Media reports treated a recent poll of Iraqis, commissioned by the BBC, ABC News and others, as the population's definitive word on the war. "Iraqis happier without Saddam" trumpeted headlines, in response to the claim that 57 percent think life is better now than it was before the war. The poll of 2,737 Iraqis was carried out in February by Oxford Research International (ORI), which describes it as "a national survey" and "representative." \nUS President George W. Bush's official blog gave it an approving nod: "Thanks to the bravery of our troops, and the principled, consistent leadership of our president, we are leaving Iraq better than we found it." \nBut how representative of Iraqi views is it? Western companies have conducted polls, but their findings are unconvincing. In October Zogby International and the American Enterprise magazine said they had conducted "the first scientific poll of the Iraqi public." Yet their sample was small: 600 Iraqis in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Ramadi. \nPolling in any post-war setting is difficult, and there are additional problems in Iraq. The UN says there is "a dearth of demographic information about Iraq's population over the past several decades." As a consequence of Baath party secrecy, questions remain about the distribution of ethnic and religious groups and social classes. Iain Murray, a statistician based in Washington, says that for a poll to be representative, "matching the sample to the country's demography is absolutely key. Otherwise, you simply cannot be sure that you are not weighting the sample unconsciously towards or away from any section of society." \nSo how did ORI weight its sample for class and religion, to achieve results that, according to the BBC, "reflected Iraq's distribution of population, balance between men and women, and religious and ethnic mix"? It didn't. Director Christoph Sahm said it was weighted by governorate (Iraq's 18 regions), by distribution between urban and rural areas, and by age. So there was no weighting by social factors? "How would you do that?" he says. \n"How would you know what the breakdown is? No one knows," he said. \nDoesn't this present a problem for pollsters -- that "no one knows" the basic facts about the make-up of the Iraqi population? In ORI's poll, 44 percent identified themselves as Sunni Muslim and 33 percent as Shia -- yet, according to other accounts, Sunnis are a minority and Shias a majority. Sahm says this disparity is not a result of unconscious weighting, but of "prestige bias" by Iraqis. "In Saddam's Iraq, Sunni was seen as more prestigious than Shia." \nIf a large number of respondents answered questions about religion according to what was "prestigious," perhaps they answered others according to what was previously expected -- that you should give a positive appraisal of the powers-that-be. Sahm says the poll was representative because it was "entirely random" and that every resident aged 15 or over had an equal chance of being selected. \nWorking from the 1997 census and, where possible, from UN data, ORI targeted administrative units in descending order of size, and allocated interviews in each unit proportionate to population size. \nOn the ground, households were targeted by "random route, random interval procedures." \nYet such polls require good demographic material from which to select -- ideally a census. The 1997 census is widely viewed as being of poor quality and covered only 15 of Iraq's 18 governorates, excluding those that had become autonomous Kurdish territory in 1991; it was conducted during the era of sanctions; and seems to have been a bit of a rush job. \nIt remains questionable whether you can conduct a representative poll in a country that lacks demographic data and where instability is rife. ORI's poll does not cover all aspects of postwar Iraq. It asks whether Iraqis have had an encounter with coalition forces, and when they think they should leave, but it does not ask about their day-to-day experience or political view of the occupation. Sahm says "there was no room for that," and some media groups that commissioned the poll "did not want a question about the occupation." \nMany of the media reports about "happy Iraqis" focused on question two, which asked: "Compared to a year ago, I mean before the war in spring 2003, [how] are things overall in your life?": 21.9 percent said "much better now," 34.6 percent said "somewhat better," 23.3 percent said "about the same," 12.7 percent said "somewhat worse," and 5.9 percent said "much worse." This is where the headline figure of 57 percent comes from -- those who reportedly think Iraq is a better place. \nYet on the specifics, Iraqis appear less optimistic: when asked about their neighborhoods, 68.6 percent think the availability of jobs is bad, compared with 25.6 percent who think it is good, 64.4 percent think the supply of electricity is bad, while 34.9 percent think it is good, 50.1 percent think the security situation is bad, compared with 48.9 percent who think it is good. A majority believe public provision has at best remained the same, or got worse; only on security and crime do most think there has been an improvement. \nThe poll also fails to take into account the UN's lifting of sanctions in May. These restricted access to food, medicine and basic materials. Perhaps it was the end of sanctions, more than the end of former president Saddam Hussein, that improved Iraqis' "day-to-day lives." \nSome poll findings were ignored. Asked which Iraqi leader they "do not trust at all," 10.3 percent said Ahmed Chalabi, compared with only 3.3 percent for Saddam. A large majority, 62 percent, think that "dealing with members of the previous government" should be "no priority at all." But will the coalition cancel plans for war crimes trials? This poll does not show that "the Iraqi people have spoken," but that many westerners continue to speak on their behalf. \nBrendan O'Neill is assistant editor of Spiked.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday last week met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at an APEC summit in Thailand. The meeting made front-page news in Japan the following day. Three years ago, when then-Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Beijing to meet with Xi, no one questioned Abe’s attitude toward China, as the conservative parties in Japan had been spearheaded by Abe. However, Kishida could easily be labeled as pro-China, as he hails from Hiroshima — a place known for its anti-war, anti-nuclear movements — and was once the director of the Japan-China Friendship Association of Hiroshima.
It is quite the irony when former British prime minister Boris Johnson — a buffoon who for far too long was taken seriously — is branded a buffoon for saying something deadly serious. Following Johnson’s withering criticism of China at a business forum in Singapore on Wednesday last week, the event’s organizer, Michael Bloomberg, apologized to attendees, saying that Johnson was “trying to be amusing rather than informative and serious.” However, Johnson’s characterization of China as a “coercive autocracy” that had showed “a candid disregard for the rule of international law” was spot-on. His comments evoked the wisdom of the Austrian-British philosopher
Although internal Chinese politics are largely defined by meticulously concocted mysteries, it is an open secret that the battle for who will ascend to the highest echelons of Zhongnanhai is decided at the Beidaihe resort. It is where factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) engage in horse-trading over leadership selection and delegate appointments long before the party’s national congress. What unfolded at last month’s 20th National Congress was predetermined at the Beidaihe gathering in August. In this context, the CCP, and particularly Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平), used the event to project power and party unity.
There has been a surge of global interest in Taiwan’s security in recent years. Amidst the noise, it can be easy to lose sight of broader trends that are shaping the environment within which Taiwan operates. Taking a broader view can bring into focus what tasks are most important for Taiwan to protect its democratic way of life. At the global level, several trends are unfolding in parallel. First, great power competition is intensifying. Russia is employing violence to seek to redraw boundaries. China is advancing its ambitions by operating below the threshold of conflict. China-Russia relations are unnaturally close by