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Category Archives: globalisation/corporations

“Guest post” – Tim Costello

This comes from Sojourners, where you will also find three relevant videos.

Why Climate Change Matters to the Lives of the Poor

by Tim Costello 12-16-2009

World Vision is at the Copenhagen climate change talks because this is no longer an environmental crisis alone, but a deepening humanitarian crisis. Climate change is already affecting lives and livelihoods in the countries where we work, as described in graphic ways by so many in our national offices. It amplifies a number of humanitarian disasters that we are called on to respond to. Equally, it amplifies key issues of our development efforts by intensifying malaria, diarrhea, compromised water sources, and sustainable futures for many of the communities where we work.

These leading figures in humanitarian relief — John Holmes, Josette Sheeran, and Eric Laroche — spoke passionately today about the challenge.

The chasm between developed and developing countries at this conference with four days to run has tragically widened. The UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon, in urging a resolution spoke of avoiding 2 degrees warming. This was immediately denounced by more than 100 developing nations, who said 1.5 degrees warming is all they can tolerate because of their vulnerability.

The West, with historical responsibility for the greatest greenhouse gases in the current warming impacts, has not yet tabled GHG cuts that would result in containing rising temperatures to even 2 degrees. This gulf must be bridged.

Tim Costello is CEO of World Vision Australia.

 

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The inspirational Muhammad Yunus

Here is a clear case of the importance of rejecting group-think, stereotypes and prejudices about Islam and Muslim people. Andrew Denton interviewed Muhammud Yunus on Monday. See also: Meet the New Heroes and the Yunus Centre:

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ANDREW DENTON: Your dad, have I got his name right? Doula Mia?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Doula Mia, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: You described him as, you were what you were largely because of him. What was it he taught you?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well he didn’t have much education, he went to school up to eighth grade, my mother went to school to about fourth grade. But he always wanted his children to go to school. He valued education very much, so every single child he wanted to put in school and kept them in the school. Usually in a business family of that level they always want to get their children to come and work with them, expand the business and so on, but my father never tried to do that. My father always said "No no, don’t waste your time, you stay in school and continue with your education". So that was very important. He was a very religious person.

ANDREW DENTON: He did the Hajj I think three times didn’t he? He went to Mecca three times.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Yeah, that’s right, he performed his Hajj.

ANDREW DENTON: What’s your memory of him going doing that?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well, at that time going to Hajj was a big thing because there was no plane to take you, so you go by ship. So for them it’s a big journey to go and we, as kids, we waited for all the gifts for us, when he gets back.

ANDREW DENTON: Like kids everywhere.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Like kids everywhere, yeah.

ANDREW DENTON: What sort of gifts would he bring back from the Hajj?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: From Hajj he’d bring … dates, this is a very favourite one so we would like to wait for them and lots of trinkets for kids… even the coins, we loved the coins he would bring for us, the coins of another country, so that’s another attractive thing for us.

ANDREW DENTON: So exotic.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Exotic, yes…

 

Not quite the promised climate change post

I need to pause before I attempt the summation I promised yesterday, so below I will list some additional resources.

But first some preliminary observations.

1. While “MAGIC PUDDING POLITICS” (Rudd on Brer Abbott) is not nearly as effective a mantra as “GREAT BIG TAX ON NEARLY EVERYTHING” (Brer Abbott on Rudd) the greater truth is in the Rudd mantra. The idea of a costless response to climate change is a sick joke. I do in fact believe that nuclear power should be in the mix, siding to that extent with Brer Abbott (and James Lovelock), but that has to be seen in a context too.

THE Opposition’s desire to embrace nuclear power in the absence of an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax would result in electricity price rises of between 10 per cent and 33 per cent, according to estimates by the Howard government’s nuclear energy expert, Ziggy Switkowski.

In a report for John Howard in 2006, Dr Switkowski found nuclear power would never be commercially viable unless fossil fuel-generated electricity was made more expensive using an ETS or carbon tax.

This resulted in Mr Howard embracing an emissions trading scheme as a way to reduce greenhouse gases while keeping open the nuclear option for the future.

In a dramatic departure from policy, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has abandoned support for any market-based mechanism, such as an ETS or a carbon tax, as part of the Coalition’s greenhouse strategy…

2. It is such a shame the whole issue has become politicised, but I suppose that is inevitable in a democracy. Fact is, however, that there are limits to what “debate” can actually achieve in the face of phenomena that really do not depend, in the long run, on our ideological positions or the wheelbarrows we choose to push.  Dithering is one of the less savoury outcomes of a democratic process, not that I prefer the alternative really – but a country like China is actually better placed to act decisively, for good or ill. Such a shame we are mere humans and not gods, isn’t it?

