Kmal Shaikh dies so that Wen Jinbao can save face – the fruits of engagement

How many need to die to save the face of Wen Jinbao

How many need to die to save the face of Wen Jinbao?

The British media is reporting that China has gone ahead with the execution of Kmal Shaikh, a 53 year old father-of-three from London who was convicted of drug smuggling in China. His family have claimed that he was mentally ill and requested a medical examination. The examination was refused by the Chinese and Mr. Shaikh was executed by lethal injection.

The British government had made representation to the Chinese but I suspect that there was some fall out from the recent Copenhagen summit where the authoritarian Chinese leadership “lost face”. The Chinese regime has a reputation for throwing tantrums whenever anyone tries to interfere in it’s “internal affairs” and this time was no exception. As far as the Chinese were concerned Mr. Shaikh had to die for China to save face.

So, the British government is now angry, but one has to ask why? Why did anyone believe that a regime that maintains it’s grip on power at the point of a gun would worry about killing one man? Why does the West kowtow to China?

The answer we are given, by our supposedly informed elite, is that we need to “engage” with China and this will bring reform. Engagement usually boils down to allowing western companies to employ Chinese workers in order to  lower costs.

This engagement is taken as an article of faith but I wonder if anyone can site an example where it has worked. I know of no instance where an authoritarian regime has liberalised because outside influences have traded with it and thereby increased that regime’s power. In fact, if assisting a regime to grow richer and more powerful is a recipe for improved human rights, liberalisation and greater democracy then surely this tactic should be tried with Iran.

Our elite are of course TALKING BOLLOCKS! Supporting authoritarian regimes makes them stronger and entrenches their totalitarian instincts. The key to this is that our elites are not interested in greater democracy, they are interested in greater profits.

Our leaders frequently use the terms democracy and capitalism interchangeably but they are not the same. Since the second world war western countries have, in general, been both capitalist and democratic but prior to the war democracy was not so prevalent.

In the UK, prior to 1832 only male landowners could vote. This gradually changed until it included most males by 1918 but women did not get complete voting rights until 1928. So the UK’s claims to be an ancient democracy is complete poppy cock! The UK was, and remains, a capitalist country while democracy is a recent add-on brought about by two world wars and the rise of an alternative to capitalism in the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, with the threat (and implied alternative), of the Soviet Union, western countries became more liberal. Pensions, health care and workers rights blossomed. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the inferred failure of socialism, these hard won gains are being eroded. In the UK, one hears constantly of companies closing pension schemes along with exhortations that we must “compete” with China. By “compete” our elite mean that we must accept lower standards in the work place and lower wages.

Our leaders claim that “engagement” with an authoritarian regime will raise their standard of democracy and human rights but the truth is that the Chinese regime has no interest or need to improve human rights and rather than their standards rising we are being forced to lower ours.

We are told that we must compete or we will lose out, but hold on, the implication of this is that if China did not exist we would suffer some terrible fate as we would not be able to take advantage of their cheap labour. This is bollocks! The west went from strength to strength when the Soviet Union and China were both outside the World Trade Organisation. We may choose to trade with China but we do not “need” China.

It is true that the west has benefitted from all sorts of cheap goods from China. One only has to go onto ebay to wonder that it’s possible to buy a USB flash memory radio transmitter for £ 4.61 (yes , I did this!!). This is amazing value but do I need it? No. Would I sacrifice democracy, human rights and our children’s future for the ability to treat all goods as throw away items? NO! Do I want a world where goods are cheap but freedom is limited to an elite? NO!

The truth is that elites are always greedy – socialist or capitalist. Our leaders want engagement to increase profits but at the cost of democracy, civil rights and human rights. The protection from powerful elites is democracy. China is not a democracy and has shown no interest in democratizing.

We should be extremely cautious about becoming reliant on China for any key product or service. We should also be more robust when dealing with the Chinese. As a start there should be major repercussions from the Chinese leaders reckless behaviour at Copenhagen and execution of  Kmal Shaikh.

Which do we value more, democracy and human rights or a Chinese USB stick?

Related posts:
china loses face by sabotaging climate change talks
china in who’s hands?

Antarctic report 5 – Prime Movers, melt tank and cricket

Artist's impression of sled being readied for Prime Mover

This is the fifth  in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey.

As we have not received fresh photos we have used an artists impression to illustrate the arduous work of offloading the Igaka.

We are preparing for the arrival of the supply ship Igaka. Creek 3 will be our relief area for unloading the vessels when they arrive. We have been briefed on our roles and responsibilities and taken a trip down to the sea ice to get our bearings. There are essentially 3 work stations: Sea Ice, Depot Point and Prime Mover

We will be based on the Sea Ice and be in charge of coordinating loading cargo from the ships hold onto the sledges. The Cargo hold for the Igaka is a double height hold and has a false floor that closes above the lower cargo deck and that can then be loaded with more cargo.

A team of snow cats will shuttle from the shelf ice Depot Point down a 500m ramp to us on the Sea Ice where we have a single sled. This sled will be loaded and then taken back to the shelf ice Depot Point. Once a number of sleds have been loaded a Prime Mover (Challenger snow tractor) will hitch them up and travel the 30 mins to Halley base where they will be unloaded.

Each piece of cargo has its own ID number and specific location for where to will be dropped along the depot line. This is vital as once we have off-loaded the ship this depot line will be in the region of 4km long – you can imagine how long it would take to search for a box or crate of materials!

Loading of the sleds at the Sea Ice can take up to an hour on each lift. The GRP nose cone modules are a bulky and eccentric lift and require there own modified sleds. Removing the strapping to the cargo in the hold will be a task in itself. Over 15t of timber were used in securing the loads to the marine surveyors satisfaction and this is not including the pallets that the cargo sits on.

It is critical that we keep the snow cats moving as we control the pace of the whole relief operation. A prime mover will leave on the hour with the following two leaving at 20 min intervals. This bus time table must be kept to.

The ship is currently less than 200 miles away from us but has been caught in the Stancomb Wills ice flow. This is an area of faster flowing and calving ice shelf adjacent to the Brunt ice shelf (our home). It has been stuck solid for 3 days and has been unable to break free. Ice thickness and density is measured in 10ths – the Igaka is currently stuck in 9/10ths pressure ice.

While we wait we have had other interesting work. We have been tasked with unblocking the melt tank snow chute. All water for the base is created from snow melt water. A large tank (kettle) collects the dozed snow and melts it for our use. The tank was initially buried at ground level and is a circular caisson with a long tube feeding the tank itself. The dozers daily move snow down the shaft. The tank is now over 35m below the snow level. The access ladder to it is raised every year several metres at a time.

The problem we had was that the ice shelf itself had lifted the melt tank and in the process caught the feeder chute and buckled it. We were to remove this length of damaged stainless steel pipe (500m diameter) and shorten the chute.

Suffice to say we had two turfers and a 10t jack working on the section of pipe before it decided to relinquish its grip on its neighbours. This had to be completed that evening so that the tank could be replenished and base have water!

We were given Christmas day off this week which was great. Adrian and I took the opportunity to start construction of a snow hole – we spent 4 hard hours digging the hole and it is large enough to sleep 2 of us. It is much harder than they ever show you on TV.

Spent Sunday morning running with some of my room mates. We ran a total of 15km on firm groomed ice. There is such a difference when the surface is solid and it is still not dissimilar to running in sand or on pebbles of Brighton beach.

A cricket match was organised for the afternoon and the weather was sunny enough to wear shorts. Sunday was also a friends birthday and so after the match we retired to the Ice Bar for Guinness and Whisky to celebrate.

The temperatures this week dipped to minus 15 deg in the evenings and there is hope that a change in the wind direction will aid the Igaka in its journey to us. The Shackleton is catching up and is only 400 miles away. If they both arrive at the same time plans will have to be altered!

We still sit and wait for ships – lets hope this week they arrive.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Anttarctica

STOP PRESS have just heard that the twin otter has flown out to find a route through the ice for the Igaka and that they have transmitted waypoint coordinates for a course through the ice. They could be with us tomorrow with any luck. The Shackleton is currently trying to dodge the largest Iceberg in nearly ten years – it is approx 4km sq and drifting in there direction…..

This was followed by the following short Email on 30 December 2009 at  10:49:05 GMT:

gotta go – ship’s here, 10 mins to pack, talk soon

22/12 Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south
15/12 Antarctic Report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow
08/12 Antarctic Report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic Report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

China loses face by sabotaging climate change talks

wen jinbao loses face

wen jinbao loses face

Following the article in The Independent, a report in today’s Guardian reinforces the argument that it was China that torpedoed the Copenhagen summit. Not only would they not agree to anything but the Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, brought shame to the Chinese people by not bothering to turn up for the final negotiations with around 50 other world leaders including Gordon Brown, secretary-general of the UN Ban Ki-moon and Barak Obama. Negotiations had to be carried out with some Chinese minion who continually had to telephone Wen Jinbao who was presumably “saving face” by hiding in his room.

Wen Jinbao had thought he’d lost face earlier when Obama mentioned targets in public but one really has to question the seriousness, not to say sanity, of a man who would put the whole climate negotiations at risk because he felt put out.

As I have said already, in a previous article, Chinese watchers tell us that China is culturally very prickly and this may be so but I believe this prickliness is not entirely cultural. Rather I suspect it has more in common with other authoritarian leaders who are used to getting their own way and refuse to tolerate opposition. Recall Hitler’s tantrums and Kruschev banging his shoe on the desk at the UN? This is not cultural difference but arrogant and dangerous narcism.

Wen Jinbao may have thought he got one over on Barak Obama and Gordon Brown by this idiocy but to my mind Obama and Brown came out well. They did what they had to. They swallowed their pride and continued negotiating in difficult circumstances.

Wen Jinbao, on the other hand, behaved like a spoilt child. China has had a one child policy for decades now and I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that this has led to a nation of spoilt brats. However, if they’re interested in face then they should not think about facing down Obama and Brown but in providing a safe future for the world’s children.. Put in that context Wen Jimbao lost face big time.

Grow up Wen Jimbao!

Related posts:

china in who’s hands?

Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south

Do you have it in white?

BAS for BHF dont need DFS

This is the fourth in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey.

A quiet week here at 75 degrees south. We managed to complete the mapping of the base this week and have been engaged in odd jobs around the base. The weather has been mild but we have had poor contrast throughout most of the week which makes working harder and slower as we can literally not see the ground in front of us or make out the horizon or sky.

Last week we moved into an annexe near the Drury Building. Life in the annexe has been more basic but ok. The bunks are larger and wider but the space outside the bunk is minimal to the extent that you have to take turns in the morning getting up and dressing. They heat up and cool down quickly due to the electric heaters – the same type we get in site accommodation. The unit has a lobby door to keep the heat in but we are plagued more by the ill fitting blinds that let the mid night sun stream in. I have modified my bunk to give me somewhere to put books and an alarm clock and it is not a bad spot to read or listen to music.

On Friday we built the outside toilet to out little annexe and cored a waste pit with an ice coring machine – this has large corkscrew auger bits approx 300mm diameter with what is effectively an outboard engine on the top of it. It’s a two man job keeping the unit under control once it is put to the ice!

One of the team here is building a gigantic ice sofa for a competition for the British Heart Foundation. It will be used for the summer photo this year and we spent Saturday afternoon carving the sofas arms and legs.

The supply ship Igarka is due in on the 26th December and so we had our Christmas dinner on Saturday. We were given the afternoon off and put up decorations and removed all the furniture from the lounge for a band to set up.

