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Thus Spake Mungo: saving face

In the end, it was all about saving face. The dodgy compromise Resolution to set up an inquiry over the origins of the novel coronavirus left everyone claiming a win.

The European Union took credit for moving it and pushing it through. The United Nations showed it could and would take a stand and produce consensus. The World Health Organisation took over the running of the exercise. China got its way about timing, and at least some of the terms of reference. And of course it was all Australia’s idea in the first place. What’s not to like?

Well, principally the depressing fact that the bickering indeed delivered a unanimous vote, but in the process made it all but meaningless. China could not bully its way into having the inquiry closed down altogether, but it got the next best outcome: cutting off its balls.

This is why China’s bellicose diplomats were able to gloat that Australia’s boasting about delivering a diplomatic triumph was a joke. The proposal, as put forward originally, was for a totally independent tribunal, not bound by the WHO or any other organisation, its timetable and range unconstrained by national politics from any direction.

What emerged was a bureaucratic shambles that will not even begin to be considered until, as China insists, the virus is under control – read, until China is bloody well good and ready to allow it to proceed

What emerged was a bureaucratic shambles that will not even begin to be considered until, as China insists, the virus is under control – read, until China is bloody well good and ready to allow it to proceed. And what’s more, it is to be scientific and objective – Beijing-speak for absolving them from any blame for their own actions.

This is worse than pointless: it is seriously counterproductive. Not only will the inquiry, if it ever takes place, be unable to target the wet market in Wuhan, let alone the biological laboratories near the city; it will make it practically impossible for anyone else to initiate serious examination. China, once again, is showing the world – and particularly Australia – who’s the big kid on the block.

It did make concessions, deciding that a Clayton’s inquiry was a better option than straight out opposition. The moment of truth came, probably, when the intense lobbying from the Europeans, the Australians, and their other allies, persuaded a large chunk of the African block to support a Resolution.

Africa, like much of the developing world, is hugely important to Beijing – a key part of the clientele it hopes to enlist as part of its Belt and Road policy, by which it will dominate large parts of – not only the international economy, but strategic areas of influence across the board

Africa, like much of the developing world, is hugely important to Beijing – a key part of the clientele it hopes to enlist as part of its Belt and Road policy, by which it will dominate large parts of – not only the international economy, but strategic areas of influence across the board. A stoush was simply not worth the risk, especially when there was an alternative that could protect its own interests without any serious threat.

So China, absurdly, became a co-sponsor – the outcome Australia was pretending to urge while working as hard as possible to force its major trading partner into a humiliating backdown. The Chinese, of course, were well aware of the manoeuvring, and promptly applied a touch of the lash: whacking up the tariff on Australian barley.

For the moment let’s ignore the clear warnings that barley may just be the first move – exports, from wine and seafood to education, are on a current list that could be brought into play at any moment. Trade and politics just don’t mix

Utterly unrelated – spluttered desperate ministers in Canberra – that dispute had been going on for months, long before COVID -19 had even been named. The timing was a complete coincidence, and for the moment let’s ignore the clear warnings that barley may just be the first move – exports, from wine and seafood to education, are on a current list that could be brought into play at any moment. Trade and politics just don’t mix.

What matters more is that coal is not immune, and even iron ore, the great remaining prop to shore up Australia’s faltering economy, could be vulnerable.

This is quite literally unthinkable to Scott Morrison and his colleagues – even they admit that during the 2009 GFC crisis, flogging raw materials to China was crucial to keeping the nation out of recession. Now recession is already upon us, and to lose our only chance of avoiding a still worse future would be catastrophic.

And this is why Morrison’s government is determined to pretend that not only will it not happen, it can’t – the Chinese need us just as much as we need them, that is what the great trading relationship has always been all about. We are their friends and allies. We are all in this together.

China wants our iron ore, indeed, wants all the stuff we can flog, not just to China but to anywhere willing to pay. But China has other markets if it needs them

Unfortunately this is delusional, folie de grandeur. China wants our iron ore, indeed, wants all the stuff we can flog, not just to China but to anywhere willing to pay. But China has other markets if it needs them. And if Australia attempts to retaliate, to play a bit of tit for tat, and starts some kind of mini-trade skirmish of its own – and even lands a couple of punches – so what? The government of Xi Jinping does not have to worry about some kind of electoral backlash from its long-suffering citizenry.

Equally, it is silly for Morrison to insist that China stick to the rules, to appeal to the World Trade Organisation as an umpire, to assemble a coalition of like-minded nations to come together demanding free and fair trade. For starters it won’t happen; but even if Morrison could bring off another of his miracles, and confront Beijing with an ultimatum, the reply would be treated with precisely the same disdain China evinced last week.

The only bully big and ugly enough to give China pause is the USA, and its efforts in waging its own trade war with the dragon have not gone too well in recent times

The only bully big and ugly enough to give China pause is the USA, and its efforts in waging its own trade war with the dragon have not gone too well in recent times. We have clung to the belief, seldom if ever fulfilled since about 1942, that in the crunch, Washington would come to our side. But our great and powerful friend has other preoccupations, particularly in the age of The Donald, and bailing out ScoMo is not one of them.

To his credit, Morrison has made it clear that he is not going to grovel to Trump’s America either, leaving it out of the loop during his push for an inquiry. The USA voted in favour, but was never an active player. So our leader’s sudden assertiveness can be called almost even-handed.

Morrison has not only saved one face, but two. The trick now is not to overplay his hand, and avoid the temptation to throw himself too far forward and fall flat on yet a third face.


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15 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: saving face”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    It has been a dry week and a dry day or two but at the market it was dampish at the wet market, China plate. The chopper chopped the chops at the shops but there was a cut off point to the Australian government who wanted to poke a nose in to find out if the wet market was the place of original of Covid-19. There lay a bone of contention, but it was agreed in the drip tray in the dripping of information that everyone had a win.

  2. Calling all face-savers… eyes to the Right, eyes to the Left.
    No need to grovel. Trade & politics [scrambled] just don’t
    mix. China moved into ‘shove’ some time back but our
    ultra confident Leaders were too busy cash stashing while
    lining their own pockets & supporting land & educational
    deals. Time to look at what we were once very good at.
    Yes, manufacturing’s a must along with apprentice skills
    in all fields especially Renewable Energy. Just go do it!

  3. Dr Hugh D Campbell says:

    There was no “dodgy compromise Resolution to set up an inquiry over the origins of the novel coronavirus.”

    The relevant part of the resolution adopted without dissent by the World Health Assembly of the WHO, and proposed by a coalition of nations including China and Australia, but notably excluding the USA, is as follows:

    “OP9 REQUESTS the Director-General to:

    OP9.6 Continue to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One-Health Approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events as well as to provide guidance on how to prevent SARS-COV2 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases;”

    https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA73/A73_CONF1Rev1-en.pdf

    Note that the World Health Assembly has not set up, or recommended, any “special” enquiry into the origins of the virus over and above the normal current ongoing processes of scientific enquiry. Current fundamental studies on the virus are already proceeding on a wide range of fronts at breakneck speed. Any bureaucratisation or politicisation of this process would be a huge mistake.

    Further, claims that SARS-CoV-2 somehow originated in or escaped from a lab in Wuhan are strongly contradicted by research findings including (among others) the important paper in Nature Medicine by Andersen et al., https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9

    I write as a retired molecular geneticist.

  4. I view this differently than Mungo’s slip into China bashing. China was the first responder to the virus, and while fumbling and obscurating initially, did no more so than any nation that followed them. China notified the scientific community at a very early stage, which lead to a test being developed in Germany in January, which Germans began testing with, and WHO made available, but which the US rejected. This and related grandstanding in the US resulted in the needless loss of 80,000 lives there to date, the number that post-modeling shows could have been saved by acting 2 weeks earlier, and of the order that pre-modeling also projected. Complex studies using extensive Chinese data sets and with Chinese authors were already internationally published in Feb showing that in January the virus was spreading throughout China and hence into the rest of the world including the US. China also had the courage to be the first to lock down a major portion of their economy to save lives and reduce spread to other countries, something they ought to be appreciated for. Other countries had all the information and example to act to prevent what was obviously a deadly virus if allowed to run free. Almost none, outside of Asia, acted as quickly as China. Morrison demanding an enquiry into the “origins” of the virus was horrible grandstanding and mean in a world where appreciation and cooperation was appropriate. What could have been called for was an investigation of the origin of the virus and the World’s response to Covid in order to do better during the course of this likely multi-year pandemic, and in inevitable future pandemics, which is what China responded with. The American’s were no better, glad to pile onto Morrison’s bandwagon, and encourage it with rumor releases, having allowed 5 times the deaths already – and we can expect double that, and that they will be a major source of future infection. Such an investigation will show various Australia officials encouraging people to go to footie, then letting cruise ships dock with infections on board, and then obscuring responsibility, was certainly no better than China’s initial mishap, and with less excuse since the nature of the virus was by then clear. An investigation will eventually show that 100,000’s of unnecessary deaths occurred in regimes with conservative ideological governments that do not believe in science, and perhaps it could propose some change to prevent that in future. The covid crisis is a walk on the beach compared with the crisis of climate change, unfolding with almost the same laws of exponential growth and lag, and the same denial. What both Morrison and the US have lost site of is the need to cooperate with China to solve climate change, which is now also runaway and bordering on unstoppable. Every missed opportunity will make New York look like a picnic. Keep in mind the delay in climate change is 3 decades, not 3 days, so even more do we need to heed the science. Also note for pandemic scale and origin context that up to 575,400 people worldwide (CDC estimate) died from H1N1 virus that began in North America continent. I admired Morrison’s and Australia’s response to covid – a breath of fresh air – until this finger pointing and denial and self-foot shooting started up again.

