COVID19 worsens around the World; New Zealand heading for Level 1 – again


Some days when I look at the COVID19 of New Zealand and then look at the response of other countries, it seems like we are a different planet all on our own doing our own thing. Having successfully fought off what I think was the second wave of the pandemic, New Zealand is once again heading towards COVID19 Level 1, where the country is effectively functioning normally, but with precautions in place. And as we do, I cannot help but look in the revision mirror at the madness engulfing other countries that did not so proactively respond to it.

What I find really off putting is how poorly the western world has done in fighting COVID19. With the exception of Germany, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand, most western countries have had and continue to have a torrid time – it is not to say that it was a walk in the park in New Zealand, far far from it, but thanks to a proactive response New Zealand has managed to avoid the case explosion that has happened in the United States, Brazil, India and elsewhere. With support across the House of Representatives, New Zealand has been able to tackle this as a nation and not as individuals. With effective communication, New Zealand has avoided the chaotic responses seen in European countries. And with the comparative lack of socio-political division, we have avoided becoming like the United States, the wealthiest country in the world tearing itself to bits as violently as it can without a second Civil War starting.

Yes, there are countries that we could be more like. I am particularly impressed with Taiwan’s effort. Taiwan has had in the 8 months that COVID19 has been around, 509 cases and 7 deaths. It is recording one or two new cases a day and its death toll has not increased in months. But unfortunately Taiwan is more of an exception, rather than the norm.

The few countries that have lesser cases than Taiwan and are considered to be first world are non-existent. The few countries at all that have less cases than Taiwan are Pacific island nations such as the Cook Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, and so forth. These countries by their isolated nature, small size and lack of connection with the outside world pre-emptively shut down without waiting for recommendations to do so. However their very weak health systems mean even just a few cases of COVID19 could be disastrous.

Brazil, after peaking on 29 July at 69,000 new cases a day, has tapered off somewhat, but is still recording 33,000 new cases or the equivalent of the entire population of Blenheim each day. It has had 138,000 deaths from 4.59 million cases. Its President Jair Bolsonaro, denies the existence of COVID19 despite testing positive for it himself. Like India, like other countries whose cities have large slum areas, Brazilian urban areas have been swamped by COVID and my guess is that whilst 4.59 million cases have been recorded, there are probably hundreds of thousands more that are unknown.

India is finally facing up to something I had long dreaded would happen. Because of the relatively large size of India and poor transportation, I thought COVID19 would take a bit longer to spread around the country and it appears to have done so. But at the back of my mind I worried that when COVID19 did eventually arrive it would be potentially catastrophic. The acceleration of cases in India is truly shocking to watch – in one day last week, the equivalent of the entire population of Palmerston North (95,000) was infected; 5.6 million cases to date. Mortality rates though are not as high as I thought, with 1,053 dying on 22 September 2020.  With poor hygiene and sanitation practices, I expect that India’s case rate will worsen for a while longer yet.

And then there is Australia, a country that for the most part has COVID19 in check. Yet at the same time, Victoria, its second most populous state is locked down and has been for six weeks. Its politicians are arguing over whether to individually open up their states whilst Victoria finishes mandatory lock down. The cost to Australia, like New Zealand will be substantial, but if the former can successfully shrug off COVID19, it might be able to join New Zealand and other nations that have seen off the second wave in a COVID19-free bubble.

And so here we are. How did so many other nations with much greater resources, man power and expertise manage to mess up so badly, not once, but twice?

New Zealand must draw the line with China


In the last week two things have happened that remind me why New Zealand and the world must stand up to China. China’s abuses are happening because western nations lack the gonads to stand up and tell China that this abuse is not acceptable.

The first thing is the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. This is a draconian piece of legislation that Beijing has spent the last year trying to get passed. If passed – which it did last week – it would enable Chinese secret police to operate in the open; dissent would be a criminal offence and trials in Chinese courts with life sentences would all be permitted. It originally could not do it directly because Hong Kong rose in protest. Then it tried to get it passed through the Hong Kong legislature. That failed too. So a vote went ahead in Beijing to ratify without Hong Kong input.

