Monday, 20 March 2017

Collapse of EU - and UK and Thailand?

Khun Sutapa Amornvivat as always provides an interesting Ponderland on the potential breakup of the EU, and tremors spreading through the financial markets:

Certainly the feverish atmosphere in The City and UK must be difficult to translate into market policy anywhere from Bangkok to HCMC to Yangon. Indeed it's often difficult to translate even in UK as we head into unchartered waters and potentially the greatest UK policy disaster since Suez.

Parliament and the Queen have in effect cleared the way for Article 50 to be triggered for UK to negotiate leaving the EU to begin from around 29th March for the next two years. Brain-drain prevention measures such as guaranteeing the rights of the 3M existing EU citizens in UK are being ignored for the moment. Yet the rise in hate crime extending to all communities beyond Pole-bashing.

Surprisingly though no UK negotiating teams are yet in place and already there is debate on a transitional system with the EU after 2019. A huge bureacratic tango through the muddle of maintaining the existing EU systems and laws in all but name beckons for months and years.

Probably the UK-EU relationship after two years and one day would be the same as now with existing EU laws preserved and complying with future EU legislation on say the automotive industry. Indeed Honda has followed Nissan in gaining sweetheart deals from the UK government in guaranteeing and expanding their investments with, fortunately, at least two new cars now being built in the UK's already booming car factories.

It's surprising to see so few Thai efforts so far on integrating the UK and Thai automotive supply chains.

## Brexit beyond UK ##

So an increasingly likely option is UK essentially remaining in EU - and there are plenty of sectors beyond UK cars such as Life Sciences and Creative Industries urging that - then there is no breakup of the EU at all.

Certainly nations such as Eire and their new Ambassador to Washington from London -potentially with an EU land border with Northern Ireland/UK - have urged remaining in EU as the UK's best option.

While the latest Dutch election with a PM Mark Rutte win actually suggests continuity with the EU: the Dutch Farage, Geert Wilders - with even more ferevent anti-foreigner and anti-Moslem rhetoric - has gained seats but a lower share than 2010, but neither power nor influence being rejected from any coalition.

Indeed Hollande and Merkel hailed the result as pro-European in contrast to Brexit. Perhaps the high tide of European far-right populism hs been reached.
Indeed one quirk of Brexit is the collapse of UKIP with leader defeats and resignations, (many of them here in East Kent as the only UKIP council in UK limps to an end mired in corruption, racism and stagnation) as well as the resignations of the Conservative Leave teams.

A UK Pyrrhic victory in just a year since the original, less than riveting, PM Cameron EU negotiations and reforms, hardly suggests Brexit is forged in steel or on track anywhere except in the most cloth-eared Little England fanatical circles.

## East Kent and Brexit ##

The UK Budget last week has been scathingly judged as "financially illiterate" with not one mention of Brexit by the normally capable Chancellor Philip Hammond. And the core Budget policy of national inusrance tax increases, essentially a peculiar tax on entrepreneurship, was U-turned and cancelled within the week by a Government rebellion, but leaving a black hole of billions of dollars in the cancellation until the Autumn Budget.

And East Kent has been front and centre in the election expenses corruption now affecting upto 20 UK MP's and police investigations passed to the courts with the unheard-of possibility of almost two dozen by-elections removing any Brexit majority.

Plus calls for the unelected PM Theresa May to go to the polls - at least to solve the problem of inertia and nationak drift with an Empty Parliament obsessed with the minutiae and multiple what-ifs and maybes of Brexit. A mix of navel-gazing and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

The UK is lagging behind on key priorities such as:

* Climate Change
* Nuclear decommissioning and cleanup
* Pollution cleanup
* Education and Health improvements
* Space exploration

While basic reforms such as Victorian sewers and asbestos in schools are also ignored.

## Brexit and Belgium and France and Germany ##

The French elections later in the Spring suggests no real Article 50 negotiations until June, and probably not until the Autumn and the German elections - otherwise who would the UK and EU be negotiating with? The dynamic Guy Veerhofsdtat, former Belgian PM, as EU Chief Negotiator has been vocal on UK drift.

