Shake Up at Foggy Bottom


March 4, 2017

Shake Up at Foggy Bottom

by Julia Ioffe March 1, 2017
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Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel (pic above), the top diplomat for East Asian and Pacific issues at the U.S. State Department, is leaving the job to take a fellowship in New York, the latest senior official to leave the agency since President Donald Trump took office.

Less Money for Diplomacy and Foreign Aid, more for Defense-Security makes streamlining, downsizing and cost cutting necessary for productivity. So Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Chairman, ExxonMobil,  is not in unfamiliar territory. Will we see a more dynamic State Department or a demoralized bureaucracy with Foreign Policy being driven from the East Wing of The White House? –Din Merican

The State of Trump’s State Department

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/03/state-department-trump/517965/

Anxiety and listless days as a foreign-policy bureaucracy confronts the possibility of radical change

U.S. State Department

The State Department–Home of American Diplomacy

The flags in the lobby of the State Department stood bathed in sunlight and silence on a recent afternoon. “It’s normally so busy here,” marveled a State Department staffer as we stood watching the emptiness. “People are usually coming in for meetings, there’s lots of people, and now it’s so quiet.” The action at Foggy Bottom has instead moved to the State Department cafeteria where, in the absence of work, people linger over countless coffees with colleagues. (“The cafeteria is so crowded all day,” a mid-level State Department officer said, adding that it was a very unusual sight. “No one’s doing anything.”) As the staffer and I walked among the tables and chairs, people with badges chatted over coffee; one was reading his Kindle.

“It just feels empty,” a recently departed senior State official told me.

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over Presidents’ Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp.

With the State Department demonstratively shut out of meetings with foreign leaders, key State posts left unfilled, and the White House not soliciting many department staffers for their policy advice, there is little left to do. “If I left before 10 p.m., that was a good day,” said the State staffer of the old days, which used to start at 6:30 in the morning. “Now, I come in at 9, 9:15, and leave by 5:30.” The seeming hostility from the White House, the decades of American foreign-policy tradition being turned on its head, and the days of listlessness are taking a toll on people who are used to channeling their ambition and idealism into the detail-oriented, highly regimented busywork that greases the infinite wheels of a massive bureaucracy. Without it, anxiety has spiked. People aren’t sleeping well. Over a long impromptu lunch one afternoon—“I can meet tomorrow or today, whenever! Do you want to meet right now?”—the staffer told me she too has trouble sleeping now, kept awake by her worries about her job and America’s fading role in the world.

“I used to love my job,” she said. “Now, it feels like coming to the hospital to take care of a terminally ill family member. You come in every day, you bring flowers, you brush their hair, paint their nails, even though you know there’s no point. But you do it out of love.”

Some try to conduct policy meetings just to retain the muscle memory and focus, but, said another department employee, “in the last couple months, it’s been a lot more sitting around and going home earlier than usual.” Some wander around the streets of Foggy Bottom, going for long, aimless lunches. “I’m used to going to three or four inter-agency policy meetings a week,” the employee added, referring to the meetings in which policy is developed in coordination with other government departments. “I’ve had exactly one of those meetings in the last five weeks.” Even the torrent of inter-department email has slowed to a trickle. The State Department staffer told me that where she once used to get two hundred emails a day, it’s down to two dozen now. “Not since I began at the department a decade ago has it been so quiet,” she said. “Colleagues tell me it’s the same for them.”

A lot of this, the employee said, is because there is now a “much smaller decision circle.” And many State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside. “They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”

Right now, those I’ve spoken to in the department seem to know very little about what’s going on. The staffer told me that she finds out what’s going on at State from the news—which she spends all day reading because, after years of having her day scheduled down to 15 minute blocks, she has nothing else to do. And even the news itself isn’t coming from official sources. There hasn’t been a State Department press briefing, once a daily ritual, since the new administration took over five weeks ago—though they’re scheduled to resume March 6. These briefings weren’t just for journalists. They also served as a crucial set of cues for U.S. diplomats all over the world about policy priorities, and how to talk about them. With no daily messaging, and almost no guidance from Washington, people in far-flung posts are flying blind even as the pace of their diplomacy hasn’t abated.

“Meetings are happening,” said one American diplomat stationed abroad, “but it is noticeable that we’re not having press briefings, which makes it hard for ambassadors waiting to take cues. We’re able to echo what Mattis, Tillerson and Pence say. But we’re still not there in aggressively promoting president’s agenda.” Other American diplomats, especially those in geo-politically sensitive posts, find themselves going on old, Obama-era guidance because no new guidance has been issued. But “the diplomacy goes on,” said another American diplomat abroad. “People notice every little change in our position,” the diplomat said. “And we don’t always know where the administration is or is going to be, so you operate on old guidance until Washington takes a new position. We’re largely taking our cues from the president, vice president, and Secretary Tillerson’s remarks and from reading the Spicer briefings,” referring to the daily briefings of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “We are watching the news and seeing how quickly we can get our fingers on the [Spicer] transcripts,” the diplomat said.

When Rex Tillerson finally arrived in the building, members of the department I spoke to had very high hopes for him. People wanted to like him. But his remarks to the staff left many cold, and confused. “He only spoke of reform and accountability,” said the State Department staffer. “He offered no vision of America and its place in the world.” He also spoke of protecting missions abroad, which some read as a gratuitous reference to Benghazi. “It landed like a thud,” said the staffer. “There are all these people whose sole focus is protecting missions abroad. What do you think we’ve been doing for all these years?”

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with State Department employees on his first day earlier this month. Photo by the State Department

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The fact that there hasn’t been a deputy secretary of state nominated, and that many undersecretary slots sit empty, is also unnerving to a bureaucracy used to relying on a strict hierarchy to get things done. “Not having a deputy … is going to become a problem real soon,” the staffer said. “The world has been pretty quiet but it won’t stay that way.” She and others I spoke to worry about the optics of Tillerson flanked by empty seats during his meeting in Bonn, Germany, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was accompanied by a dozen aides. All these details send signals that other countries’ leaders and diplomats pore over for indications of potential policy changes. “With the Chinese, protocol is policy,” said the mid-level State officer. “We’re sending signals that are potentially damaging the relationship in ways we can’t anticipate.”

It also worries some State employees that Tillerson was unable to name his own deputy. His choice of the neocon Elliott Abrams was vetoed by the White House because Abrams had criticized Trump, and many in Foggy Bottom saw it as yet another signal that they and their secretary were being downgraded. “It’s troubling that his first battle with the president, he lost,” said the State employee. “If he couldn’t even bring in his own staff member, it’s concerning for future issues.”

On Tuesday, Trump confirmed their fears, telling Fox and Friends that there was a reason he wasn’t filling certain government posts: “in many cases, I don’t want to fill those posts. … They’re unnecessary.”

But while senior State appointees have yet to be appointed, other staff has been showing up. The Office of Policy Planning, created by George Kennan after World War II, is now filled not just with Ph.D.s, as it once was, but with fresh college graduates and a malpractice attorney from New Jersey whose sole foreign-policy credential seems to be that she was born in Hungary. Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. “Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone for answering a question Tillerson asked directly, in a meeting.

Peterlin did not respond to request for comment, but former Newt Gingrich aide and State public affairs senior advisor R.C. Hammond clarified that the malpractice attorney was the White House liaison to State, and denied that Peterlin had issued such instructions or admonishments, or that the State Department was slow and listless. “The place is humming,” he said.

He and his staff pointed me to, among other people, Christiaan James, who is the Arabic-language spokesperson for State’s bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. He is busy; he spends a lot of time fielding questions from the Arabic-language press. “Even though we haven’t had a press briefing since January, we still get a lot of inquiries,” he said. “There’s still a lot going on, and we have to respond.” In the absence of a press briefing, staffers are now winging it, trying to interpret for their questioners what the American president meant when he seemed to toss overboard the idea of a two-state solution. “This actually came up yesterday,” James said. “An Egyptian channel wanted me to go on air and talk about this.” So, using the “two pages of guidance” put out by the press officer on the Israel-Palestine desk, James told them that, whatever the two sides agree on, “the United States is committed to finding a solution to this, that we’re going to be involved in the process. It’s about telegraphing that the U.S. is committed and not getting into the nitty-gritty, and talking in more general terms until something more specific gets developed.”

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Such arrogance from 45th POTUS

Michelle Bernier-Toth, who runs overseas services for American citizens abroad, meanwhile continues to monitor the world for crises that might affect U.S. citizens and make consular services for them even more efficient, but she told me that she didn’t need guidance from the White House or even the Secretary of State. “What we do, we just keep on doing it,” she told me. “We’re very much a heart that keeps going. The consular side is law-based, so that’s our guidance.”

