IN Washington, the swamp Donald Trump is trying to drain is in tumult. The centres of the established order are fighting back against the elected president with a mandate who is doing what he wants.
On the one hand, there is a system of governance based on the rule of law which accords rights and limits the exercise of power. On the other, a president with a style of rule that transcends and challenges that order.
Whether it is working with the enemy, government by executive order, unrestrained authority in a centralised executive arm, president Trump who is already temperamentally in accord with it feels fully supported by those marginalised and on the periphery who had elected him. He sees it as a battle against the elites. Indeed, he increasingly depicts himself as a victim of the elites, especially the media.
The media wants him impeached. This is not going to happen – at least, not any time soon. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate would not have it. But Trump has to understand he cannot continually push at the boundaries and violate constitutional authority with impunity. If not Congress, the courts will have him.
Fired FBI director James Comey is expected to appear before the Senate to relate if Trump tried to influence investigation into links with Russia he and his aides forged during and after the election campaign. Already, a special counsel, Robert Mueller, has been appointed by the Attorney-General’s office to establish if there had been criminal violations in those links.
The American president is impetuous, sneering and always up for a fight. This is not the way to govern – anywhere.
He chops and changes. He does not use established institutions, even of the executive branch, like the State Department, which he wholly distrusts as a Hillary Clinton bastion.
There is conflict in Washington, not orderly governance. America is bitterly divided. Trump represents the other side. In this conflict, it is a strong incentive for Trump to ride on populist policies to attack his enemies in the swamp in Washington.
Both the disorder in Washington and particularly the populist policies – many of which are not properly thought through – also have an impact on the rest of the world.
It is difficult to know whom to deal with and which way policies may turn. His “America First” policies, like on climate change and on trade, harm and disregard other countries.
Small countries like Malaysia are down the list of his concerns. Yet we are on the list of 16 with whom the Trump administration claims America has trade deficits which are not tolerable.
The cut-off value of US$10 billion just manages to leave out Israel from the black list. What countries like Malaysia would like to know is what the United States proposes to do about it.
With respect to China, which tops the list with a whopping surplus of US$347 billion, Trump has eased from hanging tough to being pliable. No more talk of China as a serial currency manipulator and of slapping a 45% tariff on Chinese exports to America.
Last month the US entered into a so-called trade deal with China which encompassed a 100-day programme as part of a “comprehensive economic dialogue.” There is to be a 10-point action plan covering topics ranging from meat to financial services to biotechnology.
But American companies are dissatisfied, contending matters such as overcapacity, forced technology transfer and equal treatment of US companies should have been covered.
White House professionals in the National Economic Council and the US Trade Representative’s office say there is work in progress on Chinese steel, after which the administration would decide how to pursue the matters of subsidies and overcapacity – either through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or bilaterally.
This is an interesting twist. Trump does not have any time for the WTO. Yet with China, he might go for the multilateral approach rather than his favoured bilateral dealing.
The officials say they do not want a trade war. So perhaps some sobriety is sinking in.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc made haste to Washington this week – Vietnam is sixth in that list of 16 – and ended up with extravagant praise from Trump for the deals he entered into worth US$8bil (the prime minister claimed US$15bil), including US$3bil of US-produced content that would support 23,000 jobs. General Electric is the biggest beneficiary with deals worth US$5.58bil in power generation, aircraft engines and services.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pronounces Vietnam is the fastest growing market for US exports. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is deeply concerned about the rapid growth of the trade deficit with Vietnam (2016: US$32bil). Phuc gets the double squeeze in the firm handshake with President Trump. One must hope he knows where he stands at the end of his visit last Wednesday.
Phuc was the first Asean leader to visit Washington since Trump’s election as president. Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has not taken up Trump’s invitation. Neither has Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Apart from a report that the Vietnamese prime minister said he was waiting to welcome Trump to Danang for the Apec summit in November, and a statement he made expressing disappointment that America had withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there has been no indication that anything pertaining to Asean had been raised – apart, of course, from Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea.
This is the way of Asean. National concerns and the national interest come first. There is not even some kind of debriefing or discussion on or before a visit of such import. Such a shame.
Perhaps Malaysia should take the lead and try to make a difference. As Trump will be coming for the Asean summits in Manila, including US-Asean and the EAS, would it not make sense to prepare a regional position paper on trade with the US?
We can leave the South China Sea issue pretty much alone as it divides more than unites Asean. But surely there must be consensus on free trade, as the AEC is founded very much on that principle.
Should not Asean take a common position on free trade in discussion with the American president? Not one based on generalities but on specifics and benefits, including to those on the supply chains (in terms of employment, revenue and taxes) before imports reach the US destination, not to mention the benefits to consumers in respect of choice, price and inflation.
