Trump’s overture to emerging Asia drowned out by trade war with China


US Trade war with China overshadows US$113m investment initiatives trumpeted by US Secretary of State

 

 

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – When the U.S. Secretary of State flies into Southeast Asia this week with a new investment pitch for the region, the response could be: thanks a million, but please stop threatening a trade war with China that will make us lose billions of dollars.

Analysts say the $113 million of technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives trumpeted by Mike Pompeo earlier this week – the first concrete details of U.S. President Donald Trump’s vague ‘Indo-Pacific’ policy – may be hard to sell to countries that form an integral part of Chinese exporters’ supply chains.

It may even further inflame tensions with Beijing, which has been spreading money and influence across the region via its Belt and Road Initiative development scheme.

“The Southeast Asian capitals are more worried about any blowback effects for them of U.S.-China trade tension than they are about how much they can benefit from this $113 million initiative,” said Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“Pompeo has a hard selling job. There is still no real positive trade story for Asia coming out of the United States.”

Hot on the heels of Washington’s new economic plan for emerging Asia came reports the United States could more than double planned tariffs on $200 billion of imported Chinese goods from dog food to building materials. China called it “blackmail” and vowed retaliation.

After a brief meeting with new Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur, Pompeo will fly to Singapore – a global trading hub that could be one of the hardest-hit in the region by a trade war – for a sit-down with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday.

Singapore’s biggest bank, DBS, estimates that a full-scale trade war – defined as 15-25 percent tariffs on all products traded between the U.S. and China – could more than halve Singapore’s growth rate next year from a forecast 2.7 percent to 1.2 percent. Malaysia’s growth rate in 2019 could fall from an estimated 5 percent to 3.7 percent.

“We are all acutely aware of the storm clouds of trade war,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said at the opening of an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Thursday that precedes meetings with the United States and other nations.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier this year that a trade war would have a “big, negative impact” on the country.

Ratings agency Moody’s said this week that an escalation of trade tensions in 2018 had become its “baseline expectation”, and that Asia was “especially vulnerable” given the integration of regional supply chains.

SANCTIONS ON NORTH KOREA

As well as trade, Friday’s meeting will also cover security issues such as South China Sea disputes and North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. The United States will press Southeast Asian leaders to maintain sanctions on Pyongyang following reports of renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Pompeo will also travel to Indonesia during his trip – Southeast Asia’s biggest economy which under Trump faces losing some of the trade preferences given by Washington for poor and developing countries.

Few officials around the region offered comment on the Indo-Pacific strategy when contacted by Reuters for this story. One said that the ASEAN meeting in Singapore would be an opportunity “to have clarity and a more unified position” on the vision.br

One reason for caution is that the region has been wrong-footed by U.S. advances before.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia went on the backburner after Trump won the 2016 election promising to put “America First”. One of his early acts in office was to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which involved four Southeast Asian states.

The result was that across Asia, more and more countries were pulled into China’s orbit: softening their stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea and borrowing billions of dollars from Beijing to develop infrastructure.

The Philippines is one example of a country which has taken a more conciliatory approach to China despite a bitter history of disputes over maritime sovereignty.

Its President Rodrigo Duterte frequently praises Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and in February caused a stir when he jokingly offered the Philippines to Beijing as a province of China.

Thailand, one of Washington’s oldest allies, is another major regional power perceived to have moved closer to China after U.S. relations came under strain because of concerns about freedoms under its military-dominated government.

Thai foreign ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks told Reuters the country was proceeding with “a balanced approach” towards the United States and China.

U.S. officials said the Indo-Pacific strategy does not aim to compete directly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Yet, in an apparent reference to China, Pompeo said Washington will “oppose” any country that seeks dominance in the region.

While Chinese officials have not criticized the U.S. approach, its influential state-run tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Tuesday: “Belt and Road is destined to continue to flourish. This has nothing to do with certain forces that are selfish and engage in petty practices and make jibes.”

John Geddie Reuters

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Trade war’s twrist: US and EU gang up deal against developing countrries?


IN the past few days, there has been a new twist to the global trade war. The United States, which had threatened to impose a 25% additional tariff on European cars, made a deal with the European Union.

US President Donald Trump suspended the automobile tariff plan and may exempt the EU from the earlier US tariffs on aluminium and steel.

In exchange, the EU countries will buy more soybean and energy products from the US, and the two giants will work to eliminate tariffs and subsidies in all industrial pro­ducts traded between them.

