All posts by jessgmiddleton

Free Tibet and the West’s Struggle with China’s Growing Influence

For more than thirty years Free Tibet have been at the forefront of the West’s scrutiny of China’s human rights record.

The organisation gained widespread international support in the 1990s, with governments and celebrities alike speaking out in support of Tibetan rights and independence.

There are signs however that as Chinese influence and power grows on the world stage, high profile support for organisations like Free Tibet is getting harder to come by, as economic and strategic interests take precedence.

“It was everywhere in popular culture.” said John Jones, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager for Free Tibet.

“I think a lot of Hollywood stars are reluctant to speak out about it now. I think some films in Hollywood would be considered a flop if they didn’t break into the Chinese market, and the Chinese government has a say on what films get in.”

In a 2002 episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson shouted “Free Tibet” after winning a spelling bee. A series of concerts in support of Tibet were held from 1996 through to 2008 throughout the west.

By 2018, London’s Royal Court theatre was pulling a play about Tibet after the British Council advised it would coincide with “significant political meetings” in China, and could stop the company from working there in the future.

This change within a decade coincides with an explosion in China’s economic prowess and global influence.

In 2018, the UK received $4.8bn in foreign direct investment from Beijing. China is also being earmarked as a vital post-Brexit trading partner, and the UK’s reluctance to outright oppose China has been displayed this year in its tentative approach to Huawei’s implementation of 5G networks throughout the country.

While Britain’s traditional allies the US, Australia, and New Zealand have banned the Chinese company from implementing its 5G networks, citing national security concerns, the UK has sat on the fence.

Both the US and China have threatened the UK over the issue.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the US may not trade diplomatic secrets with the UK if it had a Huawei-operated network.

Meanwhile Chinese diplomat Chen Wen alluded to “substantial” repercussions for Chinese investment into Britain should the network’s implementation be hindered.

What the Huawei issue shows is that the UK is desperate not to antagonise China, even at the expense of its traditional diplomatic relationships.

As Britain and the world struggles to come to terms within China’s ascent into superpower status, Beijing’s grasp on Tibet continues to tighten.

The Chinese military on the streets of Ngaba, Tibet, in 2011.

Mr Jones said: “Its hard for us to know just how bad Tibet is because its so closed. The information we get is sent in very convoluted ways. Its hard to get information out and it takes a while.”

Restrictions on the flow of information in and out of Tibet increased following strong western condemnation of the Chinese response to the 2008 Tibetan Uprising, during which the Tibetan government-in-exile claim that 203 people were killed.

Beijing subsequently invested in increased security forces, surveillance, internet monitoring, and border checks. Journalists are restricted, and the UN must be accompanied by government minders.

In 2014, hundreds of fake Twitter accounts which were found to be circulating Tibet-related pro-Chinese propaganda were shut down.

While exploiting western social media for their own gains, Beijing strictly regulates use of the internet within its own borders.

These restrictions extend to giants such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia. Desperate to break into the Chinese market, Google began developing a Beijing-compliant search engine, Dragonfly. After heavy criticism, including a campaign led by Free Tibet, the programme was ostensibly pulled.

The information that does filter out typically tells of Beijing’s efforts to water-down Tibetan identity and autonomy.

This is done by suppressing the use of the Tibetan language, and the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Mr Jones said: ‘In order for [the Chinese] to cement this this state of affairs they want to eradicate or compromise aspects of Tibetan culture, you see that in the taking over of monasteries, in schools in Tibet which now revolve around the teaching of Mandarin Chinese, with Tibetan relegated to the status of just one class in the way that we might do French classes in a school in the UK.’

China has recently moved to demolish Larung Gar, a town famous for having the world’s largest Tibetan monastery, in an act some brandish cultural whitewashing.

Mandarin Chinese is now the standard language used in Tibetan secondary schools, and use of the language is increasingly common in the region’s cities, which are populated by a growing number of ethnic Han Chinese incentivised to move into the area.

The geopolitical significance of Tibet is undeniable, and Beijing’s desire for control of the reason is understandable given its provided access to the Himalayas, water supplies, and rich mineral wealth.

In turn, the Communist Party is keen to silence any pro-secessionist discourse, partly to protect these interests, as well as to protect Chinese soft-power on the international stage.

‘When Tibet is brought up, there is this real, defensiveness, probably because the government knows that some of the things its doing are reprehensible’ added Mr Jones.

Free Tibet continue to lobby governments and raise international awareness over these issues.

One notable such campaign is on the disappearance of the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

The Panchen Lama is the second highest authority in Tibetan Buddhism. Gedhun disappeared aged 6, and six months later the Tibetan child of two Communist party members was named his replacement.   

This Beijing-based Lama is still in place, and the whereabouts of Gedhun remain unknown.

There are also some concerns that Beijing plans to appoint the successor to the Dalai Lama, the most influential figure in the region.

Free Tibet campaign to locate the whereabouts of Gedhun, and the freedom of Tibetan Buddhism from Chinese influence.

The organisation also works with the Tibetan diaspora , which stands at around 150,000 spread across 40 countries.

In February 2019, Tibetan-Canadian student Chemi Lhamo recieved a wave of online abuse and death threats after being elected president of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Student Union.

