Tuesday, November 18, 2014


President Obama has returned home to the "usual" after completing an "unusual" journey in Asia.  Nothing mind-boggling was achieved but some "markers" were politely confirmed.
Contrary to what happens with the US/Russia rift, the opposites attracted, while no one had spare room for illusions.  The added value of the Sino/US relationship is that it is rooted in an uplifting, self-conscious moment, wherein China reclaims its past.  On the contrary, Russia meanwhile is burdened by its recent past and resentment is overtaking any other consideration.

The agreements between Beijing and Washington do not eradicate the lingering tensions regarding America's posture as an Asian power, which collides with China on the seas, on land, in finance, intellectual property, human rights and in cyberspace. Over time the United States has been able to contain China behind an iron wall of "friendly" allies and a sea power without equal. The Chinese are pushing hard to transform the South China Sea into a Mare nostrum. This shadow battle is not without risks and miscalculation and accidents can occur. The two rivals seem to be conscious of the danger and act accordingly.

Washington gives the impression to understand Xi Jinping's more historical "references." The
shadow of the Middle Kingdom looms larger than Mao's achievements.  Like his predecessors, Xi follows also an equally cautious path.  He is not going to invade ASEAN countries or force Taiwan into submission. The troubles in Xinjiang or Gansu, the unavoidable post-Dalai Lama times, unresolved border disputes (mostly with India) will require a space for maneuver which shouldn't be overcharged with other contentions.  Xi already has respect, while Putin has lost most of his credit.  Xi is no threat for his neighbors, Putin is. Xi can compete with the United States on all fronts, Putin is reduced to desperado or blackmail tactics.

The November 15th Economist issue gives in its special report on the Pacific Rim a brilliant apercu of the Chinese order. The writing is compelling, the story is breathtaking.
Having served in China 10 years ago I can only add that the diplomats in their right mind saw it coming. The Chinese diplomatic service was already a laboratory of ideas and sophisticated analysis. Intellectual life was monitored but nevertheless awesome.

The pollution continues to rule almost unabated and one must hope that China will join the Trans Pacific Partnership instead of being shunned. Membership to the TPP can lead to a burden-sharing of the considerable cost of pollution which plagues China but also originates in other Asian countries. Climate change, water distribution (the Mekong delta which might end up being hijacked by China), and trade require a cooperation which is in the interest of all and directed against none.

The Chinese leaders are realists. When they feel "resistance," they adjust. They have no other choice since they are themselves bound by a pact with their citizens who accept mortgaging their political ambition for a tangible exponential increase of wealth. This Faustian arrangement is a shaky one in the long run, however. When basic needs are satisfied one climbs the ladder to reach for more democratic reforms. 

China does not suffer from a cultural coma as most Arab states do, paralyzed by a religion gone amok. In the clash of civilizations, the West and China (and a contrite Russia) are on the same page.  Xi Jinping looks more and more like a partner, but I am confident that he carries Sun Tzu in his pocket.

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