Gordon Campbell on China’s Big New Power Troika

71667d60fe6af5e9fbb0Rather than run the risk (and suffer the indignity) of putting Rupert Murdoch on the witness stand, Fox News has paid the $US788 million required to get Dominion to drop its defamation suit. A similar settlement will probably be needed to pay off Smartmatic, another voting-machine company that Fox has allegedly defamed.

Gosh. Will this mean we’ll never know whether Fox News has put its allegiance to Trump supporters ahead of its commitment to the practice of ethical journalism?

In reality, the Dominion settlement will not pose a financial threat to Fox’s business model, and nor will it alter Fox’s readiness to peddle the disinformation that boost its ratings. The defamation suits are just a side-line cost of running Fox’s highly lucrative business.

Footnote: In case you were wondering why Fox’s broadcasts weren’t constitutionally protected on free speech grounds, here’s the difficult defamation barrier that Fox’s actions still managed to exceed:

The network’s actions exceeded the very high legal threshold of “actual malice” — that it made a false statement “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,” as established by the 1964 Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. It would be difficult to meet that threshold if abiding by the most basic journalistic standards,

China’s Big Year So Far

Meanwhile, China is continuing to blitz the United States in almost every sector of superpower politics. As Western economies are being relentlessly pushed into recession by their central banks, China post-Covid economy is booming back into high gear. So much so that the global economy will be relying on demand from China to save it from itself. (It is not all roses. Like the rest of the world, China has a big problem with high youth unemployment.)

China has played this saviour role before. In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis 15 years ago, it was state-sponsored spending by China that shielded Australia and New Zealand from the worst of the GFC fallout. Clearly, PM Chris Hipkins should have been flying to Beijing to find new ways to foster our trade relationship, while reminding China that we’re not (yet) lining up against it in the AUKUS pact.

Instead, Hipkins has headed off to the Coronation, after which he will reportedly be talking over the teacups with the British about ways to finesse our relatively insignificant trade deal with them.

Among a lot of other things, Beijing is also emerging as a major global rival for Tesla on the development and uptake of EVs.

“This year will have new energy vehicles rising close to 10 million units [ie, a third of all auto sales] and their volume in 2035 will be at least 25 million units and they will account for 80% of all new vehicles sold,” said Ouyang Minggao, professor of automotive engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

For his part, Elon Musk has conceded that China is now presenting Tesla with its toughest challenges.

The rise of China’s troika

While they’re not exactly bosom pals, the leaders of China, Russia and Iran now form a formidable power bloc in the Middle East. This outcome is the exact opposite of what Israel and Jared Kushner had hoped to do with the Abraham Accords, which were an attempt to isolate and encircle Iran.

By brokering the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China has changed the balance of regional power and side-lined both Israel and the US. It has even put Ukraine’s long term survival in jeopardy, especially if an isolationist Republican wins the US presidency in 2024, and reduces US military aid to Kyev. Donald Trump is not the only US political conservative who feels very comfortable with Vladimir Putin.

This receding US influence is why Saudi Arabia has (twice) flatly rejected Joe Biden’s recent requests for OPEC to increase oil production, drive down the price of oil and thereby reduce Russia’s income from its oil exports. Instead, the Saudis have done the opposite. They’ve cut production, pushed up the oil price and thus given Russia a greater ability to fund its war in Ukraine.

That same trend also explains why Egypt – despite receiving billions of dollars worth of US military aid for decades – had secretly planned to supply Russia with missiles. As Foreign Policy magazine recently pointed out, the China-brokered deal between the Saudis and Iran has heralded a shift of power across the Middle East:

For Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the deal is about far more than normalizing ties with the Saudi government in Riyadh. Instead, it is about further facilitating, along with China and Russia, the rise of a new anti-Western global order and excluding the United States from a new regional arrangement.

Right. An here’s what that might end up looking like:

Khamenei sees an Islamic civilization led by Iran, a Russo-Slavic civilization led by Russia, and a Confucius-communist civilization led by China, all at war with Western civilization—and he thinks now is the best chance they’ve had in decades to uproot the West.

Khamenei’s close circle and the IRGC genuinely believe the U.S.-led liberal world order is collapsing and a new anti-Western order led by China, Russia, and Iran is taking shape.

To some, such concerns may sound a little bit panic-stricken. The sky is not falling. The US and its allies still retain a clear military advantage over the troika. Yet US military might did not prevent the fall of Afghanistan. In that respect, the analysis has some substance.

To that effect… Last November, Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a long speech to Iran’s students, in which he began by usefully outlining the history of US interference in Iran’s affairs, starting in 1953 with the CIA-led overthrow of the elected Mossadegh government, and the placement of the Shah on the Peacock Throne, to the benefit of US oil companies.

Later on in the same speech. Khamenei went on to lay out a vision of the increasing isolation of the US, the shift of power already under way from the West to Asia, and the expansion of the anti-Western resistance front.

When seen against that backdrop, the AUKUS deal (aimed at countering China’s growing presence in the Pacific) looks like a quaintly neo-colonial response to a challenge that has sharper focus and is much more sophisticated. The West already has enough gunboats. What it needs is smarter diplomacy.

Footnote One: In the meantime, it has been interesting to see that a rift has opened up between China and the new Fijian government of Sitiveni Rabuka. The rift has also included this snub. The signs of diplomatic strain must be being greeted with quiet jubilation by the AUKUS partners, and by MFAT.

Footnote Two: Tik Tok has reversed decades of global cultural colonisation by American soft power. No wonder US politicians have chosen to brush aside the Project Texas proposal put forward by Tik Tok’s owner ByteDance to protect the personal data of US citizens. The hostility to Tik Tok is partly irrational – US social media companies are obliged to hand over personal data on demand to a gaggle of US state agencies – and partly about hurt pride. The Beatles delivered a similar-sized blow to US pop cultural supremacy, but they were the agents of a friendly power.

Footnote Three: Just as climate change pushes everyone towards forms of renewable energy, the West has belatedly become aware of China’s dominance of the solar panels industry. So much for the lingering hopes that the renewable energy market might become more de-centralised: 

The solar PV value chain begins with refining silicon dioxide (SiO2) into solar-grade polysilicon. In this important upstream segment of the value chain, China’s share has increased from about 30 percent 10 years ago to over 80 percent in 2022. Out of the top 10 companies producing polysilicon, seven are from China including the top three.

And moving right along:

The steps that turn polysilicon into ingots, wafers, cells, and finally solar panels are also dominated by China, accounting for a share of over 80 percent of global capacity in each. The top 10 suppliers of solar manufacturing equipment are also Chinese. Manufacture of other segments of the solar PV value chain such as the balance of module components (using glass for example) is also located in China. The production of inverters that convert direct current (DC) output to alternating current (AC) as well as aluminium and steel frames that are used to mount solar panels are also concentrated in China.

Wind power? The majority of the world’s wind energy is also generated by China.

Friends, Lovers, Comrades

On “Comrade Sweetheart” the Bonny Light Horsemen ensemble led by Anais Mitchell makes half-joking use of the term “comrade” to test the balance between love and friendship.

And talking about (pretty neo-folk music, River Whyless also deal with lover/friend crossovers on “All Of My Friends” which ends up expressing the feelings of emptiness that can result after the boundaries have been dissolved. Or so they say: