Macron’s Response to Trump: ‘I Do Not Do Policy or Diplomacy by Tweets’


November 5, 2018

 
President Trump met with President Emmanuel Macron of France in Paris last week  .Credit Tom Brenner for The New York Times

By Alissa J. Rubin

 

PARIS — The French president responded Wednesday evening to President Trump’s scathing personal attack on him, declining to lash out and instead taking the long view.

In a television interview on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which President Emmanuel Macron was visiting, he made clear that he was not going to respond in kind, but hew to both countries’ longstanding common interests.

“I do not do policy or diplomacy by tweets,” he said.

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When it comes to Foreign Policy and Diplomacy, President Donald Trump is just an Apprentice. Back to School. –Din Merican

“At each important moment in our history we have been allies, and between allies there is respect and I do not want to hear the rest,” he said after detailing French-American mutual support since 1776, when the Marquis de Lafayette fought with the struggling 13 colonies in the Revolutionary War — an alliance that has lasted through today’s war on terrorism.

Mr. Trump’s tweets were aimed at his domestic constituency, Mr. Macron said. He is “doing American politics,” Mr. Macron said.

 

Mr. Macron was responding to questions from a reporter from TFI, the French network, about the rapid-fire series of angry messages posted by Mr. Trump two days after returning from France, where he had attended ceremonies hosted by Mr. Macron commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Responding in part to the French president’s sharp critique of nationalism, Mr. Trump highlighted the French leader’s low approval rating and accused him of trying to “change the subject” to avoid talking about France’s unemployment levels, which have remained close to 10 percent despite economic and labor overhauls.

Mr. Trump also seized on previously misreported information about an interview Mr. Macron gave last week suggesting that Europe needed its own army to defend itself from the United States. In fact, Mr. Macron said in the interview that France and Europe had to defend themselves better from cyberattacks originating in Russia, China and even the United States. He spoke later about Europe needing its own army.

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Although Mr. Macron appeared to want to stay above the fray, he did not back down on his advocacy for a European defense force.

He said it was not a rejection of NATO or France’s alliance with the United States, but a guarantor of France’s “sovereignty” and would give France and other European countries the ability to help individual European countries, should they be in need. He mentioned, as examples, Poland and Greece.

 

“Allies are not vassals,” Mr. Macron said.Earlier in the day in the first official response to Mr. Trump’s tweets, the government spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, told reporters in a weekly briefing that Mr. Trump lacked “common decency” in launching his Twitter broadsides on the third anniversary of terrorist attacks in and near Paris that left 130 people dead.

The French did not respond to the tweets on Tuesday in order to avoid taking domestic attention away from the commemorations.

“Yesterday was November 13, when we commemorate the murder of 130 citizens three years ago in Paris and St.-Denis. So I will reply in English: Common decency would have been the appropriate thing.”

The attacks by the Islamic State were the most lethal in the country since World War II. Many French people were taken aback by the tone of Mr. Trump’s comments, which the French newspaper Le Monde called “violent.”

However, some people observed that Mr. Trump was simply treating Mr. Macron the way he has treated other allies who had hosted him. Among them were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, whom Mr. Trump derided just after the Group of 7 summit meeting as “very dishonest and weak” and making “false statements.”

He has also expressed negative sentiments toward Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A11 of the New York  edition with the headline: Macron Eschews Tit-for-Tat Response to Trump After ‘Violent’ Twitter Attack–www.nytimes.com

 

 

 

 

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.


November 11, 2018

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.

by Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/8/we-once-trusted-too-much-in-inevitable-progress-we-got-world-war-i

Britain's Queen Elizabeth attends the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and senior members of the royal family attended a Festival of Remembrance on Saturday to commemorate all those who lost their lives in conflict, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

When confronting bad news these days, many tend to assume that it’s just a bump on the road and that things will work out. President Barack Obama was fond of invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Yet could we be wrong in assuming that, despite some backsliding here and there, forward movement is inexorable?

On Sunday — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the largest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. World War I marked a turning point in human history — the end of four massive European empires, the rise of Soviet communism and the entry of the United States into global-power politics. But perhaps its most significant intellectual legacy was the end of the idea of inevitable progress.

In 1914, before the war began, people had lived through a world much like ours, defined by heady economic growth, technological revolutions and increasing globalization. The result was that it was widely believed that ugly trend lines, when they appeared, were temporary, to be overwhelmed by the onward march of progress. In 1909, Norman Angell wrote a book explaining that war between the major powers was so costly as to be unimaginable. “The Great Illusion” became an international bestseller, and Angell became a cult celebrity (and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). Just a few years after the book was published, a generation of Europeans was destroyed in the carnage of war.

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https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/03/world-war-i-american-isolationism-turned-intervention-1917/

Could we be similarly complacent today? There are serious statesmen who believe so. During a recent interview, French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “In a Europe that is divided by fears, nationalist assertion and the consequences of the economic crisis, we see almost methodically the rearticulation of everything that dominated the life of Europe from post-World War I to the 1929 [economic] crisis.” And, during an address earlier this year to the European Parliament, Macron said, “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past.” As historian Christopher Clark wrote in his book “The Sleepwalkers,” the statesmen of 1914 stumbled into a gruesome world war without ever realizing the magnitude or dangers of their isolated, incremental decisions — or non-decisions. Macron is not simply talking; he has organized a Paris Peace Forum of more than 60 world leaders, set to begin this Sunday, to try to combat the dangers of rising nationalism and eroding global cooperation. Continue reading

ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict


 

November 9, 2018

Opinion

ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict

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Despite local uncertainties, the region must be bold in shaping its own future

For almost a decade, the basic strategic issue for Southeast Asia has been how to respond to the changing dynamics of the Sino-American relationship as it enters a new phase of heightened long-term competition.

The U.S. and China will not quickly or easily reach a new modus vivendi. Southeast Asia will have to navigate a prolonged period of unusual uncertainty.

U.S.-China rivalry in the South China Sea has emerged as something of a proxy for their competition. Strategically, the situation is a stalemate. China will not give up its territorial claims and the deployment of military assets. But neither can China stop the U.S. and its allies operating in the area without risking a war it does not want because it cannot win.

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The Trump administration has given the 7th Fleet more latitude to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea. Japan and other U.S. allies are beginning to push back against China’s claims. The U.S. has signaled its intention to conduct even larger shows of force. This raises the risk of accidental clashes. Still, that risk does not at present seem unacceptably high.

A premeditated war is improbable. China will feel it must fight only if the U.S. supports Taiwan independence. This is unlikely. If an accidental clash should occur in the South China Sea or elsewhere, both sides will probably try to contain it. The Association of Southeast Nations ought to be able to cope with situations short of a U.S.-China war. ASEAN has previously managed far more dangerous circumstances. But this will require greater agility, unity and resolve than ASEAN has shown recently.

 

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The most obvious manifestation of increased Sino-American competition is U.S. President Donald Trump’s “trade war.” Trade is the means; the objective is strategic competition. China accuses the U.S. of using trade to hamper its development. China is not wrong.

Although attention has focused on the tit-for-tat tariffs, the more significant aspect is new U.S. legislation to limit technology transfers to China, which sets new rules that future administrations will find hard to change.

Trump’s attitude toward China is no aberration, but reflects a bipartisan view — widely shared in business as well as politics — that the U.S. has been too accommodating to Beijing. Whoever succeeds Trump will likely stay tough on China.

The Trump administration has often been described as isolationist, but this is a distortion. Rather, it believes that this is an era of great power competition and is determined to compete robustly, with a preference for bilateralism over multilateralism, and a return to “peace through strength.”

China has misread the implications of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 by believing its own propaganda about the U.S. being in irrevocable decline. It missed the souring mood of U.S. business toward China, mainly over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. These concerns are shared by businesses in other developed economies, which support Trump’s goals although they may disagree about his methods.

President Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress speech a year ago abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s approach of “hiding light and biding time.” But his main focus was domestic. Xi said China’s new “principal contradiction” was between “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” This poses a fundamental challenge. Unless those needs are met — which will require immense resources — Communist Party rule could be at risk.

To find a new growth model, the party must balance control and market efficiency. An enhanced role for markets implies a loosening of control.

It remains to be seen what Xi will do. So far he seems to have opted for stronger control, and may have sharpened the problems he faces.

The Belt and Road Initiative is as much about this domestic challenge as China’s global ambition. The BRI exports the old growth model based on state-led infrastructure investment. The BRI buys time to find a new balance between the market and the party.

But the BRI rests on the foundation of U.S.-led globalization. Can it succeed if the world turns protectionist? China may well be the main loser if that global order frays. China cannot replace U.S. leadership. An open international order cannot be based on a largely closed Chinese model. BRI partner countries are pushing back, including in Southeast Asia, and implementation will be problematic.

China is not happy with every aspect of the post-Cold War order based on U.S.-led globalization. China wants its new status acknowledged. But Xi has championed and profited from globalization. The trade war is now hurting China and slowing growth. China may seek to become more self-sufficient technologically, but this will take time while the pressures are immediate.

Some have speculated that there may be opportunities for ASEAN if foreign companies shift production from China. This is possible. But doing so is easier said than done and no one will forgo the Chinese market. ASEAN members must also resist temptations to act as a backdoor into the U.S. for Chinese companies.

A prolonged trade war and concerns that China may have compromised the security of supply chains, are likely to upend existing supply links. This could seriously complicate ASEAN members’ efforts to move up the value chain, for example if U.S. groups relocate business back to America. In response, ASEAN must attract higher grade investments by improving infrastructure and skills, and assuring investors their technology is secure.

Low labor costs and a potential market of 700 million consumers are no longer sufficient to make Southeast Asia an attractive investment destination. The attitude of ASEAN members toward China and the extent to which they are beholden to it are likely to become important considerations in investment decisions.

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BALI, Oct 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lamented ASEAN for not fully tapping its potential as an economic powerhouse, despite having abundant resources and a consumer market of nearly 700 million people.

ASEAN needs to move decisively to hedge against long-term uncertainties, while taking advantage of available opportunities.

Reforms such as the removal of non-tariff barriers and harmonization of ASEAN’s approach toward services and labor mobility could help make Southeast Asia a common production platform. Member states meanwhile should implement plans to upgrade skills and infrastructure. But internal political changes in some member countries could undermine the goal of closer economic integration. Unfortunately, ASEAN has, in recent years, become too timid for its own good.

 

 

Ambassador A Large Bilahari Kausikan, a former Permanent Secretary at Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is Chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Continue reading

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap


October 24, 2018

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap

by  |  Phar Kim Beng

@www.malaysiakini.com

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“Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia”.–Phar Kim Beng

Anyone familiar with the Middle East will know the phrase “a friend of my enemy is my friend”. It is also a testament to how dangerously fluid the tribal dynamics in the Middle East can be.

Just a few decades ago, Qatar was a friend of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is now its enemy, as well as that of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which appear to dislike the warm and receptive attitude of Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran and other groups that the first four countries dislike.

In the Middle East, the literature of Orientalism is wrong on many things but not necessarily flawed on the other: when a group of people or nation hates you, they hate you forever. Obversely, when they love you, they love you forever too; at which point effusive expressions like “habibi” (my love) will come sprouting out from their lips, like honey that oozes non-stop.

But then the line that separates love and hatred is a fine one in the Middle East – what we Asians called ‘West Asia’. When you fail to appreciate their kings, crown princes, perhaps even their austere concept of culture, you are considered an “outsider” who cannot truly appreciate the internal elegance, beauty and structure of the Middle East.

It is not without some truth, to be sure. The late Professor Fred Halliday, who taught International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, used to say that the Middle East is seen through the optic of sheer desert and sands. Yet, the Middle East is actually surrounded by many strips of water, such as the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz, all of which lead to the Indian Ocean. There are more seas around the Middle East, it appears, then in the whole of Asia.

When the optica are skewed, as Edward W Said (author of ‘Orientalism’, a book that discusses the West’s patronising representations of “The East”) once said, it lends itself to a corpus of travel writings, literature and travelogues that focus on all things on the land, not everything else which the Middle East can offer. Thus, the Middle East is seen through the lens of a fixed framework.

One of these fixed frameworks, sadly, has proven to be true: the Middle East nations appear bent on going on a war path against one another, especially against Iran, and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma

The reason, once again, appears simple. The four countries mentioned earlier seem to believe that they are the fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma (a Sunni Islamic sect of Islam), which can withstand the pressure and manipulation of Iran.

Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen, even Lebanon too, have fallen under the influence of the Shi’ite.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Palestine and Syria are considered the defenders and fronts of Iran, albeit doing the biddings of Iran in Qatar, Yemen, Syria, and last but not least, Turkey.

But Qatar, Yemen, Syria and Turkey are not necessarily pro-Iran or pro-Shi’ite. Almost all of them want a region that is peaceful, with the exception of President Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu made the right decision to pull back Malaysian peacekeepers from there. It was also wise to cancel the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya.

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I

f Malaysia is further entangled with the Middle East/West Asia, Malaysia would not have one any leeway to escape the spillover effects of their radicalism. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

Look at businessperson Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low. He allegedly swindled 1MDB to work with false companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Tens of billions of US dollars have been lost, and will not be recovered.

All such madcap adventures began with the fawning of the yacht and wealth of the Middle East or West Asia, many of which were allegedly rented to mislead the Malaysian and other governments.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Philippine Defense Cooperation with Russia: A Wake-up Call for the United States?


October 25, 2018

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Asia Pacific Bulletin No. 444

Philippine Defense Cooperation with Russia: A Wake-up Call for the United States?

By Anna Patricia L. Saberon

Since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, the Philippines has pursued an independent foreign policy aimed at gaining distance from the United States. President Duterte has called upon China and Russia for assistance in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), much to the dislike of Washington. It must not be forgotten that the Philippines and the United States have a long-standing military alliance, established in various agreements: the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Military Assistance Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement, Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, to name a few. Despite these US-Philippines agreements, and the perceived warm connection between President Duterte and US President Donald Trump, the Philippines is undeniably turning to its northern neighbors for defense cooperation.

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In May 2017, President Duterte went to Russia for an official visit and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Later in October, the Philippines signed an agreement with Russia on Defense and Technical Cooperation. The document contained provisions on various areas of military and technical cooperation such as research, production support, as well as possible exchange of experts and training of personnel for joint programs. Manila and Moscow also signed a contract for the Philippines’ procurement of defense articles from Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned company. Additionally, Russia supplied small arms and army trucks to the Philippines.<

Presidents Duterte and Putin also met at the sidelines of the APEC Summit held in Vietnam in November 2017. The two leaders discussed possible cooperation on military and economic concerns including Russian counter-terrorism training for Filipino soldiers, construction of a ship repair facility for Russian vessels passing through the Philippines, and the Russian donation of weapons in Marawi City.It seems that things are going well between the two governments as evidenced by the increased number of visits by high-level officials. In September, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited Russia and inspected various military equipment showcased in the International Military-Technical Forum ARMY 2018 show in Moscow.

In the words of Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta, “Russia is willing to provide brand new equipment customized to the specific needs of the Philippines, at favorable financial terms, with reasonable delivery times, full after sales service, necessary training and without political conditionalities or limitations.” The Philippines is in dire need of modern military equipment and has been struggling to procure new equipment for many years now. Russia’s recognition of the Philippines’ military needs, including battle plans and tactics, allows the AFP to maximize their use.

Amidst these new developments, we hear US officials voicing statements that the Philippines’ military purchase deals with Russia will not be helpful to the US-Philippines alliance. According to US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver, “choosing another supplier like Russia will be an opportunity cost that will affect interoperability.” He added that the United States can be a better partner than the Russians can be to the Philippines. To summarize his sentiments, the Philippines ultimately will not benefit from greater defense ties with Russia.

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President Duterte subsequently revealed that he received a letter from three top US officials: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The letter insists on the significance of Philippine procurement of US military equipment, “exemplifying our continuing commitment to the breadth and the strength of our alliance.”

Perhaps without publicly admitting it, the US leadership is bothered by how the Philippines is no longer a ‘follower’ of US Foreign Policy. For decades, the Philippines sourced military equipment from the United States and now the Duterte Administration has been turning away from Washington. This is largely because previous sales from the United States were of used arms and equipment and following certain conditionalities that frustrated many Philippine authorities including military personnel.

In the new US National Security Strategy, mention was made that “in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand remain important allies and markets for Americans.” The Trump Administration is pushing for the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, with the aim of including India in regional cooperation and a larger leadership role of Japan. It is important to mention here that Diego Garcia, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has been operating as a military base with American and British forces since the 1970s.

Analyzing the statements and policies of US officials over the years, one comes to the conclusion that the United States wants to be the major, if not the sole, supplier of military equipment to the Philippines. The Philippines became a receiver of used/decommissioned equipment from the United States (e.g. BRP Gregorio del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Andres Bonifacio – all naval vessels currently under the roster of the Philippine Navy). This equipment was made available as an Excess Defense Article under the US Defense Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. While the United States has its own reasons for doing so, the outcome is Philippine military dependence on the United States. Instead of actually contributing to the strength and modernization of the Philippine military, Washington had a role in the decades-long weakness of the AFP. That is not to say that the Philippines is blameless for its own neglect of defense modernization, but the Philippine-US alliance is supposed to help strengthen the AFP, not weaken it. While previous Philippine Presidents were complacent and were hesitant to display defiance against the United States, President Duterte is not. He stands firm in his belief that the United States failed to give the Philippines what it needed and consequently he has deepened defense relations with Russia.

The new defense cooperation between the Philippines and Russia represents a wake-up call for the United States. No longer the ‘little brother’ of the US, no longer dependent on US foreign policy decisions, no longer pleased with leftovers, spare/used equipment from the United States, and no longer naïve; the Philippines is out to pursue an independent foreign policy. Washington should bear in mind that neglecting the Philippines has repercussions. If indeed it is true that the United States is a strong ally of the Philippines, then it seems that a few mistakes have been made: a) refusing to give priority to the Philippines and b) failure in preparation as they did not anticipate that the Philippines would turn to its neighbors, in particular China and Russia.

For the Philippines, the future is not with the United States alone, but with multiple partner countries — most notably its neighbors. The Philippines-Russia defense cooperation will bring to the Philippines modernized military equipment, military training, and the pronounced assurance that defense partners make each other stronger.

Anna Saberon teaches Philosophy and International Relations at Ateneo de Naga University in the Philippines. She can be contacted at asaberon@gbox.adnu.edu.ph.

The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy


The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

by Dato Amb. (Rtd.) Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Malaysia’s Novice Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

Amid growing international outrage over the brutal and gruesome murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (pic above) reiterated that “Malaysia’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia remain strong”, to quote one local report covering Putrajaya’s response to the killing. He was further quoted as saying that, “We are a friendly nation. We look at the big picture.” There was not even a hint of concern.

Many Malaysians, no doubt, found his comments deeply troubling. Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, however, quickly set the record straight: not mincing any words, and dismissing all that “big picture” nonsense, he asserted that Khashoggi’s killing was “an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny” that “cannot be condoned”. He added that it is not something that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government can accept.

Murder most foul

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad addresses the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2018. — Bernama pic

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad @ UNGA, New York

According to Turkish authorities, the murder of Khashoggi was carried out by a professional team of Saudi officials who lay in wait for him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After being overpowered, he was reportedly dismembered while still alive by a forensic specialist (part of the Saudi team) and his remains disposed of.

The official Saudi narrative of the murder has been anything but credible. After insisting for days that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive, the Saudis, faced with mounting evidence of their complicity, now admit that Khashoggi was indeed killed in the consulate. However, they conveniently maintain that it was the work of rogue agents acting without official sanction.

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Observers familiar with the way the Saudi Kingdom operates insist that such an operation could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (also known as MBS), the real power behind the throne. The Prince has, in fact, a history of rash and reckless behaviour.

Whatever it is, Khashoggi’s  brutal murder has shocked the world. Even some of Jeddah’s strongest supporters were disturbed by the sheer barbarity of it all and are demanding a full and transparent investigation. In the meantime, many senior business and political leaders are boycotting the ongoing “Davos in the Desert” conference (a key initiative of MBS) while both the German Chancellor and the Canadian prime minister have called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

A Foreign Policy that reflects the new Malaysia

Under such circumstances, the  novice Malaysian Foreign Minister’s reiteration of business as usual with the Saudi government was clearly inappropriate.

More than that, it is an indication that the Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra) has yet to think through what the new Malaysia stands for and how best to reflect the values and hopes of a free and democratic society premised upon respect for the Rule of Law.

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Wisma Putra

The Prime Minister’s Address and his pledge to ratify all outstanding UN human rights conventions should have been seen as an indication of Malaysia’s new commitment to human rights, among other matters.

It is one thing for the Foreign Ministry to table the Prime Minister’s UNGA Address  in Parliament and declare it to be our policy; it is quite another to give it  well thought expression in the positions we take on international issues.

The limits of Islamic solidarity

Clearly, one of the things that needs to be addressed going forward is the lack of a consistent human rights dimension in our Foreign Policy. Out of a misguided sense of Islamic solidarity, we have, for example, tended to keep silent when Muslim despots target their own people.

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Even now, we remain largely ambivalent to the carnage that Saudi Arabia (with US and UK support) is inflicting on Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed while millions are on the brink of what the UN warns might be the “largest famine the world has seen for many decades”. What the Saudis are doing to Yemen is nothing short of a crime against humanity; silence is simply not an option anymore.

With MBS now working with the hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv to plot regime change in Tehran, things are about to get a lot worse. Hasn’t the slaughter and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria been enough? Have we learned nothing of the horrendous consequences of regime change? How many more bombed-out cities, how much more death and destruction do we need to see before we demand that the Saudis and their backers in Washington stop this madness?

Before they came to power, many PH leaders expressed outrage against the carnage in Yemen and pressed for the withdrawal of all Malaysian armed forces support personnel from the Saudi-led coalition. There was no talk then about “big picture” diplomacy.

A principled Foreign Policy

With his remarks on the Khashoggi murder, Mahathir has sent a clear message that there are limits to Islamic solidarity, that a principled foreign policy obliges us to speak out against injustice and to actively promote the cause of peace in the world.

The days when we close our eyes to human rights abuses and war-mongering for the sake of political expediency are now over. Wisma Putra, like other ministries, must rise to the challenge of Malaysia Baru and give expression to the values that premise it. The people expect no less.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.