The American dream turned nightmare, President Trump’s first year …


A homeless man sleeps under an American flag blanket on a park bench in New York City in this file picture. As of June 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,900 homeless people, including 12,100 homeless families with 21,300 homeless children in New York – Photos AFP
A young homeless woman panhandles on the streets of Manhattan in New York City. According to a new report released by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development New York City’s homeless population expanded by about 4% in 2017.

American culture and a new tax Bill are exacerbating chronic poverty by helping to widen the wealth gap.

SITTING among a jumble of his few possessions on a San Francisco sidewalk, 41-year-old “Kaels” Raybon has begun to accept the bad choices he made.

He was a drug user, and did jail time. By the time he was let out, his wife and four children – two boys and two girls – had left him. Other family members had died and he had nowhere to live. He has now spent over 15 years on the street.

America may be the land of equal opportunity – but like many other countries, there is a thin line between a life on the street and a roof over one’s head. Poverty creates its own loop; a prison record, for instance, makes it difficult to find employment.

Raybon’s voice trembles as he speaks of his children.

“Emotionally, I’m a wreck most of the time,” he admits. “I see kids and dads, and I want that too. But it’s just not in my cards.”

The children came to visit him one day, he says. He was torn. “I wanted them to stay, but at the same time I didn’t, because I have nothing to offer them.”

Raybon is among those who make up the most visible indicator of America’s worsening poverty and inequality – over half a million urban homeless. They are a stark contrast in arguably the world’s richest, most powerful and most technologically innovative country.

But homelessness is only the visible tip of the poverty iceberg. Large areas outside big cities are mired in chronic poverty. The definition of poverty varies, but a commonly used measure from 2015 is an annual income of US$12,000 (RM47,500) or less.

Forty-one million Americans live in poverty – 12.7% of the country’s population. Some 46% of those live in “deep poverty” – on an annual income below US$6,000 (RM23,700).

Among them are 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children, who live in extreme poverty or on less than US$2 (RM8) per person per day.

“These are people who cannot find work … who do not qualify for any other (welfare) programmes or who may live in remote areas. They are disconnected from both the safety net and the job market,” Dr Premilla Nadasen, author and professor at Barnard College in New York City, wrote in the Washington Post newspaper on Dec 21.

Poverty is in the news again on the heels of a scathing 15-page statement released late last year by Dr Philip Alston, a tall, lean, 67-year-old New York University law professor from Melbourne, Australia, who is the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. A special rapporteur functions like an investigator and reports back to the UN.

Dr Alston is not known for beating about the bush. After a 15-day swing across six American states and cities, he is warning that worse is in store for America’s poor, at the wrong end of an increasingly widening wealth gap, and in an environment and official culture in which if you are down and out, it is probably your own fault.

The recent passage of the Republican Party’s tax Bill will make their lives worse, says Dr Alston. The Treasury Department has explicitly listed welfare reform as an important source of revenue in part to make up for the deficit that the tax cut is likely to trigger.

More important, however, is the culture.

“In a poor country, there are two starting points – that there are social rights, and citizens have a right to healthcare, a right to education, a right to food,” Dr Alston says at an interview in his booklined office at New York University.

“Second, the only thing standing in our way is resources; we just don’t have the money.”

“In the US, it’s the exact opposite,” he says. “There’s no such thing as social rights. If people are living in abysmal conditions, it’s their fault because we have equality of opportunity.

“Secondly, it’s not a resource problem. We just found US$1.5trillion (RM6trillion) to give to the super rich. The money would have been there to eliminate poverty if there had been any political will. But there isn’t.”

The US$1.5trillion refers to the Republicans’ tax Bill, passed just before Christmas that will bring the middle class some relief but inevitably, analysts say, end up benefiting the wealthy disproportionately.

America’s wealth gap has been steadily widening. On average in 1981, the top 1% of adult Americans earned 27 times more than the bottom 50%. Today, they earn 81 times more.

Meanwhile, since the 1970s, the safety net has been considerably diminished, Dr Nadasen wrote in the Post recently. “Labour regulations protecting workers have been rolled back, and funding for education and public programmes has declined. The poor have been the hardest hit.”

She added: “The shredding of the safety net led to a rise in poverty. The United States has the highest child poverty rates – 25% in the world.

In the course of his tour, Dr Alston saw houses in rural areas of Alabama surrounded by pools of sewage. “The state health department had no idea how many households exist in these conditions, nor did they have any plan to find out, or devise a plan to do something about it,” he says in his statement.

He could not help noticing that most of the area’s residents were black. But while racial divisions are not far below the surface, it would be misleading to assume that poverty is generally worse in the Native American and African American minorities. It cuts across all ethnicities. There are eight million more poor white people than black people.

Like Rudy Damian, 53, who as a teenager ended up homeless in San Francisco after taking drugs and alcohol and being involved in crime – a common pattern contributing to broken families and financial ruin.

He has several missing teeth – dental care is not covered by most health insurance and the poor, at best, can go only to hospital emergency rooms where invariably a tooth is simply extracted.

Damian says he is sober now, and even works part-time as a security guard, but still can’t afford to rent a home. He calls his sister and his 94-year-old mother sometimes, but they avoid talking about his life. “They are disappointed by my lifestyle,” he says. “I was just a loner. I was the youngest when my father died, I decided to leave (home), and that isolation has lasted throughout my life.”

Fragmentation of families and the weakening of community support contribute to the isolation of homeless people in particular. But there is more.

“Caricatured narratives” drive the debate on poverty and homelessness in America, according to Dr Alston. The rich are seen as “industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success”. The poor are “wasters, losers and scammers”.

“As long as you have the mindset that we’re all on our own, it becomes possible that when my own brother falls off the cliff, I’m able to say, ‘Well, he had the same opportunities as me. He’s failed, he has to cope with it,’ instead of saying, ‘I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to do something.’”

In Los Angeles, he found that the objective for the local authorities was to raise the standard of Skid Row, an area less than a square kilometre but containing many hundred homeless, to that of a Syrian refugee camp.

“One of the richest countries in the world, and we’re aiming to meet the standards of a Syrian refugee camp for a large population in one of our richest cities,” he says. “It is sort of stunning.”

Sources: The Straits Times/Asia News Network, by Nirmal Ghosh who is The Straits Times ’US Bureau Chief.

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Critical trends to watch in 2018


There are many issues on a fast and slow boil and some of them could reach a tipping point in the new year

ANOTHER new year has dawned, and it’s time to preview what to expect in 2018.

The most obvious topic would be to anticipate how Donald Trump, the most unorthodox of American presidents, would continue to upset the world order. But more about that later.

Just as importantly as politics, we are now in the midst of several social trends that have important long-term effects. Some are on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where a trend becomes a critical and sometimes irreversible event. We may see some of that in 2018.

Who would have expected that 2017 would end with such an upsurge of the movement against sexual harassment? Like a tidal wave it swept away Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film star Kevin Spacey, TV interviewer Charlie Rose and many other icons.

The #MeToo movement took years to gather steam, with the 1991 Anita Hill testimony against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas being a trailblazer. It paved the way over many years for other women to speak up until the tipping point was reached. So, in 2018, expect the momentum to continue, and in more countries.

Another issue that has been brewing is the rapid growth and effects of digital technology. Those enjoying the benefits of the smartphone, Google search, WhatsApp, Uber and online shopping usually sing its praises.

But the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It has many benefits but also serious downsides, and the debate is now picking up.

First, automation with artificial intelligence can make many jobs redundant. Uber displaced taxis, and will soon displace its drivers with driver-less cars.

The global alarm over job losses is resonating at home. An International Labour Organisation report warning that 54% of jobs in Malaysia are at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years was cited by Khazanah Research Institute in its own study last April. TalentCorp has estimated that 43% of jobs in Malaysia may potentially be lost to automation.

Second is a recent chorus of warnings, including by some of digital technology’s creators, that addiction and frequent use of the smartphone are making humans less intelligent and socially deficient.

Third is the loss of privacy as personal data collected from Internet use is collected by tech companies like Facebook and sold to advertisers.

Fourth is the threat of cyber-fraud and cyber-warfare as data from hacked devices can be used to empty bank accounts, steal information from governments and companies, and as part of warfare.

Fifth is the worsening of inequality and the digital divide as those countries and people with little access to digital devices, including small businesses, will be left behind.

The usual response to these points is that people and governments must be prepared to get the benefits and counter the ill effects. For example, laid-off workers should be retrained, companies taught to use e-commerce, and a tax can be imposed on using robots (an idea supported by Bill Gates).

But the technologies are moving ahead faster than policy makers’ capacity to keep track and come up with policies and regulations. Expect this debate to move from conference rooms to the public arena in 2018, as more technologies are introduced and more effects become evident.

On climate change, scientists frustrated by the lack of action will continue to raise the alarm that the situation is far worse than earlier predicted.

In fact, the tipping point may well have been reached already. On Dec 20, the United Nations stated that the Arctic has been forever changed by the rapidly warming climate. The Arctic continued in 2017 to warm at double the rate of the global temperature increase, resulting in the loss of sea ice.

These past three years have been the warmest on record. The target of limiting temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark just two years ago by the UN’s top scientific climate panel and the Paris Agreement, seems outdated and a new target of 1.5°C could be adopted in 2018.

But it is much harder to meet this new target. Will political leaders and the public rise to the challenge, or will 2018 see a wider disconnect between what needs to be done, and a lack of the needed urgent response?

Another issue reaching tipping point is the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance, with bacteria mutating to render antibiotics increasingly ineffective to treat many diseases. There are global and national efforts to contain this crisis, but not enough, and there is little time left to act before millions die from once-treatable ailments.

Finally, back to Trump. His style and policies have been disruptive to the domestic and global order, but last year he seemed unconcerned about criticisms on this. So we can expect more of the same or even more shocking measures in 2018.

Opposition to his policies from foreign countries will not count for much. But there are many in the American establishment who consider him a threat to the American system.

Will 2018 see the opposition reach a tipping point to make a significant difference? It looks unlikely. But like many other things in 2018, nothing is reliably predictable.

Global Trends by martin khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Living at the edge of chaos, climate change is not fake science


 

Nature’s fury: A car dealership is covered by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters near Houston, Texas. The chaos caused by the hurricane proves that climate change is not fake science. — Reuters

THIS month, two Category 4 hurricanes hit the United States within 17 days of each other. In Asia, North Korea is threatening nuclear Armageddon, and floods and famine are putting thousands of lives at risk from Bangladesh to Yemen. How can one survive in this chaotic era?

A first step must be to make sense of the apparent chaos. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have proved that climate change is not fake science, but real threats to home and security. When hailstones the size of golf balls hit Istanbul in the middle of summer, even the agnostics accept that climate change is serious business.

The biggest uncertainty that has hit Asia recently is the shock that North Korea has not only developed possibly a hydrogen bomb, but also the missile capability to deliver it even to the United States. This has changed the geopolitical balance not only in North Asia, but globally because it is no longer possible for the United States alone to contain nuclear proliferation.

Physics teaches us that chaos is often a characteristic of transition from one order to another. Chaos is also a pattern in which there is apparently no discernible pattern.

But there is a seismic transition from a unipolar world led by the United States to a multi-polar world of competing powers and ideology, particularly after the 2007 global financial crisis. As the share of US GDP in the world declines relative to the rest, the rise of China, India and increasing assertion by Russia and non-state players like IS means that the United States’ ability to dominate militarily and ideologically is being challenged.

At the same time, increasing stresses from social inequalities and paranoia of terror, immigration and job loss have tilted the United States to become more inward looking. The Trump administration has dramatically begun to dismantle the neoliberal order of multilateral trade and finance that shaped US foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.

There is a raw open division within the United States in outlook and values. The Democratic Left believes in maintaining the old order of moral leadership on human rights, democracy and multilateral global stability and prosperity. The Republican Right questions these beliefs and prefers America First, negotiating bilaterally to achieve that premier status.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon asked the Rand Corporation to conduct a review on “Alternative Options for US Policy toward the International Order”. The key questions for the New Global Order are: Who sets the rules and how binding are the rules?

The study breaks the future order into two camps of rule-makers – the US and its allies or a concert of great powers. Under such a division, there are two conditions where rules are binding – one dominated by the US camp to enforce rules and the other where the great powers agree to a global constitutional order enforced by institutions. The other two conditions where rules are not binding involve a coalition of states aligned to counteract against revisionism and a new concert of great powers.

The immediate problem with the Rand categorisation of New Order Visions is that the existing liberal, rules-based order is not being challenged by others, but by the US itself.

First, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comment earlier this year that Europe must begin to look after its own interests, it is no longer clear that America’s traditional allies are going to follow the US leadership when there are serious disagreements on trade, climate change and immigration. It is no coincidence that the largest trade imbalances are no longer between China or oil producers with the US, but between Europe and the United States. Germany alone is running a current account surplus equivalent to around 8% of GDP.

Second, within the Middle East, alliances are shifting almost by the day. The quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has riven the Gulf Cooperation Council, while Turkey is playing an increasingly pivotal role within the shifting alliances.

Third, North Korea’s bid for nuclear power membership, despite being a small state, means that Great Powers may have to accommodate new players whether they like it or not.

Fourth, climate change in the form of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma demonstrate that nature can impose larger and larger economic losses on nations and regions, which will require global public goods that the current order is neither willing to fund, nor able to agree on how to address. The economic losses from Harvey alone is estimated at US$180bil, equivalent to the annual GDP of a middle-income economy. The existing multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank are facing serious resource shortages relative to these new global demands.

The bottom line is that the current order has neither the resources nor the collective will to enforce rules when the human population growth puts increasing competition for scarce water, food and territorial spaces. Chaos arises from the breakdown of rules and borderlines.

In short, globalisation of trade, information and human migration has meant that traditional borders in many regions are becoming non-enforceable. For example, it is 101 years since the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement divided up the collapsing Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of interest and eventual control. These borders were drawn and enforced by the Great Powers through their military superiority.

Seen from the long lens of history, with the Great Powers being unwilling to put troops on the ground to enforce borders drawn up under the colonial era, these artificial borders are failing.

A hallmark of the times is that even the best of think tanks cannot map out how to navigate through this era of disruptive technology, unpredictable climate and shifting alliances and interests. What history teaches us is that the fault lines will be at the borderlands, at the confluence of emerging forces and stresses.

We should therefore be prepared for not only disruption at the borderlands of physical space, but within the realms of cyberspace.

By Andrew Sheng

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

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Dollar bulls face perilous start to second half of 2017


Losing streak: The greenback finished the first half of 2017 on a four-month losing streak – the longest such stretch since 2011. – AFP

https://www.bloomberg.com/api/embed/iframe?id=386fc1f7-12e9-49ed-b7d6-f4a868fc9d5c

After the worst start to a year for the greenback since 2006, the end of the first half couldn’t come quick enough for the dwindling ranks of dollar bulls. Yet if history is any guide, it could soon get even worse.

A week that’s certain to get off to a slow start with U.S. markets closed Tuesday will culminate with Friday’s jobs report. The release hasn’t been kind to those wagering on greenback strength. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index has slumped in the aftermath of nine of the past ten, despite above consensus reports as recently as February, March and May.

“The dollar has not been responding to positive data surprises, but continues to weaken substantially on negative news,” said Michael Cahill, a strategist at Goldman Sachs. “As long as that persists, the risks are skewed to the downside going into every data release.”

The greenback finished the first half on a four month losing streak — the longest such stretch since 2011 — wiping out its post-election gain. The currency’s 6.6 percent decline in the six months through June were the worst half for the dollar since the back end of 2010. Unraveling optimism around the Trump administration’s ability to boost fiscal growth has outweighed Fed policy or positive data, according to Alvise Marino, a strategist at Credit Suisse.

“What’s happening on the monetary policy front is not as important,” said Marino. “It’s more about the dollar remaining weighed down by the unwinding of financial expectations.”

The sudden hawkish tilt by global central banks hasn’t helped. The dollar weakened more than 2 percent against the euro, pound and Canadian loonie last week as officials signaled a bias toward tightening monetary policy.

Yet there are reasons for optimism, according to JPMorgan Chase analysts led by John Normand, who recommended staying long the greenback in a June 23 note. A cheap valuation relative to global interest rates, the market underpricing the likelihood of another Fed hike this year, and a still positive growth outlook make for a favorable backdrop to motivate dollar longs in an “overstretched” unwind, the analysts wrote.

Hedge funds and other speculators disagree. They turned bearish on the dollar for the first time since May 2016 last week. Wagers the greenback will decline outnumber bets it’ll strengthen by 30,037 contracts, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released Friday show.

Source: Bloomberg

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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

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