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There’s a big to-do about an investigative thing by Australia’s Four Corners/Fairfax Media concerning Chinese influence in Australia.

ASIO investigation targets Communist Party links to Australian political system

ASIO is the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, which curated the dossiers that Four Corners/Fairfax assiduously summarized and spun.

I think the series is highly significant, perhaps not in the way the journos hoped and intended, and the June 21 episode of China Watch will pick apart the details.

That’s a teaser, folks. China Watch is behind the paywall, so you gotta open your wallets. I’m proud of what I’m doing there, it’s unavailable elsewhere, and its worth more than what you’re paying to watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

So pony up.

A couple notes that didn’t make it into the broadcast.

I found this nugget rather interesting:

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan has defended former trade minister Andrew Robb, who took an $880,000 part-time job as a consultant to a Chinese billionaire days after the 2016 federal election.

Robb was handled rather gently, even though the billionaire in question was the guy who took the 99-year lease on Darwin port, the one that gave conniptions to the US natsec community.

Wonder why.

The second thing that struck me was the emphasis on “the Chinese Communist Party” instead of “the People’s Republic of China” as the evil agency behind the Chinese billionaires.

The CCP doesn’t do overseas espionage, as far as I can tell. So that would seem to hinder the attempt to inflate the Chinese espionage menace. And the other big deal was Chinese billionaires Huang Xiangmo & Chau Chak Wing were big bucks contributors to Australian political parties which is legal even for foreigners down there and Chau’s even an Australian citizen.

I got no problem with allegations that China is buyin’ and spyin’ and oppressin’ and surveillin’ inside Australia. But the report was more along the lines of choreographed threat inflation.

The bulk of the report was, to be unkind, third-rate national security journo-ing.

On China Watch, I was going to cite the instances of crude, dog-whistling assertions trotted out instead of hard facts but the list got too darn long. So I’m doing it here.

At the end of this post, I document the atrocities from just one of the articles, which obligingly passes along a report from the ASIO about a break-in it conducted on Sheri Yan’s apartment in 2015.

Sheri Yan probably deserves a post for herself. She ran what looked like a Clinton Foundation clone, the Global Sustainability Foundation, that got funds from Chinese moneybags and delivered access to and if possible allegedly favors from UN bureaucrats. According to the U.S. government, in the person of NeverTrump celebrity Preet Bahara, Yan passed on some of that money as bribes to UN officials, including John Ashe, who became president of the UN General Assembly.

One billionaire she allegedly did errands for was Chau Chak Wing. If that was the case, Yan took the fall–she’s doing 20 months in federal prison–instead of rolling over on him. Another was Ng Lap Seng, who was named and nailed in the indictment.

This Ng Lap Seng.

Ng’s first brush with bribery in the US (but no conviction!) was in the 1990s. He won fame in the United States in 1997 for funneling a few hundred thousand dollars to Bill Clinton through Little Rock restauranteur Charlie Trie, visiting the White House a few times, and helping lose Al Gore the White House with the “Chinagate” scandal.

An interesting data point is the allegation that the Clinton-related influence buying in the US was reputedly ordered by Jiang Zemin when Jiang was running the show and felt China needed a little more post-Tiananmen international political oomph.

According to the indefatigably anti-Jiang Zemin Epoch Times, Chau Chak Wing is also a member of Jiang’s Shanghai clique. In my China Watch video I speculate that Australia has become a haven for Shanghai clique members seeking to escape the attentions of Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, and their credentials as trusted PRC state actors are open to question.

Anyway, ASIO, the FBI, and whoever obviously has a hardon for these people, maybe along the lines of, Hey, they bribed Clintons so we’ll get ‘em for this! and believe they deserve to be nailed no matter what. Four Corners/Fairfax obliged by cranking up the innuendo machine.

Here I am documenting the dishonest dossier hustling in the Sheri Yan piece, with my disapproving sniffing in boldface:

“The raid…reflects deep concern inside ASIO”

“it is the Chinese Communist party causing the greatest concern…”

“ASIO suspected…that Ms Yan’s activities extended well beyond bribery. Classifed material shared between FBI counter-espionage officials and ASIO…suggested Ms Yan may have been working with Chinese intelligence.”

It is understood the investigation into Ms Yan involves suspicions she infiltrated or sought clandestine influence in Australia and the US on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Professor Rory Medcalf…says the ASIO raid would not have occurred without…input from many parts of the Australian national security community”…”the targeting reflects a small part of a ‘deep and real concern’…Eight serving government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, broadly confirmed Mr. Medcalf’s assessment…also confirmed …the agency had been collating intelligence suggesting…ASIO feared the campaign was succeeding…

[ASIO] prepared an extraordinary document…at the top was a diagram representing the Chinese Communist Party with lines connected this diagram to photos of two Chinese born billionaires [Huang and Chau].

Donors could be channels to advance Beijing’s interests: AISO.

“[Lewis] said ‘be careful’…he was saying the connections between these guys and the Communist Party is strong”…

In the oh, for f*ck’s sake column, here’s the takeaway the head of ASIO offered the political parties while wielding his “extraordinary” picture-and-line filled document:

In his briefing, Mr. Lewis was careful to stress that neither Dr. Chau nor Huang Xianmo was accused of any crime and that Mr. Lewis wasn’t instructing the parties to stop taking their donations.”

Back to the smear stuff:

“We have to assume that individuals like that have really deep, serious connections to the Chinese Communist Party”.

“Mr. Medcalf said ASIO’s decision to come out of the shadows and identify Dr Chua in its briefings is “certainly unusual”…”it would reflect very real concern

If Dr Chau has taken a position on any policy issue in Australia he’s not done so publicly…But for parts of the Chinese Communist Party, access to the right networks may be worthwhile in and of itself.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Australia, China 

The best works of art strike you the wrong way…and maybe not in the way that the artist intended.

I had that feeling reading Douglas Preston’s Lost City of the Monkey God(hereinafter LCMG).

LCMG is a purpose-built celebration of archaeology, technology, and adventure in the detection and partial exploration of some ruins in the jungle in Honduras. But as the book plays out, the whole thing plays out as a rather creepy calculated geopolitical operation.

The basic adventure premise—buncha white folk appropriate a region and its history thanks to their superior capabilities in exploration, interpretation, and conservation—is pretty much de trop in the post Edward Said/Orientalism era. And the book suffers from the “gee whiz another benighted realm conquered by the forces of civilization” cheerleading.

Add to that the whole milsec overlay a.k.a. “flabby civilians must rely on the hard men of the military to keep them safe” which starts with the entire foray into the jungle getting put under the command of some ex-SAS types, whose legacy of mad survival skillz probably goes back to doing the dirty during the Malay insurgency.

Beyond the “civilization would not survive without the soldiers” vibe I picked up, the key technology that made the mission possible—lidar—is a core military capability.

Lidar is basically radar using lasers instead of microwaves. Add high precision, military grade GPS and some fancy number crunching to the lidar, it turns out the jungle surface below the canopy can be imaged. Lidar provided the imagery that demonstrated that there was a big, ancient civilization thing beneath the jungle canopy in Honduras.

Lidar works great in dry, sandy spots like the Middle East, where I assume its ability to detect the camps of hostiles, IEDs, and maybe hostiles itself is a valued asset; well, turns out it works satisfactorily in jungle environments too. So if this breakthrough occurred thanks to the LCMG operation, I guess we can thank “Big Archaeology” for the enhanced capability to waste America’s enemies in jungle battlefields as well.

The “people in peril” plot hook for LCMG is that several members of the expedition, including the author, Douglas Preston, came down with a nasty parasite, leishmania, carried by mammalian vectors & transmitted to humans via sand flies, which required treatment with experimental drugs at the National Institutes of Health.

Preston got access to the NIH parasitology lab where “leish” is studied, and penned this passage:

Inside was an off-putting sight: two anesthetized mice lying belly up, paws in the air, twitching. They were completely covered with feeding sand flies, whose tiny guts were expanding into bright red berries of blood…Later these sand flies would be infected artificially, a complicated process. A delicate, hand-blown, tiny glass bottle has a piece of raw chicken skin stretched over it like a drumhead. This skin is moistened with mouse blood to fool the flies into thinking it is mammalian skin. The liquid inside the bottle is also mouse blood, seeded with the parasite…Once a sand fly is infected, the lab workers must coax it into biting a live mouse…At the end of my tour, a lab assistant brought out two bottles of live leishmanial parasites for me to look at under the microscope…As I focused the eyepieces, the parasites sprang into view, thousands of them in ceaseless motion…

Since I’ve been raised on a diet of Alien movies, I suppose I’m excessively sensitive to the feeling that Preston had gained access to America’s premier bioweapons lab, where rest-of-world biothreats are appropriated in the best imperial fashion for study, neutralization, and exploitation, and to make sure they don’t interfere with the national mission of doing stuff anywhere and everywhere.

By this point in the book I’m thinking, golly, this expedition has a sh*tload of stroke. It gets a planeful of classified lidar equipment to run the survey and when things go off the rails for members of the team, disease-wise, they’re in tight with the NIH.

Made me think about some other things, like how this book is basically a handjob for the current right wing regime that deposed Honduran president Zelaya in 2009.

The post-coup outfit clearly regards the “City of the Monkey God” as an opportunity to burnish the regime’s credential as good guys, and the president and military of Honduras are all over the book and described in the most glowing terms as dedicated to the protection and conservation of this snake-filled hellhole.

Preston also refers to the controversy that surrounded the search for the ruins, especially carping by Zelaya-era archaeologists and their sympathizers in the United States, that the expedition was imperial bullsh*t. Hard to argue that lidar didn’t turn up a significant archaeological find; also hard to argue that the whole thing doesn’t have the flavor of a Yanqui military PR romp through Honduras to enhance the legitimacy of the current ruling outfit.

I began to wonder if there was a US political angle in the expedition, which sure enough popped up when I googled Bill Benenson.

Bill Benenson’s role in the book is primarily that of good-hearted filmmaker who somehow comes up with the tons of money and access needed to transform a quixotic 25 year search for the lost city by Steve Elkins into a big-tech success story.

Well, turns out Bill Benenson prefers to think of himself as a filmmaker, but he’s also the scion of a New York City real estate empire that one could characterize as anti-Trumpian: low profile, successful, and hard-core Democratic.

The family’s total worth, split between Bill Benenson and two other brothers, is probably around $200 billion, a modest enough figure but sufficient to put the family on the Forbes 400 list. One of the other brothers, Lawrence, is on the advisory board of Patriotic Millionaires, a non-profit whose ringing mission statement pretty much encapsulates the premises of oligarchy a la Democrat:

The Patriotic Millionaires is a group of high-net worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable and inclusive nation. The Patriotic Millionaires’ goal is to create an overwhelming public demand – a true mandate – for economic policies that serve regular Americans and political process policies that ensure everyone participates fully and equally in our democracy.

It would, of course, be a funny joke if billionaires were exempt from the leveling policies the group proposes for mere millionaires. The chair of Patriotic Millionaires, Morris Pearl, who was managing director of BlackRock, has rather coyly declined to state his net worth, only remarking he and his wife would be able to “live well” off their investments.

Anyway…

Bill Benenson and his wife are hardcore do-gooders in the conservation NGO way and also in the political way. They were not only Clinton bundlers during her presidential campaign; they also donated to the Clinton Foundation in the 100-250K range. And thanks to google, I acquired this gem, in which Nancy Pelosi characterizes one of Benenson’s other filmmaking endeavors, Beasts of No Nation, when it was screened at the White House with Benenson in attendance:

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology 

Readers of China Matters may have noticed there hasn’t been too much to read lately. That’s because since the beginning of the year I’ve been doing a weekly video reports for Newsbud, an online indy media outfit run by Sibel Edmonds.

