Hong Kong resists. Nieves C. Pérez Rodríguez

Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona

Washington.- The Hong Kong society has deep-rooted democratic principles that are proven by the struggle they have waged in recent days and their willingness to continue to fight to maintain the freedom they have enjoyed in recent years, which has allowed them to enjoy  welfare and development outside the control imposed by the Chinese Communist Party.

The United States’ relationship with Hong Kong has been preferential due to a law passed in 1992 that allowed the US government to treat Hong Kong as a different entity from mainland China regarding trade and immigration issues after it was delivered to China in 1997, which administers the territory under the principle of “one country, two systems”.

The commitment for the transfer was to maintain the legal system that Hong Kong had during the British period, so that Chinese socialism would not be imposed. In counterpart, Beijing remained in charge of foreign policy and defence of the region. Just twenty years after the transfer, and with another thirty years to go before the region will be integrated into China, Beijing accelerates its level of interference in Hong Kong and reveals its intentions.

At the height of protests in Hong Kong, the Executive Committee for China of the United States Congress on June 13th released a bill on democracy and human rights in Hong Kong.

The announcement was made with the purpose of reaffirming the commitment of the United States to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, at a moment when these freedoms and the autonomy of Hong Kong are being eroded by the interference of the Chinese government and the Communist Party, according to the press release.

The purpose of this law is to make clear that the US Congress is on the side of the Hong Kong people and their effort to preserve human rights. This law has the bicameral and bipartisan support of the congress. 4Asia had the opportunity to consult the opinion of one of the strongest proponents of this bill, the Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who told us: “As Beijing continues its attack against the autonomy of Hong Kong, the United States must support democracy and freedom of expression. The Hong Kong government should withdraw the proposed amendments to the extradition law and explore alternatives that protect the rule of law from the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. “

Domestic and international pressure have caused the Hong Kong government to postpone the debate on the law and lower the aggressive tone that was used at the beginning of the protests. As stated by Carrie Lam, the head of the government, “the priority is to restore peace and order”. She said that while claiming that the Hong Kong courts will have the last word on extraditions to China, as an attempt to soften the oppressive and arbitrary impression of the nature of the extradition law.

It is a key moment for the region, not only for Hong Kong. Taiwan and other democracies in the Pacific need the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong. It is in the interest and welfare of the region that China understands that the West is on the side of democracy and will react when these freedoms are in danger.

Last week, The Economist dedicated an article to a common practice in China, which is seen as strange by the rest of the world. The Chinese music services had banned a song from “Les Misérables” that was used as a hymn in the Hong Kong protests of 2014. Do you hear people sing? It is the tune that during the protests of the last days began to be heard again, just before the gases repressed the sound of the people.

The protesters recited the song to keep the enthusiasm alive. And the response of the Chinese government, in line with its common modus operandi, seeks to silence the cry of the people to maintain an independent and democratic legal system, in this case with the Extradition Law.

INTERREGNUM: Civilizations; Clash or coexistence? Fernando Delage

(Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona) The rise of China is not only transforming the global balance of power. It is also a challenge to the liberal values that served as the basis for the international order still in force, created after the Second World War. China is a great defender of the Charter of the United Nations and the principle of absolute sovereignty of the nation-state – which in its opinion is incompatible with Western efforts to promote its political schemes in the rest of the world – but at the same time it define itself, rather than as a nation or territory, as an exceptional civilization that can offer an alternative model to liberal democracy.

The new authoritarianism stands, in practice, more on cultural than on ideological pillars. Capitalism also prevails in China (or Russia), although under the direct supervision of the State: economic interventionism is a central element of their definition of “sovereignty”, and of the battle against Western pluralism. It is the cultural differentiation which is also used to justify the rejection of the universality of human rights, the rule of law or press freedom.

The irruption of the breakdown among civilizations as a structural factor of the world’s geopolitical dynamics-in addition to economics and security-was a famous argument advanced by the Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington 25 years ago. But the way in which States like China or Russia (also Turkey or Daesh itself) resort to criteria of civilization to express their identity in the international system, is a phenomenon that has not been given enough attention. It is a deficit that some experts try to correct, such as the professor at the London School of Economics Christopher Coker in his recent book “The rise of the civilizational state” (Polity Press, 2019).

