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POTOMAC PLACE

You Too

Twice annually for the past 16 years, as the representative of an international organization of governments, I have gone to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to participate in drafting sessions on model laws on the arbitration, mediation/conciliation, and the settlement of contract disputes. Gathered at these session are representatives from over a hundred nations and along with non-government organizations dedicated to dispute resolution of international trade contracts.

At a luncheon at this month’s drafting session on the enforcement of international settlement agreements, I sat across from Xiao Chuan Yang, a Beijing attorney and arbitrator. I had not planned to attend the luncheon and did so at the last minute at the urging of two colleagues from Australia. My seating with Xiao Chaun Yang was serendipitous it being the only chair left at a long table seating 40 other lawyers. In the course of our conversation about our respective legal careers and our experiences with international arbitration, we discussed my experience negotiating contracts with officials of the Chinese government and its many bureaus, and my general familiarity with navigating through the sometimes obstinate and opaque Chinese bureaucracy during my travels to Beijing.

In discussing our educations and legal training and other life experiences we inquired of each other about whether we had served in the military. I mentioned my Navy service. His face lit up. He, too, had served in the Navy. He asked what ship I had served on and what I did. I explained that I was in communications and served on shore stations in the Pacific islands of Guam and Okinawa, and in Italy and England in the mid to late 1950’s. His face widened in a smile. He, too, had served in communications from a base in Shanghai. We reviewed the tenseness of those times, the daily Chinese shelling of Quemoy and Matsu, islands off the coast of Taiwan, and the then anticipated Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

There was a reflective pause in our conversation as we both leaned back in our chairs and smiled. I suspected that he might have done what I had done, and sensed he had the same feeling about me. Our identical and simultaneous questions crossed each other as we asked and answered them. It was a “you too” moment. I listened to the Seventh Fleet, he said. I knew all of your ships. And we listened to your ships, but we had more of them than you did, I responded. We both laughed and agreed that for sure we were both still doing it. He noted that the Chinese navy was listening to us from bases all along its coastline.

We discussed the improved state of diplomatic and commercial relations between our two countries in the past 50-years. Both of us agreed that China, despite its increased defense spending, was no longer a military threat to the U.S. and the Western world, but instead a commercial one. China had come too far in its economic growth and commitment to globalization to jeopardize its manufacturing and trading advantages. His presence and participation in the drafting sessions was further evidence that China is a commercial player that intends to remain a force in world trade.

Life often leads us to interesting cross roads. How often do two lawyers interested in facilitating the resolution of trade disputes discover they were once on opposite sides during the Cold War listening to each other’s communications, perhaps in preparation to either prevent or provoke a dispute with possible cataclysmic results?  Read More 
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The Changing Face of Queens

Demographics play an important role in our lives, determining the outcome of elections, media advertising, store locations, the type of food available in stores and restaurants, the disposition of federal, state, and local funding, private grant funding, the type of entertainment, including music, television shows and movies, literature, the composite of neighborhoods, and so much more.

On a trip to Cuba, this month, a prominent University of Havana sociology professor, Dr. Marta Nunez, had difficulty explaining the specific racial composition of the island nation originally settled by the Spanish and supplemented by West African slaves to work the sugar fields and Chinese to build its railroad network. Nunez explained that over the years, interracial marriage had resulted in a complex mixture of its people making it difficult to pinpoint people as white, mixed, or black compounded by many people of mixed heritage identifying as white. Simply put, the blurred demographic reflects a unified culture with everyone proudly identifying themselves as Cuban. While the sight of many mixed couples on the streets and in restaurants suggested a lack of prejudice, it plainly exists with the darker skinned people living in the run down areas along with few blacks attending the more prestigious universities.

Here in the U.S., census data paints a clearer picture, though here, too, people get to choose their ethnicity. A few years ago, preparing for a speech to the Queens Historical Society, I researched the available data on the changing face of Queens County, New York, where I grew up in another era. The demographic data has changed significantly with the new immigrants, as they did in the last two centuries, clustering together until their subsequent generations begin to discover and intermarry with other ethnic groups. Overall, it’s a fascinating picture of a nation poised to change dramatically, much to the chagrin and opposition of those who yearn for a day that will never return.  Read More 
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