The President Who cried wolf


May 24, 2017

The President Who cried wolf

‘Trump is now more than just a real estate developer, a franchise marketer, or a celebrity TV star. He is President, and he is dealing with matters of war and peace, law and justice. Words matter, and in a wholly different way than he has ever understood. They build national credibility, deter enemies, reassure allies and execute the law. In high office, in public life, words are not so different from actions. They are everything”.–Fareed Zakaria

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For most of his life, Donald Trump has found words to be his friends. He has used them to build his business, dramatize his achievements and embellish his accomplishments. As important, he has used them to explain away his missteps and to paper over his problems. He built a 58-story building in glass and steel, but through his wordplay, it became 68 stories tall. He owns an 11,000-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, but in his telling, it’s 33,000 square feet. Trump has used words extravagantly and cleverly to serve his ambition. He has called his method “truthful hyperbole,” and oftentimes it is not even truthful. But it has worked — so far.

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James B. Comey

The White House understands the gravity of the allegation that President Trump asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to end the Michael Flynn investigation. That’s why the administration has vigorously denied the charge. And perhaps it’s not true.

But the challenge for the administration is that in the court of public opinion, this is likely to turn into a case of “he said, he said” — unless there are, in fact, tapes. On the one side, you have Comey, a distinguished civil servant with a history of speaking truth to power. While his critics feel that he has made several bad judgments over the past year, most people believe he is honest and sincere. On the other side, you have Trump.

The Post’s reporters Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee describe Trump as “the most fact-challenged politician” they have “ever encountered.” They pointed out that, after having received a whopping 59 “Four Pinocchio” ratings during the campaign, Trump in his first 100 days made 492 “false or misleading claims,” at an average of 4.9 a day. These fact checkers clarified that “those numbers obscure the fact that the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up.” By their count, there were only 10 days in the first 100 days in which Trump did not make a false or misleading claim.

And his fibs are not over small matters. Before being elected, Trump claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that he had met Vladimir Putin, who “could not have been nicer”; that he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq “from the beginning”; that he watched Arabs in Jersey City, N.J., cheer when the World Trade Center was attacked; that America’s unemployment rate (just last year) might be as high as 42 percent; and that its murder rate was the highest in 45 years. Since his election, he has claimed that his electoral vote margin was larger than anyone’s since Ronald Reagan, that China stopped manipulating its currency in response to his criticism and that Obama had his Trump Tower phones tapped. Every one of these claims is categorically false, and yet Trump has never retracted one of them.

Trump’s approach has never been to apologize because it wouldn’t make sense to him. In his view, he wasn’t fibbing. As his sometime rival and now friend Steve Wynn, a casino tycoon, put it, Trump’s statements on virtually everything “have no relation to truth or fact.” That’s not really how Trump thinks of words. For him, words are performance art. It’s what sounds right in the moment and gets him through the crisis. So when describing his economic policy to the Economist, he explained that he had just invented the term “prime the pump” a few days earlier. Never mind that the phrase was coined a century ago, has been used countless times since and was in fact used by Trump repeatedly in the past year. At that moment, it seemed the right thing to say.

But Trump is now more than just a real estate developer, a franchise marketer, or a celebrity TV star. He is President, and he is dealing with matters of war and peace, law and justice. Words matter, and in a wholly different way than he has ever understood. They build national credibility, deter enemies, reassure allies and execute the law. In high office, in public life, words are not so different from actions. They are everything.

It would be the ultimate irony if Trump now faces a crisis in which his lifelong strength turns into a fatal weakness. His rich and checkered history of salesmanship, his exaggerations, fudges and falsehoods, leave him in a situation now where, even if he is right on this one, people will have a hard time believing that this one time Donald Trump is finally telling the truth.

 

The Criminal 45th POTUS?



May 17, 2017

The Criminal 45th POTUS?

http://www.nytimes.com

After the revelations of the past 24 hours, it appears that President Trump’s conduct in and around the firing of the F.B.I. Director, James Comey, may have crossed the line into criminality. The combination of what is known and what is credibly alleged would, if fully substantiated, constitute obstruction of justice. It is time for Congress and a special counsel in the executive branch to conduct objective, bipartisan inquiries into these allegations, together with the underlying matters involving Michael Flynn and Russia that gave rise to them.

