Tuesday, October 01, 2019

70 years of the most deadly tyranny of human history

The People's Republic of China is celebrating 70 years today, but for anyone who believes in the dignity of humanity, any semblance of individual rights and freedom, or even believes that human beings should deal with each other in a context of truth, honesty and openness, it should be a day of mourning.

For all of the tales of the economic successes in mainland China since it abandoned Maoism in 1978, it is overwhelmingly a tale of blanking out the horrors of the rule under Mao, the ongoing horrors of a techno-authoritarian state that still treats its people as a means to an end, and a system that spread the spilling of blood beyond its borders.  Despite the power, prestige and wealth of China today, it is still poorer, materially and in human terms, on a grand scale, than it would have been had Mao's madness been defeated.  Indeed, had Mao not come to power, there are literally millions of people outside China who would not have been murdered by the regimes that he explicitly backed, armed and supported.

For China, as with Germany and Korea, there is a quasi-scientific laboratory of what would have been had the Communist Party been defeated.  Hong Kong may seem the obvious one, but the more compelling one is the "other" China, the Republic of China, in Taiwan.

You see in 1949, Taiwan was largely agricultural when the Kuomintang fled the Chinese civil war and set up its based in Taipei.  Sure, I don't have any delusions about the regime of Chiang Kai-Shek.  He was bloodthirsty, intolerant of political plurality and ruthless against dissent, but he did not embark on crazy plans that created mass famines, nor did he shut down the education system and economy for a Cultural Revolution.  More notably, as the People's Republic was recovering from the poverty, purges and madness of Maoism in the 1970s and 1980, the Republic of China on Taiwan saw off Chiang Kai-Shek, and his son, and became a vibrant, dynamic liberal democracy.  It has been so now for over thirty years.  

So Taiwan is free and Chinese, but it is also much wealthier per capita.  On average, incomes in Taiwan are 2.5 times that of mainland China.  Car ownership is 2.7x higher in Taiwan than the mainland.  Now of course the mainland has a much more diverse and complex demographic than Taiwan, but given Taiwan was a rural backwater in 1949, it truly is an economic miracle (the same tale is that of south Korea, as the southern half of Korea was mostly rural, but the north industrialised, not that you would know today).

By other indicators Taiwan is superior, on inequality the GINI index is 0.336 compared to 0.468 for the PRC (1 is highest inequality).  So "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is less effective at reducing inequalities than a capitalist liberal democracy.

However, this is about much more than economics.  China lost between 18 and 56 million people in the Great Leap Forward primarily due to man-made famine, as Mao diverted farmers to making what was effectively junk steel, farmers were forced to surrender a third of output for export and many other centrally directed follies such as the mass slaughter of birds (the Four Pests Campaign) resulting in an invasion of insects.  Beyond the famine was the political murders, the purges and the suicides due to the political campaign.  Frank Dik├Âtter's book Mao's Great Famine devastatingly portrays the horrors of the time.  Mao was certainly history's greatest killer.

Beyond that, the PRC has executed millions as political prisoners, its maltreatment of Tibetans and today of the Uighur community in Xinjiang province are all horrors in their own right.  The Black Book of Communism estimates 65 million died due to the policies of the People's Republic of China, including murders, suicides and famines.  Sure some may argue details, but Mao did after all encourage the USSR to start World War 3 claiming that China could lose half its population and still have more people than the United States.  The One Child Policy nationalised human fertility and means there are now 30 million "surplus" boys or rather men who will never statistically find a female partner. This is also apparently affecting crime, as boys grow up in male dominated environments.  For all of the Communist Party's propaganda about the rights of women, it still owns the fertility of Chinese women, and it has never had women remotely close to power (excluding the psychopathic Jiang Qing).  

The PRC claims to have esteemed credentials in international peace, but they are disingenuous.  This is the country that released the last ever atmospheric nuclear weapons test (16 October 1980), which started war with India in 1962started a conflict with the USSR in 1969 and then attacked Vietnam in 1979 (because Vietnam removed China's Khmer Rouge from slaughtering the people of "Democratic Kampuchea").   

For within a year of founding the PRC, Mao encouraged fellow megalomaniac Kim Il Sung (as did Stalin) to attack the Republic of Korea, starting the Korean War.  When it all went sour when the US led UN forces pushed the regime to the Yalu/Amnok River, Mao sent in his "Chinese People's Volunteers" to save the Kim Il Sung Democratic People's Republic of Korea, prolonging the war by two years.  It's the People's Republic of China that has kept the world's only third generational hereditary Marxism-Leninist dictatorship afloat with the world's longest personality cult.  That's not something to be proud of.

