about the unpredictable nature of the leadership in Pyongyang, though they have come to understand that Mr Kim’s bark is usually worse than his bite; indeed, part of his grand-standing and repeated insistence that his country is in mortal danger from foreign forces is a familiar ploy to try to keep his people behind him. Those that in any way oppose him, incidentally, risk imprisonment, torture and death. But as the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington rages, voices in Seoul have been advising caution. Indeed, the lead candidate in the presidential election called to find a replacement for ousted Ms Park, has used this tense time to urge dialogue with the North. China, meanwhile, has called for tension over North Korea to be halted before what it calls an “irreversible” stage. It would appear than in East Asia these days, Churchill’s old maxim tat jaw-jaw is better than war-war has fans. US Vice-President Mike Pence is off to Seoul on Sunday, so let’s hope he can cool things down, too.

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The Kingdom of Women

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th April, 2017

The Kingdom of WomenFor most of history and in most of the world, men have ruled the roost. All sorts of explanations have been put forward for that, ranging from men’s physical strength to women’s traditional obligations to bear and raise children. In the post-modern age, with its emphasis on gender equality, such “justifications” for patriarchal systems have been fundamentally challenged. But there have always been a few societies that rejected the norm and developed matriarchal structures and/or matrilineal patterns of inheritance One such ethnicity is the Mosuo people of Yunnan province in south-west China, where a woman is head of the household and decides which male partner (single or plural) she will relate to, on a short- or long-term basis. In the matriarch’s house, ideally, each girl will have a room of her own (so important for independent action and thought, as Virginia Woolf understood!). Not surprisingly Mosuo women have a marked self-confidence from an early age — most unusual in patriarchal China — and that was one of the things that appealed to Singaporean Choo Waihong when she first visited remote Mosuo country, with its beautiful mountains and lake. Dissatisfied with aspects of life in ultra-modern Singapore and emerging from an unsatisfactory marriage, she became enamoured of the place and built a second home there. Out of that experience over several years came material for a book, The Kingdom of Women (I. B. Tauris, £17.99), which recounts both the author’s experiences and what she learned about the customs of her new neighbours and friends. Engagingly written, the book will be of interest to both sociologists and armchair travellers alike, as well as to self-confessed feminists who believe that women can and should control their own lives. But there is also an air of sadness towards the end of the book as the twin threats of modernity and tourism (most of the latter from Han Chinese) inevitably are leading to change.

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Obama in Cuba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st March, 2016

Obama CubaBarack Obama’s visit to Cuba will probably go down in history as a seminal moment, such as Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. I was in Taipei then, taking a year abroad from my Chinese course at Oxford, and I was struck how terrified my host family was. They feared that the United States would then give the green light to Beijing to take over the island, but of course that never happened. But Nixon’s visit did open the door for China to re-enter the global community where, 44 years later, it is firmly in second place in world rankings. The potential rewards for Cuba following President Obama’s visit are unlikely to be so spectacular, but it should put an end to the shameful history of economic sanctions against Cuba by America, which Washington tried to force other countries to abide by too. There will also presumably be an influx of American tourists to the island, which will bring in much needed dollars but may not otherwise be totally beneficial. For all its shortcomings and illiberalism, the Cuban form of socialism did help create a society that had several very positive elements, including good education, plentiful qualified doctors and a remarkably low crime rate. It would be a shame if  the genuine solidarity among Cuban people were to be pushed aside in a headlong rush for modernisation and Americanisation. I went to Cuba seven times in the 1990s, culminating in my making a BBC radio documentary pegged to the 40th anniversary of the Revolution. It is a beautiful country that ought to have been quite prosperous had the Castros not stifled free enterprise. Of course, the American embargo made things worse and enabled the government in Havana to promote a siege mentality. Those days are now over and I can only hope that it won’t just be a well-connected few who will benefit from the inevitable changes, as happened in Russia and other parts of the CIS.

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