Lunch was at 1600 hrs and comprised a full spread with all the trimmings – we had crackers and glasses of wine and then headed out to the sofa for the photos. The whole base was ferried out in skidoos, sledges and box trailers with the skidoos speeding back and forth to collect and gather every one of the team much like the “little ships” of Dunkirk.

We were treated to hot mulled wine and then formed an orderly queue to climb the steps up to the sofa. I was tasked with pressing the self timer button on the camera and then sprinting the distance to the sofa and getting hauled up by Justin and Adrian within the 10 secs allowed.

We then headed back to the lounge where the bar opened and the night began. We were allowed an extra can that night. Five cans in total but a couple of us borrowed a skidoo to pop back to our annexe for some Hungarian moonshine called Perdinka  It must have been 80% proof and I think capable of removing tooth enamel. We also picked up a couple more beers we had hoarded during the previous weeks.

The band played 10 or 12 numbers through out the evening. It is amazing to see people in different circumstances and with talents you know nothing about. One of the young scientists only picked up the bass guitar earlier in the week!

We then had a carol service and went thorough some old popular carols. We fed on cold meats and buffet style food throughout the evening and I believe I stumbled home at about 0100 hrs looking forward to a lie in the next day.

Sunday was spent doing chores and reading before heading out to the 4km marker (3 barrels stacked on top of each other outside the boundary). The rest of the base settled down to the afternoon movie – The Great Escape!

We will have another week, I think, kicking our heels but the Relief schedule has gone up and I will be based on the edge of the sea ice helping load and sling the sledges with cargo. I have been told that this is a good job as you are in the thick of the action and get to stay on the ship. On the Relief for the RRS Ernest Shackleton I will be a sea ice driver’s mate which entails riding a skidoo behind the Challenger drivers with a safety line and gear to assist if the ice breaks up and the machine falls through.

The management spent much of the time week this flying over the coast working out where we would be berthing the ships and identifying a safe landing spot for us to work from. I believe we will be using Creek 3 and preparations has commenced in grooming the cargo road and putting in a ramp down to the edge of the ice for vehicle access. The field team will use ground penetrating radar to check for crevasses before we get down. I am sure more will be revealed at the Situation Report tonight.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Ant-bloody-tarctica

15/12 Antarctic report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow
08/12 Antarctic report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

Santa Claus in Brazil – Illusion and Reality

Brazil Takes Off

Brazil Takes Off

The following is the first article from our corespondent in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Lula (the nickname of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) is on a roll. He will complete his second and final term in office next year, basking in adulation both at home and abroad. He was everywhere at Copenhagen, schmoozing with world leaders from China, India, America … anybody who really mattered. He has an 80% popularity rating at home, and, according to Barack Obama, “He’s the man!”

It is hard to see his smiling, round and bearded face at this time of year without thinking about Papai Noel. After all, under his leadership Brazil has finally “emerged”. In spite of the global economic crisis, its economy is booming, its currency and stock markets are near all time highs, and the world is finally paying attention. The Economist magazine recently displayed a cover entitled “Brazil takes off” and the BRIC (Brazil – Russia – India – China) acronym has become one of the foundations of current day economic terminology. The future is even more encouraging: Brazil’s potential for growth in agricultural production is one of the highest n the world (even without damaging more of the Amazon rainforest), and a recent massive offshore oil find called the “presal” holds out the promise of major income flows for many years to come.

Lula's no Papai Noel

Lula's no Papai Noel

It hasn’t been all luck; Brazil’s Papai Noel can indeed claim a great deal of credit. When the former machine operator and his Workers Party came to power in 2002, in spite of fears to the contrary, they sensibly continued the liberal economic policies of the preceding government, but also introduced a range of policies to better the plight of the Brazilian poor. The Bolsa Familia, a monthly allowance to poor families who keep their children in school and their medical inoculations up to date, has been credited with allowing millions of Brazilians to move into the “lower middle class”. Sales of consumer goods, from refrigerators to TVs to small cars have exploded in recent years and the malls are packed this Christmas. To counter the economic crisis, the government has invested billions in affordable housing and infrastructure projects. Brazilians have a sense of pride and confidence about the future that has been lacking until recently (in everything other, of course, than the country’s prowess in football).

