Tag Archives: China

Trump’s arrival means it’s time for Australia to review our relationship – and perhaps learn to say ‘no’

The Conversation

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is discovering the political cliché “change the government, change the country” might have bigger implications for Australia’s relationship with the United States than anticipated.

We might re-engineer the cliché to read “change the government, change its foreign policy”, and thus how America manages its relationships with friends and foes alike.

If it has not already dawned on Turnbull and his foreign policy advisers then it should have: a new American administration like no other in recent memory will require a rethink in how Australia calibrates its relations with Washington.

Not since the Gough Whitlam’s Labor government of 1972-75 has such a potentially awkward relationship existed between Australia and its principal ally, or to use another description, custodial power.

Whitlam parted company with his predecessors in his testy interactions with the Richard Nixon White House. Whitlam felt under no obligation to espouse a “pro-American” perspective on matters relating to the war in Indo-China in particular.

Many Australians found this refreshing.

While it was inevitable that a moment would arise when Australian and US interests would find themselves out of kilter, it has perhaps come more quickly than anticipated, driven by the arrival in the White House of a man untethered from principles that have guided American foreign policy for generations.

In Trump’s Inauguration speech there was one passage that should have given Turnbull and his advisers pause, even if these words might be dismissed as a rhetorical flourish:

We assembled here today are issuing anew decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only American first, America first.

He added:

Protection will lead to greater prosperity and strength.

The latter observation could hardly have been more antagonistic to the free trade principles and practice on which Australian prosperity rests, or for that matter be regarded as anything more than an affront to America’s own history.

In 1930, Congressmen, Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley sponsored legislation that raised punitive tariffs on some 900 imports, and in the process added poison to the well of slowing global trade, as The Economist put it.

Smoot and Hawley did not cause the Great Depression or add significantly to it, but the legislation represented a populist response to political anxiety.

Nearly a century later, an American president appears to hold the view that an “America first” approach – or a form of isolationism – will serve his own country’s economy well and those of its friends.

This view, even if you accept that the trade liberalisation pendulum has swung too far, is not sustainable if economic growth globally is to be nurtured.

Otherwise, disaster beckons, including a global entrenchment that will serve no-one’s interests, including America’s.

Trump’s stroke-of-a-pen end to America’s involvements in the liberalising Trade Pacific Partnership gave expression to his antagonism towards trade deals generally and spelled a pause in American leadership of a laborious process of opening markets and reducing trade barriers.

From the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariffs Trade, to the formation of the World Trade Organisation, to progress towards open markets under the Uruguay Round – alongside a plethora of bilateral trade deals – an era of liberalising trade has underpinned global prosperity.

So, the question becomes: how should the Turnbull government respond to these new circumstances in a way that serves Australia’s interests, and in an environment in which the world is in disarray? And it is likely to become more so if the early stages of an idiosyncratic Trump administration is any guide.

Policymakers need to think outside the narrow confines of what has been regarded as “America first” policy postures that have dictated Australia’s foreign policy choices, to consider what might be regarded as a less dependent relationship on our security guarantor.

None of this is an argument to weaken Australia’s commitment to the ANZUS alliance, nor our alignment with what we have always regarded as America’s better angels. But the time has come for a reassessment.

Trump’s ascendancy to power reminds us there is no such thing as permanent alliances, simply permanent interests.

Australia is not obliged to make a choice between its security in the form of its treaty arrangements with the US and its commercial interests, namely with China. But it does need to move to a position where it gives itself more flexibility in addressing its security and other challenges.

In other words, arguments for greater self-reliance – including defence preparedness – grow by the day.

How Turnbull achieves such a shift will prove a test of his diplomatic and leadership skills, and indeed his understanding of our country’s history. After relying on great and powerful friends for our security, we may be entering a new and distinct phase.

Whatever judgements might be made about the likely trajectory of a Trump administration, early days suggest that what he said on the campaign trail will guide his actions in office.

So when he talks about a form of isolationism summed up by the phrase “America First” he must be taken at his word, until demonstrated otherwise.

This poses obvious challenges for Australian policy. Do we gravitate towards the sort of world defined by Trump – with its risks of a return to a 1930’s isolationism or perhaps a form of 19th century mercantilism – or do we assert our own separation from such a worldview?

Are we seeing the end of “pax Americana”, in which the US proved to be the indispensable cornerstone of global security in the rebuilding of Europe, the containment of the Soviet Union, and a security presence in Asia post the Korean war that has enabled an extraordinary economic transformation in our own region to our advantage?

Turnbull needs to ask himself whether it is in Australia’s national interest for institutions like the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to be weakened.

Is it in Australia’s interests for there to be a confrontation between the US and China on trade, or security in the South China Sea?

Or a return to a ground war in the Middle East that would demand a larger commitment from Australia with unknowable consequences?

Lessons might have been learned from an earlier disastrous intervention.

Finally, Turnbull should resist pressure from his the right wing of his party, salivating over the arrival of an authoritarian in the White House.

Turnbull was derided over his initial response to Trump’s decision to abandon the TPP, in which he said China may wish to fill the gap as if, reflexively, he needed to fall in line with Washington.

While the TPP may be dead, Turnbull and his ministers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to keep alive an idea that would have provided a basis for a liberalising trade and investment zone in the Asia-Pacific.

Contrary to the views of its critics, the TPP was always about more than simply a trade liberalisation mechanism. It was also aimed at providing a framework for further action in counterpoint to China’s growing dominance.

Finally, Turnbull might consider the example of former Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who politely declined when he came under pressure to join George W. Bush’s cavalry in the invasion of Iraq.

Chretien, as leader of a country that shelters under a US security umbrella and is a fellow NATO member, said “no”, or “non” in his native Quebecois.

Last time we checked the sky had not fallen in for Canada.

The ConversationTony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Surviving 2017 – a user’s guide

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

At the peak of post-Soviet triumphalism in the west, amid all the hype about a New World Order and the end of history, historian Eric Hobsbawm rained on the parade somewhat by suggesting that we were in a pre-war, rather than post-(Cold) war period.