A State Department public-affairs officer was on the line with us when we talked. Another public-affairs officer was also on the line when I spoke to Paco Palmieri, a career foreign service officer and the acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Palmieri has had plenty to keep him busy, from Tillerson’s meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister in Bonn, Germany to his trip to Mexico, but he is an acting assistant secretary and he doesn’t know how long it will take for a political appointee to take his place. “Sometimes as an administration gets started, it takes some time to get a definitive answer but that just means you work harder to get to it,” he told me. “Every transition is unique.” Then the public affairs officer hustled him off to his next meeting.

According to the other people I spoke to, though, Tillerson seems cut off not just from the White House, but from the State Department. “The guidance from Tillerson has been, the less paper the better,” said the State Department staffer. “Voluntary papers are not exactly encouraged, so not much information is coming up to him. And nothing is flowing down from him to us. That, plus the absence of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries means there’s no guidance to the troops so we’re just marking time and responding.”

Many in the State Department openly acknowledge that the department is bloated, that it is at times inefficient and redundant. But they don’t understand why the culling is being done in such a crass and indiscriminate manner. “They didn’t talk to anyone, they didn’t ask them what they did, they just told them to look for other jobs,” said the mid-level officer of the seventh floor dismissals. “Nothing will make you a libertarian faster than working in the federal government,” said the State staffer. “There are inefficiencies, there needs to be reform. They certainly have a right to staffing, or lack of staffing,” the staffer said of the new administration. “But doing it without an analysis of where the inefficiencies are, the cutting just won’t be rational or effective. It just creates ill will.” The last month, the staffer said, “has been a very deliberate stress test.” “There seems to be no effort to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of people who are here, who just want to help,” said the mid-level officer. Instead, they see the White House vilifying them as bureaucrats no one elected, and it all seems, the mid-level officer said, “symbolic of wanting to neuter the organization.”

“This is probably what it felt like to be a British foreign service officer after World War II, when you realize, no, the sun actually does set on your empire,” said the mid-level officer. “America is over. And being part of that, when it’s happening for no reason, is traumatic.”

Trump and New World Order


February 28, 2017

Trump and New World Order

Brought to you by Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy featuring Dr. Amitav Acharya

Published on Feb 27, 2017

The election of Donald J. Trump as the US President has caused much anxiety about its damage to the liberal international order. But Trump is the consequence, rather than the cause, of the crisis and decline of the existing order. That decline, as foretold in Acharya’s 2014 book, The End of American World Order, has to do with the liberal order’s own internal limitations – aggravated by a long-power shift in world politics – that a complacent liberal establishment in the West had glossed over earlier. Recognizing the broader and multifaceted nature of those challenges is key to any hopes for building world order 2.0: a decentered and pluralistic Multiplex World, with its own challenges and opportunities.

Amitav Acharya is the Boeing Company Chair in International Relations at the Schwarzman Scholars Program, Tsinghua University, Beijing, and Distinguished Professor of International Relations and the UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance at the School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC.

This talk is moderated by Prof Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS.

What is Up in Trump’s Washington


February 15, 2017

What is Up in Trump’s Washington after 2 weeks of the 45th Presidency

by Thomas L. Friedman

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The Parting of the Ways–“Mr. Patriotism” and his National Security Adviser, Lt- Gen (rtd) Michael Flynn

Thank God for the resignation in shame by Mike Flynn, President Trump’s National Security Adviser. And not just because he misled the vice president and engaged in deeply malignant behavior with Russia, but, more important, because maybe it will finally get the United States government, Congress and the news media to demand a proper answer to what is still the biggest national security question staring us in the face today: What is going on between Donald Trump and the Russians?

Sorry, Kellyanne Conway, I am not ready to just “move on.”

Every action, tweet and declaration by Trump throughout this campaign, his transition and his early presidency screams that he is compromised when it comes to the Russians.

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Who owns this Make America Great Again Guy?

