Spain Seeks to Hide Problems with Gibraltar Disruption: threatens rift with UK

The UK has lodged a formal complaint to Spain, accusing border authorities of disrupting entry into the British protectorate of Gibraltar. Stories of young children and pensioners being forced to wait up to six hours in boiling cars before being permitted across the border after increased vehicle searches has reinvigorated a long-standing dispute over territorial sovereignty.

It is convenient that Spanish authorities should decide to employ this harassment now, based on the feeble pretense that a new offshore artificial reef could encourage smuggling. In the wake of a disastrous train crash in the northwest of the country, and amidst dire economic turmoil and frequent evidence of government corruption, it is unsurprising that the Spaniards should reignite the Gibraltar debate in a bid to hide their woes.

Given the unpopularity of Mariano Rajoy’s government, and its conservative political stance, it is more surprising that pandering to nationalist sentiment over Gibraltar has not been employed more recently.

Captured from the Kingdom of Castile during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704, Gibraltar was formerly ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Attempts by the Spaniards to recapture the territory in 1727 and between 1779 and 1783 failed, leaving Gibraltar as an important base for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

British naval power enabled the capture of Gibraltar
British naval power enabled the capture of Gibraltar

Spain has been persistent in its claims that Gibraltar belongs to the mainland and, at its worst, closed the border to vehicles between 1969 and 1985. Yet these claims are infused with hypocrisy for one simple reason. Namely, that Spain has similar possessions along the North African coast.

The exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are to Morocco what Gibraltar is to Spain. Geographically part of the African continent, the territories have been under European control for centuries.

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Ceuta was, indeed, the location of one of the most chivalric battles in history, when forces of King John I of Portugal captured the city in 1415, following which his three sons (including Henry the Navigator) were knighted for their heroic deeds.The Union of the Crowns (of Spain and Portugal) in 1580 saw Ceuta pass to Spanish control and it has remained that way since.

Henry the Navigator came of age at Ceuta
Henry the Navigator came of age at Ceuta

Melilla, on the other hand, was captured by Castilian forces in 1497 as the Reconquista spilled over Spain’s borders. Despite frequent skirmishes and sieges involving a plethora of Moroccan tribesman and dynasts in the succeeding centuries, Melilla has remained part of Spain.

And, like Ceuta, it is a part of Spain, having been populated by Spaniards who have necessarily imbued the territory with their traditional culture. The same can be said for Gibraltar which, as its population will tell you, is just as much a part of Britain as London.

Gibraltar is an unapologetically British outpost
Gibraltar is an unapologetically British outpost

These territories may be outdated remnants of bygone imperialism, of which both Spain and Britain remain rightfully proud, yet their cultural and social make-up has come to defy their geography.

The needless bullying tactics employed by Spain’s crossing guards will serve no purpose in changing what has become territorial reality and will certainly provide no respite to the more serious challenges facing the Iberian country today.

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Vietnamese President in the US: a chance to forget the past and forge a shared future

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang has held talks with Barack Obama at the White House in only the second such meeting since the restoration of US-Vietnamese ties in 1995. Whilst Mr Obama acknowledged the “extraordinarily complex” history between the two states, there is genuine belief that bilateral relations are entering a new era.

Nobody will forget the Vietnam War. Those that fought in it experienced some of the harshest battle conditions known to man. Even those born some time after the American withdrawal will be imbued with a sense of its importance thanks to modern education curriculums and Hollywood movies. It is a war that cannot and should not be forgotten.

Vietnamese and American culture and politics were shaped by their war
Vietnamese and American culture and politics were shaped by their war

That said, historical enmity should not be a barrier to future development. America has been particularly impressive in following this mantra. It is hard to imagine today what bitter enemies the US and Japan were during WWII, such are their economic and cultural similarities today. Whilst Japan’s neighbours like China and Korea continue to raise the spectre of WWII to sour relations with the island nation, the US has quickly moved on.

This in no way diminishes the sacrifice made by the thousands of American soldiers who died at the hands of the Japanese, some in the most barbarous manner. It is a pragmatic step to ensuring such suffering does not occur again.

America and Japan have tried to move on from their past conflict
America and Japan have tried to move on from their past conflict

America must now pursue a similar policy with Vietnam and looks set to do so. Talks of a Trans-Pacific Partnership, offering a raft of potential trade agreements, are already at advanced levels. Military cooperation and American weapons sales to Vietnam cannot be ruled out.

There is a strategic value in these negotiations. Hanoi has shown signs in recent years that it is prepared to drift away from its overbearing neighbour, China, which is now firmly established as America’s biggest global ‘rival’. Vietnam is heavily-dependent on the Chinese economy and has the CCP to thank for its support of Ho Chi Minh during both the overthrow of French colonial rule and the subsequent war with America.

