Hon Teresa Doherty CBE - first woman judge in the South Pacific
With an all-encompassing agenda, this is a voice to listen to

More than a century on, the great game revisited


ONE of the important lessons of history is that context is everything.

Basically, you cannot understand why events unfold as they do without understanding the prevailing cultural, sociological, economic and personal circumstances that have impacted upon the major decision makers of the time.

Thus, for many of us, the decision of Queen Mary (1515-58) to burn 283 people at the stake for heresy simply because they had a different view about the nature of God is utterly incomprehensible.

However, for Mary, for whom her Catholic God's presence was entirely real and tangible and whose demands for rigid adherence to Catholic doctrine had the force of law, it was not a big step to punish heresy in such a cruel way.

Even today in places like Saudi Arabia, the understanding of their God's law is enforced with extreme rigidity, up to and including frequent public beheadings.

Often, the people enforcing these laws are apparently sophisticated and urbane, some having received fine educations in places like Oxford or Harvard universities. Yet they perpetrate what most civilised people would regard as atrocities.

The recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is incomprehensible to many people, who struggle to understand how such a deeply flawed character could ascend to the highest office in the great citadel of democracy.

However, it is now fairly clear that Trump has been elected by mostly white Americans who live outside the main cities. It appears that a great schism has emerged in the USA.

Trump's supporters, who some of America's elites have disparagingly referred to as "low information" citizens (i.e., stupid), have expressed, in one gigantic electoral convulsion, their anger and resentment at what they perceive to be the indifference and contempt felt for them by those who control the political process.

It is evident that many white Americans feel their history, culture and traditions have been under attack for years. In their eyes, a once proud history has deconstructed and been reduced to the sum of its many flaws which they perceive as obvious signs of a predatory, immoral and unjust cultural tradition.

At the same time, various ethnic groups have been presented as the victims of white imperialism, expansionism and greed. There have been frequent and angry demands for apologies and financial reparations for the sins of the past.

In some respects, this has been a good thing: the sins of the past need to be debated, understood and acknowledged so we can collectively move on in our efforts to create a better, fairer and more just world.

However, in recent times, it has become an unbalanced debate, with the many real achievements of white Americans, and European civilisation generally, being obliterated in a deluge of criticism.

There comes a point beyond which sustained criticism ceases to have benefits and begins to create resentment and animosity. After all, no-one likes to be incessantly told that they come from a long line of bad people and, so by inference, are bad themselves.

To my mind, Trump's election and the Brexit vote in the UK that preceded it are, amongst other things, a clear sign of socio-cultural blow back as resentment amongst a now angry and alienated white majority has reached boiling point.

These people have tired of being endlessly reminded about their ancestors' failings and of the sense of victimhood felt by people of other ethnicity, gender, religion or background.

So Trump in the USA and the so-called Brexiteers in the UK have been able to tap into a reservoir of anger and resentment amongst the white majority, especially those people who feel economically worse off.

In a somewhat similar way, Vladimir Putin has been able to use the traditional Russian sense of exceptionalism and suspicion of outsiders to entrench himself and his cronies in power.

Also, as it has become manifestly less ideological and more blatantly authoritarian, the Chinese communist government is increasingly drawing upon ancient traditional beliefs, some of which are at least implicitly racist in origin, to justify it's now overt expansionist policies in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

All around the world, nationalist sentiments and ethnic divisions that education, globalisation and the spread of liberal democracy were supposed to have rendered redundant, have begun to re-surface, sometimes in a very ugly form. The sleeping giant of nationalism and ethnic exceptionalism is stirring once more and this does not bode well for the future.

For Papua New Guinea, this means that the world into which it was born in 1975 is rapidly reverting to one much more like that of the mid to late 19th century, when the great imperial powers were locked in a contest for control of the world's peoples and resources.

This was referred to as The Great Game, a both overt and covert struggle for power and influence.

Where once the weapons of choice in this game were gunboats and the pre-emptory annexation of territory, such as when Germany took over New Guinea and then Queensland responded by annexing Papua, now a much more subtle and seductive weapon is used.

Specifically, money is now deployed strategically to secure control of important economic infrastructure and assets as well as to influence or suborn the ruling elites in target countries.

Make no mistake, this weapon, along with media manipulation, propaganda and other weapons of mass deception, is being ruthlessly used across the world as the largest powers struggle for domination within their own self described spheres of influence.

Importantly for PNG, Australia, Indonesia and many other countries, it is clear that the Pacific, long referred to as an American Lake, is now an area contested by China.

As a strategically and economically important Pacific nation, PNG will be caught up in the power plays between China, the USA, their respective allies and other major regional powers.

This means that any and all decisions the PNG government makes about, for example, foreign investment and trade, will not just have economic implications. Every decision will inevitably draw PNG further and further into the renewed outbreak of The Great Game.

During the Vietnam War, the US military invented the concept of collateral damage, a euphemism used to avoid saying directly that innocent men, women and children were being killed as a result of military activities.

PNG, Australia and many other smaller countries will need to be on their guard if we are to avoid becoming collateral damage in the modern version of The Great Game. This will require our governments to act with unusual skill and subtlety in managing relations with our neighbours and trading partners.

With the newly elected leader of the free world, Donald Trump, supported by a large, angry and frustrated segment of the American population, being apparently committed to taking various measures that will be interpreted by some as tantamount to acts of war, the next few years and decades may well be some of the most dangerous in human history.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I love these conspiracy theories about the UN Robin.

No doubt Donald Trump believes the UN is a secret organisation run by faceless men intent on a one world government and total domination too.

It would be a terrible subversion of its purported role if it were true.

I can't recall any similar theories about the League of Nations but I guess it must have attracted the same suspicions.

Our Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes wasn't a big fan but he managed to let the Yanks use him in its racist attacks on the Japanese that ultimately caused the Pacific War.

Ain't politics grand!

harry tophan

For the sake of all Americans one can only hope that Donald Trump does not morph into another one of the USA’s entertainment icons- Donald Duck

Ross Howard

Sorry for that omission Keith. I had thought it was somehow automatic if I was signed in.

Thanks Ross - all good now - KJ

Keith Jackson

Note to Ross Howard: Your email address must be included if your comment is to be published. The email address will not be disclosed - KJ

Robin Lillicrapp

Good commentary: an excellent distillation of events, historic, and cultural.

I have the notion that the new version of the Great Game is part of a constructed outcome relevant to the intended outcomes arising from the UN in world affairs.

To that end, may I suggest more than a cursory look at the impending deconstruction of FIAT currencies, and the construction of a new, global, financial matrix.

Through this "new" mechanism, led by the participation of the BRICS group of nations (China in the foreground) a New World Order is evolving.

The economic foundations of it appear to be in the reformation of currencies transiting from the Federal Reserve system of the past century to an Asset Backed, Market Based model designed to allow nations participation in global trade without first acquiring dollars et al to facilitate the transactions.

It is noticeable that although Brexit inspired a rash of political independence moves, none of the participants have yet sought to escape the clutches of involvement with the UN.

Ross Howard

Brexit and Trump might be an omen for Bougainville’s referendum on independence, given PNG’s political corruption.

Globalisation and culture wars were paramount issues in Trump’s victory.

Like Brexit, Trump was opposed by the wealthy, multinationals, media, and the political class. Yet he correctly predicted the vote would be Brexit all over again.

The old Republican Party is dead; the Democrats were nearly taken over by socialist Bernie Sanders; socialist Jeremy Corbyn took over Britain’s Labour Party; in the NSW Orange by-election, the National Party suffered the largest swing in history against it; Paul Keating has blasted the ALP for straying too far from the political centre; in Europe minority parties are on the rise. Why?

Brexit was essentially a vote against an elitist and dictatorial EU, whose power without accountability, threatened Britain’s democracy and long-held freedoms.

Notwithstanding Europe’s immigration and terrorist problems, Angela Merkel invites a million Muslims into the country without asking the German people.

In Orange, voters rebelled against a dictatorial government which was forcing council amalgamations against the wishes of the people, and which destroyed livelihoods by banning the greyhound racing industry.

In the US, the people revolted against the injustices of globalization pursued by both Democratic and Republican establishments.

China undervalues its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage, and currency manipulation has been blamed “more than any other subsidy” for destroying American manufacturing jobs.

On the cultural front, Clinton smeared Catholic beliefs as “backward”, and smeared Trump supporters as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic.”

The Democratic Party has adopted poisonous identity politics which creates divisions and which turn people against each other.

They lost the Rust Belt states because they abandoned blue collar whites in favour of identity politics. Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, even lamented that the San Bernardino gunman who murdered 14 people was not white.

That would have fitted the Left-wing narrative where “whiteness” is now synonymous with “evil”; where “Whiteness Studies” flourish in universities; annual White Privilege Conferences are held; white kids as young as six are taught they’re born racist and made to feel terrible, while “kids of colour” are taught to feel proud about their race.

Identity politics renders social life intolerable—where students wearing sombreros at a party are committing an “act of ethnic stereotyping” and where it’s considered inappropriate for white people to eat Pad Thai.

We see similar nonsense in Australia where cartoonists and students are hauled before the so-called Human Rights Commission. Ordinary people are starting to revolt against those who condone these injustices.

