Can the Chinese Communist Party Rule for Another 100 Years? – political scientist thinks it can

“Can the Chinese Communist Party Rule for Another 100 Years?” (Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong, 29 June 2021)

On the eve of the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, the Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong (FCC HK), hosted a conversation and discussion with political scientist / venture capitalist Eric Xun Li. FCC President Keith Richburg was moderator in this discussion. Much of this discussion was a Q&A session between Richburg and Li.

For the first several minutes Li provided a fascinating history of the CPC’s development since 1949, with the Party’s reinvention, responsiveness and changing its policy platforms, even its objectives and goals, with the aim of improving the lives of Chinese citizens, being constant themes of his talk. For a number of decades the CPC’s focus on economic development and economic gains for Chinese citizenry, often at breakneck speed, was almost all-consuming but it also led to social and economic inequalities and serious environmental consequences. People of Li’s generation looked outwards and admired Western economic and social achievements, often to the extent that people wished and even advocated for political change to a Western-style liberal democratic system with privatisation of state corporations and greater economic efficiencies.

In recent years, especially since 2001, people in China have come to see how dysfunctional and illiberal, socially, politically and economically, the West has become today, and this has led to revulsion among the Chinese people, especially among the young people, towards the West and its ideologies. Respect and support for socialism and for the CPC have risen amongst the young as a result. The result is that patriotism among Chinese youth is high, respect for President Xi Jinping is also high, and Li’s view is that the CPC’s future is bright for a considerable length of time.

Unfortunately the bulk of the discussion consisted of FCC HK Chairman and moderator Keith Richburg continuously baiting Li on various aspects of the organisation and leadership of the CPC. The tone of Richburg’s questioning and the directions in which it drifts betray Richburg’s ignorance about Chinese politics, his lazy reliance on assumptions and stereotypes about the CPC and the Chinese leadership, and his beliefs that Western and in particular US political structures, procedures and ideologies represent the ideal model towards which all other nations should progress. Of course in this paradigm, Chinese politics will always be found wanting. Li cleverly responds to the deliberate misinformation and baiting by pointing out that the CPC has always engaged in self-criticism and currently is moving towards a more centralised form of leadership and decision-making in order to tackle the major problems of corruption among public servants, poverty mitigation and environmental degradation and social inequalities created by past economic development policies. In particular, Li points out that Chinese political organisation and structures emphasise performance and outcomes in contrast to Western political organisation, structures and institutions which are overly legalistic and which emphasise procedure and ideology over actual performance, allowing incompetent or even corrupt politicians to rise to positions where the decisions and policies they make can have profound influence on economies, cultures and societies.

One audience question Li had to answer also betrays an assumption that China does not adhere by rules and by implication is not an efficiently run society. Li points out that many thousands of corrupt officials are at present in jail. He also answers a question about Xi Jinping’s continuing stay as President of the People’s Republic of China by stating that the Chinese public approves of his extended tenure, which is supported by the achievements made during his Presidency, and that this extension was approved based on the situation facing China at the time: the issues of widespread corruption, economic restructuring, tackling environmental problems and uplifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty to a modestly prosperous standard of living; and China’s external relations with nations often hostile to it due in large part to China’s successful record in improving its people’s standard of living. 

The discussion would have been much shorter and less excruciating (for me as a viewer and listener) if Richburg and others questioning Li had taken the time before the discussion to learn something about how the CPC is structured, how it makes decisions, how it responds to individual needs and criticisms, and what the party has done to reform its organisation, rid its structures of corruption and become transparent and open about its policies and programs. How the Party recruits new members and trains them, weeds out people with self-serving agendas and promotes only those members with intelligence, ability and leadership qualities would also have benefited the conversation. With some background knowledge, Richburg could have asked more informed questions of Li and Li would not have been defensive in parts of the discussion. Much time was also wasted arguing over China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020 and how prompt (or not) it was in comparison to the West’s shambolic responses in the early days of the pandemic.

At least Li did well to stand up to the baited and often hostile questioning and the assumptions behind them by being knowledgeable not just about China’s politics but also about the failures of the West in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the dysfunctional and corrupt nature of US and other Western governments. 


Becoming Bond: an affable light comedy biography of one-time James Bond actor

Josh Greenbaum, “Becoming Bond” (2017)

Part-fictional comedy re-enactment, part-biography, this is a very affable review of Australian actor George Lazenby’s early life up to and including the period when he played James Bond in the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, one of the most beloved and esteemed films in the entire James Bond series of spy movies. It takes the structure of an extended interview with Lazenby himself in which he talks about his childhood, his relationships with girlfriends from early in his adolescence onwards, and his early career as a car salesman, paralleled by re-enactments of significant moments of his life when opportunities out of the blue fall into his lap and he seizes them because they seem like fun and promise adventure. The film moves leisurely – perhaps a bit too leisurely, because the main reason I imagine people would watch this film is to find out how a former car salesman manages to land the movie role of the century with no acting experience or qualifications, and what qualities he must have had to land such a role – with an air of bemused bedazzlement which one imagines Lazenby carried with him during those heady days in the 1960s when he moved to London in pursuit of a girlfriend, took up modelling and through sheer accident met a movie agent who put him in contact with the producer and director of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Split into thirteen chapters, each one with a title that spoofs a James Bond film, the film rolls its way through Lazenby’s various escapades, all illustrated with Lazenby’s droll reminiscences which may be true or not. While the film doesn’t drill deep down into Lazenby’s psychology and motivations for doing the things he does, the impression that for Lazenby, life is a big adventure that you roll with is strong. Of course the big moment when Lazenby explains why he walked away from the Bond films after completing “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” eventually comes and Lazenby’s reason, which may be self-justification on his part, seems quite reasonable given the way his early life has unfolded so far: he’s a man who’ll try anything once but never more than once, a man who can’t and won’t be tied down to meeting others’ expectations. After a fitful acting career, Lazenby returns to Australia, becomes involved in real estate investment and goes through two marriages (the second of which was to famous US tennis player Pam Shriver) with two sets of children.

The hokey re-enactment of Lazenby’s early years in Australia and London, in which Australia in the 1940s-50s appears as romanticised kitsch and people in London drive cars with the steering wheel mounted on the left-hand side of the vehicle, is marred by awkward and inconsistent acting from Josh Lawson playing Lazenby. Jane Seymour as the movie agent is the stand-out of the cast in the re-enactment scenes.

The film might have worked better if the narrative were more streamlined and less meandering, at the cost perhaps of one of its themes: that of its protagonist’s life as a Great Australian Yarn of tall stories, opportunities that fall out of the sky into his lap and how, through all the adventures he has, he manages to remain a simple and basically well-meaning character with simple, down-to-earth values. Lazenby may not be particularly profound, his early ignorance can be jaw-dropping and his treatment of his girlfriends leaves much to be desired. Yet he appears to have intuited when people are trying to exploit him and own him, and to walk away from what could have been his ruin despite the fame and wealth that beckoned. Of course the reality was different: his agent convinced him that the Bond films had run their course and were becoming outdated.

The film works as light entertainment rather than as a straight biography or documentary and viewers must not expect to take it seriously.

Chinese Doctors Changing Africa’s Healthcare: the challenges of working in impoverished and alien environments

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 4: Doctors for Africa)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

A very good episode in the “China / Africa Big Business” series from the South African company Sabido Productions, this looks at two teams of doctors working in Zanzibar and a city in Angola. The first and third parts of the documentary follow the team working in a hospital in Stone Town on Zanzibar Island, how they deal with the challenges of working in impoverished conditions, communicating with patients and student doctors who speak a different language from theirs, and coping with homesickness, isolation and being separated from their families. The middle part of the documentary follows the team in Angola: there, the doctors also have to confront the reality of working in a country devastated by decades of civil war, chaos and destroyed infrastructures, as well as communicating with and helping patients and local staff in the hospital they have been assigned to. These doctors also have to adjust quickly to the difficult local conditions in which they have to work.

