In the world of foreign policy analysis, it is a good sign that people do not know what they are talking about when the country discussed is described as either effortlessly ascending to global dominance or is doomed to cataclysmic failure. While these two options are certainly possible, together they account for less than one percent of the outcomes reached throughout history, ignoring the other 99 percent of the possibilities. What such schizophrenic analysis really highlights is a lack of understanding of the country and culture studied, as only in this case is such snake oil–as represented by the effortless dominance or cataclysmic failure narratives—able to be peddled.
Regarding China, while the effortless dominance sect made the early running, lately it is the declinists who have set the analytical pace. Amazingly, some of the China is doomed crowd have made a lucrative living–each week peddling the same old catastrophe without it ever coming true–yet incredibly their lack of analytical success never affects their standing. A variation of this trend has recently reared it head, with fearful European analysts-desperate to change the subject from the absolute decline of the continent—eagerly noting that all is not perfect with the world’s rising great power. Frankly, this says far more about their panicky, dawning realization that Europe is at an end than it has anything to do with an objective analysis of what Beijing’s strengths and weaknesses truly are. Continue reading
High-ranking EU officials often receive compliments that most of us would take as insults. When Herman van Rompuy was appointed President of the European Council, it was widely agreed that it was his dull and inoffensive demeanour that made him the right man for the job. What the European Council needed, it was felt, was a man with no ego, someone who could equitably take the punches thrown by national leaders that do have strong personalities. Van Rompuy, the colourless technocrat whose only distinguishing feature is his steady production of haikus, was that man.
In the same vein, Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is currently being tepidly praised for the low-key, unassuming way in which she is handling the crisis in Egypt. Commentators for CNN and the British newspaper The Independent positively remarked on her modest diplomatic style, which, so they said, allowed her to stay in touch with all the factions that are involved in the rapid unravelling of the country whose revolution sparked so much hope for a more democratic future. And indeed, Lady Ashton, incapable of impressing or intimidating anyone, was the only outsider who got to talk to former President Mohamed Morsi after he was ousted by a military coup in early July. But her reputation for modesty is deceiving and unfounded. For underneath her colourless demeanour lies a deep-seated arrogance. Continue reading
Prime Minister Cameron is right; there is no point in being subtle. This week he will arrive in Beijing for a three day visit—accompanied by an army of 100 British business leaders–in an effort to strengthen trade links with the world’s fastest-growing Great Power. So important is the prize of enhancing economic ties with a country whose ‘slower’ growth rate is an unimaginable (to western ears) 7.5%, Cameron is right to pull out all the stops.
But beyond the lure of sharing in China’s untold riches, a lot goes on there that is simply just not understood. With the ponderously named Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee Meeting now in the books, the fog is lifting. For the first time, the Party explicitly calls for capitalism to play the ‘decisive’ role in China’s economy; in practice this seems to mean letting the market determine interest rates, and gradually making China’s currency, the yuan, fully convertible, both huge steps in further opening the economy. In addition, the criminally stupid One Child Policy will be relaxed. Given the myriad recent examples of western governments unable to address their most basic problems, Xi’s reform program has much to recommend it. Continue reading