I don’t know whether Russian oligarchs own him financially or whether Russian spies own him personally because of alleged indiscreet behavior during his trips to Moscow. But Trump’s willingness to attack allies like Australia, bluster at rivals like China, threaten enemies like Iran and North Korea and bully neighbors like Mexico — while consistently blowing kisses to Russian President Vladimir Putin — cannot be explained away by his mere desire to improve relations with Moscow to defeat the Islamic State. And the Flynn ouster gives our government another, desperately needed opportunity to demand the answers to these questions, starting with seeing the President’s tax returns.

We need to know whom Trump owes and who might own him, and we need to know it now. Save for a few patriotic Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the entire Republican Party is complicit in a shameful act of looking away at Trump’s inexplicable behavior toward Russia.

If Republicans want to know how they should be behaving on this issue, they should ask themselves what they would be saying and doing right now if a President Hillary Clinton had behaved toward Russia the way Trump has, and had her national security adviser been found hinting to the Russian ambassador to hold tight because a softer United States policy toward Russia was on its way.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan and  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–Both should consider impeaching Trump when there is inscrutable evidence to do so, instead of looking away from this traversty. Loyalty has its limits.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, what are you thinking by looking away from this travesty? You both know that if the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. had concluded that the Russians had intervened to help Hillary Clinton get elected you would have closed the government and demanded a new election. Now it’s all O.K.? So you can get some tax cuts? Gens. Jim Mattis and John Kelly, our new secretaries of defense and homeland security, you are great patriots who both put your lives on the line in uniform to defend American values from precisely the kind of attack Putin perpetrated. Are you O.K. with what’s going on?

We need to rerun the tape. Ladies and gentlemen, we were attacked on December  7, 1941, we were attacked on September 11, 2001, and we were attacked on November 8, 2016. That most recent attack didn’t involve a horrible loss of lives, but it was devastating in its own way. Our entire intelligence community concluded that Russia hacked our election by deliberately breaking into Democratic National Committee computers and then drip-by-drip funneling embarrassing emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And what have we done about it? Other than a wrist slap against Moscow, we’ve moved on.

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Turmoil beneath  the beautiful and calm Washington DC

I am not arguing that Trump is not the legitimate President; he won for many reasons. But I am arguing that he is not behaving like one. Trump presents himself as “Mr. Patriotism,” wrapped in the American flag. And yet he has used his Twitter account to attack BMW for building an auto plant in Mexico, Boeing for over charging for a government airplane, the cast of “Hamilton” for appealing to the vice president to reaffirm American pluralism, American newspapers for undercounting the size of his inauguration crowd and the actress Meryl Streep for calling him out for bullying a handicapped reporter. And yet “Mr. Patriotism” has barely uttered a word of criticism on Twitter or off about a Russian President who has intervened in our democratic process.

That’s not O.K. The Russians did not just hack into some emails or break into some banks in America. They attacked the very things that make America what it is — that makes it so special: “its rule of law and its democratic form of choosing and changing leaders,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who was a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and co-leads the global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.

I am not looking to go to war with Russia over this. Back in the 1990s, this column was among the loudest voices warning against NATO expansion — that it would one day come back to haunt us, which it has, by making Russia feel threatened. I don’t care about Putin. His regime will fail because he is forever looking for dignity in all the wrong places, by drilling for oil and gas instead of unleashing the creativity of his people. But I am not willing to settle for evicting a few Russian agents and then moving on. We need to get to the truth, look it squarely in the eye and then act proportionately.

Trump and his senior aides have spent their first weeks in power doing nothing more than telling us how afraid we should be of Muslim immigrants who have not been properly vetted by our intelligence and immigration authorities. Well, Putin was vetted by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A., and they concluded that he attacked our country’s most important institution — and Trump has acted as if he could not care less.

If the rest of us do the same, we’ll get the country we deserve, and it will not be great.


 

Foreign Policy: Najib courts China


November 12, 2016

Foreign Policy: Najib courts China and Abandons traditional ties with the United States and its allies

by James Chin

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Najib Razak on Ego Boosting Jet setting Trip to China

Malaysia’s scandal-plagued Prime Minister is finding old friends in Beijing after wearing out his welcome in the West. James Chin looks at whether this is a path more ASEAN countries are likely to follow. 

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, last week took his third official visit to the People’s Republic of China. These sort of official trips do not normally attract much attention, but this one is generating prominent coverage in highly influential newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Financial Times.

The reasons are obvious – Najib’s arrival comes immediately after the controversial visit of Rodrigo Duterte, the new Filipino president. Duterte made a series of pronouncements in Beijing that caught the Americans off-guard, including his comments about a “separation” from the United States. Many were surprised by Duterte’s statements given that before touching down in Beijing, he was criticising China for its aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. In fact, the Philippines took China to the International Court of Arbitration over the issue.

Malaysia and the Philippines have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea and both countries are unhappy with China’s de facto policy of building islands for military use in the disputed waters and using Chinese coast guard vessels to harass fishermen from their countries. It’s well-known that Chinese coast guard vessels regularly sail within 50 miles of Bintulu, the gas-rich town in Malaysian Borneo. Malaysia has sent several diplomatic notes to Beijing on the matter.

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Selling Malaysian Assets to cash rich China for political survival while the Malaysian Ringgit takes a beating against the Greenback (Rm4.5 to 1 Usd)

Despite this, Najib has just signed multi-billion dollar deals in Beijing, including the purchase of Chinese-made military equipment for the first time in Malaysian history. Chinese state-owned enterprises will also buy into key Malaysian assets and provide funding for new infrastructure projects such as a new railway line.

Even more surprising was his interview with Xinhua, Beijing’s official mouthpiece, in which he said he was seeking closer military ties. In an editorial in The China Daily, Najib was quoted as saying former colonial powers should not lecture nations they once exploited as colonies, a clear reference to the West.

So, the question is, are we seeing a tilt in Malaysian foreign policy to China from the previous pro-Western position? The short answer is “Yes”, as long as Najib is in power.

Malaysian insiders will tell you that this was the only position Najib could have taken in light of recent events. To understand Najib’s move, one must look towards domestic politics.

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Malaysia’s Watchdogs

For the past four years, Najib has been mired in a massive corruption scandal called 1MDB. The story is complicated, but suffice to say that there is credible evidence that huge amounts of money, in the region of US$10 to 15 billion, was scammed off 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund, and part of the amount, in the region of US$1 to 2 billion, allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal bank account. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative filed court action to recover more than US$1 billion in assets tied to 1MBD. The Department named Najib’s stepson and indirectly named Najib as “Malaysian Public Official No 1” in the proceedings. Several other countries such as Singapore, Switzerland and Luxembourg are also pursuing money laundering charges related to 1MDB. The consequence of all these legal actions is that Najib is longer welcome in Western capitals and some are calling on the US administration to ‘distance’ itself from Najib. Prior to the scandal, Najib could boast that he was the only Asian leader invited to golf with Obama in Hawaii, the President’s home state.

Related to the political fallout is investment from the West. The ringgit has fallen more than any other currency in the region against the US dollar in the past three years. It is obvious that a major part of the reason for this is a lack of confidence in the Najib administration. To restore confidence in the economy and kick-start foreign direct investment, Najib can only turn to one country: China.

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China has the money to invest heavily in Malaysia, but more importantly, it does not care about Najib’s alleged corruption allegations or governance issues. For the Chinese, the bigger picture is the ongoing rivalry with the US for influence in the ASEAN region. The Chinese see the US as trying to block their influence by pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and pushing ASEAN to collectively confront China over the South China Sea. China has consistently refused to deal with ASEAN on the South China Sea issue, insisting that the solution lies in bilateral negotiations between the claimant countries. China also scored a victory-of-sorts when many ASEAN countries signed up for the China-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank despite the US openly lobbying against it.

China’s investments, including buying 1MDB assets, will allow the controversial company to partly square its accounts and the shortfall from the missing money.

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The added bonus for Najib is that he can show the domestic Malaysian audience that the “next” Superpower, China, will give him a red carpet treatment even if the West has side-lined him over the corruption allegations. Najib and the Chinese are also going to great pains to remind the international audience that it was Najib’s father, Tun Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, who opened-up diplomatic relations with China. Thus, according to Beijing, Razak’s son Najib, easily qualifies as China’s “old friend”. In turn, Najib has described China as a “true friend and strategic partner”.

With such “old friends” who needs the meddling West with its “lectures” on good governance, human rights and corruption?

The long-term winner in the current saga will be Beijing. As the south-east Asian region becomes more and more dependent on China for its development funds, tourism and trade, more and more ASEAN countries will start to tilt towards Beijing. This is especially true if Donald Trump becomes President on Tuesday.

Professor James Chin is Director of Asia Institute, University of Tasmania. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute in Malaysia.

This article is published in collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy discussion and analysis.

http://www.newmandala.org/najibs-china-legacy/

 

“I will vote against him (Trump) on Tuesday”–Fareed Zakaria gps.


November 6, 2016

“I will vote against him (Trump) on Tuesday”–Fareed Zakaria gps.

by Fareed Zakaria

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Over the course of this campaign, I have heard from many people who have cheered my opposition to Donald Trump. But others have objected, arguing that I was being biased, that Hillary Clinton has many flaws as well. So let me try to explain, one last time, why Donald Trump is worth special attention.

I am not a highly partisan person. I have views that are left of center, but others that are conservative. I came to this country when Ronald Reagan was president and admired him. I think well of many Republican politicians, including the last two GOP presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom are honorable men who would have been good presidents.

Donald Trump is different — not just because he is obnoxious, tacky and vulgar, or because his business dealings show him to be a scam artist. He is different because of what he believes.

The simplest way to understand Trump’s core beliefs is to look at his words and actions, not just today but well before. Politicians pander to voters, and Trump’s views on Social Security and Medicare (which he promises not to touch) and taxes (which he promises to cut) seem pretty insincere, reflections of what he thinks his supporters want to hear. But he does have deeper beliefs, values and instincts.

The first area that stands out is race. Trump has consistently expressed himself — in word and deed — in ways that can only be described as racist. In his earliest years as a developer, he was sued by the Justice Department for allegedly denying housing to qualified black people. In the case of the Central Park Five, Trump jumped into the public arena, taking out full-page ads assailing the accused black teenagers and demanding that “when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” Most strikingly, he refused to back down when DNA evidence had clearly exonerated the five men, and New York City was forced to pay $41 million in damages for wrongfully imprisoning them for up to 13 years.

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Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. in December. But since then, his commitment to a “total and complete shutdown” has wavered repeatedly. Here’s how. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Trump seems to believe in ethnic stereotypes deeply. He boasts of his own bloodline and compares it to breeding racehorses. In a 1991 book, one of his associates described him as horrified to see African Americans in his accounting department at two of his hotels, quoting Trump as saying, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” Trump acknowledged the veracity of these comments in a later Playboy interview, before walking it back in a 1999 NBC interview, calling it “nonsense.”

Trump has also always been a protectionist. In the 1980s, he was sure that the Japanese were about to take over the world and that the only solution was tariffs and trade wars. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that the future he predicted never happened. Undeterred, he has now focused his wrath on China, just as that economy has begun to slow down, and Mexico, a country so small that its effect on the U.S. economy is minimal. The common thread is that Trump is quick to tell Americans facing economic hardship that they should blame their problems on foreigners.

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 Trump–The Macho Man

If there is one view that Trump has expressed consistently, openly and with relish, it is that women exist fundamentally as objects for men’s pleasure. He has said and done dozens of things over 30 years that confirm this demeaning view of women — in interviews with Howard Stern, during his ownership of the Miss Universe pageant, when describing working women, and when debating female candidates such as Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton. Trump once said in New York magazine about women, “You have to treat ’em like s—.”

Finally, Trump has expressed impatience and contempt for many of the foundations of liberal democracy. He has repeatedly promised to change laws to make it easier to punish journalists who offend him. He has threatened people who contributed to his Republican opponents, implying that he would have the government look into their business affairs. He has proposed a number of policies that are illiberal, unconstitutional or even war crimes, such as banning all Muslims from entering the United States, and waterboarding suspected terrorists and killing their families. He has compared his ideas to the internment of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, implying that he approved of that measure. And he has threatened to jail his opponent if elected.

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Mike Pence–The Rock and Reason behind Donald J. Trump

These, then, are the core views of Donald Trump, expressed over decades, and confirmed by many of his actions: racism, sexism, protectionism, xenophobia and authoritarianism. His views on taxes and regulations are irrelevant. Your view of Hillary Clinton is irrelevant. Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. He is a danger to American democracy. And that is why I will vote against him on Tuesday.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-donald-trump-could-never-be-a-normal-candidate/2016/11/03/68483dd4-a203-11e6-a44d-cc2898cfab06_story.html

New Potus Brief: Getting US-China Relations Right


July 11, 2016

New Potus Brief: Getting US-China Relations Right

Kaiser Kuo

As a seminal Chinese American voice in the U.S.-China dialogue for 20 years in China, what three observations would you offer regarding China’s emerging global role and influence?  