Interviews with individual Chinese doctors and specialists help viewers understand and appreciate the trials of being a doctor working in a busy and often overcrowded and under-resourced hospital in a poor country. Voice-over narration fills in the context behind the challenges the Chinese doctors have to face. At the same time, the interviewees emphasise what motivates them to keep going under difficult conditions: in particular, they talk about how the patients are grateful for their help. African interviewees stress the professionalism of the doctors they consult.

As with previous episodes of this series I have seen, the cinematography (which often emphasises close-ups of faces and picturesque scenes, and tracks the doctors going about their tasks) is excellent. The only technical problem with this episode is that often the narration is forced to compete with ambient background noises for listeners’ attention, and parts of the documentary have to be replayed to pick up information that is missed as a result. Apart from this issue, I’d recommend this episode to viewers interested in learning how China uses its recently acquired wealth and technical expertise to assist other nations, especially poor nations, in improving people’s lives.

The Chinese Companies Behind Water Supply in Africa: how Chinese companies transform lives and communities in Angola and Zanzibar

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 6: Precious Water)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

This South African documentary follows two Chinese corporations on opposite sides of southern Africa in their efforts to supply impoverished rural and urban communities with running water. The first half of the documentary features China Railway Jianchang Engineering Limited (GRJE) building water pipelines and water and sanitation infrastructures to bring running water to communities on Zanzibar Island in Tanzania. The second half of the documentary focuses on the work of Guangxi Hydroelectric Commission Bureau (GHCB) and in particular the work of one of the company’s managers in bringing water infrastructure and a power station to Luanda and Lobito respectively, two major cities in Angola. (Luanda is also the capital of Angola.) In both halves of the documentary, the Chinese companies not only work on constructing pipelines to bring water into communities and take stormwater and sewage out, and provide work and training for local people, but also become involved in social projects the communities need. The GHCB manager interviewed in the documentary has also invested time, money and effort in establishing a farm to provide food and work for people in the Lobito area. GRJE is also helping to build a hotel on Zanzibar and its engineers have consciously incorporated traditional Zanzibari designs and craftwork in the hotel’s construction.

Interviews with Chinese managers and local people in Zanzibar, Luanda and Lobito focus not only on the transformative effect the water infrastructure projects are having on the lives of the people but also on the respect the Chinese and their African partners have for each other. The Chinese respect the hard work and diligence of the African people and the Africans find the Chinese to be reliable and helpful in going beyond the original aims and scope of the water supply and sanitation projects. Voice-over narration provides historical and economic context for the projects; in particular, viewers are made aware of the destructive effects of the civil war that lasted over 25 years in Angola on people’s lives and the conditions they live in. Unfortunately the voice-over narration has to fight the music soundtrack to be heard clearly.

The cinematography is very good with many, sometimes confronting close-ups and panoramic, even postcard-picture views of Zanzibar, Luanda and Lobito. African children figure very prominently in the film, giving it a bright and even sometimes bubbly and optimistic feel.

The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade: an introduction to US involvement in a sordid trade

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire enters the Cocaine Trade” (Tales of the American Empire, 25 June 2021)

For a nation committed to neo-capitalist ideology – under which any and all activities with the potential to generate considerable profits (at minimal cost to those undertaking them) are more than just desirable, they are legitimate no matter how unethical they are or how much suffering to others they might cause – it should come as no surprise to fans of Tales of the American Empire series that the US military and intelligence agencies are involved in trafficking in illegal drugs such as opioid narcotics and cocaine, and profiting from that trafficking. This episode is the first in an ongoing investigation of the involvement of the US government and its agencies in the illegal drug trade among other topics that the series returns to from time to time. It also considers the role that US mainstream news media has played and continues to play in either ignoring, condoning or denying US government complicity in the global trade (usually in collusion with other criminal organisations) to the extent that vast numbers of Americans and others around the world who consider the US to be an important ally and friend are completely unaware that the US even engages in illicit drug trafficking, let alone know how deeply entwined in criminal activity the US government is.