While UK could be left playing second fiddle not just to the immediaie crises in Syria and East Africa and Sahel, but also longer-term EU expansion to North Africa and Levant and the resulting Mediterranean port and rail infrastructure improvements such as Cape2Cairo, and Saudi/Gulf hispeed rail: Morocco now completing the first hispeed rail in Africa.

## Balkans guns and butter ###

While the quirk of UK leading a West Balkans Summit in 2018 actually means continuity on the necesary reforms for Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania to join EU: Croatia joining as recently as 2013.

Plus Montenegro combating Russian election interfrence in October in joining EU and NATO raises wider security and investment issues. Certainly the flood of drugs in Europe originates through the Albanian cannabis gangs and Turkish pipeline of heroin to Helmand and Shan as well as Ndrangheta activity in key Italian container ports is a UK interest best met through EU cooperation, given the rise in heroin and cocaine deaths to the highest-ever in both UK and USA.

UK may be in the position of being one of the few European nations with Belarus, of neither being in the EU nor in the process of joining it. While an EU-27 without Britain would rapidly become an EU-32 and more.

Much is made of new Brexit markets such as USA in San Diego or Virginia or Carolinas.

Indeed in my KCC Leader candidacy I've urged those investment grouops and new EU regions such as Molise in Italy:

Commonwealth exports are viable but far smaller and later than expected, certainly India and Singapore in the latter are economic powerhouses but most of the other 52 nations in that bloc are poor or small or both. Australia's 20M people or Solomon Islands 500k are unlikley to replace the 500M EU bloc, the world's wealthiest, or the UK's reliance on Arabian arms deals.

Certainly too in the West Balkans there are wider EU issues on Russia and Turkey joining the EU - perhaps both a decade or two further away after the Putin and Erdogan military actions but almost inevitable.

As well as the Sarajevo Shift of EU investment and infrastructure to the Balkans, beyond merely Brussels and Strasbourg overbuild, plus key projects such as the Messina bridge being revived and Bari port, the main UN aid hub, and bridge-tunnel to link the Italy (beyond the Mafiosi banks Khun Sutapa cites) and peace and propserity for the Greater Balkans region through to the Caucasus nations of Georgia and Armenia.

Already the EU has passed the latest phase of the hispeed rail integration and in June EU-wide mobile phone roaming caps and town wifi by 2020. But Mayor Sadiq Khan cites the Crick Institute of Life Sciences and Pharma UK under siege from EU regional missions from Hesse or Paris or Berlin to court UK industry relocations.

## Spain and Brexit ##

But such EU policies are few and far between, and the need for substantial EU reform beyond mobile phone tweaks is clear. the PM Cameron tweaks a fumbled opportunity. If the lavishly-funded alphabet soup of EU and IMF insitutions failed to predict or prevent or ameliorate the 2008 recession or collapse of Syria and refugee deaths in the Mediterranean then clearly something is wrong.

But that aside, Brexit more realistically could reveal not the breakup of the EU - but rather the breakup of the UK, with a second Scottish Independence referendum announced, and for a Scotland in EU, not a Joxit. Plus the aforementioned hard border issue with Eire and Northern Ireland and fears of a Semtexit could be completely swept away in a United Ireland. The Ulster election earlier this month means the first nationalist majority and Sinn Fein's louder call for Ireland's unity under both the Eire and EU umbrella.

Thai tourists may even benefit from such a Brexit with no doubt Eire-Schengen discussions phased into a virtual visa for visits to UK from Eire.

While Spain's Brexit Unit forecasts major companies such as Banco Santander and at least two others suffering devaluation. Indeed Spain's GDP could fall by upto $6BN and hardship for the 800,000 UK residents in Spain.

While as Khun Sutapa notes, few are impressed by the Mafiosi performance of the Italian banks or State-riddled Chinese banks, Brexit means the financial markets will be a hotbed of speculation and uncertainty from London to Bangkok and beyond.

London and The City is the focal point of world financial services for the largest clearing banks, perhaps pipped only by Wall Street, but two-thirds of UK's 2.2M finance jobs are not based in London but spread around the regions and Europe.

So a Brexit tremor would shake the coffee cups on the boardroom table in skyscrapers around UK and Europe.