1)  Beijing isn’t interested in pushing its developmental model. China has been far more of a rule-taker than it has been a rule-maker, and has conformed to the extant international order to a far greater extent than it has actually reshaped it. China has its own exceptionalism, sure, but it’s quite the opposite of its American counterpart. Where American exceptionalism tends to see the values and institutions of the U.S. as universal and appropriate, ultimately, for all of humanity, China tends to view its own values and institutions as unique and only really applicable to China. The two forms of exceptionalism may be equally arrogant. But there is no “Beijing Consensus” that the PRC is keen to push out into the world.

2) Of late some analyses of China insist on couching Beijing’s intentions in terms of revival of the imperial “tribute system,” or assume that a latent Chinese belief in China as the natural center of human civilization will somehow shape Chinese foreign policy as China’s relative power rises. These are unhelpful and misleading, and ignore the tremendous extent to which China has accepted a place among Westphalian nation-states, has internalized that thinking, and has played according to those rules. That said, in China’s own backyard Beijing will likely continue to push for primacy, and will bristle at interference. It’s important to remember that the international order to which I’ve suggested China has largely acquiesced was created in a time of Chinese weakness. This doesn’t mean we can expect aggressive Chinese revanchism, but Beijing will continue to be very prickly about the sovereignty of borders it claims.

3) 2008 saw the end of the age of taoguang yanghui – Deng’s maxim, translated often as “keep a low profile and bide your time.” From the perspective of American national interest, from the perspective of anyone who wants to see expansion of civil society and the public sphere in China, or from the perspective of many of China’s Southeast Asian neighbors, China is not off to an encouraging start. Beijing’s initial confidence and buoyancy in this new period has waned appreciably since. Much of Beijing’s behavior is better understood, I believe, as defensive – stemming not so much from newfound confidence as from a lack of it, and from a sense of crisis. I see much of China’s “New Truculence,” as I’ve taken to calling it, as essentially reactive. Beijing believes that liberal interventionism of the sort it believes brought about the color revolutions and the Arab Spring is very much on the march, and that the unstated goal of American policy is regime change in China. That is certainly not the dominant view, even among relatively hawkish people in Washington. And Beijing greatly exaggerates the extent to which there’s coordination among disparate American institutions. The White House is not coordinating press coverage, human rights advocacy groups and other NGOs, big Internet companies, and so on. But it’s easy to see, from Beijing’s windows, how there might appear to be coordination.

What worries and encourages you most about the future of bilateral relations?

What worries me most is the apparent global rise in nativism, which we’ve seen in several countries of Europe, including most recently in the U.K. with the Brexit vote; in the U.S. with the rise of Donald Trump; and in many parts of Asia, to include China. The deleterious effect this is already having on bilateral relations is huge. Beijing has shown a distressing willingness to dance with that devil nationalism, and to deploy the “rally-round-the-flag” effect and fan the embers of national indignation whenever it suits. In the U.S. too – and not just among Trump supporters, but even among more traditionally liberal segments of the American polity – there’s a new confidence in the universality of American values that is no longer tempered, as it once was among liberals, by cultural relativism. Instead of recognizing our own values and institutions as highly contingent, the product of very specific historical experiences not shared by many countries outside the developed West, we’ve embraced a rigidly teleological view of history. Unfortunately the forces of nativism and absolutist thinking are amplified by digital media. We no longer read from the same corpus, no longer agree on basic facts, and this has rapidly eroded common ground and created dangerous fragmentation and tribalism.

What encourages me most about the future of bilateral relations is physical integration: Well over 300,000 Chinese students are now studying the U.S., and hundreds of thousands of Americans are studying, working, and living in China. In my own observations, the scales tend to fall from the eyes of Chinese living in the U.S., and that they come to a more realistic picture of both – less idealization and less unwarranted demonization. The same, I think, can be said for Americans of my acquaintance living in China. I’m especially encouraged by the new generation of China-watchers I’ve met living in Beijing: Younger people who have come of age during the post-Cold War era, with terrific language skills, a solid grasp of history, and a strong sense of empathy.