Trump and European Commis­sion president Jean-Claude Juncker also agreed to work to reform the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and to tackle China’s market abuse, according to a Reuters report.
“If it holds, the US-EU pact could allow both to focus on China, whose economic rise threatens both,” added the report.

Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that, “US and EU will be allied in the fight against China, which has broken the world trading system, in effect”.

Thus, the US-EU deal appears to be both good and bad news. Good because there is a cooling off on one front of the global trade war. Bad because the traditional Western allies may gang up to attack not only China but also the rest of the developing countries.

The US and EU may now jointly pressurise China on various issues. A bigger aim is to hinder China from its Made in China 2025 plan to upgrade its domestic industry in 10 high-tech areas including robotics, autonomous and electric cars, artificial intelligence, biotech and aviation. They do not want Chinese firms to emerge as world-class cham­pions that rival American and European companies.

The US, EU and Japan last December signed an understanding to jointly act against China on trade issues, including steel overcapacity, technology transfer, and the role of subsidies, state financing and state-owned enterprises.

Over the years, the EU has turned to some developing countries as potential allies when it has a conflict with the US but eventually it strikes a deal with the US and then the two Western powers unite and take aim at the developing countries.

This famously happened in the early 2001-2003, when the EU fought the US in the WTO over agriculture subsidies. Then they reached an understanding to protect their own subsidies while pressurising developing countries to open up their agricultural markets.

Today, developed countries continue to spend many hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, as well as maintain high tariffs, to keep their farms in business.

The US and EU also flood the world market with their artificially cheapened farm goods, while insisting that developing and poor countries open their markets through lower tariffs for both agricultural and industrial products. This hypocritical practice is at the heart of the imbalances and inequities of the world trading system.

Now, as part of their deal, the US and EU seem to want to continue maintaining double standards. They agreed to cut indus­trial tariffs and subsidies to zero, but to leave alone their agriculture tariffs and subsidies.

Moreover, they agreed to work on reforming the WTO, without spelling out what this means. At the WTO, the US and EU have recently moved to change the way the system has differentiated between developed and developing countries.

Recognising the weaknesses of developing countries, the WTO long ago adopted the principle of special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries.

Under this principle, in talks to cut tariffs, developed countries have to cut by a higher percentage than developing countries, and the least developed countries (LDCs) need not reduce tariffs at all. In various rules, developing countries and especially LDCs are mandated to take on less obligations.

However, the developed countries are now challenging the SDT principle.

“Developing and least-developed countries are facing the worst crisis yet at the WTO due to the sustained assault by the US along with the EU and Japan,” according Ravi Kanth in the Geneva-based South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) on July 4.

“Using Trump’s aggressive trade demands as a pretext, some major developed countries such as the EU and Japan have been attempting to deny the SDT flexibilities to deve­loping countries,” SUNS added, quoting a trade envoy from a major developing country.

“The entire system of the WTO is under threat following the Trump administration’s trade initiatives based on reciprocal market access as well as the attempt to foist plurilateral outcomes without multila­teral consensus, and intensified moves to undermine the SDT flexibilities by industrialised countries, particularly the EU.”

Meanwhile, the US actions of unilaterally raising tariffs on alumi­nium and steel, and on US$250bil (RM1 trillion) of Chinese products, violate the WTO’s main principles, threatening the creditability and viability of the organisation itself.

But Trump is not worried or sorry at all. At the beginning of July, he said: “The WTO has treated the United States very badly and I hope they change their ways. They have been treating us very badly for many years, many years and that’s why we were at a big disadvantage with the WTO.”

Said the SUNS article, “In short, the developing and least-developed countries face the prospect of their hard won SDT flexibilities being taken away once and for all to ensure the US stayed at the WTO.”

When the US and EU were locked in a big conflict over auto tariffs, the main enemy of the EU, China and other countries would have been the US.

Now the EU and US have agreed to “reform the WTO” as part of their bilateral deal. It is likely that such an initiative would attempt to reduce the rights of the developing countries, and even to entirely remove the principle of special treatment or even the status of “developing countries” in the WTO.

The trade war could thus have huge collateral damage. All the more reason for the developing countries’ political leaders to pay close attention to what is happening in the trade negotiating and policy­-making arena.

Global Trend by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is advisor of the Third World Network. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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SCO submit, non-Western Eurasia rises


 

First among equals: Putin and Xi had an official meeting before the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao. Sloppy US policies have helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now.- AFP

 

THE week that was ended with a significant non-Western event often ignored or misunderstood by the West: the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

The 18th annual SCO summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao this weekend is only the fourth held in China. Beijing is relaxed about its role in a growing organisation of eight member countries, six Dialogue Partners and four observer nations – a confidence that suggests considerable clout.

