Monthly Archives: July 2016

Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week

Public Health Crucial for Urbanized World, by Nate Berg  Report

CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=357998

Memorial to John Snow’s public health breakthrough in London. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

About 4 billion people now live in urban areas. Denser concentrations are considered efficient, reduce environmental impact and are more sustainable. They also mean a greater risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

Pope at Auschwitz, Says Same Horrors Happening Today, by Philip Pullella  Report

Pope Francis made an emotional and silent visit to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, and said many of the horrors committed are happening in places at war today.

Bernie or Bust? – Smells Like White Privilege, by Tom Regan   Column

On the opening day of the U.S. Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I invented a drinking game. Every time I saw a black or Hispanic (heck, any person of colour, period) shown by the cable news networks of Bernie Sanders supporters, I would take a swing of beer. I ended the night stone cold sober.

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle East, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

The fascist coup of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – for that is what it is – has thrown a large boulder into the boiling, muddy waters of the Middle East.

Photos Shape Attitudes to Refugees: View from Australia, by Jane Lydon  Essay

Photography has mapped a distinctively Australian version of this global story. Once migrants were represented as complex, vulnerable, diverse people. Today the Australian government seeks to suppress photographs of asylum seekers, seemingly from fear that such images will prompt empathy with them and undermine border security policy.

Boys arrange blocks at a brick factory on the outskirt of Sanaa, Yemen May 28, 2016. Picture taken May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Boys arrange blocks at a brick factory on the outskirt of Sanaa, Yemen May 28, 2016. Picture taken May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Mud, Water, Fire: Building Sanaa, by Mohamed al-Sayaghi   Photo essay

Author J.K. Rowling speaks to media as she arrives at a gala performance of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts One and Two, in London, Britain July 30, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Author J.K. Rowling REUTERS/Neil Hall

Yemen, a poor country awash with weapons where the rule of law is weak, is no stranger to conflict. But the war that erupted last year brought widespread destruction. The traditional houses of Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site said to have been founded by the son of Prophet Noah two and half millennia ago, have been spared – mostly.

Harry Potter Has Cast Last Spell — J.K. Rowling, by Alexander Smith  Arts report

Harry Potter has cast his last spell, his creator J.K. Rowling said at the gala opening of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London’s West End.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

Noteworthy:

When a future generation looks back, what will they consider the landmark event of 2016? Heat records; British and American political upheaval; space exploration; Zika? My guess is the first around-the-world airplane journey on solar power, by the Solar Impulse. It’s a globe-sized rebuttal to naysayers who claim we can’t solve environmental problems and keep our options open.

 

Why we’re post-fact, by Peter Pomerantsev in Granta, is one of more thoughtful explanations for our bread and circus times.  Excerpt:

As his army blatantly annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin went on TV and, with a smirk, told the world there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine. He wasn’t lying so much as saying the truth doesn’t matter. And when Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully sends ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate – then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free. When the Brexit campaign announces ‘Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week’ and, on winning the referendum, the claim is shrugged off as a ‘mistake’ by one Brexit leader while another explains it as ‘an aspiration’, then it’s clear we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world. Not merely a world where politicians and media lie – they have always lied – but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not.

How did we get here? Is it due to technology? Economic globalisation? The culmination of the history of philosophy? There is some sort of teenage joy in throwing off the weight of facts – those heavy symbols of education and authority, reminders of our place and limitations – but why is this rebellion happening right now? Read the full article here. (Granta) via the Ethical Journalism Network

Ursula Franklin died this month. She was, said one of her colleagues in a University of Toronto memorium,  “one of Canada’s and the world’s most important interdisciplinary scholars. With a background in the sciences, engineering and physics, a strong scholarly engagement and achievement in philosophy and remarkable lifelong advocacy for peace, humanism, and the human priorities for technology, Dr Franklin’s work will live on for centuries to come.”

Who Is Polluting Rio’s Bay?” asked the New York Times. It sent a team of writers, photographers and a web producer to find out, and produced the kind of thoughtful, gorgeous and disturbing read that is too rare on the web.

“Anger is the emotion that has come to saturate our politics and culture. Philosophy can help us out of this dark vortex” writes Martha Nussbaum in Aeon magazine, with Oxford University Press.

America’s fall election will be, as usual, a fight between behemoths. This time, they’re poles apart. Noted  New York Times in the wake of the party conventions, “this is not going to be a “there’s no difference between the candidates” election.” Scores of people run for president, including under America’s Green and Libertarian parties. In healthy democracies, the Greens, Libertarians and others would receive their due. In the black-or-white U.S. everything is starkly simplistic: Democrat Hillary Clinton vs. Republican Donald Trump. America’s impact on the world is outsized. Here are the two party platforms, a must-read for anyone who wishes to be informed:

2016 US Democratic Party Platform 

2016 US Republican party Platform

Health authorities this week reported the first Zika infections transmitted by mosquitoes in the U.S., in Florida.  From our archives, read Love in the time of Zika by Beverley Paterson: “Love, sex and babies are the foundation of human existence. Without them the human race ceases to exist. Zika, a virus that few people had heard of a month ago, has suddenly disrupted this normal course of events.”

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

 

Posted in Current Affairs

Photos Shape Attitudes to Refugees: View from Australia

JANE LYDON
July 30, 2016

Over the last two decades we have seen the unprecedented politicisation of immigration. Many Australians remember the wave of immigration after World War II when our rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage. Yet, like many Western countries, since the end of the Cold War we have worked to prevent refugees from seeking asylum by making our borders impenetrable.

Today, we distinguish between migrants, who arrive via our Migration Program (currently up to 190,000 places per year), and refugees, admitted through our Humanitarian Program, (providing 13,750 places in 2016-2017). Migrants make a conscious choice to seek a better life elsewhere. Refugees are forced to leave their country because of persecution.

Photography has mapped a distinctively Australian version of this global story. Once migrants were represented as complex, vulnerable, diverse people, as in David Moore’s iconic 1966 photograph, Migrants arriving in Sydney. This image allows us to empathise with the fear, anxiety and hope felt by newcomers, poised between old and new, tradition and change.

David Moore Migrants arriving in Sydney 1966, gelatin silver photograph.
Art Gallery of NSW, gift of the artist 1997 © Lisa, Michael, Matthew and Joshua Moore

By contrast, today the Australian government seeks to suppress photographs of asylum seekers, seemingly from fear that such images will prompt empathy with them and undermine border security policy. As asylum seekers have come to be widely viewed as a security threat, refugee policy has been militarised, displacing attention from the situation of those attempting to reach Australia to their supposed menace to our way of life.

The power of photos

Researchers have long debated the impact and ethics of photographs of those very far away or different from ourselves – how do such representations allow us to empathise with their subjects’ plight? Do our responses to such photos prompt political or social change? Or, after a moment of compassion or shame, do these feelings simply subside, letting us return to business as usual and thereby reinforcing the status quo?

Clearly, Australian government and military officials believe, very deeply, in the power of such imagery to undermine – or conversely, support – their agenda.

Two episodes in our recent history reveal the power of photography to shape attitudes and influence public debate. The first is 2001, the year of the Tampa incident, Children Overboard, and the Pacific Solution. The second is the increased border protection measures introduced by the Abbott government from 2013, still in place today.

During the late 1990s, increasing numbers of people attempted to travel to Australia by boat to seek asylum, including Afghanis, many being members of the persecuted Hazara minority. In August 2001, the Norwegian vessel MV Tampa rescued 438 mostly Afghan refugees from their sinking boat, around four hours from the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

The Australian government blocked the Tampa from landing on Christmas Island. Indonesia, which had not ratified the 1951 Convention on Refugees, refused to receive them. When the Tampa entered Australian waters without permission, the Australian military intervened. After much delay, the refugees were taken to Nauru.

Australian citizens’ understanding of these remote events was necessarily highly mediated. A review carried out by researchers from the University of Queensland examined the visual representation of asylum seekers on the front pages of two prominent Australian newspapers at this time – The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.

The boat carrying asylum seekers pulls up alongside the Tampa.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen/AAP

Their analysis showed the predominance of pictures of boats, mostly from a distance, as well as those depicting asylum seekers as large groups (42%). In contrast, there was a striking lack of images showing individual asylum seekers with clearly recognisable facial features (only 2%).

The researchers concluded that the effect of this pattern was to dehumanise refugees and frame the refugee “problem” as a potential threat that demanded mechanisms of security and border control.

Perhaps the most widely circulated image from this crisis was an aerial view of the Tampa showing the rescued refugees sitting on the deck in rows, in a space defined by shipping containers. Powerful as it was, this image did not show a single human being’s face.

