Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's About Oil, Apparently

More notes than a coherent argument from me, I'm afraid. But that's OK (by me) because I'm not meeting a coherent argument either.

Pick any dictatorship at random and chances are you'll find China lurking in the background


Er, Russia. Oh, don't look at me like that, if Putin's a democrat, I'm a performing flea. And yes, he said, 'chances are', but then the whole idea rather needs clarification on what one means by 'dictatorship' and 'background'. Pick any country, and you'll probably find trade links with China. Even the US, gosh! Pick any dictatorship and you'll find some link to the US, gosh again!

There will be no Tibetan contingent, of course. Chinese immigrants are obliterating the identity of the occupied country, which will soon be nothing more than a memory.


I'm not sure if Tibet or its identity will 'soon be nothing more than a memory' but either way, I'm not sure I care. Countries change their names and borders all the time. As for national identity, I'd sooner bet my live savings that I can grab a fistful of sea than try to define 'national identity' to, let's be fair now, a jury of four people to their agreed satisfaction. But immigrants, eh, don't we all hate them? I don't think that China should occupy Tibet any more than I think that Israel should occupy the West Bank. But it's the army I object to, not the human traffic, in both cases.

Will Beijing be like the 1936 Berlin Olympics Hitler used to celebrate Nazism?


But isn't the thing everyone remembers now Jesse Owens four gold medals, rather upsetting the whole 'master race' thing?

Or the 1980 Moscow games the Americans boycotted in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?


Actually, we did too. BBC.

I suspect the past won't be a guide because the ideological struggles of the 20th century are over. China's communists are communists in name only. They are not helping dictators because they are comrades who share their ideology.


This seems to go against Nick's pronouncements against Communists in "What's Left?" I'll admit that I'm not clear as to what a communist is or should be, though if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that they helped others because they're human, but if it comes to ideology, the left has enough falling-outs that helping anyone as "comrades who share their ideology" seems pretty unlikely.

There's a curious giveaway over two paragraphs (though I'll admit that a lot of Nick's stuff reads like he's struggling to meet some word count: so the 'filler' bits either express his 'true', 'unconscious' beliefs or are just waffle, depending on your interpretation.)

Human Rights Watch points out that if, say, Sudan were to turn into a peaceful state with a constitutional government, the Chinese would not care as long as the oil still flowed. ...
Campaign groups and governments that want to promote the spread of democracy have been far slower ...


If there is a choice between 'democracy' and human rights (and I'm not sure there is; but Nick's formulation suggests to me that he thinks that the US-based Human Rights Watch don't want to spread democracy and may even be against it), I'll take human rights any day. Just saying.

David Miliband showed he understood the dilemmas of the new century when he gave a lecture in honour of Suu Kyi in Oxford last week. He described how the great wave of democratisation, which began with the fall of Franco's dictatorship in the Seventies, moved through South America, the Soviet empire, South Africa and the tyrannies of East Asia, was petering out.


I didn't realise that any of the above were connected. If they are, how did this 'great wave of democratisation' work?

The Foreign Secretary was undiplomatic enough to continue that the economic success of China had proved that history was not over and he was right.


I think even Francis Fukuyama admits that ['history was not over'] now. God, that was a silly essay. Even when I still took the Guardian semi-seriously, I remember trying to work out if it was a joke or not.

The only justification for the Beijing games is that they will allow connoisseurs of the grotesque to inspect this ghoulish hybrid of the worst of capitalism and the worst of socialism close up.


Actually, if I were the Observer's sports editor, I'd think that sending JG Ballard to the games would be an excellent idea. However, surely there are other points to the Olympic Games and the ghoulish bits will be glossed over.

I will say that I'm not enamored of the Beijing Olympics and personally support Spielberg's boycott. (I'm not sure about a competitors' boycott; I think he's done the right thing for himself and his conscience.) But the Olympics also provide a means of defection (if not now, then later) for competitors. That in itself is not support for dictators. Also, the Olympics are another channel of communication, and one that opens China to Western Commerce: I'd have though Oliver Kamm - of all Nick Cohen's contacts - would have supported global capitalism in that it ought to herald global democracy.

Fire away in the comments, I'm sure you want to. Just give your names, please.

32 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

I'm a bit shocked at Nick not remembering that Britain boycotted the 1980 Games - I remember Nancy Banks-Smith had a running gag about the Boanese (the British competitors went as the British Olympic Association = BOA).

As for idealistic Communists helping their international brethren, that was never the Chinese CP's MO. It was always a bit Machiavellian and Great Game-ish, even under Mao - I remember they backed the FNLA in Angola rather than go in with Cuba behind the MPLA, for example.

Very thin.

2/17/2008 11:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Andy P said...

Anyone notice Nick seems to have plagiarised Johann Hari's article of the other day? I though The Traitor Hari had been expelled. It seems he can still be stolen from across the ideological dividing line.

2/18/2008 12:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should be firmer on the boycott. I live in China, and I know how much the games means to the authorities in terms of face and prestige. Its precisely at this time that the Chinese authorities should be reminded that not everyone in the West is going to give them a free pass on their daily human rights violations, and we should show solidarity with those trying to get rid of this shoddy dictatorship (its not just internationally that it has scant regard for human rights - human rights violations are a matter of routine in China).

