Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy has created a less stable world


Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy has created a less stable world

by Dr.Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/5/16/trumps-america-first-philosophy-has-created-a-less-stable-world

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President Trump has seemed largely uninterested in foreign policy. He got excited briefly when he thought he could win a Nobel Peace Prize and hyped the danger of an imminent North Korean attack — so that he could play the peacemaker. When it became clear that a deal was not to be had easily, Trump lost interest and scarcely mentions the subject anymore.

Beyond North Korea, his foreign policy has largely been one of subcontracting (a familiar style for a real estate developer). Middle East policy is farmed out to Israel and Saudi Arabia. The administration simply backs whatever those nations want. Policy toward left-wing regimes in Latin America — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — has been delegated to saber-rattlers such as national security adviser John Bolton and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The rest of Latin America is dealt with solely through the lens of immigration —  in other words, subcontracted to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

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The one common aspect of Trump’s foreign policy, however, has been that it has provoked a vigorous nationalist response abroad. Take China, where the government has gone on the offensive and denounced what it sees as the United States’ aggressive trade demands. Beijing’s state-controlled television network recently featured a commentary that tied U.S. tactics to previous foreign efforts to subjugate China. “If you want a trade war,” the anchor said, “we’ll fight you until the end. After 5,000 years of wind and rain, what hasn’t the Chinese nation weathered?” That clip, in addition to being aired on China’s main TV news channel, has been watched online more than 99 million times.

In Iran, the Islamic Republic has been able to withstand the economic storms caused by U.S. sanctions because it has been able to pin the blame on Trump’s anti-Iran strategy, not the regime’s economic mismanagement. Washington has always underestimated nationalism, especially in the case of Iran. Many of Iran’s foreign policy moves stem from its geopolitical position, not some fundamentalist Shiite ideology. Last year, Ardeshir Zahedi, who served as foreign minister under the shah, published an open letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, essentially defending the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy. Iran’s nuclear program, it is worth recalling, began under the shah.

 

The manner in which the Trump administration deals with almost every country provokes a nationalist, anti-American response. One of the great achievements of U.S. foreign policy over the past 30 years was that Mexico had gone from being an anti-American, revolutionary country to a pro-American partner. In 2015, before Trump’s election, 66 percent of Mexicans had a favorable view of the United States, according to a Pew Research Center survey. By last year, that number had dropped to 32 percent. Confidence in the U.S. president plummeted in that same period from 49 to 6 percent.

The pattern recurs almost everywhere. In Canada, confidence in the U.S. president went from 76 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2018. In France it’s worse, from 83 percent under President Barack Obama to single digits under Trump. In fact, in the Pew report, which surveyed 25 countries, only two places expressed greater confidence in Trump than his predecessor: Russia and Israel.

Countries around the globe are becoming more assertive and anti-American, even ones that embrace Trump’s ideology. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban proudly says that he is building an “illiberal democracy” in his country. In recent years, he has destroyed democratic checks and balances, demonized immigrants (of whom there are few in Hungary) and mouthed anti-Islamic rhetoric. Shunned by Obama, Orban was warmly welcomed this week at the White House by Trump. And yet, Orban has rebuffed U.S. overtures and aligned with China and Russia when it has suited his purposes.

It makes perfect sense. In his 2017 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Trump called for “a great reawakening of nations,” urging countries to use patriotism and self-interest as their guides in foreign policy. Trump’s north star has been a narrow conception of national interest, rejecting the idea that there are larger international interests and, by implication, denigrating the idea of cooperative, win-win solutions.

Well, Orban is simply doing what Trump urged, as are the Chinese, the Iranians and so many others. And since the United States is still the world’s leading power, and Trump’s style has been to be aggressive and undiplomatic, the easiest response is a nationalist, anti-American one, feeding public anger, stoking bad historical memories and locking countries into a win-lose mindset.

It is a world with more instability, less cooperation and fewer opportunities for the United States. And it is a direct, logical consequence of Trump’s philosophy of “America First.”

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?


April 13, 2019

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?

by Fareed Zakaria.com

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/11/who-understands-our-times-bernie-or-the-donald

There are many explanations for Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in this week’s election that have to do with Israel’s particular situation — its economic boom, stable security climate and the prime minister’s political talent. But he is also part of a much larger phenomenon: the continued strength of populist nationalism around the world — and the continued inability of left-of-center parties to respond to it.

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The case for populist nationalism goes something like this. It’s a nasty world out there. People are trying to take our jobs, undermine our security, move into our country. The cosmopolitan urban elites don’t care; they benefit from these forces. So we need a tough guy who will stand up for the nation and against the liberals in our midst.

In some variant or another, this is the argument made by Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Jair Bolsonaro, the Brexiteers — and, of course, President Trump.

In 1972, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that nationalism “expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world.” He placed the roots of modern nationalism in Germany, a country obsessed with finding its place in the sun. But the sentiment — a kind of victim mentality — can be found in almost all modern variations, even among rich and powerful nations.

Look at Putin’s claim that Russia has been pushed around by the West since the Cold War, the Chinese obsession with their humiliation since the opium wars, the Israeli right’s complaint that the world is biased against Israel and Trump’s constant refrain that all foreigners — from Mexicans to Chinese to Europeans — take advantage of the United States. These leaders promise to rectify the situation and restore their countries’ proper standing in the world.