3. Given the abysmal level of much of our dithering both here and overseas, and given the importance of the issue, nothing is to be gained by censorship of the kind that apparently has happened at the CSIRO or by fudging data, as apparently happened at the East Anglia CRU. While we would all do well to forget unlikely scenarios like the movie The Day After Tomorrow and must all concede that Al Gore oversimplified in An Inconvenient Truth, we should also realise that what happened at the CSIRO or East Anglia does not invalidate the overall truth of the IPCC reports. The IPCC does not engage in research; all it does is weigh the research and gather together the implications of that research for our consideration. There was much more input to its reports than East Anglia.

Hence comments like this on the latest offering (for climate change action I hasten to add) of Sojourners, a “left evangelical” site, really are tragic.

I think it is useing a lie to push their ideas. there is no man made global warming. yes take care of the environment, being a christian this should be second nature, shouldnt need to push for eco-prophets. nature changes all the time. thats life. honesty is important and there isnt much of that in this environment "emergency" that is being pushed. The other point is that the UN has no concern for the poor. they people they have chosen to make us believe in global warming are liars. and the proposals they want to accomplish will Not help the poor but make it harder for them. If you cant see that then you have blinders on.

There are so many prejudices running through that comment one hardly knows where to start.

4. Check some recent stories in the Sydney Morning Herald.

5. Realise that there are left as well as right-wing critiques of “market strategies” like cap and trade or carbon tax.

The Same Boat

Imagine 10 rabbits lost at sea, in a boat carved out of a giant carrot.

The carrot is their only source of food, so they all keep nibbling at it. The boat is shrinking rapidly – but none of them wants to be the first to stop, because then they’ll be the first to starve. There’s no point in any of them stopping unless everyone stops – if even one rabbit carries on eating, the boat will sink.

This is the international climate crisis in a (Beatrix Potter-flavoured) nutshell: action by individual nations achieves little unless we all act together. Of course, reality is a little more complex. While it’s easy to imagine the rabbits reaching a simple agreement where they all learn to dredge for seaweed instead, our situation involves massive global inequalities, differing levels of responsibility, and a history of exploitation and broken international promises.

Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be too surprised that the international climate negotiations – which began in earnest in 1990 with the talks that created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – have not yet got us a workable global solution. The best we’ve managed so far has been the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialized nations (known as ‘Annex 1’ countries) pledged to cut their CO emissions by a completely inadequate 5.2 per cent by 2012. The US famously pulled out of the deal, and most of those who remained in are unlikely to achieve even these small cuts…

Down with Kyoto

We shouldn’t get too hung up on Copenhagen – we’re far more likely to create lasting change by building powerful national and international movements than by pouring all our energy into specific summit meetings. But it’s hard to deny that we need some sort of international framework for tackling this global issue. Despite its flaws, the UNFCCC is the only one we’ve got, and the urgency of the climate issue requires us to work with it.

However, the Kyoto Protocol has been a dismal failure. Should we demand that governments scrap it completely and start again from scratch? It’s tempting, but would be unlikely to gain the crucial support of Southern negotiators, who fear that a brand new deal would see them lose their hard-won ‘differentiated responsibility’.

A better approach might be to create space within the existing talks for alternative, fairer systems and ideas – such as GDRs, Kyoto2, community-led solutions, indigenous rights, strings-free clean development assistance, patent-free technology transfer – to get a hearing. Currently emissions trading, private financing and market-based mechanisms are seen as the only route to greenhouse gas reductions, and are crowding everything else out of the debate.

This suggests a simple, effective starting point for developing a successful – and just – global agreement: we need to get rid of carbon trading…

Confused yet? One tip though: if anyone has all their ideas on the subject from Quadrant or Ms Devine or Mr Bolt they aren’t worth taking too seriously. The entries immediately above, on the other hand, are predicated on an anti “free market” perspective. They are putting their faith in sustainables as the answer. I don’t really see either as being much practical help, though more is to be said for the New Internationalist stance than Quadrant’s.

OK, I’ll try again later on…

See also: entries here tagged “environment".

 

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Waltzing Matilda 21st century style – current reading

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Circular Quay 1938

Illustration from A D Fraser This Century of Ours 1938

How the wool industry dominated this part of Sydney back then.

The past is another country,

I am in retrospect/introspect mode at the moment. My gut feeling about my country is very much this:

"For all their embrace of enterprise," writes Davis, "Australians want to live in a fair society — an Australian-style egalitarian society, not a US-style harshly competitive society."

