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Monthly Archives: September 2009
I was delighted to discover at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Dalian that the US Treasury representative in Beijing is called David Dollar. The Chinese suspicion that the World Bank is simply an instrument of American foreign policy might have been stoked by the fact that Mr Dollar’s previous job was country director for China at the Bank. Now he is back in Beijing, representing the US. And in Dalian, if he was ever in any doubt about his primary loyalty these days, he needed only to glance down at his name tag, and there it was – Dollar.
I’m sure there are lots of examples of people whose jobs and names coincide in this satisfying number. Ronald Reagan’s spokesman was called Larry Speakes. It was said that Reagan found it a useful reminder. What does Larry do again? Oh yes, now I remember.
Last week a Tibetan mastiff was flown into Xian airport in central China, where it received a welcome fit for an emperor. The dog was swept into town by a convoy of 30 Mercedes-Benz cars. Tibetan mastiffs are a rare and noble breed – and the pampered pooch had cost his new owners Rmb4m ($586,000, €402,000, £351,000). Reporting the story, the China Daily newspaper commented nervously that such an extravagant display of wealth might “heighten tension between rich and poor”.
This shaggy dog story is just a particularly weird example of the new wealth of modern China. When I last visited the Pudong district of Shanghai, in the mid-1990s, it was a ramshackle area of factories and warehouses. Last week, I found it transformed into a forest of neon-lit, modernist skyscrapers. China has shrugged off the global recession and should grow by 8 per cent in 2009.
Anybody following the US healthcare debate – and the statements of Sarah Palin on almost anything – might be forgiven for thinking that the Republican Party is now completely off its trolley. But there are still American conservatives providing a rational and sceptical view of the Obama administration. The Shadow Government web-site is a platform for Republican foreign-policy experts, who often have interesting things to say.
Republican scepticism is not only being focussed on the Obama administration. Will Inboden, a former official in the Bush National Security council, is now based in London. He recently took a look at Britain’s own shadow government – the Tories – who are probably just nine months away from government.
I just bumped into a Malaysian friend, here at the “Summer Davos” in Dalian, up on China’s north-east coast. “What are you doing here?” I asked – “Paying tribute”, he replied.
There is quite a lot of that, here in Dalian. Last night, Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, told us that the economy would grow at the politically-required 8% this year. With the US still reeling, the international business people and foreign politicians here are increasingly looking to China for trade and investment opportunities.
I got a strong sense of that at the session that I chaired on the “The global downturn and the developing world”. Before we got talking the organisers took a poll of the audience, asking them to say what part of the world they expected to do most to pull the world out of recession? There were 67 votes for “Greater China”, about 30 for non-Chinese Asia, five for the US, two for Europe. I felt like finding the two people who had voted for my home continent, and buying them both a drink.
I am sitting in Shanghai airport – and was about to file a glowing piece about the transformation of the city since my last visit in the mid-1990s. But it has just been announced that my flight to Dalian has been delayed, so my mood has darkened. And I have just read a report from a Chinese think tank, claiming that the country has lost 40m jobs since the onset of the Great Recession.
Over the next month or so, Obama is going to have to make a big decision about whether to commit more troops to Afghanistan. My guess is that, with a heavy heart, he will follow the advice of the military and “double down” – sending even more troops into Afghanistan.
But not only is the situation in Afghanistan itself looking increasingly unpromising. The domestic politics of the war have also shifted against Obama. His natural supporters among centre-left opinion formers are beginning to back away from the war. I thought it was significant that over the weekend, the New York Times’s two main foreign affairs columnists – Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristoff – both wrote highly sceptical columns about the war. Kristoff argues for fewer troops and a pull-back to the cities. Friedman is highly sceptical of the possibility of nation-building in Afghanistan and hints strongly that the US should pull back – although he won’t quite say it.
Gordon Brown has given a speech this afternoon defending Britain’s military mission in Afghanistan. Although the speech was scheduled before Eric Joyce, a junior defence minister, resigned over the war, there is no doubt that Brown is responding to a growing mood of disquiet about mounting violence and casualties and an unconvincing election.
The trouble is that that Brown doesn’t have much new to say. He makes the link to terrorism and claims that – “A safer Afghanistan means a safer Britain.” He talks about training up the Afghan army and he stresses that the war must be “won on the ground and not in the air”. (This, on a day, when it seems as if Nato may have killed a great many Afghan civilians in a bombing raid.)