Then you can look at Indochina, and consider the Khmer Rouge. Backed by Mao militarily, financially and ideologically, Pol Pot took inspiration from Mao's peasant revolution to deindustrialise Cambodia, empty the cities and put the entire population into slave like conditions to produce rice.  The starvation and slaughter of opponents (including anyone with much education, or who wore glasses) saw a third of Cambodia's population killed.  The Khmer Rouge abolished money, private property and business, and in the process extinguished millions of lives.  The People's Republic of China continued to back the regime after Vietnam invaded and overthrew it (as did some Western powers to their disgrace for some years), and today Beijing keeps the kleptocratic bully Hun Sen in power as it engages in neo-colonialism of Cambodia.

Today we can see the PRC building bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea, its neo-imperialism with developing countries as it accesses resources and provides authoritarian regimes with means to track dissent.  The PRC continuously talks of international relations in its simplistic and self-serving way, with one of its key principles "non-interference in each others' internal affairs", which is the tyrants' code for "if you don't mention us murdering our citizens we wont mention yours". For the Communist Party of China, executing dissidents and abusing Chinese people is an internal affairs, it regards itself as accountable to nobody.  Part of its view on internal affairs is Taiwan, which it does not tolerate as a competing regime.  Unlike Korea and the former divided Germany, the PRC has long taken the view that there being only "one China" that countries could either recognise the government in Beijing or the government in Taipei (admittedly Chiang Kai-Shek embraced this while he was alive too).  Even though the Republic of China government in Taiwan has de-facto relinquished any legal claim to govern the rest of China, the People's Republic of China considers itself the sole legitimate authority on Taiwan, so reserves the right to use force to "reunify" the country.  So Taiwan is diplomatically isolated, even though it is, to all intents and purposes, a capitalist liberal democracy with the freedoms seen in Western liberal democracies, and indeed Japan and the Republic of Korea as well.  Beijing is so threatened by the example across the Taiwan Straits, of Chinese people peacefully interacting and living in harmony under liberal democracy, that it seeks to blank it out of history and international affairs.

However, for today - a day ordinary Chinese people are not allowed near the celebrations in Beijing (remember any "People's" Republic is ironic, as it is only about the people as an abstract, not the messy, complicated, diverse and curiosities of real individual humans), because realistically the celebrations are NOT about the achievements of China, but the achievement of 70 years of a political monopoly on power by one of the most inept, corrupt and murderous political entities the world has ever seen.  China's growth in the past forty years is a testament to the hard work, determination and ability of Chinese people set somewhat free after thirty years of totalitarian tyranny, but it is in spite of the central control and direction of the Communist Party of China.

Had China avoided the catastrophe of Mao, it would today be a developed country, with a longer life expectancy, higher standard of living, with literally millions more people of talent and ability thriving, and a vibrant culture of debate, discussion, civil society and community.  Not a culture of fear, surveillance, authoritarianism and concealment of history and reality.  It may more closely resemble Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Japan, and be a force for economic and political freedom, and the values of human dignity and the individual.

The People's Republic of China has been a catastrophe for so many in China, and has contributed to catastrophe elsewhere.  It is a threat to the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is the world's greatest executor.  It is a modern surveillance state, built on intellectual property theft and a culture of fear, corruption and intensive state control, moreover the country is simply the tool of the Communist Party of China, which is itself not accountable to the government (nor is the People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the party and state).  For the people in China, they may feel justified in celebrating the last forty years of remarkable economic growth and improvements in net standard of living for so many, but that is only because they partially embraced the economics of free market capitalism after decades of totalitarian central planning.  The Communist Party of China got out of the way to enable this, but what it does today is dehumanise and classify the people of China, treating them as servants of the Party and the State.  The people of China deserve better, and some people of China have that.

The future of China can be seen in Hong Kong and Taiwan, if the Orwellian bullies of Beijing dare let them be themselves, and reflect on what could have been and what could be, if they just trust the people.  After 70 years, the people of mainland China ought to be allowed to grow up, speak out without fear and choose those who govern them, and expect the basic principles of rule of law, individual freedom and autonomy, private property rights to apply to them, as they do to the 23 million Chinese people in Taiwan and the many millions of others worldwide.

I'll leave my final comment to the Mainland Affairs Council of the Republic of China in Taiwan:

"The Chinese Communist Party has persisted with its one-party dictatorship for 70 years, a concept of governance that violates the values ​​of democracy, freedom and human rights, causing risks and challenges for the development of mainland China... Its shouting about the struggle for unity, great rejuvenation and unification is only an excuse for military expansion, seriously threatening regional peace and world democracy and civilization...The lifeline of the survival and development of mainland China is not tied to one person and one party"

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Brexit: The incompetent, the cowardly and the unprincipled


Almost all of UK politics has been about Brexit.