Hobsbawm was a Marxist, deeply concerned by what he saw even then, more than two decades ago, as the rise of nationalism and religious extremism.

The ideological vacuum left by the demise of the USSR and the broader decline of socialism was in danger of being filled by tribalism, sectarianism and ethnic conflict. Long dormant hatreds of “the Other” founded on reactionary creeds of racial and religious supremacy would now have room to breathe, he believed.

He didn’t live to see that prediction fulfilled, but as we leave 2016 behind and the world prepares for a Trump presidency built on white rage, it is clear that we are there.

The Long Peace which has lasted since 1945 – no wars between major powers, no world wars after the two that defined the 20th century, and despite the horrors of civil war such as we see in Syria today, no human casualties on the scale of 1939-45 or 1914-18 – is coming to an end.

Russia hacks US elections, and invades sovereign nations in Eastern Europe. China steals US drones in international waters, and builds military bases on artificial islands. The soon-to-be commander-in-chief of America writes this is “unpresidented” (sic), while endorsing the behaviour of the murderous president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. And all this before Donald Trump even gets his greedy fingers on the nuclear button.

All it will take for this bizarre mix of post-factual ignorance, nationalism and religiously fuelled aggression to become full-on war is one provocative move too far, by one side or another.

It might happen in the illegal Israeli settlements next week, or around Taiwan in June. Maybe Trump will take a shot at North Korea. Who knows?

We do know that we have a tax-avoiding, pussy-grabbing reality TV star for president of the United States, who communicates his foreign policy on social media while proclaiming he has no need for such trivia as CIA national security briefings.

And if we manage to avoid that apocalyptic scenario, we will still have to deal with nationalism tearing apart the UK, the EU, and all the gains of internationalism, globalisation and multiculturalism we have painstakingly made since the cataclysm of the second world war.

The English artists Gilbert & George produced a prescient 2014 piece seen by this writer at MONA in Hobart. It declares:

Our grandparents didn’t vote for fascists. They shot them!.

Well, now they’re voting for them again – in Austria, the UK, Australia, the US, even Germany, where neo-nazism is on the verge of again becoming respectable.

We are in an historical moment never experienced by anyone born after 1945. A moment unforeseen and unprepared for.

In that respect I am guilty.

Yes, like most observers I understood that Brexit was a possibility, given the polls showing a slight majority for Remain right up to the end of the campaign. But the wishful thinker in me chose to believe that no rational person would wish to tear up the complex web of relationships between Britain and the EU, formed over 45 years, and which had contributed so much to peace and prosperity on the continent.

Sure, the EU had its problems and challenges, but nothing a determined UK government could not have resolved through firm negotiation of the type pursued by Conservative and Labour administrations for decades. To destroy the entire edifice of economic, cultural and political union between 28 countries was masochistic and self-destructive, surely?

The Scots had rejected separation from the UK just two years before, after all, a very similar issue to that pushed by the English nationalists in the EU referendum.

What we see now with the chaos and uncertainty of Brexit would have been visited on the UK in 2014, if the separatists had won the referendum – ironically, the Scottish nationalists now cite Brexit as their reason for overturning the democratic vote for Union.

My Scottish countrymen and women made the right call there, and maybe that encouraged me to think the Brits would do so in relation to the EU, and then the Americans would elect a principled and experienced public servant such as Hillary Clinton over the mean-minded man who will soon be sitting in the Oval Office.

In the US election, again, the data showed that a Trump victory was possible, if not likely. No-one, not even Nate Silver and those at FiveThirtyEight, wanted to believe the data could all be wrong, even if we knew on recent evidence that they might be.

But we were wrong, very wrong, and now we face the most serious threat to all of our livelihoods and lives – wherever in the word we call home – most of us have known. Unless you are a rich billionaire such as Trump and his super-rich cronies, it’s time to dig in and prepare for a future of chaos and austerity.

Our grandparents DID shoot fascists, and they did win the war. We 21st-century anti-fascists can prevail too, but only if we understand the enormity of what we face.

This is a culture war, first.

As I observed in Porno? Chic! three years ago there is a global reaction underway to the historic gains of feminism and gay rights, spearheaded by radical Islam and now hijacked by the white supremacist alt-right. In what remains of the liberal capitalist world we must defend and promote progressive sexual politics as never before.

We must defend multiculturalism and the values of tolerance, against not just the white nationalists but the Islamists and haters of every type.

If our leaders had been more honest about and resistant to Islam’s assault on our progressive social values we might not be where we are today, in the UK, the US, France, Germany, Australia (where One Nation is preparing to seize its historic opportunity).

We must declare zero tolerance for religious, nationalist, and ethnic intolerance, from whichever direction it comes.

We must learn to fight the alt-right with the same ferocity and fearlessness they apply to their enemies in the media, academia, everywhere.

Forget politeness, or all known rules of online etiquette. Forget turning the other cheek, or trying to be reasonable with those who ignore the facts in the hope they will be persuaded to your point of view. Challenge them now, because the deplorables will be coming for you next.

The internet is now a target, so we must relearn how to live without the digital, and how to survive when the network gets hacked or knocked out by Russia or China (or indeed Trump).

As we have just seen in the starkest possible manner, our liberal democracies have become extremely vulnerable not just to demagogues spouting populist bile on social media, but to foreign state hacking.

It’s clear that when the Long Peace does end, the internet will be taken out first. We should all be prepared to survive the abrupt withdrawal of online services which we have become reliant on.

But look on the bright side.

Buy a turntable and some vinyl records; a nice pen that you can write with, and some notepads. Start reading hard copy books again. Reduce your dependence on the digital. Rediscover the pleasures of the analogue.

Such survival tactics won’t stop what’s coming after January 20, but they might make it just that bit easier to cope. Meantime, as we approach the new year and say farewell to Barack Obama, let’s echo his sentiments of this week:

God bless us all.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

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Rex Tillerson and the new transnational oligarchy

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

If it weren’t quite so serious it would be funny. A man who styles himself as a champion of the common people, who he claims have been shamefully neglected by out-of-touch, uncaring elites, plans to stuff his cabinet with billionaires.

