Author Archive

Institutes of Confusion

Monday, July 14th, 2014

confucius_akkuzaChina Today. It’s all about China isn’t it? The latest very superficial Memorandum of Understanding to be signed with what Saviour Balzan in his infinite wisdom terms a “former communist giant” was the subject of discussion in parliament tonight. The opposition raised some valid questions about a number of matters mentioned in the Memorandum – o as the case may be, about a number of matters not mentioned in the memorandum. One matter that both parties seem to be warm about is the benefits of cultural exchange with the global behemoth – in particular the setting up of the Confucius Institutes. Many seem to labour under the impression that this kind of centre of cultural enlightment has the same value as, say, the Alliance Francaise or the Istituto Culturale Italiano. Only it doesn’t does it?

Confucius Institutes have been set up the world over by China in an effort, true, to spread its cultural enlightenment to the world. These institutes though are not totally bereft of controversy and this mainly because of the very nature of their backer. Alas Chinese culture includes a dark void in such subjects as democracy and human rights. Don’t expect the institutes to be a shining example or learning center where these subjects are concerned. Last year a number of Canadian Universities were up in arms and sought to eliminate all ties to their Confucius Institutes precisely because of behaviour that was not fitting for liberal democracies:

Here’s The Times’ educational supplement (no not the Times that accepted the trip to be part of the Potemkin group selected by Muscat – the real Times):

The most recent controversy over the Confucius Institutes has flared up in Canada, where one university is shutting down the programme on its campus because of a human rights complaint and two more have declined to serve as hosts.

McMaster University in Hamilton, near Toronto, will close its Confucius Institute when the current term ends this summer, citing the institute’s requirement that its instructors have no affiliation to organisations that the Chinese government has banned, including the spiritual movement Falun Gong.

In the past few years, too, the University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia have turned down proposals for Confucius Institutes to open on their campuses.

The Confucius Institutes are under the control of Hanban, a branch of China’s Ministry of Education. They supply money, teachers and Chinese- language instruction to universities.

The network has grown from one campus in Seoul in 2004 to more than 400 today, including 11 in Canada, 70 in the US and 11 in the UK. According to reports in the Chinese media on 11 March, the head of the Confucius Institutes, Xu Lin, has said the institute plans to expand to 500 branches worldwide by 2020. (Link)

There’s more in this article in the New York Times also highlighting all the strings that are attached to setting up a China funded institute within a Western University. In the article the difference between Confucius Institutes and the Alliance Francaise is stressed:

The British Council currently operates in more than 100 countries; the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute, in Germany, all run on similar lines. And though the United States Information Agency library program has wound down considerably with the end of the Cold War, the State Department still makes an effort to promote American culture overseas.

However, none of these programs are based on university campuses. And according to Mr. Davidson, none adopt the same homogenous approach to their native cultures found in Confucius Institutes. “No one would regard Zadie Smith or Grayson Perry as someone controlled by the British Council,” he said.

“The Chinese are very clear on what they are trying to achieve,” said Mr. Davidson. “They want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word ‘propaganda’ in Chinese. But I doubt they have to say, ‘We’ll only give you this money if you never criticize China.’ The danger is more of self-censorship — which is a very subtle thing,” Mr. Davidson said.

Wikipedia, the site censored in the People’s Republic, has an article dedicated solely to Criticism of Confucius Institutes - such is the extent of controversy surrounding these units of Chinese propaganda abroad.  Academics find the idea of the institutes abhorrent because they symbolise the stifling of academic freedom – and they insist on being intrinsically linked to university campuses. Their use as a tool of propaganda while censoring controversial parts of the Chinese story (the three T’s are blacked out: Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan) makes them stick out like ugly warts within the Western concept of liberal seats of learning that is supposed to underlie the very basis of academic development.

On March 28, 2012, the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on “The Price of Public Diplomacy with China,” focusing upon Chinese propaganda efforts in the U.S., including Confucius Institutes on university campuses. Representative Dana Rohrabacher said, “The two pillars of America’s status as an open society are freedom of the press and academic freedom. Communist China, which does not believe in or allow the practice of either type of freedom, is exploiting the opportunities offered by America to penetrate both private media and public education to spread its state propaganda.”Steven W. Mosher testified, “there have been allegations of Confucius Institutes undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, monitoring the activities of Chinese students abroad, and attempting to advance the Chinese Party-State’s political agenda on such issues as the Dalai Lama and Tibet, Taiwan independence, the pro-democracy movement abroad, and dissent within China itself.”Responding to Mosher’s testimony, Rohrabacher argued, “It appears as though Beijing is able to expand its campaign against academic freedom from China to America when U.S. universities value Chinese favors and money more than truth and integrity.

