The center right-populist Italian government has recently bowed to Chinese flattery, announcing it was ready to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will secure Rome and Beijing in a modern Silk Road. At the end of a long, slow road of decline and political confusion, Rome is in bad need of fresh investment to boost its impoverished economy. Italy, which in 1957 helped found the European Economic Community, still counts as one of the most important EU members and is turning its back on Brussels in hopes that distant Beijing can solve its problems.
This week’s Yonder post is a quick note on some of the facts that preceded the summit in Hanoi, which most of the mainstream media called a disaster. Here are a few points trying to explain why this is not necessarily the case. It is impossible to resolve a North Korean issue in a few hours and with only two presidential meetings. We may ask ourselves whether President Trump is the right person to undertake this endeavor, but this is another issue, considering the fact that the two dictators like each other.
“Is the pragmatic gene that we saw in Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and even at the beginning of the Hu Jintao, still alive in China,” asked Susan L. Shirk, a research professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, of the latest China Task Force Report. “Is Xi Jinping motivated and able to modify its policies to reduce the cost China is bearing because of the current backlash? Or, are this kind of overreaching policies–statist, mercantilists and aggressive foreign policies–hard-baked into the Chinese Marxist-Leninist Communist Party rule? Are the Chinese leaders still able to make the changes in a practical, pragmatic manner to reduce their own cost?”
I got myself a $70 haircut across the street at Immortal Beloved, where Michelle Obama used to get hers. As it should be, the men’s barber is in the basement, and at first, I did not like the place. Then my splendid wife, who occasionally uses the upper floor of the salon, told me to try them out. I went across the street and inside, but had to come back a couple of hours later, because in every uppity hair salon there is no such a thing as a walk-in. You’ve got to make an appointment.
My hairdresser was young. He didn’t talk much but, robust as he was, with a baseball hat, long black beard, army pants, he somehow did not fit the place. He said he’d wanted to do something more peaceful after being in Fallujah. We said a few more words, about his daughter, the divorce, how he gave all his money from the army to his daughter. He is clean now, learned this new job. It was the first time in my life that I almost fall asleep while seated for a haircut. It was unusually relaxing, practically moving. What miracles humankind can produce. He went to kill when he was 17, and now, as my wife told me, he cut my hair perfectly. Washington D.C. is a thrilling city.
So the hair was done. Then I put a new shirt on, a blazer and my favorite boots. I was ready. Finally, I went to clean our car a bit more. It was a ritual, my way of saying goodbye to Uber.
How long you must live, how strong your memory must be, to turn back and say, damn it, this world has really changed a lot. Look at the millennials, they seem to be better educated than the boomers, but they are sui generis in their thinking, seemingly inspired and shaped by memes rather than historical experience. The X generation that preceded the millennials was instead suffocated by the boomers, who hold their positions for too long, blocking the regular and continuous passage of power between the generations. Generation Y–the millennials–are equipped with technology and capable of multitasking, and have only recently started to make more decisive steps forward, penetrating the control rooms. The future of the world, therefore, seems dependant on the dialogue between them and technology.
We can all go to bed now. Or, as I wrote last week, we can turn our TV sets off. When it happens, we will hear it. People will talk about it. Perhaps even, on that particular day, we may go out to buy a newspaper. They will write about it. As in the old days, the headlines will read in cubical letters: “President Trump resigns,” and “ Congress Impeaches the President.” Maybe even, “Former President Trump took into custody.” The latter, of course, may only occur if Trump is impeached and stripped of the presidential immunities that protect him from criminal prosecution.
When, two weeks ago, 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi triumphantly lifted the gavel that empowers the new House majority to initiate the process of presidential impeachment, the Assembly exploded with joy. On the same day and the other side of the planet, the Chinese people were silently celebrating their conquering of the dark side of the Moon.
If you ever want to fly to America from Charles de Gaulle Airport, be sure that you are not landing in terminal 2F, as you might miss your flight, or even get arrested before reaching your point of departure, the Terminal 1. But if you are starting your journey towards the U.S. from Charles de Gaulle, then you should be safe. However, my humble advice is to avoid the French capital airport whenever possible.
My first encounter with China was, oddly, at the top of the Empire State Building. I was a young student, and climbing to the top of the Manhattan landmark was the last thing I did before returning home from my first visit to the U.S., where I now live. I was not particularly thrilled, but was happy that I did it; still, I never went back. Anyway, just as I was preparing to descend, the Empire State opened another horizon to me. I was standing in line for the elevator when a large group of Asian tourists joined the line next to me. I took notice, stepping from the line to watch them interacting. From the little I knew about China, the badges of Mao on their blue uniforms told me this group of people, wearing cotton shoes, some of them silently holding hands, came from the other side of the world. When the elevator arrived, something unexpected happened: the Chinese group refused to step into it. With extreme politeness, they invited the crowd standing behind them to step up and fill the elevator to its full capacity. After the door closed, the Chinese group retook the front position, now holding it firmly, waiting for a new elevator. I don’t remember if I asked them why on earth had they refused to get into the elevator, but the only explanation for what they did was that they did not want to split the group; they wanted to wait until there was enough space for all of them in the elevator. They wanted to travel together.
I loved Amazon when it first appeared. It was the nineties, and I was living in Italy and then China, two countries that are strongly monolingual and therefore have a scarce number of foreign language bookstores. Rome for instance, with three and a half million inhabitants at the time, had a couple of English bookstores and one French, with a modest selection. Foreign books were rare and expensive objects; Italy, to protect its cultural heritage, had a high tax on them despite promoting the translation of texts into Italian, and dubbing all foreign movies. Besides being expensive, ordering different books from bookshops came by unpredictable mail service, labyrinthine customs control and, therefore, extended delivery delays. All this, of course, was before the existence of the world wide web and the installment of the common continental currency, the Euro. When those shifts occurred, the obstacles evaporated almost immediately.