China and Russia are the two hulking members of a group that boasts formal parity, being the conspicuous “firsts among equals.” And as two consecutive US administrations unwittingly drive these giants closer than ever before strategically, Western attention is led astray.

Western reports track President Putin’s travel to Qingdao and the diplomatic niceties exchanged there. At the same time, Western commentators are tempted to dismiss the summit as yet another futile talkfest.

Both approaches are wrong or misplaced. While Xi-Putin exchanges may not be the highlight of this year’s SCO summit, neither are they insignificant.

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.

The latest SCO summit reaffirms the trend but adds only marginally to it by way of atmospherics. There are more important developments visible at, if not represented by, the Qingdao summit.

It is the first SCO summit at which both India and Pakistan arrive as full members.

Beginning as the Shanghai Five in the mid-1990s, the SCO has grown steadily and now incorporates three giants – China, Russia and India – in the great Eurasian land mass where both the US and the EU have scant inputs.

With Pakistan coming in at the same time as India as an equal partner, the SCO should be free from any sub-regional turbulence within South Asia.

Turkey is also an SCO Dialogue Partner whose interest in full membership is not without broader implications for the West.

Turkey has considerable military strength and is also a member of Nato, hosting its Allied Land Command and a US air base in Izmir. However, Ankara’s years-long effort to join the EU has been snubbed by Brussels.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has famously mulled over choosing between the EU and the SCO, reportedly preferring the latter. How would the West find a Nato member joining a non-Western group led by Russia and China?

Deep-seated discomfort would be a mild way to put a reaction in Brussels and Washington. To US policymakers, Turkey is a strategic country because of its location as well as its status as a prominent Muslim country.

Both China and Russia have sounded positive about Turkey’s prospective membership of the SCO. Nonetheless, SCO members share an understanding of sorts that Turkey may have to forego its Nato membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

However, Beijing and Moscow may be less concerned than Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s SCO membership with its Nato credentials intact. That immediately makes Turkey more comfortable to be in SCO company.

Turkey has already received what amounts to special treatment within the SCO that no other Dialogue Partner has enjoyed. Last year it was elected as Chair of the SCO’s Energy Club, a position previously enjoyed only by full members.

Erdogan has called the SCO “more powerful” than the EU, particularly in a time of Brexit. Bahrain and Qatar seek full SCO membership; Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Ukraine and Vietnam want to be Dialogue Partners; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Syria want Observer status.

Iran already has SCO Observer status and had applied for full membership in 2008. Following the easing of UN sanctions on Tehran, China declared its support for Iran’s membership bid in 2016.

The recent US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) has further prodded Tehran to “look East.” These days that means China and a China-led SCO.

Iran already trades heavily with China with myriad deals in multiple sectors. Mutual interests abound, far exceeding the basic relationship of oil and gas sales to China.

As Europe treads carefully, mindful of possible new sanctions on Iran following the US cop out, cash-rich Chinese firms take up the slack. US policy is also pushing Iran, among others, closer to China.

In preparing for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Qingdao on Friday, Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale said both countries were determined to work in close partnership and would never be split apart.

This echoed two main points already shared by Indian and Chinese leaders – that their countries are partners in development and progress, and what they have in common are greater than their differences.

All of this seems set to undo the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that groups the US with Japan, Australia and India, all boasting a democratic system in common in a joint strategic encirclement of China. But India’s relations with China have been on the upswing for half a year now.

The day before Modi arrived in Qingdao, a Quad meeting in Singapore closed on Friday with India expressing differences with the other members. Its Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said the Quad was not the same as its hopes for an inclusive “Indo-Pacific region” (IPR) that did not target any country.

He added that India wanted closer ties with Russia as well in an IPR. Just a fortnight before, Russia’s recent Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak said President Trump also wanted closer ties with Russia.

That was only a small part of the roller-coaster ride of international diplomacy in the first half of 2018.

In January Trump condemned the Taliban for a spate of attacks in Afghanistan, vowing that all talks with them were off. Until then, top US diplomats were carefully planning negotiations with the Taliban.

In March, US officials blasted Russia for allegedly arming the Taliban, which Moscow denied. The following month Nato voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to talk with the Taliban to “save the country.”