First, the facts. On January 26, Sally Yates, then the acting Attorney General, informed the White House that Mr. Flynn had apparently lied about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. The next day, President Trump hosted Mr. Comey for a private dinner, during which he allegedly asked Mr. Comey repeatedly whether he would pledge his “loyalty” to him, which Mr. Comey declined to do.

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Sally Yates–Acting Attorney-General

On February 14, the day after Mr. Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, President Trump allegedly held Mr. Comey back after a meeting to say that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong and that, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey declined to drop the investigation, going on in March to confirm before Congress that it was ongoing, and later requesting greater resources from the Department of Justice to pursue it.

Finally, on May 9, President Trump fired Mr. Comey. We were first told he did so because Mr. Comey bungled the F.B.I.’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Two days later, President Trump changed his story: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” The day after that, President Trump threatened Mr. Comey on Twitter, warning him against leaking to the press.

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Any one of these facts or allegations, by itself, likely would not constitute obstruction of justice. After all, as the F.B.I. Director himself stated, the President has the undisputed power under the Constitution to hire and fire members of his administration in the normal course of government business.

But what he cannot do is exercise that power corruptly, to spare himself or those associated with him, like Mr. Flynn, from scrutiny and possible criminal liability. To do so would run afoul of a series of federal statutes that define the crime of obstruction of justice. They are variations on the theme that anyone who “corruptly” or by “any threatening letter or communication” tries “to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” will be subject to criminal penalties.

The operative word here is “corruptly.” It means “an improper purpose,” or one that is “evil” or “wicked.” There is no precise formula for defining it; those involved in the administration of justice must continually wrestle with its interpretation.

Here, the evidence strongly suggests that the president acted corruptly. That starts with the demand for loyalty from Mr. Comey, the account of which the White House disputes. That demand can reasonably be understood to mean that Mr. Comey should protect Trump and follow his bidding, rather than honoring his oath to follow the evidence. It is also an implicit threat: Be loyal, or you will be fired.

When Mr. Comey did not seem to take the hint, Mr. Trump made his meaning crystal-clear on February 14: Let the investigation go, and let Mr. Flynn go, too. The president denies this as well, of course, as he has denied so much else that has proven to be true. Who are we to believe: Mr. Comey, who would have no reason to accuse the President of obstruction of justice, and who has apparently preserved meticulous notes of his conversations? Or the President, who fact-checkers have demonstrated has told more lies in less time than any other modern occupant of the Oval Office?

While Mr. Trump might have been within his rights to fire Mr. Comey, this pattern of demands to protect himself and Mr. Flynn, followed by retaliation when the demands were not met, if proven, is a textbook case of wrongful conduct. Add to this the fact that Mr. Flynn was already offering testimony about the Russia connection in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Trump’s clumsy attempt to dissemble the cause of the firing, and it is clear that a cover-up was afoot.

Finally, Mr. Trump topped things off with his tweeted threat to Mr. Comey; witness intimidation is both obstruction of justice in itself, and a free-standing statutory offense.

Taken together, this evidence is already more than sufficient to make out a prima facie case of obstruction of justice — and there are likely many more shoes to drop. Mr. Comey reportedly took notes on all of his encounters with the president. If what has emerged so far is any indication, this is unlikely to offer much comfort to Mr. Trump.

And there remains the core question of the President’s motives. Is he withholding his taxes because they show evidence of “a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” as his son once stated, or do they show no such thing, as his lawyers claim? Why is Mr. Trump so fervently protecting Mr. Flynn: out of loyalty to a friend, or because Mr. Trump fears what that friend would say if he received immunity?

We have previously called for Congress to set up an independent 9/11-style commission on the Russia and Flynn investigations, and for the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. This appointment is necessary because Congress can’t actually prosecute anyone who may have committed crimes, including obstruction of justice, in connection with the Trump-Russia matter. This week’s revelations about the president, the most powerful man in the country, emphasize the need for these independent structures to be erected and to encompass these new allegations.

At least for now, we need not address the question, fully briefed to the Supreme Court during Watergate, but never resolved, of whether a special prosecutor could indict the President; as with Nixon, the question may again be obviated by other events, like the House initiating impeachment proceedings and the President resigning.

In the meantime, the House and Senate must continue their existing investigations and expand them, with the Judiciary Committees of both bodies immediately beginning hearings into the president’s abuse of power. Congress must be prepared to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Richard W. Painter, a Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, is the Vice Chairman and Norman L. Eisen is the Chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. They were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.