Trump’s embrace of the word “nationalism” illustrates the simultaneous attacks on domestic elites (with their politically correct language) and on perfidious foreigners. “We’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said in October. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

When asked the next day what he meant by the term, Trump responded, “I love our country. And our country has taken second fiddle. . . . We’re giving all of our wealth, all of our money, to other countries. And then they don’t treat us properly.”

Netanyahu, for his part, has long argued that Israel deserves a much better “place among the nations,” a phrase that was the title of his 1993 book that argued for a robust Israeli nationalism that is aggressive and unapologetic. Though Israel’s strength and security have grown immeasurably, as its historical enemies — Saudi Arabia and Syria, among others — have either become buddies or basket cases, the argument that the world is against it has somehow persisted.

In fact, despite the pose of victim hood adopted by most of these populists, nationalism is probably the most widely held ideology in the world today. Which American politician today does not speak up for the United States? The real debate is whether nationalism should be informed and influenced by other values such as liberty and equality and, if these two sets of values conflict, which one should be preferred. That’s why the most ardent capitalists — from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman — have always been in favor of globalization and economic freedom above nationalist protections and controls.

The danger for liberals is that they underestimate the power of these raw, emotional appeals. For centuries, liberals have assumed that nationalism was a kind of irrational attachment that would grow weaker as people became more rational, connected and worldly. In fact, Berlin wrote, like a twig that is bent in one direction and has to snap back, as globalization grew in its reach, nationalism would be the predictable backlash.

Populist nationalists understand the core appeal of their ideology. I recently asked a Bolsonaro supporter whether the Brazilian president’s economic policies (which are free-market-oriented and reformist) or his cultural nationalism was the key to his appeal. The supporter’s answer: Nationalism is the party’s core; the economics is simply about efficiency and growth.

Meanwhile, liberals in the United States still don’t seem to get it. The Democratic Party continues to think the solution to its woes is to keep moving leftward economically. This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) revealed his new Medicare-for-all plan, which was immediately co-sponsored by four other presidential candidates. The plan will probably require an additional $2 trillion to $3 trillion in annual tax revenue.At the same time, Trump tweets about the Democrats’ love of “open borders” and insists he will protect the country and enforce its laws. What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Sanders?

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

An interview with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah


April 13, 2019

An interview with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah

An interview with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah

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Editor’s note: New Mandala’s guest editor for the “Changing Malaysia” series, Prof Meredith Weiss, interviewed Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah on 12 February 2019, at Wisma Putra (the Foreign Ministry) in Putrajaya, Malaysia. The transcript has been lightly edited and condensed. The discussion makes reference to the recently promulgated “Foreign Policy Framework of the New Malaysia”.


How did you come to be Foreign Minister and what most excites you or makes you nervous about the post?

As a politician, if I told you I didn’t expect to be appointed as a minister, I’d be lying. But if I told you I did not expect to be Minister of Foreign Affairs, that is the truth—I never thought I’d be Minister of Foreign Affairs; I thought I would be Minister of Education, or this or that. The worst part of being Foreign Affairs Minister is that you travel quite a bit and because of that, you have less time in your own constituency. That’s the worst thing. So you really have to navigate your time. As much as possible, once you are back home, you have to be in your constituency.

But the best part of it is, is the golden opportunity to show the New Malaysia to the world.

You have come on the job at a rough time in some ways for global foreign policy, with Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis, trade tensions, other challenges for democracy abroad … How does that change the nature of your work?

There are two things to note here. Number one, regardless of those challenges, I have the benefit of having Tun Mahathir as a prime minister. Most literature on IR [international relations], on foreign policy, will tell you that the head of government is actually the de facto foreign minister, and especially so when the head of government is actively involved in international issues. Prime Minister Mahathir was prime minister and he is well-known worldwide. Also, he’s still very actively involved in international issues. So that is a big, big plus for me, because it actually opens doors in meeting people, because they say, “Oh, who’s this rookie? He’s the new foreign minister of Malaysia. Oh, they have a new prime minister, but it’s Dr Mahathir”.

The second point to note, yes, it’s very challenging in some sense, because suddenly you are faced with multi-disciplinary situations where, say, we have to come up with a policy as to how we handle trade sanctions Then, I sound like I am minister of MITI [Ministry of International Trade and Industry]. And perhaps this is also the reason why our ministry and MITI are working very closely together, perhaps more than ever before in the history of Malaysia. In fact, one of our policy statements states that one of our objectives now, and one of the types of work that we do, is economic diplomacy. I am organising joint and interagency meetings with MITI. It helps that Darell [Leiking, the Minister] is an old friend, a good buddy. You will see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MITI working very closely together.

It was quite noticeable in the framework that you discuss a new emphasis on economic objectives. Especially with the prospect of a global downturn and the need for complex coordination across agencies and actors, public and private, domestically and internationally, how do you as Foreign Affairs navigate that?