However, Beijing has always been quick to use historical blackmail to get what it wants. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain a predominant concern of the Vietnamese, yet China refuses to cede ground and has shown itself prepared to use force to get what it wants. It is accused of dictating policy towards its neighbours, knowing they cannot afford to become economically isolated from the ‘world’s workshop’.

A young generation of Vietnamese are fed up with China's bullying
A young generation of Vietnamese are fed up with China’s bullying

Similarly, as the traditional communist ideology wanes in both countries, there is no longer such a strong symbolic link between China and Vietnam. Their leaders no longer see themselves fighting a shared battle against the evil forces of global capitalism. Both are, in essence, capitalist countries, albeit with significant state involvement in the economy.

With the US ‘pivot’ towards the Asia-Pacific, Vietnam could join a list of American allies in the region that already includes Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, all of which would rather lessen than strengthen their increasingly unbalanced economic and political ties with China.

Were the US to solidify a trade agreement with Vietnam, it could potentially open up an avenue for joint energy exploration in the South China Sea, something that would rile China yet possibly internationalise a dispute that is in desperate need of mediation.

Furthermore, with American weapons systems already in place in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, Vietnam could be the latest country to join the ballistic missile defence shield that projects American power far beyond its borders.

Behind the symbolic pledges of forgiveness and reconciliation lies an unprecedented opportunity for two nations whose war wounds have yet to heal. It is essential to the memory of the fallen that their leaders seize the chance with both hands.

CCP Bans Government Buildings: is it a case of Maoist hypocrisy?

Xi Jinping, China’s new president, has announced a ban on new government buildings for the next five years. It comes amidst increasing public wariness and weariness of corruption, waste and uneven development.

Corruption has, indeed, become a CCP buzzword in recent years. Under Hu Jintao, high-profile corruption cases were publicised in state media as middle-ranking officials and their business cronies siphoned off government money for unnecessary and grandiose construction projects that infuriated the public.

This gaudy gold exterior is from a state-owned drug factory
This gaudy gold interior is from a state-owned drug factory

Of course, whilst the upper echelons of CCP officialdom has sought to distance itself from such scandal, its members hardly live a life of moderate solidarity with the people. Hidden away in the Forbidden City, the rarely-seen top brass of the CCP lives a life of opulent luxury that would not be out of place in one of the early imperial courts. Whilst it may be argued that national leaders deserve a luxurious standard of living, one must be careful to practice what one preaches.

On assuming control of China in 1949, Mao Zedong quickly set about solidifying CCP rule throughout the country. First, he initiated the “suppression of counter-revolutionaries” campaign, which sought to eradicate any Nationalist vestiges from China, in addition to communist non-believers, bandits and anyone else considered a ‘threat’ to his burgeoning rule.

This campaign was shortly followed by ‘The Three Antis’, which attempted to eliminate embezzlement, waste and bureacuratism (i.e. slacking) from the new China. Such a process was a necessity following the chaotic economic management of the Nationalist era when state funds were regularly embezzled.

'Counter-revolutionary' activity was associated with economic waste
‘Counter-revolutionary’ activity was associated with economic waste

Mao, however, was ruthless in his pursuit of economic transparency. Any person convicted of embezzling more than 10,000 yuan was executed, those convicted of a lesser amount subjected to ‘re-education’ at the new labour camps being established in the rural hinterlands.

This was all very well, except that the rules were not uniformly applied. Convictions often rested on political affiliation and dubious denounciations rather than firm evidence. Just as today’s Chinese leaders are accused of selectively pursuing corruption campaigns – based on political and family loyalty – Mao saw the ‘Three-Antis’ as another way to reduce his potential enemies.

Mao naturally lived like a God. Rarely venturing into public – relying instead on an effective personality cult to purvey his constant presence – he resided in Zhongnanhai, near the Forbidden City, a place still frequented by the CCP leadership. Simultaneously, villas were built in his honour, and on his demand, across the country.

The luxurious compound of Zhongnanhai is off limits to the public
The luxurious compound of Zhongnanhai is off limits to the public

It is estimated that some 600 villas were built specifically for Mao during his rule, few of which he actually inhabited. Having to conform to unbelievably tight security measures, these magnificent structures were built from party funds in impoverished areas, in the hope that the great Chairman would pay a visit.

As people accused of embezzling a paltry 10,000 yuan were put to death, Mao’s economic waste ran into the millions.

These double standards can be seen in the modern Chinese leadership today. Although not as brazen and uncaring as Mao, they live in an era of reduced, if by no means eradicated, media censorship. The internet has allowed hypocrisy to be revealed in a way few would have thought possible in China.

Whilst Mao had his personality cult – and an uncanny knack for blaming others – to hide his gross injustices, today’s CCP leadership is not so lucky. Now that the order has been given, Xi Jinping and his cadres cannot be seen to live beyond their means nor have their names associated with any unwanted or dubious construction project.