Asylum seekers on board the Tampa.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen/AAP

Following the Tampa incident, a new border protection initiative titled Operation Relex implemented a restrictive public affairs plan that tightly regulated the collection and circulation of information and images.

The Director-General of Defence Communication Strategies, Brian Humphreys, later testified to the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident that Defence Minister Peter Reith had explicitly instructed personnel, “Don’t humanize the refugees”.

The inquiry concluded that this restrictive public affairs plan intended to retain “absolute control” of the facts,

to ensure that no imagery that could conceivably garner sympathy or cause misgiving about the aggressive new border protection regime would find its way into the public domain.

Visual theorists express concerns about the ethical use of images of suffering. They argue that such images exploit their subjects by violating their privacy or showing them as abject and less-than-human. In addition, there are well-grounded fears that identifying individuals may render them vulnerable to persecution in their home countries.

However, the complete suppression of images by the state also acts to erase the social experience of suffering. In this way, the absent image may be as powerful, and terrifying in its effects, as images of suffering.

Empathy overboard

John Howard’s government did, however, make active use of photographs to advance its agenda at this time. In October 2001, in the immediate lead-up to a federal election, a boat designated Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 4, carrying 223 asylum seekers, was intercepted by HMAS Adelaide north of Christmas Island, and then sank.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock claimed that passengers had thrown children overboard as a means of forcing the Australian navy to rescue them. Defence Minister Peter Reith and the prime minster repeated this claim, and on 10 October released photographs that supposedly proved it.

An October 8, 2001 file photo of video footage of refugees being rescued in seas off Christmas Island by defence personnel from HMAS Adelaide.
Defence PR/AAP

However, journalist Virginia Trioli challenged their status as proof during a radio interview with Reith, pointing out

Mr Reith, there’s nothing in this photo that indicates these people either jumped or were thrown?

Reith responded

Well, quite frankly, if you don’t accept that, you don’t accept anything I say … they are clear as day. A mother and her presumably son, aged seven or eight clearly in the water and clearly being assisted by a female member of the Royal Australian Navy … Now, we have a number of people, obviously RAN people who were there who reported the children were thrown into the water.

However a later Senate inquiry found, on the basis of evidence provided by senior Navy personnel, that the photographs offered as evidence of children thrown overboard on 7 October were actually pictures taken the following day, 8 October, while SIEV 4 was sinking.

The inquiry concluded that the Howard government had deliberately told lies about these events and suppressed the truth for political purposes.

A different picture

In mid-2003, meanwhile, an anonymous source published photographs of the rescued asylum seekers taken by Navy personnel aboard HMAS Adelaide in October 2001.

Aboard the HMAS Adelaide
Courtesy Project SafeCom, Jack H Smit.

These photographs show how these rescued people responded aboard the navy vessel. Note the good health and happiness of the children. Imagine the effects on the Australian public in October 2001 of seeing these happy, relieved families: would our political history have been different?

Children drinking milk.
Courtesy Project SafeCom, Jack H Smit.

The Howard government’s response to the “children overboard” affair was “The Pacific Solution” – establishing Nauru and Manus Island as offshore processing centres. According to a report compiled by parliamentary library staff using a variety of official sources, the policy was effective in halting boat arrivals in 2001.

With the election of the Rudd government in 2007, after six years of operation, Manus was closed. However a sharp rise in arrivals of asylum seekers by boat up to 2012 led to the re-opening of offshore processing centres under then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

In October 2011, meanwhile, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship announced a new media policy designed to control media access to asylum seekers. A key part of this policy was to regulate the use of images and, in particular, to prevent journalists from showing the faces of asylum seekers, justified as protecting the individual’s identity. This policy remains in place.

After the election of the Abbott government in 2013, Operation Sovereign Borders was mounted, a key component being the Regional Deterrence Framework, at a cost of A$420 million. This is still in place.

Part of this campaign entailed the production of a video and poster, captioned “No Way. You will not make Australia home.” This stated,

Any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters.

At sea

In response to these official campaigns, those seeking to arouse empathy with asylum seekers and counter aspects of the Australian government’s policies have also turned to photography.

In 2014 Hazara refugee Barat Ali Batoor’s photo on board an asylum seeker boat between Indonesia and Australia won Photo of the Year in the Nikon-Walkley Award for Excellence in Photojournalism.

Barat Ali Batoor, The First Day at Sea
Courtesy Barat Ai Batoor

Batoor was lucky to survive the two-day voyage. The boat he and 92 other asylum seekers took from Indonesia ran aground on rocks before reaching Australia. His camera was ruined, but his images survived. He was officially recognised as a refugee and resettled in Australia in 2013. In response to his photo, the Walkey judges said:

For all the years of debate about asylum seekers, this is the first time we’ve seen what one of those boats look like. No-one else has been there. The processes Barat Ali Batoor went through to get on that boat, and facing the possibility it could sink – which it did – that took phenomenal courage and commitment to telling a story. Batoor broadened the debate and helped us visualise what happens before the boats arrive at Christmas Island.

Since 2014, we have seen ever-increasing tightening of control of information about detention centres. In July 2015, reporting of abuse within the Manus Island centre was made illegal, prompting a campaign of civil disobedience by staff.

Events such as the tragic death in February 2014 of Reza Berati, a 23-year-old Iranian national, have aroused great concern. Medical staff have repeatedly testified to the trauma for inmates of these places, especially children. The Australian government has continued to invest heavily in media programs to discourage refugees.

Commissioned by the Immigration Department, the telemovie Journey cost $5.6m and was filmed in three countries, screening in 2015 in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. It aimed to inform audiences in “source countries” about the

futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hard line policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters.

In September 2015, however, photographs of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose body had washed up on a beach in Turkey went viral on social media.

Aylan Kurdi, Bodrum, September 2015.
AAP

Aylan had drowned with his brother Galip, who was five, and his mother Rehan as they tried to reach the Greek island of Kos in a small, overloaded rubber dinghy.

European newspapers debated whether or not to show the image, because historically, publishing images of dead children has been taboo for Western media. But the next morning most European newspapers ran the photo on the front page. British prime minister David Cameron’s initial response was to reiterate his policy that “we can’t take any more people fleeing from war”.

But within hours of seeing Aylan on all the front pages he admitted that he was deeply moved, and within days he announced that Britain would accept 20,000 more refugees.

In Australia, our papers carried the photo the following day. Initially the tragedy was represented as a European problem, with headlines such as “The images that stopped Europe”. Tony Abbott expressed sorrow but blamed the choice of refugees to flee by boat:

Well, I’d say if you want to stop the deaths, if you want to stop the drownings, you’ve got to stop the boats …

For a week, refugees were the subject of almost every radio and TV debate. Pressure from voters and Coalition backbenchers caused the prime minister to pledge $44 million in emergency aid to refugees still detained in camps, and on September 9, Abbott announced Australia would resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria/Iraq conflict.

There is a clear link here between the empathy aroused by such affective images – of which Aylan’s was perhaps only the most shocking – and its concrete political consequences.

Shutting our eyes

The Australian government currently has obligations under various international treaties to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Australian territory are respected and protected.

As a party to the UN Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of a refugee are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement.

Australia also has obligations not to send people to third countries where they would face a real risk of violation of their human rights under these instruments. On April 26 this year, Papua New Guinea’s supreme court ruled the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island illegal. Offshore detention was among three areas of concern raised by the UN’s recent universal periodic review of Australia’s human rights record. Our refugee policy remains a troubling and unresolved question for the nation.

Authorities respond to an inmates’ hunger strike at Manus Island in January 2015.
AAP Image/Refugee Action Collective

This recent history reveals the intense politicisation of media representations of these events. Official responses with their focus on border protection have framed immigration and asylum seeking as a military threat, constituting asylum seekers as invaders and enemies of the state.

Increasingly, we have seen our government move from attempting to control images of events such as shipwreck or rescue or conditions in detention centres, to simply prohibiting them.

The more troubling aspects of these policies – such as effects upon asylum seekers and particularly children and families under indefinite detention – remain invisible.

We forget that the occupants of offshore processing centres are not enemy soldiers but refugees – they are already victims of conflict in their home countries. Many of them are children, and we have specific responsibilities towards them under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The examples I have reviewed here demonstrate the Australian government’s profound fear of the power of photographs to provide a counter-narrative to its own policies, and specifically, to create empathy between Australian public audiences and asylum seekers.

They show that in certain contexts, displaying and circulating images, or conversely, restricting them, may have a significant impact on viewers’ attitudes and subsequently on events.

Harsh national border defence policies are maintained at the expense of refugee well-being. Many atrocities have been committed in the shadow of such secrecy: only this week Four Corners revealed terrible conditions prevailing within onshore juvenile detention centres as well, prompting immediate public outrage, and leading Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs to call for a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia’s detention culture.