And yet … so much of the optimism seems to be based on an illusion. Some of the signs are glaring. This government, like those before it, has made little progress in improving the abysmal state of public education and health care. Violence and crime remain rampant. The favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro at times resemble war zones, with invading police units facing drug gangs armed with equal or superior fire power. Public infrastructure, especially in the north of the country, is totally inadequate and a major impediment to development. Politicians at all levels are assumed to be corrupt. Recent hidden camera footage shown on national television, of politicians stuffing wads of cash from contractors into their underwear and socks, has confirmed existing perceptions (and provided enormous scope for satirists and cartoonists).

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Papai Noel isn’t quite the altruistic benefactor he seems to be. What he gives so generously and publicly with one hand, he quietly takes away with the other. Brazil is one of most highly taxed countries in the world. Yes, the expensive toys of the middle and upper class, such as imported luxury cars and large LCD TVs, cost two to five times as much as elsewhere. But, far more importantly, many struggling Brazilians must spend excessive portions of their income on drugs not covered by or available from the public health system, at prices that include some 30-40% of government tax. Likewise many of the basic food items sold in Brazilian shops and supermarkets have prices inflated by excessive taxes.

The poor working Brazilian who needs to buy a fan, stove or refrigerator for his home soon finds another hand in his pocket as well. The good news is that he can buy these items on credit with a small down payment. The bad news is that he will pay effective annual interest rates well in excess of 40%. In a country with stable inflation hovering around 4-5%, an unholy alliance of powerful banks and apparent government indifference has kept interest rates at totally unjustifiable levels, further reducing the limited purchasing power of the average Brazilian. Yes, the Brazilian worker  is justifiable proud of his country, but he is also very angry.

Brazil has some of the nicest people, finest music, and most beautiful beaches in the world, but it is a long way from being a paradise, even at Christmas.

China in Who’s hands?

Where is his mandate?

President Hu - Who made him leader?

There is an interesting article in todays’s Independent blaming China for the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit. The article quotes a source who was supposedly in the room when the heads of state were drafting the document who says:

“If China had not been in that room you would have had a deal which would have had everyone popping champagne corks…..”

“The Chinese were happy as they’d win either way. If the process collapsed they’d win because they don’t have to do anything and they know the rich countries will get the blame.

“If the deal doesn’t collapse because everyone is so desperate to accommodate them that they water it down to something completely meaningless, they get their way again. Either way they win. I think all the other world leaders knew that by that stage and were just furious that they couldn’t do anything about it.”

Why am I not surprised?

Climate Change pah!

Protestors? - pah!

China was admitted to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in December 2001 after the United States dropped it’s veto. Since that time trade with China has grown very quickly and the Chinese economy has grown massively. The generally accepted view is that China is now OK as it has accepted capitalism. This is wrong. The regime in power in China today is not substantially different from the regime which drove tanks over unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square just two years before being admitted to the WTO.

The West too often confuses democracy with capitalism, they are not the same. It is possible to have a democratic government that is socialist. It is certainly possible to have a capitalist government which is non-democratic and China is the proof of this.

Both China and the West have gained from the flow of trade but we should consider that, having now allowed so much industry to move to China, we have become reliant on an authoritarian regime which cares for nothing but perpetuating it’s own existence. We should also keep this in mind when businessmen and political leaders talk of the necessity of allowing the free flow of trade to countries where there is “competitive advantage”. This competitive advantage is, very often, the absence of political rights,  civil rights and the rule of law.

China may have legitimate reasons for not being able to commit to the climate change targets discussed in Copenhagen but it’s impossible to tell. The Chinese regime is not elected and therefore illegitimate and cannot be said to represent the views of the Chinese people. When one deals with regimes such as China one must accept that their word is worth nothing.

During the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to limit Nuclear Forces Ronald Regan frequently used the phrase “Trust, but verify”. United States president, Barack Obama, seemed to understand this when, during a speech at Copenhagen he appeared to upset the Chinese by implying that verification was key to any agreement. The fact that this was mentioned caused the Chinese representatives to throw a hissy fit and refuse to attend various meetings.

Send in the tanks!

Send in the tanks!

And that’s another thing, China too often uses tantrums as a negotiating tactic. We are told by Chinese watchers that this anger is related to the difference in culture. Perhaps it is. Perhaps the Chinese fly off the handle so often because they are not used to having to justify themselves.

I wonder how the Chinese regime would have responded to the demonstrators in Copenhagen? Rather than  explaining their position perhaps they would simply have sent in the tanks.

This should give us pause for thought.

Snow in Brighton

Brighton Copper

Brighton Copper

I travelled back from London to Brighton last night, catching the 11:14pm from London Bridge. As we travelled the snow began to fall and the train slowed to a crawl. As we crept along the driver announced that we would soon be in the tunnel and then we would be home free. Emerging from the station Brighton was quiet and white and beautiful. The copper standing chatting was a nice contrast to the screaming policeman I’d seen earlier on the underground.

Walking down Queen’s Road, a handful of taxis skidded around and the Quadrant pub looked very good. I walked along Western Road where a huddle of people stood waiting for a bus that would never come. Then down to the sea front where people were building giant snow men on Hove Lawns.



Bikes at station

Bikes at station

The Quadrant

The Quadrant



The Meeting Place

The Meeting Place

Hove Prom

Hove Prom



Christmas drink – mystery shoes

Up in London last night. Christmas drink. friends from New York. Old work friends. Pints of Guinness. I’ve been going up to this for several years and at some stage usually make the mistake of trying to take some pictures. They all come out awful of course. So this year I thought I’d try something different. This year nobody can complain that they weren’t ready or that the flash had made them look pasty but who can identify the Mystery Shoes?


Mystery Shoes 1






Mystery Shoes 2




Mystery Shoes 3






I was up in London again last night for another Christmas drink. On the way back I saw a group of police in the tube and took a photo of them. It seems that they have not taken on board the recent guidance by the chief constable of the British transport police to the Association of Chief Police Officers. His guidance states that anti terror legislation (known as Section 44) “gives officers no specific powers in relation to photography ….”.

This didn’t stop one officer yelling “YOU’RE FILMING!” at me and raising his hand in a attempt to stop me. This seems incredibly hypocritical given the thousands of CCTV cameras throughout the London Underground. The establishment seems bent on introducing more and more big brother methods for policing and it seems that the only people who, they think, should be exempt are themselves. The picture I took is not very good but I reproduce it here as a minor assertion of a freedom which the police seem intent on erasing.

A demonstration is taking place in London to protest police heavy handedness with photographers. Be there.

Just to emphasise the point the picture below shows what happens when a peaceful demonstration takes place. The police turn up and film everyone. Fucking hypocrites!



London Boozers

I was up in London for a Christmas drink over the weekend. Starting at the Prince George in Dalston, we made our way to the Railway Tavern on Kingsland Road and then to the Kings Arms in Islington. Then on to the Three Greyhounds in Soho and a handful of other pubs thereafter. London boozers are splendid. I lived in Dalston some years ago and the Prince George has not changed a bit. Basic, polished wood and practical design that are sadly missing in pubs in Hove.

In the West End some kind of Internet flash crowd event seemed to be underway and there were hundreds of people dressed as Santa Claus. Every pub we went in there would be a handful of Santas supping pints.

Prince George 1

Prince George 1

Prince George 2

Prince George 2

Prince George 2

Prince George 3

Prince George 4

Prince George 4