Everyone seems to be talking about France this weekend.
Christopher Caldwell, in the FT this weekend, discusses how French Socialist Segolene Royal is dangerously courting populist opinion (subscribers only).
In the Economist, meanwhile, this week’s survey is about France’s decline; Sophie Pedder, the survey’s author, argues, as I did yesterday, that political will is the key to reversing the country’s decline.
…This survey will argue that French decline is not inevitable, any more than British decline was inevitable in the 1970s. There is nothing that necessarily predisposes the French to conservatism or resistance to change. Just because political leaders in the past have failed to push through bold reforms—Mr Chirac himself, in 1986-88; Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, in 1995—does not mean that the country is unreformable. The unruly French do not make the task easy, but winning them over is a question of political leadership—the courage to level with voters and tell them why things need to change.
The question is who will be France’s Junichiro Koizumi, a leader who vows to destroy a failed system and replace it with a new one for the sake of the long-term benefit of the nation, whatever the consequences to his (or her) political career.
So look east, France, because Japan is at the forefront of the latest wave of the transition from industrial to post-industrial societies. Vive le Koizumisme!
Returning to matters Asian, Richard Lloyd Parry, Times (of London) correspondent in Tokyo, provides an account on his blog of apparently busting the new sanctions on North Korea after returning to Japan from a trip to the DPRK. His amusing anecdote serves as a useful means for showing how little the new UN sanctions regime will impact North Korea, and that unless China opts to crush Kim, the US and Japan are out of luck. The key paragraphs:
Put at its most simple: the US and Japan (perhaps Britain and France too, although they don’t give the impression of caring very deeply) regard Kim Jong Il as a poisonous, evil dwarf and want him to fall from power as soon as possible. China, Russia and South Korea regard him as an appalling necessity, preferable – for the time being – to the chaotic alternative. They have shaken their heads and tut-tutted and exhaled. But only China has the power to bring down Kim Jong Il (by literally turning off the oil tap). And it will never do this.
We may not like Kim Jong Il. We may, like George Bush, “loathe” him. But that’s the easy bit (no prizes these days for harbouring ill feeling towards murderous dictators). The difficult bit is learning to accept (as the infant accepts as it emerges from infancy to childhood) that merely wanting something very much does not make it come to pass. Kim Jong Il is here. He won’t go away because we detest him. There’s nothing practical we can do to dislodge him. We must therefore live with him, for the time being, and either accept his expanding nuclear arsenal, or do what the the Chinese, the Russians and the South Koreans advise us to do – talk to him.
Depressing, perhaps, but I think Parry’s on target. The alternative is constructing a new containment regime that isn’t really mutually assured destruction — because in a showdown between North Korea and the US and its allies, only one country would be destroyed (and I’m sure you can guess which country that would be). So if the US can ensure that Kim maintains control of his nuclear material, all involved can get on with things and wait for the day to come when the KFR finally collapses and China establishes a regime that it can instruct in the ways of the Beijing Consensus.
Meanwhile, I’ve been in Japan two weeks today — it feels like a lot longer than that. And to celebrate two weeks in Japan, today is cleaning day! The students are spending the afternoon cleaning the entire campus, and we floor masters get to help. Huzzah?