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


May 17, 2017

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

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

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The Magnificent Men of the 1960’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by P. Ramasamy@www.malaysiakini.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fareed Zakaria: GOP is a banana republic ‘platform to support the ego, appetites of one man and his family’


May 17, 2017

Fareed Zakaria: GOP is a banana republic ‘platform to support the ego, appetites of one man and his family’

by David Edwards

CNN host Fareed Zakaria lamented on Sunday that the U.S. Congress could no longer be considered a check on the power of President Donald Trump because the controlling party had become a platform that caters to the whims of the President and his family.

“Donald Trump in much of his rhetoric and many of his actions poses a danger to American democracy,” Zakaria explained. “American democracy has a series of checks intended to prevent the accumulation and abuse of power by any one person or group.”

“But there is one gaping hole in the system: the President,” he continued. “The President in effect sits about the law. The Justice Department works for him.”

According to the CNN host, Congress’ power of impeachment is the only “real check” on the president.

“Since Trump’s own party controls both chambers of Congress, there has been little resistance to him there,” he noted. “It appears the Republican Party is losing any resemblance to a traditional western political party. Instead, turning into something more commonly found in the developing world: a platform to support the ego, appetites and interests of one man and his family.”

Zakaria pointed out that the courts and the media provide limited limited checks on the Presidency, but Trump “has relentlessly attacked both.”

“The media must cover the administration’s policies fairly but it also must never let the public forget that many of the attitudes and actions of this president are gross violations of the customs and practices of the modern American system,” Zakaria insisted. “They are aberrations and they cannot become the new norms. That way, after Trump, the country will not start the next presidency with tattered standards and sunken expectations.”

Watch the video below from CNN.

I have tried to evaluate Donald Trump’s Presidency fairly. I’ve praised him when he has appointed competent people to high office and expressed support for his policies when they seemed serious and sensible (even though this has drawn criticism from some quarters). But there has always been another aspect to this Presidency lurking beneath the surface, sometimes erupting into full view as it did this week. President Trump, in much of his rhetoric and many of his actions, poses a danger to American democracy.

The United States has the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, one that has survived the test of time and given birth to perhaps the most successful society in human history. What sets the nation apart is not how democratic it is, but rather the opposite. U.S. democracy has a series of checks intended to prevent the accumulation and abuse of power by any one person or group. But there is one gaping hole in the system: the President.

During his famous interviews with David Frost in 1977, Richard Nixon made a statement regarding Watergate that has been mockingly quoted ever since. “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal,” he said to Frost. Nixon was a smart lawyer and a close student of the Constitution. He was basically right. The president, in effect, sits above the law. The Justice Department, after all, works for him. Refusing to follow certain ethical guidelines in separating himself from his business empire, Trump told the New York Times, “The law is totally on my side, meaning, the President can’t have a conflict of interest.” Most lawyers say he is right. The rules don’t really apply to the President.

There is just one real check on the President — impeachment — and it is political, not legal. Since Trump’s own party controls both chambers of Congress, there has been little resistance to him there. One might have hoped for more, and perhaps we will see it. So far, it appears that the Republican Party is losing any resemblance to a traditional Western political party, instead simply turning into something more commonly found in the developing world: a platform to support the ego, appetites and interests of one man and his family.

There are other, less potent checks on the power of the president. Some are structural, others simply a matter of morality or precedent. Trump has sought to weaken many of these, both before the election and now in the White House.

Trump said that he would like to change laws to make it easier to sue journalists. He announced that he hoped to jail his opponent. He spoke approvingly of the mass deportation of Mexicans in the 1950s. He proposed a travel ban on an entire religion, to bar all Muslims from entering the United States. He advocated that the U.S. military torture prisoners. And he called into question the integrity of a judge because of his Mexican heritage.

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Director James B.Comey–The Man who dared to stand up to the 45th POTUS defend the FBI

Once in power, Trump has continued in this vein, taking actions that weaken all sources of resistance. He summarily dismissed FBI Director James B. Comey, reportedly over his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. If true, the firing would be a shattering blow. The nonpartisan agencies of the executive branch are jewels of the modern U.S. system. They were not always impartial, and they are certainly not perfect, but in recent decades they have acquired a deserved reputation. When I travel from Eastern Europe to China to Latin America, democratic reformers tell me that they look to these agencies as models when trying to strengthen the rule of law in their own countries.