Whilst some boycotts are indeed mere gestures and ineffective, the Olympics represents one of those rare opportunities to drive a point home.

2/18/2008 02:40:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's not clear to me how any boycott is going to be any more than "mere gestures and ineffective". That's not to say that individual gestures can't be effective, and Spielberg's probably done the right thing in he right way. But there's nothing specific, nothing unique about China in the way that there has been (and is) about other states and there's not sufficient worldwide feeling about it to make it effective.

Which is a shame, because the political and cultural obliteration of Tibet really is one of the great imperialist disgraces of the age. I wonder if it would help if people displayed Tibetan flags or something? In the circumstances, stating that there is such a place as Tibet might be a useful thing to do.

2/18/2008 08:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spielberg's probably done the right thing in he right way.

Surely the right thing would have been to not agree to it in the first place? it's not like china's human rights abuses haven't been well known for ages. Abandoning the games over Darfur is ignoring the wider context.

also as a small note aren't HRW routinely pilloried for the heinous crime of 'singling out' Israel?

2/18/2008 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Surely the right thing would have been to not agree to it in the first place?

Well maybe, but if we could turn the clock back we would all win a great deal of money on yesterday's horses.

Could I refer you to the closing paragraph in the original post?

2/18/2008 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

the fall of Franco's dictatorship in the Seventies, moved through South America, the Soviet empire, South Africa and the tyrannies of East Asia

Did David say how many of these were achieved by the military invasion of the countries concerned?

2/18/2008 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Martin Wisse said...

Did David say how many of these were achieved by the military invasion of the countries concerned?

Did he even notice that this "great wave of democratisation" was largely opposed by the same people he's now allied to?

2/18/2008 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Perhaps Alan NTM Johnson should commission a piece for the next Decentiya on the following lines:

"Surely the real question here, which all decent peope should be struggling with, is why Cohen is *singling out* China? Given that there are so many worse regimes in the world, surely the only explanation for Cohen's emphasis is anti-Chinese racism. It is surely but a short step from the attitudes expressed by this bruschetta-munching columnist to the violence suffered by members of the Chinese diaspora here and there. etc etc"

2/18/2008 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I'm a bit shocked at Nick not remembering that Britain boycotted the 1980 Games

Perhaps because we didn't. I think the government issued 'advice' to atheletes not to go but many if not all disregarded it. Didn't Sebastian Coe will a gold medal at the Moscow Olympics?

2/18/2008 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Jubb said...

Actually, I think the idea of waves of democratisation is a pretty common trope in the relevant academic literature. I can't explain what makes them waves though, because I don't really know anything about the relevant academic literature; hence also the 'I think'.

2/18/2008 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Perhaps because we didn't.

I think the discussion is not about whether or not British athletes went - in fact there were British competitors in nearly all sports - but under what title they were competing. See Phil's reply, the first in this thread.

2/18/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democracy waves is another Zeitgeist artfully voiced by Samuel P. Huntington. See Wikipedia on 'The_Third_Wave_of_Democratization'.

Marc Mulholland

2/18/2008 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think telling athletes to boycott the Olympic Games when hardly anyone else in the country is willing to make the tiniest effort in their relations to China is rather unfair. The Olympics is the pinancle of many athelete's career, and only comes around ever four years so it's not like you get many goes at it. That's not the same as buying a new TV set, computer, visiting the Great Wall, having an account at Morgan Stanley, or (perhaps) using British government services paid for with debt subsidised by China, which are also all reliant on the Chinese government to some degree or another, yet which don't seem to raise the same concerns.

You can argue that the Olympics is linked to the government and the government's prestige, but so are the major industries and state investment funds.

Sporting boycotts have their place, but I'm sure most have tended to go hand-in-hand with economic ones (or there was little trade to begin with), and the latter should lead the former, surely.

2/18/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Quite right Matthew. The boycott of South Africa was both economic and sporting, for example. Just trying to stop sporting links is cheap posturing of the worst kind.

To be honest, Nick is becoming more and more trite or incoherent, I mean:

"They are not helping dictators because they are comrades who share their ideology. They have no ideology beyond national self-interest and a well-warranted desire to stop the outsiders insisting on standards in Africa or Asia they do not intend to abide by."

Since when did any of the "great powers" ever behave any differently. This could apply to the US since the year dot.

2/18/2008 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

I'm sure Portuguese readers will be surprised to hear that the wave of democratisation started in Spain in 1975...

2/18/2008 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

"David Miliband showed he understood the dilemmas of the new century when he gave a lecture in honour of Suu Kyi in Oxford last week. He described how the great wave of democratisation, which began with the fall of Franco's dictatorship in the Seventies, moved through South America, the Soviet empire, South Africa and the tyrannies of East Asia, was petering out..."

As if Nick himself understands 'the great wave of democratisation' and hasn't just stolen the concept from an abstract of an academic article he found when he typed "democracy" into Google Scholar.

