Political stars in the East




Maybe they’re getting their pre-Christmas shopping in earlier and are aiming for something more than the proverbial pair of socks, but Irish, British and American leaders are travelling East-ward like proverbial wise men.  Enda Kenny is in Tokyo, looking very very tired  ( so would you be if you’d been in airports and planes for ten straight hours ) as they poured some ceremonial sake for him and he took a sip like a man who’s not sure if his head is going to explode. It didn’t. US vice-president Joe Biden is in the same city  – he of the Limavady  Bidens.  Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are in Japan trying to get their hands on a few contracts for the north.   And of course David Cameron is in China welcoming the fact that the Chinese are talking about buying into his proposed high-speed railway and  his nuclear fuel plans.

It all sounds a bit incredible. There’s something about Enda that makes you worry he’ll spill his sake or start discussing Mayo’s chances in next year’s Championship with the high priest. It’s a long way from the Bullingdon Club to Bejing.  And you can only heave with relief that it’s Peter Robinson and not Ian Paisley is First Minister: image of Paisley hurling his sake  across the room  and denouncing it as the devil’s buttermilk is the stuff of PR nightmares.

The truth is, for the sake of trade and jobs, the West has had to do a total rethink on the East. Say ‘Japan’ and there are still a lot of people here who think what happened to Uncle Andy and those years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during WW2. Say China and there are a lot of people who remember all those students with their Little Red Book and rolling cultural revolution. The people who were yesterday’s unspeakable monsters have now become the people to whom we turn, cap in hand, hoping to wheedle our way into their investment good books. David Cameron will never let the fate of Tibet get between him and a good deal with the Chinese. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness aren’t going to mention the bridge over the River Kwai if it comes to getting a few more jobs squeezed out. And Enda would walk ten thousand miles over hot coals if he thought that, at the end of it, he could put even a small dint in the joblessness and economic sag that constitutes the south’s economy.

So if you ever thought that having a past meant you can’t have a future., look East. In these times of the economic hairshirt, Britain once again shows she has no international friends, just interests. We in Ireland are quickly learning how this game is played.

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