The nomination of Rex Tillerson, chief executive of ExxonMobil, as America’s next secretary of state is the culmination of an alarming pattern that threatens to overturn the postwar international order and entrench an unelected oligarchy with no record of – or obvious interest in – public service.

Even those of us who feared the worst from a Trump presidency have been astounded by a series of changes that for once merit the adjective seismic. At least Tillerson, whose name is only familiar to those who read the business section of the papers, is not a former general. Trump’s first cabinet will look slightly less like a military junta as a consequence.

Tillerson has no experience of international diplomacy of the conventional sort. This is not to say he’s not well-connected, though. Among his friends and business associates is none other than Vladimir Putin. Given the CIA thinks Russian skullduggery tried to influence the recent US election, one might think this would immediately disqualify Tillerson for this office – or any other government position for that matter.

Perhaps it will. Even some prominent Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio have cast doubts on his qualifications and credibility, so it’s possible Tillerson won’t get through what is likely to be a bruising confirmation hearing.

But, then again, he just might. No-one thought Donald Trump would become president, after all, so why should we be surprised if another “decisive dealmaker with unparalleled business experience” becomes America’s foreign minister? Trump has done his bit by dismissing criticism of Russia and suggesting the CIA is partisan and incompetent.

Without wanting to sound too alarmist and conspiratorial – although what passes for political reality these days needs little embellishment in that regard – are we about to see a remarkable coming together of transnational business interests?

This may not be as fanciful as it might seem. Tillerson already has a well-established and mutually beneficial business relationship with the Russian government. His putative boss has extensive global business interests, which he is likely to “leverage” via the presidency.

Call me old-fashioned, but this is starting to look a bit like the emergence of what the Marxists used to call a global ruling class.

The great irony of the Trump presidency may be to unambiguously confirm what some of us have long suspected: that global elites have far more in common with each other than they do with the people of the countries they come from and sometimes claim to represent. It is striking that Xi Jinping is off to Davos to hobnob with the global plutocracy for the first time next year, for example.

This is not so surprising. The billionaires who make up China’s rising capitalist class also have more in common with their counterparts in the West – their membership of the Communist Party notwithstanding. The sort of “transactional approach” to international politics that team Trump seems to be intent on developing might suit China’s authoritarian oligarchs just as well as it does Russia’s.

This might give ideas about the pacifying impact of economic interdependence a real shot in the arm, but not in the way we imagined. Why would global elites want to go to war when they can come to some sort of mutually agreeable – and enriching – deal?

The other great potential advantage of the Trump presidency from the perspective of global business elites is that a little authoritarian transnational co-operation might be able to put a stop to all this endless bleating about human rights and democracy. Surely Trump can make a deal with the Chinese over the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong, too, for that matter?

Fanciful and absurd, right? I certainly hope so.

And yet when democracy is in retreat or under intense pressure around the world, and when the incoming US government shows little interest in providing leadership, much less a plausible role model for the rest of the world, even the improbable needs to be considered.

The absence of democracy is no impediment to economic development and wealth creation, as China so vividly demonstrates. Dealing effectively with unpleasant autocrats with no respect for human rights may not be so difficult with practical types like Trump and Tillerson in charge.

After all, if you can’t beat them …

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

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Trump’s America: the irresponsible stakeholder?

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

How times change. A decade or so ago, former World Bank president and deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick suggested to China that it needed to become a “responsible stakeholder”. Even at the time this advice looked slightly condescending and patronising. Now it looks bizarrely out of kilter with a rapidly evolving international order.

In the twilight of the Obama administration, Xi Jinping is the most important leader at the current APEC summit in Peru. His keynote speech in support of trade liberalisation means he is also the current standard-bearer for continuing economic integration and the sorts of institutions that are supposed to facilitate it.

Until recently the conventional wisdom had it that only the benign dominance of the US could underpin the sort of rules-based system that is thought to distinguish an effective international order. The imminent inauguration of Donald Trump threatens to permanently overturn such assumptions, not to mention the international status quo itself.

Not only is Trump seemingly no admirer of the existing array of international institutions, but his actions and mooted policies are also likely to fatally undermine whatever remains of American authority and soft power. China, on the other hand, may be about to start playing the sort of stabilising role as a “good international citizen” that many believed a uniquely American responsibility.

In one of the more striking manifestations of this role reversal, China has urged the putative Trump administration to honour its Paris Accord commitments to climate change mitigation. The fact that it is almost certain that a pro-fossil-fuel Trump administration almost certainly won’t is less significant – in the short term, at least – than the fact that China probably will.

China may be assuming the role as defender of the prevailing international order. This is not only a remarkable transformation in the roles of the US and China, but it also poses challenges for their respective friends and possible foes alike. The key question for the countries of East Asia generally and Australia in particular is: which of the rival great powers is most likely to actually preserve the existing international order on which they have come to rely?

Given the procession of Southeast Asian leaders making their way to Beijing to pay their respects, it is clear which way some regional leaders think the winds of diplomatic influence are blowing. Plainly, some of Asia’s more authoritarian regimes may have compelling short-term reasons to favour a more politically and ideologically accommodating China over the US.

China’s evident goal of reassuming its historically dominant role in East Asia may be dramatically accelerated by a Trump presidency. A paradoxical outcome, perhaps, but less surprising and outlandish than it may seem to some in Australia and the US.

On the contrary, it has been persuasively argued that when China has been strong the region of which it is the most important part has generally been stable. Only when China has been weak has the region descended into turmoil.

If this idea holds true for the contemporary era the implication is equally clear and potentially discomfiting for policymakers in Canberra: the rise of China may not be as destabilising for the region as some – especially in the US – claim. China might even provide the sort of stability that was formerly associated with the US – despite the latter’s prominent role in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Indeed, it is important to remember – as many in China do – that China’s geopolitical track record compares rather favourably with that of the US. Historically it hasn’t been an expansionary power and it has been involved in far fewer recent wars than America has.

None of this is cause for complacency, as China’s actions in the South China Sea remind us. But if the countries most directly affected by China’s assertive policies are apparently shifting their positions and possibly even their alliances, this could make high-profile strategic gestures from Australia ineffective and contrary to our notional national interest.

More importantly from an Australian perspective, if China really does begin to underpin rather than undermine the existing regional order it might actually be in Australia’s interest not to oppose Chinese diplomacy quite so vigorously.

Such a proposition is an unthinkable heresy for most of Australia’s strategic and policymaking elites. But why would Australia want to uncritically align itself with a foreign power that may, by intention or neglect, undermine the current international order? It really does make a difference who is in power in other countries, even those upon which we have come to depend so heavily.

Precisely the same logic applies to China, too. Xi Jinping is an increasingly assertive and authoritarian figure who is directly implicated in China’s recent strategic policies.

All the more reason, therefore, that Australian policymakers should attempt to develop genuinely independent positions on critical issues, such as the growing tensions in the South China Sea or the role of the international institutions that attempt to maintain strategic stability and economic openness.

The region and the world are changing rapidly. Policy ought to reflect contemporary geopolitical realities, not anachronistic shibboleths. As Keynes famously observed, when the facts change we may need to change our minds, too – however difficult that may be for some of our leaders and policymakers.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

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Trump the demagogue looks set to rule

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

As political earthquakes go, they don’t get much more seismic or unexpected. All of the pointy-heads who have been assuring us for weeks that Trump couldn’t possibly win have been proved spectacularly wrong once again – just as they were with Brexit.

That’s the problem with democracies: the punters don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. We may have to live with the consequences of this decision for the next four years – always supposing President Trump doesn’t start World War 3 or suspend the “corrupt” democratic process in the United States in the interest of stability and national security, of course.

That’s an attempt at gallows humour – I think. The reality is though, that nothing can actually be ruled out from a man who is entirely unpredictable, and a long way from the sort of “rational actor” we like to think make the decisions that shape international politics.

This might be a problem in any country. We have become accustomed to Western political pundits making condescending remarks about the rise of populist strong men leaders in places like Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and – most consequentially – China. But when the most powerful country in the world elects a racist, misogynist, bully with little understanding of or interest in complex domestic or foreign policies, we’re all affected.

Part of the complacency about Trump flows from the fact that so many believe that “we” are far too sophisticated and steeped in democratic traditions for a Putinesque demagogue to emerge in the heartlands of liberal democracy. But the tough guys are back with a vengeance, and America – and the world – may have to deal with their very own proto-fascist.

Interestingly, I’ve just done an informal poll of Russian students in Vladivostok, where I’m currently teaching, and the majority welcome a Trump win. They don’t trust Clinton and tend to judge outcomes from a narrowly instrumental nationalist perspective. Such attitudes may become increasingly prevalent.

Indeed, the idea that the United States will any longer provide the bedrock of a stable, rules based international order of a sort that policymakers in this country endlessly invoke is no longer feasible. On the contrary, Trump is likely – by intent or neglect – to unleash a diplomatic wrecking ball that could plunge us back into the sort of brutal great power politics that characterised earlier periods of history.

Critics of early incarnations of US foreign policy may have to eat their words, too, as we find out what a world without a comparatively benign form of American hegemony actually looks like. For all its undoubted problems, mistakes and self interest, the US has often been a force for stability – the nightmares of Iraq and the Middle East notwithstanding.

We may also be about to find out what a less cerebral, cautious American president than the much-criticised Barack Obama looks like. The promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS gives a clue. Acting in tandem with Putin – a figure he admires and clearly emulates – they might reduce the rest of Syria and much else to rubble.

Alarmist nonsense? I certainly hope so. But who is going to stand up for human rights, democracy, or international cooperation in pursuit of some progressive goal? In the sort of world we may be about to enter, the simple reality is that there is no country with either the military capability or – more importantly – the political will to constrain the unprincipled, reckless use of force on America’s part.

All of this only touches the surface of the horrors a Trump presidency could unleash. It is not only Mexicans, Muslims, and minorities of one sort or another that will be anxious. The perennially skittish financial markets will no doubt have a collective seizure, revealing problems that a relatively orderly approach to economic management in the US have managed to conceal, if not correct, since the global financial crisis.

Let’s not forget that the global financial crisis was made in America, and Obama did a pretty good job of staving off the next Great Depression. Not only would Trump blame foreigners generally and China in particular for American problems, but he would also probably unleash an old-fashioned 1930s style self destructive trade war in the process.

Speaking of the 1930s, that generation of strong men didn’t work out too well either, if I recall. At least the American president of the time didn’t actually contribute to the literal and metaphorical carnage. Trump is no FDR. On the contrary, his rise, rhetoric and rationale look more reminiscent of Europe’s interwar fascists.

Admirers of the US, among whose number I count myself, may hope that political institutions and culture will have an ameliorative impact on President Trump. Perhaps they would on a normal politician, even in these highly partisan, politically poisonous times. But not Trump, I fear.

He is clearly impervious to criticism and – more worryingly – incapable of accepting advice. We know little about his advisers except that they are little known. Perhaps the Republican establishment will rein him in. But given that they, too, have also been rejected by millions of Americans and actually allowed Trump to emerge in the first place, don’t hold you breath.

What does all this mean for Australia? Nothing good, I suspect. At the very least we need to have a long overdue debate about our relationship with our most important security partner. But don’t hold your breath about that either.

Whatever happens over the next four years it won’t be boring. Let’s just hope we get through it in one piece.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

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How China came in from the cold to help set up Antarctica’s vast new marine park

The Conversation

Nengye Liu, University of New England

Conservationists have been celebrating the creation of the world’s largest marine park, covering 1.55 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea off Antarctica.

The agreement, brokered at last week’s annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, will enter into force on December 1, 2017 – thanks in large part to China ending its resistance to the proposal.

For the next 35 years, fishing will be totally banned in a “no-take zone” covering 1.12 million square kilometres (72%) of the marine park, with exceptions for krill and toothfish in specially designated research zones.

The marine park’s creation follows years of often frustrating negotiations. The United States and New Zealand brought the idea to the 2012 CCAMLR meeting, but were met with concerns, particularly from Russia and China.

At the 2014 meeting, China set out the reasons for its opposition. Its delegates argued that the term “conservation” should balance protection and rational use of marine living resources; that marine parks should not be set up in the Southern Ocean without convincing data showing they will work; and that the CCAMLR has already adopted a wide range of successful conservation measures in the seas around Antarctica.

A year later, China once again looked set to block the issue, posing a series of questions about the proposed marine park. How could marine parks allow rational use of marine living resources? How could they facilitate scientific research? How would they be monitored and regulated, and how long would the protections last?

Nevertheless, China surprisingly supported the Ross Sea proposal at the end of the 2015 CCAMLR meeting, paving the way for this month’s decision.

Why the turnaround from China’s previous opposition? And what does this mean for its growing and changing influence on Antarctic diplomacy?

Global influence

There are three key reasons that explain China’s shifting position. First, China is a latecomer to the current global ocean governance regime. When the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, China was still relatively isolated from the international community. It was not until 1978 that it opened its doors to the world and engaged with the current international legal system, and as such it had little influence on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It has taken time for China to develop the necessary diplomatic and scientific expertise to become comfortable in this space. As a historic rule-taker rather than rule-maker, its government may need to overcome a natural mistrust of many existing regimes.

This issue is not unique to marine parks. Such hesitation was also evident when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and when it started engaging with UN climate change negotiations in 1994. But China now uses the WTO dispute settlement body as frequently as other members, and ratified the Paris climate agreement at September’s G20 summit which it hosted for the first time – another sign of its increasing diplomatic engagement.

Second, China became a party of the CCAMLR in 2007. As the world’s second-largest economy and largest fishing nation, China has global fishing interests, including off Antarctica. Chinese Krill fishing in Antarctica has grown significantly since 2009, reaching 54,300 tonnes in 2014. This partly explains China’s concerns over proposed no-take zones.

There is, however, a deeper philosophical concern, which might be described as “anxiousness for commons”. While China’s Antarctic fishing interests account for only a very small share of its global catch, they are highly symbolic because Antarctic fishing showcases China’s quest for freedom in the “global commons”.

Third, the international community is currently developing a new global ocean governance regime. By coincidence, negotiations on the regulation of fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean and other international areas of the high seas have been going on at the same time as the discussions about the Ross Sea. In the Northeast Atlantic, the OSPAR has already established a network of high sea marine parks.

As a rising power, China would not be happy to face constraints or bans on its activities at a time when its rising status gives it access to places like the high seas, the ocean floor, the poles, and outer space. It would be a shame if China were to remain silent on those issues, and it probably won’t – China’s 13th Five Year Plan (2016-20) clearly says the nation would like to take a more active role in global ocean governance.

In the foreseeable future, we could possibly see China become more comfortable and active within the CCAMLR as well as the Antarctic Treaty System. Although generally being supportive, China would not keep silent. Rather, it would speak up more openly for its Antarctic interests, and have more intensive engagement with the Antarctic Treaty System.

One challenge for China would be how to enhance its capacity and expertise so as to provide high-quality proposals, which could not only pursue its own interests, but as an important global player, also help to make a concrete contribution to achieving sustainability in the Southern Ocean.

The ConversationNengye Liu, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of New England

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Trump or Clinton: who will be the best for our region?

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Everyone knows by now that the current, endlessly drawn-out electoral process in the US is remarkable, even by the standards of an increasingly weird political era. The consensus is that no matter who becomes the next president, it will be bad. If it’s Donald Trump, though, it could be apocalyptic.

Despite growing concerns about declining American power and influence, the US still dominates the region upon which Australia has increasingly come to depend. Therefore, the election outcome will have potentially major and enduring consequences for Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

What do Trump’s foreign policies suggest?

Even though many people have real and understandable doubts about Hillary Clinton’s historical baggage, inconsistency and proclivity for “misspeaking”, most serious analysts hope she wins. The alternative is too awful, unpredictable and frankly alarming to even contemplate.

Consequently, not many people – including Australia’s foreign policy establishment, it seems – have given much thought to what happens if Trump triumphs.

Consistency and measured reflection are not words often seen in the same sentence as Donald Trump, but it is possible to get some idea of what his foreign policy might look like. Most of it is alarming. And none of it is likely to be good for Australia.

Trump’s policies are frequently described as “neo-isolationist”. They resonate with many who are disillusioned with the supposed failings of the Obama doctrine, and sick of American involvement in seemingly intractable conflicts in places they neither know nor care about.

Many Americans are remarkably ill-informed and uninterested in foreign policy. This is not a unique national characteristic, but some of the widely shared beliefs that inform voting intentions in what is still the world’s most-powerful country are striking.

For example, the average American thinks something like one-quarter of its US$4 trillion national budget is spent on foreign aid. In reality it’s less than a miserly 1%.

Trump may share this misapprehension for all we know. Either way, he is threatening to make supposedly freeloading allies pick up more of the bill for America’s implicit defence guarantees.

What might it all mean for Australia?

Given Australians have made disproportionate sacrifices to underpin its alliance relationship with the US over the years, this is a bit rich.

Australia’s major parties seem to have a policy of not having a policy when it comes to dealing with a possible Trump presidency. The reality would – or should – force a rethink of some of the most enduring foundations of Australian foreign policy.

This is why so many of Australia’s foreign policy and strategic elites are pinning their hopes on Clinton. She wouldn’t welcome the label, but Clinton is clearly the establishment candidate and consummate insider who can be relied upon to do the right thing as far as Australia and the world is concerned.

One assumes this may include rediscovering her surprisingly lost enthusiasm for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Her habit of being economical with the truth is one of the reasons she is personally unpopular, such an electoral liability, and no certainty to knock off the most unlikely and unpredictable candidate in recent US political history.

As far as our region is concerned, most analysts will be reassured by the prospect of a Clinton presidency. She is one of the architects of the so-called “pivot”, or shift in American strategic priorities to the Asia-Pacific region and response to China’s seemingly inexorable rise.

Whether she has the will to confront an expansionist China is the big question. Whether smaller countries like Australia would want her to is another question altogether. But this is not an issue that often gets an unambiguous airing here, despite the amount we are currently investing in military modernisation.

The prospects for Australia could be daunting no matter who wins the election. It is conceivable that Trump may follow through on his threat to demand greater self-reliance on the part of traditional allies and simply pull American forces out of the region. This would allow China to assert its dominance, and fundamentally overturn the long-standing basis of Australian foreign policy.

If Clinton wins, though, the options don’t necessarily look any more auspicious, even if they are more predictable. If the US is ever to stand up to China and try to reassert its former dominance of our region, it will have to get on with it.

If we extrapolate from here, it is only a question of time before China overtakes the US on every significant measure of great power status.

Clinton may decide it is her historical destiny to reassert American primacy, not to mention defend the rules-based international order that the US has done so much to develop – if not necessarily abide by – over the last half-century.

Under such circumstances, Australia’s nightmare choice between its principal security guarantor and its most important trade partner may come one step closer. And that’s the good outcome.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Better regulation of all political finance would help control foreign donations

The Conversation

Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne

There is growing controversy surrounding foreign political donations in Australia. Contributions made by Chinese companies to the major parties have received the most attention, recently through reports of donations made by the Yuhu Group and Chinese billionaire Chau Chak Wing (and his company, Kingson Investment) to the Western Australian Liberal Party.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the most senior federal MP from WA, has reportedly singled out three key Chinese donors for praise.

And, this week, revelations of the payment by the Top Education Institute, a company with links to the Chinese Communist Party, of Labor senator Sam Dastyari’s travel expenses have also prompted concern. Especially in light of Dastyari having contradicted Labor policy in relation to the South China Sea dispute.

Controversies over foreign donations are nothing new. Barely a fortnight before the October 2004 federal election, British Lord Michael Ashcroft donated A$1 million to the federal Liberal Party. And, earlier this year, links between the Italian Calabrian mafia and key Liberal Party MPs – facilitated by political contributions – were exposed.

These incidents have prompted calls for a ban on foreign political donations. Together with the claim that Canada, the UK and US have adopted such a measure, the case for such a ban in Australia seems irresistible.

This, however, puts the cart before the horse. Before we jump straight into “how” we should regulate foreign political donations, two questions need to be answered. First, what is meant by a “foreign” political donation? And why should such donations be better regulated?

How do we define ‘foreign’?

There seems to be two understandings of “foreign” in this context: a narrow one that refers to overseas-based donors, and a broad one that extends to all non-citizens, whether or not they are residing overseas.

The “what” connects to the “why”. The concern with overseas-based donors or foreign-sourced donations is one of compliance; enforcement of Australia’s electoral laws overseas is all but impossible.

There is a clear and compelling case here to severely restrict – if not ban – foreign-sourced donations. Queensland has banned such donations; the UK has done similar.

But what the UK has not done is ban “foreign” political donations in the broad sense – that is, ban donations from all non-citizens. Neither, for that matter, has Canada or the US.

“Permissible donors” under UK law include companies carrying out business in the UK. In Canada and the US, permanent residents are not banned from making political donations.

A ban on political donations from all non-citizens would be unconstitutional in Australia; the High Court has previously struck down such a ban. A central part of its reasoning was that non-citizens residing in Australia are entitled to voice their concerns in the political process by virtue of being subject to the laws of the land.

Why should they be more regulated?

A blinkered understanding of Australian society seems to inform some calls for a ban on donations from all non-citizens.

Being exclusively focused on Australian citizens, it fails to recognise how our richly multicultural society includes those who are not citizens, notably permanent residents and long-term residents on temporary visas. These people should not be denied their legitimate role in the democratic process.

Worryingly, this understanding sometimes tips into xenophobia; that “foreigners” should have no role in our political process. More specifically, there seems to be a strand of Sinophobia. Fears of the “yellow peril” has formed an undercurrent of the debate over donations from Chinese companies.

The misdiagnosis runs even deeper. A distorted focus on “foreignness” results in a failure to appreciate how “foreign” political donations simply highlight broader problems with how political money is (not) regulated at the federal level.

The absence of caps on political donations and spending – like those in New South Wales – has allowed unsavoury fundraising practices to thrive. A laissez-faire culture within political parties has left systemic conflicts of interest unaddressed. Both have undermined public confidence in the political process.

Foreign-sourced donations should be banned. But, more importantly, federal political finance laws need broader reform to protect the integrity of Australia’s democracy.

The ConversationJoo-Cheong Tham, Associate Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine vs. Endangered Species

by Tim Harding

(An edited version of this essay was published in The Skeptic magazine, December 2015, Vol 35 No 4, under the title ‘Bad Medicine’).

One of the distinguishing features of traditional Chinese culture has been the unusually high value placed on rare animal and plant products – the rarer they are, the more valuable they are.  This high value applies to both formal dining and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

By definition, endangered species are extremely rare.  In western cultures (and increasingly so in modern China) endangered species are more highly valued alive than dead.  The demand for rare TCM ingredients has become one of the major threats to the survival of endangered species such as rhinoceroses, tigers, Saiga antelopes, and seahorses.

TCM is a broad range of claimed health treatments sharing common concepts that have been developed in China from traditions more than 2,000 years old.  TCM includes various forms of herbal remedies, acupuncture, massage, exercise and dietary practices.  It is widely used in China, and also in the West as a variety of so-called ‘alternative medicine’.

Not only is TCM a threat to endangered species, but there is also a dearth of evidence for its efficacy.  A Nature editorial has described TCM as ‘fraught with pseudoscience’, and said that the most obvious reason why it hasn’t delivered many cures is that the majority of its treatments have no logical mechanism of action.  Worse still, some TCM ingredients have been shown to be dangerously toxic to humans and other mammals.

What is TCM?

It is important to distinguish TCM from mainstream medicine as practiced in China.  Most hospitals and clinics in China are run by the government, practising scientific or what we would describe as western medicine.  TCM is administered in private clinics, run by practitioners who generally do not have a western medical education.  In the past, TCM practitioners learned their trade from their parents (mostly from their fathers); but more recently they have been studying TCM at universities in modern China.

TCM holds that the body’s vital energy (chi or qi) circulates through channels, called meridians, that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions.  Concepts of the body and of disease used in TCM reflect its origins in pre-scientific culture, similar to the ‘theory of the four humors’ dating from Hippokrates in ancient Greece.  The idea of vital energy or vitalism is similar to that of the ancient Roman surgeon Galen, and which endures in naturopathy and other varieties of western quackery today.  These similarities are most likely a coincidence, as there is no historical record of communication between China and ancient Greece or Rome.

The underlying philosophy of TCM is based on Yinyangism – the combination of the concepts of Yin and Yang with what is known as the Five Elements theory.

Yin and yang are ancient Chinese concepts representing two complementary aspects that every phenomenon in the universe can be divided into, including the human body.  Analogies for these aspects are the sun-facing (yang) and the shady (yin) side of a hill, as shown in the iconic Yin and Yang symbol below.  In TCM, the upper part of the human body and the back are assigned to yang, while the lower part is believed to have the yin character. Yin and yang characterization also extends to the various body functions and disease symptoms.

Yin Yang

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Five Elements theory (also known as Five Phases Theory) presumes that all phenomena of the universe and nature can be broken down into five elemental qualities – represented by wood, fire, earth, metal and water.  In this way, lines of correspondence can be drawn as shown in the following diagram.

5 elements

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Complex rules apply to the interactions between the Five Elements.  These interactions have great influence regarding the TCM model of the body, which places little emphasis on anatomical structures.  Instead, TCM is mainly concerned with various functional entities (which regulate digestion, breathing, aging etc.).  While health is perceived as harmonious interaction of these entities and the outside world, disease is interpreted as a disharmony in such interactions.  TCM diagnosis aims to link disease symptoms to patterns of underlying disharmony, for example by measuring the pulse, inspecting the tongue, skin, and eyes, and examining at the eating and sleeping habits of the patient.

Traditional Chinese herbal remedies account for the majority of treatments in TCM.  They also comprises the aspects of TCM that are of most threat to endangered species.  However, the term ‘herbal remedy’ is a bit misleading in the sense that, while plant elements are by far the most commonly used substances, animal and mineral products are also utilised.

History of TCM

Herbal remedies have been used in China for more than 2000 years. Among the earliest literature are lists of prescriptions for specific ailments, exemplified by the manuscript Recipes for 52 Ailments, found in tombs sealed in 168 BC at Mawangdui, an archaeological site located at Changsha in China’s Hunan province.

The doctrines of TCM are rooted in ancient books such as the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon from first century BCE and the Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses from the third century CE.

Written in the form of dialogues between the legendary Yellow Emperor and his ministers, the Inner Canon was one of the first books in which the doctrines of Yinyang and the Five Elements were synthesised into the TCM model of the body.  The subsequent Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders focused on herbal remedies rather than acupuncture, and was the first medical work to integrate Yinyang and the Five Elements with herbalism.

Succeeding generations augmented these works, as in the Treatise on the Nature of Medicinal Herbs, a 7th-century CE Tang Dynasty treatise on herbal medicine.  Arguably the most important of these later works is the Compendium of Materia Medica compiled during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644CE) which is still used in TCM today for consultation and reference.

In 1950, Chairman Mao Zedong made a speech in support of TCM which was influenced by political expediency, because of a shortage of science-based doctors and also for national unification purposes.  However, Zedong did not personally believe in TCM or use it.

Efficacy and safety

Scientific investigation has found no physiological or histological evidence for traditional Chinese concepts such as qi, meridians, or acupuncture points.  The effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine remains poorly researched and documented.  For most products, efficacy and toxicity testing are based on traditional knowledge rather than laboratory analysis.  Pharmaceutical research has explored the potential for creating new drugs from traditional remedies, with few successful results.

A review of cost-effectiveness research for TCM found that studies had low levels of evidence, but so far have not shown beneficial outcomes.  A 2012 Cochrane review found no difference in decreased mortality when Chinese herbs were used alongside Western medicine versus Western medicine exclusively.

Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch writes: ‘TCM theory and practice are not based upon the body of knowledge related to health, disease, and health care that has been widely accepted by the scientific community. TCM practitioners disagree among themselves about how to diagnose patients and which treatments should go with which diagnoses. Even if they could agree, the TCM theories are so nebulous that no amount of scientific study will enable TCM to offer rational care.’

TCM has been the subject of controversy within China.  In 2006, the Chinese scholar Zhang Gongyao triggered a national debate when he published an article entitled ‘Farewell to Traditional Chinese Medicine,’ arguing that TCM was a pseudoscience that should be abolished in public healthcare and academia.  The Chinese government however, interested in the opportunity of export revenues, has taken the stance that TCM is a science and has continued to encourage its development.

Since TCM has become more popular in the Western world, there are increasing concerns about the potential toxicity of many traditional Chinese herbal remedies including plants, animal parts and minerals.  Some of these products may contain toxic ingredients or are contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, copper, mercury, thallium and cadmium – constituting serious health risks.  Botanical misidentification of plants can cause toxic reactions in humans.  These products are often imported into western countries illegally without government monitoring or testing, thus increasing the safety risks.

Many adverse reactions are due misuse or abuse of Chinese medicine.  For instance, the misuse of the dietary supplement Ephedra (containing ephedrine) can lead to adverse events including gastrointestinal problems as well as sudden death from cardiomyopathy.  Products adulterated with pharmaceuticals for weight loss or erectile dysfunction are some of the main concerns.  TCM herbal remedies have been a major cause of acute liver failure in China.

Threats to endangered species

As mentioned earlier, TCM herbal remedies can include animal parts as well as plants.  Some TCM textbooks still recommend preparations containing animal tissues, despite the lack of evidence of their efficacy.  Parts of endangered species used as TCM herbal remedies include rhinoceros horns, tiger bones, Saiga antelope horns and dried seahorses.

Poachers supply the black market with these rare animal parts, with rhino horns literally being worth their weight in gold.  The horns are made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails.  They are ground into dust and used as TCM ingredients.  In Europe and Vietnam, rhino horn is falsely believed by some to have aphrodisiac properties, but this belief is not part of TCM.

Ceratotherium_simum_pair_Sabi_Sands

White Rhinoceros and calf caked in mud. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a result of this demand, the world’s rhino population has reduced by more than 90 percent over the past 40 years.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List identifies one of the five modern rhino species as recently extinct and three as critically endangered.  The West African Rhinoceros was declared totally extinct in November 2011. The northern sub-species of the White Rhinoceros is presumed extinct in the wild, with only a few individuals left in captivity.  As of 2015, only 58-61 individuals of the Javan Rhinoceros remain in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia. The last Javan rhino in Vietnam was reportedly killed in 2011.  There were 320 Sumatran rhinoceroses left in 1995, and these had dwindled to 216 by 2011.

In 1993, China signed the 171-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty and removed rhinoceros horn from the Chinese medicine pharmacopeia, administered by the Ministry of Health.  In 2011, the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine in the United Kingdom issued a formal statement condemning the use of rhinoceros horn.  A growing number of TCM educators is also speaking out against the practice.  Discussions with TCM practitioners to reduce the use of rhino horn, has met with mixed results, because some TCM practitioners still consider it a life-saving medicine of a better quality than its substitutes.

Tigers once ranged widely across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. Over the past 100 years, they have lost 93% of their historic range, and have been largely eliminated from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia.

1280px-2012_Suedchinesischer_Tiger

South Chinese Tiger. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1940s, the Siberian tiger was on the brink of extinction with only about 40 animals remaining in the wild in Russia. As a result, anti-poaching controls were put in place by the Soviet Union and a network of protected zones were instituted, leading to a rise in the population to several hundred. Poaching again became a problem in the 1990s, when the economy of Russia collapsed. In 2005, there were thought to be about 360 tigers in Russia, though these exhibited little genetic diversity.  However, in a decade later, the Siberian tiger census was estimated to be from 480 to 540 individuals.

The remaining six tiger subspecies have been classified as endangered by IUCN. The global population in the wild is estimated to number between 3,062 and 3,948 individuals, down from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, with most remaining populations occurring in small pockets isolated from each other, of which about 2,000 exist on the Indian subcontinent.

Major reasons for tiger population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and poaching.  Demand for tiger parts for use in TCM has also been cited as a major threat to tiger populations.  Having earlier rejected the Western-led environmentalist movement, China changed its stance in the 1980s and became a party to the CITES treaty. By 1993 it had banned the trade in tiger parts, and this diminished the use of tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine.  Nevertheless, the illegal trading of tiger parts in Asia has become a major black market industry and governmental and conservation attempts to stop it have been ineffective to date

The Saiga antelope is a critically endangered species that originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone from the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and Caucasus into Dzungaria and Mongolia. They also lived in Beringian North America during the Pleistocene. Today, the dominant subspecies is only found in one location in Russia and three areas in Kazakhstan.  Fewer than 30,000 Saiga antelopes remain.  Organized gangs illegally export the horn of the antelopes to China for use in TCM herbal remedies.

Saiga_Antelope_Skull_and_Taxidermy

Saiga antelope: skull and taxidermy. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Demand for the horns has wiped out the population in China, where the Saiga antelope is a Class I protected species, and drives poaching and smuggling.  Under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Concerning Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelope was concluded and came into effect 24 September 2006.  The Saiga’s decline being one of the fastest population collapses of large mammals recently observed, the MoU aims to reduce current exploitation levels and restore the population status of these nomads of the Central Asian steppes.

Seahorse is the name given to 54 species of small marine fishes in the genus Hippocampus. ‘Hippocampus’ comes from the Ancient Greek word hippos meaning ‘horse’ and kampos meaning ‘sea monster’.

1280px-Hippocampes_Seahorses

Drying seahorses for TCM. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Because data is lacking on the sizes of the various seahorse populations, as well as other issues including how many seahorses are dying each year, how many are being born, and the number used for souvenirs, there is insufficient information to assess their risk of extinction, and the risk of losing more seahorses remains a concern. Some species, such as the Paradoxical Seahorse may already be extinct. Coral reefs and seagrass beds are deteriorating, reducing viable habitats for seahorses.

Seahorse populations are thought to be endangered as a result of overfishing and habitat destruction. Despite a lack of scientific studies or clinical trials, the consumption of seahorses is widespread in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily in connection with impotence, wheezing, nocturnal enuresis, and pain, as well as labor induction.  Up to 20 million seahorses may be caught each year to be sold for such uses.

Import and export of seahorses has been controlled under CITES since 15 May 2004. However, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, and South Korea have chosen to opt out of the trade rules set by CITES.  The problem may be exacerbated by the growth of pills and capsules as the preferred method of ingesting seahorses. Pills are cheaper and more available than traditional, individually tailored prescriptions of whole seahorses, but the contents are harder to track. Seahorses once had to be of a certain size and quality before they were accepted by TCM practitioners and consumers. Declining availability of the preferred large, pale, and smooth seahorses has been offset by the shift towards prepackaged preparations, which makes it possible for TCM merchants to sell previously unused, or otherwise undesirable juvenile, spiny, and dark-coloured animals. Today, almost a third of the seahorses sold in China are packaged, adding to the pressure on the species.

Dried seahorse retails from US$600 to $3000 per kilogram, with larger, paler, and smoother animals commanding the highest prices. In terms of value based on weight, seahorses retail for more than the price of silver and almost that of gold in Asia.

The traditional practice of using endangered species is becoming controversial within TCM.  Modern TCM texts discuss substances derived from endangered species in an appendix, emphasizing alternatives.

Like other varieties of quackery, TCM offends our sense of rationality by being a useless waste of time and money.  But it is also harmful to humans and other species, in terms of diversion from effective therapies, risks of toxicity and threats to the survival of endangered species.

Tim Harding B.Sc. is a former Director of Flora and Fauna, in charge of protecting endangered species in Victoria.

References

Stephen Barrett. “Be Wary of Acupuncture, Qigong, and ‘Chinese Medicine’

Ian Musgrave et al What’s in your herbal medicines? The Conversation, 13 December 2015.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction

(more to be added)

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