The second is the resurfacing of the Jian Yang problem. Jian Yang is a National Party Member of Parliament with suspected links to the Chinese Communist Party. Mr Yang denies them, but refuses to talk to the New Zealand media about his past. I wrote about this yesterday.

One should fully expect Beijing to throw a tantrum, something the Chinese Government is prone to doing every time it gets called on its abuses. They will tell us to stay out of their affairs as China stays out of other nations affairs. Which is totally not true. When opposition to Chinese influence developed in Fiji a few years ago, China sent police over to arrest 75 people.

Pro-Beijing supporters here in New Zealand have often confronted dissidents at peaceful demonstrations, and tried to intimidate them into stopping their activities. Some have gone so far as physical confrontation. A New Zealand academic’s house was broken into a few years ago, as was her office just a couple of days apart, following the release of a paper that she had helped author into Chinese Government influence in New Zealand politics.

New Zealand must draw the line on China. New Zealanders have a right to expect that their country will be free from foreign interference in domestic processes.

One might argue that then we are being hypocrites in being involved in China’s domestic affairs. And this is where there needs to be differentiation. The major concerns regarding China’s domestic affairs centre around their attempts to control sovereign states not under their direct control, namely Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Their agreement with Britain over Hong Kong was that it would be under Chinese rule, but maintain a democratic form of governance – One State Two Systems. For 23 years with slowly worsening Chinese influence, this was largely the case. All that changed on 1 July 2020. The introduction of the security law last week effectively ended the One State Two Systems and replaced it with One State One System. In the week since they have arrested over 300 dissidents, forcibly unseated the democratically elected council.

In the case of Taiwan, China views this most successful of all of the Asian nations in terms of fighting COVID19 as a renegade province. Chinese nationalists envisage a day when Taiwan might be taken by force, as it it is too strong and independent to surrender without massive resistance. Taiwan will be significantly harder because taking it by force invites a major military conflict. More likely China will continue to try to intimidate Taiwanese politicians and block its attempts to join world bodies.

We cannot turn a blind eye to Chinese international aggression. We have seen ample examples of what happens when an aggressor is allowed to get away with unjust acts – the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the rest of that country in 1939. Nor can we turn a blind eye as the world did in the 1930’s to China’s affairs when entire ethnic groups are being subjugated in Xinjiang Province and it is here I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous words:

First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me

China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang are utterly terrifying to read about. A vast network of camps with almost concentration camp like conditions in which Uighur Muslims are being held. Many are being used for slave labour. Among the female prisoners rape is rife; torture and beatings are common. Whereas other parts of the country enable relatively free movement, Xinjiang is like some sort of Orwellian nightmare come true – everywhere closely monitored electronically, visually and otherwise.

It is a shame that such a great nation like China, which has contributed so much over the course of history to this planet is behaving like this. However many people wondered – and probably still do wonder – how Germany came to be an international pariah in the 1930s and 1940’s. History, after all, has its lessons. We would do well to learn them.

 

Why we need to be concerned about National Party M.P. Jian Yang


During the weekend, on my Twitter account RobertGlennieNZ, I asked Tova O’Brien, reporter for Newshub if she would take up the case of National Part Member of Parliament Jian Yang, and his reluctance to do what I believe is a basic responsibility of any Parliamentarian: to front the media on reasonable request.

If @TovaOBrien wants to do something useful for New Zealanders, how about getting on the case of Jian Yang. If a Member of Parliament will not front the media, they should not be in Parliament. You are entitled to ask him the hard Q’s Tova, even if he does not like it. Democracy.

It was a largely spur of the moment thought, having just read an article about the difficulty of getting Dr Yang to talk to New Zealand media. I was expecting a few likes, retweets and replies. What I was not expecting was 313 likes; 60 retweets and 20 replies – Twitter activity levels that I thought would have been akin to someone standing for Parliament. Perhaps I struck a chord with people because the overwhelming feedback was positive, but the matter clearly resonated with many.

There was one reply that stood out among the responses. One person argued on Twitter that whilst it was neither right, nor wrong, Mr Yang had made a decision not to engage the New Zealand media and we should respect it.  Another one said that Mr Yang will speak to media, but it is only Mandarin written/spoken media, which in a predominantly English speaking country is no use at all to the vast majority of New Zealanders; New Zealand journalism or New Zealand democracy.

I disagree. Yes, Mr Yang clearly made a decision. However Mr Yang holds an elected position in our Parliament. Whilst he is a list Member of Parliament who came in on the back of National’s party vote instead of winning an electorate seat, he has the same responsibilities as the other 119 Members of Parliament. In as far as Mr Yang is not prepared to talk to New Zealand media upon reasonable request, I believe he should not be in Parliament.

So, one might wonder why I am expending an entire article on Mr Yang. The fact of the matter is that there is more to the story of him in Parliament than most people realize and because of that, I am going to delve a bit into his history prior to becoming a National Party Member of Parliament, because there is a story to be told. Much of the evidence below comes from the work of Professor Anne-Marie Brady, a Chinese politics specialist at University of Canterbury.

Dr Jian Yang grew up in Jiangxi Province in China and attended the Australian National University where he earned a Masters of Arts and a Doctorate of Philosophy. During the 1980’s Dr Yang had a period where he was in the Chinese military in a civilian non-ranked capacity. Whilst in the military worked in the Peoples Liberation Army (P.L.A.) Airforce Engineering College and the Luoyang P.L.A. University of Foreign Languages.

Although Mr Yang has claimed not to have directly taught Chinese spies, he has admitted that he could reasonably be viewed as having done so virtue of his teaching. Official Information Act documents show that he did not disclose his military intelligence work. And further questions were asked in 2017 in Australia about his time in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I was prepared to ignore those, as they are in the past, but more recently Dr Yang has been linked to the Chinese United Front, an organization working to push Chinese activities and influence in New Zealand. He was also invited to attend a military parade in Beijing to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 2019, which suggests to me that even if he is a New Zealand citizen, he is maintaining some sort of high level relationship with the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

It strikes me as interesting that organizations across the political spectrum are refusing to buy into the National Party claim that Dr Yang has their confidence and that we should not be concerned. The Taxpayers Union for example say that Mr Yang has a responsibility to talk to the media. Political commentators such as Michael Reddell have expressed frustration at not being able to get Mr Yang to talk to English speaking media.

Dr Yang could resolve much of this fairly immediately by talking to the New Zealand media. As long as he refuses to do so, they are – as are New Zealanders – entitled to draw their own opinions about his actions and the motive for them.

Lessons from Russia


A  film about a German film maker Werner Herzog meeting former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, has brought back to public attention some basic lessons from Russia. As the largest of the countries that used to make up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Russia was the economic and military mainstay of the Soviet bloc, with garrisons in a dozen different nations – Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Albania. But when it collapsed a series of blunders by the west that continued for nearly a decade and contributed to the current stand off we find ourselves in today with a revived Russian bear, hollowed out whatever ideological victory the west might have had.

I believe one of the biggest mistakes made since the Cold War ended was the abject failure to rehabilitate Russia and the other former U.S.S.R. members. The period from the end of 1991 when the U.S.S.R. formally dissolved after voting itself out of existence on Christmas Day that year to when Vladimir Putin, a former K.G.B. agent became President in 2000 was a time of ethnic, social and economic instability. Few in the west seemed aware of the changes – even less probably cared.

No effort was ever made to help Russia or its fellow former Soviet Republics with a transition to an economic system not reliant on 5 Year Plans that here almost always excessively ambitious. Subsequently massive job losses were announced across the board. Wages plummeted. An American volcanologist writing about colleagues around the world said that one of his Russian colleagues was reduced to $35 a month in income. The concepts introduced by the last Premier Mikhail Gorbachev were perestroika (openness) and glasnost (reforms)meant well and were absolutely necessary, but thanks in large part to the west rolling around in the victory over its eastern rival, they failed.