Now that truly resonates. It comes from an Age review of Mark Davis’s The Land of Plenty: Australia in the 2000s (Melbourne, MUP 2008) which I am currently reading. Mark Davis hitherto has been best known for his spray Gangland published ten years back. It didn’t impress me overmuch, I have to say, but his recent book certainly does. I’ll have more to say when I have finished it.

Meanwhile there is an extract on Crikey.

Australians have always been dreamers and thinkers, who, over the past 200 years, have worked to make this one of the world’s innovative democracies. One of the world’s oldest continuous democracies, most Australians lived under democratically elected governments by the mid-1850s, and the nation as a whole has been a democracy since Federation in 1901. In 1856, three Australian colonies in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria introduced the world’s first secret ballot, a system that was known as the “Australian ballot” on its introduction in the United States in 1888.

In 1856, Australian workers were among the first in the world to campaign for an “eight hour day”, a measure that was progressively adopted across various industries and states until it was formally granted to all workers in 1948. In 1899, Queenslanders gave the world its first Labor government, intended to represent ordinary working people rather than powerful vested interests. In 1902, Australian women became the second in the world to get the vote — New Zealand had led the way in 1893.3 American and British women had to wait until 1920 and 1928 respectively. In 1907, the “Harvester Judgment” helped enshrine the principle of a basic wage, a world first that laid the foundation for the wages arbitration system.

Progress continued through the twentieth century. In 1973, in another world first, the Whitlam government appointed an adviser on women’s affairs, a lead that was followed after 1975 by all state governments. In 1982, the Fraser government introduced freedom of information legislation, the first of its kind for a Westminster-style government. In 1993, in another pioneering move, the Keating government legislated to ratify the overturning of the doctrine ofterra nullius, by which Australia had been considered untenured land pre–white settlement. In an innovative twist, white law was able to reach back before white settlement to recognise law that had come before.

Being Australian is an ethical project. It was in these pioneering moments that the specifi c combination of traditions and ideas that makes up Australian values — egalitarianism; the “fair go”; the idea that one person is as good as the next, irrespective of background — was founded. What all these reforms had in common was that they were levellers that sought to protect the small from the powerful. These ethics were to a degree oppositional. Australia, perhaps more than anything, offered the chance of an escape from nineteenth-century Europe and especially Britain, with its industrial squalor and workhouses, intractable class differences and rapidly worsening inequality, brought on by economic laissez faire.

This colonial outpost wasn’t just a sunnier and more bucolic new beginning; it also gave a chance to a basic fairness and equality of opportunity at odds with the prevailing ethos at “home”. Nor did these reforms simply happen by themselves, as if the universal pursuit of fairness is an essential Australian national character trait. Rebelling miners, small farmers, unionists, feminists, judges, politicians, intellectuals and others all played a part in struggles for social justice that have rarely been doctrinaire. Australian people, on the whole, haven’t aspired to ideological purity. They’ve aspired to become middle-class…

See too a WordPress blog.

Part of the mix too are several of Jim Belshaw’s recent posts, some of which are first-rate in terms of thoughtfulness. I am sure Jim would find Mark Davis stimulating if sometimes annoying.

 

Norm, Ahmed, Shafana, Aunt Sarrinah, radicalisation and Australia

The first of the Things to look forward to is now done. It was the world premiere of Alana Valentine’s Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah and a revival of Alex Buzo’s 1969 classic Norm and Ahmed.

pakistanirestaurant shafana-0026-aunt-sarrinah-8low

Left: “Ahmed” takes “Norm” to a Pakistani Restaurant

Right: the opening scene of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

Pics from the Alex Buzo Company blog linked above.

Of her new play Alana Valentine writes:

I hope Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah will surprise audiences with its portrait of Afghani Muslim women, who are articulate, highly educated, deeply spiritual and enraged by the way Australian and global media paint them as oppressed, meek and silent. To be part of a project where Buzo’s theme and concerns might be reignited through a new work…is genuinely exciting. In effect, it allows the ‘conversation’ to move into a third dimension: not just Buzo speaking anew to the 21st Century, but Buzo reflected and responded to through the voice of a contemporary playwright. It’s a vision of Australian theatre as a historical continuum…

Alana’s plays are always grounded in in depth research and interviews with the groups she is representing; that depth came through in last night’s performance which both Sirdan and I found very thought-provoking. The issue is whether or not Shafana should wear hijab. She eventually decides she will, even if Aunt Sarrinah, whom she dearly loves, is somewhat appalled by that decision. The play takes us beyond our often mind-numbingly dreadful understanding (if that is the right word) of the issues Australian Muslim women face and that we face in our response to them. A valuable exercise well dramatised, if, I thought, just a bit slow off the mark at the beginning.