It started with China Watch, a weekly newsprogram that covers key China-related international affairs. It’s quite good, if I do say so myself, thanks in large part to the skilled and enthusiastic efforts of the Newsbud production team.

China Watch can be viewed on the Newsbud website, and also on Youtube. For free.

Here’s my two most recent episodes of China Watch.

This one is, in my biased opinion, the best objective take on the US strategy for North Korea currently available. FP practitioners—who were largely blackballed from the Trump administration for signing those “Trump is unfit to be president” public letters—and their media friends appear unwilling to take an objective and informed look at Trump’s Korea play. It’s not a Trump in his bathrobe yelling at clouds; there’s a legitimate effort with a good amount of institutional buy-in, albeit none from Obama era pivoteers, who are embarrassingly avid to see the initiative fail.

If Trump gets a win, he not only gets to vaunt over the Obama administration and its failed “strategic patience” policy; the idea that genuine US interests cannot be promoted through “transactional diplomacy” also takes a knock.

So I’ve got the NK policy corner pretty much to myself. And you can join the fun by watching my vid!

My current video follows up on developments in North Korea, Admiral Harry Harris, and the current international man of mystery, Miles Kwok. All good stuff, as I think you’ll see when you watch the video.

In addition, for Newsbud community members, i.e. people behind the paywall, I’m now doing a second weekly feature covering backstory and context on Asian stories. It’s called Asia Brief, and it focuses on formative events and key history in Asian affairs, like my reporting on the notorious failure of the George W. Bush administration to execute a financial sanctions strategy on North Korea in 2006-7.

Between China Watch and Asia Brief, I’ve basically tripled my workload so I haven’t had that much time and fresh material to put on China Matters or write up for outlets like Asia Times. Sorry!

However, I’m keeping China Matters active because I try to write for it as much as I can and, who knows, maybe text will become king again.

Newsbud needs subscribers and supporters for its current kickstarter campaign. So, if you appreciate my work and you’ve always said to yourself, gosh, China Hand has never asked for support & I’ve always felt guilty reading his stuff for free for ten years, now’s your chance to make amends!

Here’s a link to the Newsbud subscriber page. By joining Newsbud, you get not just me but access to an entire stable of knowledgable and personable analysts like Filip Kovacevich, Kurt Nimmo, and John Whitehead dishing out indy news in professional-quality video.

Also, the kickstarter, which is to support expansion of news operations to build the subscriber base. Newsbud doesn’t run ads or solicit institutional support or investment and is making a go of it as a community-based subscriber-supported outfit.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, North Korea 

How do you sell elite rule to a 99% electorate? Well, don’t run somebody like Hillary Clinton, a lackluster campaigner with more 1% baggage than the Louis Vuitton stock room.

There aren’t many politicians who can look you in the eye and say “I work for the bankers…but I care about you” and get away with it.

Obama could. Clinton couldn’t. Now that Obama’s termed out, the search is on for the telegenic candidate who checks the intersectional boxes but knows on what side the world’s bread is buttered.

My bets are on Kamala Harris as the intersectional box-checking, globalist friendly, appealing candidate now being groomed for a presidential run. Sooner rather than later, I’d think.

Judging by Emmanuel Macron, a handsome youngster can be transformed into a president even with a slim resume. Best thing is to get ‘em out in front of the voters while they’re young and fresh, and before they’ve had to accumulate too much of a track record of 1% accommodation.

That’s the Obama lesson. He came from nowhere and became President. Hillary came from somewhere and went nowhere.

It’s an interesting data point in the evolution of American politics that the Democrats doing what the Republicans used to do: find a charismatic front person who is also a tabula rasa to generate electoral mass appeal for elitist policies.

The key task, and one I’m guessing Democratic strategists have devoted a lot of effort to cracking, is how to convert the perceptual framing from “99% v. 1%” to “degraded lumpen v. the quintessence of America”.

Democratic Party liberalism pretty relies on meritocratic technocratic model to make the elite rule pill easier to swallow: the best and the brightest are recognized by an enlightened electorate and handed the keys to the America-mobile.

The people who don’t vote for Team Demlib are *ahem* unenlightened: low information voters, bigots, oh, what’s a good word? How about…Deplorables!

So what should we call Demlibs? The wise? The The woke? How about…the Adorables?

This framing lets Demlibs dodge the slam that they are venal politicians feasting on the nutritious swill slopped in front of their snouts by globalist billionaires; or, for the Marxy-inclined critic, that they callow bourgeoisie sucking up to the capitalist class for profit and protection.

Sweeping issues of political interest or class interest under the rug does raise some awkward questions, though!

Dems are pretty much in the situation of saying, we’re out here absorbing billions in campaign funding and promoting globalist centrist polices because…

…because…

Um, because we care so much about humanity we can’t bear to do otherwise!

We’re not creatures of class, ambition, or interest!

That must be it! Noblesse oblige!

This is an indispensable piece of framing for a political movement that might otherwise be convincingly portrayed as tools of the 1%.

It’s an easier line to sell with a young, sexy, and savvy candidate.

Obama played that role quite well as president, but not, in my opinion, so well since then, with the whole fracasso of sabotaging the Trump presidency with the anti-Russia horcruxes and then signing a $60 million book deal and shouldering up to the public speaking trough with the Clintons with a $400,000 gig and for that matter helping out with “Hillary a la Francais” centrist Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign.

Takeaway: get the pretty people in front of the voters before they turn ugly.

The future belongs to the young!

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron 

I expect the PRC government has a team of spooks and doctors whose main job is to monitor the Dalai Lama’s public appearances for indications concerning his health. The Dalai Lama’s April 8 visit to Tawang probably gave them something to chew on, because he didn’t look that good to me.

He was mentally acute and spirited, but whenever he walked he was supported by two monks.