Well, on the one hand, as we were writing the framework, I was asking the basic question, what do our ambassadors actually do? Our three main objectives are, of course, security, economics, and our cultural identity. When it comes to security, we are not at war with any other country, but we want to be a trading nation, and we want to be friendly with all. That was when we decided that economic diplomacy should be an important part of our work. Which is to say that from now on, we have already started asking our missions to work more closely with MATRADE [Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation] and all the other MITI agencies overseas. But also I think when it comes to preparing our future ambassadors, business acumen is going to be one of the criteria. Yes, you are a diplomat, you are not a businessman, but you have to have some business acumen. Because otherwise, you will not be able to implement what we are calling economic diplomacy.

On the other hand, sometimes challenge makes you work in a certain way. A good example is palm oil. We are facing a lot of challenges from Europe. I was recently in Brussels for the ASEAN–EU ministerial meeting, and I was thinking, this palm oil issue is not just about palm oil; it is about protectionism, it’s about deforestation, it’s about climate change, and so on. So immediately after I came back, I held an informal inter-ministerial meeting. We invited the minister in charge of Primary Industries, which includes palm oil; the minister in charge of MITI; the minister in charge of Environment; and the minister in charge of Natural Resources, which includes forests. I thought we had a very good discussion. We were very clear that the lead agency is the minister in charge of Primary Industries, but we need to coordinate our work. The Minister of Primary Industries has organised a palm oil “war room” and they have things that they need to do or want to do. But during that meeting, we told the minister that we all want to help out when it comes to palm oil. You see, when it comes to palm oil, you will find when the minister in charge of Primary Industries, Teresa Kok, goes overseas to campaign for or to promote palm oil, she will also have to answer questions on environment and deforestation. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have to do the same thing. But you also want the minister in charge of Environment to go out and talk about palm oil, and not just talk about plastic or the sea; and you want the minister in charge of Natural Resources to go out, not only to talk about natural resources issues, but also to talk about palm oil, because it is related. So these are the kinds of things we are doing now.

You mention in the framework document that your goal is to push for fairer international trade and financial systems, not just Malaysian interests. From the perspective of the Foreign Ministry, how do you do that?

There is an ongoing debate, from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] to what is now known as CPTPP [Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership]. More often than not, when it comes to international trade treaties, the lead agency is MITI. But what normally happens in Malaysia is that a treaty will come from somewhere and you are reacting to a proposal. But now we are saying, look, this proposal is not plucked from thin air. Ideas leading to this proposal would have been already put on the table, in various discussions and seminars, perhaps a decade ago. So what we are saying is that there are already some treaties that we have signed, we may want to review. There are treaties we are about to sign and ratify; we will have to look at each in detail and make decisions. But we also must be able to focus on what is going to happen five years or ten years from now. For example, internet governance. We can’t wait until somebody comes up with a text, or until a letter comes to my office saying, please look at this proposal. I think we need to be more proactive, we should be able to pre-empt whatever kind of treaties are coming and be involved in the discussion, because by the time you go from four or five texts and agree on a single text, there have been discussions and seminars and conferences and meetings. And I think we need to be proactive by looking at what is to come five, ten years from now, rather than only react once those things come knocking on your door.

One of the things that’s quite striking about the foreign policy framework is the consultative framework you have set up. Could you say more about the process of developing the framework and how the consultations worked?

There is a history to this framework. There was a group assembled in around 2013 and 2014, while I was in GMM [Global Movement of Moderates], of about 60 people, comprising leading former diplomats, leading academics, and professionals, including businesspeople and civil society representatives. They came out with a report. The editor was Professor Muthiah [Alagappa]. That paper was presented to the prime minister back then, but nothing happened. I read the paper when I was CEO of GMM and I thought, this is a very good paper. Never thought I would become Minister of Foreign Affairs. So the moment I was assigned here, the first thing that came to my mind was, can I have a copy of that paper? So we studied it again. And if you look at our framework, you’ll see a lot of it came from that paper. Now, that by itself was a consultative process. I think they spent three to four months working on that paper. Sixty people, the who’s who in foreign affairs were involved. So who is Saifuddin, who suddenly became Foreign Minister, to think that I know better? So I used that paper as a guide.

We formed the Consultative Council, involving people from the ministry, former diplomats, academics, and people from civil society. I penned it in Malay, and then, once we agreed on it, translated the whole thing to English. We had one proper meeting with the Consultative Council, and then we shared the document online and they gave their feedback. Besides that, there were other consultations. We had a series of meetings with academics, with university lecturers, and with students. With the students, it was town-hall meetings. I presented the skeleton of the foreign policy, and then there were questions from the students – bear in mind that they’re not IR specialists, they’re not even students of IR, most of them. Their questions tell you the kind of sentiments they have, or the kind of aspirations they have for the country. We took notes on points that were raised. If you see Palestine and Rohingya mentioned in the framework, it’s not just because we want to do work on Palestine and Rohingya—of course we want to address Palestine and Rohingya—but because these are the two most common questions that come from the floor, everywhere you go. What the questions were leading to was, as a Muslim country, what else can we do? So we had different ways of consulting.

