Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The American president-elect likes to return to the "big stick" when he talks about China, accused of all evils under the sun.  Strangely enough, he prefers to give human rights a pass. Gordon Chang, who figures with Judge Napolitano and other usual suspects in the Fox/Madame Tussuad Wax Museum, is now again allowed to refer to his non-prophetic book (The Coming Collapse of China). Since its publication in 2001, no day passes since China, under "communist" rule, is advancing at a speed which should leave Mr. Chang mute. However, he continues lying because his, and other narratives, fit into the" false news" wave, dear to the Right.

Indeed China is cementing the South China Sea; It doesn't come close to finding an agreement with Japan over the disputed Diaoyutais ;it will not weaver from the 1972 Shanghai Communique between the US and China (One China policy). The president-elect's phone conversation with the P.M. of Taiwan is seen by Beijing as immature and uninformed. Everybody with some experience of China knows how faux pas can be frowned upon. One might like them or not, but the Chinese have their rules and their ways.  Besides, they know too well that they are America's lender of last resort. They will increase even further their influence in Asia after the probable TPP collapse.  This century will be Asian and its leading powerhouse will be China. It becomes abundantly clear that one is confronted daily with a stratum of strength which creates a widening gap with the prevarication of others. 

Paradoxically maybe, the Chinese are very good followers of Dr. Kissinger's strategic projections. They have become more adept, while the United States fell betwixt and between.  Obama's pivot to Asia is being hollowed by lobbies and the blatant ignorance of American lawmakers, to the chagrin of ASEAN countries which start to distrust Washington's quandaries. Just as what is happening in Europe with the Baltic States, the ASEAN countries doubt American resolve. President Obama's caution, and now Trump's unpredictability, have shaken the core of former trust. Ambivalence rules and the economic interdependence between the US and China tilts for now in favor of the former.

One should beware of generalization.  China has always impressed (Voltaire, Lord MacCartney, Napoleon) and South East Asia has always mesmerized and seduced.  Both entities distrust one another but both feel--in wicked or real terms --superior to the West, which retained from the encounter with the East a story line for operas, literature, the arts, without consideration for the sensibilities. These were good enough to feed fantasy but not taken seriously enough to be considered of equal, if not superior value.

Trump's first strange moves should not be magnified. Unfortunately, since Europe is a mostly irrelevant partner, only China and Russia have the upper hand.   The United States play "defense".  They consider themselves a Pacific power but to continue to be seen as such they have to retool their policy.Besides China, there is no place on earth where shrewd perspective, historical resentment and blatant cynical appropriation play such a major role. Before entering the game, one had better be familiar with the rules thereof.  Russia is not that great but comes in handy.   Kissinger's America could play on the Chinese need for face. But now the roles are almost reversed. America needs to save face not by bluster and bluff but by a multi-layered set of interests, consideration and the right mix of hard- and soft-power.  The South China Sea quarrel is a bad one. There are too many historical and recent pros and contras which actually play into China's hands. The Nationalist troops occupied some of the Paracels after WWII.  Other claimants such as Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei (!), Malaysia fall behind the geo-political Chinese fait accompli. The security of vital shipping lanes must be guaranteed now and a multilateral agreement between all parties might still alleviate tensions (which are more about gas, oil and other resources than about legitimacy).

The new US administration sounds eager to switch gears on a lot of standing issues.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as professionalism prevails.  So far, one only sees a group of people who play the role of a Greek chorus in some obscure play wherein the main protagonist receives applause for his daily or hourly swirls, whatever their value--proven or not--might be.  In this world, words do count and the future looks bumpy as a result.

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