Watching him struggle after he got up from the platform after two hours of religious teaching at Tawang makes me think there’s more going on than religious deference with the monk escort.

At the 2:33:00 minute point in this video you can see the Dalai Lama wrap up his talk, tuck his meds away in his little carry bag, and exit with some effort.

Last year the Dalai Lama received treatment at the Mayo Clinic for a month, presumably related to his prostate condition which I’m guessing is more like prostate cancer. It looks to me like his physical condition had deteriorated.

Talking about the Dalai Lama’s health is an unwelcome subject for the Tibetan diaspora and government in exile, since the CCP strategy is clearly to drag out any engagement until the Dalai Lama passes on, and deal with a position of strength in any talks with his successor.

The Dalai Lama has declared he’s going to live to 90 (he’s now 82), when he’ll finalize the succession issue. Maybe he’s got some supernatural insight, but you have to wonder.

The Dalai Lama’s successor looks to be an “emanation” chosen during the Dalai Lama’s lifetime to pre-empt Chinese meddling. Although there’s a possibility of an upgrade to “reincarnation” after the current Dalai Lama’s death, I doubt the successor will carry anywhere near the current Dalai Lama’s prestige and authority.

If, as is bruited about, the Dalai Lama chooses the Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage as his successor, the new Dalai Lama’s clout will also be undercut by the fact that he’s not of the Gelugpa lineage that has dominated Tibetan Buddhist religion and politics for generations. The Karmapa had some of the sheen taken off him by an ugly controversy in which it was claimed he was a pretender and a Chinese Communist mole.

The rough edges have been smoothed off the Karmapa controversy by the death of the alternate claimant’s main champion, Shamar Rinpoche, and a change in attitude by the previously suspicious Indian government and intelligence service. On a broader stage, there’s a move to redefine Tibetan Buddhism as an ecumenical movement, rather than a congeries of independent-minded and ferociously contentious and occasionally murderous monasteries and religious leaders.

One sign of this was the festooning of Tawang with Buddhist flags for the Dalai Lama’s visit. The Buddhist flag I am referring to is not the traditional prayer flag but the colorful stripy thing, which is actually a relatively recent innovation. It was announced in Sri Lanka in 1885 with input from an American Buddhist (and Blavatsky Theosophist) enthusiast, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott and is supposed to symbolize the shared essential beliefs and potential for unity for a global Buddhist movement that transcends different traditions and teachings.

As a visual aid:

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags at Tawang:

“Buddhist flag” at Tawang:

Buddhist, Tibetan, and Indian flags festooning the exterior of the Tawang monastery on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s visit, which presumably hacked off the PRC no end:

A sign that the “all Buddhists are brothers and sisters” approach is working is the flourishing of the ecumenically oriented Tibetan Buddhist academy at Larung Gar in Sichuan inside the PRC.

Larung Gar was founded in 1980 by a rinpoche of the Nyingma lineage, but its curriculum also incorporates Gelugpa and other teachings. Perhaps its promise as a unifying, trans-lineage institution for Tibetan Buddhists—and one less susceptible to the divide-and-conquer strategy China has employed for centuries, most conspicuously in the case of its promotion of the Panchen Lama– is why the PRC government restricts Larung Gar operations and is now tearing down parts of the immense favela of student housing that has grown up around the academy.

Here’s my most recent video for Newsbud, where I discuss the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang (and Xi Jinping’s visit to Mar a Lago!) and conclude that the next Dalai Lama will probably turn out to be more of brand ambassador for Tibetan Buddhism, a Dalai Lama Lite, rather than a galvanizing figure like the 14th Dalai Lama.

In my video, I mis-state the dessert that witnessed Donald Trump’s announcement to Xi Jinping that he was pasting Syria with cruise missiles as “chocolate sorbet”. It was actually “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake.”

Apologies!

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Dalai Lama, Larung Gar, Tawang 

I try to keep a certain distance from the anti-Trump circus. But I do want to put some thoughts on record, given the obsession with Trump’s Russia connection and what I see is a determined effort to minimize the British/NATO angle in the attack on Trump.

My personal feeling is that there are significant swaths of the European establishment that derive their mission and meaning from serving as allies to the United States in an anti-Trump effort: the British government and intelligence services, NATO, various right-leaning European governments, their think tanks, in other words, the Atlanticists.

They didn’t like Trump because he was more interested in dealing directly and positively with Russia on matters of US strategic concern in the Middle East and Asia and much less interested in perfecting the Atlanticist Euro-centric anti-Russian containment/deterrence apparatus and backing crazy EU/NATO expansion stunts like the Ukraine operation.

Perhaps similar to Trump’s interest in dealing with China instead of doing pivot. Difference is, Atlanticist lobby is much more entrenched in Washington, the NATO alliance is miles ahead of the “box of sand” Asian containment network, and Great Britain is America’s primary intelligence partner.

So I think people over the pond, particularly in Europe, were interested in feeding documentation on Trump’s murky Russia connections to his opponents, and especially on behalf of Hillary Clinton, who is very much an Atlanticist fave. Effort was pretty low key at first because nobody expected Trump to get anywhere, but things picked up when he got the nomination, and then shifted into apesh*t crazytime when he got the presidency.

The British link is there for all to see in the notorious Steele dossier. What people don’t want to see is the inference that Steele was either getting dirt from MI5/GCHQ or is simply a cut-out for a British effort.

I should say the possibility that the UK intelligence service may have been deeply involved in preparing the brief against Trump does not elicit an urge from me to spontaneously genuflect concerning the accuracy of the evidence. I daresay psyops—packaging and releasing selective intel and innuendo at opportune times through deniable channels for maximum effect–is a core mission of British spookdom, as is making up utter crap, like the notorious “dodgy dossier” on Saddam Hussein.

