Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?


May 17, 2017

COMMENT: One of my doctoral students at Techo Sen School at The University of Cambodia who monitors political developments in Malaysia on a regular basis asked me pointedly what is Malaysia’s Foreign Policy? I asked him back, does Malaysia have one in the first place?

All I see I said is a series of politically motivated actions which are contradictory, inconsistent, self defeating, unprincipled and often unrelated to Malaysia’s national interest. Furthermore, I see my present  Prime Minister Najib Razak hoping from one country to another (in recent months  between India and China) with a begging bowl to save his own political skin. His Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other loose cannons in his Cabinet are mere chorus boys  including those  others in the civil service and ulamakdom.

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The Magnificent Men of the 1960’s

Wisma Putra’s influence in the making of foreign policy too has been minimal since that role is supplanted by the so-called policy wonks on the 4th Floor, Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya. I expect our Minister Anifah Aman to react defensively with his comments on my blog soon. But he cannot escape the fact that Wisma Putra is today a mere shadow of what it used to be when Tun Muhammad Ghazalie Shafie was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs.

As a young foreign service officer in the 1960s, I was taught by Tun Ghazalie  that international relations is about how in the pursuit of its national interest Malaysia relates to and interacts with other sovereign states. basically with members of the United Nations in the realm of politics and security, and geo-economics.We make friends in diplomacy he never ceased remind my colleagues and I. This depends on our foreign policy.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak has yet to come to grips with reality that he is immensely unpopular and cannot be trusted to defend Malaysia’s National Interest.

I define national interest as the sum total of the individual and collective interests of Malaysians, that it is about safeguarding or advancing the collective welfare and economic well being of  all us, not of a single individual like Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Foreign policy is in reality an extension of Malaysia’s domestic policy; it is about how our elected government protects our security, improves and sustains our aspirations and priorities and addresses our concerns and calms our fears and anxieties. This principle No.1 and that is foreign policy begins at home and defines our relations with other nation states. In turn, foreign policy outcomes have a reciprocal effect on domestic political discourse.

As a nation,  Malaysia must see value in an international or bilateral relationship as a way of securing benefits for Malaysians, whether in security, politics or geo–economics. It is an interaction of our wants and needs. And it always involves a give-and-take attitude and disposition. Malaysia must, therefore, aim for win-win partnership that is beneficial, acceptable and sustainable to its united citizenry. This is the second principle.

Finally, a coherent  Malaysian foreign policy based a careful calibration of our national interest must receive the continued support of all Malaysians. It cannot be driven by the political survival needs or whims and fancies of our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cohorts at our collective expense.

The Zakir Naik case is a case in point. How can we as a people accept this Islamic extremist wanted in his homeland India  for wanton acts of promoting terrorism, and grant him permanent resident status when thousands of Malaysians born and bred in Malaysia are still stateless. It is not in our national interest to harbor this felon and conceal his whereabouts and deny India its right to bring him to the Indian courts to stand trial.

Mr. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Dr. Zahid Hamidi, you are reckless, unconscionable, and irresponsible. Your job is to protect the security and safety of all Malaysians. It is equally your top priority to locate those missing and unaccounted for because they belong to other religions than Islam. Do that or just resign and fire your Inspector-General of Police. As for our Prime Minister, I say this–your day of reckoning is coming to you soon.–Din Merican

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?

by P. Ramasamy@www.malaysiakini.com

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If the controversial Mumbai preacher Zakir Naik is not in Malaysia, then where is he? Is Malaysia distancing itself from the controversial preacher?

A few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi assured the Malaysian Associated Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Maicci) that Malaysia would not give sanctuary to any fugitive, even if the fugitive happened to be Zakir Naik.

Zahid also informed the delegation that Zakir was not in the country and his exact whereabouts were not known. Zahid pretended that he was not in the know, but surely he was aware of the movements of Zakir.

Zakir Naik is not just an ordinary person, for he has become an infamous person in international circles. He is not just an occasional visitor to Malaysia, but a very very important person with the status of permanent resident.

But the relationship between the Malaysian authorities and Zakir Naik might not be the same anymore. There is a slow but sure attempt to distance themselves from the actions of Zakir. In short, Zakir is no longer a ‘darling’ to the Muslim masses in Malaysia, or elsewhere.

Two warrants of arrest have been issued by the authorities in India for his arrest for alleged involvement in terrorist and money-laundering activities. The Indian authorities impressed upon a Mumbai court to issue the warrants, having provided the necessary evidence of the alleged nefarious activities of Zakir Naik.

Recently, it was only after India sought the red notice alert through the Interpol that Zakir Naik might have realised that India was serious about arresting him.

Malaysia has probably realised that Zakir’s presence in the country and his allegedly incendiary speeches might not be conducive to the long term interests of the country. Zakir single-handedly, through his speeches, caused apparently irrepairable damage to ethnic relations in the country.

Malaysia might have welcomed Zakir Naik earlier, but his presence in the country seems detrimental to UMNO-BN in the long run. Earlier, his speeches might have appealed to UMNO to gain Malay-Muslim support, but this perception might not be sustainable any longer.

UMNO-BN might have lost substantial non-Muslim support in the past, but it is not willing to write-them off yet, considering the general election around the corner.

Zakir is a popular figure in the Islamic circles in Malaysia. However, the changing political scenario could have rendered him a liability to UMNO and others in the  Barisan Nasional coalition. Zahid might not say it openly, but he is probably embarrassed by Zakir’s presence in the country.

There is a growing realisation in the official circles that Zakir may have outlived his usefulness.

P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.

Malaysians ready to discard racially-based parties


Study: Malaysians ready to discard racially-based parties

An Oxford University study funded by CIMB Foundation found that Malaysians generally want greater integration and unity.

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The  New Malaysia with a Conservative Arabist Mindset

An Oxford University study disproves the notion that Malaysians are not ready to discard racially-based parties.

Malaysians, in fact, prefer racially-mixed political parties to single ethnic parties, according to the study. Even rural Malays are for it. About 62% of Malays and 80% of non-Malays strongly agreed with the suggestion that political parties should be racially mixed.

The study’s authors say: “This is an extremely noteworthy finding. Malaysians are often told that they are not ready to move beyond communally-based political parties; that people will react badly to not having their interests championed by such parties.

“The explanation for this is that while the urban Malays may be comfortable with mixed-race parties, the rural folks are not. However, our data shows that 62% of rural Malays and 63% of urban Malays strongly endorse mixed parties.”

The study, carried out in Peninsular Malaysia in September-October last year, involved 503 Malays, 500 Chinese and 501 Indians.

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Prime Minister Najib and UMNO’s Islamic Guru–Zakir Naik

The study titled Attitudes and Ethnoreligious Integration: Meeting the Challenge and Maximizing the Promise of Multicultural Malaysia, was done by Dr Ananthi Ramiah, Professor Miles Hewstone and Dr Ralf Wölfer with a grant from the CIMB Foundation.

The study notes that across the board, a high percentage of people from the different  ethnic groups expressed strong agreement for better integration among Malaysians. The Indians were the most enthusiastic for integration.

The authors asked respondents how much they thought a series of possible changes to government policy and neighbourhood ethnic composition might improve integration.

On creating more racially-mixed neighbourhoods, there was a significant difference between the three ethnic groups in level of agreement. The Malays expressed a lower level of agreement than the Chinese and the Indians, and the Chinese expressed less agreement than the Indians.About 60% of Malays, 70% of Chinese and almost 80% of Indians supported mixed neighbourhoods.

There was also a significant difference between the three ethnic groups on doing away with vernacular education at the primary school level, with the Malays agreeing to a much greater degree than the Chinese and Indians. The Chinese, especially, were very supportive of vernacular education.Slightly more than 60% of Malays, 20% of Chinese and about 45% of Indians were for this.

On introducing fair competition for everyone so that no one group gets special privileges, Malays agreed to a lesser degree than the Chinese and the Indians.

On the suggestion that all religions should be treated equally in government policy, there was a significant difference between the three ethnic groups. The Malays agreed with this to a lesser degree than the Chinese and the Indians.

About 60% of Malays and 90% of Chinese and Indians agreed with this. “Thus, in general, we note the trend that the Malays expressed a lower level of agreement to most of the integration suggestions than the Chinese and the Indians, with the exception of the suggestion to do away with vernacular schools, about which the Chinese are substantially less enthusiastic than the Malays and the Indians.”

The study could not conclusively say that having friends from other ethnic groups influenced the answers to some of these suggestions.

Generally, the more friends they had who were of other ethnic backgrounds, the more they appeared to support integration. But this was not always the case. For instance, the study found that Indians highly endorsed mixed neighbourhoods regardless of the number of outgroup friends they had.

It found that the Chinese respondents expressed low levels of support for the dismantling of vernacular schools, regardless of the number of outgroup friends they had.

China– A threat to the South China Sea?


May 3, 2017

China– A threat to the South China Sea?

by Mark J. Valencia @www.eastasiaforum.com

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When reporting on the South China Sea, it has become commonplace for media around the world to draw upon think tank research detailing China’s developing military capable facilities in the region. Some use the information to bolster campaigns to convince the US Trump administration that China presents an imminent threat to the country’s interests, including freedom of navigation. But the deepening drumbeat for the US to militarily confront China in the South China Sea should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism.

One report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies describes China’s latest construction projects in the South China Sea, concluding that it ‘can now deploy military assets including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers to the Spratly Islands at any time’. This is fact. But the AMTI director also warned in a subsequent interview to ‘look for deployment in the near future’. This implies that China intends to use these facilities to do so. This is supposition.
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US Aircraft Carrier US Carl Vinson

Australia’s Lowy Institute released a similar report fretting that ‘these strategic outposts will permit Beijing to enhance its power projection capabilities and establish anti-access zones right across the South China Sea’. There are many bad things that could happen in the South China Sea. But that doesn’t mean that they will.

Media distortion flourishes when academic analysts themselves push US-slanted research. Let’s take the concern that China will interfere with freedom of commercial navigation. Media articles often cite the more than US$5 trillion trade that transits the South China Sea. The obvious inference is that China may use their facilities to disrupt this trade. This is possible. But China has not done so, is unlikely to do so and maintains it will not do so. China’s economy depends on seaborne trade through the South China Sea, which would likely be interrupted in a conflict.

The United States has cleverly conflated freedom of commercial navigation with the freedom to undertake provocative military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities (ISR). The US argument is that freedom of navigation is indivisible and includes both commercial navigation and US IRR probes. The United States then argues that China’s interference with its military vessels and aircraft in and over China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) violates freedom of navigation. But China argues that it is not challenging freedom of navigation itself, only the abuse of this right by the US military in its EEZ.

US ISR missions include active ‘tickling’ of China’s coastal defences to provoke and observe a response, interference with shore to ship and submarine communications, ‘preparation of the battlefield’ using legal ambiguities to evade the scientific research consent regime, and tracking of China’s new nuclear submarines for potential targeting as they enter and exit their base. In China’s view these are not passive intelligence collection activities commonly undertaken and usually tolerated by most states. Moreover, they are not uses of the ocean for peaceful purposes as required by UNCLOS, but are intrusive and controversial practices threatening the use of force which is prohibited by the UN Charter.

Western think-tank research seems often one-sided and focused on ‘outing’ China. More balanced analysis would pay equivalent attention to other claimants’ activities — particularly those of the US navy and its own ‘militarisation’ of the South China Sea. While China might present a problem for the US navy in encounters close to the Chinese mainland, the United States still maintains the overall military advantage in the South China Sea. It currently operates with combat military vessels and aircraft as well as manned ISR assets. It is also deploying aerial, surface and underwater drones to the area.

Research on the South China Sea also commonly neglects the vulnerability of China’s installations to the US capability to destroy them. In any conflict scenario — and interference with commercial freedom of navigation would likely incite conflict — these facilities would be indefensible in the face of US long-range cruise missiles.

According to Dennis Blair, retired Admiral and former US director of national intelligence, ‘The Spratlys are 900 miles away from China for God’s sake. Those things have no ability to defend themselves in any sort of military sense. The Philippines and the Vietnamese could put them out of action, much less us’. Vietnam has deployed advanced mobile rocket launchers to some of the features it occupies thus threatening China’s installations.

China apparently does not consider defensive installations ‘militarisation’. It has repeatedly warned it will defend itself if the United States persists with provocative ISR probes and Freedom of Navigation exercises (FONOPs) near its coast and occupied features. In a January 2016 teleconference with US Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson, Chinese naval commander Wu Shengli said that ‘We won’t not set up defences. How many defences completely depends on the level of threat we face’. Self-defence is every nation’s right.

There is obviously disagreement over the definition of ‘militarisation’ and who is doing it. Was the recent US deployment of the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike force into the South China Sea ‘militarising’ the Sea? What about US ally Japan announcing with great media hype that it will send its largest naval vessel there? Both China and the US are ‘militarising’ the South China Sea — at least in each other’s eyes.

Mark J. Valencia is an Adjunct Senior Scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), Haikou.

Dealing with Rogue North Korea–Just a Blunter Rhetoric from Trump and Associates


May 2, 2017

Dealing with Rogue North Korea–Just a Blunter Rhetoric from Trump and Associates

by Tom Le@www.eastasiaforum.org

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For all the tough talk about going it alone if China is ‘not going to solve the problem’, Trump’s approach to North Korea is remarkably similar to every other US administration’s strategy since North Korea acquired nuclear weapons. All options have always been on the table, Trump has just been blunter about it. The dilemma the international community faces is that all options are costly.

North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program may be the most dangerous threat in international relations today. Since 9/11, fear of terrorist groups seeking to obtain nuclear weapons has been an ever-present concern. But North Korea is a belligerent state that already has them, posing an immediate threat of use and proliferation.

Pyongyang has shown a flagrant willingness to break international law, attack its neighbours, kidnap foreign civilians, carry out assassinations in foreign territories and threaten superpowers. Yet the international community has settled for maintaining the status quo as it has convinced itself that this is the least costly of options. Millions of North Koreans have paid for this decision with their human rights and lives.

Regional stakeholders so far have pursued two direct non-military strategies: talks and sanctions, neither of which have curtailed the WMD program or improved human rights in North Korea. Indirect approaches such as international ‘naming and shaming’ and isolation have also not had an impact.

The Six-Party Talks, first held in 2003 and discontinued in 2009 after six rounds, failed to provide a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear puzzle. Renewal of talks is highly unlikely as the Trump administration has stated it is unwilling to pursue ‘20 years of a failed approach’ and North Korea seeks only bilateral talks without any preconditions. Adding to this, the current geopolitical context is not conducive to cooperation as the US–China rivalry has intensified and US–Russia relations are being scrutinised given the current FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election.

South Korea is undergoing a leadership transition and its North Korea policy is uncertain, so it is unlikely to take the lead. Even Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown a willingness to negotiate with almost anybody and has held negotiations with North Korea on the abduction issue, is an unlikely partner. The missile test during Abe’s February US visit and subsequent united declarations that North Korea is a ’serious threat’ leaves Abe little room to pursue talks.

The Trump administration has floated the idea of tightening the screws on North Korea through additional sanctions to go along with existing ones imposed by the United States and the UN. Sanctions can be effective for sowing discontent among elites, as they may limit their ability to transfer money and travel. But sanctions are notoriously ineffective and disproportionately harm the civilians, who are themselves victims of the authoritarian regime.

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Tough talking Vice President Mike Pence–Threats won’t scare a desperate regime.

Trump would have to take a tough stance on China to fulfill his threat of wider sanctions ‘aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system’ with a focus on Chinese banks. It is unlikely to eventuate given that he backed down from his One-China policy posturing. An antagonistic approach to China would also risk greater regional instability if it escalates into a trade war or affects other contentious issues.

On the other hand, 64 per cent of Americans would support the United States using military force to defend its Asian allies in the event of a serious conflict with North Korea. The United States could pursue a limited path of pre-emptive strikes targeting WMD facilities, or a more ambitious one, such as war to overthrow the Kim regime.

The less costly option of a pre-emptive strike still would not guarantee any success as it would be difficult to take out all the North Korean weapons facilities. The United States has limited knowledge of the current WMD program and facilities as there have not been inspectors in North Korea for almost a decade. A pre-emptive strike also risks a full-scale war on the Korean peninsula. North Korea has thousands of pieces of artillery aimed at Seoul and, according to some estimates, it could obliterate the city in as little as two hours.

Even if a war against North Korea is ‘successful,’ few are willing or ready to deal with the aftermath. The United States lost its taste for nation building and is unwilling to deal with state collapse after two failed efforts in the in the last 15 years. Following the collapse of the North Korean state, the region would need to aid millions of refugees, rebuild a failed state and develop and implement a unification plan in concert with South Korea.

Since 1991, South Korea has collected far short of the estimated US$500 billion needed for unification. Integration of the North Koreans would also be difficult as defectors have faced discrimination and younger South Koreans are increasingly not interested in unification at all. Questions of whether a united Korea would keep its nuclear weapons or what kind of government would follow are ones no one is ready to answer.

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War will destroy South Korea, especially Seoul

The international community has chosen to maintain the status quo because of the high costs of solutions, difficulty in finding consensus and inability to escape classic realist logic. Following the 5 April missile test, a senior White House official declared, ‘the clock has now run out and all options are on the table’ — perhaps indicating that the clock is running out for the international community as North Korea gains leverage with each passing day.

It is also important to realise that inaction means millions of North Koreans will continue to suffer under the brutal Kim regime. North Koreans are paying for their oppressive government and for an international community that has found the status quo to be more acceptable than the alternatives.

As unpalatable as it may be, the international community must accept that North Korea is a nuclear state, and open channels of negotiation with the Kim regime. The clock ran out a long time ago for millions of North Koreans. Living with failure should not be acceptable for the United States or the international community.

Tom Le is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Pomona College.

ASEAN Limps to a Filipino Gala


May 1, 2017

ASEAN Limps to a Filipino Gala

by Philip Bowring@www.asiasentinel.com

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Anybody wondering what useful came out of the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders’ summit in Manila over the weekend may read this brief communique. The answer is clear: very little besides what appears to have been quite a party.

  1. We, the Heads of State/Government of ASEAN Member States, gathered for the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila on 29 April 2017 under the Chairmanship of the Republic of the Philippines with the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” which envisions an integrated, peaceful, stable and resilient ASEAN Community that actively takes a leading role as a regional and global player in advancing political-security cooperation, sustainable economic growth and socio-cultural development in Southeast Asia and in the world.
  2.   We engaged in productive and fruitful deliberations reflective of our commitment to renew the aspirations and the enduring values of the ASEAN Founding Fathers, in adherence to the purposes and principles enshrined in the Bangkok Declaration which launched ASEAN in 1967 and the ASEAN Charter and to realize the six thematic priorities selected by the Philippines as ASEAN’s main deliverables for 2017, the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of ASEAN, namely: (a) A people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN; (b) Peace and stability in the region; (c) Maritime security and cooperation; (d) Inclusive, innovation-led growth; (e) ASEAN’s resiliency; and (f) ASEAN: a model of regionalism, a global player.

Or they could read the 124 paragraphs of additional waffle about lofty goals and such as ending smuggling, piracy and other evils and fears about situation, such as North Korea about which ASEAN has no role to play. Or they could cheer the acknowledgement of the “Role of the Civil Service as Catalyst for Change,” a document oozing with the self-congratulatory spirit of so much of the group’s pronouncements.

A more entertaining and doubtless more accurate flavor of the meeting was the priority given in the Philippines media to congenial aspects of the events. President Duterte managed to be on his best behavior, dressing in a manner his fellow leaders would regard as appropriate and not delivering swear words or gratuitous insults. Even his kowtow to China was delivered in phrases which did not especially offend the Vietnamese and others wanting a stand against China’s annexation of the South China Sea rather than pitiful retreat in the face of promises of Chinese riches.

The main theme as far as the local media was concerned was it showed the Philippines was the best big party organizer in the 10-nation group. The highlight was the “ASEAN Fiesta” attended by 800 guests and featuring ethnic dances, folk and chart-topping music, and with the ASEAN leaders all attired in newly-designed barongs based on Mindanao tribal patterns and receiving Philippine mahogany trays designed with folk dancers or colorful birds.

But the brutal facts underlying ASEAN in the year it turns 50 are that such political cohesion as it had at times continues to fray. Inertia and indecision on the part of Indonesia, the region’s biggest nation, must carry much of the blame despite President Joko Widodo’s international standing and interest in the maritime and archipelagic issues. Indonesian wavering makes it easier for China to keep ASEAN divided on the sea issue, again retreating into pious statements about a Code of Conduct.

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Blame for ASEAN’s lack of standing too resides with the dubious reputations of some current regional leaders, notably Duterte himself, Malaysia’s Najib Razak and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha. Contrast this with the days of Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto and Mahathir Mohamad.

Regional cooperation on the economic and social fronts has not been set back by political divisions so far. However, it is hard to see any new initiatives or much progress in making a reality of existing free trade agreements despite minor improvements in some areas of cooperation. A more forthright approach to real fears about protectionist threats by the new US President Donald Trump, who stunned the association by inviting Duterte to the White House at some future time, would also have been appropriate at a time when Trump is apparently entering the dangerous territory of mixing trade with security issues.

Trump has wrecked Asian unity by cancelling US participation in the TransPacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade pact negotiated by his predecessor, whose main if unspoken aim was to keep China out of it.

Asia’s American Foreign Policy Menace–Donald J. Trump


May 1, 2017

Asia’s American Foreign Policy Menace--Donald J. Trump

by Brahma Challaney*@www.project-syndicate.com

*Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

It is conceivable that Trump could flip again on China (or North Korea). Indeed, Trump’s policy reversals may well turn out to be more dangerous than his actual policies. The need for constant adjustment will only stoke greater anxiety among America’s allies and partners, who now run the risk that their core interests will be used as bargaining chips. If those anxieties prompt some countries to build up their militaries, Asia’s strategic landscape will be fundamentally altered.–Brahma Challaney.

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US President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy – based on tactics and transactions, rather than strategic vision – has produced a series of dazzling flip-flops. Lacking any guiding convictions, much less clear priorities, Trump has confounded America’s allies and strategic partners, particularly in Asia – jeopardizing regional security in the process.

To be sure, some of Trump’s reversals have brought him closer to traditional US positions. In particular, he has declared that NATO is “no longer obsolete,” as it supposedly was during his campaign. That change has eased some of the strain on the US relationship with Europe.

But in Asia – which faces serious security, political, and economic challenges – Trump’s reversals have only exacerbated regional volatility. With so many political flashpoints threatening to trigger violent conflict, the last thing Asia’s leaders need is another strategic wild card.

Yet, in Trump, that is precisely what they have. The US President has shown himself to be more mercurial than the foul-mouthed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte or the autocratic Chinese President Xi Jinping. Even the famously impulsive North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un seems almost predictable, by comparison.

Perhaps the most consistent feature of Trump’s foreign policy is his obsession with gaining short-term advantage. In one recent tweet, he asked why he should label China a currency manipulator, when the Chinese are working with the US to rein in North Korea. Just days earlier, Trump had called the Chinese the “world champions” of currency manipulation.

That tweet may offer additional insight into Trump’s Asia policy. For starters, it highlights North Korea’s sudden emergence as Trump’s main foreign-policy challenge, suggesting that the strategic patience pursued by former President Barack Obama could well be replaced by a more accident-prone policy of strategic tetchiness.

This reading is reinforced by Vice President Mike Pence’s claims that the recent low-risk, low-reward US military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan demonstrate American “strength” and “resolve” against North Korea. Such claims reflect a lack of understanding that, when it comes to North Korea, the US has no credible military option, because any US attack would result in the immediate devastation of South Korea’s main population centers.

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North Korea is ready for war, but it may be prepared to make a direct deal with President Trump if conditions are right. Right now, it is a war of nerves–Din Merican

The Trump administration’s current strategy – counting on China to address the North Korea challenge – won’t work, either. After all, North Korea has lately been seeking to escape China’s clutches and pursue direct engagement with the US.

Given the bad blood between Xi and Kim, it seems that Trump’s best bet might be some version of what he proposed during the campaign: meeting with Kim over a hamburger. With the North Korean nuclear genie already out of the bottle, denuclearization may no longer be a plausible option. But a nuclear freeze could still be negotiated.

Trump’s reliance on China to manage North Korea won’t just be ineffective; it could actually prove even more destabilizing for Asia. Trump, who initially seemed eager to challenge China’s hegemonic ambitions, now seems poised to cede more ground to the country, compounding a major foreign-policy mistake on the part of the Obama administration.

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Of all of Trump’s reversals, this one has the greatest geostrategic significance, because China will undoubtedly take full advantage of it to advance its own objectives. From its growing repression of political dissidents and ethnic minorities to its efforts to upend the territorial status quo in Asia, China constantly tests how far it can go. Under Obama, it got away with a lot. Under Trump, it could get away with even more.

Trump now calls China a friend and partner of his administration – and seems to have developed a fondness for Xi himself. “We have a great chemistry together,” he says. “We like each other. I like him a lot.”

That fondness extends beyond words: Trump’s actions have already strengthened Xi’s position – and undercut his own – though Trump probably didn’t realize it. First, Trump backed down from his threat not to honor the “one China” policy. More recently, Trump hosted Xi at his Florida resort, without requiring that China dismantle any of the unfair trade and investment practices that he railed against during the campaign.

The summit with Trump boosted Xi’s image at home ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress later this year, where Xi may manage to break free from institutionalized collective rule to wield power more autocratically than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. It also indicated the Trump administration’s tacit acceptance of China’s territorial grabs in the South China Sea. This will embolden China not just to militarize fully its seven manmade islands there, but also to pursue territorial revisionism in other regions, from the East China Sea to the western Himalayas.

Trump believes that “lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” owing to his relationship with the “terrific” Xi. In fact, his promise to “Make America Great Again” is antithetical to Xi’s “Chinese dream” of “rejuvenating the Chinese nation.”

Xi’s idea, which Trump is unwittingly endorsing, is that their countries should band together in a “new model of great power relations.” But it is hard to imagine how two countries with such opposing worldviews – not to mention what Harvard University’s Graham Allison has called “extreme superiority complexes” – can oversee world affairs effectively.

It is conceivable that Trump could flip again on China (or North Korea). Indeed, Trump’s policy reversals may well turn out to be more dangerous than his actual policies. The need for constant adjustment will only stoke greater anxiety among America’s allies and partners, who now run the risk that their core interests will be used as bargaining chips. If those anxieties prompt some countries to build up their militaries, Asia’s strategic landscape will be fundamentally altered.