New Zealand is trying to hold on to its SunGold kiwifruit market. The Chinese Communist Party celebrates its centenary. Britain is looking to adapt Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers to Rwanda site. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Biden orders air strikes after drone attacks

Members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces carry coffins in a symbolic funeral in Baghdad for fighters killed by US air strikes this week.
Members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces carry coffins in a symbolic funeral in Baghdad for fighters killed by US air strikes this week.
Credit: Reuters / Saba Kareem

Great power rivalry

Iraq: Last weekend, four low-flying drones carrying explosives flew across the city of Erbil in northern Iraq and hit various sites, including the location of the new United States consulate.    

The incident followed a series of recent attacks around the Middle East involving increasingly sophisticated drones, navigated using GPS rather than a pilot. One drone was able to make it past the air defences of a base in the desert where American troops are stationed.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden launched air strikes against three sites in Iraq and Syria, saying he was responding to the recent attacks.

US officials said the sites targeted were being used by pro-Iran militias to store and operate drones.

“We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action … to limit the risk of escalation but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Iraq and Syria both condemned the US attacks.

A pro-Iran militant group said four of its fighters were killed in the strikes.

The Iraqi military, which rarely criticises US air strikes, said the attacks violated Iraqi sovereignty and warned against using Iraq as an “arena for settling accounts”.

In Syria, Iran-backed militants fired rockets at an American base.

The air strikes came as Washington and Tehran have been conducting indirect talks over the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew. The US says it is willing to ease sanctions but wants Iran to end its support for regional militant groups.

Iran’s foreign ministry said the latest US attacks were “disrupting” regional security. “One of the victims of this disruption will be the United States,” spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

The US has been reducing its deployments across the Middle East but still has 2500 troops in Iraq whose main aim is to prevent a resurgence of Daesh.

The neighbourhood

New Zealand: In 2016, staff at Zespri, a New Zealand farming co-operative, began hearing rumours that a popular variety of kiwifruit – SunGold – was being grown by farmers in China.     

Zespri hired private investigators who discovered that a Chinese farmer based in New Zealand had – several years earlier –cut off some SunGold stems and allegedly sold them to growers in Sichuan. SunGold was developed by Zespri, which sells licences to growers.

There are now believed to be more than 5000 hectares of SunGold growing in China, threatening one of New Zealand’s most valuable horticultural exports.

Zespri has been unable to exercise its intellectual property rights in China. Its members are now considering a proposal to buy the unauthorised fruit from the Chinese growers and sell them as SunGold. But the move has raised concerns about how Zespri will be able to exercise quality control or ensure that Chinese growers use appropriate pesticides and fungicides.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has tried to avoid publicly taking sides, saying she did not want to “dictate” to Zespri how to conduct their business.

A report by Zespri predicts that China’s unlicensed SunGold production will surpass its purchases from New Zealand by 2023 and will amount to 55 million trays of fruit a year by 2030.

Interestingly, kiwifruits are originally from China. They were brought to New Zealand in 1904 by a school principal who had been visiting mission schools in China. Originally known as Chinese gooseberries, the name was changed in 1959 – during the Cold War – to avoid marketing problems as New Zealand began exporting them to the US.

Democracy in retreat

China: On Thursday, China’s Communist Party celebrated its 100th birthday.

The party was formed in 1921 at a small house in Shanghai during a meeting attended by 13 Chinese founders, including Mao Zedong, and two representatives from the Soviet-controlled Communist International, which promoted global revolution. The meeting, which lasted several days, probably began on July 21, but July 1 was later adopted as the official anniversary.

China’s Communists have now ruled the country for 72 years and have proved to be – as The Economist magazine declared this week – “the world’s most successful authoritarians”. They have stifled internal dissent, crushed a push for democracy in 1989, and overseen the spectacular transformation of a broken, poverty-stricken nation into a global superpower whose economy is, by some measures, the world’s largest. These trends – the repression and the assertiveness – are being fervently promoted by the president-for-life, Xi Jinping, the most powerful leader since Mao.

Xi addressed a medal award ceremony in Beijing this week, urging the party’s 92 million members to “dedicate everything, even your precious life, to the party and the people”.

As part of the centenary festivities, a gala performance of song, dance and theatre celebrated the party’s history, all the way up to its success in combating Covid-19 outbreaks. The performance omitted the 1950s famine, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The show was followed by five minutes of fireworks.    

Spotlight: Britain’s ‘Rwanda solution’

Britain is reportedly planning to create an offshore detention centre for asylum seekers – possibly in Rwanda – as part of a controversial scheme based on Australia’s policy.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel last year looked at holding asylum seekers on remote Atlantic islands but dropped the plan after it faced widespread criticism.

She is now planning to present new legislation this week that will allow refugees and migrants to be sent abroad for processing. According to a report in The Times, the government has been exploring sharing a centre in Africa with Denmark, which recently introduced laws allowing it to send asylum seekers to a centre outside Europe while their claims are being determined.

Britain’s Home Office reportedly studied Australia’s offshore processing policy as it developed its new plan.

“We have been looking at what other countries do to deter illegal migration and this work continues,” a Home Office spokesperson said. “We will not rule out any option that could help reduce the illegal migration and relieve the pressure on the broken asylum system.”

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, denied holding talks with Denmark but would not rule out the possibility of creating a processing centre in Rwanda. About 5600 migrants have crossed the English Channel this year in boats.

The plan, which would allow Britain to send asylum seekers abroad for the first time, was condemned by rights groups and several MPs as illegal, immoral and “dystopian”.

“Shipping asylum seekers off to so-called ‘processing centres’ in Rwanda would be an appalling and inhumane way to treat some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael. 

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