I suspect that most Australians would feel just as sad, angry, or ashamed if they witnessed conditions within offshore detention centres: yet so far most Australians have not been prepared to insist on seeing into these places, nor to demand that we soften our policy of mandatory offshore detention.

As ethical – and privileged – Australian citizens, there is a moral imperative for us to engage with and respond to what these pictures show us.The Conversation

Creative Commons

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related on F&O:

 

jpegviewJane Lydon is the Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History at the University of Western Australia. Her books include The Flash of Recognition: Photography and the emergence of Indigenous rights (NewSouth, 2012), which won the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards’ USQ History Book Award. Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire has just been published by Bloomsbury.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , |

Public Health Crucial for Urbanized World

Concentrated populations are often seen as a boon for the environment because resources can be easily shared. But so can pathogens. How can cities discourage infectious disease?

By Nate Berg
July 30, 2016

CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=357998

Memorial to John Snow’s public health breakthrough in London. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Near the corner of Broadwick and Lexington in London’s Soho neighborhood, a single spot on the ground has influenced more than 150 years of urban development. It’s the location of a water pump that in 1854 physician John Snow pinpointed as the source of contamination leading to a widespread outbreak of cholera in the neighborhood that killed more than 600 people.

Snow connected the dots between incidents of illness in the neighborhood and the use of water from the pump in a feat of early data science that is heralded as a milestone in public health. It’s literally a textbook example of the link between disease and population density — a link that’s becoming even more important today as the world undergoes a dramatic process of urbanization.

And it’s no longer just contaminated wells we need to worry about, but wall-to-wall housing; poorly built, densely packed homes; unchecked informal development; insufficient infrastructure; and readily accessible international travel that can quickly carry life-threatening illnesses across continents and oceans.

Crammed and Connected

About 4 billion people — 55 percent of the global population — now live in what are considered urban areas; the United Nations expects that number to grow to more than 6 billion by 2050. Much of this growth is happening in countries such as India, China and Nigeria, where rural residents are flocking to cities at the same time cities are seeing their populations multiply from within.

Such urbanization is hailed by many as a positive development: Planners and social scientists have argued for decades that denser concentrations of people lead to more efficient use of resources, reduced impact on the environment and a generally more sustainable form of development.

But the concentration of people can also mean a greater risk of exposure to pathogens and a higher likelihood that infectious diseases will spread.

In Brazil, for example, an outbreak of the Zika virus is causing major concerns about public health as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the Olympics in August. Spread to humans by mosquitoes and between humans through bodily fluids, the virus has proven to be a pernicious urban problem, with dense populations providing a ready conduit for its spread.

And it’s not just major cities that are vulnerable. As the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014 showed, what matters for infectious diseases is the availability of pathways for travel, even if it’s from village to village.

The risks of urbanization are closely interrelated with globalization.“Before, when Ebola would pop up in an isolated village, it wouldn’t spread so much. But now the areas are so large, they’re so interconnected,” says Emily Blodget, a specialist in infectious disease at the University of Southern California. “Because of the urbanization of those areas we’ve had outbreaks. and the amount of people that have been affected is just so much more.”

Blodget says the risks of urbanization are closely interrelated with globalization, which has made it relatively easy for someone who’s unknowingly carrying Zika, Ebola or countless other diseases to get on a plane and land in a densely packed city. The SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in the early 2000s was blamed not only on density but also on the high rate of people traveling into and out of the city, according to Blodget.

Controlling the spread of disease through global travel should be a top priority, according to an article in Places Journal by Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Fisher argues that airport operations should be augmented to include disease detection and prevention — something like the firewalls a computer uses to prevent viruses. Some airports have instituted fever checks at the gates of arriving planes, hoping to catch people with symptoms before they can enter the city so they can be tested for infectious diseases and treated as needed. But these interventions are limited.

Basic Infrastructure

By Hilnik - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41659953

Affordable household toilets near Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photo by Hilnik via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

A much more widespread problem in cities than spread of disease through travel is related to the lack of sanitation. Informal developments and slums in cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo and Lagos often lack formal sanitation or sewage systems, and the contamination of drinking water causes the spread of gastrointestinal illness from salmonella, shigella and even the bacteria that cause cholera — the public health danger John Snow identified back in 19th century London. Between 1990 and 2012, urban dwellers without access to sanitation facilities such as sewage systems and clean water grew from 541 million to 756 million, according to a 2014 report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF. This increase was linked primarily to population growth outpacing the provision of basic infrastructure.

Reducing global poverty is crucial, according to Fisher. He cites a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates the economic harm of a pandemic ranging from US$71 billion to US$166 billion. Those potential costs far outweigh the estimated US$16 billion the World Bank has lent over the past three decades for shelter improvement. Fisher argues that more aid should be directed to impoverished places to improve conditions now and avoid the huge costs that could arise if a pandemic breaks out.

Improving access to sanitation and upgrading infrastructure is a straightforward way of reducing health risks. However, there are clear challenges to building such systems in parts of cities that grew informally and outside of any plan or government control. Groups like the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers have made progress in the slums of Indian cities by building community-run toilet facilities. But public works like this are expensive, and they’re not going to prevent all diseases from spreading.

The sheer variety of diseases and methods of transmission mean that even the best prepared city with the cleanest infrastructure can still be vulnerable to outbreaks.“Not all diseases are as related to not having access to sanitation,” says Adriana Pacheco-Coral, an infectious disease specialist with the University College London. With something like Zika, she says, “you may find these types of diseases in very well-developed cities affecting certain areas with vulnerable people and then spreading out.” From one side of the city to the other, the risk of disease can vary widely.

Develop and Design

The sheer variety of diseases and methods of transmission mean that even the best prepared city with the cleanest infrastructure can still be vulnerable to outbreaks. Blodget says cities need to develop robust public health surveillance and response systems if they’re going to be able to recover if an outbreak does occur. This can mean anything from relying on teams of epidemiologists to track disease flare-ups to a simple communication campaigns to warn about unsafe water sources.

“It won’t take the place of hygienic practices and having a proper sewage system, but it does help and it’s relatively simple,” Blodget says.

Others are thinking about these problems from an even more basic level. The nonprofit ARCHIVE Global is using architectural design to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Recognizing that many diseases are spread because of cramped conditions and poor ventilation, ARCHIVE Global has worked with immigrant neighborhoods in London that suffer from high rates of aerially transmitted tuberculosis to identify design flaws in their homes and schools that are likely contributing to its spread. Another project in Dhaka, Bangladesh, focuses on the mud floors of huts, which have been found to play a significant role in spreading bacteria and pathogens, particularly among small children. By replacing mud with concrete flooring that’s easier to clean, the organization is reducing the likelihood that these easily avoidable illnesses will be contracted.

There is no one solution to preventing infectious disease, which takes many forms in cities. But experts agree that while the risk of outbreaks can rise in urban settings, cities don’t have to be breeding grounds for pathogens. By encouraging the development of proper infrastructure, enabling alternative infrastructures and disease prevention mechanisms in informal and vulnerable places, and building up a public health system to monitor and respond to outbreaks, cities will be better prepared to prevent diseases from afflicting their residents, and to fight them when they do.

Creative Commons

This story is published under a Creative Commons licence. It appeared first on Ensia. View Ensia homepage

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle East

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
July 30, 2016

Supporters of Tukish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan

Supporters of Tukish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan

The fascist coup of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – for that is what it is – has thrown a large boulder into the boiling, muddy waters of the Middle East.

Turkey’s fellow Sunni Muslim neighbours are apprehensive that Erdogan’s massive purge of his opponents and grabbing of personal power will be accompanied by a reaffirmation of his support for radical Islam. This fear has already thrown off balance efforts by Saudi Arabia to build an Islamic Military Alliance among Sunni Muslim states to battle terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, and to present a united front to the increasingly assertive Shia Muslim state of Iran.

Erdogan, meanwhile, appears to be oblivious of the wider implications of his actions following what he claims was an attempted coup on July 15 by army officers and others who follow exiled religious leader Fethullah Gulen. In the aftermath of whatever it was that really happened on Friday two weeks ago, Erdogan’s security forces have got about 15,000 people in detention, revoked the passports of nearly 50,000 people, and suspended more than 66,000 people from their jobs. Warrants have been issued for the arrest of 89 journalists.

Erdogan has reacted angrily to disquiet expressed by the United States and European government that his purge of the civil service, military, judiciary and educational establishment is out of all proportion to the coup threat, if, indeed, there was one.

“Instead of thanking this nation that quashed the coup in the name of democracy, on the contrary, you are taking sides with the coup plotters,” Erdogan said on Friday. He is especially upset that Washington will not immediately hand over Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999.

