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Ian Williams: Taiwan and the Georgia Precedent

Ian WilliamsAugust was a strange month, and there were times when one felt that it could have been a Sarajevo moment (1914 style), or even a Cuban crisis. There is an almost Newtonian law of diplomacy about the resulting release of belligerent energy when two roughly equal masses of foresightlessness collide. Neither side emerges with much credit from the Ossetia debacle, whether the issue was controlling unruly surrogates, or delivering an effective solution afterwards. In this case, however, the George W. Bush White House unusually played the role of Khrushchev, and backed down in the face of a clearly irrational opponent. But even that commendable forbearance has unintended consequences across the globe, in particular, with China and Taiwan. In the short term, Moscow tweaked the Eagle’s feather, and got away with it because, for once, this White House appreciated its own limitations. Moscow certainly weakened U.S. military prestige even as it enhanced its battered reputation for sanity, but it was a hollow triumph, reminiscent of the Russian tank column that raced to Pristina Airport in Kosovo and cocked a snook at General Rupert Smith and NATO—but then, sheepishly, had to get fuel and food from NATO since all Russia’s former allies refused over-flight permission for reinforcement. Clearly, that memory still rankles in Moscow, and can only hope that the little brief authority that Russia’s raid into Georgia gave its generals will overcome their chronic Kosovo syndrome. However, it was dearly bought therapy, which has compounded Russian isolation. It delivered support in Prague, Warsaw, and Kiev for NATO, missiles, and bases that a month ago looked like unjustifiable provocation but which the Russian action has now made seem eminently sensible. Indeed, apart from the effect on its neighbors, one cannot but help wonder at the long-term effect on the Russian Federation itself—Chechnya and Tartarstan being but some of many potentially fissiparous components. How long before Israel recognizes the independence of the Birobidzhan “Jewish Autonomous Region” in Russia’s far eastern provinces?

Shaun Randol: China Cracks the Door

MacBain On August 8, China will fling open its doors to the world’s finest athletes and welcome, for the first time, a global Olympic audience. Yet, while the world’s attention is distracted by the glint of gold medals in Beijing, Chinese officials are doing whatever it takes to ensure that only the high polish of the Olympic spectacle makes it out through tightly controlled (i.e. censored) television, print, and online media. In light of the recent protests in Tibet, a catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan Province, bus bombings in Kunming and Shanghai, and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang Province, Chinese officials are determined to build a façade of control—and cohesive national pride—lest unsightly and embarrassing political demonstrations be broadcast around the world. From banning select foreign entertainers to jailing Beijing dissidents, liberties are systematically being curtailed in what was once hoped to be China’s great coming out party. To their credit, in expectation of public protests of one kind or another, officials have set aside three city parks in Beijing where demonstrators can air their grievances—a highly unusual gesture from the authoritarian government. There is a catch, of course. “The police will safeguard the right to demonstrate as long as protesters have obtained prior approval and are in accordance with the law,” said Liu Shaowu, director of Olympics security, during a news conference. According to the law, citizens (it is unclear how internationals figure into this mix) must apply for a permit, in person, five days in advance of the scheduled protest. The application requires detailed information, including the topic of dissent, slogans to be used, and the expected number of demonstrators. Moreover, protests that are disruptive of “national unity,” “social stability,” security, or that advocate for ethnic minority separatism (read: Tibet, Xinjiang) will not be approved. Despite the obstacles, could we see some action in the parks? Quoted in the New York Times, human rights lawyer and advocate Xu Zhiyong said, “As a first step toward opening up space for dissent, it is appropriate.... There should be many people who are willing to use this space, petitioners and people who have experienced injustice.” It will take a clever protest application, however, or outright subversive action, to hold a demonstration that does not violate the government’s tightly scripted rules. Protesting on issues such as pollution, political prisoners, religious freedom (Falun Gong), Tibet, Xingjian, shoddy construction of schools in Sichuan’s earthquake zone, democracy, freedom of speech in general, corruption, land rights, and other issues will, in all likelihood, be denied their moment in Beijing.

David A. Andelman: Swiss Bear Arms...At a Medieval Wedding

Davis Andelman, EditorFRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND—This weekend, Cyrill and Maureen got married. It was a three-day affair, with medieval theme, each of the more than 400 guests wearing medieval garb, eating and drinking and carousing much as Swiss knights and their ladies (with a few monks and William Tells thrown in) might have done seven or eight centuries ago. But the ceremony and all that surrounded it was much more than that—a tribute to how far Switzerland and China, indeed Europe and Asia, have come in the days since Marco Polo first returned from the Orient in the year 1295 and brought back word of a mighty and mysterious kingdom on the other side of the world. Cyrill Eltschinger, it seems, is Swiss to the tips of his gauntlets, while Maureen Yeo is Chinese—tracing her lineage back five centuries or more. Cyrill and I first met last year after our books, Cyrill’s Source Code China: The New Global Hub of IT (Information Technology) Outsourcing and my own, A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today were both published, two weeks apart, by Wiley, and we were invited to speak at the Outource World convention at New York’s Javits Center. I was then at Forbes, and Cyrill was and remains CEO of IT United, one of the leading information technology companies in China, and is based in Beijing where he first met Maureen three years ago. Some months after Cyrill and I had met at the Javits Center, having moved to World Policy Journal as editor, I received an e-mailed invitation to come to Fribourg and Neuchatel in June for their wedding. The only catch? We had to come garbed. Chain mail and a Swiss cavalier’s cap for me, two elegant gowns for my lady (aka wife Pamela). Fribourg itself, beyond being the hometown of Cyrill, was a totally appropriate spot for this unusual ceremony. It is a bilingual city divided down the middle by an invisible, but quite real line—the northern half lies in the German-speaking portion of Switzerland, the southern half in the French portion. France and Germany united again in the heart of Europe.



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