Instead of just all the normal niceties, could not the leaders meeting incorporate a short, sharp presentation on the benefits of free trade to America and the costs to its economy of subsidy, support and inefficiency?
Already, it has been estimated about three quarters of job loss in America is attributable to employment displacement through technological development. Not through exports to America.
Everyone wants that 20 minutes with Trump. Asean should not fritter it away with amiable general chatter.
Of course, Malaysia has its own particular issues with the US which could be raised in a visit by the prime minister, perhaps at the end of the year or early next year.
By that time, of course, the 90-day “investigation” into the surpluses of countries on the list of 16 (Malaysia’s US$25bil puts it ninth on that list), which technically began on April 7, would have been completed.
There would be plenty to discuss then, even as bilateral representations would have been made at the working level before and after expiry of that period and whatever subsequent American actions.
Other issues, of course, are outstanding on which views can be exchanged, including on investment and technology. Hopefully, by that time, things would have settled down, that sense can be made out of the disorder in Washington.
Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.
Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.
Continuing the climate battle, without the US
With President Trump pulling out from the Paris agreement, the US has lost membership of the community of nations that subscribe to humanity’s fight for survivial against climate change.
SO in the end President Donald Trump decided to pull the United States out from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Just as disturbing as the withdrawal was Trump’s speech justifying it. He never acknowledged the seriousness or even the existence of the global climate change crisis, which poses the gravest threat to human survival. He lamented that the Paris accord would displace US jobs, mentioning coal in particular, while ignoring the jobs in renewable energy that would increase manifold if the United States tackled climate crisis seriously.
His main grouse was that the Paris agreement was “unfair” to the United States vis-a-vis other countries, especially mentioning China and India. And he grumbled that the United States would have to contribute to the Green Climate Fund.
The speech was riddled with misconceptions and factual errors.
For example, Trump said the Paris agreement would only produce a two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100, a “tiny, tiny amount”.
But scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Trump badly misunderstood their study. “If we don’t do anything, we might shoot over five degrees or more and that would be catastrophic,” said MIT’s programme co-director John Reilly.
Condemnation came fast and furious from within the United States and around the world. Said John Kerry, former Secretary of State: “He’s made us an environmental pariah in the world … It may be the most self-defeating action in American history.”
The Trump decision to leave Paris may well be a milestone marking an immense loss to the United States of international prestige, influence and power.
In a world so divided by ideology, inequality and economic competition, the Paris agreement was one rare area of global consensus to cooperate, on climate change.
For the United States to pull out of that hard-won consensus is a shocking abdication not only of leadership, but of its membership of the community of nations in its joint effort to face its gravest threat to survival.
The lack of appreciation of this great challenge facing humanity and the narrow-mindedness of his concerns was embarrassingly evident when Trump made his withdrawal speech.
He was more interested in reviving the sunset coal sector than in the promise of the fast-developing renewable energy industries.
He was convinced reducing emissions would cost millions of jobs, ignoring the record of other countries that have decoupled emissions growth from economic growth.
He was miserly towards poor countries which are receiving only a fraction of what they were promised for climate action, while celebrating hundreds of billions of dollars of new armaments deals.
He complained that the United States is asked to do more than others, when in fact the nation has the highest emissions per capita of any major country and its pledges are significantly lower than Europe’s.
He saw the speck in everyone else’s eyes while being oblivious to the beam in his own.
With or without the United States, the negotiations on how to implement the agreement will continue in the years ahead.
A complication is that America has to wait four years before the announced withdrawal can come into effect.
The United States will still be a member of the Paris agreement for the rest of Trump’s present term, although he announced he will not implement what Barack Obama had committed to, which is to cut emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels, by 2025. This defiance will likely have a depressing impact on other countries.
While a member, the United States could play a non-cooperative or disruptive role during the negotiations on many topics.
Since Trump has already made clear the United States wants to leave the pact, and no longer subscribes to its emissions pledges, nor will it meet its US$3bil (RM12.8bil) pledge on the Green Climate Fund, it would be strange to enable the country to still negotiate with the same status as other members that remain committed to their pledges.
How to deal with this issue is important so that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations are not disrupted in the four years ahead.
Finally, Trump’s portrayal of developing countries like India and China as profiting from the US membership of the Paris Agreement is truly unfair.
China is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide in absolute terms, with the United States second and India third. But this is only because the two developing countries have huge populations of over a billion each.
In per capita terms, in 2015, carbon dioxide emissions were 16.1 tonnes for the United States, 7.7 tonnes for China and 1.9 tonnes for India.
