April 30 - May 5
Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for April 30 - May 5!
A series of high-level meetings between the US and China was derailed by the arrival of Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese dissident, at a US embassy following a dramatic escape from house arrest. After several days of frantic negotiation, the US and China came to an agreement that met Mr. Chen’s criteria, including his desire to stay in China: he and his family would move to a different part of China, and he would be allowed to study law at a university. Upon leaving the embassy and meeting with friends and family, Mr Chen changed his mind and plead with the US to take him back in and allow him to temporarily come to the US. After further negotiations, the US and China announced Mr. Chen would be allowed to come to the US to study law at NYU.
Originally, Chen wanted to stay in China to continue his work - the Chinese government has a history of letting dissidents travel abroad and then refusing them re-entry, effectively shutting them out of the country. That’s likely what will happen now: Chen’s new agreement allows for him to go to NYU, but it doesn’t say much about him coming back.
Both sides wanted this matter off the table. The US and China have a solid working relationship, one whose importance is only growing as China rises. Neither country wanted the high level talks derailed by one person’s case, as evidenced by the speed and flexibility with which the groups negotiated - and the concessions made by the Chinese along the way. Human rights are a point of conflict between the US and China, but they’re one part of a wide and complex relationship.
President Obama signed the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, laying out the terms for US/Afghan relations for the next decade. Arriving in secret, Obama stayed in Afghanistan for six hours before leaving. Hours after he departed, the Taliban attacked a compound in the capital, killing 7.
Obama spoke of the coming dawn in Afghanistan, but a look at the conditions under which he arrived and departed from the country say more than his speech about Afghanistan in 2012.
Bloomberg has an excellent read on the trip to and from Afghanistan. The level of secrecy and precaution required to fly the president into the capital of the country doesn’t speak of a country on the mend.
Forces loyal to the former president attempted a counter- coup this week, but after several days of fighting, their efforts seemed to fail. The countercoup was led by the former president’s Presidential Guard; the military junta says the guard took up arms after the junta attempted to negotiate peace with the group, while other reports said the junta had attempted to arrest the head of the guard.
ECOWAS has attempted to negotiate a 12-month timeline for Mali to transition back to civilian government, but the military junta has not agreed to this yet. Early in the week, Captain Sanogo, head of the junta, spoke about the future of Mali, hinting at the junta’s continued role in Malian politics. Despite promises to the contrary and a string of failures in the north, the coup leaders seem intent on retaining power. In light of this, ECOWAS’s 12-month timetable for a transition seems both overly generous and overly optimistic: in two months, this group of mid-level soldiers have gone from promising a swift transition to civilian rule after giving up half the country to rebels in the north to hinting of their central role in Mali’s future.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took the oath of office unaltered and joined the Burmese Parliament, dropping their earlier objection to some of the wording of the oath.
This was the right move. Burma has made incredible strides in the last year, but it’s still not a completely free country. The NLD has waited 20 years for a chance to actually join Parliament; passing it up over a matter of semantics had almost zero upside.
The good news from Burma continues.
François Hollande defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in this week’s presidential elections, largely seen as a referendum on the EU’s austerity measures. Hollande said he will continue to balance France’s budget, but will focus on raising taxes to do so, and will press for more growth-promoting measures in the EuroZone.
Greece’s Parliamentary elections raised more questions than it answered, with the two main parties dropping from controlling a combined 78% of the parliamentary seats down to 34%, far shy of the needed majority to form a government. A coalition of far left parties won 16% of the vote, while a far-right neo-nazi party took nearly 7% of the vote, enough to secure 21 seats in parliament. If a coalition government cannot be formed within three days, new elections will be called.
The Greeks have been at the vanguard of the Euro crisis from the beginning. These elections are as pure an expression of electoral anger as you’re likely to see. The Greeks are furious about the bailout package and the austerity measures, and increasingly about the entire Eurozone - no wonder, at 20% unemployment and an economy that’s contracted 20% over 3 years - and that fury was evident in a complete breakdown of Greek politics. France’s vote was no less a protest vote. The French economy hasn’t fallen as much as Greece’s, but the French are feeling the effects of the Eurozone’s austerity measures as well.
The recent successes of Far-Right parties in the Eurozone elections is concerning. My sense is that the fundamental factor driving their current growth is high unemployment, but the danger is that any group that gets power brings its entire agenda with it, not just the parts that may have appealed to desperate or angry voters.
Thanks for joining me, and my best for the week ahead!