An interesting datapoint is the Guardian leg-humping a story about Michael Flynn having conversations with a Russian-English historian causing “concern” to “US and UK officials”. The only useful conclusion from this farrago, as far as I can tell, is that a) investigating Things Flynn was an official US-UK joint and not just Christopher Steele lunching Russian emigres in Grosvenor Square and b) the UK press is doing a similar tag teaming with US media to sell Trump/Russia like it pitched in with the US to sell Saddam/Iraq.

And the Guardian is doing it this time! You’ve come a long way, baby!

The mega-uproar over the “GCHQ tapped Trump” story was, to me, quite interesting, for the massive full-court pushback it elicited and the grudging backdown from the Trump administration.

If the story proved out true, it would be a disaster for the UK.

On the institutional level, confirmation that US investigatory and intel outfits resorted to GCHQ to, shall we say, supplement collection related to US citizens and *ahem* circumvent US laws would lead to demands for that bane of all spook prerogatives, oversight and perhaps a committee to review requests for intel exchange between the US and GCHQ before they happened (I recall reading that currently the NSA can reach into Five Eyes servers and pull out whatever it wants whenever it wants; it would be fun to find out in open testimony if that actually happens!).

On the political level, it would be hard to escape the imputation that Great Britain was conducting politically-motivated collection/querying/handover of intel concerning disfavored US politicians and officials, and that the English bulldog was INTERFERING IN AMERICA’S SACRED ELECTIONS, you know, like a certain country, name begins with R ends with A led by a guy name begins with P ends with N is allegedly doing.

It would be interesting to see how the public relations fracas on terms of “Putin trolls pushed fake news on Facebook” vs. “GCHQ pushed fake news into the FBI” would play.

GCHQ/MI5’s powerful capabilities and their slavish eagerness to put them at the service of the US are the glittering jewels in the tattered collar of the British poodle. If GCHQ becomes a “normal” intelligence interlocutor of the US—with the added stigma of having engaged in politicized active measures on behalf of US factions—then the UK risks dropping to parity with *gasp* Germany as another arm’s length partner.

Fox’s alacrity in yanking some guy called “Judge Nap” for publicizing the GCHQ surveillance allegations was interesting. You might expect Fox would be keen to push this rather provocative and open-ended talking point to provide some aid and comfort to Trump and ride a ratings-boosting angle. But Fox shut Nap down!

Wonder if Rupert Murdoch got the call from the UK government that any encouragement of this kind of tittle-tattle would call down the wrath of the British government on Rupert’s extensive media holdings in Britain.

Well, with Judge Nap in the cooler, I doubt any other Fox commentators will be too interested in pursuing that allegation.

And maybe the US intel community told Trump he’d be gone in a heartbeat if he threatened to compromise the US-GB special spook relationship to save his skin. So he backed off.

If Trump falls on his ass I expect that will provide the political cover for some discrete “now it can be told” bragging about how the Atlanticist band of brothers joined hands to defeat the Russian menace. If Trump hangs on, it just goes into the secret museum of US-UK ratf*cking operations.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, GCHQ, Judge Nap 

Here are embeds to my two most recent videos for Newsbud. They pair together nicely as they track the evolving stories on Pakistan/Afghanistan and North Korea. Trump may be sucking all the oxygen out of the mediasphere, but the usual suspects are still out there conducting the usual business of murder and mayhem.

The most recent video, While America Freaks Out, Asia Quietly Goes Crazy, also covers a couple stories that will achieve a higher profile in the news as the year goes on: Xinjiang and the Philippines.

In the earlier video, Asian States Play the Murder Card; Is the War Card Next? I have some fun in the closing bit with Asian monster movies in general—Pulgasari should be part of every kaiju fan’s cinematic vocabulary–and China’s The Great Wall in particular.

The Great Wall got slagged in the US as a piece of Chinese cinematic presumption. Hollywood blockbusters are America’s soft power secret sauce, and woe to any Communist interloper that tries to steal the recipe. Chinese audiences weren’t quite nuts about it either, to be frank.

The interesting backstory to TGW is that China, via Wanda Group, has already mastered the exhibition end of the equation. Wanda is the biggest deal in Chinese cinema, controlling about half the screens. It’s also embarked on an acquisition binge in the US, Europe, and Asia and expects to control 20% of global box office in a few years.

Wanda wants to be able to extort favorable distribution deals from the major studios (smart!) and its supremo, Wang Jianlin, has also expressed the desire to own a studio (nonononoNO!). Apparently, in our brave new world of content creation and distribution this is not the anti-trust red flag it used to be.

The Great Wall was Wang’s first big-ticket foray into content creation, via Legendary Pictures, a Hollywood production outfit Wanda acquired a couple years ago. Despite an anemic $36 million and change at the US box office, TGW pulled in $300 globally.

When one considers that maybe Wanda through its cinema operation was on both sides of that take in maybe one-third of the theaters (as opposed the share of receipts it gets as simply the content creator), I’m thinking The Great Wall maybe didn’t earn back all of its rumored $150 million production budget plus its apparently supersized promotional budget, but it’s not a gigantic debacle for Wang.

The movie itself: not as bad as people say, in my opinion. Of course, my expectations were low since LA hated the film, and my generous impulses were also shaped by the wonder of an $8 movie ticket, which is the price of admission on Tuesdays at Regal Cinemas flagship cinemas down at Staples Center/LA Live. By Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings!

Anyway, the movie. Warning: SPOILERS!

The movie’s debt to World War Z is pretty unambiguous. Well, Max Brooks, the guy who wrote World War Z apparently cooked up The Great Wall with Legendary’s ex-jefe (now canned) Thomas Tull, and got story credit. The basic theme of hordes threatening civilization is quite World War Z esque, and the visuals of monsters climbing the Great Wall during the main attack is, shall I say, embarrassingly similar to that zombie assault on the Israeli wall in WWZ.

For what it’s worth, I liked TGW better. I once described the World War Z book as a masturbation aid for Carl Bildt, with its narrative that only the US, Israel, and NATO allies, with a spiritual assist from the Queen of England, have the sack to save the world from zombies while authoritarian countries (China, Russia and so on) are deservedly annihilated.

Once this movie got into the hands of Zhang Yimou, I think he visualized it as a wuxia spectacle. Wuxia (martial hero movies) often involve badass bravos doing awesome sh*t in the riverlands, marshes, and mountains beyond the stultifying reach of Chinese state and society.

And in The Great World we are introduced into a wuxia environment of a secret martial order dedicated to garrisoning the Great Wall and, every sixty years, fighting off a herd of ravenous lizard monsters that basically just want to eat the world.

The Great Wall resists subtext, thereby frustrating cineastes, film buffs, and guys who post their opinions on the Internet. Don’t try looking for metaphors of the Mongol threat or the Russian menace, in my opinion. The monsters are there and the wall is there mainly so this band of brothers and sisters can do cool, crazy-heroic stuff together. And they do it pretty nicely, in my opinion.

I didn’t have too much of a “Matt Damon white savior” problem, especially in what film people call “the second act” i.e. after everybody’s introduced and it’s time to demonstrate character through action. Damon’s character is appealing, he meshes pretty well with the Chinese cast and, thankfully, there is no “older white guy getting it on with Asian ingénue” action between him and female lead Jing Tian.

I suspect, however, that nobody getting it on with Jing Tian i.e. Matt Damon diverting the narrative from thumping-hearts kids-in-peril romantic exploration and emotional fulfillment for Jing and the other main characters might have been part of the problem in the Chinese market.

My main difficulty with the film is the “third act” the “resolution” which I now call, in homage to the New Yorker’s David Denby (who first coined the phrase in describing the ending of the Edward Norton Hulk movie), “the CGI pukefest”.

Bowing to Hollywood’s need to up the stakes for the finale, The Great Wall leaves “The Great Wall” and shifts the action to Beijing.

The film’s most amusing, Chinese-y sequence occurs there, when the emperor is introduced to a captured lizard-monster by the usual crowd of sycophantic advisors. But otherwise, the vibe is “we’ve just spent 80 minutes at the Great Wall and got to know it and like it now why do we have to move to Beijing??” Well because, spoiler here, the lizards simply spent the entire second act tunneling through the Great Wall while mounting diversionary attacks, so all the cool heroic sacrifice stuff at the wall was useless bullsh*t.

So the gigantic lizard army is done in and the world saved by Matt Damon improvising doofus greenscreen crap at some rando location at the end. But it would have been just as big a drag if some Chinese actor had done it. The heroes and heroines of the borderlands should have been given the honor of ending the movie at the Great Wall with their mad skillz, courage, sacrifice, and devotion.

One last note: a fumbled grace note in the movie was the name given to the monsters: Tao Tei.

In Chinese, the name is spoken taotie, a kinda cool reference to the ubiquitous taotie monster masks incised on the most ancient of Chinese bronzes.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 

My latest Newsbud video looks at signals from Secretary of Defense Mattis’ trip to Asia and what it means for the South China Sea, East China Sea, and North Korea flashpoints.

For now, Trump Asia policy looks pretty mainstream.

One point I make in the piece is that Trump isn’t necessarily eschewing bloody American military mischief; he’s just keeping its focus on the Middle East, rejecting the Obama promise to “pivot” militarily out of the Middle East and into Asia.

And it looks like he’s decided that the politically most advantageous US security play is 1) anti-radical Islam (pleases his base) and 2) anti-Iran (pleases Saudi Arabia and Israel and freezes the Democrats).

What seems to be on the horizon is a “whack Iran” anti- radical Islam strategy that avoids tussling with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries, and will fund and enable and empower Sunni militants in the Iran side of the patch even as JSOC tries to whack Sunni militants elsewhere in the Middle East.

I don’t think that is going to solve the radical Islam problem, but I guess that’s not the point of this geopolitical and political exercise.

Anti-Iran strategy inevitably raises the China sanctions conundrum and Trump and China will both be walking a tightrope when the Iran situation heats up.

Watch my piece for an interesting discussion on the MEK Iranian emigre group as, it seems to me, a stalking horse for KSA and Israeli agitation to derail the Iran agreement.

The MEK has lavishly rewarded US political and military figures across the political spectrum, and I wonder if their largess—and the willingness of US political figures to affiliate themselves with a rather fringe group—is related to Saudi and/or Israeli sponsorship.

US supporters of the MEK who wrote a public letter to Trump urging renegotiating the Iran deal includee General James Jones (previously Marine Corps commandant and National Security Advisory), Robert Joseph (the neocons’ neocon), two ex-governors of Pennsylvania (Rendell and Ridge), Joseph Liebermann (Israel’s reliable defender in Congress), Louis Freeh (ex-FBI director), Michael Mukasey (ex-Attorney General), and so on.

Given the support that Iran can muster from Europe, Russia, and China, it seems unlikely that Trump will take a military swing directly at Iran. And I think Trump, who had the good sense to avoid a land war in Asia in his youth and has excoriated the US blunder into Iraq, is less than interested in trying to take down Iran with a military attack right now.

That means more bad times for Yemen, I think, as a weak and vulnerable opponent for an American president looking to make a geopolitical statement–and pump up his Commander in Chief credential.

Yemen is a war crime that should be shut down, in my opinion.

But it doesn’t look like it will happen.

The extent to which Yemen’s Houthis are now characterized as Iranian proxies, not just by the White House team but also by the Beltway security establishment, is a sorry sign that the US will probably continue to enable and abet Saudi Arabia’s brutal and futile Yemen war, perhaps as a placeholder and justification for more direct anti-Iran military action later.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Donald Trump, Iran, Iran Sanctions, MEK 

Afghanistan, as a crossroads of empire and a key stage in the Silk Road, is dotted with important archaeological sites that go back 5000 years and can provide insights into the evolution of civilizations across Asia and, in fact, civilization itself.