  5. Joachim says:

    On the source of the Virus, it already been decreed by USA Secretary for Defence Pompeo who has stated, “Enormous evidence”, then later downgraded to “Significant evidence”, then later further downgraded to “uncertain but could be true at the same time” that the virus was a China Laboratory concoction. Then we’ve had The Daily Telegraph Newspaper ( a Sydney daily ) run many pages proving it all, that the virus is a China Laboratory concoction. So there we have it. No need for an expensive and time consuming WHO investigation, the Pompeo and the Daily Telegraph have solved the mystery!

  6. Again… it’s Climate Change & Renewables
    that need to be ‘up front’ & taken seriously
    else there won’t be a world or situation to
    argue over.

  7. Barrow says:

    Explain climate change Stefanie? as the above suggests !! Taken seriously! Byron Shire councils
    Declaration of a climate emergency !! Really should
    Be easy for you to explain???

  8. The pandemic has shaken the world &
    councils all over are doing it tough so
    ‘quit being so silly’.

  9. Joachim says:

    Barrow old son, why do you need Stefanie, or anyone else for that matter, to explain it for you. You got the keyboard in front of you, type in the words, climate change. Voila! And if you really, really, seriously interested then tap away on http://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au you might just learn a thing or two instead of maintaining your state of denial.

  10. I’m not going to bother, Barrow. An old saying
    says it all. ‘You can’t tell a B from a bull’s foot’.

  11. Barrow says:

    Stefanie not going to Bother why ? And for good reason !! simply cannot explain this CLIMATE
    EMERGENCY in the Byron Shire because it dos not
    Exist. Finally have you and Joachim TRUMPED!!
    This council has Declared this Climate emergency
    Without any Ratepayers input or Approval!!
    Absolute Alarmist Rubbish !!

  12. When My eye-operations are over I may consider, Barrow.
    Meanwhile, go phone the Byron Shire & question them.
    I’m sure they’ll be pleased to answer you.

  13. Barrow says:

    Well thats been the issue Stefanie, the only answer they provided was The IPCC said its doom and Gloom
    For the World, Australia, and the Shire !!
    “Cant believe really ” lets do a hypothetical Stefanie
    If it was a Emergency as the Shire is suggesting
    And which it is not . And really this Question should
    Be easy for all to Answer ..if you asked at random
    Lets say 100 people locals that have been in the shire for more than 20 years , could they please give a example of this climate emergency that the shire has declared ? And for one i have asked random people there thoughts , the answers i received were varied, from , did not even know that the shire has declared a Climate emergency.. oh its been really hot the last few years ! To we must listen to the IPCC.. Stefanie i rest my Case on this declaration from byron shire . Dismissed !!! Case closed !!
    And do hope you are recovering well ! My wife has had two eye operations over the past few years .

  14. Hey —- it’s the sound of one eye partly opening
    while one hand claps. Get my gist? A Council
    that cares for its people adopts a Climate
    Emergency because it believes Science works
    towards Climate Change as opposed to users
    & abusers buggering up humanity just because
    they can rake in great profits from CSG & the
    rest of the toxins. Common sense.

  15. Barrow says:

    A council that cares for the ratepayers declares
    A Emergency Stefanie? Of course the Shires
    People’s would only be to grateful for the Council to inform of a imminent emergency coming our way
    No doubt !! So we just had one Stefanie Covid 19
    Cant seem to remember the Council ever informing
    The Shire its a Emergency ?? Oh well just leave everyone in suspense including our Kids who incidentally have been seeking professional Medical care . Not a very smart idea Council !! Oh by the way have asked Council to debunk my concerns.
    Trumped and how !!

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