As for Norm and Ahmed I agree with the woman sitting next to me in the theatre: “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  Sirdan was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) but could well relate to Norm and Ahmed – for him it was, unlike for me, as new as Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. He agreed that the contemporary relevance of this forty-year-old play was quite amazing.

A thoroughly good night out.

By coincidence, my mind still on Alana’s play especially, I read a truly excellent article in this morning’s Australian: From a human to a terrorist by Sally Neighbour.

… The perplexing question is: Why? How does a seemingly ordinary young man come to embrace violent extremism? Its corollary, the question that confounds counter-terrorism experts worldwide, is: how can we stop them?

The rapidly morphing nature of global terrorism demands an evolving response. Since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida has diminished but its ideology has flourished, spawning hundreds of like-minded groups and cells across the world. US terrorism specialist Marc Sageman describes this new phenomenon as a "violent Islamist born-again social movement" straddling the globe. Its fragmented and anarchic nature makes it arguably a bigger threat than al-Qa’ida, according to Britain’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, unveiled in March this year. Unlike the once highly centralised al-Qa’ida, the new grassroots terrorism cannot be fought with border protection measures or military strikes, but must be tackled at its roots.

This reality has spawned a new buzzword in the anti-terrorism fraternity: counter-radicalisation. Its aim, in Sageman’s words, is to "stop the process of radicalisation before it reaches its violent end"…

Sageman, the pre-eminent expert on radicalisation theory, is a former CIA mujaheddin handler in Pakistan, now a psychologist and author of two books, Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad. After studying 165 jihadists, Sageman is adamant that terrorists are not born but made. There is no psychological profile of a terrorist and Sageman believes "root causes" such as socioeconomic deprivation are overrated. The most common factor in the making of a terrorist is alienation. Of the jihadists Sageman studied, he found that "a remarkable 78 per cent were cut off from their cultural and social origins". He concludes "this absence of connection is a necessary condition for a network of people to join the global jihad"…

Sageman adds they are not violent psychopaths but "generally idealistic young people seeking dreams of glory fighting for justice and fairness"…

Much better in its analysis that most of the rants you see. The dynamics of that alienation, though not in a form likely to lead to terrorism, are also seen in Alana Valentine’s play.

Oh – and a footnote. I have always thought taking the French path and “outlawing” the hijab in Australia would be really stupid. Fortunately both John Howard and Kevin Rudd have not been tempted.

* Special thanks to Emma Buzo. 🙂

Update

See the The Australian Stage review.

[On Alana’s play] …This is a powerful night at theatre and a welcome, bold, essential addition to the culturally homogeneous theatre one can expect to see in some of the larger venues around town. I believe this to be an extraordinarily brave and bold double bill containing four very fine performers. Actors who embrace the challenge of new work, with new perspectives are worth their weight in effusive praise and I feel compelled to mention the spectacular performances by Camilla Ah Kin and Sheridan Harbridge who confront this subject with tenderness, fierceness and great compassion – to the extent that I felt stunned and broken by the time the lights dimmed.

 

BBC World Service: some food for thought

I tend to listen to the radio for a while before going to sleep at night, usually between 10 pm and midnight. If I happen to tune in to ABC News Radio at that time I get the BBC World Service. While some may see this as a hangover from times past, I rather rejoice in it. Just lately there have been two standouts.

1. The Reith Lectures 2009: “A New Citizenship: Professor Michael Sandel delivers four lectures about the prospects of a new politics of the common good.” I caught the tail end of the first one last night and the audience Q&A. Excellent stuff, and an encouraging perspective on what may emerge from the present troubles. The era from Reagan/Thatcher to the meltdown now feels increasingly like a passing era, not a destination, as many economists in the 1990s saw it – an age of “market triumphalism”. What Professor Sandel is advocating, however, is not the end of globalisation but a new model for the relations of market, state and people.

2. BBC Radio 4’s Analysis: Economy on the edge. There is a podcast, but a summary rather than a transcript. The summary leaves out much that was of interest in the broadcast, but gives the main outline. The panel was particularly interesting: George Soros, Willem Buiter, professor of European political economy at the London School of Economics and former member of the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England, Christine Lagarde, Minster of Economic Affairs, Industry and Employment in France, and Zhu Min, executive vice president of the Bank of China.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2009 in current affairs, globalisation/corporations, radio

 

China, the USA, the car, and the environment

Two good items from Monday’s Arts & Letters Daily.

1. P J O’Rourke, The End of the Affair. Provocative and ironic as usual…

The phrase “bankrupt General Motors,” which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as “Mom’s nude photos.” And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.

Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses…

The American automobile is—that is, was—never a product of Japanese-style industrialism. America’s steel, coal, beer, beaver pelts and PCs may have come from our business plutocracy, but American cars have been manufactured mostly by romantic fools. David Buick, Ransom E. Olds, Louis Chevrolet, Robert and Louis Hupp of the Hupmobile, the Dodge brothers, the Studebaker brothers, the Packard brothers, the Duesenberg brothers, Charles W. Nash, E. L. Cord, John North Willys, Preston Tucker and William H. Murphy, whose Cadillac cars were designed by the young Henry Ford, all went broke making cars. The man who founded General Motors in 1908, William Crapo (really) Durant, went broke twice. Henry Ford, of course, did not go broke, nor was he a romantic, but judging by his opinions he certainly was a fool…

2. Jacques Leslie, The Last Empire: China’s Pollution Problem Goes Global.

…The emergence of China as a dominant economic power is an epochal event, as significant as the United States’ ascendancy after World War II. It is in many ways an astonishment, starting with the ideological about-face that enabled it, the throwing over of Maoist values for plainly capitalist ones starting in the late 1970s. So thorough is the change that the 19-foot-tall portrait of a stolid, potato-faced Mao Zedong that still looms over traffic-choked, commerce-suffused Tiananmen Square looks paradoxical, even startling, in seeming need of an update in which Mao winks—or sobs—in blinking neon. Meanwhile, inside Beijing’s Forbidden City, the heart of old China, buildings with such intoxicating names as Hall of Preserved Harmony and Palace of Heavenly Purity bear signs reading, "Made Possible by the American Express Company."

The grander astonishment is the most massive and rapid redistribution of the earth’s resources in human history. In a mere two and a half decades, China has awakened from Maoist stagnancy to become the world’s manufacturer. Among the planet’s 193 nations, it is now first in production of coal, steel, cement, and 10 kinds of metal; it produces half the world’s cameras and nearly a third of its TVs, and by 2015 may produce the most cars. It boasts factories that can accommodate 200,000 workers, and towns that make 60 percent of the world’s buttons, half the world’s silk neckties, and half the world’s fireworks, respectively.

China has also become a ravenous consumer. Its appetite for raw materials drives up international commodity prices and shipping rates while its middle class, projected to jump from fewer than 100 million people now to 700 million by 2020, is learning the gratifications of consumerism. China is by a wide margin the leading importer of a cornucopia of commodities, including iron ore, steel, copper, tin, zinc, aluminum, and nickel. It is the world’s biggest consumer of coal, refrigerators, grain, cell phones, fertilizer, and television sets. It not only leads the world in coal consumption, with 2.5 billion tons in 2006, but uses more than the next three highest-ranked nations—the United States, Russia, and India—combined. China uses half the world’s steel and concrete and will probably construct half the world’s new buildings over the next decade. So omnivorous is the Chinese appetite for imports that when the country ran short of scrap metal in early 2004, manhole covers disappeared from cities all over the world—Chicago lost 150 in a month. And the Chinese are not just vast consumers, but conspicuous ones, as evidenced by the presence in Beijing of dealers representing every luxury-car manufacturer in the world. Sales of Porsches, Ferraris, and Maseratis have flourished, even though their owners have no opportunity to test their finely tuned cars’ performance on the city’s clotted roads…

 

Sol Trujillo as victim of malicious Rudd racist “adios”…

… only if the unexpressed “arrogant turd” is racial vilification. We colonials take rather unkindly to being labelled “backward”, and I am sure the Singaporeans were not impressed by Trujillo’s stewardship either:

SOL TRUJILLO’S claims on the BBC that Australia is a racist country sit oddly with the dog-whistle politics which Telstra played so hard and so often under his three-year stewardship.

"We are an Australian company, majority owned by Australians. We are not from Singapore or anywhere else," Mr Trujillo’s chairman, Donald McGauchie, told shareholders at the company’s AGM a year ago.

The Singapore reference was a shot at Telstra’s main competitor, Optus, which is owned by Singapore Telecommunications…

So writes Michael West in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. I even find myself in broad agreement with Peter Costello, former Howard treasurer:

There are plenty of reasons to be critical of Sol Trujillo’s performance as chief executive of Telstra. Race is not one of them.

Kevin Rudd was foolish to take a cheap shot – saying "adios" – when Trujillo left. And Trujillo is milking it as evidence that Australia is racist.

But come on, Sol. You came to Australia and took up the prize job in Australia’s telecommunications industry. After four years you are leaving with $30 million of cash and bonuses. And you want us to believe you are a victim of racism?…

Trujillo says he changed Australia. Not in the way he thinks. One change is that corporate boards are going to be more wary of overseas appointments in future. Australian executives are as good as any in the world. A chief executive who understands the country and has a long-term interest in its future is a valuable asset for a company in a sensitive sector.