Nor was any effort made to address the fact that these countries, having just spent the better part of a human life under a totalitarian regime directed from Moscow and upheld by local puppets, did not understand democracy. No effort was spent on helping them build new institutions, removing the corruption that came with the Communist command-economy and teaching those that were trusted with the transformation of the institutions how to go about their jobs.

After the Cold War ended former Soviet Republics found themselves with abandoned military hardware and infrastructure that Russia could not afford to maintain. Literally rusting in ports in Archangel, Odessa, Sevastopol, Murmansk and others were Soviet warships whose crews were weeks or even months behind in being paid. Many of them had nuclear propulsion and some had nuclear weapons or the means to store nuclear weapons on board. The poor state of repair no doubt contributed to the Kursk submarine disaster in August 2000.

But perhaps the greatest cost to the west was political. Having failed to help with Russia’s rehabilitation it was now consigned to watching the rise of Mr Putin, whose vision of Russian greatness has only been matched by his cunning. Using divide and conquer tactics he has partially annexed the strategically important Crimea. He managed to build up Russia influence in Iran and Syria, prolonging the civil war in the latter and tacitly endorsing the anti-American sentiments of the former.

Now, the west wonder why Russia went down hill following the Cold War and why Mr Gorbachev, who is now 88 is issuing an old but familiar warning once more: demilitarize politics between the U.S. and Russia or else. The warning signs have been there all along, but in racing to think that Francis Fukuyama’s “End of history” thesis was somehow the future, we forgot the past.

 

China will not tell New Zealand what to do


So, Beijing is getting grumpy with New Zealand for taking a stand on Hong Kong. What a surprise.

There are very good reasons to be thoroughly alarmed by Beijing’s actions with regards to Hong Kong’s sovereignty. And as of Tuesday New Zealand time the Chinese government rubber stamped the law that would enabled the crack down on the rights of Hong Kongers. Within a day, following defiant protests, 300 people had been arrested on grounds of violating the security bill, which criminalizes the right to anti-Police, pro-independence slogans, the possession and/or display of any Tibetan, Hong Kong or Taiwanese flags.

This is in direct contravention of the One State Two Systems rule that China’s Deng Xiaoping and Prince Charles on behalf of Britain had agreed to when they worked out the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1984.

I envisage a major flight of western capital and western country nationals from Hong Kong in the coming weeks and months, particularly if Beijing’s crack down on the protests continues with the intensity of yesterday’s events. And indeed I am already aware of New Zealanders based in Hong Kong looking at properties around New Zealand with the intention of leaving as soon as they have something secured.

Along with the brutal repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, one starts to see a picture of a grotesquely totalitarian regime bent on staying in power at any cost. If one then adds the desire to take Taiwan back and its clashes with Indian forces along the line of control, we see an expansionist power as well.

New Zealand needs to take a number of steps fairly immediately to reduce the influence of the Peoples Republic on our affairs. Some of the steps are domestic and some are on the foreign stage. Domestically we need to ban foreign political donations so that New Zealand politicians cannot be bought out by foreign interests, politicians and businesses. We need to get the National Party to remove Jian Yang from its candidate list for 2020 until the Electoral Commission is satisfied that he is not a Chinese Government plant. Internationally, we need to do more to assist our Pasifika neighbours in terms of infrastructure projects, building up their legal institutions and education systems.

Beijing wonders why so many countries get annoyed with it. We are annoyed because in all these years since it began to open up following the death of Mao Tse Tung, China has steadfastly refused to understand that human rights are not just a western construct. They are a universal construct applicable to every man, woman and child across the planet. Its brutal subjugation of hundreds of millions of people, puts it on par with the United States and Moscow for destructive negative influence on the global well being of humanity. Unless and until this changes, Beijing, like Moscow, Washington D.C. and the capitals of other human rights abusers will continue to be subject to the criticisms levelled at it by N.G.O.’s fellow Governments and individuals.