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15 June 2017


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A correction: In my previous comment, I asserted that China has no 'active' military bases beyond its borders and the South China Sea. I overlooked its military base in Djibouti, established, allegedly, to support its anti-pirate campaign in that part of the world. My apologies for this sloppiness....

The Yanks idea of "the right thing" is a bizarre beasty Chris, informed as it is by extreme capitalism, fundamental Christianity and plain stupidity.

Like invading other countries to combat terrorism?

Did you know that 7% of the American public (16 million people) believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows?

Not sure I want to put my faith in people like that.

It is worth reading the following from Edward Bernays, the godfather of propaganda:

Crystallising public opinion
The engineering of consent

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard is also worth adding to the list.

I am truly sorry to have spoiled Ed's breakfast and owe him a mea culpa of sorts.

I am well aware that the USA has exercised its hard power quite frequently and has, at times, engaged in conduct designed to coerce, cajole or corrupt in what it perceives as its own national interests.

That said, its policy making has generally (but not always) been underpinned by a desire to do "the right thing", at least as it understands that term. There is a respectable argument that the USA has often put its national interests second to those of the wider international community.

Of course, of recent times, with the Donald in charge, the USA's policy making has been more a reflection of its worst national characteristics, which include a startling parochialism, extreme religious conservatism, completely dichotomous thinking and willful ignorance.

Still, I prefer to put my somewhat shaken faith in the world's largest and most powerful democracy than in the world's largest and most powerful autocratic, one party state.

Not a great choice to make but it is what is now on offer.

We can only hope that what has been termed America's continuing collective nervous breakdown comes to an end without doing further harm to them or us.

Add acquisition, Ed. Of ideas and enterprise generated other than in China, how many are, how much is now garnered into its mainland manufacturing machinations, thus vacuuming human labour engagements and lending to electoral maelstrom in democracies elsewhere. OK, human endeavour brought mechanisation and digital economy, with benefit accruing to those nations which more readily re-organise. Whither applause?

Yet if Spellcheck from USA is of annoyance, stand by for assault by diglossia in print and in politic. Perhaps a majority of PNGers already skilled in multiples of dialect and latency of language, might be well positioned to graft in a branch of Hànyǔ Pīnyīn. Well suited PNG pollies, electorally enterprising, seem optimally skilled in a digital diglossia, by keener use of assumption of monetary expectation.

I always enjoy Chris’s informed and thought-provoking articles on PNG Attitude and find myself, more often than not, agreeing with his point of view.

However, I nearly choked on my morning muesli – yes, I often read Attitude over breakfast, at his assertion that, while China uses “.. .a combination of propaganda, bribery, blackmail and intimidation to cajole or coerce people living in Australia to do its bidding….

"The soft power of the USA is more subtle because generally it comes packaged in apparently benign and value neutral things like movies, pop songs and fashion.”

Leni Riefenstahl and countless other film-makers would also choke on their muesli at the notion that movies are ‘benign and value neutral’ – as would, were he still with us, that cold war warrior and star of WW2 propaganda films, Ronald Reagan.

To suggest that the USA is not an authoritarian and imperialistic power and does not engage in propaganda, bribery, blackmail and intimidation to get its way is not borne out by available evidence.

One only needs to read noted historian Chalmers Johnson (“Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire’, “The Sorrows of Empire” etc) to find evidence of the USA’s imperialism, or to watch the nightly TV news to see reports of the devastating impacts on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Syria and elsewhere around the globe of American military intimidation, aggression and war-mongering.

On the other hand, and as far as I know, Chinese aggressive military activity has been limited to its own border regions: the Korean war, the 1962 border clashes with India and the disastrous (for China) month-long 1979 conflict with Vietnam.

Unlike the USA, which has active military bases on every continent (bar Antarctica), China has no such bases beyond its borders – with the impending exception of the Spratly Islands and other ‘man-made’ islands in the South China Sea.

Whether these bases are being constructed for offensive or defensive purposes is a matter of debate.

Some guidance may be found in Timothy Brook’s “Mr Selden’s Map of China” about a recently rediscovered 17th century Chinese trading map which showed that China has long regarded the islands as being within its sphere of influence, if not its territorial waters.

That aside, from the Chinese point of view, the USA, with its ring of military bases extending from Japan and Korea through the Marshall Islands and down to Australia, and its extensive and constant array of naval and air force patrols and incursions in the region represents an undeniable threat. So engaging in some form of pushback is entirely understandable.