There are only two forces left that can place some constraints on Trump — the courts and the media — and he has relentlessly attacked both. Every time a court has ruled against one of his executive orders, the president has ridiculed the decision or demeaned the judges involved. To their enormous credit, the courts have not been deterred from standing up to the President.

That leaves the media. Trump has gone at them (us) like no President before, smearing news organizations, attacking individual journalists and threatening to strip legal protections guaranteed to a free press. We will survive, but we must recognize the stakes.

The media should cover the administration’s policies fairly. But they must also never let the public forget that many of the attitudes and actions of this president are gross violations of the customs and practices of the modern American system — that they are aberrations and cannot become the new norms. That way, after Trump, the country will not start the next presidency with tattered standards and sunken expectations. The task is quite simply to keep alive the spirit of American democracy.

Image result for fareed zakariaThe Handsome and Urbane Fareed Zakaria– Host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN
Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

The Power of a strong State Department


May 13, 2017

President Trump clearly admires America’s military. He has put generals in charge of the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security, and he has called for a big increase in military spending. He was quick to order missile strikes after chemical weapons were used in Syria, and he plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

At the same time, Mr. Trump appears to have little regard for traditional diplomacy. He made Rex Tillerson, a foreign policy neophyte, his secretary of state. He has left key diplomatic posts unfilled and proposed slashing the State Department’s budget by some 30 percent. Mr. Tillerson, who also wants to shake up the department, has already suggested eliminating 2,300 jobs there. Morale has plummeted, so Mr. Tillerson gave an in-house speech on May 3 that sought to convince his employees that their work was still important. But a pep talk is unlikely to restore the State Department’s sense of diminished status.

America’s armed forces are undeniably impressive, but Mr. Trump’s veneration of military power and disregard for diplomacy is mistaken. Many of America’s greatest foreign policy successes were won at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield: Think of the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the country in 1803, or the formation of NATO and the Bretton Woods economic institutions, equally farsighted acts that enhanced American influence. Similarly, the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty slowed the spread of nuclear weapons and made it easier to monitor states with nuclear ambitions…

Mr. Trump’s deference to the military, meanwhile, is hard to square with its track record. The United States had more than half a million troops in Vietnam at the peak of the war and still lost. The 1991 Persian Gulf war was a short-term triumph but did not yield a stable peace. The 2003 invasion of Iraq led to a costly quagmire, to enhanced Iranian influence and, eventually, to the creation of the Islamic State. The American military has been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, and the Taliban today controls more territory than at any time since 2001. United States airstrikes helped drive Muammar el-Qaddafi from power in Libya in 2011, and the country is now a failed state…

Read on

Politics of the ASEAN Summit–Pay Attention to the Details


May 11, 2017

North Korea and South China Sea and the Politics of the ASEAN Summit–Pay Attention to the Details

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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ASEAN leaders should begin to give stronger leadership and get into some details. They cannot be making platitudinous statements again and again. They cannot continue to spend time over prepared drafts which are becoming like an old record. They cannot be rushing from one meeting to another on a tight schedule prepared by the officials which gives them little time for true contemplation. They cannot be rushing home as soon as the ceremonies are over – and only start dealing with the regional issues at the next summit. ASEAN leaders must give ASEAN quality time.–Munir Majid

THE Chairman’s statement at the end of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila was at its clearest on concern over rising tension in the Korean Peninsula. With respect to other parts of the long statement, the world was treated to the usual prevarication on the South China Sea issue and sanguine satisfaction with progress in the ASEAN community pillars as well as its other integration projects.

ASEAN leaders, without qualification, identified North Korea’s belligerence and roguish behaviour as having caused the threat to peace, even if they called for restraint to preserve it.

The fact that China has a 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with North Korea, which technically obliges Beijing to come to Pyongyang’s defence in the event of an attack on North Korean territory, did not deter ASEAN from insinuating Kim Jong-Un has been asking for it with his comic and infantile antics.

Of course, China is nowadays not as close to North Korea as “lip and teeth”, which was how Mao Zedong put it in 1961, but still…

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Thus it was that the Chair of ASEAN for this year, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had this telephone conversation with United States President Donald Trump when he expressed the regional grouping’s concern as well as hope for restraint in the Korean Peninsula, and got invited to meet his opposite number – some would say his political double – in Washington.

The fact that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha also was invited in a separate call to come to Washington gives the impression that these invitations are for ASEAN countries with whom the US has formal defence arrangements.