Yes, it's all been about Brexit and it all still is.  As a believer in free markets and smaller government, I supported Brexit, not so much about ending freedom of movement of people (although there is a strong case to have limits on convicted criminals crossing borders in the EU), but about escaping the high wall of the EU Single Market and Customs Union.  This is where the lazy nonsense from both left and right about Brexit being akin to Trump's success falls rather weak.   For a start, the mandate for Brexit was much greater than the one Trump got.  Trump lost the popular vote, but won the electoral college, whereas Brexit won the popular vote (although the attempt by some to balkanise the UK by saying London voted to "remain" as did Scotland misses the point, it was a UK wide vote on UK foreign policy, which isn't a devolved matter).  Moreover, Trump is a protectionist and an idiot on economics.  Brexit has never been about little Britain or fortress Britain, and virtually none of those who advocated Brexit saw it as the UK turning in on itself, but rather breaking free of the EU to be open to the world.   Indeed, even those who wanted Brexit to enable restrictions on immigration saw it as an opportunity to treat EU citizens on a par with those from the US or India and the like. 

The absolute political abomination around it comes from a whole host of sources which have been undermined by a Prime Minister who neither lack the intellectual nor visceral fortitude to advance in a way that would maximise the interests of the UK and indeed the EU as well.  These include:
  • A loud vocal and substantial number of MPs, mostly Labour, but also some Conservatives (and certainly all Liberal Democrats and nationalist MPs) who want to over turn the referendum result with their banal call for a "People's Vote" (apparently the last referendum wasn't so honoured with such a title).  Virtually everyone calling for a second referendum didn't like the result of the first one, and I doubt any of those calling for it would have supported a second referendum if "Remain" had won.  
  • A deeply divided Conservative Party that doesn't have a clear vision of what it wants from leaving the EU.  It should want maximum market access, it should want control over domestic regulation and regulation of trade with other countries.  However, some want to leave without a deal, some want to leave with a deal that makes leaving conditional on the EU supporting it, and some don't want to leave at all.  The PM wants to leave with a deal that the EU demanded, which some who voted to leave regard as worse than staying in the EU,
  • A deeply divided Labour Party, which ranges from a significant rump who want to remain, a small group who strongly support leaving, and the leadership which isn't keen on committing to anything, primarily because the Trotskyite Jeremy Corbyn has spent most of his life thinking the EU is a capitalist conspiracy for free trade and investment across Europe which interferes with his desire for large scale nationalisation of industry, ending competition in many areas and supporting subsidies for failing industries.
  • A civil service which is oriented towards the status quo, which means not leaving.  David Cameron told the entire civil service not to plan for leaving the EU, so it is lost and trying to work out what it would all mean.  The Foreign Office mind you is in its normal state of affairs, which is not to upset anyone overseas.  It's not at all interested in playing tough with the EU.
The EU has played the UK government like a tune.  It disgracefully raised the issue of the Irish border, despite explicitly statements from both the UK and Irish governments that neither would reinstate a hard border if there were no deal.  Why should they?  The UK does not seek to hinder movement of people or goods from the Republic of Ireland, and the Irish Government has no interest in doing so either (indeed the goods flows across the Irish border are insignificant, being mainly fresh food and road gravel).   What is going on is that the Irish Government, having changed part way through the negotiations on Brexit, to be a minority government with Sinn Fein support, has been seeking to build support by supporting the EU beating up the UK.

This is what is fundamentally problematic with the "deal" Theresa May wants support for.  It includes a "backstop" that would mean a customs border in the Irish Sea that places Northern Ireland within the EU Customs Union.  By no means should the EU (or the UK Government) do anything that essentially undermines the territorial integrity of the UK and the Good Friday Agreement itself as part of the withdrawal agreement.   A stronger PM would just have dismissed this, pointed out how neither side wants a hard border and the UK has no issue with EU goods and people travelling across the Irish border, and leave it to the EU to ask Ireland what it would do in return.   Understandably, the Democratic Unionist Party threatens to bring down the May Government if it persists with this, as it should.  Notwithstanding that the DUP is effectively a "blood and soil" unionist party that is akin to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, the whole matter of the future of Northern Ireland should be up to the people who live there.

So it was defeated by the House of Commons early in the year, but since then there have been subsequent votes including the so-called Brady amendment, which called for the PM to negotiate for removal of the Irish backstop.

The EU's response has been "we wont change", but time is ticking, as it is fewer than 50 days away from the UK leaving the EU, without a deal.  What does that mean?
  • The EU stops getting money from the UK (don't underestimate what that means, it is around £173m per week in net terms);
  • The EU can choose to impose its standard tariffs on imports from the UK (under WTO rules, it is the Most Favoured Nation tariffs), and the UK could reciprocate (they would be the same as the UK has EU tariffs at present), or either or both could refrain;
  • The UK no longer has a role with any EU organisations.
It could be highly disruptive to trade, but it is entirely up to both sides.  Hysteria over food shortages and the like is entirely up to the UK to avoid, because it could simply maintain existing trading conditions unilaterally.  However, I would expect the EU to want to impose tariffs or worse (bans or limits on imports), as "punishment" because of its protectionist instincts.  The UK could respond in kind of course, but it would be a trade war started by the EU - which despite the culture war in the UK over Brexit, is not open and not globalist at all.

The EU wants to make it uncomfortable for the UK, it really wants it to be painful to leave its club.  It wants to make an example of the UK, so that others don't want to leave the project.   The majority of EU Member States receive money from the European Commission, so it is unlikely they would leave, but the richer members, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are different.  They are not net recipients, but they are also not beset with the war guilt and fear about fascism that binds Germany (and to a modest extent Italy) to the EU.   However, the UK is still the second largest economy in Europe.  It is entirely in the economic interests of all EU Member States that the UK trades as freely as possible with them, for both goods and services.

On freedom of movement, the UK faces an ongoing dilemma.  There is a lot of support for restricting immigration more generally, but this is primarily due to concerns over housing prices and overcrowding of public services.  There are also concerns about some cultural aspects of migration (particularly high concentrations of Pakistani Muslim migration given the Rotherham scandal), but this is mainly historic in locations where there has been poor assimilation and integration.   Most of those migrants never came from the EU.  Yet when the EU faces a crisis across its members it has proven itself to be inept and incapable of responding.  It was paralysed when European countries (yes the EU is NOT Europe) engaged in a genocidal war in the early 1990s in the Balkans.  It has been paralysed when hundreds of thousands fled the war in Syria (which it, of course, didn't dare want any intervention in).

Leaving the EU does put the UK at risk of one eventuality, a socialist government led by Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't be constrained by EU rules requiring competition in various services, such as energy and transport.  However, leaving the EU will break the UK away from being bound by rules imposed by Brussels and Strasbourg that it cannot escape from.  This is why small authoritarian parties, such as the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are so enamoured by the EU - it imposes legislation (directives!)  that could never be passed by the UK Parliament.   Although it might be argued that the EU Parliament could get more attention, quite simply the EU Parliament does not have the authority to introduce legislation or repeal directives.  The European Council has the sole authority to propose bills to the Parliament, including bills to repeal directives.

Leaving the EU is a liberal venture, it is one that opens the UK to the world, that breaks it out of the sclerotic protectionist trading bloc that isn't interested in tax competition or indeed in allowing the rest of the world to trade using its comparative advantages.   It does not remotely resemble the aggressive protectionism of Trump, and by wanting to put all UK immigration on a similar basis, it doesn't resemble the spectre of xenophobia that many think it does.

However, it has divided the UK like few issues have in recent years.  The various groups are:
  • Continuity Remain: Those who reject the referendum result, reject having a referendum and are viscerally true believers that EU membership is economically, morally and spiritually virtuous.
  • "People's Vote" Remain:  Those who say they support the referendum result, but say everything has changed now, so "the people" should have a chance to reverse it.  None would have called for this had the vote gone the other way.
  • Soft Brexit Remain:  Those who say they want the UK to leave the EU, but stay in the Customs Union (meaning it can't negotiate separate free trade agreements with other countries) and the Single Market (meaning it has to follow Single Market rules for its own market).  Essentially being an EU rule taker without a say on the rules.
  • EFTA Leave:  Those who believe the UK should leave the EU, but simply join the European Free Trade Agreement, which means remaining in the Single Market for trade with the EU, but outside the Customs Union.  Effectively a stepping stone either to remain or to leave in full.
  • May's Deal Leave:  Those who support the PM's deal, which is to leave, but have a backstop so that Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union if no free trade agreement is agreed with the EU.
  • FTA Leave:  Those who want a much looser deal, negotiating a simple free trade agreement, but leaving the EU in every sense, they are often part of....
  • No-Deal Leave:  Those who just want to leave, unconditionally and THEN negotiate a deal with the EU.
My bet is that the UK will leave, but will negotiate a temporary deal to buy time for further renegotiation.  If it doesn't leave, the Conservative Party will implode and it wont be over.

For me, I'll just be glad when the culture war over Brexit is over.