And we proposed the formation of a foreign policy select committee in Parliament. Before the consultation started, I tabled a motion in Parliament. It started with the Prime Minister’s speech on 28th September 2018 [at the United Nations]. We knew from Day 1 that the main points of our foreign policy would be from that speech. And then I presented a motion in Parliament [on 15 October 2018], and we actually had one whole day in Parliament. I presented the framework, in skeletal form, in my oral presentation to Parliament. And then there was a very good debate; about 14 MPs participated and I did the summing up. And then there was a vote, unanimous: people agreed on the parameters or the main gist of the framework. And from there we continued writing with the aid of consultative and town-hall meetings, etc., until we produced the final version. The final version was then distributed to all the relevant ministries for them to comment, and then it was presented to Cabinet where it was also passed. And we’ve promised that we will continue consulting people as we go on trying to implement the framework.

Do you know if other ministries are doing anything similar?

The Ministry of Defence is coming up with a white paper to present to Parliament. I think they have also organised consultations. Besides that, there are a few other ministries who have also established some sort of consultative council, for example, the Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Agriculture—these two I’m very sure, but I know there are at least one or two more. Which is to say that consultation is almost like a cornerstone of the new approach of the new administration—something that was not very often done before.

In the framework, you say that you desire to present Malaysia “as an exemplary Islamic country” and Maqasid Syari’ah as “a vital reference in charting the nation’s development strategy”. Could you say more about how you intend to do that?

You see, when you look at the individual Muslim countries, the OIC members, for example, and you compare our achievements on some of the international rankings, when you look at the top ten countries in many of those indexes, of justice or happiness or whatever, sometimes not even one of the Muslim countries appears to be in the top ten. Which means the room for improvement is so massive. So what do we do? What can we contribute, as Malaysia, to the Muslim world? Surely our foreign policy is not just about fighting for the oppressed. We will continue doing that, and we will try to do even better, for the Palestinians, for the Rohingya, and for other minority groups. But surely there is more that we can offer the Muslim world. We have been doing some substantive work, for example, on education, by inviting students from the Muslim world to come to our universities. We have scholarships for students and for civil servants—this is called the MTCP, the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program, which we offer to, basically, developing countries, and many of them are Muslim countries. But what about democracy, what about human rights, what about others? Surely we can also offer something, and this is why we write our foreign policy in that manner, with the Maqasid Syaria’ah. Issues or topics like Muslim democrats should be brought to the OIC platform—but not just to Muslim countries, even to the world. I think we also have the responsibility to show to the world that Islam is not just about ISIS and IS, or what Trump tweets about, but there is—though I don’t like to use the word—the “real Islam”.

Do you resent having to make up for the less exemplary actors who claim to be acting in the name of Islam, in terms of that image?

I think there is a responsibility to show to the world what Islam is all about, and especially so when you are faced with the threat of terrorism and radicalism, especially now, when we have Daesh. We know that Daesh, though they seem to be fading away, will re-emerge somewhere else, with a different style, a different name. And also we are facing an Islamophobia challenge, coming from the West. I think we need to share the actual narrative of Islam, and we take that as part of our foreign policy responsibility..

You may also find mention of the “Malay World” in there [the foreign policy framework].[1] Well, the Malay world has a unique civilisational experience with Islam and culture. Remember Huntington talked about the clash of civilisations? You don’t see that in the Malay world. The Malay world is really a place where civilisations meet and those looking toward the advancement of Islam in the future can look not just at the Middle East, but also at the Malay world as an example.

You note ASEAN as the cornerstone of Malaysian foreign policy. How does the change of Malaysia’s government affect Malaysia’s position within ASEAN?

Well, not politically. Because politically, we change our chairmanship every year, so on the official side, I think things will go on as the tradition has been. But Dr Mahathir is a big name, and many people in the ASEAN community, including heads of government, look up to Dr Mahathir for some form of leadership. And I think Malaysia can play its own role, like providing moral leadership to the grouping. It’s not just because of the new government, but Malaysia is taking this opportunity to impress upon the other members that the natural cooperation for ASEAN is really to strengthen its economic standing. There are three things that Malaysia is trying to assess and to provide some kind of leadership on.

Number 1 is to increase intra-ASEAN trade. The numbers will show you that we are nowhere close to what is happening in the EU, but of course we know that the EU is really something quite different. But having said that, surely we can improve our intra-ASEAN trade. Especially when you are faced with the trade war between China and the US, herein lies an opportunity—or rather, all the more reason why you need to work together.

Number 2: every time when I talk to my counterparts from outside the region, especially my counterparts from the EU and North America, one item on their wish-lists is that they prefer talking to ASEAN as one single market. Again, we cannot compare ourselves with the EU, but we have to be able to work as a grouping, making full use of the 640-odd million population, which is really a big market. So we may not be able to behave or act like a single market, but it is a big market, such that we should optimise this market that we have.

Number 3 is very much Tun Mahathir’s idea: that ASEAN should be a real producing hub, and not just individual countries exporting raw materials to  other parts of the world. Every time he meets his counterparts, he keeps trying to impress that there must be some joint-venture projects among ASEAN countries. Maybe it is difficult to get all ten countries to work on a single product, but surely two or three countries can work on a product and market it together. So these are the three items that are now on the table.

