Monday, November 9, 2015


Two important meetings were supposed to reset very crucial bilateral relations.  In Singapore, the Chinese President Xi Jinping met the President of Taiwan Ma Yingjeou.  In Washington, President Obama met with the Israeli P.M. Binjamin Netanjahu.  The two encounters are remarkable insofar as the expected difficult one looked easy and that the presumed easy one looked constrained.

President Ma and the Kuomintang strive for a modus vivendi with the mainland while his opponent in the upcoming elections, Tsai Ing-Wen and the Democratic Progressive Party oppose any unconditional rapprochement.  Ma represents the Old China link and the conceptual heritage of a party which was founded in China in 1912, claiming the heritage of Sun Yat-Sen.   A lot has changed since the two Strait crises in 1954 and 1958. The president's party (DPK)  initiated a detente with the mainland, and today the linkage between the two looks irreversible. Nevertheless, the DPP prefers distance over pliancy. The independence movement is a force to be reckoned with but has no chance.  Besides, it would be a casus belli for the Chinese.  Nothing will change after the elections, fortunately.  I was always surprised at hearing how far the Chinese side was willing to go in accommodating Taiwan if it were to return to the "Motherland".  The Hong Kong precedent need not apply, however Beijing will never tolerate any form of "independence".  The meeting went well and fits into Beijing's recent good neighbor policies, as seen during Xi's official visit to Vietnam.

The meeting between the US President and the Israeli P.M. was more subdued despite the exchange of handshakes and expected positive banalities. Netanjahu came with "baggage" and President Obama came with "history".  At least both looked willing  to overcome their mutual distrust.  Fortunately so, because, paradoxically, US allies in the region were alarmed by the rift between "natural-born partners".   If the cold shoulder had not been mended to a point, the Gulf States and the Saudis might well have given up on America's support. The former is already damaged since the Iran nuclear deal and Washington's erratic behavior in the region. The marriage is not sailing but the counselling had some effect. The Palestinians must now come aboard fast and stress legitimate claims rather than repeating grievances which will lead them nowhere. 

The two encounters were a contrast of sorts between (Chinese) creativity and (Western) stubbornness. Too often the West looks lost in a kind of intellectual lock-down, on the defensive when more creative terms are needed. When one looks at the sorry spectacle of the EU or the American presidentials, one is tempted almost to think that Toynbee and Gibbons were right. Believing has become an uphill battle. Giving up cannot be allowed to become an alternative.

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