Meanwhile Trump’s ramparts of trade barriers in the direction of a trade war would decimate allies from East Asia to Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a European position in reaching out to China on climate and security issues.

By March the EU had dug in, preparing for the worst of US trade barriers while vowing retaliation. The WTO also warned Washington that it was veering towards a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium.

In April, China’s new Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Wei rubbed it in for Washington, publicly announcing that his visit was to show the US the high level of strategic cooperation between China and Russia.

Two days later the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia expressed similar sentiments. They championed negotiations and sticking to pledges while weighing in against the unilateralism of a unipolar power.

Where China has the SCO, Russia has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

If any discomfort is felt in Washington, it is from acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world.

Source: Behind the headlines by Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

 

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America vs China: odds narrowing


Leaders meet: A file picture showing Trump welcoming Xi to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida during the latter’s visit to the US recently. Xi has a growing economy too behind him, whatever the hiccups. Trump only promises one, without any clarity or logic. – AFP

THE contrast could not be greater. While United States president Donald Trump raves and rants – and belts this or that person – China’s president Xi Jinping looks measured and assured as he offers a global future to the world.

Xi is no angel of course, as his political opponents would know, but his system conserves and protects him, as Trump’s would not. If only Trump were the leader in a centrally controlled political order – but even then his temperament would blow it apart.

Leadership, like politics, is the art of managing the possible. Trump does not understand this, and does not know how. Xi does, knows why, and knows how.

He has a growing economy too behind him, whatever the hiccups. Trump only promises one, without any clarity or logic.

His plan to boost the American economy, based primarily on slashing corporate tax from 35 to 15%, is likely to flounder in an American Congress seriously concerned about its causing the fiscal deficit to balloon.

Already Trump has had to climb down from trying to secure funds from Congress for his dreaded border wall with Mexico in order to avoid budgetary shutdown in September.

The stock market has fallen back from the boost to the price of banks and industrial products following his election. Interest now has returned to what might be termed “American ingenuity stocks” such as Google, Apple and Microsoft on Nasdaq – a proxy for much that is great about America, which Trump’s immigration and closed-door policies threaten to destroy.

Meanwhile Xi has been rolling out his “Belt and Road” plans – something he first envisaged at the end of 2013 – for greater world connectivity and development, committing funds from China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and engaging global financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Malaysia, for instance, will be an actual beneficiary with additional projects thrown in. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner. But the US has not been a laggard, being Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner. And indeed the US remains the largest foreign investor in Malaysia, both new investments and total stock.

A staggering statistic not often recognised is that total American investment in Asean is more than its investment in China, Japan and India COMBINED!

The point, however, is that this position is being eroded. Trump’s policies are hastening this process. Abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) means there is no American strategic peaceful challenge to the Chinese economic juggernaut in Asia-Pacific.

Balance is important to afford choice. Absence of choice means serious exposure to risk. Price, quality and after-service standards are affected, not to mention a new geostrategic economic underlining.

Over-dominance by China in the region is a price not only countries in the region will pay, something that most probably is on Trump’s mind. It is a price that America too will sooner or later have to pay.

China’s Belt and Road proposition is not without its challenges, of course. India is deeply suspicious of the connectivity with Pakistan which cuts across India-claimed Azad Kashmir, about 3000km of it.

The link to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, in southwest Baluchistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea, is seen by India as a Chinese presence at the entrance to the Indian Ocean and a hawk eye on the Indian sub-continent. With the Chinese also in Sri Lanka, India is circumspect on China’s Belt and Road initiative.

There have also been commentaries on some uneconomic linkages which extend right across the English Channel.

All these reservations, however, do not take into account the benefit of connectivity to economies, the time it often takes to get those economic benefits and, most of all, the patience, persistence and long view of history of China and its leaders.

One of the most striking things about the Belt and Road map is that America is not there. Of course, Xi Jinping does not preclude America just as much as the US did not say that China was not permanently excluded from the TPP. And of course, in the Old Silk Routes and shipping lanes, the New World – America – had not been discovered.

But in their revival, led by now rising and then ancient China after 150 years of national humiliation to the present time, there is the irony that the last three quarters of a century of America world dominance is on course to be marginalised, if not supplanted, by the old Eurasian world centred in an ancient civilisation.

Trump does not seem to understand history. The art of the deal is purely transactional. Short-tempered and short-term gratification does not a strategy constitute.

So we have leader, system and economic promise distinguishing the two leaders – and the two countries.

Instead of America first, what we are seeing is Trump hurrying America’s decline relative to a rising China.

We are not seeing a world changed from people wanting to be like a kind of American to being people wanting to be a kind of Chinese. Actually, the Chinese people themselves want to be like a kind of American, with all that wealth, influence and power.

What we are seeing is China – not America – leading the way to that desired, if not always desirable, end. It is China that is driving the next phase in the evolution of world economic development.

Under Xi Jinping, China appears to be heroically moving towards an epochal point in its Peaceful Rise. With Donald Trump, America is being led backwards and inwards, with all the problems of its governance now all coming out. It is in grave danger of losing in the peaceful competition.

Not knowing how to play that game – certainly under its current President – there remains the danger of the status quo power lashing out against the rising one.

The Greek historian Thucydides observed: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

A Harvard professor has studied what is now called the Thucydides Trap and found in 12 out of 16 cases in which this occurred in the last 500 years, the outcome was war.

There are many potential flash points against the background of China’s rise – the North Korean Peninsula and the placement of THAAD missiles in the south, the South China Sea – where Trump may temperamentally find cause to lash out. This is the trapdoor he might take the world down because of failure to compete peacefully.

By munir majid – crux The Star

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.
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2017 – expect a bumpy year ahead worldwide


This will be a year like no other, as there will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide. We should prepare for the challenges ahead and not be only spectators.

THE new year has dawned. Everyone agrees 2017 will be very interesting.

It will also be most problematic. From politics to economics and finance, we’ll be on a roller-coaster ride.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, President-elect Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval, if not revolution, in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist.

US-China relations, the most im­­por­­tant for global stability, could change from big-power co-existen­ce, with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through his phone call with the Taiwanese president and after, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a negotiating card in overall relations with China. The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his many books demonising China, including Death by China: Confronting the Dragon.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade policies. Measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Thus 2017 will see protectionism rise in the United States, the extent still unknown. That is bad news for many developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be pre­occupied with its own regional problems. The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and other countries facing elections will be less open to the world and become more inward-looking.

As protectionism, xenophobia and narrow nationalism grow in Western societies, Asian countries should devise development strategies based more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its deve­lopment banks and its Belt and Road Initiative, fills in the economic void created by Western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the United States, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

In 2017 Malaysia will be among the countries most vulnerable to this, due to the large foreign ownership of local bonds and shares.

As capital flows out and the currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers grumble about the rising cost of living.

On the positive side, exporters will earn more in local currency terms and tourism will increase, but this may not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman. It might even spark a new financial crisis.

The old year ended with mixed blessings for Palestinians. On one hand, they won a significant victory when the outgoing President Barack Obama allowed the adoption of a United Nations Security Council re­solution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by not exercising a veto.

The resolution will spur international actions against the expansion of settlements which have become a big obstacle to peace talks.

On the other hand, the Israeli lea­dership, which responded defiantly with plans for more settlements, will find in Trump a much more sympathetic president. He is appointing a pro-Israel hawk as the US ambassador to Israel.

With Trump also indicating he will tear up the nuclear power deal with Iran, the Middle East will have an even more tumultuous time in 2017.

The commencement of floods in some parts of Malaysia during the holiday season, ironically following days of the taps going dry for millions in the Klang Valley, is a pre­lude to the environment continuing to be a critical issue in 2017.

Unfortunately, low priority is given to the environment. Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated for highways, railways and urban buildings but only a trickle for conservation and rehabilitation of hills, watersheds, forests, mangroves, coastal areas, biodiversity or for serious climate change actions.

2017 should be the year when priorities change, that when people talk about infrastructure or deve­lopment, they put actions to protect and promote the environment as the first items for allocation of funds.

This new year will also be make-or-break for climate change. The momentum for action painfully built up in recent years will find a roadblock in the United States as the new president dismantles Oba­ma-initiated policies and measures.

But Trump and his team will face resistance domestically, including from state governments and muni­cipalities that have their own climate plans, and from other countries determined to carry on without the United States on board.

Indeed, if 2017 will bring big changes initiated by the new US administration, it will also generate many counter-actions to fill in the void left in the world by a withdrawing United States or to counter its new unsettling actions.

There are opportunities to think through and alternatives and re­forms that are needed on global and national economies, on the environment and on geo-­politics.

Most of the main levers of power and decision-making are still in the hands of a few countries and a few people, but there has also been the emergence of many new centres of economic, environmental and intellectual capabilities and community-based organising.

2017 will be a year in which ideas, policies, economies and politics will clash, thunderously, and we should be prepared for the challenges ahead, not just be spectators.

Global Trends By Martin Khor

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

 

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Trump’s diplomacy
Hot button: Trump’s unpredictability is making him a big topic in China.— AFP

THE rest of the world will have to fasten its seat belts while the current worrying clash of superpowers China and the United States plays itself out. Although the saga of the underwater drone ended peaceably earlier this week, the drama signalled that the competition between the two has entered a new era. With help from the ubiquitous social media, their diplomatic engagement is taking place in real time swiftly, unpredictably and amid considerable tension.

The inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan 20 is expected to see US-China ties transformed into a guarded quasi-friendship requiring day-to-day reassessment. The stability that prevailed during the eight years of the Obama administration is unlikely to survive. Trump is given to knee-jerk reactions and ill-considered grandstanding for the sake of quick gain and publicity, as well as for his brash pursuit of the art of the deal, none of which bodes well for US’ relations with Beijing.

Still a month from taking office, Trump has already endangered his country’s long-standing recognition of the One China Policy by accepting a phone call from Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wan, a breach of protocol adopted after Washington formally recognised communist China in the early 1970s.

President Barack Obama immediately warned that any shift from this policy would have a serious impact on American dealings with Beijing, an important trading partner and backer of the US economy. Aiming to renegotiate extant overseas deals, Trump does not appear to care, and seems ready to test Chinese mettle on every issue.

China’s regional neighbours are aware that the nature of its relationship with the US increasingly depends on Beijing’s dealings with other countries, including the 10 nations of South-East Asia.

The attitude in the Philippines has radically changed. Whereas Manila traditionally regarded the US as the region’s military guardian, current President Rodrigo Duterte- taking umbrage at perceived American slights-has welcomed Chinese overtures. Thanks to Washington’s tendency to overreach in its authority, perceptions elsewhere are not so different.

Thus, its chief justification for wielding influence here to serve as a stopgap against China assertiveness is on the wane.

The Philippines’ abrupt refusal to be a pawn in either of the major powers games is admirable, even if it comes with risks. With sovereign territory in the South China Sea at stake, Duterte is taking a gamble in realigning with Beijing, but if those two countries can settle their differences amicably and equitably, it will have been worthwhile. The other South-East Asian claimants to maritime territories in dispute are sure to follow suit.

During the Trump presidency, more than at any time before, China has a golden opportunity to show the region and the world that it is rational and responsible in its overseas dealings. With goodwill and a commitment to peace and stability, it can take advantage of America’s loss of credibility over the election of a man who is ignorant of foreign affairs and absent in the spirit of international diplomacy. Patriotism and profit alone guide Trump, and nearly half the American electorate stands by him.

Also to be expected is a cautious realignment among the more developed Asian powers particularly Japan, India and South Korea which might pursue greater mutual cooperation as a safeguard against potential American error and affront under Trump.

No one will be surprised, meanwhile, if President Trump cosies up to Russia. While he and Vladimir Putin deny there is any special bond between them, evidence to the contrary has mounted. But using Russia as a foil against China would be detrimental to American financial and geopolitical interests. And, for Asia, while Russian investment is welcome and valued, Moscow has only a modicum of Beijing’s economic clout.

Sources: The Nation/Asia News Network

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US electoral democracy is failing, enter the China model? 21st century belongs to strivers

US electoral democracy is failing, enter the China model? 21st century belongs to strivers


Authoritarian regimes and dictators around the world must feel vindicated by the just concluded presidential race in the United States, the one-time champion of liberal democracy that had the habit of exporting if not imposing its political system and the accompanying values to the rest of the world.

It is not so much the final outcome of last week’s race as the entire democratic process that is being questioned or scrutinized in and outside the US.

In the run-up to the Nov. 8 election, spectators of American politics were served with the tale of a contest between two candidates, both with problematic backgrounds and flawed characters.

More negative revelations about the candidates emerged as the election day neared to raise serious questions about their credibility and competency of whoever is elected to lead the world’s most powerful country.

The American media had rightly if not unkindly described this as an election where voters had to choose between the lesser of two evils.

When that choice fell on Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton, there was more indignation, both at the outcome as well as the electoral process.

What went wrong with the system, many people asked?

Is the American electoral system failing that we should question its effectiveness and efficiency in picking national leaders? Or are we seeing signs of fatigue in the system that has evolved in the last two centuries? To describe this as a systemic breakdown of the electoral process would probably go too far, and would give pretext for countries to conveniently discard or to forget liberal democracy.

Maybe it is worth recalling that just eight years ago, the same system gave America its first black president in Barack Obama, who was reelected in 2012. This year, the same system almost produced the first US woman president.

Still, the 2016 American presidential race, from the process to the final outcome, gives plenty of ammunition to those who doubt the ability of liberal democracy in producing great leaders.

The timing could not be worse, coming as the US superpower status is waning, through a combination of its own failing strengths and the rise of China challenging America’s supremacy.

Liberal democracy a la America had its strong appeals in recent history that it seemed to be the natural or only course for any nation to go. Theories were postulated about the first wave, second wave and third wave of democracy. There may not be a fourth wave, at least not until nations are convinced that this is really the best way to move forward.


Enter the China model
.

Because it is a system that has proven efficient and effective, and certainly delivered the economic goods, it is now being touted as the better option than liberal democracy for developing countries looking for the right kind of nation-building model, including in the way they pick their leaders.

One caveat about the China model, however: Forget freedom and basic rights, the fundamental tenets that underpin liberal democracy.

What matters is that the system brings economic growth and development and raises people’s prosperity. The suppression of some freedoms and rights — big or small is relative — is the price nations have to pay to ensure stability, a prerequisite to development.

Freedoms and basic rights can come later, if at all.

In The China Model — Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy (2015, Princeton University Press), author Daniel A. Bell shows how China introduced a meritocratic system that has produced leaders the nation can be proud of.

The leaders that have come out of this system have consistently produced rapid growth rates that turned China from a large poor developing country to the second-largest economy in the world in these last two decades.

The system still ensures periodic changes of national guards to prevent China from becoming a dictatorship. It offers a degree of predictability to ensure stability, a factor sorely missing in liberal democracies. It is not a perfect system by any measure, but it is a model that has evolved in China out of the socialist system that the founding fathers of the People’s Republic of China launched in 1949.

But if countries are not comfortable with the costs to freedom and basic rights that the China model entails, they should probably take another look at the US democracy, and consider 2016 as an aberration rather than a system that is failing, a system that is suffering from fatigue and needing reforms.

Americans need to look at the role of the political parties and the way they produced presidential candidates. Surely a country of 320 million people deserved better choices than Trump and Clinton. How their track records and flawed characters got past the political screening system is simply baffling.

The US electoral system — including the primaries and the conventions — is simply too long and too expensive for any country to emulate. For that price, Americans should feel they are being shortchanged by the system.

This year’s voter turnout, estimated at 58 percent this year, is another reflection of the growing public apathy toward the electoral system or the candidates it produced.

The 2016 American presidential race saw the ugliest and most divisive campaigns ever seen that inevitably would leave behind a sour taste, even if Clinton gave a gallant concessionary speech.

The US election has become one big and long political show of selecting the most popular, but not necessarily the most capable candidate. One could compare it with American Idol, but even this reality TV show has been pulled out due to viewers’ fatigue.

If this is the picture of democracy, then many nations around the world would want none of it.

The US electoral system actually has built-in self-correcting mechanisms such as the two-term limits and the various institutional checks-and-balances to prevent the emergence of a despot.

The First Amendment, and the independent media, ensure that people will always have the right to speak up and to be heard, even if they have made the wrong choice.

But these may not be enough to restore the faith in liberal democracy in producing great leaders. This faith has further waned after the 2016 US presidential election. One could also throw in Brexit as another product of a democratic exercise in the Western world that has gone wrong.

In many countries, liberal democracy is no longer considered the best political system in selecting national leaders. It is not the only way forward. The China model has never been more attractive alternative in some countries, including Indonesia, still grappling with nation building.

America can help restore faith in liberal democracy by carrying out the necessary electoral reforms. It needs to show once again that democracy is the best political system in selecting leaders because it is based on the principles of respecting freedoms and basic human rights.

Yes, America can be great once again. But probably it would be asking too much from the new elected president.

By Endy Bayuni, Editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post

Can China overtake US to lead the world?

Trump’s trade tempest

Discussions were running high on global governance among Western public opinion on the eve of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Lima, Peru. Some Western media outlets hold the US is giving up its global leadership following Donald Trump’s election as US president on promises to abolish the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and withdraw from the Paris climate deal. They believe a rising superpower, China, will replace the US to lead the world.

Trump’s campaign remarks do reveal his intention to retract US global strategy. He seemingly wants to focus more energy and resources on reviving the US economy and social development. But as the US has been central to globalization, Trump is unlikely to take on the traditional isolationist road.

The West likes to use “leadership” to define the function of a major power. Admittedly, different countries have different powers and obligations due to varied national strength. The world after the Cold War was dominated by US leadership. Washington designed and maintained a string of systems, including the world trade system, the financial system, the Internet system, the security pattern and so on.

The US has invested much into maintaining this leadership and also gained considerable benefits. In the foreseeable future, it’s impossible for the US to abandon its global leadership.

The US sought supremacy over everything in the past few years. However, it didn’t have enough national strength to bolster this unrealistic goal. Trump appears to be redesigning the US leadership, withdrawing the country from fields in which he thinks resources are being wasted. China thus will gain some room to exert its influence, but is China ready?

China still cannot match the US in terms of comprehensive strength. It has no ability to lead the world in an overall way, plus, neither the world nor China is psychologically ready for it. It’s beyond imagination to think that China could replace the US to lead the world.

But as China is rapidly developing, bringing about changes to the global power structure, its participation in global governance will be a natural and gradual process, which Beijing cannot rush or escape.

If Washington withdraws from the Paris climate deal, China can stick to its commitment, yet it won’t be able to make up for the loss caused by the US. Or if the US takes on an anti-free trade path, the messy consequences will be beyond China’s ability to repair.

But on the other hand, the US, under the leadership of Trump, cannot rope in China’s neighboring countries to contain China or isolate China from the world trade system. Obama’s administration had worked to undermine China-initiated projects, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the “One Belt and One Road” initiative, but to no avail.

So Sino-US cooperation is the only choice for future global governance. For a long time to come, the leadership of the US will be irreplaceable, meanwhile, China’s further rise is inevitable.

– Global Times

Commentary: 21st century belongs to strivers 

“The 21st century is the time for the Chinese,” said the CEO of a Chinese mobile phone company at the recent launch of a new product. The CEO remarked that Western bigwigs will finally be surpassed by Chinese strivers who are determined to change their lives through hard work.

He further explained that, although some companies in developed countries are leading the world in many aspects, their bureaucracy, laziness, arrogance and ego will hinder their development.

To some extent, all Chinese people in the past 100 years are strivers who have managed to change their own fates and the fate of their country through sheer diligence; this trend is vividly illustrated by the process of reform and opening-up. After keeping their noses to the grindstone despite hardships and difficulties, Chinese people have finally succeeded in ushering in a new era.

Those who have doubted China over the years were not aware of the strivers’ true personalities. The strivers desperately thirst for better lives. They are able to bear unbearable hardships and endure unendurable suffering. Such morale and pluck can never be defeated.

The struggle of a software company in Guangdong, which has grown from a small enterprise into an industry titan, offers an inspiring story. During a trip to Germany for an exhibition shortly after the company’s founding, both boss and employees slept on park benches in order to save money. More importantly, none of them complained about having to do so.

In 2009, China needed to build a large exhibition area, as the guest of honor of that year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. However, shortly before the opening of the event, construction was not yet complete because of German workers’ fixed schedule. Therefore, the Chinese exhibitor invited workers from China to complete the work, and that team was able to finish before the opening ceremony.

It is the effort, hard work and sweat of these strivers that have contributed to China’s current development. Their willingness to struggle came from a thirst to change their fate.

In recent years, many Chinese enterprises are expanding their business in Africa. Instead of spending money on entertainment, Chinese employees there save money to make phone calls to their families back home. This priority was not received well by some locals, who believe that one should enjoy life with one’s money. As a result, people cooked up stories that Chinese employees in Africa were prisoners sent by the Chinese government. Believing these rumors, some Western media outlets even slammed China for human rights violations. Finally, a media outlet from the U.K. discovered the truth. These Chinese workers are just the same as their Western counterparts: they love their families and hope to change their lives through hard work. They consider it their life purpose to improve the quality of life of their families, especially their children. The U.K. outlet ultimately concluded that the unyielding spirit of Chinese people is unrivalled, and they will certainly change the world.

Hard work pays. This is the basis for social function. Any society will collapse without such faith.

China is no longer the impoverished country it was 30 years ago. Even so, the enterprising spirit of its citizens has endured. The country needs to stay confident, especially during the “new normal” of slower economic growth. As long as its people have the faith to change fate through hard work, they should fear no difficulty.

One dare not say that the 21st century is destined to be the era of China, but it certainly belongs to the strivers who are determined to change their lives through work.

This article was edited and translated from 21世纪属于渴望奋斗改变命运的”泥腿子”

Source: People’s Daily

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