Covid-118

Dan O'Heirity

There is Talk of America Going to War With China

I was thinking the other day that Trump might start an actual war with China in an effort to secure a victory in the United States elections. After all, the strategy worked for Margaret Thatcher when Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Thatcher was re-elected after a huge resurgence in her popularity. The possibility of a “hot war” between the United States and China has now found its way into the news with former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd arguing that the question of China is colouring all aspects of the presidential race. This is a scary prospect given that a recent interview with Trump has caused one political commentator to state that Trump’s brain is “pureed cottage cheese”.

It’s not difficult to see how the China question might play out. The United States is in dire straits as a result of Covid-19 – 150,000 dead, high unemployment, bankruptcies and huge public debt – and what better way to turn the public’s attention away from these facts than to start some kind of actual war with China. Conflict in the South China Sea suggests itself as a real possibility because the conflict would be localized as opposed to global. The danger of course would be that that a “staged” or “managed” war in that region might quickly get out of control. For example, there is a very real possibility that Australia along with other countries might join with the United States and, if cornered, China might escalate the war beyond the Indo-pacific region.

The possibility of armed conflict with China has crystallized a range of thoughts that I have had about Covid-19 over the last couple of weeks. The real story of Covid-19 is not the spread of the virus around the world, the number of confirmed cases or the number of deaths from the virus. The real story of Covid-19 is the emergence of a new world order and the strategies that countries are putting in place to secure their position in that new world order. China is pursuing an aggressive global strategy that includes trying to assert its dominance over countries such as Australia by using trading relationships to try to force Australia to conform to Beijing’s will.

China is also aggressively pursing territorial aspirations through seizing control of Hong Kong and through seeking to cement territorial claims in the South China Sea. America is fearful that China’s ascendancy will see the decline of the US as an economic and military super power. Countries not considered to be superpowers, Australia for example, are figuring out where they should place their allegiances in order to secure a position in the new world order. Public ministerial statements of commitments to new allegiances provoke the ire of China. And all the while, China continues its soft power tactics by infiltrating countries on multiple fronts including governments, businesses and universities in order to influence and undermine democratic processes.

China Continues to Exercise Its Unholy Influence Around the World

I would start this section by saying that there is “no smoke without fire”. I mean by this that there have been dozens of stories over the last six months or so about how China’s United Front Work Department has used Chinese Australians to try to infiltrate and influence the Australian government. In this story from the Sydney Morning Herald there is report that John Zhang, a staffer for New South Wales Labour MLC (Legislative Council) Shaoquett Moselmane, has allegedly tried to influence Mr Moselmane to “advocate for Chinese state interests”. Mr. Zhang has allegedly completed a propaganda training course in Beijing organized by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, a branch within China’s State Council.

This training would appear to have paid off because Moselmane delivered a highly criticized speech in which he said that the “global media is in the hands of China’s opponents” and China needed to “force a change to the rules and create a new world order” to realise its potential. Just to round things out, Mr Zhang is listed as a vice-chairman of Australia China Economics, Trade and Culture Association (ACETCA). Zhang has also been chairman of the Australian Shanghainese Association. Mr Moselmane is a also member of the Australian Shanghainese Association and a member of the Australian Chinese Association. The three organizations have all been linked with the Chinese Communist Party.

The last week or so has seen another scandal with the University of New South Wales seemingly kowtowing to Beijing and squashing freedom of expression and academic freedom in the process. The essence of the story is that a law lecturer at UNSW posted a tweet calling for United Nations to take action on human rights abuses in Hong Kong. There was a strong backlash from Chinese Nationalist Students and from Chinese state run media. UNSW removed the tweet which resulted in criticism at the Australian governmental level. This caused the Vice Chancellor to issue a statement saying that the tweet should not have been taken down and that UNSW was committed to freedom of speech and to academic freedom. However, CEO of UNSW Global, Laurie Pearcey, sent a separate statement in Chinese to Chinese business partners and Chinese students. This message made no mention of the values of free speech and academic freedom.

We can look at China’s strategies to exert its influence around the world at an even more granular level. China is engaged in a constant war of disinformation, using social media platforms such as FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube to push hundreds of thousands of state sanctioned stories and counter stories about China. Thankfully, social media platforms now seem to be doing something about the fact that China is trying to control the social media narrative. Google has deleted 2,500 China-linked YouTube channels over disinformation. More broadly, countries around the world are now reviewing their use of technologies from Chinese based companies along with the use of Chinese owned social software in an attempt to stop China from accessing “sensitive information”. China, on the other hand, believes that efforts of the US to stop using technologies from Chinese based companies really have to do with the United States seeking to protect its “monopoly” position with technologies. In other words, its all about money rather than concerns over national security. I’d be willing to accept that the US is protecting its own technological interests, particularly given that Trump has recently passed Executive Orders banning TikTok whilst supporting “the sale of TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft if the US Government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price”.

Covid-19 Absurdity Continues With Stage 4 Lockdowns Firmly in Place in Victoria

It has been estimated that the stage 4 lockdown in Victoria – which includes a curfew enforced by police – will increase the unemployment rate in Australia to 10% and cost the national economy up to $12bn. This lockdown is happening when, as live data shows, Australia has reported 19,890 Covid-19 cases along with 255 deaths giving a death rate of 1.25%. As I have reported on multiple occasions, the vast majority of cases are in the state of Victoria and it is the most vulnerable – those in aged care facilities and / or those with pre-existing health conditions – who are succumbing to the virus. There are in fact so few deaths in Victoria that news stories can specify the ages of each of the individuals who have died on any particular day. For example, “Twelve people have died, six of them connected to aged care facilities. The people include a man in his 30s, two men in their 70s, two men and three women in their 80s and four women in their 90s“. Basically, old people are dying from Covid-19. I understand, intellectually at least, that this is sad for the family members of the old people but really, the national economy is going to lose $12bn and we will have a 10% unemployment rate because 11 people aged over 70 died from – or was it “with” – Covid-19.

Panic buying in Victoria began the moment that the state of disaster was announced. The panic buying has continued particularly with fresh meat and fresh produce. Thus it was that I could not buy any fresh meat or vegetables when I went on my one shopping trip this week. I really don’t care because unlike the stupid people who failed to anticipate the first wave of Covid-19, I had stocked up on supplies to the point where as of now I really do not need to go shopping for the next six months. And so this round of panic buying matters not to me. A note on stupid people. How dumb do you have to be not have learned anything from the first round of panic buying. Seriously. All that was needed was a modicum of intelligence to see that there was always a chance of a Covid-19 resurgence and that stocking up on essential supplies would have made great deal of sense. But no, people assumed that everything would return to normal. Well, it hasn’t and matters may be worse this time round due to a reduction in meat processing along with disruptions to the national supply chains.

First Published August 8th, 2020

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