Most of these sites are beyond the reach of the Afghan government’s woefully underfunded archaeology department, and within the grasp of the Taliban and other banditti, who either destroy or loot and sell the precious pre-Islamic artifacts depending on their iconoclastic or economic priorities.

Fortunately, an important Afghan archaeological site, Mes Aynak, resides within a compound defended by 1500 Afghan troops and administered by a prosperous and capable international entity.

Unfortunately, Mes Aynak also sits on one of the world’s largest copper deposits, one that the Afghan government has leased for 30 years in a contract with two major Chinese transnational companies, the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper.

Development of the open-pit mine means that sooner or later the archaeological site at Mes Aynak will disappear into the maw of MCC’s bulldozers and buckets.

A film by a Northwestern University professor and documentarian, Brent Huffman, “Saving Mes Aynak” has gone a long way into alerting international opinion as to the urgency and importance of preserving the site. It’s available for streaming at Netflix. The link is here.

Unfortunately, saving Mes Aynak appears to be a daunting task, one that involves taking on the Afghan government and even the United States, as well as China.

The Mes Aynak copper bonanza is seen by the Afghan government as a vital source of revenue. Per the announced contract, the Chinese side will pay a bonus of over half a billion dollars when the mine commences commercial operations, a big chunk considering Afghanistan’s total GDP is only $7 billion. The United States sees income from the mine as an important step in weaning the Afghan government off its reliance on foreign aid (like Southern Sudan, the Kabul government is a foreign-aid state, with 72% of its budget coming from overseas sources).

The Afghan government is unambiguously eager to see construction at the mine begin. It appears the collection of several hundred photogenic artifacts that survived the looters (the site was discovered in the 1960s and only secured in 2008 when the Chinese perimeter went up) for preservation and display at the national museum has exhausted the government’s interest in Mes Aynak’s archaeological angle.

The United States government, which provided a million dollars of military funding for the archaeology work, now also maintains a studied indifference to Mes Aynak. Brent Huffman told me he contacted the US embassy in Kabul repeatedly for interviews, but was rebuffed.

The Chinese are usually cast as the heavies in these sorts of scenarios and saving Mes Aynak from destruction “by a Chinese copper mining company chasing corporate profits” is the hook for the Indiegogo fundraising campaign. MCC and Jiangxi Copper also receive a certain amount of stick in Huffman’s documentary as corrupt, indifferent, and not too good at running a copper mine, which occasioned some resentful pushback in Global Times.

However, the Chinese seem to be the ones dragging their feet on digging up the site.

China’s reticence about ripping up Mes Aynak perhaps has less to do with its love of archaeology than the fact that the copper project is more of a geostrategic placeholder for PRC rather than an economic opportunity. Copper prices have collapsed since the deal was signed in 2007, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to transform Mes Aynak from a windswept waste into a world class industrial and export center is probably not the highest priority for MCC and Jiangxi Copper.

Add to the practical difficulties of the site the fact that the area, although only forty kilometers outside of Kabul, is controlled by the Taliban. Recently the Taliban, much to the resentment of the Afghan government and, perhaps, in response to some financial outreach from China, announced they would “protect” Mas Aynak instead of shelling it and occasionally murdering people on the road leading to the site. Huffman views the Taliban statement as an ominous sign that a significant obstacle to active development of the mine by MCC has been removed.

The Chinese government, as opposed to MCC and Jiangxi, can regard Mes Aynak primarily as control over an economic lifeline of the Afghan government—and a pre-emptive move blocking other interested parties, like the United States and India—that provides effective leverage for China in Afghanistan and reach in Central Asia, a region seen as key to the PRC’s national security.

The PRC allegedly paid a $30 million bribe to Afghan officials to secure the concession and dribbles out “signing bonuses” progress payments, so the lease agreement remains valid—and the expectation of a $500 million payday at the start of commercial operation, realistic or not, might be enough to keep the Afghan government on the hook even as the deal drags on. At the same time, China is demanding a renegotiation of royalty terms and faults the overwhelmed Afghan government for failure to execute its population relocation, infrastructure, landmine removal, and matching resource commitments.

It is a point of interest whether MCC resents the furor over the archaeological site, or welcomes it as another excuse to let the project and renegotiations drag on to the frustration of an increasingly anxious Afghan government.

So Mes Aynak sits there, with a contingent of MCC engineers residing and working or not working in neatly built blue and white portable structures.

The construction hiatus should provide a golden opportunity for archaeologists to excavate and document the site but it isn’t happening.

For Afghan archaeologists, their work at Mes Aynak is hampered by government disinterest, lack of funding, and mortal peril from the Taliban. As Huffman’s film documents, the World Bank, for whom Mes Aynak is a key Afghan project, allocated millions of dollars for archaeological work, but virtually none of that money has found its way into the hands of the people actually doing the work.

Archaeological work started in 2010, was supposed to be finished by 2013, wasn’t, and limps along amid widespread indifference by the copper-centric interests. In 2013, the Afghan government claimed 75% of the excavation work was complete, which doesn’t quite jibe with the estimate in Huffman’s film that 90% of the site remained to be excavated as of 2014.

Today, only a skeleton crew works Mes Aynak when the weather permits.

It seems rather absurd that this well-protected, accessible, and important site should not be the object of intensive archaeological efforts. And based on his information from Afghanistan, Huffman tells me he fears that the archaeological site is at imminent risk of destruction now that the Taliban has shifted from threatening the copper project to—supposedly—protecting it and MCC may have sufficient incentive to proceed with demolition.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, China, Mes Aynak 

Over the last month, I’ve been busy making videos for Newsbud, the indie news outfit run by Sibel Edmonds. Don’t be a free media leech! Go to newsbud.com, view my stuff, retweet it, and pay a few bucks and become a member!

My most recent Newsbud video keyed off the CCTV New Year’s Gala to make some points about CCP ideology and strategy. Watch it! Don’t make me ask again!