A petition to prevent her from becoming president gained over 10,000 signatures, part of which stated that “she is very deep into a group called Free Tibet. We think she is irrational about this.”

The petition appears to have been set up and signed primarily by Chinese students. This supports claims that members of Confucius Institutes and Chinese student associations throughout the west report to the Communist Party.

2019 has also seen Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush filmed and shouted at while speaking at McMaster University in Ontario, also primarily by Chinese students.

The increasing difficulty with which Tibetan activists operate, both at home and abroad, is symptomatic of China’s growing power and influence.

Without organisations like Free Tibet, it is hard to know who, if anyone, would hold the Communist Party to account for his actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, and beyond.

For more information about Free Tibet and the Tibetan cause in general visit 

Life on the Isolated British Outpost of St Helena

Between worrying about Brexit and traditionally eating curry once a week, Saint Helenians could hardly be more British.

The main difference for the island, which forms part of the British Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, is that it is set in isolation in the Atlantic Ocean, 8,000km away from the UK.

Since the opening of its first airport in 2017 the remote island has been reinventing itself as a tourism hotspot, making the most of its ties to Napoleon as well as its rich marine environment.

“Before the airport opened we only had a ship that would call once every three weeks.” commented St Helena’s Director of Tourism Helena Bennett, 40.

“Since the airport has opened, we’ve even been getting Chinese visitors.”

Tourists had been relatively few a fair between prior to the airport’s opening, comprising almost exclusively of over 60’s cruises. Now taking far less time to get to, a younger, more adventurous demographic are being attracted to St Helena thanks to its rich diving environment and whale sharks.

A single tour operator had 46 people on diving packages in January and February, a very healthy number for the island. Ventures like this are invigorating the local economy.

Saints, as they refer to themselves, are hoping that political turmoil in the mother country won’t derail this increasingly positive outlook.

Ms Bennet said: “Everybody here is aware of Brexit, we’re conscious of it, and we’re all holding our breath to see what Brexit will mean for us. We are a bit worried.”

Funding from the EU has been essential for innovation and green energy projects throughout the island, and for the scientific research which brings in foreign workers and their spending money.

A conference on the impact of Brexit on British Overseas Territories, which have a combined total of around 250,000 was held in Tahiti March. However, much like mainland Brits, Saints are waiting to see what Brexit will really mean for them.

Despite its geographic isolation, the local population have a diverse heritage stemming from all corners of the world.

First discovered in the 16th century by the Portuguese, the island was settled a century later by the English East India Company (EIC).

The EIC encouraged immigration from Britain, imported African slaves, and used indentured labourers from India and East Asia.

As a result, Saints today can trace their heritage to India, Malaysia, Madagascar, Ireland, Scotland, England, and America.

“We don’t have no rules when it comes to racial mix.” added Ms Bennett.

This is reflected within their cuisine, which typically includes curry, pilaf rice, and the traditional British Sunday roast.  

Ties to Britain are exemplified by use of the English language, albeit with a unique accent, use of the (St Helenian) Pound, and a reverence for the Queen.

“We are British, but you don’t relly notice it until something goes on in the UK like the Queen’s Jubilee. Then you’ll find we all break out into having a party here.” added Ms Bennett.

St Helena however remains best known for the exile of Napoleon Bonaparte and his death on the island.

Napoleon was sent to St Helena in 1815 after defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Having escaped from exile on Elba, the Allied powers were keen to send the emperor to as remote a location as possible.

Initially he stayed with the Balcombe family at Briar’s Pavilion, however he soon took up residence at Longwood House, under supervision of a specifically designated garrison of British soldiers. He died on St Helena in 1821.

The islands are preparing for international attention in 2021, the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death.

Some have found St Helena’s capitalisation on Napoleon’s name as controversial, owing to his ostensible cause of multiple conflicts in Europe.

Ms Bennett commented: “They don’t like the idea that we should be celebrating Napoleon, but it is not celebrating, it is marking a significant point of time in our history.”

Celebration of the island’s history does not stop Saints from looking forward.

“In France, you’ve got everybody who knows of St Helena because of Napoleon, but when we were at the travel show there last year, they said ‘okay Napoleon was there, but what else can you do?’” added Ms Bennett.

If its tourism industry continues to grow at the rate and along the path that locals intend it to, there may soon come a day that St Helena is as synonymous with adventure holidays as it is with Napoleon Bonaparte.

An Independent London? Disillusioned Londoners Are Thinking About Going It Alone

Britain’s impending departure from the European Union is leading to increasing calls for autonomy and self-government for its pro-EU capital, London.

Almost 60% of Londoners voted to remain in the EU in 2016’s Referendum, and the turmoil which has followed the Brexit vote has provoked some to call for the capital to go it alone.

Geoff Hinkley and Rizwan Syed are part of a fledgling organisation named Londependence, which aims to represent Londoners disillusioned with Westminster.

Mr Hinkley said: “Brexit has shown that London can’t trust England to make good decisions about a shared future. And without that trust, do we have a future together at all? Sometimes a relationship just isn’t salvageable and you have to walk away.”

A YouGov poll conducted just after the 2016 Referendum indicated that 11% of people wanted London to become a separate country.