According to the Philippines media, Duterte will not be going. But if he does, it is to be hoped he will carry the ASEAN card with him as well.

And if Duterte brought his common law wife along, there is no doubt it would sit well with Trump. Both revel in the unconventional.

Certainly Duterte has had no cause to call Trump the “son of a whore” just as Trump does not find particular offence in Duterte’s anti-drug warfare in the Philippines.

If they came to discuss the South China Sea issue, however, it would be interesting to see who would outdo the other in double-talk.

For ASEAN there would be great interest in whether the South China Sea would be discussed and what kind of representation Duterte would make. He could only make a representation on behalf of the Philippines, if he could make clear what exactly is Manila’s position.

Duterte’s South China Sea opacity – or more accurately obfuscation – might actually endear him to Trump who is a master of the art. So it could be expected there would be some good coming out of a meeting between the two Presidents, particularly for Duterte and the Philippines.

While Trump has been sitting in Washington like some kind of emperor of a Middle Kingdom with all these foreign leaders coming to pay homage, the solution to the South China Sea disputes and China’s claims, however, lies in Beijing.

So in the Chairman’s statement after the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, there was a safe distance between paragraph 7, where there was reference to full respect for legal and diplomatic processes in the settlement of disputes, and the section on the South China Sea (paragraphs 120 to 121) where there was absolutely no such reference, of course.

There was not a squeak on the ruling devastating to China by the Law of the Sea Arbitration Tribunal last July.

Instead, the leaders trotted out the usual asinine hope for a Code of Conduct by the middle of the year which has been long overdue since the Declaration of Conduct of 2002. And even tried to celebrate the imminence of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) which has been in existence in many places.

It is as if, right on cue, they have no idea how to move forward. ASEAN leaders must stop this charade. If they do not want to cross China – a perfectly understandable predisposition – they should at least come up with ideas on how to found a long-term cooperative solution. Why has ASEAN always got to wait on China?

There are many ideas out there on how to convert the South China Sea from an area of contention to a zone of cooperation. One involves turning the Spratlys into an International Marine Peace Park.

More than the undoubted oil reserves, the South China Sea is a huge source of fish for the entire region. About two billion people depend on it for their protein, and a not inconsiderable number for their livelihood. Over 12% of total world annual fish catch comes from the South China Sea (valued at US$21.8bil).

With all their talk about a people-centric ASEAN, should not the leaders get their officials and experts to look into making a proposal which would turn the South China Sea into a zone of cooperation to sustain the harvest of fish? Even Israel and Jordan could do so – under the 1994 peace agreement which created the Red Sea Marine Peace Park in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea.

In a new e-book, Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippines notes: “The eggs and larvae that spawn in the Spratlys are carried by currents to the coasts of China, Vietnam, Luzon, Palawan, Malaysia, Brunei, Natuna Islands as well as the Sulu Sea. The Spratlys are the breeding ground for fish in the South China Sea.”

ASEAN leaders should begin to give stronger leadership and get into some details. They cannot be making platitudinous statements again and again. They cannot continue to spend time over prepared drafts which are becoming like an old record. They cannot be rushing from one meeting to another on a tight schedule prepared by the officials which gives them little time for true contemplation. They cannot be rushing home as soon as the ceremonies are over – and only start dealing with the regional issues at the next summit. ASEAN leaders must give ASEAN quality time.

Apart from clear concern over the tension in the Korean Peninsula, there was again too much self-satisfaction in the chairman’s statement of the 30th ASEAN Summit. On strengthening the secretariat and ASEAN organs, for instance, the leaders were happy with the progress made by the High Level Task Force. But exactly what progress and in which direction? They did not say.

On the study to update the ASEAN Charter, they agreeably noted the direction from Ministers “for a precise and cautious approach taking into account the views and positions of all Member States.” Does this mean no change in the ASEAN Charter for the next five years? Ten years?

Even on the tension in the Korean Peninsula, they did not make any specific suggestion on what could be done. Another attempt to revive the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programme that first started in 2003? Play tough and kick North Korea out of the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum which North Korea had joined in 2000?

With so many matters covered in such general terms, the Chairman’s statement at the end of ASEAN Summits is becoming more and more superficial. ASEAN leaders must give clear leads with some details on one or more of the issues to show they are on top of them and wish to see a meaningful end result.