That’s it really. It’s not just the US universities. Dealing with China means that sacrifices have to be made and reaching ugly value conclusions. Dealing with China brings in Chinese favors and money but the ultimate result is that what suffers are truth and integrity.

The object of the superior man is the truth. – Confucius

Our missionary position

Friday, July 11th, 2014

missionary_akkuzaThis is a guest post sent in by a J’accuse reader. 

While everyone this side of the Great Wall is falling over themselves to figure out how much of our taxes are being used to remunerate “our” emissary in the Far East, one simple fact from the horse’s mouth seems to have been missed.

I, for one, could not care less if the salary Hon. Mizzi’s wife is supposedly on is €3,000, €13,000 or €130,000 per month if it means the overall economic boost to our nation’s coffers results in a net gain from this promotional mission. However, what is most striking, is that for all the hard work she is meant to have done in the past year, all she has to show for it is interest from a ‘top digital company’ to come to Malta and set up a ‘free trade zone centre’.

Sai Mizzi’s quote to Times of Malta reporter Ariadne Massa:

“This company is looking to set up a showcase for all Chinese products in Malta so that European countries will not need to travel to China to see their goods but they can just go to Malta, which is on their doorstep”

That sounds like top work to me, but only if your remit was to bring China and Chinese products to the EU. Does Ms Mizzi not know which side of her bread is being buttered? Apart from saving a little airfare for our EU brethren I fail to identify any benefit that this may bring to our economy. Even the trade zone centre is “free”!

A Nonny Moose

(All that) Bull in a China shop

Monday, July 7th, 2014

allbull_akkuzaThis must be the year of the bull. I know it isn’t (it’s the year of the horse and there’s no bull in the Chinese zodiac) but there’s so much bull in the year that it’s hard to miss it. Only the other day Malta’s ex-Commissioner to the EU now turned “I’ll never bend over to the Europeans” repeatedly referred to a Dr BS in one of his apologias to the world. Must be the summer sun.

Anyways. Today’s Times of Malta reports a government spokesman as saying that Malta’s newly signed medium-term cooperation agreement with China has “sparked interest from other European countries seeking to tap similar deals”.

Malta will be the first EU country to sign a medium-term cooperation agreement with China when the Prime Minister flies to Beijing on Tuesday. According to the government, the five-year memorandum of understanding announced on Thursday has already sparked interest from other European countries seeking to tap similar deals. “We have been approached by four other European countries asking what this deal will entail to see how they can follow suit,” a government spokesman said when contacted. (Times of Malta)

The ambiguity of the phrase regarding interest is such as to raise a couple of questions. First of all, the minor detail, I believe that it is safe to assume that for once the government’s spokesman remembered we are part of Europe and therefore the “other” in that phrase means “other than Malta” (the alternative interpretation would be a sad condemnation on government spokesman’s geographical proficiency).

The second bit of ambiguity concerns the deal that is being asked about. Are other European countries interested in the same kind of agreement with Malta? Or are they genuinely asking Konrad Mizzi and co. for advice on how to deal with China? Both alternatives stink of stercus taurinum. The first alternative (European countries inquiring about a possible cooperation agreement with Malta) tends to ignore the fact that we are currently very strongly partnered with 27 member states of the European Union. Are these extra-EU European states? All four of them? Highly unlikely.

So chances are that the government spokesman was actually referring to the second option, namely that Malta’s government was being asked for advice on how to clinch great deals with the Chinese. Which is interesting and also stinks of bovine excrement. The statement implies that the poor European states (all four of them) are living in a sort of Martian isolation from the rest of the world and had hitherto never made contact with the Chinese empire beyond the cave. In this day and age when the Republic of Ghana has the remnimbi in circulation alongside the national currency it is hard to believe that there are European countries (presumably members of the European Union) that need the Labour government’s assistance in establishing ties with China.

Or maybe (just maybe, as Louis CK would say) they need to find out how Labour pulled off a very particular kind of relationship with the Chinese. The kind of agreement that makes use of the public good in order to pay off an inordinate amount of IOUs and commitments that were made BEFORE it was even a government. THAT kind of understanding where the contents of agreements are rarely public but where you can smell certain beneficiaries from a mile away. Who knows there may be Energy Ministers in European countries who have woken up and smelled the coffee and are planning a posting for their companions in far off Shanghai (remunerated by the public purse).

In the end it’s not the deals with China that are a problem. Sure, the whole world is currently rushing to benefit from China’s huge reserves that are waiting to be spent and invested in every corner of the planet. What remains a problem are the clouds hanging on the not too fine line of distinction between Labour as a party (and its favourites) on the one hand and the public assets that are entrusted in the hands of the executive for a good administration in the best interests of us all.

In that department at least I strongly doubt whether Labour has any good lessons to impart to any other nation, let alone European partners.

The ghosts of politics past

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

ghosts_akkuzaThe French news world was rocked this morning with the news that former President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under “garde a vue” pending investigations into possible “trading in influence” that he might have engaged in during his presidency. Those more familiar with Italian political jargon would call a garde a vue an avviso di garanzia (indictment). What it means is that the person receiving the order is deprived of his freedom pending investigation by a judiciary authority.

European politicians (at least European politicans) would do well to look closely at the events leading to this state of affairs. Investigations had originally concentrated on Sarkozy’s 2007 electoral campaign – yes, the original Flimkien kollox possibbli or as the French would have it Ensemble tout est possible.  Sarkozy and his electoral team were suspected to have received funding from – of all people – Colonel Muammar Gaddhafi in return for future favours and considerations from and for Libya’s government. While listening in into conversations related to this investigation, the investigators noticed that Sarkozy kept a secret phone registered under a false name.

It later transpired that this second phone was being used to “trade influence” with judicial authorities in order to favour Sarkozy’s situation in another hot affair – known in France as the Bettencourt Affair (another case of trading in influence and corruption). Sarkozy would allegedly use his network to get important information about investigations into the Bettencourt Affair – particularly any information that would draw him into the case. This network involved high-end magistrates and police officers, or as Le Monde puts it: “ les enquêteurs pensent avoir mis au jour un « réseau » d’informateurs, au sein de la police et de la justice, susceptible de renseigner les proches de l’ancien président de la République dans les procédures judiciaires pouvant le menacer.” (the investigators have uncovered a network of informers at the heart of the police and the justice system that might have informed persons close to the former president with regards to judicial procedures that could be threatening to him). 

Quite a network there. From electoral funds and favours linking Sarkozy to a dictatorial regime to meddling in the judicial and police system in order to protect ones own interests. This is a strong warning signal to politicians – given a functioning system of checks and balances there will always come a time when past mistakes and abuses will come back to haunt you. Such events also highlight the importance of the rule of law and of institutions of review that allow for independent monitoring of the political elite.

Simon Busuttil at the helm of the PN’s storm tossed ship is surely aware of the dangers of the errors of the past committed by others coming back to haunt him. It makes his task of changing the direction of the ship and shedding that image all the more difficult. Sadly the people’s habit of thinking in terms of guilt by association – so often milked by past PN administrations and its sympathisers will not help this particular ghost vanish too quickly.

Joseph Muscat on the other hand is currently running the show of government without making too much of an effort to hide not so tenuous links with authoritarian governments. His main political moves during the first year of his legislature were obviously dictated by and dependent upon agreements with such governments or their people; three obvious cases spring to mind: (1) the Chinese influence on the power station; (2) the huge question marks hanging around the process of attribution of Malta’s passport scheme and those who would ultimately benefit from it; (3) the hopelessly short-sighted dealings with transient Libyan governments over the provision of petrol (and subsequent use of Maltese resources to provide “security” to unknown persons).

Add to all that the bumbling interventions in the army, the sorry state of affairs of the police, the current spats with the Ombudsman, the hideous conniving to postpone a judge’s impeachment – and you begin to see a ghost in the making for Muscat’s band of politicians.

En garde à vous!

Triton’s Sons

Monday, June 30th, 2014

triton_akkuzaYet another tragedy has occurred in the Mediterranean. The Italian Marina Militare have found a fishing boat with around 600 people on board. 30 of these persons were dead in the hold – dead of asphyxia. As the mayor of Pozzallo decried the lack of space where to put the corpses, it is rumoured that (Commission Head Designate) Jean-Claude Juncker is mulling the idea of an ad hoc Commissioner for immigration.

Greek mythology has it that when Jason and the Argonauts were stranded on a Libyan lake (what could now be Xatt el Djerid near Carthage), Triton promised to assist them out of their predicament in exchange of a tripod that was in Jason’s possession. As Herodotus explains, Triton helped Jason and his Argonauts out of the lake and into the Mediterranean sea. History (and mythology that is an ancient way of “explaining” history) has a weird way of repeating itself.

Weird that Triton would come to the fore by assisting a pilgrim out of the Libyan deserts (Libya for the Greeks stretched from the Nile to the Atlantic) and into the Mediterranean. Weird that the deity inhabiting the Libyan cities would project such immigrants northwards, out of the dryness of the desert. Weirder still that this deity would be Triton who would command the seas with his conch and would be able to multiply into many Tritones – demons (daimones, dimonji) of the sea.

“carried him out of his course to the coast of Libya; where, before he discovered the land, he got among the shallows of Lake Tritonis. As he was turning it in his mind how he should find his way out, Triton (they say) appeared to him, and offered to show him the channel, and secure him a safe retreat, if he would give him the tripod. Jason complying, was shown by Triton the passage through the shallows; after which the god took the tripod, and, carrying it to his own temple, seated himself upon it, and, filled with prophetic fury, delivered to Jason and his companions a long prediction. “When a descendant,” he said, “of one of the Argo’s crew should seize and carry off the brazen tripod, then by inevitable fate would a hundred Grecian cities be built around Lake Tritonis.” The Libyans of that region, when they heard the words of this prophecy, took away the tripod and hid it. ” – Herodotus, Histories 

Rear-Ended Reporting

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

rear_akkuzaMinister Mallia has justified the posting of army personnel at the entrance of ministries by claiming that extra security is needed. “Security from what?”, we felt obliged to ask, “Ze Germans?”. Well, as it happens, the immunity and safety of our representatives (on the opposition side, but who’s bothering with these details?) was actually threatened by a holder of a passport issued by the Bundesrepublik.

One of the big news items yesterday was that PN MPs Frederick Azzopardi and Censu Galea were involved in a freak traffic accident that ended up with them being hospitalised. For a few fleeting news minutes you got the impression that there might have been some political motivation behind the traffic accident since we got a description of someone barging into the honourable gentlemen’s (yes, there is a bit of tongue in cheek behind the use of that appelation) vehicle. The description was one of crash, insult, drive away. Why else would someone stop and insult two MPs (two for the price of one even) if not for some political motive?

Anwyays. It seems that a traffic incident involving members of parliament must have some form of “crimen laese majestatis” classification (crimes against the king) since the long arm of the law were apparently up all night searching for the perpetrator of this crash’n’run. Now I have no disrespect for messers Azzopardi and Galea and do hope that in the end their hospital visit was for a routine check-up and that they escape the affair unscathed but you do get the feeling that our political class are reserved some extra attention worthy of divas a little bit too often. Would the PCs of our realm have stayed up all night trying to get lucky finding an anonymous perpetrator (not so anonymous – how many Volvos with foreign number plates can there be on the island?) if it was you or me who were in the driving seat of the car that got rear-ended.

What? You don’t know what “rear-ended” means? Oh come on. You’re so two thousand and late. It means (apparently) that your car got barged into from behind (hence, rear-ended) by another in a not too comfy fashion. I had to compare MaltaToday’s report with that of the Times in order to come up with that explanation. Sorry but some jargon is not exactly up my old-fashioned street. Also, I was rather thrown by the idea that two of our MPs drove a car that also doubled as a stationery. So that is how Frederick and Censu make ends meet? Selling sharpeners and stencils after hours?

Here is the relevant part of the MaltaToday report just in case you think I jest. I’ve given it the Lorna treatment. Been a while…

This morning at around 8.00am the District Police arrested a German national who allegedly crashed into a car carrying two Nationalist MPs, Censu Galea and Frederick Azzopardi [Strong people these Germans. They crash into cars and then walk off. Unbreakable]. The accident happened yesterday at Triq ix-Xatt in Pietá.

The two MPs were in a Toyota driven by Azzopardi and their car was stationery near the KPMG offices [Investigators are out on the street right now trying to understand whether the MPs car was actually being used as stationery by employees of the KPMG firm or whether the car was actually doubling up as a stationery on wheels] when the German, driving a Volvo with foreign number plates [Have you ever tried manouevering a steering wheel using just number plates? It's effing hard. I promise. Even for a German.], rear-ended [This gets confusing (see above). At first I thought the German did some weird manouevre other than use number plates to drive a car, then I sort of understood] and pushed the Toyota more then 10 meters [Let's get finnicky shall we? First of all, "then" and "than"... right... you got that one. Next up. "Meters". Electricity meters? Parking meters? Ah no.... American Style spelling of the measure equal to 100 centimetres] .

Following the incident, the man alighted [Did you know that the first recorded use of the word "alight" was in the General Prologue from the Canterbury Tales?] from his vehicle and hurled insults  at the two MPs. However by the time the police arrived on the scene, the man had driven away [having presumably un-alighted and applied his number plate driving skills].

Both Galea and Azzopardi were hospitalised and treated for slight injuries.

The search for the foreigner was on all night [They stayed up all night to Get Lucky] but it was not until this morning that the man was arrested at his residence in Pietá [Did you see that? Accident in Pietà, residence in Pietà, foreign number plates, and we spend all night to find him]. He is being kept by the police for further investigations and will be arraigned in court in the coming days.

Police Inspector Jason F. Sultana is leading the investigations.

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