Foreign affairs

Venezuela’s economically illiterate President Hugo Chavez grieves for his fellow buffoon-despot, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi/Gadhafi/Kaddafi. We never did agree on a transliteration of the name of the ‘martyr’, so he will be forever diced and scattered under different headings among encyclopedias and indexes. He joins Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki in Hell’s Arab Quarter, where there is presumably still room for Syria’s tyrannical daddy’s boy Bashar al-Assad.

China, after instinctively opposing regime change when the Libyan uprising began earlier this year, has had to accept the will of Gaddafi’s rebellious citizens. An amusing twist came when the Libyan revolutionary leaders hinted that when the time came to sign oil contracts, they might not forget China’s preference to keep the dictator in power and the masses oppressed. From Sudan to Zambia to Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, there is the potential for similar squirming if and when Beijing-friendly rulers give way to leaders less broadminded about China’s determined approach to obtaining natural resources.

Today’s China Daily asserts that Syria is not another Libya. The West, the commentator says, should stop trying to turn the Mediterranean into a NATO lake and pushing its ‘values’ on others, and follow the noble and responsible example of China, which doesn’t intervene in the internal affairs of other countries. Except it presumes the right to tell Indian companies who they can or can’t sign deals with, and it feels free to rearrange ex-Bishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday party invitation list. After upsetting South Korea and Japan in the last couple of years, and restating breathtaking claims to ownership of the whole South China Sea, China’s newfound assertiveness is getting clumsier. Beijing’s stridency in ensuring that it will not be hemmed in make it more likely that informal Indian-Vietnamese-US and other alliances will form to do just that.

China’s external stance is at least partly intended for domestic consumption. Ridiculously lavish Olympic Games ceremonies, the launch of a man into space and the renovation of a clunky ex-Soviet aircraft carrier look self-indulgent and delusional to outsiders, but are presented to the Chinese as proof of the Communist Party’s unique ability to lead the country to glory. The territorial claims and outbursts of ‘hurt feelings’ look arrogant or childish from overseas, but are designed to go down well among the local audience.

I am currently reading Henry Kissinger’s On China (obtained free of charge courtesy of JP Morgan’s 2011 Summer Reading List). It is no doubt self-serving, but his accounts of the early meetings with Zhou Enlai and Mao include vivid reminders of just how out of touch China was with the rest of the world, and how ultimately self-centred the country is, right down of course to its very name. Today’s Chinese leadership is just as self-absorbed. What foreigners think of China’s behaviour overseas doesn’t really register. Assad looks relatively safe for someone who has slaughtered thousands of his own people, but Gaddafi will not be the last wrong horse China backs, and Libyans will not be the last people to realize that Beijing couldn’t care less whether as fellow humans they live or die. All that concerns Beijing is that foreign rulers sell raw materials, and the Chinese people remain loyal and placid. That’s all of the world that matters.


This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Foreign affairs

  1. Walter De Havilland says:

    China was certainly on the wrong side of the Libyan issue until it became clear that the Mickey Rourke lookalike ( too much plastic surgery I suspect) was on the way out, and then it was about turn.

    Reports that the Mad Colonel had access to submarine and intended to sink the QE2 Liner are emerging. All of which makes Tony Blairs attempts to cozy up to Gaddifi look more unacceptable.

  2. Baldleon says:

    Well, with all due respect to being self-centered with respect to geographical names, the Mediterranean Sea does mean the “Sea at Center of the Earth”, goes all the way back the Greco-Roman times.

    Good luck to Libya; just hope they don’t creep back to the bad habits of le ancien régime a la Egypt next door.

  3. maugrim says:

    Im wryly smiling to myself about the celebration of the centenary of the 1911 revolution in China when a lot of the points raised as to why such a revoltion was beneficial/should be celebrated could easily apply to modern China. The Central Government is surely naive to think that revolutions start and end with a single incidence, particularly in China.

  4. Real Tax Payer says:

    Thus pass into infamous history and ultimate obscurity who think they can govern by dictate rather than by mandate ( regardless of how that mandate is earned)

    Hope Don, Henry etc all take note of that

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    But I must add a rider:

    Yes one may condemn China for backing middle-eastern dictators ( dictators at best : genocidal murderers more realistically) in the interest of securing oil and raw materials etc

    But who was it who funded Iraq to fight Iran in a mutual- self-destructive way for so many years ( or was it : who funded Iran to fight Iraq ? same same )

    And who invaded Iraq on trumped -up accusations of weapons of mass destruction , just because the invader wanted the Iraqi oil (check youtube/ Bird and Fortune / Iraqi Oil skit for a laugh, but then realize that it’s actually true )

    And who is in bed big time with the Saudis , nasty Arab Sharia-law country that they are ( as long as Saudi Arabia happily sell USA oil and allow the USA to build their infra-structure ) ?

    Well bless my soul ! It’s good old Uncle Sam, saviour of the western world, model of decency and ” all that is right – and NEVER what’s wrong , never once deposed a non-USA-friendly but free-elected leader ( remember Panama ? )

    Mmmmmmmm …. makes China look like an shining angel

  6. Joe Blow says:

    Daffy was a scumbag alright, and we all loved to hate him. But he was not a scumbag in the same way that Marcos, Suharto and Mobutu were scumbags. He used his country’s oil wealth broadly for the benefit of the people. All slums were cleared, for example, and the general standard of life wasn’t bad in Lybia. especially compared to other North African countries.

  7. stuart says:


    Time to come home, mate. I think

    (a) you’ve been up north too long, and/or

    (b) you need to find something better to do up there of a Friday evening, than lurk around these here cyberparts.