A petition for London to join the EU as a separate country gained more than 180,000 signatures.

In 2017 Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy wrote in The Independent that London should become a city-state in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’.

The alienation between the country and the capital can also be felt on the ground.

Mr Syed, a former journalist and current web developed, said: “you hear people say it in coffeeshops ‘oh London, its like its own country.’”

Londependence are planning to launch a political party, which would aim to capitalise on this disillusionment and give Londoners an alternative vote. Its founders however remain realistic about their prospects.

Mr Hinkley added: “we are trying to build an idea that people will vote for an the only way to get more than a candidate’s name on a ballot paper is to have a political party.

“We don’t have any illusions about winning much just yet but it shows we know where we want to go.”

“We are a movement in its infancy. We’re not in a position to launch a broad appeal to public. Our immediate goal is just to be doing something that people who are interested in the idea of Londependence can get involved in – even if that something is not all that effective yet.”

The group seek greater autonomy and self government for the capital, which polls suggest is a relatively popular idea amongst Londoners.

YouGov’s July 2016 survey found that 23% of Londoners want a London Parliament, with devolved powers similar to Scotland’s.

“We want to be free to use our city’s own considerable talents to fix the problems that matter to Londoners. We are sick of London subsidising the rest of the country while Londoners are shouted down as metropolitan elites or foreign interlopers.” added Mr Hinkley.

While Brexit has been the catalyst for much of this dissatisfaction, the cultural, political, and ideological differences between London and England have in any case been widening in recent years.

London’s population is just under 60% white, compared to 86% for England and Wales.

Around 9% of England’s population are aged 25-34,  with that age group forming 24% of Inner London’s inhabitants.

The 2011 Census showed that 37% of London’s population was foreign born, the world’s second highest foreign born population after New York’s. This number falls to around 14% for the UK as a whole.

These differences are visible in UK politics. A look at a map of the 2017 General Election results shows London as an island of Labour-red amongst a sea of Conservative-blue.

Londoners envious of successful independent city state, Singapore, are now taking inspiration. How apt are the comparisons between the two cities?

Singapore and London bear some interesting similarities. Both are financial superpowers, have a multi-ethnic population, and carry tremendous soft power.

Singapore was incorporated into the Federation of Malaya, along with North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak, in 1963, to form Malaysia.

This was largely done on the premise of a customs union, which Singaporeans felt would boost their economy.

Malayan nationalists were however wary of Singapore and it’s ethnic Chinese majority, which they felt could upset the country’s ethnic and political balance.

It was feared that Chinese Singaporeans would harbour Communist sympathies, giving that movement a platform in Malaysia proper, and allowing for Beijing to influence Malaysian affairs.

This led Malaysia to unanimously vote Singapore out of the federation, effectively forcing independence on the city state.

Singapore today is a thriving financial superpower, and is viewed by many as a model for successful statecraft. Many in Malaysia sorely regret its expulsion.  

Parallels can be seen here with London’s relationship with England and the EU.

Like Singapore’s when compared to Malaysia, London’s population is vastly different ethnically to England’s in general.

Londoners fear significant damage to its economy should Britain leave the European Customs Union, just as failure to establish a customs union post-independence damaged Malaysia economically and hindered Singaporean/Malaysian relations.

Malaysia could not reconcile itself with Singapore’s assumed natural predisposition to left-leaning politics, and as Londoners shift increasingly left politically, this could be reflected by those in England who view those in the capital as ‘metropolitan elites’ and ‘foreign interlopers’.

It is no wonder that secessionists in the capital look to the Lion City as an example.

London however remains very much the English capital. Unlike many western countries, in which various cities serve important roles, London is England’s cultural, political, and financial centre.

While initiatives such as Northern Powerhouse fail to get off the ground, London continues to establish itself as the world’s pre-eminent ‘global city’.

An England without London is almost as hard to imagine as an independent London, and it is not easy to predict which of the two would be more successful.

While fledgling organisations like Londependence are embryonic at this stage, London’s power relative to the nation as a whole could see small movements like this one make a huge impact.   

Thousands March on London to Demand Brexit People’s Vote

Thousands marched on London today calling for a second Brexit referendum and the revocation of Article 50.

The “Put it To The People” march travelled from Park Lane to Parliament Square, with organisers claiming that more than a million people took part.

A petition calling for the revocation of Article 50 gained four million signatures this week, after the EU agreed to delay the UK’s exit until April.

Protester Jen Llywelyn, 70, from Ceredigion in Wales, said: “I’ve travelled because I suffer from depression, and I’m getting more and more depressed as this madness continues.”

Mrs Llywelyn said that Theresa May had ignored the Welsh people and their interests, and that Brexit could stoke Welsh nationalism.

The march is set to rivals 2003’s Stop the War March, when more than 750,000 protested the UK’s co-operation in the invasion of Iraq, as the largest this century in this country.

Huge crowds gathered on Park Lane for a 1pm start, with many people carrying flags, homemade banners and signs.

Speakers at Parliament Square included London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Sandi Toksvig, and Siobhan McSweeney, of Channel 4’s Derry Girls, who reiterated the importance of the EU to the Northern Irish peace process.

Christopher Penney, 67, of Leicester, said he hopes the UK will eventually revoke Article 50, and that political divisions were causing the current stalemate.