## EU centrifuge and The City ##

HSBC has been clear that passporting rights will benefit its Paris offices at the expense of Canary Wharf. While the EMA European Medicines Agency also headquartered in Docklands would relocate. While the banks of the Liffey have a rash of Euro-splodge skyscrapers in anticipation of further corporate relocations.

Bank of America has already moved its European HQ to Dublin and at least six other organisations including Chicago-based derivatives group CME and asset manager Legg Mason are reviewing sites in Dublin.

And the centrifugal forces of Europe, one moment greater integration to a United States of Europe, and the next moment the uber-Balkanisation of regions such as Catalonia or Almeria, is normal.

Here in East Kent, calls for greater separation from the rest of Kent or even Flanders and Calais links ebb and flow.

And it's not so long ago that Brussels, the heartland of the EU, was reduced to stasis with Flanders and Wallonia disputes and the latter potentially delaying the Canadian trade agreement. The terror attacks in Brussels and Bataclan Paris, a year ago are a mere pinprick in comparison and to the future of the EU and Europe.

Britain's worry is not the break up of the EU, but an increasingly disUnited Kingdom - and with other nations picking over the scraps. Reassuringly, the longer the debate goes on the more Britons' appetite for Brexit in any substantive way will surely fade into a hungry winter and a blizzard of higher prices and corporate relocations and job losses.

The bill for UK plc, and ASEAN, in missed or cancelled opportunities could be far higher though in the years ahead.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Thailand and UK put their dentures in for a Greater Ageing Society?

Khun Tarisa Watanagase, the former Governor of The Bank of Thailand, provides a fascinating article on the issues of an ageing society in Thailand that are relevant for UK too:

Particularly, on the need for emerging markets to adapt quickly or be skewered on the horns of a dilemma with both an ageing population and an initial delay in increased automation and universal healthcare and insurance.

In UK, telegrams from the Queen to those UK citizens reaching their 100th birthday increased by 70% in a decade and 5% in one year, and the over 75 population is forecast to double in the next decade. Indeed the Queen herself is over 90 and could soon receive a telegram from herself. Dementia could make it a surprise too. While any UK child born today can easily expect to live to over 100 years old.

South Korean women are already exceeding 90 years old on average, almost 10 years more than UK women. While both Italy and Japan are faced with the problem of declining and ageing populations.

There are only 5 main factors currently reducing UK lifespans:

* air pollution is a national crisis especially in London with repeated breaches of EU safety levels and urgent moves to electric vehicles needed
* weak care for under-5 years old children and under 12 months: both Sweden and Japan have double the life expectancy rates than UK
* weak social care - as the Xmas NHS crisis showed with a lack of emergency beds and increase in elderly Winter deaths
* HFSS foods: high fat, salt and sugar foods as well as Tobacco and Alcohol
* Pandemic research: not just Flu or TB, with London as the TB capital of Europe or even BirdFlu but also Cancers and AMR and DNA research is far weaker in UK than it should be.

##Surgery reform##

And there are subtler problems, the UK is as of this month being urged to take up a 10 a day fruit and veg diet - as highlighted in Canada and Japan off some years now - over the previous 5 a day advice, and new warning on red meat as carcinogenic.

Even the horrifying NHS Surgery failure rate with over 12,000 deaths from surgery on the wrong patient(!) or body part(!). Indeed the UN WHO details 1M global deaths from botched surgery, and 7M people left disabled - all preventable.

Surgery advances have proved a heartwarming success story in Thailand with Nong Sai recovering from the school mug incident.

And as Khun Tarisa eloquently points out, innovations in basic materials such as bathroom tiles could reduce injuries to the elderly. Slips and Trips are one of the highest NHS categories for elderly injuries and deaths and the call for new super-materials such as graphene for hip and knee replacements as well as cataract advances. Especially with over half the global 40M blind people capable of having their sight restored.

Thailand is poised on the brink of a tsunami of Western diseases as its society ages and diets change to fast food etc. The Economist this week highlights a 40kg annual increase per person in wheat sales in Thailand - the proverbial coffee and Danish pastry or 7-11 wheat noodles.

##Education and Health reform##

And Khun Tarisa makes a fascinating point on the Education Ministry issue of 50% of Thailand's 30,000 public schools having fewer than 120 pupils. A side issue of consolidation would be a rise in obesity with longer school commutes and reduction in walking to a local school.

Here in Kent, schools have been active in not just 20mph zone so reduce traffic deaths, but also a Walking Bus system so children walk to school, cars on the school run being parked further away from the school gates to reduce traffic fumes and a No Smoking policy (for parents!) at the school gates.

While the sell-off of school playing fields has proved problematic in UK in encouraging sports to piggy-back on the Sporting Superpower success of UK in recent years.

As a founder of the Surin School Charity to build schools in Isaan and ASEAN, the gains in efficiencies in closing rural schools may not be matched by the opportunity to provide excellent school facilities.

The original Surin School was essentially a dilapidated 60 year old wooden shed - and low morale from both teachers and parents was reversed with state of the art facilities. Including internet satellite, computers, internet and a school library and sports equipment with support from the public and Ellington School, in Ramsgate has turned the school around.

Only a few more pieces of sports equipment and musical instruments, and minibus and swimming pool are required to demonstrate the success of the Surin Charity school-in-a-box template. Frankly I'm astonished UK's DFID hasn't been trumpeting the success of the programme for roll-out.

##Ageing Tech##

And as Thailand moves to an HFSS policy with a 20% sugar tax (8% in UK from next year) to improve longevity by removing white sugar (and white flour and white rice?) from diets.

Here in Kent, an ageing society is becoming an axiom with the movie The Carer filmed here starring Brian Cox, and former Bond Roger Moore, as a looked-after pensioner.

While Kent NHS is providing nursing courses for DaNang nurses at CCU university in Canterbury and looking at recruiting an extra 120 Filipino nurses this year to help stem the problems in the NHS.

I certainly wouldn't suggest that the Philippines or Thailand's healthcare systems should be plundered for nurses and doctors and carers, but in urging an increase from 8,000 to 20,000 (similar to Malaysia) Thai students in UK, sensible consideration should be given to such new medical courses for a year or two in UK? Even as part of a new Medical School in Canterbury?

Along with English language learning (a strategic imperative for Thailand within ASEAN, as well as improving existing government policy), affiliation to a UK hospital for a further 2 years before returning as alumni to Bohol or Buriram or Sittwe and Surin could be a huge positive development.

Discovery Park the Pfizer site that was the largest USA inward investment site in Europe, along with nearby Sittingbourne Science Park and the 4 East Kent universities would also be ideal for TRF and TDRI and True Mobile STEM work for the younger generations.

With True Tech Park for example, or Microsoft that supports much of the Kent public sector, why shouldn't the Yingluck dream of a computer and smartphone for every child also be delivered for every Silver Surfer pensioner?

Manufacturing an extra 30M or so computers and phones each year for UK and Thai kids and pensioners is hardly complex or expensive.

##New Manufacturing##

Thailand and UK should be cooperating on pandemic research with Kent companies such as Venomtech and expanding malaria coverage in India as well as dengue in ASEAN along with new factories for dynamic companies such as Denmark’s Vestergaard:

Wouldn’t Thailand and UK and India shaking their walking stick together at the ADB and AIIB reduce such deaths faster? And both UK and Thailand could forge ahead and reel in a major boost in all their manufacturing capacity.

And innovations by companies such as Panasonic or Philips such as a DNA Bathroom Mirror to measure blood pressure and respiration etc would be a key factor for improved Home-Healthcare Industries and reduce the pressure on hospitals and doctor's surgeries.

##Left is Life and 50 Shades of Grey Tourism##

I've also urged the Left is Life programme for police safety, and improved blood and organ donations as well as extending paramedic training. Shouldn't the UK and Thai ambulance services be working together on training and equipment even Red Cross and RNLI air ambulance helicopters and boats?

UK and Japan are cooperating on a version of the Eurocopter cargo/medical helicopter, so why shouldn't Thailand and ASEAN be a part of that Resilience and economic activity?

While Thailand has much to offer UK in its innovative Children's Day and Teacher's Day programmes, and so why not a societal shift with Nurses Day? In my politics role as KCC Leader I'll be urging such reforms along with Spanish Armada Day and #BOM Dutch Day.

Hungary has only 440,000 UK tourists yet 50,000 of those are for medical tourism such as dental treatment. Yet Kent already has dusty links with Bacs-Kiskun region in Hungary, and similar measures could be put in place with Thailand to develop Medical Tourism for both the UK and Indian markets.

As well as with Sports Science Tourism that Khun Kobarn Thailand's dynamic tourism minister has already raised - and Grey Tourism such as cycling in Nan with your nana as part of the 12 Stars programme.

Would it be so outrageously impossible for every one of the UK's 130 universities to have both a Cancer research and AMR and EU Rare Diseases dept - rather than the fripperies of Beckham Studies courses - as well as links to a Thai university and Rajabhat and hospital?

As a much larger nation and more rural than UK, ambulances could even be forward-positioned in Thailand's rural areas as clinics and hospitals on wheels. Better that than an hour or two's bumpy drive in the back of a pickup truck after a car crash or heart attack?

And it's a massive failure that UK NHS doesn't have formal alumni programmes with African and Caribbean and Asian nurses and hospitals.

Surely Khun Tarisa should be urging both UK and Thailand to pop in their dentures and take a bite out of a common policy on ageing societies?


Friday, 10 March 2017

Thailand and UK defence diplomacy sinking?

Khun Wassana Nanuam as always is a must-read on Thailand military and defence matters as in her latest article "Defence Diplomacy and China" in last week's Bangkok Post as well as editorial and letters on the perennial issue of Thailand's submarine purchases:

Now with 3 Chinese submarines planned, rather than 6 German used submarines, plus two or three new bases on the Andaman Sea and Gulf Of Thailand there is a wide-ranging debate that echoes here in UK too.

Is the cost justified? Are the enemies more real than imagined, and land-based rather than sea-based? And more worryingly for the Thai taxpayer is the Gulf of Thailand deep enough for the subs to be used.

Surely Thailand's Auld Enemy was Myanmar, just as England's was Scotland? Ships would be as irrelevant as elephants or walls for both nations except for ICBM missile attacks on cities.

And more widely within ASEAN, is there a naval and ICBM arms race brewing with Indian submarines, China's South China Sea bases and Hainan sub yard and North Korean missiles?

And perhaps Indonesia made the best of its maritime procurement in scooping up what was the East German navy for a song.

Clearly Thailand's defence is a matter for its citizen and taxpayers in scrutinising the military shopping list.

But the issue echoes here in UK with a political scandal around the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile and three or four new nuclear submarines. And a faulty nuclear test that, bizarrely, could have nuked Disneyland in Florida at the time of the parliamentary debate on Trident that was hushed up for six months.

A further political scandal is looming on the incompetence of the UK military-concerns over the generalship of the Iraq and Afghan wars as well as military kit problems: aircraft carriers without aircraft, refuelling aircraft that can't refuel and police guns that don't shoot straight.

And High Court CAAT cases over disarmament around arms exports for m UK - even Germany's Heckler and Koch machine guns refusing export orders due Germany's restrictions.

The value of the Royal Navy new base in Bahrain is under question too for cost as well as propping up an absolutist monarchy. While the closure of all the UK army bases in Germany finally marks the end of the Cold War albeit with NATO troop deployments in Poland and Baltic states over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Crimea.

Maybe Bahrain is the fallback position for Scottish independence and the Clyde nukes lost? Or just tax-bloat inter-service rivalry.

If war is too important to be left to the generals according to Clemenceau, then on present form they certainly shouldn't be allowed near the UK government cheque book.

More generally, PM Prayut might recall, before hastening to float the Navy's boats, East Kent's Duke of Wellington a military man turned PM who expressed frustration with his political cabinet that, on being given their orders, insisted on sitting around and debating them.

Sometimes that's a wise course of action.

And surely PM Prayut as an uber-patriot safeguarding and modernising the nation and steering it back to democracy must be looking to the future? Whether that's his own political party or an ASEAN Elder role not dissimilar to Kofi Annan and the UN?

Few ASEAN generals except PM Prayut could cite success in building bridges within ASEAN and China and the West. And it would be achievement, with only three coups in 25 years, in reducing that in future.

Quite frankly though the Thai navy could give the NATO navies a few lessons given the fiasco of 4,000 refugee deaths in the Mediterranean each year. Or maritime cooperation with the 30 year anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry sinking and 193 deaths in the English Channel. Or the RNLI and President Buchanan gold lifesaving medals a lost East Kent treasure.

But the only real military threat being North Korean missiles on Tokyo or Beijing or Guam as a precursor to Los Angeles.

Germany has cancelled its conscription programme on cost and effectiveness grounds, while Sweden with an Arctic Russian border have introduced conscription, albeit only 4,000 troops, and Norway is considering more submarines.

It's hard to see how the UK;'s 82,000 troops wouldn't be reduced to under 50,000 troops and rotation through UK and Europe and Africa. Certainly just 300 troops for UK peacekeeping in Sudan is 90% more feeble than it should be. And the Pandemics and Piracy of West Africa a military failure already even without reconstruction or nation-building.

With no naval actions since 1945 and only one submarine missile/torpedo fired in anger during the Falklands War in 1982, it's hard to justify the expense and waste of large navies against drones. 30 UK nuclear submarines - firing normal ICBM missiles rather than nuclear ones - are scrapped but still waiting to be decontaminated. And the savings from NATO-consistent kit are weak: the USA military having to ship the largest-ever containers of bullets from America.

Kent's Defence Minister Michael Fallon MP has rightly urged not just the German base closures but also UK military barracks reduced to just 5 super-bases and the army reduced to 82,000 troops.

Aside from a sneak attack from the General Kutzenov wheezing through the English Channel to Syria we're fortunate in East Kent, with Dover Europe's largest port, that we'd be reduced to radioactive ash in the first few hours if the Russian armies decided to be in London or Paris for supper and a show.

Kent's Winston Churchill often cited the sacrifices of the Russian armies in resisting Hitler - 500 Soviet divisions supported by just 2 British divisions. Stalin wryly agreeing that 502 divisions would be useful. East Kent's Margate and its 1970's Soviet-chic tower blocks still twinned with Sevastopol. And half the D-Day troops American, and the fortitude contribution of Kent's General Patton and the Marshall Plan, more realistically recalibrate the scales of European freedom beyond mere UK jingoism.

Although the USA lead in NATO under Trump and Mattis is contradictory - one moment urging 2% NATO budget for the Europeans to pay their way. Then announcing a massive 10% increase in USA military spend. And concerns with all 3 top USA Trump government roles run by generals it's starting to look like a 1970's Latin American junta.

If Kent built America through the Virginia Jamestown, then America certainly saved East Kent and the rest of Western Europe.

After Iraq2 dodgy dossiers and ShinerGate war crimes, and enhanced interrogation torture wordplay or Yemen cluster bombs and phosphorous, few UK troops will be willing to deploy overseas without a UN mandate.

And if UK military kit is largely junk it's unpleasant to see it being foisted on the nations through excessive arms shows and military attaches.

As Khun Wassana points out Chinese investment in the Thai military is sensible long-term procurement in training and spares and replacement.

Beer and bunfights in the barracks, or inter-service rugby and football and school-building, are preferable to a shooting war, but a waste of tax and military resource given the potential for vital UN peacekeeping and policing in the African Sahel.

Surely UK and Thailand as key NATO and ASEAN militaries need to unlock 21st century peace and prosperity from the baggage of Empire and Cold War?

Britain's last flakes of Empire in the Falklands and Gibraltar must surely be the basis of a Hong Kong-style handover and UN guarantees with democratic allies such as Argentina and Spain. Much as the Spratlys and Paracels are already under UNCLOS debate, or the Thai-Khmer peaceful resolution of Preah Vihar.

And if Russia joining the EU post-Putin may be a decade or two away, it's hardly beyond the capabilities of ASEAN for stronger support for peace and prosperity of Shan state or Mindanao or Papua New Guinea or abolition of the death penalty.

With the 60th anniversary of the EU and the 50th anniversary of ASEAN this year, surely UK and Thailand, as well as Commonwealth nations such as Malaysia and Singapore, even Myanmar, should be cooperating more closely beyond occasional Cobra Gold flag-waving?

Time for Change