The Australia vs. Facebook case continues to rumble on, with Facebook having blocked thousands of Australian websites, including those of Government departments and social welfare services from access within Australia. In many cases, the news is being presented as normal – a dispute between a Government and a Company, and these happen all the time. Yet it is far from normal – it is decidedly abnormal. Facebook, a US listed company, acted even prior to any ruling by the Australian Government on whether the platform should pay for news content. Facebook is ultimately managed by one private American individual, and owned by mostly US investors. It is fairly safe to say that Facebook in part represents the wishes of both the American Government and US shareholders. Yet here we have the sight of Mark Zuckerberg negotiating money and access to news and services platform with a democratically elected Government, supposedly a ‘friend’ of the United States. It is obscene, and as I mentioned in my editorial two weeks ago, an illustration of just how far the United States is subverting tech and the capitalist model to impinge on other nation’s democracy. Facebook has also shut down the Facebook pages of the Myanmar Military, but left opposition politician’s pages up. I’m not a fan of military coups, but this does again illustrate that Facebook is prepared to choose political sides when addressing other countries sovereign issues. There is no code of conduct for Facebook to do this, and the point as concerns Myanmar is that where does Facebook’s policy end? The company is taking on foreign Governments and interfering with regional politics. This cannot be good. Facebook has shown no difference in dealing with either military regimes or democratic Governments. They don’t care, or make any distinction between one regime or another, they just want both to do what Facebook wants.
Facebook has shown that capitalism is also ultimately based on greed, power and forcing people – and Governments – to do things they do not wish to do. Mark Zuckerberg has attempted to coerce an entire, democratic nation, Australia, to do his bidding over and above that of the Australian judiciary. This is a form of Tech Fascism, and it needs to be stopped. Whether Joe Biden, suggesting this week that ‘America is back, but democratic progress is under assault‘ understands or even cares that part of the global problem is US tech and social media firms is a moot point. How serious he is in dealing with America’s own problems in dealing with democratic values can be measured about how much legislation he is prepared to introduce to break up companies like Facebook as opposed to lecturing the likes of China about its Belt & Road Initiative and Russia over its gas supplies to Europe. Which is the more pressing issue as concerns the protection of democratic values? Targeting Xi and Putin as competitors, or reining in Zuckerberg? We have three years to find out.
Elsewhere this week there have been repercussions in Europe concerning Xi Jinping’s message to the 17+1 grouping of Central and European nations, (covered here) in which several Presidents and Prime Ministers of some of the smaller countries refused to attend. Xi had said that China intended to buy US$170 billion worth of goods and products from the region in the next five years, while the rhetoric coming out of the EU is ‘Pull the other one, you didn’t deliver on previous promises’. It’s the first time I’ve heard that opinion, so I looked up the trade stats. According to the EU’s own data, China purchased €110 billion of goods from the EU as a whole in 2014. Five years later, in 2019, that figure was €198 billion, an increase of 80% in five years, or a compounded 16% per annum. That’s hardly ’empty promises’. So someone either doesn’t know what they are talking about, or it is a deliberate attempt to beat up Beijing and create trade negativity. Either way, if someone walked into my shop and said “I’d like to buy US$170 billion worth of stuff” I’d be beaming all over my face and jumping up and down with excitement. But then again, I’m not a politician. Fortunately, as a businessman I do know how to create wealth, and at least do that democratically, without having to be so surly and ungrateful (the EU) or democratically subversive (Facebook). It’s probably a good idea that next time there are elections, would-be politicians actually respect certain values and have an eye on commerce as well as hard won freedoms, qualities that both the EU and United States appear short of talent in their respective political arenas right now.
Elsewhere on Asia Briefing this week, India has been making a lot of progress this year already in beefing up its trade agreements, creating lot of new foreign investment opportunities as a result, and we shall continue to write about the opportunities as and when we see them coming. My Singapore colleague Marcos Salgado Sanchez gives us an overview of the two smaller ASEAN nations, Cambodia and Laos, both of whom have exciting infrastructure and connectivity projects coming to fruition this year. Laos for example is about to open the first railway lines in its history.
Our special feature this week is taking advantage of the Belt & Road Initiative. Many infrastructure projects are coming to completion, and there are opportunities to get involved, as areas such as those around new railway, road and port intersections develop as regional business and commercial trade hubs. Others present operational opportunities – some countries (such as Pakistan) lack the managerial expertise to run infrastructure such as metro systems and increasing air traffic control. Global operators can look at how to get involved in filling this service knowledge gap, as the need to import foreign managerial and operational expertise is certainly there.
Have a great week!
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Chairman, Dezan Shira & Associates
Publisher, Asia Briefing