2/19/2008 12:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These Olympics have a special place in the mentality of the Chinese authorities, in a very separate way than any other activity, Matthew.

They form a great opportunity to put pressure on the Chinese. Personally I don't think these games should have been awarded to China. That being as it is, it would disappointing if things are made too easy for them. I know that China's state propaganda and censorship machine is in full swing, and already folk are being arrested and spied upon.

It would be nice to think that a few people out there are going to cause at least a few controversies for them. It would depressing if the entire world media fell in line with this dictatorship. But reading these comments, it seems that may be the case - lets hope there are at least a few people out there can stand up for what's right.

2/19/2008 12:52:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It would depressing if the entire world media fell in line with this dictatorship. But reading these comments, it seems that may be the case

Curious that the AW comments box should be (anonymously) considered representative of "the entire world media". Has anyone told Chomsky?

2/19/2008 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/19/2008 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Sorry, I mangled my sentence. I'll try again.

It's not the impact on China I was criticising, which might be as large as you suggest (which would in turn make it even more unlikely) but that it seems hypocritical and counter-productive for the UK Government to make a protest against the Chinese government this way, and yet at the same time sending the PM on trade missions to boost trade with and try to get cash injections from the same Government. It would show what it is, which is a lack of seriousness, and one which was made because it doesn't cause much pain in the UK (except to the athletes).

If you're arguing that it's precisely because this wouldn't cause much pain in the UK but would have a major influence on China, then it's worth doing, then that might be a good argument. But I'm not persuaded on the details.

2/19/2008 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Waves of democratisation"

Some of the academic literature uses this kind of phrase but only as a starting point. Most academic literature then goes on to look at the details, and it becomes difficult to support the hypothesis that democracy spreads naturally like a wave. In fact much of the literature demonstrates how thin and weak democracy is in many places ("low intensisty democracy" etc) or how much effort is required to consoldate incipient democratic institutions in many places. The phrase "waves of democratisation" is used by politicians to avoid the tricky questions about what happened ineach case (for example, what was the decisive date in Nicaragua, 1979 or 1989?)

Of course there are some linkages. There was little interest by the West in the lack of democracy in Spain and Portugal until 25th April 1974. The fact that the PCP became an important actor in Portugal in 1974 (because it was the only party with underground structures pre-1974) meant that the West felt that it had to intervene in Portugal in the name of democracy. This meant that when Franco died it became less viable for the West to support a non-democratic future in Spain. However I donlt think that Milliband wants to think too much about this kind of detail.

Guano

2/20/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous bobby peru said...

Chaps

Think you should really post something on Castro.

Very predictably the Decents have got their knickers in a terrible twist over the retirement of El Commandante, and are exhibiting all their worst characteristics...

Black and white one dimensional thinking...selective outrage...complete inability to understand moral complexity...historical amnesia...rude and dispicable bad faith in conducting arguments with those who have a different opinion.

in spades.

2/20/2008 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Depends whether by "the Decents" you mean "one or more of several prominent intellectuals and columnists" or "the frustrated interrogators at Harry's Place and the crazies in their comments boxes". In the latter instance I think as little notice should be taken of them as possible.

2/20/2008 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous bobby peru said...

In the latter instance I think as little notice should be taken of them as possible

Don't be so earnest!

HP is the gift (of laughter) that keeps on giving.

2/20/2008 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

And so it is, but it's the kind of gift that should be kept as a special treat.

2/20/2008 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Terence said...

"Wave of democratisation"?

Wasn't that a Pixies song?

2/21/2008 07:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with EJH. We should distinguish between Decents who are prominents intellectuals and columnists, and the crazies who inhabit Harry's Place and its comments' boxes. I deliberately avoid entering the world of the latter as I have neither the time nor energy to deal with their mindsets. I think that it is worth trying to figure out what Nick and Aaro and Kamm and Geras etc are up to because it often gives some pointers to what real-world politicians are up to or what smoke-screens they are trying to create.

It will be interesting to see, for example, what they have to say about the latest twists in the saga of the Iraq dossier.

Guano

2/21/2008 09:21:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

... especially the removal of the references to Israel's WMD.

2/21/2008 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I am really not convinced that you can draw any kind of line between the so called "intellectuals" (Kamm, Geras, Hoare, Cohen etc) and the fruitcakes who run and post at HP. In my opinion there is but a blue rizla between their perspectives. Kamm is often popping up at HP to defend various madcap points of view. Look at yesterday's deranged post on Castro from Shabbas Goy and sure enough one of the "intellectuals" (Hoare) quickly dives in to give it his full endorsement.

As for the stuff on dodgy dossiers and dodgier Israeli nukes, the Decents have a tried and tested method for dealing with unwanted news. They studiously ignore it.

2/21/2008 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Decent-watching does, of course, involve noting what they don't say and which subjects they avoid.

2/21/2008 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous stephen said...

I think the discussion is not about whether or not British athletes went - in fact there were British competitors in nearly all sports - but under what title they were competing. See Phil's reply, the first in this thread

Fair enough-ski - I stand corrected!

2/21/2008 06:00:00 PM  

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