The episode consists mainly of interviews going back nearly 50 years in which US government officials admit their government’s participation in drug trafficking and even protection of drug dealers, supposedly in the name of fighting Communism. In many cases, as detailed by individual US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, former Nazi war criminals were helped and given safe haven in South America by CIA agents among others through profitable drug trafficking rings. Many rogue CIA agents made large amounts of money doing so. Other interviewees describe in considerable detail what their roles were in sending planes packed with illegal drugs from South America to the US, all of which could have been intercepted by border patrols, and their cargo seized and impounded. One interviewee considers the damage that such trafficking does to US democracy, especially when such activities are part and parcel of US collusion with fascist forces in other countries (particularly countries in Latin America) to overthrow democratic governments, crush democratic opposition and deny those countries’ citizens their freedoms and rights.

There’s not much actually said about when and how the US became involved in the global cocaine trade – no actual year or incident that can be said to signify the start of an unlovely addiction on the part of the US government and its agencies to the illegal drug trade -but then the whole sordid history of how the US became involved in such trade, and how its politics became corrupted due to the massive profits that were made and how much of those profits went into politicians’ pockets or election campaigns, would take many, many episodes to cover. The episode under review aims mainly to introduce audiences to an aspect of US geopolitics that they have never been informed of. I’m sure sequels to this episode will be very informative and more specific on details of how far and how deeply US complicity in the illegal drug trade goes.

Post Mortem: Four Corners Australia Post / Christine Holgate autopsy turns up cool on privatisation issue

“Post Mortem” (Four Corners, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 28 June 2021)

Posited as an investigation into the recent history and culture of Australia Post, and the actions that took place that led to the departure of Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate, this Four Corners report ends up as simply a series of claims and counter-claims from which viewers will learn little other than that Australia Post has long been in the Liberal / National coalition government’s target sights for privatisation and will continue to be such a target. The bulk of the report is in the form of excerpts from several interviews made by reporter Michael Brissenden with key protagonist Holgate herself and others including the current Federal Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher.

The report initially begins with the supposed scandal surrounding Holgate’s gifts of Cartier watches totalling $12,000 to senior Australia Post executives, the uproar that resulted (which both the ALP and the Coalition government exploited for their own ends) and Holgate’s forced departure; it then backtracks into following the recent history of Australia Post and its organisation and culture from the time Ahmed Fahour became Australia Post CEO in 2010 and began restructuring its business. Along the way from the time Fahour joined Australia Post, left and was replaced by Holgate, to Holgate herself having to leave, viewers get a little insight into Fahour and Holgate’s respective leadership styles and their vision for Australia Post, and how Holgate’s plans for the organisation came up against the Federal Government’s ultimate goal for the postal service.

One might have expected that Four Corners, being part of a government-run organisation whose budget has steadily been run down by successive Coalition governments, might have come out swinging against the Federal government’s privatisation agenda or the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendations that Australia Post be subjected to break-up and privatisation moves but the report does no such thing. Brissenden does not canvass (or appear to) any opinions among Licensed Postal Offices (private businesses that operate postal services under contract to Australia Post; they may operate purely as post offices or combine the functions with another line of business, such as running a newsagency or general store) or Australia Post employees, apart from a former AP executive, on the issue of privatisation or on what they think of Holgate. (My understanding is that the LPOs support her.) Instead the report ends up merely parroting a polemical series of arguments, painting Australia Post as an organisation with a chaotic management culture, that go nowhere. The conclusion to the report, if any can be said to exist, is deliberately left open-ended.

The curious thing is that the one group that has come out in favour of keeping Australia Post as a government-run institution, the Australian Citizens’ Party, was portrayed in the Four Corners report as a “fringe” party (read: a bunch of crackpot conspiracy theorists) supportive of the views of Lyndon LaRouche, described in the report as “anti-Semitic, a racist and a conspiracy theorist” and nothing more. That in itself might tell us more about the Four Corners program and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation than it does about the Australian Citizens’ Party: that despite the very real danger of privatisation facing the ABC itself, the organisation dares not support other government institutions also facing privatisation and the loss of employment – not to mention the devastation rural communities would face without Australia Post, the ABC and other government agencies – it would lead to.

Whatever happened to so-called investigative journalism and advocating for Aussie battlers at the ABC? If one were to judge from the manner of this Four Corners report, real investigative journalism on behalf of defending the powerless no longer exists there.

Combating terrorist infiltration and brainwashig in “The War in the Shadows: Challenges of Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang”

“The War in the Shadows: Challenges of Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang” (China Global Television Network, 2021)

Part of a series of documentaries produced by China Global Television Network on the history and nature of terrorism in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China, this exposé examines the ways in which people, usually children, teenagers and young adults, are exposed to and radicalised by extremist religious networks linked to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) / Islamic Party of Turkistan which preaches a fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology and urges young people to wage “jihad” against Xinjiang authorities with the aim of overthrowing the government in that region and establishing an independent East Turkistan based on a strict interpretation of Shari’a law. The documentary is structured in four parts: the first part “The Networks” outlines how various terrorist incidents that have occurred in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, over several years are linked as they have been carried out by people adhering to the same ideology and who are part of the same underground networks; the second part “Enemies Within” looks at how individuals affiliated with the ETIM infiltrated Xinjiang’s police and security forces; the third part “The Textbooks” examines how the ETIM infiltrated school textbook publishing in both the Uygur and Mandarin languages; and the fourth part “The Black Hands” details how the ETIM attracts young people’s attention through social media and websites.

Based on interviews with senior police, education officials and former jihadist fighters (some of whom have come to regret their radicalisation and involvement with terrorist groups), the documentary provides much detail into the sophisticated methods used by the ETIM and affiliated groups to manipulate youngsters’ thinking and lure them into their ranks to carry out bomb attacks or to travel overseas to train and fight as jihadis with ISIS, with the aim of returning to Xinjiang and fighting the authorities there. At times the documentary goes very deep into particular business and other schemes cooked up by individuals seeking power or influence over others and which initially appear not to have much relation to the overall themes and messages of how the authorities found and eliminated, or are still eliminating, separatist jihadi infiltration and influence.

Astute viewers cannot fail to notice that the people fighting ETIM infiltration and influence themselves are Uygurs loyal to Beijing, and that they believe very strongly in using reconciliation and trust to reconnect lost young souls with society through psychological counselling and other methods in a prison setting. One may presume that prisons are also providing young people with education and work skills. By emphasising what the authorities are doing to combat religious extremism, separatism and the brainwashing of young people, and how they are bringing former jihadis back into society, the documentary ends with a positive (if a bit sappy) outlook.

The documentary says very little about ETIM itself, how large the organisation may be and where and how it formed. Viewers wanting to know the history of the organisation, how global it may be and where it gets its funding and other resources, are directed to read F William Engdahl’s article “The Truth behind China’s ‘Uyghur Problem'” at this link, and this report posted online by The Grayzone Project exposing the ETIM’s links to Al Qaeda and the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, no less.

Reforming Australia’s financial industry in “Japan Post Bank: The great postal banking success”

“Japan Post Bank: The great postal banking success – Interview with Daisuke Kotegawa” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 15 February 2021)

In this informative interview conducted by Robert Barwick with Daisuke Kotegawa (Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, and former Deputy Director at Japan’s Ministry of Finance and representative of Japan to the IMF), the case is made for the separation of commercial banks and investment banks and for Australia to reintroduce a savings bank for individual deposits. First of all Barwick stresses that the main aim of the interview is to emphasise the need for Australia to have a savings bank separate from the Gang of Four banks (Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac Banking Corporation) if the country is to restore and rebuild its manufacturing capabilities and national and state infrastructures. He then allows Kotegawa to give a history lesson on how having a savings and commercial bank for individual depositors and businesses played a large role in stimulating Japan’s rise as an industrial power during the late 19th century under the Meiji emperor and beyond. This financial foundation helped fuel the resurgence of Japan as an industrial powerhouse after the devastation of World War II.

Barwick and Kotegawa do not discuss how Australia might go about creating a savings and commercial bank from scratch – Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party has previously touted the possibility of Australia Post taking on the role of a savings bank in the way the Japanese postal system acts as a savings bank in other presentations – but they do discuss the consequences of not separating savings and commercial banks from investment banking, or what they refer to as “Glass-Steagall” separation. “Glass-Steagall” is the popular term referring to the provisions of the 1933 United States Banking Act (the so-called Glass-Steagall act) separating savings and commercial bank functions from investment bank functions. This act was repealed by the Clinton government in 1999, paving the way for investment banks to take over commercial and savings bank functions to plunder their deposits, thus helping to set the scene for the 2008 Global Financial Crash.

At one point in the interview Barwick and Kotegawa discuss how a public savings bank and investment banks operate: generally investment banks are looking for financial returns which are usually short-term in nature, requiring projects to generate profits quickly, whereas public banks invest for the long term in projects that generate financial returns many years, even decades, later. Such long-term projects usually involve large amounts of spending upfront and tend to involve infrastructure construction and maintenance. It is apparent then that investment banks are not interested in funding projects that have a nation-building and uniting aspect and which would generate benefits more intangible and abstract than what investment banks can conceive of. The interests of investment banks can be predicted to lead them into supporting projects that appeal to their directors or shareholders’ interests, and we can surmise that they will have an agenda premised on immediate reward gratification.

The most significant part of the interview comes late where indeed Kotegawa points out that the lack of separation between savings and commercial banks on the one hand and investment banks on the other encourages financial gambling and instability in the entire financial system leading to the 2008 GFC and forcing governments to bail out investment banks using hundreds of millions, even billions, of taxpayer money that could have been invested in improving infrastructure and social welfare so as not to lose the confidence of ordinary savers and businesses in the financial system. In addition Kotegawa points out that Australia still has significant industries in the mining and agricultural sectors that could benefit from the existence of commercial banks whereas nations like the United States and the United Kingdom no longer have very significant industries for which a viable commercial banking sector is needed.

Viewers may have some trouble understanding Kotegawa while he speaks and perhaps some subtitling for both him and Barwick could have helped as the topic is quite specialised and requires some general knowledge on the part of viewers of how banks operate and the history of banking in Australia and the United States. One criticism I have is that the interview does not address how a public bank in Australia, once established, does not eventually go the way of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in being privatised and coming under the thumb of Wall Street. Perhaps that is a topic for another Citizens Insight interview.

Interestingly this interview caught the attention of African Agenda, a website that focuses on socialist development and positive change for Africa and Africans.

Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in South Korea: how South Korea and the US use North Korean defectors as propaganda tools

David Yun, “Loyal Citizens of Pyongyang in South Korea” (2018)

Made by then UCLA undergraduate student David Yun, this short terse documentary challenges the Western narrative on North Korean defectors living in South Korea as reliable first-hand witnesses to the supposed brutality of the North Korean government and reveals the insidious role of South Korean intelligence, known as the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in kidnapping, coercing or tricking North Korean citizens into living in South Korea against their will, and then manipulating, even brainwashing them and paying them to denounce North Korea publicly. Yun also exposes the role of the United States, its agencies and private organisations like the Atlas Network in propping up an elaborate disinformation scheme that demonises North Korea and generates public support around the world to support the overthrow of the North Korean government.

In its first ten minutes Yun’s documentary relies on interviews with South Korean human rights lawyer Jang Kyong-ook who tells him of how North Korean individuals are initially incarcerated in special defector detention centres where they are subjected to solitary confinement for as long as three or even six months, after which time they are desperate to leave and will say or sign anything – even accept South Korean citizenship – to get out. They are then sent to a special school to learn how to live in South Korea and cope with day-to-day life in a capitalist society; during this period of re-education, they are bombarded with propaganda and falsified histories of North Korea. Defectors may also be used as spies by the NIS.

In much of the rest of the documentary Yun meets with two defectors, Mr Choi and Mrs Kim, who arrived in South Korea separately at different times. Mrs Kim’s story is especially tragic: wishing to travel to China as a tourist, she was tricked by human traffickers into going into South Korea and fell into the grip of the NIS who then tricked her into signing an agreement. After discovering the NIS’ deception, Mrs Kim tried various options to return to North Korea, all of which were blocked. This unwilling defector despaired and attempted to take her life twice before becoming a representative for the defector community in South Korea. Mr Choi initially left North Korea due to his rebellious, non-conformist nature which ironically was to stand him in good stead when he ended up in South Korea and was subjected to the heavy psychological manipulation and disinformation that among other things denigrates past Korean resistance against Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century.