In his speech Erdogan went further and suggested Washington might have been behind the failed plot in alliance with Gulen, who was the Turkish leader’s political ally until they fell out. Erdogan became suspicious of the popularity of Gulen’s vision of Islam among the military, judges and judicial officials, and in the education system where the cleric’s organisation operated many schools and colleges. Gulen has denied any involvement in whatever happened on July 15.

This is a major breech between Turkey and its partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to which the Ankara government contributes the second largest military after Washington. And Erdogan’s actions in the last two weeks also put even further out of reach than they already are Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union. Those negotiations are already stalled on most fronts, and if Erdogan reintroduces capital punishment, as has been widely hinted, his EU membership application will be torn up.

The most immediate effects, however, are on the three-cornered civil war in Syria, the occupation by the Islamic State of large areas of western Iraq and eastern Syria, and even the war in Yemen.

There was a strong indication on Monday this week of the dislocation among Arab Middle Eastern leaders. The 22 leaders of the member states of the Arab League were due to meet in Mauritania for their annual summit with the hammering out of a joint approach to the Syrian civil war high on the agenda.

It didn’t happen. Only eight Arab heads of state showed up, and those were all from irrelevant nations such as Somalia, Sudan, the Comoros, and Djibouti. The big boys, such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, and Egypt, stayed away.

Following on from the upheaval in Turkey, this is a set-back to what had begun to look like positive moves among Sunni Muslims to build an alliance against violent radical Islam. In December last year Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced the formation of a 34-nation Islamic Military Alliance, which included Turkey and other Muslim countries as far away as Malaysia and Pakistan. The idea is to share intelligence on radical terrorist groups like the Islamic State, al-Qaida and its affiliates, and to train, equip and provide forces to fight together against these groups.

Significantly, the alliance does not include Iran, the leader of Shia Islam with strong links to the Shia majority in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shia minority populations in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and most other Muslim countries.

The creation of this alliance was welcomed by the U.S., and it appeared to herald the healing of breeches between Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular. Erdogan went to Riyadh and signed a far-reaching strategic co-operation agreement with the Saudi government. Then, in February this year, Saudi troops were sent to Turkey for joint exercises that for a while looked as though they might be a prelude to a ground invasion of northern Syria.

All this looked like a welcome repair in relations between Riyadh and Ankara, which had plummeted after the Arab Spring at the beginning of 2011. Riyadh accused Ankara of supporting the radical Muslim Brotherhood, which took power in Egypt before being removed by the military, and which is a major underground opposition movement in Saudi Arabia.

The rift widened when rebels in Syria rose up to try to oust the Shia President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Iran and Hezbollah. Riyadh, and many in Washington and the capitals of Europe, believed Erdogan was doing little to assist the moderate opposition to Assad, but was allowing arms, money and recruits easy transit to the Islamic State group and other ultra-radical Syrian rebels like the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front.

As well as doing much in recent months to shut off these channels, and stem the flow of war refugees to Europe, Erdogan has also restored relations with Israel. Previous co-operation with Israel ended in May, 2010, when Israeli special forces boarded a ship trying to break the blockade of the Palestinian Gaza enclave and killed nine Turkish activists.

Erdogan is also back on speaking terms with Russia after months of tense relations following the Turkish shooting down of a Russia warplane supporting the Assad regime’s forces.

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

But Erdogan’s purge since July 15, and much uncertainty about the future shape and direction of the Turkish government, overshadows all these advances.

The dislocation in the camp of Sunni Muslim nations comes as Iran, the champion of Shia Islam, is displaying growing self-confidence after last year’s deal with the United Nations, the U.S. and Washington’s allies ended the long-running dispute over Tehran’s nuclear development programme.

When all the underbrush of Middle East politics is cut away, the rivalry for influence between Tehran and Riyadh is the core fault line in the region. With sanctions lifting, much-needed investment beginning to flow in, and Tehran now able to expand its diplomatic reach and grip, Iran is flexing its muscles in the contest with Riyadh.

That has been most visible in Iran’s support for the majority Shia government in Iraq, and the military aid for Assad in Syria. Senior members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are advising Assad’s forces. Major military elements of Hezbollah, Tehran’s proxy in Lebanon, are also fighting with the Syrian government army.

More recently, Iran has begun stepping up its support for Shia rebels who have control of large parts of Yemen, where Saudi forces are attempting to support the government. In reaction to all this, there have been attacks on the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. One of the reactions from Iran has been incursions by its military vessels into Persian Gulf waters claimed by Saudi Arabia and Gulf States. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have complained to the UN about these “repeated transgressions and assaults.”

The actions by Iran’s military, especially the elite IRGC, are propelled in part by domestic politics. Since “reformist” president Hassan Rouhani – “reformist” is a relative term in Iran – was elected in 2013 he has been in a slow-motion tussle for influence with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is not only the arbiter of religious life, but controls the military, the IRGC in particular.

The influence of the Guards Corp within the military establishment is set to rise with the appointment this week of a new chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff – the chief military advisor to the Supreme Leader – with close links to the IRGC. Major General Mohamad Hossein Bagheri’s background is in military intelligence, and that has implications for the ways Iran is likely to continue asserting its influence in the Middle East.

Bagheri is a strong advocate of fighting hidden, intelligence-driven wars. He is likely to push cyberware, the utility of which Iran is well aware after thousands of its uranium enrichment centrifuges were destroyed by the Stuxnet computer virus created by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies. Bagheri will probably also emphasise the use of clandestine operations of one sort or another against regional enemies and dissidents abroad. For example, he was behind an operation in 1995 when IRGC units went into northern Iraq to attack and destroy a base of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Bagheri has little history of contact or working with the civilian government, so he can be expected to take uncompromising stances against the Rouhani administration on matters such as military budgets and social reforms.

With Washington primed to take a harder stance against Iran after November’s U.S. election no matter whether it is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump who wins, the Middle East is set to continue to provide the world with more drama and intrigue than anyone needs.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week.

A woman walks past a laughing Buddha sculpture near the venue where the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting will be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China's Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

A woman walks past a laughing Buddha sculpture near the venue where the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting will be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

Our work this week ranges from a photo essay of Ireland, to economics, to political commentary about what happens when a well-organised and productive country puts a despot in charge. You may have to read Jonathan Manthorpe’s piece to guess which country.  Hint: it’s not America (yet). See our list of new works, below, and on our Contents page. But first, some notes:

Forgo pursuit of Pokemon long enough to catch Syrian artist Khaled Akil, and his web series Pokemon Go in Syria. Akil superimposed Pokemon apparitions on Agence France Presse photographs, mostly of children, in the surreal landscape of bombed-out Syria.

Must we give the oxygen of publicity to the orange man who aspires to lead America? Some have tried to avert our gaze from the sick joke of American democracy,  and the descent of the Republican party into a freak show. But having officially captured the party nomination Donald Trump has become impossible to ignore. F&O columns this week allude to him,  pieces by Brian Brennan and Tom Regan. Otherwise, limiting exposure is recommended, along with keeping an eye on others hoping to preside over the country once called “leader of the free world” —  Hillary Clinton with running mate Tim Kaine (Democrats), Jill Stein (Greens) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian).  And — sigh —  here are three recommended readings about the man who should not be named:  AP Fact Check: Donald Trump’s RNC acceptance speech; “A Trump presidency would be dangerous for the nation and the world,” said a Washington Post editorial; and “We should fear — for the republic, for a democracy facing its gravest peril since the Civil War,” wrote Timothy Egan in a New York Times piece titled, “Make America Hate Again.”

Turkey, as we reported last week, averted a coup. Already widely criticized for repression including of freedom of expression, the country immediately suspended the European Convention on Human Rights. As protesters chant  “God is great!” and “Death to the traitors!” Der Spiegel ponders “Turkey’s Post-Coup Slide into Dictatorship.”  F&O’s report about the G20 this week includes a statement from a Turkish official that it will uphold the rule of law; we shall wait and see.

Another German city was under attack on Friday. Follow the news from Munich on Deutsche Welle.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

New works on F&O this week include:

Commentary:

Trump as dealmaker-in-chief? by Brian Brennan

Donald Trump would envisage himself as America’s dealmaker-in-chief. What would that look like? Not a pretty picture, as I see it.

The American Dream is undermining America, by Tom Regan

It is perhaps the most famous myth about the creation of America:  the “American Dream.” The belief that no matter what your background, where you’re from, or who your parents were, that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything, any goal, any dream. But the American Dream has become a problem.

Zimbabwe Collapse looms over Mugabe succession, by Jonathan Manthorpe

The natural span of life is approaching its end for 92-year-old Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader since 1980, but the infighting over the succession is so intense that no one is running the shop, and there may be nothing much left to inherit when the time comes.