    I would suggest a beer together back here in HK, but based on your ranting nuttyness, I’ll pass….

  8. Real Tax Payer says:

    Stuart :

    I’m now home, back in HK for the weekend ( and the world rugby cup finals live : one must get one’s priorities right !)

    But after 25 years working full-time in China ( except for weekends in HK) I think I can claim to understand just a LEEEETLE of what goes on “up north” .

    I assume you also spend all your working time “up north” and also speak and write fluent Chinese. Correct ? If so, let’s have a beer at Delaneys in Wanchai and chew the cud very happily *

    Read ” Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins

    Or just try that youtube link : ” bird and fortune / iraqi oil ”
    It will either make you laugh or cry ( or both)

    (Then try “bird and fortune / sub-prime crisis” and understand that skit was made long BEFORE the sh1t hit the fan)

    FYI : 1/3 of the super hi-tech company I work for is based in USA so I regularly go to USA and even more regularly exchange views with my (quite hi- IQ) USA colleagues. They all share my views ( = total disgust) re the total hypocrisy of Uncle Sam re USA foreign policy : which makes me wonder “what kind of person is the average American who elects such dumbos”

    Hey – even Donald or ( dare I say it Henry ) would have made better decisions than GWB in the past few years

    * Serious offer … send you email address if YOU are serious

  9. Holidaymaker says:

    Stuart, agreed.

    RTP: if Hemlock is freelancing for MI5 as was suggested by a former lurker here, have you had an offer you can’t refuse from the Chinese govt or are you just losing your mind?

    Your simultaneous critique of those who govern by dictate and rejoicing over the myriad, wondrous successes of China is either PhD level doublethink or chronic, degenerative loss of perspective.

    In the unlikely event of money or favours changing hands, the Brits are certainly getting the better deal.

  10. Alex says:

    You forgot ‘Qadaffi’.

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    China is forced into the role of new kid on the block, as outsider trying to show off what it can do without openly confronting the rather complacent club of insiders. So, although it would be a bit harsh to deny the country any achievements, its great, overriding, weakness is its inability to deal with other countries, its failure to understand that its “model” is not the only one. Its paranoia about Trojan horses may, then, ultimately prove to paradoxically be its Achilles heel.

  12. Pooky says:

    Dear Hemlock,

    Could this be the same buffoon Gadaffi who was embraced gladly not so long ago by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (I’m guessing he has a grip on economics slightly better than Chavez), the same Gadaffi whose LSE educated son not so long ago sipped champagne on board Rothchild’s yacht with non-other than George (Gideon) Osborne, the current British Chancellor of The Exchequer (again, probably a better grip on ecomics than Chavez) and Lord Peter Mandelson, no slouch when it comes to making money. Gadaffi was a murdeous madman who should have been put on trial. Too many of the peole in power who cosied up to him did not want that for obvious reasons. People of your economic persuasion were happy to do business with this wretch of a man, precisely because they have a very sound understanding of economics. Spare us the intellectual double-speak Hemlock. It doesn’t wash.

  13. Alex says:

    …and ‘Qaddafi’.

  14. Real Tax Payer says:

    I can’t get over this morning’s news !

    Gaddaffi had US$200 BILLION stashed sway = US$ 30K for every single Lybian

    How on earth can one spend US$200 B in a lifetime , or even US$1 B, or even HK$ 1 B ( unless you have a dog that needs HK$140 K per year for dog food) ?

    I know that ( as George Bernard Shaw wrote) ” Money cannot buy you happiness, but at least money does allow you to live miserably in comfort” But seriously … what DO all these ultra rich HK tycoons and petty middle- eastern dictators ( same same ) do with the billions they have stashed away ?

    When good ole Uncle Sam ( and his UK poodle ) sucks up to these middle eastern dictators for as long as – but only as long as – it suits them, is that the same as / worst than/ better than Donald Duck & Co sucking up to the likes of Li Shau Kee and his 39 Conduit Road scandal cover-up ?

    As I grow older some things in this world start to really stink.

    Guess increased sense of smell comes with old age

    I would love to see some – if not all – of our HK tycoons laid out in an abbatoir like the late Colonel G

    On a brighter note (and to make sure I still have my real priorties straight) the Kiwis justly won tonight vs France.

    Twas a hard- fought match and all the French in the bar next to me agreed that le France lost with honor, as I do I .

    But very interestingly, the huge French guy behind me, who was the only French guy who stayed on while the Kiwi fans celebrated, commented that throughout Asia, wherever BRITISH law prevails ( or semi- British law) – those are the countries where doing business is easiest .

    So he heartily commended GB for its legacy in Asia

    Now there’s a thing, especially from the mouth of a (just-defeated ) Frenchman

    Guess BJ still has a long way to go …..

    Certianly : doing business in China is NOT easy

  15. Chris Maden says:

    Joe Blow: I lived in LIbya for a year.

    You are way wrong on your assertion that Gadhafi spread the wealth around. All he did was built a few roads for show, while he enriched himself massively.

    As to “All slums were cleared, for example,”: yes, they were. The residents were forcibly rehoused and the area never rebuilt.

    When it comes to “the general standard of life wasn’t bad, especially compared to other North African countries,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. With Libya’s wealth, the appropriate yardstick is countries in the Gulf (Oman, UAE, etc.), and Libya was woefully behind both materially and in terms of political freedoms.

    Gadhafi squandered Libya’s potential for a generation. Good riddance to him.

Comments are closed.