It would be unfair to ask China and India to have the same mitigation target as America, especially since the United States has had the benefit of using or over-using more than its fair share of cheap fossil-fuel energy for over a century more than the other two countries.
A recent New York Times editorial (May 22) compared the recent performance of India and China with the recent actions of the United States under President Trump.
It states: “Until recently, China and India have been cast as obstacles … in the battle against climate change. That reputation looks very much out of date now that both countries have greatly accelerated their investments in cost-effective renewable energy sources – and reduced their reliance on fossil fuels. It’s America – Donald Trump’s America – that now looks like the laggard.”
President Trump has taken the United States and the world many big steps backwards in the global fight against global warming. It will take some time for the rest of the world to figure out how to carry on the race without or despite the United States.
Hopefully the absence of America will only be for four years or less.
Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
Anger as Trump announces US withdrawal from global climate deal
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced America’s shock withdrawal from the Paris climate accord Thursday, prompting a furious global backlash and throwing efforts to slow global warming into serious doubt.
In a sharply nationalistic address from the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced the United States would immediately stop implementing the “bad” 195-nation accord.
“I cannot, in good conscience, support a deal that punishes the United States,” he said, decrying the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”
Trump repeatedly painted the pact — struck by his predecessor Barack Obama — as a deal that did not “put America first” and was too easy on economic rivals China, India and Europe.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be.”
Trump offered no details about how, or when, a formal withdrawal would happen, and at one point suggested a renegotiation could take place.
“We’re getting out but we’ll start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” he said.
That idea was unceremoniously slapped down by furious allies in Europe, who joined figures from around the United States and the world in condemning the move.
“The agreement cannot be renegotiated,” France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement.
The United States is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, so Trump’s decision could seriously hamper efforts to cut emissions and limit global temperature increases.
Amid Trump’s domestic critics was Obama, who said the United States was “joining a handful of nations that reject the future.”
Nicaragua and Syria are the only countries not party to the Paris accord, the former seeing it as not ambitious enough and the latter being racked by a brutal civil war.
Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in last year’s White House race, called the decision to pull out a “historic mistake.”
“The world is moving forward together on climate change. Paris withdrawal leaves American workers & families behind,” she said in a tweet.
The Democratic governors of New York, California and Washington states formed a quick alliance, vowing to respect the standards agreed on under the Paris deal.
In New York, some major buildings, like the World Trade Center and City Hall, were lit green in solidarity with the climate agreement, echoing a move in Paris.
With much of the implementation of the accord taking place at the local level, the Paris accord’s supporters hope the deal will be in hibernation rather than killed off entirely.
Trump’s decision is likely to play well with the Republican base, with the more immediate damage on the diplomatic front.
The US president called his counterparts in Britain, Canada, France and Germany to explain his decision.
But traditional US allies were uncharacteristically blunt in their condemnation of the move, which comes amid already strained relationships with the hard-charging president.
Germany said the US was “harming” the entire planet, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the decision “seriously wrong.”
Trump the showman
Ever the showman, the 70-year-old Trump had given his decision a reality TV-style tease, refusing to indicate his preference either way until his announcement.
Opponents of withdrawal — said to include Trump’s daughter Ivanka — had warned that America’s leadership role on the world stage was at stake, along with the environment.
A dozen large companies including oil major BP, agrochemical giant DuPont, Google, Intel and Microsoft, had urged Trump to remain in the deal.
Ultimately, the lobbying by Trump’s environmental protection chief Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Steve Bannon urging the president to leave won out.
In the wake of the announcement, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Disney chief Robert Iger announced they would no longer take part in presidential business councils.
“Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Musk said.
GE head Jeff Immelt said he was “disappointed” with the decision: “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
White House officials acknowledged that under the deal, formal withdrawal may not take place until after the 2020 election.
Hours ahead of Trump’s announcement, China’s Premier Li Keqiang pledged to stay the course on implementing the climate accord in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and urged other countries to do likewise.
China has been investing billions in clean energy infrastructure, as it battles to clear up the choking pollution enveloping its cities.
China and the US are responsible for some 40 percent of the world’s emissions and experts had warned it was vital for both to remain in the Paris agreement if it is to succeed.
The leader of Asia’s other behemoth, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who is due to visit the White House shortly — has said failing to act on climate change would be “morally criminal.”
Trump’s announcement comes less than 18 months after the climate pact was adopted in the French capital, the fruit of a hard-fought agreement between Beijing and Washington under Obama’s leadership.
The Paris Agreement commits signatories to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, which is blamed for melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels and more violent weather events.
They vowed steps to keep the worldwide rise in temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times and to “pursue efforts” to hold the increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Sources: Andrew Beatty | AFP