‘It Don’t Come Easy’ by Jim McNiven

We are coming to a crossroads. Either we continue with the globalization project that started with the Marshall Plan and the first GATT tariff reductions, or we don’t.

Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, takes his catch out of a lobster pot on his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh

Johnny Cloherty from Mweenish Island who catches lobsters and harvests seaweed, takes his catch out of a lobster pot on his currach boat off the coast of Carna in Galway, Ireland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh

Photo-essay:

Seafarer’s Pilgrimage, by Clodagh Kilcoyne

It is said that people don’t come home for Christmas to the small western Irish village of Carna, they come back for St. MacDara’s Day. On that day, every July 16, hundreds make a pilgrimage off the coast of Gaelic-speaking Carna to tiny, uninhabited St. MacDara’s Island, to a celebration of mass and blessing of boats.

Expert Witness:

Can America’s polarization be traced to 1832? by Jennifer Mercieca

Perhaps instead of “to the victor belongs the spoils of the enemy,” we could learn to think of politics as “to those entrusted with great responsibility belongs the obligation to work for the common good.” It isn’t as poetic, but it also isn’t as partisan.

Reports:

Calls for G20 to act as fiscal, monetary policies falter, by Kevin Yao and David Lawder

Fiscal and monetary policies are becoming less effective at spurring economic activity so the world’s leading economies need to increase coordination to promote sustainable growth, said China’s Finance Minister.

Pokémon Go: the app that leads you places, by Tom Phillips

The Pokéstop passed on a daily commute could hold the key to capturing an elusive Charizard), but perhaps it can also become a place we get to know better in the real world.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

Posted in Current Affairs

Calls for G20 to act as fiscal, monetary policies falter

A woman walks past a laughing Buddha sculpture near the venue where the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting will be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China's Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

A woman walks past a laughing Buddha sculpture near the venue where the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting will be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

By Kevin Yao and David Lawder 
July 23, 2016

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund reacts to photographers before attending the G20 High-level Tax Symposium held in Chengdu, China, July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund reacts to photographers before attending the G20 High-level Tax Symposium held in Chengdu, China, July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) – Fiscal and monetary policies are becoming less effective at spurring economic activity so the world’s leading economies need to increase coordination to promote sustainable growth, China’s Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said on Saturday.

Lou was speaking at the start of a meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers in the southwestern city of Chengdu, where they will confront challenges to global growth exacerbated by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and consider deeper structural reforms.

“To promote strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth is still the core issue of G20,” Lou told a forum.

Various countries have taken steps to support economic growth in recent years, but Lou said the effectiveness of fiscal policy and monetary policy was “diminishing, and the side-effects are showing up.”

Chinese women gather near panda dolls  at the venue ahead of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting to be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China's Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

Chinese women gather near panda dolls at the venue ahead of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting to be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

“G20 countries should increase policy communication and coordination, form policy consensus and guide market expectations, making monetary policy more forward-looking and transparent and increase the effectiveness of fiscal policy,” Lou said.

Lou Jiwei, China's Minister of Finance speaks at the High-level Tax Symposium held in Chengdu in Southwestern China's Sichuan province, Saturday, July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

Lou Jiwei, China’s Minister of Finance speaks at the High-level Tax Symposium held in Chengdu in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province, Saturday, July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

In a bilateral meeting with Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew underscored the need for G20 members to refrain from competitive devaluations.

Markets are simmering with speculation that the Bank of Japan will cut its inflation forecasts and expand its already massive stimulus programme at a July 28-29 rate review, as a hit to exports from a strong yen <JPY=> and weak consumption has added to downward pressure on the economy and prices.

Regarded as a safe haven at times of market turmoil such as that caused by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the yen has strengthened to around 106 to the dollar. Aso has previously warned that the yen was rising too quickly.

A U.S. official indicated earlier that the depreciation of China’s yuan <CNY=CFXS> to five-and-a-half year lows, and the Chinese central bank’s reaction, were understandable and “consistent to a transition to a market-oriented exchange rate”.

“It wouldn’t be fair to say that over the last few months the downward movement of the RMB was something that was fundamentally driven by policy decisions,” he said.

The G20 meeting will be a debut of sorts for Britain’s newly-appointed finance minister Philip Hammond, who is likely to be grilled about the UK’s plans for keeping up economic growth in the wake of Brexit.

“There will be a lot of attention to this meeting as we gather for the first time since the Brexit vote shook markets,” said one Asian finance official.

“I expect G20 debate to focus more on potential effects from Brexit on the real economy in the longer term, which should be a matter of concern for emerging economies.”

The International Monetary Fund this week cut its global growth forecasts because of the Brexit vote, saying that uncertainty over Britain’s future trade relationship with Europe will stall investment and sap consumer confidence.

Data out of Britain on Friday seemed to bear out fears. A business activity index posted its biggest drop in its 20-year history, a sign that Britain’s economy appears to be shrinking at the fastest rate since the financial crisis in the wake of last month’s Brexit vote.

On Friday, Hammond said the UK could reset fiscal policy if necessary, his strongest comments to date on how policy may change after Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union.

The spectre of protectionism, highlighted by U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and talk of reworking or quitting trade agreements, will also hang over the meeting.

(Reporting by Elias Glenn, Kevin Yao, Gernot Heller, Jan Strupczewski and William Schomberg; Writing by John Ruwitch and Pete Sweeney; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find more details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

Turkey says it will uphold democracy and rule of law

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) – Turkey will strongly adhere to democratic principles and rule of law, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Saturday, referring to the government’s crackdown in the aftermath of a failed military coup.

“From the very beginning, I wanted to say that despite what has happened a week ago in Turkey, that we will continue to strongly adhere to democratic principles and apply rule of law and not much really has changed. I know there are question marks,” he told a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.

The government’s widening crackdown in the aftermath of a failed military coup has spooked investors, who have dumped the lira currency and sold stocks.

(Reporting by David Lawder, Writing by Brenda Goh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Zimbabwe Collapse looms over Mugabe succession

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
July 23, 2016

Robert and Grace Mugabe. Photo by Dandjk Roberts via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Robert and Grace Mugabe. Photo by Dandjk Roberts via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

The natural span of life is approaching its end for 92-year-old Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader since 1980, but the infighting over the succession is so intense that no one is running the shop, and there may be nothing much left to inherit when the time comes.

Mugabe has said he intends to run in the next election in 2018 – which will be more a theatrical display than an exercise in democracy – and that he plans to stay in office until he dies. That may come sooner than later. Despite following a rigorous health regime most of his life, Mugabe looks increasingly frail during his now-rare public appearances. He has stumbled and fallen on several occasions.

There was a highly significant public display of the fracturing within the Zimbabwean establishment when the veterans of the country’s 1970s war of liberation against the white minority regime of Ian Smith turned on Mugabe. The veterans have been, in essence, the militia for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party since 2000, when he began depending on violence to win elections. But on Friday the veterans’ organisation issued a statement saying Mugabe’s “leadership has presided over unbridled corruption and downright mismanagement of the economy, leading to national economic ruin for which the effects are now felt throughout the land.” The veterans went on to say Zimbabwe has seen “the systematic entrenchment of dictatorial tendencies, personified by the President and his cohorts, which have slowly devoured the values of the liberation struggle.”

There are three main candidates circling and manoeuvring to grab the crown. There’s Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Mugabe’s wife, Grace.

Meanwhile, what was the best organised and most productive country in Africa when Mugabe came to power 36 years ago is now on the brink of ruin. Zimbabwe has had no currency of its own since 2009, when hyperinflation forced the government to issue banknotes with $Zim100 trillion denominations. Instead, Zimbabweans use the South African Rand and the United States greenback.

Inflation is on the rise again. Eighty per cent of government revenues are spent on public service salaries and pensions. But with the destruction of the country’s agricultural, mining and industrial economy under Mugabe’s regime of intellectual and actual corruption, there is no money. Most public servants and pensioners haven’t been paid for months. The exception, of course, is the armed forces and police on whose support the survival of the regime depends.

In recent weeks there have been national strikes by teachers, doctors and nurses, and riots at the Beitbridge crossing point into South Africa against restrictions on imports, a move aimed at saving hard currency. There have even been demonstrations in South Africa by exiled Zimbabweans wanting to send succour home to their families. And earlier this month taxi drivers in the capital, Harare, struck and demonstrated over the proliferation of police road blocks, set up to extort bribes from the cabbies.

Mugabe’s government has blamed, as it always does, unnamed “foreign forces” for the debacle, and briefly arrested a prominent activist and religious leader of “This Flag” movement, Pastor Evan Mawarire.