The Telstra directors could not have been surprised things ended the way they did under Trujillo. His previous track record was there for all to see. In my view, the board has a lot of explaining to do. It’s about judgment and performance. It is not about race.

The “Ugly American” rides again…

Yesterday I remarked on Twitter: “What a twerp!” Indeed.

 

Good commentary on Australian economy

Over in the sidebar you will see various perspectives, Oz and other, on the current economic crisis – an area I am far from expert in. Not listed there are Jim Belshaw’s posts in his Management Perspectives blog.

I commend them to you.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2009 in Australia, current affairs, economic crisis, globalisation/corporations, Jim Belshaw, other blogs, Political, politics

 

I too was offered a free trip to China…

… and M was once thought to be a Chinese spy.

Back in 1990 when I first met M, then very recently arrived in Australia, I was living in Paddington at PK’s place – and a nice place it was too. The first morning M appeared at breakfast PK was quite nonplussed – being of Lithuanian background he had fairly strong Cold War views in some respects, though not in others. He did indeed suggest soon after that M may be a Chinese spy. He later changed his mind and may even deny the story today. 😉

No doubt among the very large influx of Chinese students at that post-Tiananmen time there would have been some spies, mostly there to monitor the other students. Chinese were used to being monitored. M solved the problem back home in China by joining the neighbourhood spooks – hiding in plain sight, you could say. The neighbourhood committee of spooks also had a benign role; as well as reporting suspicious activity they were agents too of social welfare. M claimed he was particularly lax on the reporting side, especially given his own association with quite a few westerners.

My students at the language college I then worked in more or less assumed someone could be a spy, or “a boss” as they tended to say, and sussed one another out before they started opening up about certain topics.

About a decade later I was offered a free trip to Shanghai by the parents of one of my SBHS students – and not to influence me, as it was offered after the exams. As M said, they were just being Chinese and were grateful I had helped their son. I found a face-saving way of refusing the gift.

Where I tutor in Chinatown there is a prominent display on the wall of photos of the principals in the company with leading pollies, including Mr Ruddock. This is part of the Chinese way of business – establishing your connections or guanxi.*

“Guanxi” literally means "relationships", stands for any type of relationship. In the Chinese business world, however, it is also understood as the network of relationships among various parties that cooperate together and support one another. The Chinese businessmen mentality is very much one of "You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." In essence, this boils down to exchanging favors, which are expected to be done regularly and voluntarily. Therefore, it is an important concept to understand if one is to function effectively in Chinese society.

The importance of "Guanxi"

Regardless of business experiences in ones home country, in China it is the right "Guanxi" that makes all the difference in ensuring that business will be successful. By getting the right "Guanxi", the organization minimizes the risks, frustrations, and disappointments when doing business in China. Often it is acquiring the right "Guanxi" with the relevant authorities that will determine the competitive standing of an organization in the long run in China. And moreover, the inevitable risks, barriers, and set-ups you’ll encounter in China will be minimized when you have the right “Guanxi” network working for you. That is why the correct "Guanxi" is so vital to any successful business strategy in China.

Although developing and nurturing the "Guanxi" in China is very demanding on time and resources, the time and money necessary to establish a strong network is well worth the investment. What your business could get in return from the favors for your partners are often more much more valuable, especially in the long run, and when you’re in need. Even domestic businesses in China establish wide networks with their suppliers, retailers, banks, and local government officials. It is very common for individuals of an organization to visit the residence of their acquaintances from other organizations, bringing gifts (such as wine, cigarettes, etc.). While this practice may seem intrusive, as you spend more time learning the Chinese culture, it will become easier to understand and take part in this practice that is so central to successful Chinese commercial activity…

We should keep this in mind as we contemplate the Joel Fitzgibbon affair and the activities of Ms Liu. Still, the narrative is very much, and not entirely wrongly, taking what I may call the PK route. See Greg Sheridan in today’s Australian.

NO nation makes a greater espionage effort directed at Australian military and commercial technology than does China.

It was because of China’s massively increased espionage activities in recent years that in 2004 the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation set up a new counter-espionage unit.

But the problems China poses for a country such as Australia in the security and espionage field extend far beyond what might be regarded as traditional espionage.

Beijing has the most unified and co-ordinated sense of national power of any big nation on Earth. Modern China is not a democracy, but it is a very effectively functioning modern state.

It has a highly competent bureaucracy that seeks to penetrate all sectors of Chinese society and serve what the ruling Communist Party regards as the broader national interest. This includes monitoring, and where possible influencing, Chinese business people and students in their activities overseas.

This is a highly elusive matter, extremely difficult to quantify.

The overwhelming majority of people of Chinese ethnic background living in Western societies such as Australia or the US have no relationship with the Chinese state.

And most of those who do have any relationship with the Chinese state have an entirely wholesome one, such as doing business with the Government or promoting cultural exchange.

But the Chinese Government seeks to use every resource it can to gain information and to exercise power. That includes, on the testimony of Chinese defectors and Western intelligence agencies, often using business people and students as agents where it can recruit them…

He isn’t entirely wrong, far from it in fact, and does at least qualify what he says; but the framing of what he says does tend towards suspicion of Fitzgibbon and Liu, and Fitzgibbon must have been especially dense not to have declared those two trips.

And of course they spy, we gather intelligence – but that is another matter.

Back in the mid 90s I had the opportunity to meet the former Minister of Culture Wang Meng who was visiting from Beijing. He was at that stage on the outer, as he had publicly refused to congratulate the troops after Tiananmen. He still had plenty of guanxi though, apparently. After all, he had been able to come to Sydney. I was interested because I had read some of his stories (in English of course) and they were rather good. M was not so interested and didn’t go, saying he simply didn’t trust anyone in a high position.

See also Australia China Connections.

Update

* Helen Liu sure gets around.

liuhoward

Kind of relevant… See Strange Maps: 368 – The World As Seen From Chang’an Street.

 

Quote of the week: Iris Erlingsdottir

I put this in a comment yesterday, but after watching The 7.30 Report tonight on the UK, and hearing what Warren Buffet has had to say lately, it seemed very apt and very resonant and worth making more prominent:  Libertarian Experiment in Iceland Fails by Iris Erlingsdottir. She is writing neither about Rudd nor Australia of course, but I think it is relevant.

… [Milton] Friedman saw Iceland as his utopia. "I would like to be a zero-government libertarian [but] I don’t think it’s a feasible social structure. I look over history, and outside of perhaps Iceland, where else can you find any historical examples of that kind of a system developing?"

At first, the policies appeared to be very successful. The economy grew at a strong pace, rising until Iceland achieved one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. In 2007 it also topped the score for the United Nation’s Human Development Index.

Iceland rocketed to the top 10 in the indexes of economic freedom. The Cato Institute praised the "Nordic Tiger" for its flat taxes, privatization and economic freedoms, and rated it as the least regulated country in the world.

Unfortunately, it has become evident that these libertarian policies were not the panacea that Friedman claimed they were. In fact, economists are already using Iceland as a textbook case of how to ruin a nation’s economy. As Paul Krugman recently noted, there is an "almost eerie correlation between conservative praise two or three years ago and economic disaster today."…

Aside from which, I just love her name. 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2009 in current affairs, economic crisis, globalisation/corporations

 

Two from The Oz

1. Malcolm Turnbull

I am not going to go here much. Neither has anyone else so far as it stands at 2.20pm with COMMENTS: 0 at the end. Sure is great at phrase-making though – almost Keatingesque:

It is bad enough to have Rudd trying to turn himself, in the blink of an eye, from an adherent of the cautious, responsible economic conservatism of Howard into a slightly more genteel version of a foaming-at-the-mouth radical such as Hugo Chavez.

But to add to that effrontery, we see him every day in the parliament denouncing neo-liberal extremism as he describes me as "the member for Goldman Sachs".

Which seems to be one of Mr Turnbull’s principal beefs in a piece that carries ad hominem to new heights.

I congratulate the Rudds, especially Therese Rein, on their success. Their business grew into a very substantial one in Australia and as other countries followed the Australian approach, grew there as well exporting the expertise developed by them when they seized the opportunity created by Howard’s decision in 1998.

But what are we to think of the wealthiest Prime Minister Australia has ever had, a man greatly enriched by the privatisation and outsourcing of government services, standing up again and again to denounce the very policies from which he and his family have profited so extensively.

It is more than a bit rich. It is as hypocritical, as chutzpadik, as his essay is absurd.

Whether or not Rudd’s essay – which I have read—is the world’s greatest analysis is beside my point really; I would agree that he glossed over the Hawke-Keating years in that essay. On the other hand he is far from alone in his concern that “neo-liberalism” is bearing fruit as we speak.

Whether Mr Turnbull’s essay prevents the Cato-like return from the plough of Peter Costello remains to be seen.

It is probably a good idea to compare Mr Turnbull’s essay with Michael Stutchbury’s feature in the same paper: Too big to resist. Makes Turnbull’s essay seem quite unimportant.