I think it is more the latter. I think there are a lot of expectations, and we have to walk the talk, otherwise people will look at you and say, hey, what are you guys trying to do?! So because of that, this is where I normally go back to my favourite phrase, that foreign policy begins at home. Until and unless you prove that you are doing it seriously at home, no one will believe you outside. So I’m very pleased that the prime minister is taking this issue very seriously. He has just recently launched an anticorruption plan of action, which I think is a very strong document. He has before this launched an inter-agency anticorruption committee, and he took the trouble to travel to Vienna to speak at an international conference on anti-corruption. He attended that, I think, to prove that he is very serious about it. So in my conversations with my colleagues from outside, I think they understand very well that we are serious about fighting corruption. They know that it is not easy, and of course we have to prove ourselves.

There is a lot in the framework about developing a knowledge culture and developing the ministry’s human-capital resources. You have spoken in the past about lack of awareness of or interest in foreign policy, even among MPs. Do you find that there is sufficient interest and expertise, not just within, but also outside, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the sorts of consultations and to play the sorts of roles you would like to sustain?

Not many people really understand what foreign policy is all about. We need to sensitise people that foreign policy is not an elite thing, that it is about everyday life, and that foreign policy is directly impacting whatever is happening at home, and vice-versa. I think we need to inform people that foreign policy is very much a domestic matter—much as it sounds like it is out there, it is very much in here.

I am quite happy that, generally speaking, the officers at the ministry are professional; they are well-trained. But we also need to improve in certain areas. For example, of course, we have to keep on improving our English, but I think we need to have a good pool of officers who have a sound proficiency in all of the UN’s working languages. Number two, in future, we have to ensure that in every mission abroad, we have someone among our rank and file who speaks the native language—this is not the case now. Like for example, our ambassador to China does not speak or write Mandarin, but we do have someone there who speaks Mandarin. And also not all of our ambassadors in the Middle East speak and write Arabic, although we always have someone. In the future, we have to ensure that we have ambassadors and senior officers who speak the native language, or at least the working language of the country. Because the world is becoming more complex, and sometimes decisions have to be made almost on the spot, where we no longer have the luxury of time to contact the capital to translate.

The next thing is content experts. We need to start seriously training our officers to become not only experts in diplomacy, but also content experts. For example, there are some very broad international areas of concern that everyone should have a good understanding of. You don’t have to be an expert on all those broad agendas, but you need to at least be very good with one of them, if not many of them. For example, on issues like human rights—under human rights, there are various themes, like religious freedom, children’s rights, women’s rights, and so on. And then you have environment. Again, there are numerous themes. And so too with free and fair trade. So we need to have people who are content experts.

And finally, negotiation skills. I find that not everyone can negotiate. Negotiation is not just a skill: it is both an art and a science. And we need this.

We need to train our own people, but we also have to be very open in outsourcing or using experts from outside, from business, academia  and from amongst professionals. For example: in a recent conference in Holland, I thought the ministry did the right thing by bringing Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar as part of the delegation, because Gurdial has some experience in dealing with negotiations. Gurdial is one of the members of our Consultative Council, and the reason why we roped him in is also because there may be occasions where we need experts like him to be part of our delegation at conferences.

You note quite ambitious goals for developing think tanks, such as Malaysian ISIS [Institute of Strategic and International Studies]. Why has Malaysia slipped on that front or not advanced, and how can you as a ministry nurture organisations that by nature need to be at least substantially independent and critical-minded if they are to be effective?

ISIS is an independent organisation. It was until recently under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Department, but now it is under us. But we have an understanding with ISIS. I met with the board and I told them, you are going to remain independent. We take it that the only reason they are with us is for administrative purposes. You have to park ISIS somewhere, to put it bluntly. Somebody has to sign the cheques, that’s all. I told them that they have to remain independent. There was a time when ISIS was very highly respected, but they slipped quite a bit because I think they had the wrong emphasis, to a certain extent, instead of doing their core business. To me, their core business, is, number one: international and strategic studies, which includes security. Number two would be economics, international economics. They should be looking at trends and advise the government, and further ideas and so on. But also it has something to do with, perhaps, the previous administration’s way of controlling ideas or limiting freedom. I think the current administration is very clear about the meaning of freedom. And I told ISIS, you are free to even criticise the government if you need to. If not in public, then in private, but you have to be thinking on your own, you have to be seriously independent. And when you look at the growing numbers of think tanks being established for the past five to seven years, I think the ones that prosper are the ones that are really independent. And there’s no way you can control think tanks, because by definition, they are not supposed to be controlled by any one.

How do you balance the need to be closed-door and decisive in some policy making versus advancing transparency and openness?

I think the word is practicality. We want to be as open as possible, and to discuss matters with as many stakeholders as possible. But sometimes we also have to be very cautious, especially when dealing with some matters which may be considered sensitive by some quarters. In dealing with issues like trade relations, many of the discussions are conducted below the radar. For example, we inherited some contracts made by the previous administration, and we have decided to discontinue several projects, and this was quite easy because they have not yet taken off. Some are still under discussion and we are very careful about it.

So, there are things we have to navigate. For instance, on the Rohingya, we stop at nothing. We simply say what we want to say about the Rohingya, we are very open about it, and my counterpart, the foreign minister of Myanmar, understands very well. He will just keep quiet as and when we say something less diplomatic. He understands perfectly where we are coming from, but at the same time, we are saying that we also want to work with the Myanmar government, to make sure that things improve.