The threat of growing civil unrest is making it increasing difficult for Mugabe’s ministers to cadge loans from international lenders. There are strong rumours that the government will issue what are known as “bond notes” instead of currency to meet its salary and pension obligations. This is only stoking anxiety as few people expect these bonds to be easily redeemable or worth their face value.

No one in government is attempting to address Zimbabwe’s fundamental economic and social problems, however. It is highly questionable how aware Mugabe is of the situation, or, if he is, whether he has the capacity to respond. Even in his most coherent times, Mugabe’s forte was kleptomania rather than administration on behalf of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people. (At least four million people have fled into neighbouring countries and elsewhere since started following increasingly demented policies in 2000.)

Among the three leading candidates for the succession the most colourful is undoubtedly Mugabe’s scandal-ridden wife Grace, known as “the First Shopper.” Her ambition is evident, but her political authority will probably die with her husband. That may be why she has put forward the macabre notion that Mugabe might continue ruling from beyond the grave. No doubt Grace sees herself as the intermediary for her husband’s post mortem administration.

She may be taking a lead from North Korea where the regime’s founder, Kim Il-sung, was declared the country’s “Eternal President” after his death in 1994.

Grace was Mugabe’s secretary in the 1980s and 1990s when I was Africa correspondent for Southam News and my family and I lived just across the Botanical Gardens from the Presidential Palace in Harare. She became Mugabe’s mistress while his dying first wife, Sally, was still alive, and had two children by him; a son and daughter.

When the affair became known, it was put about that Sally had chosen Grace as her successor as First Lady. There is no way of knowing whether that is true or not, but my Zimbabwean friends with deep understanding of local family culture doubt it.

Matters were complicated by the fact that Grace was also married. But that was dealt with when her husband, Air Force pilot Stanley Goreraza, was packed off to Beijing as defence attaché in the Zimbabwean embassy.

Grace and Mugabe married in the “Wedding of the Century” in 1996, bizarrely, an event blessed by the Catholic Church, to which Mugabe claims allegiance when it suits his purposes. There were 20,000 guests – including untold members of Grace’s extended family who behaved as though they’d won the lottery, which they had – and the celebration was said to have cost enough to build 1,200 houses for 7,000 homeless people.

Grace’s taste for luxury has become a byword for what can still go wrong in African political leadership. Early in her tenure as First Lady, Grace ordered the building of a palace, inevitably known as Graceland, in the wealthy Harare suburb, Borrowdale. When questioned about the cost she said she’d paid for it with her savings from her salary as Mugabe’s secretary. She sold that pile to the then Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi – Zimbabwe has become a welcoming refuge for deposed dictators – and started building another palace at a cost of $US26 million.

Meanwhile, she took her pick of farms owned by white families and had them evicted.

Her booming property portfolio now includes real estate in Malaysia and Hong Kong, where she also owns a diamond cutting business.

That’s useful because Grace, according to United States diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, has a firm grip on large parts of Zimbabwe’s extensive diamond production, an asset that provides almost no benefit for local people.

Mugabe opened the door into politics for Grace in 2014 when he made her head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League. The old lags of ZANU-PF, many of whom fought against the white regime in the 1970s, find Grace’s royal airs distasteful in the extreme, but the aura of wealth that surrounds her is enough to attract support from less discerning acolytes.

Then there’s Joice Mujuru, the former Vice-President who fell out with Mugabe in 2014 when he accused her of plotting against him. She has formed her own Zimbabwe People First Party. Mujuru has a colourful record as a liberation war fighter in the 1970s, when she used the nom-de-guerre “Teurai Ropa,” (Spill Blood). In 1974 she is said to have shot down a Rhodesian army helicopter with a machinegun, though other veterans have cast doubt on this story.

In 1977 she married Solomon Mujuru, whose “chimurenga” (revolutionary struggle) name was Rex Nhongo, and who was the deputy commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army. After independence in 1980 Solomon Mujuru became the head of the new Zimbabwe National Army, and in 1992 retired to go into business and politics. He became very powerful within ZANU-PF and was regarded as the only man in the leadership who could publicly challenge Mugabe’s judgement and get away with it.

This authority brought Solomon Mujuru into conflict with another liberation war hero and stalwart of Mugabe’s government in the 1980s and 1990s, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Rivalry between the two men came to a head in 2004 when Solomon backed moves by the ZANU-PF Women’s League to have his wife, Joice, appointed to the vacant Vice-President’s post. Mnangagwa, who was then Speaker of Parliament, thought he should get the job, which carries the inference of being Mugabe’s chosen successor. Mnangagwa was, and remains, bitter.

That is among the reasons why the death of Solomon Mujuru on the night of August 15, 2011, is still regarded as suspicious. The former general had a drink at a bar in Beatrice, 60 kilometres south of Harare, before continuing to his (confiscated former white-owned) Alamein Farm, a further 10 minutes down the road. He was alone at the house, but a guard and a maid heard gunshots later that night, and then saw a fire at the farmhouse. The coroner concluded Mujuru died of smoke inhalation, though few believe it.

Without the protection of her husband, Joice Mujuru was vulnerable, and three years later, 2014, Mugabe was convinced she was plotting against him. She was fired from the vice-presidency, and from ZANU-PF.

Joice Mujuru has launched her own Zimbabwe People First Party, and attracted some support. But like most Zimbabwean politicians of her vintage, her CV is peppered with allegations of corruption. The main charges against her focus on her involvement in the shipping of 3.5 tonnes of gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Switzerland.

The smart money in the Mugabe succession stakes is on Mujuru’s rival and current Vice-President, Mnangagwa. He is said to be Zimbabwe’s wealthiest man, and has a formidable record both within the ruling ZANU-PF party, and – most important – as a key member of the country’s security and military establishment.

Mnangagwa joined ZANLA and the war against the Ian Smith regime as a teenager in 1963. He was sent to China for military training, and later infiltrated what was then known as Rhodesia as the head of a brigade called the “Crocodile Group.” (His followers are now known as Team Lacoste for the crocodile emblem of the sportswear manufacturer.)

In January 1965 Mnangagwa was betrayed to Rhodesian police, arrested and, because he was under 21 years old, sentenced to only 10 years in prison. There, much like Nelson Mandela’s associates on Robbin Island, his political education was completed by fellow prisoners like Mugabe, Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala, and Didymus Mutasa.

On his release, Mnangagwa was deported to neighbouring Zambia, a headquarters in exile for the political wing of the liberation movement, then known as the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). He studied law in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, and became a leading figure in the exiled ZANU establishment. Mnangagwa was part of the ZANU negotiating team at the Lancaster House talks in London in 1979 with Ian Smith’s government and he led Zimbabwe’s new civilian leaders back to their homeland in 1980.

From the start of the Mugabe years, Mnangagwa was deeply involved in the country’s security apparatus, and that experience and those links will probably give him victory in the succession battle now. Until 1988 Mnangagwa was the chairman of Joint High Command, which oversaw the integration of the liberation armies with the remnants of the Rhodesian Army. In this role he was also overseer of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) at the time when Mugabe was using all his forces to suppress the political power of the minority Ndelbele people in western Zimbabwe. This was achieved by killing Ndebele in large numbers, a crime against humanity for which several leading figures in Zimbabwe have yet to answer.

In the 1990s Mnangagwa held legal, economic and foreign affairs posts before becoming Mugabe’s chief elections strategist in the 2000s when violence and coercion were the chief campaign tactics. Mnangagwa’s direct contact with the security establishment resumed in 2009 when he was made Minister of Defence.

The key group here is the Joint Operation Command, made up of the heads of the army, air force, police, prison service and CIO. ZANU-PF’s rules governing the succession have never been made public, though as Vice-President Mnangagwa clearly has the inside edge. But when all is said and done, it will be the senior officers in the Joint Operation Command who decide, and, so far as can be judged at this point, Mnangagwa is their man.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , |

Seafarer’s Pilgrimage

People wait on a rock to be brought back to Carna by local fishermen off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara's Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne ?

People wait on a rock to be brought back to Carna by local fishermen off the coast of Galway, Ireland, July 16, 2016. Seafarers and other members of the Carna community make an annual pilgrimage to MacDara’s Island, home to a 6th Century oratory, to attend a mass for St. MacDara, the patron saint of fishermen. The pilgrimage is believed to keep seafarers safe throughout the year. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

CLODAGH KILCOYNE 
July, 2016

It is said that people don’t come home for Christmas to the small western Irish village of Carna, they come back for St. MacDara’s Day.

On that day, every July 16, hundreds make a pilgrimage off the coast of Gaelic-speaking Carna to tiny, uninhabited St. MacDara’s Island, to a celebration of mass and blessing of boats. It will keep them safe throughout the year, locals believe.

St. MacDara, the patron saint of seafarers, is believed to have built the small church on the island in the sixth century. After mass, the locally crafted boats, known as Galway Hookers, bow their sails in the direction of the church three times to bless the year ahead.

“It is like a second Christmas half way through the year,” said Cliona Ni Chualain, the organiser of MacDara’s festival. Her family own a Galway Hooker built in 1895 called ‘Blath na hOige’, meaning ‘Flower of Youth’.

“I’ve done it since I was a baby and for us it’s a family gathering, a community gathering. It’s pretty special. And when you’re on the island there is this feeling of calmness. I wouldn’t be a practicing Catholic but there is something very, very spiritual about it.”

Local fisherman Johnny Cloherty reckons the pilgrimage, one of the few remaining snapshots of Irish yesteryear, has kept him safe for the last 40 years in the Atlantic Ocean, where he harvests seaweed and fishes for lobster and crab.

“It does yeah, definitely,” said Cloherty, 58, from nearby Mweenish Island. “I’d be out there in the winter and keep near that island (MacDara’s). It’s a good thing.”

But like many in small rural parts of the country, Cloherty, who starts working at 5 a.m. each day and doesn’t finish until 10 p.m., has seen young people leave the area in increasing numbers in search of jobs and a different lifestyle.

There are now only about 30 Galway Hookers left and the days of all 30 trawling the western Irish coastline together are fading with fewer and fewer crew to go around.

“I don’t think the young people will be going out fishing. It’s sad. Say another 10 years, who will be out there? Nobody knows,” Cloherty said.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find more details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

The Wider Image: Seafarers' pilgrimage to MacDara's Island

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Reporting

Turkish coup crumbles, crowds answer call to streets, by Nick Tattersall and Ece Toksabay

An attempted Turkish military coup appeared to crumble on Saturday after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets to support him and dozens of rebel soldiers abandoned their tanks in the main city of Istanbul.

How the mafia is causing cancer, by Ian Birrell  Magazine

When doctors in rural Italy began to see a surge in cancer cases, they were baffled. Then they made the link with industrial waste being dumped by local crime syndicates.

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister, by Victoria Honeyman  Report

Some newspapers obsessed over Theresa May’s quirky shoe choices, but she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

UK won’t trigger EU divorce until country-wide agreement, by Russell Cheyne  Report

Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would not trigger formal divorce talks with the European Union until a “UK approach” had been agreed, bidding to appease Scots who strongly oppose Brexit.

Oxford dictionary update shows beauty of English, by Annabelle Lukin  Report

By adding the “World Englishes” to the entries on British and American English, the OED has opened a pandora’s box.  Changes to the OED remind us that a language is open and dynamic.

If carbon pricing is so great, why isn’t it working? by Peter Fairley   Analysis

Carbon pricing has yet to deliver on its potential. To date most carbon prices remain low — “virtually valueless.”  That has led even some economists to question whether carbon pricing’s theoretical elegance may be outweighed by practical and political hurdles.

Commentary:

Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that China’s claim over the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful. China must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner, in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council.

Why the NRA makes America so very dangerous, by Tom Regan   Column

Recent events in the U.S. – the shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the subsequent shootings of five police officers in Dallas – show how the National Rifle Association’s toxic message of guns, guns, guns, and fear, fear, fear, affect the way people deal with daily problems, and the way police respond to all kinds of situations.

Recommended elsewhere:

The Great Republican Crackup is an excellent analysis of American discontent, by ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis.  Excerpt:

The disruption that the nomination of Trump represents for the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan has been cast as a freakish anomaly, the equivalent of the earthquakes that hit the other side of Ohio in recent years. But just as those earthquakes had a likely explanation — gas and oil fracking in the Utica Shale — so can the crackup of the Republican Party and rise of Trump be traced back to what the geologists call the local site conditions. … read the story on ProPublica

We’ve seen another week of blood shed by innocents, of countries roiled by war, of loud simpletons jumping to instant conclusions — including some politicians in positions of extreme power. Facts matter; here’s where to find some of them this week:

  • Follow France24 for news of the Nice truck massacre by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, whose first victim, reported the BBC, was a devout Muslim woman and whose own father described him as mentally ill and not religious.
  • Follow Al Jazeera and Reuters for news of the coup in Turkey.

Findings:

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1346294

FBI sketch of the man dubbed DB Cooper, via Wikipedia.

The man known as America’s air pirate, DB Cooper, is a man of myth, hunted for 45 years by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation after he hijacked a Boeing 727, was paid a ransom, then vanished via parachute somewhere over the Pacific Northwest. In an announcement on Tuesday the FBI officially conceded defeat in perhaps its most storied case. “The FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the statement said. ” Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof.” The hijacker  inspired stories in books, TV series and at least one movie. Shops in Washington and Oregon sell Cooper tourist souvenirs; the town of Ariel, in Washington, holds a “Cooper Day” each fall, notes Wikipedia. Was Cooper his real name? Did he survive the drop? Is he living somewhere in ripe old age? He remains a man of mystery.

American presidential hopeful Donald Trump selected Mike Pence as his VP hopeful. ProPublica compiled some of the best reporting for a profile of the Indiana governor.  Still in America: the climate denial apparatus that has long obstructed American politics needs investigating for fraud, argues U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the Columbia Journalism Review. In a piece about the hyperbolic reaction to his call for such an investigation, he points out, “fraud is not protected speech under the (U.S. constitutional) First Amendment.”

“Face it, Facebook. You’re in the news business,” writes media guru Margaret Sullivan.  Two-thirds of Facebook’s 1.6 billion users get their news there. At  stake, argues Sullivan — former public editor of the New York Times, now the Washington Post media columnist — are no less than civil liberties and free speech.

The close British vote to leave the European Union is already reshaping global security.  Germany Sees Brexit Opening for EU Defense Union With France, write Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs, of Bloomberg. They report on the German defence minister’s plans for an overhaul, and her suggestion that the U.K. ‘paralyzed’ a joint EU security and defense stance.

Still on Brexit, we all know Churchill’s quip about democracy being the least bad form of government (it’s the tag line on F&O’s Publica section). In the wake of the Brexit debacle, scholar Geoffrey Pullum looked up the person Churchill quoted and, in  In Lingua Franca, the blog of the journal Chronicle of Higher Learning, presented his finding of Robert Briffault (1874–1948), a British surgeon, social anthropologist, and novelist.  Briffault’s exact words — considering the dire decline of political discourse internationally — are worth repeating here:

Democracy is the worst form of government. It is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical. … It reduces wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap, and demagogy. … Yet democracy is the only form of social order that is admissible, because it is the only one consistent with justice.  

Of note, the Chronicle also publishes Arts and Letters Daily. Take a look if (and I would be surprised) it’s not already on your must-read menu.

Last but not least: for a pick-me-up read this, from the Oatmeal comic site. Trust me, just do.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , , , , |

Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
July 16, 2016

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

The ruling this week by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, that China’s claim to sovereignty over about 90 per cent of the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful, will have profound effects on the tenor and timbre of the growing power struggle in Asia.

The 497-page decision by the five judges under the authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a sharp and humiliating rebuke to Beijing, which for two decades has been strutting and preening as the self-appointed natural super power of the region.

The judgement says there is no legal backing for Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea, across whose waters about half the world’s merchant shipping travels every day. China’s construction of seven islands on reefs and islets it claims, is entirely illegal. And Beijing is responsible for unacceptable environmental damage to coral reefs and other submarine features, as well as devastating effects on marine wildlife by its rapacious fishing fleets.

Beijing’s response this week was to dismiss the court and its judgement as “null and void,” while government-owned media issued thinly disguised threats of a military response if any serious challenges are made to its territorial claims. These threats were aimed at Washington, which has not only affirmed the traditional maritime rights of freedom of passage by sending warships and naval flotillas through waters claimed by China, but is also giving military support to China’s neighbours.

Beijing may dismiss the judgement, but it cannot avoid the authority of the decision. The government of President Xi Jinping must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council. In all likelihood Beijing will, for a while at least, lower the tone of its rhetoric on its territorial claims and probably pull back from its head-butting with its neighbours, Vietnam and the Philippines in particular. What Beijing won’t do, however, is abandon the seven illegal military outposts. Beijing thinks a generation down the road and believes that, in the end, the reality of occupation trounces the law. That strategy has worked well on its colonial occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang, the denial of promised democratic rights to Hong Kong, and would be used with equal utility if Beijing could ever get its hands on the island nation of Taiwan.