Arthur Williams

A good situation report, Chris.

Harry - Brexit saw 72% turnout in UK. That was the highest percentage turnout since 1992. Blair’s second election in 2001 saw it dip for the first time ever below 60% to 59%.
Incidentally Wales always has had higher percentage voting of the four UK regions in every election since WW2.

In USA the percentage of eligible voters (there have been a lot of gerrymandering rules, regulations there to disenfranchise voters) averages around a mere 60% where Obama’s first win in 2008 was last to reach over 60% (62%).

In his next win it was down to 58%.

The estimate for Trump-Clinton match is so far 57% with Michigan and New Hampshire not yet proclaimed.

Popular votes so far in 2016 are 126 million; more than the 123m of the 2012 election; less than the 131m of 2008.
Yet up from 122m of 2004.

As a sign of dissatisfaction with Clinton, I note also that the Independents polled 6.1 million votes almost 5% of votes cast, which is up three times on the 2012 presidential election figure.

It is here that Clinton seems to have lost it with votes for her Democrat Party at the lowest in the four elections this century.

Almost two million shied away from the email-phile lady while Trump’s Republicans increased their share by over a million almost beating the century’s recorded total for McCain.

The ayes have it. The ayes have it, so get back to your campuses in Portland etc.

Chris Overland

The link posted by Bernard leads to an excellent article on why Donald Trump has been elected as president. It is mercifully free of the self indulgent whinging that so many on the left have been indulging in over the past few days.

The issues raised in the article support my basic thesis, which is that we are witnessing the beginnings of a new version of The Great Game.

The first part of this process necessarily involves the end of globalisation, open borders and free trade agreements and a return to the nationalist and ethnocentric policy postures that typified the 19th century.

It seems unlikely that the so-called global elites can do anything to prevent this now.

The Brexit vote, Trump's election, the rise of right of centre nationalist regimes in a number of Eastern European countries and the recent sudden pivot of the Philippines towards creating an entente cordiale with China, all demonstrate that the supposed global consensus in favour of neo-liberal capitalism is crumbling fast.

Those who have most benefitted from globalisation have, whether knowingly or not, ridden on the back of an especially rapacious, exploitative, amoral and inequitable form of capitalism.

Thus, like Dr Frankenstein, despite having the noblest of motives, the apostles of globalisation have helped create an economic and socio-political monster that now threatens to consume them.

It remains to be seen if the monster destroys its creators or eventually can be mastered and brought to heel. Right now, I do not think anyone can predict the outcome.

PNG will, of course, be merely a bit player in the ensuing struggle, but it would be quite stupid for its government to fail to appreciate the looming risks that will confront it.

Setting up a 2016/17 budget based upon manipulated data, madly optimistic projections and straight out lies is not a good start.

Bernard Corden

The following link to Quadrant Online provides access to an interesting view on the Donald:



Ed Brumby

I neglected to acknowledge, Chris, that China remains an 'imperial' power: it simply exercises its power and influence, generally-speaking, in a more subtle and less combative manner than the likes of the USA. It's worth remembering, too, that the USA does not subscribe to the international law of the sea ...

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think that was the case with Brexit too Harry.

It would be interesting to know how many of the protesters who have taken to the streets after both events actually voted.

I imagine that if mandatory voting was abolished in Australia we could say goodbye to the Labor Party.

Harry Topham

According to a recent comment made on the ABC it seems that only 54% of eligible voters in the recent USA election cast their vote.

It would be curious to know what the outcome might been if the remaining 46% had bothered to vote.

So no sympathy here, when apathy prevails greed will always win

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm starting to experience Trump overload but it is still irresistible to speculate on his impact on the future of the world - dangerous years ahead indeed.

Geopolitics is a can of worms and it is a brave soul who dives into it.

That said, I think globalisation has been fascinating. We tend to think of it in economic terms and it is certainly that. By greedy manufacturers outsourcing production to cheap labour countries they created the rust belts in the USA (and Australia) that are now the gestation points for the outrage that has seen Trump and Co rise to prominence.

On the other hand the globalisation of people has generally been a good thing. It has resulted in the multiculturalism we have experienced in Australia, which has generally been a good thing. Unfortunately it will be collateral damage when the anti-globalisation cause comes to fruition.

I think what might happen in the Pacific is that governments will be subject to Greeks bearing gifts i.e. Trojan horses with nasty surprises inside.

I can't see many of the Pacific politicians being able to see this, they will be grabbing stuff left right and centre, like they are already doing.

And Abe in Japan, who is looking for an excuse to re-militarise, has been handed a reason on a plate by Trump.

Time to dig the bomb shelter in the backyard?

