Spotlight on Geopolitics

During President Obama’s 10-day tour of Asia, he found it opportune to use the State Department’s latest sound-bite, “democracies vs. authoritarian states”. To be sure, premier Singh, an economist, knows why the size of the Chinese economy is four times that of India’s. Alas, democracy is not a contributing factor. After all, the Asian tigers – Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea – achieved their economic success under one-party or military dictatorship rule. Even Japan, for that matter, was effectively run as a one-party state until last year’s elections.

In foreign policy matters, president Obama seems to need the coaching of an experienced French statesman. And what better choice is there than Alain Juppé, conservative to boot, former premier under Jacques Chirac and, as of yesterday, the second most important minister after François Fillon ? As it happens, he too is fresh from a visit to China. I have selected and translated a few passages from his blog that might prove enlightening not only to the American president, but to his “elephant-outside-china-shop” state secretary.

  • On the difference between democracies and authoritarian regimes in developing countries, with respect to getting things done:

“The most spectacular [difference] is the construction speed. [In China] it takes five or six years between the decision to build a 1,000-km very fast train link and its inauguration; back home we need double the amount of time…for building a rail link one third as long.”

  • On the public’s perception about the economic prospects facing our children, in China and in Europe:

“[At the Shanghai Exhibition,] on a giant screen a short film is played about the story of successive generations of Chinese people since the 1949 revolution: from the great-grandfather from the countryside to the city-dweller who studies at university, an amazing wave of pride and self-confidence sweeps over the audience. In France, several opinion polls reveal the overwhelming belief of today’s adults that their children will be worse off than themselves.”

And here is Juppé’s assessment of the threat to the world posed by a rapidly-rising China:

“Do we need to be scared ? That, to my mind, would be a strategic error.[…] We have to bet on a close and trusting partnership with China.”

The current trend to make China the West’s “next whipping boy” after initially encouraging its economic development diminishes both the United States and all the politicians involved in this, left- or right-wing. There is one thing Alain Juppé forgot to mention in his blog post, although I’m sure he knows it too well : Chinese people have a long memory and therefore are not likely to forget unjustified or unfair jibes against their country. Bad for business…

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