2. Phillip Adams

It’s probably fair to say that Phillip Adams writes and talks far too much, and sometimes it shows. Of course the last person who should say that is a blogger as obsessive as I am. Today is one of his better days.

Early in my newspaper career one of Australia’s most respected educators sent me a stern letter.

Dr James Darling didn’t mince words in his eagerness to mince me. "Dear Mr Adams, I do not approve of you. I do not like what you write. However, I understand that you may have some influence with young readers." He proceeded to attack my most recent column in which I’d been unusually pessimistic about the state of the world.

I’d got a bit rabid, and morbid, from a bite of the black dog, to employ Churchill’s metaphor for depression. Instead of being moist of nose and waggy of tail, as was and remains my puppyish style, a crisis in the Cold War had me snarling at the reader, provoking Geelong Grammar’s most famous headmaster to thrust quill into inkwell. Darling told Adams the cries of pain I was hearing in the world – and these are his exact words – "are not the pains of death but of birth", and recalled other moments in human history when observers had made the same mistake. Confusing – and these are my words – the deathbed with the labour ward. Among his scholarly examples, Greece in the 4th century BC.

Time to reread the old darling’s letter. At a time when the news is not merely of deficit and depression, but of Armageddon and apocalypse. When editorials read like suicide notes. When Obama in his inaugural and Rudd in every other utterance have the sky falling and the end nigh. The bears have killed the bulls and black dogs prowl in packs.

Dr Darling, later Sir James, was right. Forget dodos and dead parrots and cheer the arrival of stork and phoenix…

…This could be the time for the biggest rethink in generations. For improvements to the way we run our businesses, farms, governments, societies, personal lives. We should listen to the Dr Darlings and the Ismail Serageldins because pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not enough to rebuild Henry Ford’s Detroit. It’s time to build William Blake’s New Jerusalem.

So why can I share the hopes, but not necessarily the optimism? Because I well remember another moment like this. And so do you. It was quite recent. The end of the Cold War…

The orchestrated dread of communism yielded to the dread of Islam – or what Christopher Hitchens called "Islamic fascism". It was as if we were addicted to fear and couldn’t live without it. The Cold War was reborn as the War on Terror – and we returned to paranoia. The moment was utterly, tragically lost.

Let’s demand better – the best – from our governments, societies, scientists, corporations and ourselves. Let’s not lose this moment.

 

Love Ned the Bear

He’s a regular on Club Troppo, and I always note whenever it appears in my Google Reader. But this one I love so much I have to share it directly.

ned27-02-09_telstra

Ah Sol! (Be careful how you say that…)

In case you don’t know what this is about, read Departing Trujillo flags more job cuts. See the obscene juxtapositions in a related story:

Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr says there is an extraordinary double standard when it comes to executive pay and worker benefits.

The clothing manufacturer Pacific Brands this week sacked more than 1,800, but last year its top executives received more than $7 million in pay rises.

Outgoing Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo is also due for a multi-million dollar payout.

Senator Carr says the executives need to explain.

"What I’ve seen for many years is there seems to be a great disparity between the way in which executives are treated and the way in which workers are treated," he said. “Look at what’s happening with Telstra. I find it quite extraordinary. There’s an enormous double standard about what happens on the shop floor and what happens in the boardroom." – ABC.

Hard to disagree.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, current affairs, globalisation/corporations, other blogs

 

Bonds, King Gee owner slashes 1,850 jobs – ABC News

Without venturing into the politics or economics of it or analysing it in any way, my gut reaction to this story is great sadness. Here go ordinary jobs for ordinary people. What indeed do they do now? There are not many ordinary jobs for ordinary people left.

Bonds owner and clothing manufacturer Pacific Brands says it will cut 1,850 jobs in Australia over 18 months after posting a $150 million first-half loss and suspending its dividend.

The cost-cutting will see Pacific Brands close the majority of its Australian clothing and manufacturing operations, discontinue small labels and brands, and sell properties or relocate.

The company’s brands include Bonds, Holeproof, Jockey, King Gee, Hard Yakka, Dunlop and Clarks.

A total of 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 650 non-manufacturing jobs will go.

The site hardest hit by the cuts will be the Hosiery factory in Coolaroo, Victoria, where 298 jobs have been lost.

Jobs will also go at Bonds plants in Wentworthville, Unanderra and Cessnock in New South Wales.

There will be more cuts at Holeproof in Nunawading, Victoria, King Gee in Bellambi, New South Wales, and CTE in Brisbane’s West End.

Off to China go the jobs. Admittedly most of them were there already, but you figure the multiplier effect of 1,850 jobs taking into account families involved.

A sad day.