Our position on Rohingya is very clear, and we say it even in front of our counterpart from Myanmar. Number one, perpetrators have to be brought to justice. We are very clear about it, and they know it. Number two, we want repatriation to occur, in the best manner. And number three, we are of course committed to helping on the humanitarian side, both there and in Bangladesh. We have a field hospital in Cox’s Bazaar, run by MinDef [Ministry of Defence], it’s actually an army field hospital in Cox’s Bazaar—there are more than 140,000 Rohingya there, by UNHCR’s estimate. We want to enhance our humanitarian assistance, most of it through NGOs. And we are hoping that the pledge by the Qatari government will come through soon, US$50 million for humanitarian assistance, education, welfare.

You have “change in continuity” as your theme. What do you see as most important to maintain and what do you see as most important to change?

I think the basic fundamentals of foreign policy will remain intact. For example, we want to be friends with all countries, except Israel. We want to trade with all. We practice principles of neutrality and non-interference. That will remain intact… But there will be new approaches in the way we do things. For example, it has always been the practice that foreign policy is about government to government, party to party, and people to people. But more often than not, in the previous administration, foreign policy was very formal. We will maintain the formalities and formal structures, of course. But we are more open to engaging, for example, the business sector and especially civil society organisations. I think our office for the past nine months has received visitors who were at one time banned from coming into our office. Before the UPR [the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review] process, we had visits from both sides of the CSOs—the liberals and the conservatives. So we are more open to that. In fact, we engage with them. It’s not because they want to come, but actually, we invite them to us.

We are open to visits by any of the international rapporteurs. I had a meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar. Both of us happened to be in Bangkok at the same time, so I had a good meeting with her. She asked if she could come to Malaysia, I said any time. We did not say we have a standing invitation to all, but we say if people want to come, we will receive them. We will try our level best to accommodate all the international and UN special rapporteurs. Human rights issues are no longer taboo to be discussed openly—even issues like LGBT, which was previously off the table I think—we can discuss all kinds of things. Of course, economic diplomacy is something that we consider important as part of our work. Yes, ASEAN remains, if not the cornerstone of our foreign policy, still premium, but we are going beyond politics into the economics of ASEAN. Consciously we are saying, look, we want to do this. So it’s not just MITI talking about trade, but even MoFA is talking about trade. And when we look at the Muslim world, we are saying our role is not just to fight for the oppressed, but also to offer more in terms of progress and development. So continuity in terms of the fundamentals, but change mostly in the approaches, the way we look at things and the way we do things.


[1] The text reads: “Malaysia will also lead the efforts to improve the fortune and image of Muslim countries and the ummah by, among others, promoting the role of successful Malaysian Islamic institutions for example, in higher learning, as well as finance and banking; and unique experiences of the Malay World”.

About the interviewee: Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah


Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah is Malaysia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of Parliament for Indera Mahkota and Chief Secretary of Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope). Previously, he served as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Member of the UMNO Supreme Council, CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMM), and Director (Strategic and Social Development) of Institut Darul Ehsan. Saifuddin is a progressive politician who advocates New Politics, youth empowerment and social entrepreneurship, also actively promoting debate and basketball. During his tenure as Deputy Minister of Higher Education, he restarted the campus Speakers’ Corner and amended the University and University College Act to allow student involvement in politics—both of which had been restricted since 1975—and was openly critical of the BN Government’s suppressive policies on freedom and human rights, and racism. Saifuddin has also served as the President of the Malaysian Youth Council, a Member of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Youth Employment, a Consultant to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Joint-Secretary of Bosnia Action Front.
He was also a passionate student activist. He has published eight books, the latest of which being New Politics 2.0: Multiracial and Moderate Malaysian Democracy (2017). Born in 1961, Saifuddin studied at The Malay College Kuala Kangsar and received a BA (Hons) from Universiti Malaya. He is married to Norlin Shamsul Bahri and they have a daughter, Nur Madihah

Is Lee Kuan Yew’s strategic vision for Singapore still relevant?


April 12, 2019

Is Lee Kuan Yew’s strategic vision for Singapore still relevant?

Author: by Han Fook Kwang, RSIS
 

ttps://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/04/10/is-lee-kuan-yews-strategic-vision-for-singapore-still-relevant/

Image result for lee kuan yew and mahathir

The thinking of Singapore’s late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has shaped the country’s foreign policy since its independence in 1965. But the world is changing with the shifting geopolitical balance of power, disruptions caused by digital technology, the rise of populism and the backlash against globalisation. Is Lee’s thinking and strategic vision still applicable in this new world?

On the fourth anniversary of his passing, the question looms large for Singapore. As a small state dependent on the outside world for economic growth, and on larger powers to keep the regional peace, it is particularly vulnerable to how the international order is changing.

There are four elements of his approach to foreign policy that continue to be relevant but will also come under great pressure in the years to come.

First is the idea that a small state like Singapore needs a credible armed forces to deter would-be aggressors. It was a priority when the country suddenly became independent in 1965 and found itself having to build an army from scratch.

 

Image result for lee kuan yew and mahathirLee’s firsthand experience of Japanese occupation in 1941 as well as the 1965 forced separation from Malaysia had a profound impact on his thinking about security. Singapore has since been unrelenting in building up its armed forces, allocating 30 per cent of government expenditure this year on defence, security and diplomacy.