Mr Penney said: “I hate to say it but I think we’ve got right on our side, correctness on our side.”

BREXIT - a timline

Theresa May has insisted that a second EU referendum is not on the cards.

Frank Connor, who is a member of the Green Party, suggested that the ‘disaster’ of Brexit could allow for eventual parliamentary and electoral reform.

Mr Connor said: “I’m kind of hoping that this week something nuclear will happen.”

The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on the 12th of April.

Impact of ICJ Chagos Advisory Discussed at London Event

A discussion on the impact of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) advisory opinion on the Chagos Islands was held at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) yesterday.

The ICJ ruled in February that Britain had not completed its decolonisation of Mauritius, and that its continuing occupation of the Chagos Islands, or British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), is unlawful and should be brought to an end.   

Yesterday’s panellists pondered the ramifications of the verdict for British prestige, the international balance of power, and the right to self-determination.

Continue reading Impact of ICJ Chagos Advisory Discussed at London Event

Football in Exile: The Chagos FA and the Struggle to Get Their Islands Back

Establishing a national football team can be difficult, particularly if the British Government forcibly depopulated your entire country.

Yet despite living in exile in Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK this is exactly what the Chagossian people have done.

Sabrina Jean is a second generation deportee, and settled in the UK in 2006 after having lived in Mauritius. Since 2013 she has organised the Chagos FA, who represent the Chagossian diaspora as part of Conifa – the Confederation of Independent Football Associations.

Chagos FA enter the field alongside opponents Matabeleland, led by Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar.

“I was inspired to start a football team after two friends of mine gave me some advice on how it can benefit my campaign.” said Mrs Jean.

“So after long consideration we started the Chagos Football Association. Now since we created the team many other countries know about the Chagossian struggle.”

The Chagos Islands are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, administered as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

The islanders were brutally deported during the 1970s so that the United States could built an enormous military base in exchange for discounted Polaris nuclear technology. Over 100 pets are said to have been gassed during the expulsion, to prevent Chagossians from returning to them.

The islanders have since struggled to maintain their identity and to fight for their return. Many have settled in Crawley, West Sussex. Despite living in the UK, Chagossians are often denied citizenship by the British Government, and the British public remain largely unaware of the issue.

Chagossians are hoping that initiatives like the national football team will gain attention and garner public support.

The Chagos FA first played in 2013, against the Principality of Sealand. Since then they have played against sides such as Somaliland, Tamil Eelam, Panjab and Barawa. Chagos even participated in the 2016 Conifa World Cup in Abkhazia.

Chagos enter the field alongside their opponents: Bruce Grobbelaar’s Matabeleland

Funding has been a long-standing issue for the organisation. The precursor to the Chagos FA, the Union Chagossiene de Football, were forced to fold in 2012.

Mrs Jean said: “we have many difficulties, we don’t have a specific place to train also we don’t have a sponsor. We have made lots of applications to have a sponsor but these have been in vain.”

Conifa has gained a lot of publicity in recent years as a mode for which ethnic groups, identities, and other groups otherwise unable to join Fifa can compete and raise their profile.

Despite the assortment of identities within Conifa, the Chagossians are a rarity, as alongside the Rohingya FA they form one of the few participants unable to return to the country they are representing.

The chance to come together and be represented can however be taken as a welcome positive after decades of persecution.

Vice-Chair of the UK Chagos Support Association Stefan Donnelly said: “It’s an amazing chance for young people, most of whom have never been to the Chagos Islands, to connect with their heritage.

As a direct result of the brutal deportations of the 1960s & 1970s, many of these young people have had hugely difficult lives. The Chagos Islands National Football Team gives them a chance to show their pride in what remains an incredibly committed, close knit and proud community.”

Chagos are next scheduled to play in Surrey in April 2019.

Western Sahara: The EU, the US, Morocco, and an inconvenient truth

Go to Google, search for a map of the world, and take a look at north-western Africa. Wedged between Morocco and Mauritania on the Atlantic coastline, you’re likely to see a country labelled Western Sahara. This is peculiar, because if you travelled to that area and asked the locals where they are from, they are unlikely to reply with the name given to the territory on most western map editions. No, those hailing from Western Sahara are either citizens of Morocco, or the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic, depending on their political inclinations. This anomaly stems from a territorial dispute dating back to the 1970s, when Spain’s belated decolonisation of Africa led to conflict over who reigned sovereign in this part of the Sahara. Morocco claimed the territory by proxy as their ‘Southern Provinces’, while the native Sahrawis have resisted in a fight for self-determination. The struggle has defined north-west African politics for the past forty years, and yet is seldom documented in western media. The ambiguity with which the region is labelled on most world maps is symptomatic of the ambivalence in the west’s diplomatic approach, which has been defined by inconsistency with regards to the sovereign rights of peoples and criticism of human rights abuses.

North Africa
Western Sahara as it appears on most world maps, easily mistaken for an independent country.

Dispute over the Western Sahara region, which has a population of 500,000 and is larger than the UK, is largely a hangover of European colonialism in Africa. When Africa was arbitrarily divided between the European powers during the ‘Scramble for Africa’, Spain was granted sovereignty over a patch of desert set west of French Morocco. Spanish Sahara was home to the historic Sahrawi people, who through the brutality of Spain’s colonial administration became acutely aware of the importance of sovereignty and self-determination. When Spain’s languid grip on its colonial possession became known to the world, Spanish Sahara’s neighbours began to eye possession of the territory. Claimed by both Mauritania and Morocco, the world anticipated a division between the two nations. The rights of indigenous Sahrawis were not taken to account, as was often the case during the hurried decolonisation of Africa (see Biafra, Somaliland, and to an extent South Sudan). Provoked by the 1975 Madrid Accords, which sought to grant two thirds of Western Sahara to Morocco and the remainder to Mauritania, the Polisario Front was founded.

The Polisario Front demanded a right to Sahrawi self-determination, and declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in former Spanish Sahara in 1976, sparking the Western Sahara War. Months earlier, 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by 20,000 Moroccan troops, had entered Western Sahara as part of the Green March, announcing to the world the Moroccan intention to annex the territory. Quickly overran by the vastly more powerful Moroccan military, the Sahrawi campaign descended into guerrilla resistance. Morocco would eventually envelop 80% of Western Sahara, leaving Polisario with a sliver of inland desert, bordered by a heavily defended sand berm. That Mauritania sued for peace in 1979 is testament to the effectiveness of the guerrilla campaign, and has removed one of the SADR’s two main obstacles to achieving statehood. Sahrawi rebels have based themselves in exile in Tindouf, Algeria, and garnered a respectable amount of support from that country. A massive Moroccan offensive in the late 1980s led to a 1991 ceasefire, from which point the history of the region has been defined by failed western initiatives.

The ceasefire of 1991 led to international calls for a referendum in the territory regarding sovereignty. These calls stalled due to disputes over voter eligibility; Morocco was keen to avoid any voting demographic they felt would favour Sahrawi independence, while Sahrawis resisted any referendum which enfranchised large numbers of ethnic Moroccans. External designs on a peaceful solution culminated in the Baker Plans of 2001 and 2003, which called for a five-year period of Sahrawi autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty prior to an eventual independence referendum. The Baker Plans, named for UN Envoy to Western Sahara James Baker, failed due to Moroccan resistance despite unexpected co-operation from the Polisario Front. Post-Baker, a tightening of Moroccan relations with the EU and the United States has led to an incoherence and apathy in the west’s approach to Western Sahara.

In 2005, the EU signed a fisheries agreement with Morocco, permitting EU vessels to fish off Moroccan shores. This includes Western Sahara, a policy which some have claimed violates international law. In 2006 Morocco and the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement, and the kingdom forms a large export market for American and French arms. This web of economic alliances has left Western Sahara an inconvenient truth, as the Moroccan occupation undermines the hallmarks of liberalism, human rights, and self-determination which underpin the west’s worldview, particularly that of the EU. The EU is a prisoner of its Moroccan partnership, and as such has no concrete position on WS. Members of the bloc such as The Netherlands or Sweden may from time to time label WS an occupied territory (the latter such case hindered the opening of an IKEA store in Morocco), but the EU cannot decisively act owing to its dependence on Morocco for migration regulation and counter-terrorism. Moreover, Spain relies on a placid Morocco in order to maintain its African territories at Ceuta and Melilla. Perhaps most importantly however is the fact that with regards to North Africa, Morocco is a remarkably stable country, and one which is open to western trade and co-operation. A unanimous call for Sahrawi sovereignty is likely to lead to the loss of a major western ally in a turbulent region.

Morocco remains steadfast in its rejection of Sahrawi independence. In March 2016, following a Ban Ki-Moon visit to Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, the UN peacekeeping mission MINURSO (Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, present since the 1991 ceasefire) was expelled in protest. Polisario have hinted at a return to conflict as their hopes of a diplomatic resolution wane. The position of the SADR seems fleeting though, as a Moroccan economic scheme has seen millions of dollars of investment pumped into Western Sahara, with the construction of roads and airports, implementation of agricultural and electrical programmes, and the encouragement of tourism legitimising the kingdom’s position in an international sense. This has been supported by an influx of Moroccan workers, who now vastly outnumber the native Sahrawis. As the EU and US renege on their ideological convictions for economic and political convenience, it seems inevitable that soon when one goes to Google and looks at a world map, that space which read Western Sahara will read Morocco.


Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

Quick Facts South TyrolNestled in Italy’s scenic north-east, amongst the Dolomite mountain range, lies the autonomous province of Alto Adige. While such a description may encourage the intrusion of any number of images stereotypically Italian into one’s mind, thoughts of pizza, pasta and wine would in most cases be misplaced within the region. Südtirol is the more commonly used term, strudel and schnitzel the more commonly eaten food, and German the more commonly spoken language. For South Tyrol is an Austrian-enclave within Italy, populated predominantly by ethnic Germans and locked within a foreign land as a result of decades old geopolitical arrangements closely tied to the alliances made during the World Wars. As Austrian nationalism flares in the wake of the rise of the far-right Freedom Party, are tensions growing between Rome and Vienna?

Italian designs on this historically German-speaking region can be traced back to the Napoleonic Era. Napoleon, in a bid to supplant the power of the various German micro-states, divided the Tyrol region between Bavaria and the Kingdom of Italy. While the division did not last long due to Tyrol’s reunification under Austro-Hungarian administration at the Congress of Vienna, South-Tyrol’s association with the wider Italian region had been ingrained into the ideology of many Italian nationalists. The eventual unification of Italy, achieved in spite of Austro-Hungarian aggression, sparked calls for the incorporation of ‘unredeemed lands’ or Irredenta into the Kingdom of Italy. Irredenta refers to lands which Italian nationalists believed historically to be a part of a ‘greater Italy’, including lands with large Italian populations such as the Dalmatian coast and Malta, as well as ‘lost’ territories, such as South Tyrol. Italian claims over the region were exploited by the Entente powers during the First World War, when the land was promised to Rome as part of the Treaty of London, should the Italians switch allegiance in the conflict. Initially the transition was largely inconsequential, however this would change as fascism grew in Italy.

In April 1921, as part of the rising militancy in Italian nationalism, a German-cultural parade held in the regions capital, Bozen, was attacked by hundreds of armed fascists. A local teacher was shot dead during the attacks, and while the Italian Prime Minister ordered arrests, the increasingly powerful Benito Mussolini threatened to intervene on behalf of the fascists should such an order be carried out. This precipitated South Tyrol’s Italianisation, manifest in the banning of the use of German in public office, the mass closure of German schools and the encouragement of ethnic Italian immigration. Moreover, fascism began to grow as an ideology amongst native Tyrolians, who had their allegiances blurred by the increasing co-operation between Hitler’s National Socialist government (governors of Austria subsequent to the 1938 Anschluss) and Mussolini’s fascist regime. Hitler, despite justifying his invasion of Czechoslovakia as an effort to regain territories populated by ethnic German communities, displayed no particular desire for South Tyrol. Thus came the South-Tyrol Option Agreement, which encouraged Tyrolian emigration into Germany or an acceptance of the Italianisation of South Tyrol. While many Tyrolians left their homeland, the fall of Nazism precipitated the return of most.

South Tyrol
South Tyrol’s seen nestled within The Alps, sandwiched between Austria and Italy. (Google Earth)

While the end of the Second World War saw the solidification of many western European borders, the post-war settlement for Tyrol has harboured grievances which have flared up routinely ever since. The Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement saw South Tyrol remain part of Italy but with greater autonomy within the Trentino-Tyrol region. The combination of Tyrol with Trentino rendered the region an Italian majority and was seen by many as an attempt to dilute the influence of ethnic Germans within Italian politics. Moreover, government endorsed Italian migration into the area saw the ethnic German population fall from ninety percent to sixty percent between 1880 and 1960.  This caused growing resentment, and throughout the 1960s a violent terrorist organisation known as the Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol attacked Italian monuments, infrastructure and officials. Under both internal and external Austrian pressure, a second agreement was made. The agreement stipulated greater autonomy for South-Tyrol, as well as the referral of disputes in the region to The Hague. This, combined with the freedom of movement made possible by the European Union, as well as the declaration of a wider Tyrol ‘Euroregion’, saw a sharp decline in Tyrolian separatism.

The Südtirolfräge, or South Tyrol question, has been awoken in recent months by the rise of the far-right Freedom Party within Austria. The Freedom Party, who form part of the coalition government, strongly support the Tyrolian secessionist movement and unification with Austria. This has compelled Sebastian Kurz to offer some residents of the region Austrian citizenship. The decision has been praised and condemned along the same lines by opposing secessionists and Italian nationalists, who believe the door has been opened for an independence referendum. Italians see citizenship as an attempt to strengthen Austrian claims over South Tyrol and a delegitimising of their own rule. As nationalism rises within Austria, and secessionism gathers momentum in Tyrol, it seems likely that the century-old South Tyrol question will need to be answered once again in the coming years. Polls tend to indicate that a majority of ethnic Germans in South-Tyrol support secession. When the Italian and Ladin population are included, polls tend to fall short of fifty percent. The Austrian far-right are likely to stoke this simmering ethnic division, supported by the secessionist political movements, including the Freedom Party-aligned Die Freiheitlichen. After their much-maligned ambivalence towards Madrid’s brutal suppression of the push for Catalan independence, Tyrol may be the next opportunity for the European Union to prove their aptitude in dealing with the ever-increasing secessionism within the bloc.



Cover Image –

Google Earth

The United States, Japan, and the Subjugation of Okinawa

The relocation of the United States Marine Corps Base at Futenma, Okinawa, has long-been a controversial subject within Japanese politics. Plans to relocate the base to Camp Schwab, in the island’s far north, have stagnated in recent years as a result of prolonged local protest. Now, following the election of the pro-Tokyo mayoral candidate Taketoyo Toguchi in Okinawa’s Nago City, PM Abe has expressed his relief in finally being at liberty to press ahead with the American relocation. This does not however reveal the full story of Okinawa, former independent Kingdom turned Japan’s poorest prefecture, and their century of subjugation.

Quick Facts Okinawa

Okinawa has a long and vibrant culture. Alongside the remainder of the Ryukyu Island chain Okinawa formed the Ryukyu Kingdom, a major trading post in Medieval Asia. Famous for its porcelain, trade with China resulted in significant Ming Dynasty influence, including widespread immigration from China. Following the 1609 invasion of the Japanese Satsuma Domain, the blend of Chinese and Japanese influence resulted in the emergence of a unique Okinawan culture, complete with its own distinct languages. Local trade evolved into trade with the wider world, with the Ryukyu island ports serving as the only stages within which European traders could access Japanese markets during the period of isolationism.

The relative liberty enjoyed within Ryukyu ended in 1879, when the Empire of Japan formally annexed the archipelago, establishing the Okinawa Prefecture. King Sho Tai was exiled to Tokyo, and with a policy of colonisation which would soon be replicated in Korea and wider Southeast Asia, indigenous Ryukyuan culture and language were systemically repressed. The Japanese language was made standard, and ‘dialect speakers’ were publicly shamed. The intense labour which formed the backbone of the Tokyo-engineered Okinawan economy led to mass emigration, primarily to industrial cities on the mainland such as Osaka. When the Second World War broke out, Okinawans were one of many communities who felt threatened by the expansionist and brutal imperial Japanese regime. Their fears were not misplaced, as the Battle of Okinawa, one of the most significant battles of the Pacific War, saw over a third of the native civilian population killed. Many of these died as a result of Japanese propaganda, which portrayed the Americans as monsters, leading to suicide.

Defeat during the war saw Japanese domination on Okinawa replaced by US military domination. From 1950 until 1972 the US Civil Administration of the Ryuku Islands was the de facto government in Okinawa. The US dollar was the currency, cars drove on the right, and a proliferation of US military installations were installed across the island, cemented by the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement. The US military presence has long been seen as an invasive presence, a disrupter of Okinawan peace, a factor which ties the island and islanders lives to American conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam. The Okinawa Prefecture was returned to Japanese control in 1971, however the US military presence, encompassing 19% of Okinawa, remained. Seen as an amalgamation of American and Japanese oppression, grievances towards the US military presence came to a head in 1995, when three US servicemen were convicted of the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. The mass protestations prompted suggestions of a reduction in the US military presence, as well as a relocation of the Futenma Air Station. This wasn’t enough for many Okinawans, and rejections of the Camp Schwab relocation made on both environmental and anti-military grounds have resulted in a decades long stagnation of the proposals.

Okinawans continue to be let down by a Tokyo Government which values their military strategic partnership more than the will of its own citizens. Local opposition was signified when in November 2014, the anti-US base candidate Takeshi Onaga was elected as the Okinawan Governor. This hindered any immediate progression of the base relocation. While this may be viewed in stark contrast to the more recent of the pro-relocation mayor in Nago City, it is worth bearing in mind that Okinawa is the poorest Prefecture in Japan. Child poverty stands at 37%, almost three times higher than the national average. When faced with such neglect, candidates stressing their desire for economic growth are bound to be favoured by those affected. Taketoyo Toguchi ran such a campaign. While Shinzo Abe saw this as a greenlight for the long-stagnant relocation project, perhaps the clear cry from Nago’s high poverty rates should have been the overriding message to adhere from the result of the vote. Opposition to the US-military presence is undoubtedly still widespread, however this is offset by the poor economic conditions on the island. While Japan continues to bend to the American will, little will change in Okinawa. The islanders will continue to resist, as they have done for centuries.


Pax Sinica: China Goes Global

We are living in the Chinese century. This is what economic forecasters would have you believe. With economic pre-eminence often comes cultural hegemony, evidenced by the overpowering Americanisation of global society. Jeans, burgers, hip hop – America is everywhere. Conservative forecasters estimate that the Chinese Economy will pass that of the US by 1930 – suggesting that the coming decades could see a penetration of Chinese influence around the world, akin to that enjoyed by the States in the years subsequent to the Second World War. Despite the historical isolationism prevalent in Chinese culture, evidence of such an emergence is already apparent. Originally manifest in Han encroachment into traditional Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongol lands within the boundary of what we would now define as China, Beijing’s reach is now going global.

One area in which Chinese influence is flexing is in the vast and sparsely populated lands which lay to the north in Siberia. The Asian part of Russia accounts for three quarters of the countries’ land mass, yet is home to just forty million people. The Chinese, who number some 90 million in the borderlands, have a long association with the area, which the Russians captured from them in 1860 during their ‘century of humiliation’. Importation of raw materials from Siberia-based Russian companies has formed a significant portion of Chinese manufacturing sector in recent decades. More recently however these have been supplanted by Siberia-based Chinese companies, harnessing these materials from their source and churning out finished products within Russian territory. With this has come a steady in-flow of ethnic Han workers, and with them Chinese oriented facilities.

While the traditionally Russian ethnic groups of Siberia are declining in population size, the Chinese are steadily increasing their presence. Aside from the stronghold in Vladivostok, Moscow’s influence east of the Ural’s is waning, something which some might expect would endear a response from the usually hard-line Vladimir Putin. Such a response has however not been made by the Kremlin, and instead efforts have been made to facilitate the Chinese population. The most striking testament to this is the development of multiple casinos in the area, all heavily targeted at Chinese clientele. Such a facilitation suggests that Moscow is willing to accommodate the slowly increasing Chinese foothold in Siberia, possibly in order to coerce the soon-to-be economically dominant Beijing into a closer trading partnership. It may also be the case that the Chinese reclamation of Siberia is considered an inevitability, and Moscow considers it best to accommodate a friendly Beijing to its east while focusing on the steadily increasing NATO presence to its west.

As Beijing’s influence is spreading to the north, a similar affect is occurring to the south. Across the all but subdued Tibetan Plateau – remember those guys? – China is heavily investing in Pakistan. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, the project focuses heavily on the modernisation of Pakistani transport links in a deal valued at 62 billion dollars. While revolutionising the Pakistani economy, the deal also facilitates Chinese trade by shortening cargo ship routes in and out of Europe and Africa substantially. To this end, plans for a Chinese naval base in the Pakistani port of Balochistan have been announced. The announcement of such a deal demonstrates Beijing’s independence in international and military affairs, particularly when given the recent anti-Pakistan stance employed by Donald Trump’s US administration. The strengthening ties between China and Pakistan will also serve to frustrate Pakistan’s eternal enemy, India. While any strengthening of it’s north-western neighbour, with whom they have been in a perpetual state of war with since British partition in 1947, Beijing’s presence in Lahore will get alarm bells ringing in Delhi. Territorial disputes in Askai Chin and Doklam have left Sino-Indian relations frosty. Moreover, the growing Chinese presence in Myanmar and Bangladesh also leaves India at risk of being isolated within its own backyard. It remains to be seen whether these two ever-expanding economic powerhouses can facilitate each other in the same neighbourhood. The ancient division provided by the mighty Himalayan mountains grows smaller every day.

china madagascar
Agricultural workers protest the presence of a Chinese gold mine in rural Madagascar.

Beyond its territorial borders, Beijing is also leading development projects in Africa and Indian Ocean nations. Through carefully planned ‘special economic zones’, which establish China-friendly financial stipulations unrepresentative of that of the host nation, Chinese business is thriving in nations like Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar. Such nations governments are more than willing to do business with China, having grown weary and suspicious of western governments following centuries of colonial exploitation. In Kenya, the steady increasing in Chinese businesses in sectors such as infrastructure and mineral extraction has seen an explosion in Nairobi’s Chinese population. With this has come restaurants, hotels and casinos advertising exclusively in Mandarin and tailored specifically for Chinese personnel. This has proven controversial, particularly during a scandal during which black African patrons were turned away from a Chinese restaurant. Anti-Chinese protests have also gathered strength in Madagascar, where demonstrations have taken place against gold-mining companies as a result of their encroachment into traditionally rural communities. Nonetheless, Chinese investment is the backbone of many African economies. This is no more visible than in Mauritius, where many China-led development projects have emerged, including renovation of the island nations airport terminal. Such projects have led to the emergence of Chinese enclaves on the island, with Chinese-oriented facilities emerging akin to those now found in Nairobi. Such a growth of influence in a continent with which the Chinese have such little historical ties to beyond the voyages of Zheng He demonstrates that as the Chinese economy grows so does its international influence.

Beijing’s growth is not only being felt within ‘developing’ nations or sparsely populated lands, but also within advanced western nations. Take Britain for example, who as they turn away from the EU are beginning to court the soon-to-be largest world economy as a potential future trade partner. The foundations of the modern UK-China relationship were laid as the Union Jack lowered for the final time in Hong Kong, signalling London’s acceptance that China’s will could no longer be ignored and should be adhered to in the national interest. Before the EU referendum, Chinese investment in the UK had been heavily focused on during Xi Jinping’s 2015 British state visit, during which the President dined with the Queen, as well as David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn. The visit resulted in business agreements worth 40 billion pounds and an extension of Chinese visitor visas from six months to two years. Post-Brexit, it is likely that China will be seen as an avenue for British trade, as well as a source for the international students upon which its Universities so heavily depend. The impact the increased Chinese presence within Britain will have both economically and socially remains to be seen.

The rise of China and its increasing economic footprint worldwide bears a striking resemblance to that of the post-WWII rise of the United States. Such a rise to economic hegemony often leads to an increased military presence to defend those interests, and this has already manifest itself with the construction of Chinese Naval Bases in Djibouti and Pakistan. The third wave of hegemony usually comes in the form of social exportation. The seeming inevitability of such a development may seem intimidating, however is such a universal dominance detrimental to world society? Many nations have benefited from the US-led new world order, particularly those in Eastern Europe, in economic, military and social terms. People broadly like burgers, or rather their accessibility to US-style fast food, they like jeans, they like hip-hop. This would evidently be contested in other areas of the world, something which would likely be reflected with regards to an equally encompassing Chinese hegemon. China is already preparing itself for dominance of the international order, facilitated by a westernisation of its own culture. Chinese youth are learning English, studying abroad, and travelling the world. Football, the world’s game, is seeing heavy Chinese investment, with the Chinese Super League signing some of the biggest names in the sport.  Shanghai recently saw the opening of a Disney Park. As the world opens itself up to China economically, the Chinese are opening themselves up to the world socially, facilitating the steady incorporation of a dominant Beijing into international society as the soon-to-be hegemon of the twenty-first century.

J G Middleton