As a reward for watching the video and reading this post, at the end I explain the mysterious reference to “the dragon”.*

The gala’s musical numbers are BigBIGBIG! With the exception of the feed from the Shanghai satellite which, quite frankly, was kinda lame. The centerpiece attraction for the Shanghai number was a reprise of the Ringling Brothers warhorse EIGHT MOTORCYCLISTS IN THE GLOBE OF DEATH!!

On the other hand, now that Ringling—a destination for dozens of Chinese acts over the decades—has shut down, I hope circus performers, not just Chinese but also foreigners—like the Ukrainian contortionist who popped up in the last hour of the telecast—will find rewarding employment at the Chinese New Year’s gala.

But I wondered if Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai gang wasn’t interested in putting its shoulder to the wheel bigly for Xi Jinping’s propaganda/softpower jamboree.

No such reticence at the satellite venue at Liangshan, in Sichuan, home of the PRC launch site at Xichang where those Chinese rockets go up and sometimes, unfortunately come down, with horrific consequences. (Interestingly, now the PRC considers Hainan secure enough to move its main geosynchronous launch operations down there and Xichang is shifting into a backup role).

I must say I had my kneesocks knocked off by this number. You might want to put this on the big screen TV and crank it. Full screen on the PC at the very least. Or, if you’re watching on a phone, put your eye real close, I guess.

Quite a few interesting matters illustrated by this video other than its over-the-top awesomeness.

First off, it showcases nationalities, specifically the Yi nationality of the Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture. As I point out in the video, a theme of the gala was the synergies between national harmony, strength, and prosperity, not a terribly unwelcome message as the United States descends into rancor and polarization that brings to mind the Cultural Revolution. As I see it, the message of the gala was that the best future for minorities lies in whole-hearted integration with big/strong/rich Mother China, and Hong Kong and Macau and Taiwan should weigh the advantages pursuing that same path instead of independence/autonomy/impotent resentful grumbling/whatnot.

Second, the singer, Jike Junyi. She’s ethnic Yi from Liangshan. It was not just a question of local girl makes good and gets to perform in a titanic musical spectacle in her home town that gets beamed to a global audience of close to one billion.

She’s a major pop star in China, not just because she has a good set of pipes, but she’s being groomed for the cross-cultural icon/diva role by China’s Mandopop industry.

I will confess, I didn’t know Mandopop was a thing until I started reading up on Jike Junyi, but apparently the corporate and cultural powers that be have decided that the PRC cannot rely on South Korean boybands and potentially subversive Hong Kong Cantopop to besot the nation’s youth.

By now there is a well-oiled international machine the devoted to the discovery, grooming, and promotion of global pop stars, exemplified by South Korea’s SM Entertainment musical agency (and profiled in John Seabrook’s book The Song Machine). In female diva-dom, the process is well represented by Rihanna, who couldn’t sing very well but blew them away at her audition with her devastatingly chic turnout (which she had spent half the night agonizing over) and regal demeanor.

Jike Junyi’s breakthrough moment came on The Voice of China, which is basically The Voice in China, a competitive audience-vote-driven talent show.

The song that won the audience’s heart was Jike Junyi’s rendition of a plaintive Yi folksong paired with…paired with…well, I’ll just show you:

Jike Junyi didn’t win the overall competition, placing third, but she did establish a strong, winning presence and a good look that, I’m guessing, like Rihanna’s, could serve as raw material for the diva machine. Interestingly, she wasn’t even the only Yi singer in the competition. Alu Azhuo, a successful Yi ethnicity singer who was more of an ingénue type, did well, but not as well as Jike Junyi.

Maybe a bakeoff to find a minority popstar was going on, and Jike Junyi was perceived as the coolsexysassy type who could wear the diva mantle…and also, interestingly, checked the “dusky” box for, not so much for minority exoticism as her ability to bestow cool transnational/transracial cred on her largely Han audience.

She is now in the hands of TH Entertainment and has the full retinue of career managers, songwriters, producers, stylists, and whatnot tasked with giving a diva’s career escape velocity.

Much has been made of Jike Junyi’s childhood struggles with her skin color, and her subsequent decision to set aside the whiteners and celebrate her ethnic heritage.

Her tanned skin color and passionate personality also made her a favorite of the fashion industry. She was featured on the cover of the Chinese edition of Vogue magazine soon after she won third place in The Voice of China.

Lucia Liu, one of China’s most prominent fashion stylists, who is the style director of Harper’s Bazaar China, has been working closely with Jike after she signed on with TH Entertainment in early 2013. Liu will also design the costumes for Jike’s upcoming concert, which, as she describes, will be eye-catching and cutting-edge.

“I am quite inspired by her skin color, which balances the clothes I chose for her,” says Liu, who works between Beijing and London. “We are also good friends. She really likes eating hotpot.”

In one of her hits, Colorful Black, Jike sings, “I have dark skin, an intuitive soul and I stick to my color. It doesn’t matter how you look at me. You will see my colorful black.”

“I used to hate my skin color,” giggles Jike, who, like many Chinese young women, was obsessed with white skin tone. She bought lots of whitening toners, but all failed to work.

“Now, I love my skin color because it makes me special. I guess that is my natural gift, like singing,” she says.

Her aspirations to post-racial vanguard status were announced by the adoption of an English-language handle, “Summer” and a trip to Los Angeles to record a duet paired with…paired with…well, I’ll just have to show you.

This video is, by the way, a G thing not as in G for gangsta, but G for General Audiences. There are obviously still limits to the lengths PRC popstars will go in their quest for global R&B cred.

The next what the actual f*ck moment in Jike Junyi’s career was appearance in a Western-Chinese movie coproduction entitled Outcast in which her role was, in the immortal words of her publicity machine, “starring as the dumb wife of Hollywood star Nicolas Cage”.

Ahem. “Mute” wife, please.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Jike Junyu, Mandopop, The East Is Red 
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