Yun provides some necessary background information to explain why starvation was widespread in North Korea during the mid to late 1990s: as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, many of North Korea’s markets dried up. Sanctioned by the US since the 1950s, North Korea could not find new buyers or sellers and the country endured starvation and poverty for many years. (The sanctions also mean North Korea cannot mechanise its agriculture and must rely on a large labour force to grow most of its food. These labourers are also the nation’s army reservists – hence the joint US / South Korean military drills known as Operation Foal Eagle that take place during sowing and harvesting seasons each year.) Many young people born during that time in North Korea who later defected to South Korea have now become eager participants in a reality TV show that screens monthly in South Korea that repeats and reinforces the lies and misinformation about North Korea. Some of these young people have now become celebrity “activists” who go on jaunts around the world decrying the North Korean government and are supported by right-wing thinktanks and organisations and government agencies in the US. Some of these think-tanks and organisations are also active in demonising the Maduro government in Venezuela.

The theme that arises during this powerful if very dry documentary is that North Korean defectors are a tool and a weapon used by South Korea and its puppet masters in Washington DC and elsewhere to destabilise the North Korean government with propaganda and lies. The defectors themselves are valuable only as long as they continue to cooperate with the authorities and any information they have is valuable. One has the impression that the South Korean and US governments do not really care about them. How defectors like Mr Choi and Mrs Kim survive in a society brainwashed with lies about the country they are still loyal to, remains unknown. Perhaps the surprising part of the documentary is Mr Choi’s continuing loyalty to Pyongyang and his admiration for former leader Kim Il Sung as a wartime resistance fighter against Japan even after he admits to being a maverick.

Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine): over 30 medical experts warn of the dangers of Covid-19 vaccines

Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine)(Oracle Films, 7 December 2020)

Banned on Facebook and Youtube, this film features over thirty doctors plus a nurse, a pharmacist, an acupuncturist and a journalist all advising caution to the public in accepting COVID-19 vaccinations or urging people to avoid them outright. The medical experts who speak out against the vaccines are based in North America and various European nations. Each doctor introduces himself or herself, provides a little background information about himself/herself and then explains why s/he opposes the vaccinations. The doctors are very eloquent and appeal to people’s ability to reason and to make choices. Several doctors say that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has never been isolated and proven to exist, and that the PCR tests used to determine if someone has had contact with the virus are flawed. A few claim that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.

With well over 30 health experts all expressing their opinions on the disease, the virus, the lockdowns and restrictions that have been invoked by governments around the world to deal with the pandemic, the film is bound to be rather repetitive. Several doctors verge on sounding very much like conspiracy theorists. We do not learn their views on vaccination itself as a tool in disease prevention or mitigation strategies. One doctor (Barre Lando) tells of his experiences in dealing with children affected by vaccination injuries and the pharmacist Sandy Lunoe warns that pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines have taken out legal indemnities with law courts to block any future litigation attempts against them over the COVID-19 vaccines.

Perhaps the most alarming opinions expressed are those of Dr Hilde de Smet who says that pharmaceutical corporations have been trying to develop coronavirus vaccines for 20 years and have tested them on animals with the result that many animals end up with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, and of Dr Elke de Klerk who states that the vaccines may cause sterility in women and girls, and change people’s DNA. Professor Konstantin Pavlidis believes the vaccines may result in neurological side effects. Throughout the film doctors express reservations about the speed with which COVID-19 vaccines, several of which are based on very new technologies, are being rushed and approved by governments in spite of several trials generating unusual and sometimes severe side effects or the trials themselves being of dubious worth because of suspect research design.

The film may need to be played few times for audiences to digest the most important information in several of the interviews. Some doctors are not too clear and a few could have been advised to take some elocution lessons! In spite of its repetitive nature, the film does express viewpoints that are beyond the pale for mainstream news and specialist media, and a message throughout the film is that people can find and do research on the topic of COVID-19 and how it is spread.