Chris Overland

In relation to Ed Brumby's comments on China, I agree that it has, in the past at least, preferred what Ed called a tributary approach to satisfy its imperial ambitions.

However, the plain fact is that it has now claimed effective sovereignty over virtually the whole of the South China Sea, ignoring the fact that this constitutes a clear breach of international law.

Also, it is rapidly building up a "blue water" navy to enable it to project its military power beyond its immediate borders. Parts of its navy, thinly disguised as a coast guard vessels, have been used to bully and harass its neighbours like Vietnam and the Philippines.

These actions are not those of a country intent on remaining a purely continental power.

When you combine this activity with its increasingly extensive commercial interests overseas, you see revealed all the essential historic hallmarks of burgeoning imperial power.

In consequence of these actions, I expect to see countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, accelerate their own rapid military build up and modernisation programs.

The newly elected Donald Trump will, if his deeds match his words, actively facilitate this.

History is replete with examples of how ambitious imperialistic powers consistently misjudge the motivations and responses of those they seek to dominate.

In particular, they invariably suffer from imperial "over reach", often with disastrous economic and military consequences.

This has been the trajectory of all imperial powers, including China's various dynastic regimes: rapid expansion followed by increasingly desperate attempts to consolidate the centre's hold on the periphery, followed by a succession of political, economic and military crises and, eventually, collapse.

Right now, China is in the ascendancy once more while the US is having something of an existential crisis which is mostly socio-economic in nature, although it has now discovered the limits of its military power too.

It is, I think, unwise to believe that China is, in some sense, a new type of rising power. It isn't an inherently benign force in the world. All great powers tend to act in the same manner, regardless of culture and tradition.

Ed Brumby

Another thoughtful piece, Chris: thank you.

At the risk of being tagged as a China apologist, I would suggest that China is motivated more by nationalism than racism and that it is no more 'expansionist' than any other nation.

Indeed, I would suggest that China is not and has not been expansionist in any territorial sense during the past thousand years, preferring the less invasive tributary means (rather than the more invasive colonisation approach) to assert its influence and power.

(Tibet and Xinjiang have long been acknowledged as being Chinese 'territory'.)

I also believe that the development of the new Silk Road - Xi Jinping's One Belt, One Road policy, and the attendant economic partnerships across Eurasia will do more to change the so-called 'balance of power' than anything that president-elect Trump and his cronies can even contemplate.

Barbara Short

Thanks Chris. A good attempt at describing what seems to be happening in the world today.

Recently the Japanese Ambassador to PNG was up in Wewak for some "turning of the soil", part of the Wewak airport runway extensions project.

I wrote this article on the Sepik Forum on Facebook to remind the locals about the recent history of this soil.

Wewak airstrip...

There is an interesting history to this place... PNG village land ... for thousands of years... on 3rd November 1884 Germany claimed it as part of their colony...... at some time after that the Germans established a huge copra plantation...... but World War I occurred 1914-1918 ... and the Germans lost and their German Colony was given to Australia to look after.... so some Australians came and took over the German plantation, ..... But then World War II came 1939-1945... the Australians could see the Japanese coming so they went back to Australia ...and the Japanese arrived in TPNG 1942. ... and they came to this place and started clearing the coconut palms to build an airstrip.... they would take off from here to go and bomb other parts of TPNG... so some Australians came and investigated what they were up to and told their bosses so the Americans came and bombed the airstrip and spoilt the plans of the Japanese.... and the Australians came and fought the Japanese and the Australians won and the war was declared over at Wom ... then the Australians came back and helped to rebuild the airstrip and sent in teachers (like me) and doctors and patrol officers etc and slowly the country was got ready for Independence ... so then the Australians left...... and now in 2016 the Japanese have come back to work on making the airstrip larger..... maybe their grandfather built it in the first place... heavens what will happen next???

I must add that the shops in the town of Wewak are now all run by new Chinese people from mainland China.The old Chinese, who used to run the shops have either moved to Australia or now run businesses in Port Moresby or Lae.

Also a Malaysian company, who was given a SABL 144C which has now been revoked, is still taking out timber from the Upper Sepik and bringing the logs down the Sepik River for export. The land owners of Turubu are now involved with working out what will become of the Turubu Oil palm scheme which is actually quite advanced.

Also many Sepik people from the Wewak area are now interested in getting to know the Indonesian people of Jayapura, a large city, not far along the coast. The Wewak town mayor has been organising for young Wewak boys and girls to be given a chance to go to Jayapura to be trained in technical skills.

The other day Chinese people from Taiwan came to visit the Sepik and had a great time in the lovely town market (built by the Japanese) admiring everything.

I could go on but you can certainly see the Great Game goes on in the Sepik! Heavens! what will happen next!

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