Developing this military capability has also meant closer ties with the United States from which Singapore buys most of its military equipment, including advanced fighter aircraft. Singapore’s close security ties with the United States are a key part of Lee’s strategic vision but will also come under pressure as the balance of power shifts to a rising China.

Whatever happens, Singapore’s commitment to its own defence that Lee first defined will not change. ‘Without a strong economy, there can be no defence’, Lee asserted, ‘[without] a strong defence, there will be no Singapore. It will become a satellite, cowed and intimidated by its neighbours’.

The second pillar of Lee’s foreign policy stems from his realist view of how a small state can best survive in a world dominated by more powerful actors. Creating space for Singapore has been an unending effort for Singaporean officials, resulting in the many linkages the country has internationally, and its support of multilateral organisations such as ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Lee believed regional peace and stability was best achieved by having the major powers engaged in the region. Not just the United States but also China, Japan, Australia, India and European countries.

Despite the United States being the pre-eminent power in Asia throughout his years in office, he did not anchor Singapore solely in the US camp. Instead he worked hard to expand Singapore’s international space, for example working closely with Chinese leaders to expand economic and political ties.

But China’s rise and its growing assertiveness in pursuing territorial claims in the South China Sea will test how ASEAN, including Singapore, manages the new reality. For Lee the answer lies in continued US engagement in the region. ‘If there is no counterbalance from the US, there will be no room to manoeuvre for smaller Asian countries. When you have two trees instead of one, you can choose which shade to be under’. If Lee were alive today, he would continue looking for more shade.

The third element of Lee’s strategic vision is how to realise Singapore’s strategic goals through developing close relationships with leaders that mattered to Singapore. The best example was Lee’s personal friendship with then Indonesian president Suharto.

They could not have had a worst start after Singapore executed two Indonesian saboteurs in 1968. But the two leaders worked at it, the friendship blossomed and they met regularly over two decades to resolve issues between the two countries.

China–Singapore and US–Singapore ties similarly benefited from Lee’s personal relationship with many of their leaders who respected his deep insights and forthright views. When the world is more uncertain, it is even more important to be able to reach out to reliable friends.

Finally, Lee’s strategic vision of Singapore’s place in the world cannot be divorced from how he saw the country’s own identity: a vulnerable nation that had to be exceptional in Southeast Asia to survive. ‘I decided we had to differentiate ourselves from [others] or we are finished’, he reflected.

Exceptionalism has profound implications for Singapore’s foreign policy and will invariably create problems with neighbouring countries from time to time. When you are different you have to work harder at your relationships, and Singapore’s leaders will have to manage them deftly.

But the greatest challenge to Lee’s vision of Singapore’s exceptionalism will come internally. Can its people and government maintain the high standards, even as other countries progress to narrow the gap? If they do not, all the other elements of Singapore’s foreign policy fall apart. That is what it means to say that foreign policy begins at home.

Han Fook Kwang is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He was co-author of several books on Lee Kuan Yew including The Man and his Ideas and Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going. As then Managing Editor of Singapore Press Holdings, he led the editorial team for One Man’s View of the World.

A version of this article originally appeared here on RSIS.

On legal immigration, Trump might be right


April 7, 2019

On legal immigration, Trump might be right

by Dr . Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/4/on-legal-immigration-trump-might-be-right

 

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President Trump’s threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border has confused even his allies. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said it “would be bad for everybody.” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) remarked, “I’m not sure that’s a particularly good idea, and I’m not sure it gets the desired result.” Most assume the threat is part of the usual Trump style — bravado and bluff — and will eventually get dialed back, and there are already indications that this is happening.

But on the broader issue of legal immigration, Trump seems to be shifting his position. In his State of the Union address in February, he said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Immigration hardliners did not take this well.

The president has since reasserted the idea. The day after the State of the Union, Trump told reporters: “I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.” And Politico reported this week that Jared Kushner is quietly developing a proposal to increase legal immigration into the United States.

If this is Trump’s new and improved immigration position, the president might find his way to a powerful compromise — real crackdowns on illegal immigration, coupled with reform and actual increases in legal immigration. This also happens to be a smart policy idea.

A recent essay in the journal International Security points out that by 2050, the United States is projected to be the only major world power with an increase in its population . The four authors, all university professors, tie this factor to more dynamic economic growth and also the United States’ continued ability and willingness to play a major military and political role.

The data on other major powers is striking. United Nations projections show that by 2050, China and Russia will have a 20 percent drop in people of working age. Germany’s working-age population will drop by 17 percent, and Japan’s by 29 percent. This will probably translate into slower growth, less economic vitality and greater passivity on the world stage, the report says.

The United States’ working-age numbers are set to rise by 12 percent in the same period. In fact, only three other major developed countries will see increases in their working-age cohort: Australia, Canada and Britain. But all four countries are expected to enjoy this boost only because of immigration. Without immigration, by 2050, the U.S. working-age population would actually shrink by 4.5 percent. Canada’s would plummet by 20 percent.