The People’s Republic of Xi Jinping defends, as is well known, a model of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that combines a Leninist State with a neo-Confucian culture. Resorting to the historical continuity of its civilization, the nationalist discourse of Beijing pursues the promotion of its status as a great power by criticising liberal universalism. The challenge is, therefore, how to articulate the coexistence among very diverse civilizations, including those that have placed themselves at the centre of world power and will not continue to accept a subordinate position to the West.

Also, here China seems be taking the initiative. Last week, at a conference on the dialogue between Asian civilizations´ opening in Beijing, President Xi pronounced himself on the grave error of considering one race and civilization as superior to the others, and the disaster that would involve trying to remake one´s civilization on the basis on other from the outside. “The different civilizations are not destined to face each other,” Xi said. “The growing global challenges facing humanity, he added, require joint efforts,” in which culture will play a fundamental role.

We do not know if it’s a coincidence, but a few days before the head of the planning office of the US State Department declared in Washington that, for the first time, the United States faces “a competitor that is not Caucasian.” The current commercial tensions develop in a context in which a “battle with a truly different civilization” is fought. The controversy was served, in a new demonstration that the pressures on the liberal order come not only from China or Russia, but-perhaps more worryingly-from within, driven by this phenomenon of identity populism, and by a US administration who seems to have forgotten the secret of its leadership for seven decades. Demonizing third powers when the West is eroding in its own bosom will not serve to restore the strength of the principles that created the modern world. It can even lead to lose the ability to define the terms of the debate that will shape the history of the coming decades.

Trump-Kim, towards their second summit. Nieves C. Pérez Rodríguez

Washington.- The USA is living a heated political environment in its capital with the president’s stubbornness in moving forward until Congress approves the funds to build the wall on the border with Mexico. Meanwhile, at the international level, Washington has on the agenda a second historic meeting between Trump and Kim Jon-un, and that can could be used to try to change the focus of attention.

Kim Jong was on an official visit to the Chinese capital, as if he were going to ask permission to meet the adversary. In fact, last Thursday (January 10th), the president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, stated that Kim’s trip to Beijing was an announcement of an imminent meeting that will take place between Trump and Kim. This happened previously in the first meeting and after his return from Singapore.

North Korea has very few allies, and China is more than an ally for Pyongyang; It is a protection card, a kind of international shield that has helped to survive its isolation. Kim knows it and accept it.

This visit coincides with the anniversary of the 70 years of bilateral relations between both, and demonstrates a strategic strengthening of their closeness, along with a common agenda for the year. In their conversations, most likely the issue of a second meeting with Trump and to what extend Kim should be flexible were discussed.

Earlier in this year, Trump said in a tweet that he was waiting for a meeting with Kim while we made it clear that North Korea has great economic potential and that its leader is aware of it. And then he said that they are negotiating the place where the meeting could take place. According to CNN, the places that are being floated are Vietnam, Thailand, Hawaii and maybe even New York or Geneva.

Vietnam is a country with close relations with the United States, which the secretary of state visited last summer. During that visit he expressed how “the Vietnamese economy has benefited from its exchanges with America” and, in addition, he emphasized the positive impact the abandonment of its nuclear program had meant to Vietnam, as a good example to follow for the North Koreans.

Thailand is a country closer to North Korea, and where they have diplomatic headquarters. Kim Jong-un surely feels more comfortable attending a summit there. In addition to being relatively close to the Korean peninsula.

Hawaii is not neutral territory. In fact, it’s literally enemy territory for Kim, so it’s very unlikely to be the venue. Regarding New York, even though as it is the headquarters of the United Nations it could be more feasible, still holds the great difficulty of distance. The same happens with Geneva. Even Kim himself offered Pyongyang, but for Washington it would be an uncomfortable place where they would have no control.

We cannot but wait for the decision to be made and announced. However, the problem is fundamental, the advances in the denuclearization have not been made effective. Pyongyang wants the international sanctions to be suppressed, but without any real signs of change.

The great winner is still Kim Jong-un, who in less than a year has visited China four times on official visit and with all the honours of a Head of State: he has met with the president of South Korea a couple of times; he sent a delegation to participate in the Winter Olympics, and today, he is preparing a second meeting with the American leader when only last January we were fearing an attack from Pyongyang and a change of their relations was unthinkable. (Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona)

United States: Another Step Back.

(Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona) Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan has caused an earthquake in the American political scene. It was due to the opposition from the political and military leadership, the White House presidential advisers, analysts and experts and the resignation of Jim Mattis, a general who had already been set aside by Obama for his opposition to the presidential renounce to take a more active role in Syria. Mattis, who was re-fished by Trump, is reputed to be tough but was building bridges with Europe and the Middle East in the face of the swings of Trump. This is the most serious crisis of the Trump Administration, not only because of the deepening of the loss of confidence within its environment, but also because of the message that the US gives to Russia, Iran and China.

In Syria, Trump’s policy has followed Obama’s, but with more fuss. The US never got significant allies on the ground or had a clear strategic plan. After attempting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad without putting sufficient forces or allies on the ground, US eventually developed tactical plans to control strategic zones with the support of its Kurdish allies to the north and some Arab groups to the south and east. Thus, they left the whole global initiative to the Russians who, with the support of Iran and the al-Assad government, reversed the situation, consolidated the regime and gave widespread support to the presence of Iranian forces and Lebanese allied militia of Tehran, Hizbullah, drawing a new strategic framework in the region. The withdrawal of the troops leaves the few US allies to their fate and gives green light to the victory of Russia and Iran.

The withdrawal of troops also from Afghanistan, after years of vacillation between the war and pressures on the Government of Kabul to negotiate with the “moderate” fraction of the Taliban, is another step in the confusion. In Afghanistan today, the Taliban movement is stronger, Al-Qaeda has reappeared, and the Islamic State has begun to act.

The most important thing here is the message. The protectionism and isolationism of Trump is not only economic, but also military. The US allies in each region begin to doubt and confidence is cracked, which will probably lead them to unilateral measures to strengthen their positions or vary their alliances. Regarding the opponents, Russia and China, Trump is telling them that to the extent they increase their pressure, the risks of their strategic advances decrease, as long as they do not directly attack the United States.

The pioneer’s dilemma. Miguel Ors Villarejo

Xavier Sala i Martín told me a few years ago that if the Chinese had told him in 1978 that “they thought to start up a capitalist system, but with limited property rights, I would have thrown them out of my office”. At that time began to crystallize what John Williamson, a researcher at the Peterson Institute, baptized later as the Washington Consensus and that, in one of those traditional pendulums of economic theory, postulated the return to the market after the interventionist excesses of Keynesianism. “Stabilizing, privatizing and liberalizing became the mantra of a generation of technocrats,” writes Dani Rodrik.

If one looks at what has happened since then, progress seems undeniable: in the last four decades, poverty has been reduced by 80%, as my colleague Diego Sánchez de la Cruz explains. However, the reasons for this extraordinary progress are far from clear, because by analysing the results country by country one can see that where there has been growth there has not been so much Washington Consensus and where there has been Washington Consensus there has not been so much growth.

The most notorious example is China. Its success, says Rodrik in another work, “raises many questions.” Liberal orthodoxy prescribes poor patients to dismantling of barriers to imports, the full convertibility of the currency and the rule of law but considering this recipe the Chinese have not been able to do worse: they maintained tariffs and monetary controls and its rule of law is manifestly improvable. How have they managed to grow as they have grown?

Normally, capital avidly seeks cheap labour to exploit, but that cheap labour was there before 1978, and continues to be in many other places in Africa and Latin America where, however, no one considers investing a penny. There is no more coward animal than a million dollars and it is not easy to attract it, because being a pioneer involves many uncertainties. It is very well explained by Reginald, a character from Saki: “Do not ever be a pioneer,” he tells his dearest friend. “The first Christian is the one who takes the fattest lion.”

In the same way, the first investor is exposed to losing all his flows. Only when the adventure succeed others will be encouraged, just like those penguins that wait at the edge of the iceberg for someone else to jump to make sure there are no killer whales. Meanwhile, the pioneer’s dilemma works as a powerful disincentive and no one jumps.

How did Beijing solve it? Unwittingly, probably. Western investors had been operating in Hong Kong for decades. Many farmers crossed illegally to the colony looking for opportunities and, tired of arresting them and the bad publicity that this entailed, the officials thought: why don´t we set up factories on this side of the border and avoid leaks? In Hong Kong they were also running out of land and therefore it made perfect sense to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) in Shenzhen, a neighbouring village of 30,000 inhabitants that today exceeds 23 million.

What came next is a combination of improvisation and good luck. Deng Xiaoping would probably have preferred to generalize the reforms to the whole nation, as Boris Yeltsin did in Russia and the IMF’s technocrats defended, but the resistance of the Communist Party forced him to adopt a gradual strategy. He had to be satisfied with promoting more SEZs, to which he conferred enormous autonomy. This lack of coordination made it possible for local authorities to experience initiatives of all kinds: those that worked were exported to other regions and those that didn´t were closed without remorse. In no other society has Schumpeter’s creative destruction been applied so mercilessly. Only the determination of convinced Marxists could bring capitalism to its ultimate consequences.

Although Joshua Cooper Ramo speaks of a Beijing Consensus, few believe that it is a true model. “There was no architect,” says historian Zhang Lifan. From the academic point of view, the economic script of China is full of bizarre twists and I’m not surprised that Sala would throw out of his office anyone who would have tried to tell him. “No way!” (Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona)

THE ASIAN DOOR: How lucrative is the Chinese diaspora for e-commerce. Águeda Parra.

Among economic analysts there seems to be some consensus that the Chinese economy is slowing down, registering a growth of 6.7% year-on-year in first three quarters in 2018, two tenths less than what was registered in 2017. The protectionist policy of the Trump administration, with its doctrine ‘America First’, has led to a trade war with China that, within 20 weeks of its entry into force, may be coming to an end in light of a foreseeable announcement of agreement during the next G20 Summit in Argentina at the end of November. However, in the meantime, the Chinese economy has taken good note of the vulnerabilities of its economy to import certain products.

In view of this unforeseen situation, China has adopted the motto ‘Every crisis is an opportunity’, and has relied on e-commerce giants to reverse the slow economic downturn the country is experiencing, and that also affects domestic consumption due to the devaluation of the yuan. A situation that, however, does not apply to the vast Chinese diaspora distributed all over the world, constituting a lucrative opportunity for e-commerce in China.

In the transition from a manufacturing and export-led economy to a consumption-driven one, China has discover that new technologies have become one of the great facilitators for change. The development of the digital ecosystem is part of the daily life of the population to perform almost any kind of activity, but also allows the Chinese diaspora to maintain their habits as if they continued to live in China, acquiring products through e-commerce they cannot find through Amazon. It is estimated that the number of Chinese citizens living outside the country exceeds 100 million people; a diaspora spread mainly by the Southeast Asian countries and the United States that constitutes a new market that emerges as an alternative to the trade war started by Trump.

To that end, Alibaba has launched a new modality of sea freight as a shipping method of its e-commerce platforms that allow the distribution of consumer goods, including Chinese brand furniture. The option is implemented for the diaspora residing in Australia, where 1.2 million people live, of which 15% are Chinese students who study overseas, in addition to the more than 600 million consumers in the Southeast Asian countries. A shipping method that allows increasing sales, but also gets to internationalize Made in China products in international markets, improving the perception of Chinese brands abroad.

The promotion choice used by the Chinese technological giants is to create a pop-up store, an ephemeral store aimed at making the public aware of new options, such as the ones created in Melbourne and Sydney to promote its new sea freight options, and the one inaugurated in Madrid on the occasion of the celebration of the Single’s Day this year. JD.com is another of the platforms the Chinese diaspora is taking advantage of to offset the effects of a slight decrease in domestic consumption. Unlike the Alibaba platforms only available in Chinese, JD.com has gone a step further in adapting its international e-commerce platforms to local language in countries like Russia and Indonesia.

Thanks to the world market of e-commerce, Alibaba promotes the Chinese diaspora can get products that are closely tied to their lifestyle by buying the country’s own products through Tmall and Taobao, but also enable the international companies hosted on its platforms to offer their products to a growing Chinese middle class that demands quality international products. This is the reason for the JD.com office in Paris or the one that will launch on Google’s shopping platforms by the end of the year, which on one hand allow developing the brand portfolio present in its e-commerce platform, and on the other hand connects its local partners to access the 270 million active Chinese consumers on JD.com.

This type of promotion of China’s tech titans platforms in foreign markets is highly lucrative for Chinese e-commerce companies, as has been displayed during the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the great e-commerce Shopping Festival organized by Alibaba on the occasion of the Single’s Day in China. In this last edition, Spain has managed to reach the eighth position in a ranking that leads Japan, followed by the United States, South Korea, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, France, and completes New Zealand and Italy in the ninth and tenth position, highlighting the great opportunities e-commerce offers for international brands to improve their positioning among Chinese consumers.

INTERREGNUM. Trump approaches China and Japan. Fernando Delage

(Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona) Last week, for the first time in seven years, a Japanese Prime Minister paid a bilateral visit to China (in the multilateral arena, Abe attended the APEC summit in Beijing in 2014). And it is also expected that Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Japan next year. Do these meetings mean a return to normality in relations between the second and third largest economies on the planet?

The change in the relative position of power between the two neighbours since 2010 -when the Chinese GDP exceeded the Japanese and the Chinese claims of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands- opened a period of crisis. Japanese investments in the People’s Republic fell sharply between 2013 and 2015 and recovered last year, but China continued to be Japan’s largest trading partner (its bilateral exchanges add up to 300 billion dollars a year, a third more than Japan-United States trade).

Although Japan is the only one of the main North American allies that still does not belong to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and received with considerable reservations the announcement of the initiative of the Chinese New Silk Road, after a while it understood that it could not reject the opportunities that the project represented for its companies. Hence, without officially supporting it, it decided to allow the participation of Japanese firms, provided that certain regulatory requirements were respected. At the same time, Japan opted to compete directly with China, offering its own initiative to develop quality infrastructures-for which it offered a $ 100 billion fund and developing the Asia-Africa Economic Corridor with India. In opposition to the Chinese Silk Road, Japan offered an alternative scheme under the denomination of an “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific “.

The policies of Donald Trump are facilitating, however, the bases for a new approach between China and Japan. The increase in tensions with Washington leads Beijing to seek a stable relationship with Tokyo. Japan, meanwhile, also subject to threats of sanctions by the US administration – and concerned about Trump’s rapprochement with the North Korean leader – finds itself with an opportunity to reinforce shared economic interests with China, including advancing in the negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the ASEAN countries, and give new impetus to the free trade agreement between them and South Korea.

It is a complex challenge for the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. The underlying strategic context will not change: the change is structural, and the differential of economic and military power with the People’s Republic will continue to grow. Abe also cannot align with China against Trump. But while trying to maintain balance in the strategic triangle formed by these three powers, it complements it by expanding the playing field.

It is not accidental, therefore, that as soon as he returned from Beijing he received in Tokyo his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modo. Or that, on November 1st, Japan and India begin their first joint military exercises in the Indian northeast, which will last for 14 days. Manoeuvres that in turn are added to those recently made by 100 Japanese soldiers-with their armoured vehicles included-with US troops in the Philippines. A couple of weeks ago, Abe also received the leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The Japan-Mekong summit showed the participants’ concern for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the militarization of the islands by Beijing. Japanese diplomatic proactivism has no precedent, but it is paradoxical that it is its North American ally, and not only China, who is provoking it. (Foto: Leo Eberts, flickr.com)

Chinese mafia in Latin América. Nieves C. Pérez Rodríguez

The Chinese presence in any region of the planet is nowadays a fact. A report by the World Economic Forum states that China invested between 2003 and 2017 more than 110.00 million dollars in Latin America and the Caribbean, being the main trading partner of Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, and the second of Mexico. Most of the Chinese investment in this region was concentrated in Brazil followed by Peru, Argentina, Cuba and Jamaica, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Academic Network on China.

These numbers show how China impacts these countries and their economies, but it can also indicate more. For example, the number of Chinese immigrants in Latin America, which is a great enigma due to the incompetence of the receiving states of these communities, or even complicity, as happened in Venezuela under the leadership of Hugo Chávez who documented with Venezuelan passports a large number of Chinese citizens to guarantee their votes in elections a few years after taking office, in the first decade of 2000.

In Argentina there are Chinese criminal gangs or triads (三合会). Pixiu (貔貅,which means protector) operates in Buenos Aires, and is basically dedicated to the extortion of the owners of Chinese food stores in exchange for protection. Its modus operandi is retaliation to those who do not pay their quota, either with shots in the legs, fire of properties or death. Its members are all Chinese (come from China or born in the diaspora), the mediators are Chinese too, but the hit men in most cases are of other nationalities to avoid being related to the crime. As in all communities, they are established in small groups that have their own compatriots under pressure.

For a long time, the South American security forces ignored this danger, but in recent years more attention is being paid because they have been able to verify links of the triads with organizations such as Primeiro Comander da Capital (a very dangerous Brazilian criminal organization) and with Mexican cartels such as Los Zetas, Sinaloa or the Cartel de Juárez.

The activities of these groups are focused on the trafficking of people, who move from China to South America and many of whom work hard to pay for their trips. Another practice is money laundering; the Chinese mafias help the South American cartels to launder large sums using companies created in China and Hong Kong through international transfers.

The triple border, that curious T-shaped area formed by the meeting of the Iguazú River with the Paraná River separating Brazil from Argentina and leaving Paraguay to the west, according to Vanessa Neuwmann, president of the consulting firm Asymmetrica, is a mini state that benefits a corrupt elite while works as a large money laundering centre, efficient for organized crime and tobacco trafficking, and a money production machine for groups such as Hezbollah. Neuwman maintains that the leaders of the Paraguayan trade through the triple border are Chinese and Lebanese. The Colombian FARC, on the other hand, have also been benefited from the triple border and the free market areas in the Caribbean and Panama to mobilize contraband.

During the conversation that 4Asia held with Neuwmann, she assured us that the tobacco traffic comes mostly from Horacio Cartés’s factories in Paraguay and travels to China on mysterious flights departing from the Guaraní airport, located in the eastern city of Paraguay -in the triple border-. These planes land there loaded with Chinese contraband clothing and appliances and return to China with tobacco. Newman is convinced that there must also be smuggling of Chinese weapons but claims that it has not been confirmed yet. “The smuggling of tobacco to China is a very complicated issue” she says, because the importation of foreign brands is prohibited. Technically it is a closed market controlled by the State. However, the Chinese military (PLA) has a system of corruption and illicit trafficking of tobacco that they take advantage of to finance themselves. Likewise, our interviewee assures that this illicit tobacco traffic benefits North Korea, a country that is sustained by all types of legal or illegal trade with China.

Even though the existence of criminal organizations and contraband are common practices in all states, the striking point is that these practices exist in states like China, which maintains excessive control and penalization of its citizens. The fact that Chinese military forces handle the smuggling of tobacco into their territory is known by the authorities, who could eradicate it and nevertheless allow it. Just as they have allowed the money laundering that has been taking place in China for years and that has opportunely favoured the growth of its economy.

The double standard of the Chinese State has been put into practice to promote the interests of the State and its perpetuation. (Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona)

China and the seduction of Syracuse. Miguel Ors Villarejo

During the colloquium that closed the event ¿Planeta China?, one of the attendees raised the question whether the Western criticisms of the People’s Republic were the result of envy, because they had found a more efficient regime than our democracies. The question reveals an admiration for the dictatorships that many naive people believed eradicated after the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, it periodically regresses and even has a name: the seduction of Syracuse.

The expression was coined by Mark Lilla and it refers to the attempt to establish a government of philosopher kings in the Syracuse of Dionysius the Younger. Encouraged by an old student of his Academy, Plato moved to the island to see if the tyrant was a different kind of leader, willing to constrict his power to the limits of reason and justice. The experiment was a failure and, although Plato resigned as soon as he realized that his hiring had been a mere image operation, the episode has remained for posterity as the first documented example of the fascination that despots exercise in intellectuals.

The recent history of Europe is full of eminent figures who, unlike Plato, had no objection to serving modern Dionysus. “Their stories are infamous,” writes Lilla: “Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt in Nazi Germany; Georgy Lukács in Hungary; maybe someone else. Many, without taking great risks, adhered to the fascist and communist parties on both sides of the Berlin Wall […]. A surprisingly high number pilgrimed to the new Syracuses: Moscow, Berlin, Hanoi or Havana. As observers, they carefully choreographed their trips […], always with a round-trip ticket”, and explained to us their admiration for collective farms, tractor factories, sugarcane plantations or schools,” although for some reason they never visited prisons. “

As now happens with the propagandists of Maduro’s Venezuela, this type of thinker visits Siracusa especially with his imagination, standing behind the desk of the Complutense, while deploying his “interesting and sometimes brilliant theories” to justify the sufferings of people he will never look in the eye. At what point did it become acceptable to argue that despotism is “something good, even beautiful?”

In his essay, Lilla reviews different explanations. Isaiah Berlin blames the Enlightenment. The philosophes were convinced that social problems, like physics and mathematical ones, had one and only one solution, and their subsequent imitators were dedicated to hammer reality into it. Jacob Telman thinks, on the contrary, that communist or fascist fanaticism has little to do with reason and it is rather the fruit of the conversion of ideology into a new religion.

Raymond Aron, on the other hand, blames the arrogance of the academics, who, during the Dreyfus scandal, abandoned their natural environment (research) to teach their ignorant compatriots how to govern themselves. But Jürgen Habermas warns, with no little foundation, that this could be true in France, but that in Germany the opposite happened: the withdrawal of the academics to their ivory tower facilitated the rise of Hitler.

After this recapitulation, Lilla offers his own thesis and observes that the most striking thing about Dionysus is that he was a philosopher. As Plato teaches, curiosity supposes the overcoming of the animal condition and it is concreted in a desire to “procreate in the beautiful” that leads some to become poets and others to be interested in “the good order of cities and families”. It is a laudable impulse, but one that requires, like all, temperance. “The philosopher,” says Lilla, “knows the madness of love of wisdom, but cannot give away his soul; he always keeps control. “

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Many intellectuals throw themselves into the arena “burned by ideas”. “They consider themselves independent, when, actually, they let themselves be led like sheep by their inner demons.” That is what the seduction of Syracuse consists of: in an inertia that drags you behind some ideal.

Resisting that attraction is not easy. The brilliant promises of utopia contrast with the grey spectacle of our imperfect democracies, subject to recurrent crises and incapable of reaching an equilibrium to all. We live in a constant yearning for the “good order of cities and families” and that anxiety makes us vulnerable to the charms of any unscrupulous individual.

What the success of China inspires to its critics it is not envy. It is fear. (Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona)


The new appointment between political and military leaders of the two Koreas in the border area of Panmunjom is far from anecdotal. In the midst of the uproar and propaganda actions, the fact that the two countries keep their agenda and move forward on bilateral issues is good news, even though they are closely supervised by China and the United States. And we must keep in mind that this tutelage is never absolute, and that each country has a margin of autonomy that, in turn, conditions the strategies of its backers.

The current bilateral relationship, unthinkable a few months ago, although not without risks and shocks, has probably opened some irreversible processes. In this case, it is South Korea who assumes greater responsibility. It must give answers and explanations to its citizens like any democratic country, it must maintain serenity and firmness with an erratic United States president from whom they shouldn´t distance themselves very much and, at the same time, build better regional alliances.

The agenda is not exactly known, but undoubtedly the denuclearization, the opening of new processes of commercial exchange, the study of the problem of separated families and new gestures to visualize that there is a credible project in progress will be on the table. These bilateral advances are not going to solve the problem, but they can be an anchor for the great process to be consolidated. (Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona)