Trump-Washington disorder drags world down, lost humanity’s fight for survival against climate change


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.

By Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid

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.

By Martin Khor

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.

Worst polluters

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.”

‘Morally criminal’

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


Related links

Analysis: Trump tilts ‘America First’ toward ‘America Alone’ – AP News

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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Turmoil in Korean Peninsula


 

Park Geun-hye – Ousted from office

 

Park ousted but her policy stays in S.Korea

The South Korean Constitutional Court on Friday upheld the parliament’s decision to impeach Park Geun-hye, making her the first democratically elected president in the country to be deposed. Park may also face criminal charges.

A few months back, when Park’s close friend Choi Soon-sil was first exposed of wrongdoing, few people thought Park would be impeached. But as her misdeeds including her involvement in Choi’s illegal profiteering and graft by herself were disclosed one by one, the true life of Park startled South Korea and the entire world.

The impeachment of Park has no direct connection with its diplomatic policies. However, if the leader of the opposition party is elected president later, South Korea may have a chance to shift diplomatic policies.

During the first half of Park’s presidency, China-South Korea relations changed for the better, as Seoul maintained a balance between Beijing and Washington.

Despite South Korea being an ally of the US, its trade volume with China reached more than double that with the US.

There is a strong pro-US political faction in South Korea. Whenever South Korea’s relations with North Korea become strained, they would try their best to push the country back to its old route of aligning with the US.

The leader of South Korea’s biggest opposition party has been leading a popular poll as a presidential contender. He holds a negative attitude toward THAAD. South Korea may change its diplomacy if he wins the election, though the scale of change is still hard to predict.

South Korea appears to have completely overthrown Park, however, Park’s policies, especially her signature work to deploy THAAD in South Korea, are still being 100 percent implemented by the caretaker government.

If Park is only a “princess” lacking the ability of judgment and easily being manipulated, then her presidential decisions should be thoroughly re-examined; if she was truly strategically visionary for the country, then her relationship with Choi would not be so scandalous.

We have to say that South Korean society’s attitude toward Park is full of contradictions.

Attacking Park and in the meantime upholding her policy is not a reasonable behavior.

Park’s decision to accept THAAD has pushed her country closer to the US, which is a serious geopolitical mistake.

It turned South Korea from as a country benefiting from its proximity to two big countries into a pawn of the US in Asia, making it a miniature Japan instead of an independent country. If South Korea doesn’t correct its path, Park’s legacy would still be in control of the country, as if she remains in the presidential hall.

Seoul shares fate with Pyongyang, not Washington

The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command kicked off their annual joint Key Resolve military exercise on Monday. The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and F-35B stealth fighters will arrive in South Korean waters to conduct the exercise, which will simulate a preemptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities when signs of attack are detected. The US military is also deploying a new-type of Gray Eagle drone in South Korea that is capable of striking North Korean targets.

The Yonhap news agency, citing government sources, reported that the drills will include missions that could penetrate Pyongyang and target war command and key military facilities. They send an explicit radical threat to Pyongyang.

To decapitate the North Korean leadership and to punish “the South’s imperialist running dogs” with nuclear weapons are both the craziest threat Pyongyang and Seoul have sent to each other. They are equally hysterical, expressing both sides’ viciousness to destroy the other.

The US-South Korean joint drills without doubt are a deterrent against North Korea. How can Pyongyang remain indifferent facing a military exercise that includes more than 300,000 military personnel to carry out missions targeting its war command and top leader? In such a case, by no means will both sides be in the mood for negotiations. Even if they sit down, they cannot establish a minimum degree of trust for talks.

By deterring North Korea, the US and South Korea are encouraging the country to take a firm grip on the nuclear capabilities it has acquired so far. They intend to scare Pyongyang, but the actual effect is the opposite. Instead, Pyongyang believes that nuclear weapons are the reason why Washington and Seoul dare not put their plan of subverting the North’s regime into practice.

Through joint drills, more and more US strategic weapons are deployed on the Peninsula, posing a greater potential threat to China. Seoul may have more sense of security. But it disregards China’s security concern, it may even feel schadenfreude. To the Chinese people, the South Korean government has lost its rationality on the security issue.

China has participated in the tough sanctions the US and South Korea launched against the North, while the two countries rejected China’s proposal that the US and South Korea suspend their military exercises in exchange for a halt of North Korea’s nuclear activities.

The US and South Korea often accuse China of being uncooperative, but the reality is they are uncooperative over China’s mediation.

The US is here to stir up more trouble in Northeast Asia. By hitching itself to the US chariot, South Korea naively thinks it shares a common destiny with the US. However, if war breaks out, the battlefield is bound to be the Korean Peninsula while the US is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. South Korea and North Korea are the two who really share a common destiny.

Put a break on Peninsula vicious cycle 

 
US and South Korean diplomats gave a negative response to the proposal raised by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi Wednesday on the issue of the Korean Peninsula. During a press conference Wednesday on the sidelines of the ongoing annual sessions of the National People’s Congress, Wang noted that Pyongyang, which is promoting its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and Washington and Seoul, which are holding large-scale military exercises to pile increasing military pressure on North Korea, are like “two accelerating trains coming towards each other, with neither side willing to give way.” Wang stressed that the priority for now is to “flash a red light and apply the brakes on both trains.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley responded Wednesday local time that the US must see “some sort of positive action” from North Korea before it could take Pyongyang seriously at the negotiation table. Cho Tae-yul, South Korea’s UN ambassador was more direct, saying “This is not a time for us to talk about freezing or dialogue with North Korea.”

However, those two diplomats’ remarks do not mean that the appeal from Beijing only had a life that lasted several hours.

In fact, Wang’s solution is the only way out to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue apart from the use of force. It won’t be easy for all three sides, the US, South Korea and North Korea, to take a step back, but when warfare is so imminent, if they don’t want to fight, they might eventually be forced to choose the path which China suggested.

Of course, if they are so determined to go to war, although China does not wish to see that, still, they are free to go ahead.

In the eyes of the Chinese people, the North Korean nuclear issue was not created by Pyongyang alone. The country’s insistence on developing a nuclear program is without doubt a wrong path, yet Washington and Seoul are the main forces that have pushed North Korea to this path.

Now they want to stop Pyongyang from going ahead while refusing to reduce the impetus they are giving to North Korea. In the end, they failed to reach their goal and blame China for not being cooperative enough.

Wang’s suggestion aims at stopping the vicious circle on the Peninsula through an abrupt brake.

It must be uncomfortable to do so, nevertheless, it can avoid the worst-case scenario. It is believed that even if Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang refuse to admit it ostensibly, they will consider the option raised by China to avoid war.

China has expressed its willingness to be a “railway switchman” over the Korean Peninsula issue, but what happens next depends on Pyongyang and Seoul, as well as on whether the new US President has the boldness to make a peaceful decision. If the two trains resolve to have a head-on collision, a switchman will be of no use even if he wants to help.

THAAD provides a reason for China to elevate nuclear prowess

According to reports from South Korea and the US Tuesday, the two countries have started deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea. Parts of the shield, including launch vehicles, have already arrived, and service personnel and other equipment will be put in place within two months.

It seems that Washington and Seoul are determined to accomplish the installation of THAAD before the coming South Korean presidential election.

In the end, China has not been able to prevent THAAD from being set up in South Korea, but this was predicted by most observers at the beginning. Therefore, Beijing should keep calm and adopt resolute and efficient measures to minimize its threat toward China. In the subsequent games, Beijing will step by step make South Korea feel the pain and make the US realize its mistake.

We should start from increasing sanctions toward Seoul in an orderly way, comprehensively lower the level of Sino-South Korean exchanges, roll back all the privileges that Seoul has gained from China, and just maintain a normal relationship between the two.

Over the past years, South Korean commodities and cultural products have been particularly popular among Chinese consumers given the close ties between Beijing and Seoul. But we can take the current opportunity to squeeze South Korean cultural products out of the Chinese market. This is the price the country must pay for the THAAD deployment.

China should also focus on military countermeasures and strategically deal with more threats. The deployment of THAAD in South Korea has two consequences – it directly threatens military activities within China, moreover, it sets a precedent that Washington can arbitrarily implement its anti-missile arrangements around China. Both will jeopardize China’s security.

Can we neutralize THAAD technically? Research in this field must be enforced. If possible, Beijing must realize it at all costs. One thing is for sure, China’s related strategic weapons must target South Korea’s Seongju County, where THAAD will be installed.

We must prevent the US from setting up more THAAD batteries to China’s southeast or redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on South Korean soil. All that cannot be achieved by simply sanctioning the Lotte Group. The THAAD deployment will become a turning point in the Northeast Asian paradigm. When we take one step forward, we must think two steps, three steps ahead.

The most essential task for China now is to boost its military power. The THAAD installation has offered China a crucial reason to increase and improve its tactical nuclear weapons. It would be worth it if Beijing can comprehensively elevate its strategic nuclear power because of THAAD.

The world has come to a crossroad where Washington is attempting to establish global military hegemony through its anti-missile system, while Beijing and Moscow are trying to smash that plan. This is the essence of the reality.

Sources: Global Times

China ready to move into the trade and world leadership vacuum created by the US


 China sends out positive signals

CHINA has sent out stabilising messages to the world on its economic, investment and foreign policies since it convened its two most important annual political meetings (“two sessions”) early this month.

The on-going “two sessions” inevitably attract global attention because China’s policies for the year are announced by top leaders at these meetings held in the imposing Great Hall of The People, to the west of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

For this year, it is even more crucial for other nations to scrutinise the policies of China at the sessions, held from March 3 to 15, as US President Donald Trump has injected too much uncertainty into the global dynamics.

The world is weighed down by anxiety as Trump, who took office in January, abandons globalisation and advocates the return of protectionism. Hence, nations are looking for leadership from the world’s second largest economy, according to analysts.

The two sessions or lianghui refer to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that began its session on March 3 and the annual National People’s Congress (NPC, or Parliament) that started on March 5. The CPPCC is China’s top political advisory body set up by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949 after the CPC, led by Mao Zedong then, won the civil war.

Five years later, the legislative NPC was established.

Steady economic growth

China is expected to grow steadily at 6.5% or higher this year as it continues its restructuring and reforms. Last year, the country achieved growth of 6.7%.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang announced on March 5 that the growth target for this year would be around 6.5%, while he addressed more than 3,000 legislators.

This slower growth target shows China is opting for a steady growth to reduce financial risk from excessive borrowing, according to economists.

Like the rest of the world, China expects to continue to experience global headwinds and uncertainties. Indeed, the premier warned of a far more complicated global picture ahead in light of the threat of protectionism.

Alfred Schipke, an economist from the International Monetary Fund, told the South China Morning Post: “Anything between 6-6.5% will be appropriate. The key is to have sustainable growth.”

For this year, China will have to give its leaders more room to push through some painful reforms to deal with a rapid build-up in debt and over-capacity.

Li said he would tackle state-owned “zombie enterprises” producing more coal and steel than needed. And nationwide pollution, caused largely by heavy industries, has to be addressed to bring back blue skies. His list of China’s difficulties also included laziness of some government officials. But will China’s economy continue to slide?

Global Times, the party mouthpiece of the CPC, has this to say in its frank editorial: “There are many problems in China’s economy at the moment. Given that it is now stable on the whole, we do not fear these problems as they will most likely turn into future opportunities for further development.”

The news portal stated that structural reforms in the Chinese economy had been “comprehensively addressed”.

Many enterprises that are heavy polluters have been shut down. The country no longer helps inefficient enterprises to stay afloat.

The current anti-corruption campaign has curbed improper spending to the extent that businesses in classy restaurants and retail sector are badly hit.

“China’s biggest accomplishments in the past years are that it did not stop to make adjustments in its economic transition. Instead, it adjusted itself while continuing to move forward. Now, society has fully adapted to the new normal in the country’s economy,” said Global Times.

Despite having to tackle its own economic problems, China has sent out a heartening message that it will continue to be the strong engine of global growth. Last year, China contributed about one-third of the world’s economic growth.

“China’s steady growth has brought in greater demand, investment and products to the world economy … China will help improve global prosperity and regional infrastructure as it pushes its belt and road initiative,” said Wang Guoqing, spokesman for CPPCC on March 3.

More than 100 countries and organisations have joined the belt and road initiative and over 40 of them have cooperation pacts with China, added Wang.

The belt and road initiative, proposed by Xi in 2013, aims to build infrastructure and trade network to link Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes.

Since 2013, China has financed and gotten involved in projects on aviation, power, rail, road and telecommunications in participating belt-road countries. It is planning to host a belt and road Summit in May that could see China announcing more multi-billion dollar projects to benefit its trade partners and its own economy.

Opening up further

China had also told the world it would open up further and liberalise more sectors to promote trade and investment.

After the opening of the NPC session on March 5, core leader President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s commitment to “open up wider”.

“China will open up like never before. China’s opening door will not close,” said Xi in his report.

“China’s door will open wider, and China will keep working to be the most attractive destination for foreign investment.”

Xi made the remarks while joining in a panel discussion with lawmakers from Shanghai last Sunday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Foreign firms will be able to get listed on China’s stock markets and issue bonds. They will also be allowed to participate in national science and technology projects.

Foreign firms will also be treated as domestic firms in license applications and government procurement, and will enjoy preferential policies like locals under the “Made in China 2025” initiative aimed at modernising the manufacturing sector.

Service industries, manufacturing and mining will be more open to foreign investment.

Ian Yoong, a former investment banker in Malaysia, opines that Xi’s vows to open up and liberalise sectors “shows that China is ready to take over the mantle from the US as the dominant superpower”.

He tells Sunday Star: “The key themes of President Xi and Premier Li’s speeches are globalisation and liberalisation of trade, totally countering President Trump’s plans for the US.

“This is a signal to the world that China is ready to move into the trade and political leadership vacuum to be created by the US.”

Easing tension in South China Sea

For South-East Asian nations, there was some relief when the Middle Kingdom appears to have softened its tone in South China Sea disputes.

In remarks made on March 3, Wang, the spokesman for the CPPCC placed emphasis on “navigational freedom”, which the US has often advocated.

“As a major trading nation and the biggest country along the South China Sea, China attaches more importance than any other country to navigational freedom and security in the South China Sea.”

This stance was starkly different from the hard tone of previous months, during which China warned the US and Japan to stay away from its “own sea”.

China’s recent naval force demonstrations in South China Sea had also unnerved Asean nations.

Observed Panos Mourdoukoutas, a contributor to Forbes magazine: “The shift in China’s tone in the South China Sea disputes comes as a relief for investors in Asian equities.”

But what is more comforting for Asean is that last Wednesday (March 8), China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that the first draft of a code of conduct (COC) for behaviour in South China Sea disputes has been completed.

He told a press conference: “Tension in the waterway has eased notably.”

Since 2010, China and the 10-member of Asean have been trying to work out a set of rules aimed at avoiding conflicts among nations laying rival claims over the waters.

China, which lays sovereign claim to over 80% of the resource-rich South China Sea through which US$5tril (RM22tril) worth of trade passes every year, has often stated it prefers to resolve disputes via peaceful talks with rival claimants – the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

Wang vowed China would not allow this new stability in South China Sea to be “disrupted and damaged” by outsiders.

There have been sporadic incidents between US and Chinese ships in the South China Sea. Late last year, a Chinese ship seized a US navy underwater drone off the Philippines, but later returned it.

Korean Peninsula crisis

At his press conference, China’s Foreign Minister also addressed the most pressing issue for the region now – the possibility of a war exploding at Northeast Asia.

North Korea recently launched four short-ranged ballistic missile in response to large-scale military drills held by the US and South Korea. It was reported that these launches were aimed at US military bases in Japan.

Wang proposed “double suspension” to defuse the crisis, urging North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile activities while the United States and South Korea to cease their war games.

Describing the two parties as “two accelerating trains coming towards each other”, Wang said China was willing to be a “railway switchman” to switch the issue back to the right track.

But US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley promptly responded that the US must see “some sort of positive action” from North Korea, while Cho Tae-yul, South Korea’s UN ambassador, said: “This is not a time for us to talk about freezing or dialogue with North Korea.”

CPC’s Global Times, in its editorial, opined Wang’s solution is “the only way out” to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully.

The North Korean nuclear issue is not created by Pyongyang alone, it argued.

Although North Korea’s development of a nuclear programme is wrong, Washington and Seoul are the main forces that have pushed North Korea to this path, it added.

“Now, they want to stop Pyongyang from going ahead, while refusing to reduce the impetus they are giving to North Korea. When they failed to reach their goal, they blame China for not being cooperative enough,” said the editorial.

Despite the negative response to China’s proposal, Global Times opines Wang’s handling of the press conference “displays confidence of the country”.

By Ho Wah Foon The Star

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Korean web of intrigue: Malaysia hunting for Kim Jong-nam murder


Two women suspects in Kim Jong-nam assassination remanded for seven days

KUALA LUMPUR: Two women arrested in connected with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, have been remanded for seven days.

Selangor police chief Comm Datuk Seri Abdul Samah Mat said the two women have been remanded until Feb 21 to assist in the investigations.

One of the women has a Vietnam passport bearing the name Doan Thi Huong while the other has an Indonesian passport bearing the name Siti Aishah.

“They have been remanded. So far, there is no press conference as a press statement have been issued. We will update if there is anymore development,” Abdul Samah told The Star Online.

At 11.05am, Magistrate Sharifah Muhaymin Abd Khalib was at the Sepang police headquarters to grant the police’s application to remand the woman with the Vietnam passport.

Jong-nam, 45, was killed by two women who splashed his face with a chemical at the KLIA2 departure hall at about 9am on Monday. He was about to leave for Macau.

The women later got into a taxi and fled.

One of the women, who has the Vietnam passport, was arrested at the airport on Wednesday when she tried to board a flight out.

The woman with the Indonesian passport was arrested at 2am on Thursday.

Police are looking for four men who were in the company of the two women at the airport when Jong-nam was killed.

By Farik Zolkepli and Joash Ee De Silva The Star/|ANN

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Crisis of the West or crisis of faith, year of living dangerously?


Global standard: A man walks past a poster showing a US dollar outside an exchange office in Cairo. The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference. — AP

 

OVER the Chinese New Year holidays, we were all treated to the Trump Reality Show, changing the world we thought we understood with various tweets or executive orders.

This behaviour reminded me of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi waking up and was not sure he was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that it was a man. Mr Trump is either a butterfly disguised as President or a truly smart politician disguised as a butterfly. The tragedy is that the rest of us have to live with the consequences.

This week, after humiliating Mexico and reversing his position on Nato, Trump and his advisers have switched to stoking a currency fire, accusing China and Japan of manipulating their currency and even suggesting that Berlin is exploiting a “gross undervalued” euro.

Whatever you think of Trump, he was smart enough to appoint someone like Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. You always can judge a leader by the people he or she surrounds himself with. Steve Bannon is pure American success story – Harvard trained, ex-Goldman Sachs, ex-navy, and founding entrepreneur of Breitbart news, a platform that claims to represent the alt-right and third most influential news channel after Bloomberg and Reuters.

In a remarkable 2014 speech (https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world), Bannon claimed that (this) … “is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

Taken on its own, there is nothing wrong with someone having a view of the world in crisis. But Bannon is now in a pivotal position to do something about it.

The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference.

The rest of the world is now stuck with a “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t” dilemma. If we continue to rely on the dollar, how do we avoid being accused as manipulators, when in reality, so far the market forces are stronger than any central bank on its own? If we don’t rely on the dollar, we will anyway be accused as manipulators, particularly if the currency depreciates against the dollar.

In other words, what is at stake is not a crisis of the West or its faith (which the Rest cannot change), but a crisis of faith within the Rest on the leadership in the West. The dollar remains the anchor of global stability, but when the solo anchor itself is adrift, we need to find alternative anchors. Single anchors are efficient but dangerous if they wobble. We need two or three anchors to triangulate global stability.

Here is another inconvenient truth – it’s Trump’s dollar, but the Rest’s savings. Based on the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US has net global liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.7% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. This has deteriorated from US$2.5 trillion or 16.8% of GDP at the end of 2010. The cumulative current account deficit (from trade) between end 2010-2016 Q3 was only US$2 trillion, which meant that the rest (US$3.3 trillion) was due to valuation changes (change in US dollar exchange rate) or financial account flows.

In other words, it is capital flows rather than trade that is the major driver of the exchange rate, with interest rate differentials influencing also the exchange rate.

If that is the case, going forward, the US net debt position will depend largely on the future global savers, mostly Europe and Asia. And if the savers are subject to constant lecturing by the Trump Administration, an alt-dollar solution will have to be found.

During the Asian financial crisis, Europe sided with the US to reject an Asian Monetary Fund in a move against regionalisation. But if today, the America First strategy is designed at isolating the Rest, then the Rest must unite to protect global trade and investments. If the non-dollar zone can maintain currency stability against the dollar, then there will be less accusations of currency manipulation, forcing the debate into how the US can restore its own fiscal and trade balance to maintain its own savings equilibrium.

In short, the Rest needs to remind the US that she is important, but cannot blame the Rest for all her own problems.

The reserve currency central banks have a major role to ensure currency stability, which can be only preserved by ensuring liquidity and discipline. So far, the Fed has shown responsible leadership, with strong support from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank. But if the dollar is being politicised, then alternatives can and should be found.

All options are now on the table. If the US is no longer dependent on oil and energy, then oil and energy suppliers can price oil trade in currencies other than the dollar. We have seen this before in the competition between different technology standards. The leading standard becomes dominant because it is willing to provide public goods (lots of freebies). But when the dominant standard becomes predatory or extractive in using its monopoly position, then it is time to use alternative standards.

No one should take their position or customers from granted. The Rest will not stand still whilst Trump and his cohorts decide to change allies and foes by the tweet. None of us are against the dollar but for global stability, common sense and mutual respect. The euro, sterling, yen, yuan and SDR’s time has come.

Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

By Andrew Sheng

Year of living dangerously

 

Rash move: The effectiveness of Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the US is highly questionable. — AFP

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

WHEN the world’s most powerful man conducts diplomacy over Twitter, keeping his words to 140 characters, we’d better prepare ourselves for trouble.

And indeed, since Donald Trump took over as President of the United States, there has been a series of totally unpredictable and unconventional decisions made, some mind boggling, even bordering on insanity.

And it has just been a little over two weeks since he moved into the White House.

There is no question that many Americans are troubled by a possible mass influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

This does not involve just the US but also affects several parts of Europe, including Britain, France and Germany, which explains why politicians who play the right-wing card – with the anti-immigrant agenda – are winning.

Trump clearly understands the pulse of the average American, especially those in the rural mid-west, the US heartland.

These are folks who watch conservative Fox TV and whose interaction with people of other races, religions and cultures is limited.

They are not like the liberal city folks of New York or Los Angeles, who turn up at airports and train stations, waving placards and hugging Syrian refugees, as shown on international TV news.

It is probably a different story in Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas or South Carolina but we do not hear the voices of these rural folks on CNN.

Trump won simply because he understood the fears of the average American well. He has continued to play the Islamophobia card because he knows his fearmongering works.

It doesn’t help that most of these refugees want to go to the US or Britain and not the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East. The question remains if these Arab countries are even offering places to the refugees or do the refugees themselves prefer Western secular and democratic values.

Nationalist politicians have already whipped up anger, pointing out that if these Middle East refugees hate Western culture so much and refuse to assimilate, then why should they be let in.

But Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries from entering the US, supposedly to protect the nation from “radical Islamic terrorists”, is highly questionable, especially its effectiveness.

The president has signed the order temporarily suspending the entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen into the US for at least 90 days.

This is odd because if we wish to identify terrorism acts, then surely there’s a high number of terrorists from Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Why were these countries not on the list?

Obviously, Trump did not want to offend US allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Despite the US’ constant lecture on democracy, we all know these two countries are often “spared”, despite their horrifically poor human rights record because they are strategically important to the US. We also should not forget that at one time, the vital oil supply was from Saudi Arabia.

The fact is that in the past four decades, 3,024 people have been killed by foreign terrorists on US soil.

The reality is that the Sept 11 attacks, perpetrated by citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, account for 98.6% of those deaths – 15 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers once called Saudi Arabia home.

In fact, over that period, no American has been killed on US soil by anyone from the nations named in the present president’s executive order.

The San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 22 injured in 2015 was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, who is of Pakistani descent, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who grew up in Saudi Arabia.

The Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 died and 53 were injured last year, was carried out by Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was orchestrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, both of whom were Russian, killing three and injuring several hundred people.

But as the world jumped on Trump, news reports have emerged that Kuwait does the same.

Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans have reportedly not been able to obtain tourism or trade visas to Kuwait since 2011.

Passport holders from the countries are not allowed to enter the Gulf state while the blanket ban is in place, and have been told not to apply for visas, it has been reported.

Likewise, the ban on citizens from fellow Muslim-majority nations has failed to prevent Kuwait from being targeted in a number of terrorist attacks over the past two years – including the bombing of a mosque in 2015 which left 27 Kuwaitis dead.

Kuwait is the only country in the world to officially bar entry to Syrians, until the US named Syria among the seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering its borders.

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style of leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

There will be homegrown terrorists, including Americans – and even radicals entering the US holding other passports – who plan to carry out their crazy acts.

He has also made the work and lives of career diplomats more difficult with his brazen diplomacy. It came as no surprise that 900 State Department diplomats signed a memo to oppose his ban.

According to CNN, the “memo of dissent” warned that not only will the new immigration policy not keep America safe but it will harm efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

The ban “will not achieve its stated aim of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the memo reportedly noted.

Trump has actually provided oxygen to the radicals, who will now thump the noses of moderates in Muslim countries.

There should be no surprises if the recalcitrant Trump expands his list of countries whose citizens would be banned from entering the US.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that 2017 will be a Year of Living Dangerously under Trump. Let’s be prepared for the unexpected from him.

Source: On the beat Wong Chun Wai The Star

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The world at a T-junction


Jan 20, 2017, marked the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump. Next week, the Lunar Year of the Monkey ends, ushering in the Year of the Rooster. This is where monkey business ends and the chickens come home to roost.

Trump’s election marks a watershed between the old liberal order and a new populist phase that is clearly a rejection of the old order. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer defined this change as “Goodbye to the West” – a concept that the US was committed to the defence of its allies, mostly Western Europe, Australia and Japan.

Trump has turned the old establishment on its head. Policy is not made by consensus, but by tweets. World thought leader Mohamed El-Erian, whom I had the great fortune to moderate at his keynote address to the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong earlier this week, argued that the world is at a T-junction.

The old order has come to a dead-end. It is not even at the cross-roads, where you have the option of moving forward. At a T-junction, you either move right or move left. Volatility and the range of possibilities have increased, because no one knows which policy and which rule will change with the next tweet.

There is, of course, no difficulty in picking where Trump will move. Indeed, anyone who said Trump is unpredictable is wrong – he is very predictable.

He will do whatever is in his best interest, saying that it is in America’s interest. He will move right, because the populist sentiment has rejected the old leftist liberal order. Our only concern is – how far right will he go? Based upon the inclinations of his appointees so far, it looks pretty far right.

Trump’s election marks a very important juncture in Pax Americana. Two Democratic presidents marked the rise of the present American Exceptionalism – Franklin D Roosevelt (1933-1945) and John F Kennedy (1961-1963). The first brought in the New Deal to get America out of the Great Recession and then won the Second World War, confirming the new American order. The second inaugurated a more inclusive America, ushering global idealism of the American dream, providing aid, trade and culturally, an Age of Camelot.

New deal

Trump’s ascension signals the end of the rule-based era for the public good, with a new era of clear and present self-interest, changing allies and allegiances by the tweet. Allies and foes alike do not know how to react to this new Art of the Deal.

Crossing the river by feeling the stones is possible, when there are still some stones. But crossing the swamp where waters are murky with crocodiles and leeches will be much more complicated.

I was forced to dust off my copy of German historian Oscar Spengler’s Decline of the West, written between 1911 and 1922, to get a sense of how we should think about this era from a long-term historical perspective. Vastly simplifying his magnum opus, Spengler’s thesis is that when parlimentarian politics fail, history tends to replace disorder with great men like Julius Caesar or Napoleon.

Of course, one has to recognise that troubled times do not always get great statesmen, but may get little despots and decadent failures like Caligula or Nero, who eventually bankrupted Rome.

A significant minority of Americans voted for Trump because he argued that he could make America great again. But the irony is not that America is weak, but that America is strong and on the verge of achieving the strongest recovery among the advanced economies.

The perceived weakness comes from the insecurity of a significant majority of the working class that has become disadvantaged, not by globalisation, but by the benign neglect of the Washington/Wall Street elite who favoured themselves at the expense of the working class.

Globalisation has not failed. It is the high priests of globalisation trying to deflect the populist anger against anyone but themselves that created Trump. The same high priests are joining the Trump camp, cheering the markets for the greater suckers.

What are Asians going to do in this Trumpian Reality Show?

First, we need to distinguish the signal from the noise.

All the breast-beating at the Davos World Economic Forum this week was about how the caviar-champagne-forecasters got it all wrong. They were simply too self-congratulatory, self-referential and self-satisfied. They did not do the reality checks of simply looking at what was truly happening – the anger of the masses.

Second, despite the fact that the dollar is strong and will remain strong if Trump gets his economic policies right, the US is still funded by global savings – mostly from Asia. Asia remains the world’s largest and fastest growing region with the highest savings. What we need to do is to channel that savings to Asian markets, even as the US and European banks retreat home.

Third, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was always an empty promise because going forward, technology and moving manufacturing jobs back to the US will not create greater exports for US trading partners.

The Asian global supply chain is changing very fast from all points-to-one market (US) to point-to-point; South-to-South, because with more than half of world population and a growing middle class, the potential for global trade, investment and financial expansion is still in trade between India, China, Indonesia and all the emerging markets of the world.

If the US turns inward under Trump, then Asians need to heed Franklin Roosevelt’s wake-up call at his inauguration, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Under Trump, we have much to fear, but remember, it’s “his dollar, but our savings”. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis data showed that the US had net foreign liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.8% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. In the Year of the Rooster, this is not chicken-feed.

As America moves to a new T-(for Trump) junction, the choice is not between left or right, but between a Great America or a small-minded America.

Time for Asians to think and act for themselves.

By Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

 

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