A Century After Balfour, Time For A 'Johnson' Declaration?

Israeli soldiers next to a Banksy mural in Bethlehem
Israeli soldiers next to a Banksy mural in Bethlehem
Tamar Vidon

After half a century of failed endeavors by the United States to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, maybe it's time to send that geopolitical hot potato back to the British.

It has been 100 years since Britain first declared its support for the establishment of "a national home for the Jewish people." The Nov. 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration was part of a British plan at the time to gain a mandate over Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Then, less than 10% of the territory's population was Jewish; today there is a Jewish majority in Israel and the Palestinians are still seeking a national home of their own.

On Thursday's anniversary of the declaration by British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting London for a commemorative dinner with British Prime Minister Theresa May, while Palestinians are holding demonstrations in front of Israeli missions around the world.

Both May and Netanyahu are in crisis mode – May, because of the resignation of her defense minister amid a growing sex scandal enveloping Westminster, and Netanyahu because of ongoing corruption investigations against him and his wife, Sara. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has been struggling to bring together various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, with the hope of eventually creating a unity government that would restore Palestinian Authority rule in Gaza.

A two-state solution ... remains the "only viable solution" for peace.

For the international community, Middle East peace seems as far away as ever. But Balfour's centenary is a chance to focus on Britain's role, both past and present. About a year ago, Abbas asked members of the Arab league to help the Palestinians sue Britain over the declaration, according to the Israeli news website Ynet. Last August, Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, told a British foreign ministry official in Ramallah that, "Balfour became famous for his promise … to establish Israel on the land of Palestine. … I call for the current British foreign secretary to be famous for giving the Palestinians a promise called the ‘Johnson Declaration" that recognizes a Palestinian state," the news website Times of Israel reported.

The "Johnson" in question, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, defended Balfour's role in paving the way for Israel's creation. Yet, he did emphasize that a two-state solution, one for the Israelis and the other for the Palestinians, remained the "only viable solution" for peace.

In a piece in the Telegraph, Johnson also warned that a key condition of the Balfour Declaration, that the rights of non-Jewish communities would be protected, "has not been fully realized."

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday, the street artist Banksy organized a mock street party in front of the hotel he designed, the Walled Off Hotel, to mark the anniversary. A person dressed up as Queen Elizabeth stood in front of a new work by the artist, large letters engraved in the large concrete Israeli security wall that say, "Er, sorry."

Israel, meanwhile, criticized the Palestinian protests. "While the Jewish people fulfilled the Zionist dream, the Palestinians continued to pursue violence and incitement. I suggest to the demonstrators to read the history books and internalize the fact that their refusal to recognize Israel's existence will not help them, and will certainly not undermine our right to exist here," Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, was quoted as saying by Ynet.

From anniversary to anniversary, hope for peace fades: June marked the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; next year, Israel will celebrate 70 years of independence, while the Palestinians will mark the 70 same years from what they call the Nakba (or catastrophe). This week also marks the anniversary of the Nov. 4, 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, murdered for having made historic progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which would have led to territorial compromises by Israel.

With no peace in sight, something like a "Johnson Declaration" is sorely needed. History will decide what it says, and whether its author has even been born yet.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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