Whereas the USA’s engagement with much of the world beyond its existing allies is frequently militaristic and aggressive – actively with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq, and passively with respect to the sale of armaments, China’s tends to be ‘constructive’ and ‘connective’, in the real sense of those terms, as evidenced by the One Belt One Road enterprise which will connect and integrate China with Eurasia via an array of large scale infrastructural construction projects.

As it has been for centuries, China’s approach is also tributative, using a mix of largesse and subtle implied threats to expand and secure ‘tribute’ from polities within its spheres of interest.

China’s interest in PNG pales into relative insignificance when compared with central Asia and Eurasia generally.

However, there’s no doubt that it is intent on exerting its influence through its state-owned mining and other enterprises and its Malaysian and Indonesian diaspora – and the effects of some of these enterprises have already wreaked havoc on the PNG environment and the livelihoods and quality of life of many PNG citizens.

In the absence of other alternatives, it will be difficult for any PNG government to resist this new style tributarian economic colonialism.

Arthur, remember that line at the end of the film 'The Mission' where the Conquistador tells the Pope's representative: "Your eminence, the world is thus'.

And the cleric's response: "No, thus have we made it!'

Perhaps much the same situation existed in China in the 1920 and 1930's where the average villager was not either informed or concerned about the Japanese invasion of their homeland from the Korean and Manchurian bases. That is, until they arrived.

The Chinese have long memories. They have also pulled their nation up into a 21st Century world power through hard work and close direction.

Bernard, the Indians are very concerned about their country being surrounded by hostile Muslim nations and Kashmir and the Chinese in Tibet an Sri Lanka. With their country spending 15% of their GNP on defence, the Indian government is very much aware of the world situation.

The only Indian land border and a Russian connection is Afghanistan. The Yanks and NATO are still there albeit after Obama started to hand it back to the Taliban or was it really never 'lost' to them or the Afgani warlords anyway? No one apparently learned from the Brits and their previous 19th Century invasion or the Russian one in the 20th Cemtury.

The average Indian villager however is too busy making sure they have enough to eat. 23% of Indians are still under the poverty line and the renamed 'Untouchables' or 'Dalits' are still living on the streets.

It’s a strange old world.

Surely the Yankee and Oz way of life gives an opportunity for anyone to work hard and rise to the very top. Yet several writers here decry Trump in rude terms. Yet he has done what we are supposed to dream about – make billions.

He needed no help from his party or anyone else to fund his campaign unlike the other ex-presidents and contenders who were funded by all sort of pressure groups not least the Military/Defence Industry giants.

He greatly upset the ‘political pundits’ and so called ex-spurts; beat the gay-rights minions; agnostics and atheists and Capitol Hill mob. They will never forgive him and so a ‘red under your bed’ is the slogan of the day.

But lust for power is not a unique Trump trait. Rather universal greed is the order of the day as one blogger wrote on Wednesday even as the TV screens had 24 hour coverage of the terrible 24 storey flats fire in London a mile or so away the open top Mercedes or Ferrari convertibles were swanning around the streets and there were yuppies having champagne on the pavements.

An Oxfam report stated, ‘Britain is one of the most unequal nations with 1% richest owning 23% of its wealth while the poorest 20% own less than 1%. I wonder if the 54000 £1 million luxury flats built under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty had sprinklers and safe exits.

China is one of the suitors for control of PNG yet the Communist nation has almost 1000 billionaires so is apparently ahead of the USA; though Bill Gates is top of the Forbes Rich List. For the PNG villager he or she couldn’t care stuff about the ruling class in Moresby and whether they are in bed with any of the ‘great’ powers…Great in what?

Mum has to have a meal ready before dusk for her family which may or may not have any fish or meat in it depending on the weather, season or luck of her subsistence farmer/hunter/fisher husband.

If the PM is in thrall to some foreign despot of any political persuasion ‘Larim, samting bilongem ino samting bilong yumi manmeri nating!’

After all for close on 50 years they have seen their winning candidate disappear to the Waigani swamp only to reappear over the years with a much broader belly wearing high cut boots and smart clothes.

Most rural people would hardly ever read a copy of the national newspapers and would be unaware of the shenanigans of their elites in the hotels of the capital.

On Lavongai the people eventually heard of 80% or more of their land being stolen by the educated spivs and their Asian logger friends but little protest happened and machines still clear cut from their rainforest with almost nil compensation from the forest they may have lost for at least a hundred years.

So it’s not the round-eyed, almond-eyed, or cross-eyed the villager needs to be concerned about it’s their own wantoks.

If I were God looking down at the very sorry mess that we humans have made of this bountiful world it would seem like a good time for a second flood. But no! The spivs would just float around in their luxury yachts while Joe and Mary in the villages perished. God would have to be more tech-savvy this time!

What is India doing whilst all this focus is on China and the US? Obviously in bed with Russia

I don't think there is anything significantly wrong with democracy today except, as Chris says, it has been subverted and misused by certain sections of the populace for questionable reasons. Donald Trump is, for instance, at the head of a long line of leaders who are abusing it for questionable reasons. One of the reasons this now happens is because of the development of the professional political class, many of whom are significantly lawyers.

I haven't made up my mind about China. I understand the iron fist in the velvet glove analogy but I'm not sure this is their end game. I think the idea of a Red Peril is pretty dated. I guess they are happy that no one really knows what they are doing or why they are doing it. That said, at the end of the day I think I'd prefer to be bought by the Chinese rather than nuked by the Yanks. Coca Cola also "uses a combination of propaganda, bribery, blackmail and intimidation to cajole or coerce people living in Australia to do its bidding" as do other overseas countries operating in Australia.

Whatever they are doing I think it's too late for PNG. The country and it's politicians have already been well and truly bought and paid for. And not just by mainland China. RH, for instance, is an ethnic Chinese company.

Having a wholly owned subsidiary of China (PNG) on our doorstep must be a worry for Australia, perhaps more so than a Japanese occupied PNG.

I find myself agreeing with virtually all of the comments made on my piece.

A point of clarification for Phil though.

I consider that China is exercising its soft power by extending the steel claw sheathed in a velvet glove.

Make no mistake, China is an authoritarian and imperialistic power, willing and able to act quite ruthlessly to achieve its objectives, as the creation and occupation of militarised islands in the South China Sea demonstrates.

The ABC has exposed the extent and nature of its activities within Australia. It uses a combination of propaganda, bribery, blackmail and intimidation to cajole or coerce people living in Australia to do its bidding.

The soft power of the USA is more subtle because generally it comes packaged in apparently benign and value neutral things like movies, pop songs and fashion. It was and remains pervasive as one glance at what constitutes popular culture will readily demonstrate.

Like Phil, I believe that Australia (and PNG) need to carefully manage their relationships with all of today's actual or putative Great Powers. History shows that these powers can be relied upon to act in their own best interests without regard to those of their allies (or, if you like, vassals).

We are entering a period of great uncertainty and challenge for democracy. Its institutions appear unable to cope with the developments unleashed by the economic neo-liberalism and radical individualism that are now philosophically dominant ideas.

Donald Trump is a logical outcome of this process: a swaggering, bullying, lying ignoramus is now in charge of the USA.

I have recently been reading "Ancient Times: A History of the Early World" by James Henry Breasted. In this book, he describes how the hubris and sheer stupidity of the Athenian democracy led to its ruin.

The Athenian masses, informed by self interest and ignorance, rejected the wise strategic leadership that had created their empire, preferring instead to listen to those who told them what they wanted to hear as distinct from what they needed to hear.

The ugly truth is the public are not only not always right, but very often they are completely wrong!

The lesson of history is that populism of the style propagated by people like Donald Trump contains the seeds of its own doom.
We do not need to abandon the democratic ideals and institutions that our ancestors fought and died for, but we do need to reconsider how they might work better in future.

To my mind, our Parliamentary process is in trouble because the party system increasingly does not lead to genuinely representative democracy as this was originally conceived.

Basically, party considerations all too frequently trump (if you will excuse the pun) the wider public interest. Just look at what is happening in relation to energy policy as an exemplar of this.

It seems to me that Citizens' Juries or similar forms of direct community engagement may now be necessary to build a genuine consensus about what needs to be done in the wider public interest. The SA government tried this in relation to a proposal to create a nuclear waste dump in this state and, to its credit, accepted the outcome even though it wanted something different.

I am also interested in the idea of having a component of the legislature selected by ballot rather than election, whereby those drafted will be obliged to serve a fixed period (say, 3 years) in the Senate. Such a body would act as a kind of permanent Citizens' Jury, which would need to be persuaded as to the merits of each and every piece of government legislation.

PNG could do worse than consider this type of reform, although the absence of an effective party system is probably a bigger issue at the moment.

We in Australia are part way to this outcome now of course. I expect that at the next Federal election even more independents will be elected to the Senate because a significant section of the electorate has caught onto the idea that electing party flacks does not result in better representation, much less lead to in improved governance.

We live in interesting times don't we?

Why have we learnt nothing from our education systems? Simply that history is not taught or if it is, it is only touched on briefly as part of a modern, 'social engineering' process.

Apologies to those who have seen it before as I've quoted this bloke in the past:

'A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to selfishness;
From selfishness to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.'

(Attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (15 October 1747 – 5 January 1813) a Scottish advocate, judge, writer and historian who served as Professor of Universal History, and Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh.)

Democracy that transports…as if the 19th Century British system was epitomic. What of nine year old Scot and Irish children, for petty thieving, sentenced to Van Dieman’s Land?

Democracy that supports…as if the 20th Century system was demonstrative. What of ninety year old (approx at Independence) intrusion into PNG lands, language and latency, now labelled locally as colonialism?

Democracy that purports…as if the 21st Century PNG system edges efficacy, environmentally, economically. What if a nine hundred year old (Brit) idea returned, and PNG pollies adopted a ‘Charter of Less Liberty’?

Government of the people by the people for the people has degenerated into government versus the people.

I generally agree with what Chris has written but I do find his warnings about cosying up to China in this and other posts worrying.

Australia is currently aligned with the US, which has managed to drag it into several pointless wars and expose it to terrorism, not to mention adoption of a California-style societal model.

By contrast the 'soft' power offered by China seems to be far less brutal.

If PNG must get close to and align itself with a larger power the options are Australia, with its American-style agenda, or China with its softly softly influence.

The other option of non-alliance is also there. It is an approach gaining traction in Australia with calls to abandon the US alliance. Giving impetus to this is the fact that the US is now being led by a nut case.

The other interesting thing is what is happening to opinion polls. They just seem to be talking to the wrong people. It was very obvious in the recent elections in Australia, the US, the UK, France and other countries that the public was in the mood for radical change yet the polls missed it completely.

It is also interesting to speculate that polls may have become part of the democratic process rather than a guide to it. Perhaps people read the polls and react negatively to them.

It's a shame they don't have polls in PNG. If they did and they were showing what is obviously a widespread backlash against the O'Neill government that might influence more people to not vote for him.

The result of the PNG election is eagerly awaited. If the PNC gets back it will say a lot about PNG.

George Orwell in his book 1984 predicted pretty much what is happening in the world. He just a little out in his timing.

While we haven't yet been told to install our two way, wall sized TV sets in order to be seen to be obeying the government's directions, we intentionally dismiss the probability that social media like Facebook etc. isn't being 'monitored' to much the same ends.

The problem about democracy has been effectively enunciated many times. When voters discover they can vote for leaders who will promise more wealth than they have already, the system will quite clearly collapse.

Those politicians who are promising everything in order to get elected must know full well they can't deliver what they promise. They are therefore either genuinely deluded by their own propaganda or guilty of complicity in purveying intentional lies.

When most world governments fund their promises by taking out loans based on future repayments plus interest (read government bonds), it has become much like the proverbial dog continually chasing its tail.

Those nations that offer so called 'soft loans' are merely offering the bait that is snapped up by those who won't end up paying back the loan. Take for example the huge soft loan that was given to Sri Lanka to build a huge container port. When the government now can't repay the loan, those who offered the loan have now offered to take the facility over as owners. This is the age of a new and potentially sinister colonialism.

Clearly this could be contrasted with the overseas aid that is generously given without expectation of repayment except in hopefully good intentions and friendship. If that were the eventual outcome, why is it that the more that appears to be given, the more that is expected every year?

The giving of 'aid' should only be short term and based on an effective response from the recipient without causing yet more dependency of further 'aid'. Clearly that just isn't happening.

Chris is right to highlight the role of the media who have now taken on the role of amplifying the calls for more and more 'government' funding for everything knowing full well the money has to be taken from those who are being promised they will in fact receive more than they give. It sells media stories though doesn't it?

The world is becoming a tinder box that only needs a trigger or 'tipping point' to release the pent up energies and frustrations of those who either see themselves as having missed out on what they want, aren't able to see what's happening or selfishly just don't care.

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