The U.S., distracted by a bizarre presidential election campaign that is shrouded in foreboding for the future of the country’s global stature, will not move to assert the court’s ruling. Neither will the Southeast Asian countries whose maritime territory China contests. Beijing has managed to make the South China Sea territorial disputes a hugely divisive issue among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Chinese government has used its overpowering economic relationships with non-affected ASEAN states such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar to ensure there is no consensus on how to address Beijing on the issue or even to agree to discuss it.

Nevertheless, China’s imperial pretensions, and its heavy investment in the last two decades in building a modern and threatening high seas navy, have received a significant check. It is also an important piece of symbolism that on this occasion Beijing’s military advances have been confronted by the international rule of law, rather than a military push-back of some kind from the U.S. or Japan.

The weakest link in the apparent power of the Chinese regime at home and abroad is that it does not believe in the rule of law. Specifically, it does not believe that the Communist Party regime is subject to the same rules as ordinary Chinese. At home, there is plenty of evidence that the regime is doomed unless it accepts the rule of law and all the political and social consequences that flow from that. On the international front, this decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration presents Beijing with perhaps its clearest choice in recent years between being a dependable player on the world stage, or deciding that the road to super power status travels through confrontation and bullying.

It is that low road that brought Beijing to this humiliating court judgement.

Beijing has sought confrontations with Tokyo, its ancient adversary, over claims to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, but has been wary of pushing too hard against the economic and military muscle of its island neighbour. Even so, Japan is alarmed at China’s aggression. The significant victory in this week’s elections by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to open the way for constitutional changes that will allow Japan to play a more overt military role in the region in concert with allies such as the U.S., Australia and countries of Southeast Asia.

The Chinese government has been far more aggressive and assertive against what it sees as the easily cowed nations to the south. It the last few years Beijing’s navy, coast guard and fishing fleets operating as maritime militias have invaded the economic zones in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Indonesia, over 1,200 kilometres from the Chinese mainland.

Beijing’s imperial posturing reached something of a zenith in recent months as it constructed seven islands on rocks and reefs in the Paracel and Spratly chains of islets. Some have now been equipped with airfields and all are garrisoned with soldiers or paramilitaries. Most, if not all, have missile defence systems and radar facilities that Beijing could use to impose an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the 3.5 million square kilometre South China Sea if it chooses to do so.

With some poetic justice, it is the push-back by the weakest of those littoral states, the Philippines, which has given Beijing a drubbing and changed the future course of regional power politics.

In 2013, after Chinese ships roughly expelled Philippines’ fishing boats from havens in Scarborough Shoals, an area of the South China Sea clearly within Manila’s 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ), the administration of then president, Begnino “Noynoy” Aquino decided to take Beijing to court. Manila asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, founded in 1899 and the world’s oldest institution for settling international disputes, to rule on Beijing’s claims and behaviour in the South China Sea.

From the start, Beijing refused to have anything to do with the judicial proceedings, which it dismissed as a “farce,” despite having ratified UNCLOS in 1996. The court therefore took into consideration public statements Beijing has made about its claim that the South China Sea and its islets and reefs have been Chinese territory “since ancient times.” Of particular import in the Beijing case is the map of the South China Sea marked with a “nine-dash” line that appears to show nearly 90 per cent of the sea as Chinese territory. This map was produced in 1947 by the Kuomintang government of China that was defeated in the civil war by the Communists in 1949.

Modern Beijing has always been purposefully ambiguous about what it claims the “nine-dash” line represents. The strength with which Beijing affirms its claims depends entirely on how firmly they are challenged. Sometimes Beijing suggests it has full sovereignty over the area within the line. At other times the suggestion is that, although Beijing claims the Spratly and Paracel islets, it has only economic interests in the fisheries and submarine oil and gas reserves in the bulk of the region.

A central strand in the court decision is to clarify several of the questions stemming from the creation of UNCLOS in 1982 about the degrees of sovereignty that accompany ownership, occupation and use of islands, islets, rocks and reefs. As such, this is a precedent-setting judgement that has profound implications world-wide for nations that base territorial and economic claims on possession of maritime outcrops. That includes Canada’s claims in the Arctic, some of which are challenged by Russia, Denmark and the U.S.

The court’s 15 main findings fall into three areas. The first deals with the status of “historic rights” under the UNCLOS regime, the second with the degree of sovereignty imparted by possession of rocks and reefs versus islands, and the third with China’s behaviour in the South China Sea.

The panel’s first assertion is that by ratifying and therefore accepting the dominance of UNCLOS in 1996, Beijing voluntarily erased all its “historic rights” in maritime regions. Beijing cannot, said the judgement, accept UNCLOS and assert its old territorial claims at the same time.

Throughout its escapades in the South China Sea, Beijing has acted as though the islets, rocks and reefs it claims in the Paracel and Spratly chains give it full sovereign rights. These would include the surrounding 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) of territorial waters, and, more significantly, the 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) exclusive economic zone. It is this surrounding 370 kilometre EEZ, covering rich fishing grounds and what look like significant submarine oil and gas reserves, that has been asserted by Beijing to justify its claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea right down to Indonesian territorial waters.

The court says, in effect, that China’s claim is bunk. All of the islets in the Spratly chain are what the panel defines as rocks. The judges’ criteria are that unless a maritime feature in its unaltered state can sustain human habitation or economic life, it is a rock that does not give EEZ rights, only the 12 nautical miles of territorial waters. China’s massive illegal construction project in recent months to build seven islands does not change that, say the judges. Even if the Spratly islets do belong to China, said the judgement, they are within the Philippines’ EEZ, whose claim predominates outside the 12 nautical mile of territorial waters.

That passage will make uncomfortable reading for Japan, which claims a 200 nautical mile EEZ around Okinotorishima, a man-made research station on a coral atoll 1,740 kilometres south of Tokyo in the Philippine Sea. The judgement makes it clear there is no foundation for Japan’s EEZ claim.

In the third area of the judgement the panel is highly critical of the behaviour of Chinese forces and agencies. It was illegal in 2011 for China to interfere with Philippines oil and gas surveys in the Reed Bank northeast of the Spratly Islands, say the judges. The judgement only deals directly with complaints by the Philippines, so it does not address the incident in 2014 when the Chinese moved an oil exploration rig into waters south of the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam. The judgement suggests that action by Beijing, and others where Chinese ships have purposefully damaged oil exploration gear being used on behalf of Vietnam, were also illegal.

Equally illegal, says the court, have been the operations of Chinese fishing fleets within the 200 nautical mile EEZ of the Philippines coast. Even more unbecoming has been Chinese treatment of Philippine fisherfolk, when the perils of the sea demand mutual support among seafarers irrespective of nationality. Chinese Coast Guards’ denial of access to the sanctuary of a lagoon in Scarborough Shoal in the Spratlys was unacceptable, says the judgement.

As well as declaring Beijing’s island-building illegal, the panel also looked at the effects of this construction and of its industrial-scale fishing operations. The judges concluded Beijing’s dredging operations to build its island military bases caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment.” More “severe damage” to threatened species and the environment has been caused by China-flagged fishing vessels harvesting giant clams, turtles and coral.

Ironically, the conclusive victory for the Philippines’ case causes problems for the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, who was inaugurated last month. One of his election promises was to improve relations with China, which had soured under the administration of his predecessor, President Aquino. Duterte is hungry for Chinese investment in infrastructure, especially for a railway network he lusts to build. He says he’s open to reviving bilateral talks with Beijing over joint exploitation of the resources in the contested area of the South China Sea. But thus far, Beijing insists Manila disavow the arbitration court’s decision before there can be bilateral negotiations. Duterte cannot go that far without risking a backlash from outraged Filipinos.

And Beijing too risks a backlash. In recent years the party’s propaganda machine has invested heavily in stirring up nationalist fervour in support of its territorial claims, in large part to divert attention from the economic slump and the endemic outlandish corruption of senior officials and their relatives. The proud image of a militarily rampant China has found much support – though there are also very many thoughtful Chinese who find it distasteful and dangerous. If Beijing now finds it necessary to slink away from its boastful bluster, there is no telling how the public will react.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Link:

Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, decision.

Related on F&O:

China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Washington, courts defy Beijing imperialism

At long last, the Beijing regime has this week been dealt two significant set-backs to what is the world’s most extraordinary contemporary campaign of imperial expansionism. A tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea decided that Beijing’s claim to own almost all the South China Sea is not an indisputable fact, as the Chinese government contends.

China’s war for Asian domination going well

TOKYO, Japan — China’s war to supplant the United States as the regional super power in the Far East and western Pacific is under full steam and gobbling up its objectives. Over the last 15 years, China has not only built a large and potentially effective navy, it has by stealth and cunning either caused divisions between the United States and its Asian allies, or cast doubt among target states whether Washington can be trusted to support them, or both.

 

 

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , |