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  • Politics as the Art of Equivalent SayReflections on Derek Walcott and W. Arthur Lewis, China and St. Lucia
  • Michael Collins (bio)

“These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.”

—T.S. Eliot*

In 1994 I had the honor of interviewing a member of the Chinese diplomatic community in New York City. Over tea that I was offered but was too nervous to drink, the interviewee gave full answers to all my questions but one. That last answer, provided after she had consulted with her colleagues, compressed more meaning into two words than any formulation I have since encountered. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), she said, was not being given “equivalent say” on the world stage—despite its ever-increasing contribution to global economic growth.1

Of course, since 1994, that has changed significantly. For two weeks the 2008 Olympics made China once again the center of the world, with the ceremonies, the knockout venues, the world leaders in attendance, and the gold medal count to prove it. From the human printing press that was beamed around the world during the opening ceremonies, to the downpour of losses and victories tallied in the venues of the games, the world’s oldest continuous civilization put its best foot forward as artfully as its diving star, Guo Jingjing, stepping into a leap from the lip of a board.

More importantly, before and after the Olympics, and even before the market meltdown of 2008, China’s immense investment in the United States was underscoring its new centrality and provoking expressions of alarm on the American presidential campaign trail.

But if China has moved on from 1994, I have not. The phrase “equivalent say” has hung in my head like a kind of universal password to everything that happens in the world. It has led me to conclude that politics, from the level of nation states to that of would-be lovers deciding whether to call or to wait for the other to call, is the art of equivalent say. It is this art, in all its manifestations, that is the subject of the present number of Callaloo.

To explain the understanding of this art that I have arrived at over fourteen years—the understanding that has informed my editing of this issue—I have to spin the globe away from giant China and stop it at tiny St. Lucia, which compares itself to Helen of Troy [End Page 1000] and was fought over as if it were by the PRC and The Republic of China (Taiwan) in the spring of 2007. This was shortly after St. Lucia’s “father of the nation,” Sir John Compton, returned to government after a ten-year hiatus by winning an election against two-term Prime Minister Dr. Kenny D. Anthony.

Ten years earlier, Anthony had overturned Sir John’s China policy by establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC and severing them with Taiwan. In doing so, Anthony defended the sort of equivalent say that is the sine qua non of independent nations: “I wish to condemn unequivocally the latest statement by the former Ambassador of the Republic of China in Taiwan Steve Hsu on the termination of diplomatic relations between Saint Lucia and Taiwan,” Anthony said in a speech to his nation:

The ambassador’s statements [concerning the end of diplomatic relations] . . . are not only grossly out of place, but also represent a crude and rude interference in the internal affairs of Saint Lucia. . . . Surely, we do have the right to review our diplomatic relations with any country in keeping with the priorities of our country and the opportunities which exist in the world. . . . I assure you that, as Prime Minister of Saint Lucia . . . I will always defend the right of countries, and especially small states, to determine their foreign policy. The principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, respect for sovereignty, and the right to self-determination will be vigorously defended by this government. I would not have wanted to go into detail on the discussions between Saint Lucia and Taiwan. However, the Ambassador of Taiwan has been so disrespectful and impolite to us who have been so gracious...