How are Chinese nationalism and global digital culture shaping the aspirations of China’s youth and middle class?  

Chinese Internet users – now half the population of the country – are not easily classified. In my years involved in the Chinese Internet I’ve seen three basic types emerge in popular commentary about them: They’re either apolitical pleasure-seekers whose time online is mainly spent with shallow entertainments or shopping; or they’re latent democrats who thirst for freedom and long to break free of the chains of online censorship; or they’re strident, angry nationalists – the fenqing –  who will overwhelm online comments sections with their patriotic ardor or will organize DDoS [Distributed Denial of Service] attacks against websites that offend the honor of the motherland. We need to understand that the “average” Chinese Internet user, if such a thing exists, is a mix of all three: An individual may spend lots of time playing online games, or watching cat videos on Youku, but she may chafe when a video she wants to see gets taken down and casually jump the Great Firewall to watch it on YouTube – only to encounter, say, a group of Taiwan-independence types in the comments section, and may spend the next few hours sparring indignantly with them. To assume, as the more techno-utopian types did early on, that the Internet would prove to be a force for liberalization –  whether at an individual level or for the polity overall – was sadly quite mistaken. In my experience many Chinese, even those of a fundamentally liberal disposition, get very defensive on encountering online criticism of China, even if that criticism is limited to the leadership, or the Communist Party.

The Chinese Internet is becoming increasingly separate from the Internet dominated by American companies and believed (correctly or not) to be “the” Internet. Part of this is because of the Great Firewall and other policies. Much more of it is because of linguistic and ethnic proximity, as one researcher named Harsh Taneja has shown in papers he’s written. And as indigenous Chinese Internet companies offer more and more compelling services within China, catering to the specific preferences, habits and tastes of Chinese users, the separateness only looks to be more and more total. So-called “global digital culture” will I fear become less relevant to China. China’s digital culture will need to be understood increasingly on its own terms.

Explain the strengths and weaknesses of Beijing and Washington in communicating their country’s identity and intentions.

A veteran China-watcher – John Holden, former President of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations – once told me that the U.S. fails to understand China because of China’s opacity, and the very closed nature of its leadership. Conversely, China has a great deal of difficulty understanding the U.S. for the opposite reason: Because of the very openness and pluralism of the United States. Beijing has trouble deciding which voice carries weight: Is it the White House? The State Department? Congress? The Pentagon? I think there’s a lot of truth to what he said.

Beijing seems to see coordination among state- and non-state actors like NGOs, Internet companies, and the American media where in fact there may be none at all. They see the Pivot, support for Japan on the Diaoyu/Senkaku conflict, support for Manilla on the Scarborough Shoals, the Indian nuclear deal, the push for global Internet freedom, pressure by NGOs on human rights, and the New York Times editorial line as somehow coordinated – all part of a grand plan to contain China’s rise. Americans might smile at this and dismiss it as paranoia, but better security dilemma sensibility wouldn’t hurt: Washington needs a better sense of how its actions, and even the actions of totally independent institutions, are perceived in China, and how that perception impacts Beijing’s behavior. The U.S. might endeavor to communicate better just how separate and uncoordinated these things actually are – that they come spontaneously from shared values in an open, pluralistic society, and not out of deliberate strategy. My sense is that the more international (read: U.S.) pressure China feels itself to be under, the more repressive its internal policies tend to be, and the more belligerent its posture in foreign policy. There’s good reason to convince Beijing that it isn’t in America’s sights – that we don’t want to “pull an Arab Spring.” That said, the real onus is on Beijing, to come to clearer understanding of American intentions. Problem is, the pessimistic and paranoid view that sees it all as American machinations, has its political uses within China.

Why is it crucial for the next U.S. President to get U.S.-China relations right?

The simple answer is that these are two frightfully well-armed nuclear powers, and the cost of actual conflagration is absolutely staggering, just unthinkable. Likely trouble spots are few right now – really, only the South and East China Seas – but in the next four or eight years that number may well grow. The possibility of a severe economic dislocation in China raises the specter of political instability, which might have disastrous consequences that would be felt globally. The next U.S. president will need to make U.S.–China relations a real priority and “get it right” so that we have some hope of tackling, together, the very biggest issues facing this planet, not least of which is anthropogenic global warming. Without the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters working together, I truly fear the worst.