China, on track to be the greatest economic, political and technological competitor to the United States, faces a demographic challenge that’s even more dire than was previously anticipated. Last year, China’s birth rate fell to its lowest level since 1961, a year of widespread famine. It appears that the Communist regime’s efforts to reverse the nation’s long-standing “one child” policy have not worked. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in January that for China’s population, “the biggest event in the first half of the 21st century is the arrival of negative growth,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Amid all the noise in this country about immigration, it’s easy to forget the big picture. Immigration means a more robust economy. It usually means younger workers, which translates into greater dynamism and more innovation. Most Nobel Prizes are awarded to scientists for work they did when they were young. Most companies are founded by people when they are young. Younger populations are more risk-seeking, adventurous and entrepreneurial.

Despite the rhetoric around it, legal immigration in the United States is actually not that high. Before he became chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett published a piece in National Review ranking wealthy countries on their ratio of new immigrants to total population in 2010. The United States had the third-lowest figure, higher only than Japan and France. Canada and Germany had more than twice as many new immigrants as a share of the population, and Norway and Switzerland had more than four times.

During the past two decades, many of the United States’ crucial competitive advantages have been copied by the world to the point that other nations do it better — with well-regulated market economics, technological investments, infrastructure, mass education. What does America have left to truly distinguish itself?

Over the past half-century, the United States has handled immigration better than most countries. It takes in people from everywhere, assimilates them better, integrates them into the fabric of society and is able to maintain an environment in which the new immigrants feel as invested as the old. This will be its core competitive advantage in this century.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
Washington Post
April 4, 2019

Venezuela–Will Moscow make a mockery of The Monroe Doctrine?


March 29,2019

Venezuala– Will Moscow make a mockery of The Monroe Doctrine?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/3/28/is-venezuela-where-trump-finally-stands-up-to-putin

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President Trump faces a crucial test of his foreign policy and his resolve over Venezuela. His administration has made absolutely clear that the United States no longer considers Nicolás Maduro to be president, publicly backing Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s interim leader. Trump has gone so far as to urge the Venezuelan military not to follow Maduro’s orders. These declarations are much stronger than the “red line” President Barack Obama drew around Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

So far, Trump’s pressure has not worked. Maduro has dug in, and the Venezuelan military has not abandoned its support for him. While U.S. sanctions may be hurting, they could also have the effect of creating a siege mentality that reinforces the regime’s hold on the nation. This is what happened to varying degrees with Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Venezuela is a complicated, divided country, and Maduro, as heir to the legacy of Hugo Chávez, does have some support in poor and rural areas. But far more significant in bolstering the regime has been Russia’s open and substantial support. Moscow now admits that it has sent military personnel to Venezuela. Two Russian military planes arrived in the country last weekend, carrying about 100 troops.

This is just the latest in a series of moves by Moscow to shore up Maduro. Over the past few years, Russia has provided wheat, arms, credit and cash to the flailing government in Caracas. Estimates of Russia’s total investment in Venezuela vary from $20 billion to $25 billion. Russia now controls almost half of the country’s U.S.-based oil subsidiary, Citgo, which has been a major source of government revenue. The Venezuelan military uses Russian equipment almost exclusively.

The Venezuelan gambit appears to be personally significant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In recent years, as the Venezuelan economy has tanked and political instability has grown, even most Russian companies have abandoned the country, viewing it as too risky. But, as Vladimir Rouvinski writes in a report for the Wilson Center, Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft has persisted and even ramped up its support for Maduro. The company is led by Igor Sechin, who has close ties to Putin and is often called the second-most powerful man in Russia.

In other words, Putin is all-in with his support for Maduro. He is doing this in part to prop up an old ally, and because it adds to Russia’s clout in global oil markets, but above all because it furthers Putin’s central foreign policy objective — the formation of a global anti-American coalition of countries that can frustrate U.S. purposes and usher in a more multipolar world. Putin’s efforts seem designed to taunt the United States, which announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, warning foreign powers to stay out of the Western Hemisphere.

The big question for Washington is: Will it allow Moscow to make a mockery of another U.S. red line? The United States and Russia have taken opposing, incompatible stands on this issue. And as with Syria, there is a danger that, if Washington does not back its words with deeds, a year from now, we will be watching the consolidation of the Maduro regime, supported with Russian arms and money.

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The administration has been tough on Russian involvement in Venezuela. Trump himself has even declared, “Russia has to get out.” But that is an unusual statement from Trump, who has almost never criticized Putin and often sided with Russia on matters big and small.

As former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has written in The Post, Trump has a remarkably consistent pattern of supporting Putin’s foreign policy. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO and has announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria. He has publicly disagreed with his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the 2016 elections, saying, “President Putin . . . said it’s not Russia. . . .I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The big question for Washington is: Will it allow Moscow to make a mockery of another U.S. red line? The United States and Russia have taken opposing, incompatible stands on this issue. And as with Syria, there is a danger that, if Washington does not back its words with deeds, a year from now, we will be watching the consolidation of the Maduro regime, supported with Russian arms and money.

The administration has been tough on Russian involvement in Venezuela. Trump himself has even declared, “Russia has to get out.” But that is an unusual statement from Trump, who has almost never criticized Putin and often sided with Russia on matters big and small.

As former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has written in The Post, Trump has a remarkably consistent pattern of supporting Putin’s foreign policy. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO and has announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria. He has publicly disagreed with his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the 2016 elections, saying, “President Putin . . . said it’s not Russia. . . .I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

(c) 2019. Washington Post Writers Group