Trump, Najib and The Controlled and Free Media


February 18, 2017

Trump, Najib and The Controlled and  Free Media

 

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Prime Minister of Malaysia (PMOM) Najib Abdul Razak must be feeling tremendously superior to his alleged erstwhile golfing buddy and recently-elected President of the United States (POTUS) Donald J.Trump, even without a chance to play a round with him recently.

Because, however many courses Trump owns, and however close to scratch his game might be, he’s competing at world-class level according to US and international rules in full view of a global gallery, and thus has no chance of hiding just how green, gruesomely handicapped and doomed to defeat that he thus far appears to be.

Whereas Najib plays mostly for Malaysia on a minor circuit restricted to such similar small-timers as North Korea and Zimbabwe, who all consider themselves winners because they not only make-up the rules of the game and fake their own scorecards, but also feel free to club anyone who dares criticise or oppose them into silence or submission.

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Or, in some special cases, to death, as in the current case of the alleged hit on a member of North Korea’s Kim family at the KL International Airport 2, or the murder and C4 dismemberment of Mongolian ‘model’ Altantuya Shaariibuu (pic above) in Kuala Lumpur a decade ago.

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No wonder POTUS Trump is so mightily teed-off at the way he’s thwarted at every stroke as he strives to triumph over obstacles like that mother of all sand-traps, the Middle East, and looming water hazards like the South China Sea, while simultaneously trying to deal with domestic challenges ranging from hostile Democrats and disaffected Republicans to hostile news media and intractable courts.

At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US Presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking glibly because he’s getting so much stick.

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Najib’s Team of Goofers

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figure eaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

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Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as  UMNO-BN owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words, traditional news media. In contrast in the United States, freedom of expression is guaranteed by The First Amendment, making the media an independent and countervailing force in American society.

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the public services and crony based ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by rights be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

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At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking bitingly because he’s getting so much stick.

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figureheaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as UMNO–BN either or both owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words traditional news media.

From left: Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin and Sen. Jeff Sessions have all been nominated to high-profile positions in President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. Alex Wong/Getty Images; F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the civil services and crony so-called ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course  backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by right be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

One tiny flaw

Admittedly this game-winning strategy has one tiny flaw, which is that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the man who devised and from whom Najib has inherited it, was so keen to create a world-class IT complex he grandly conceived as ‘Cyberjaya’ that he promised global players like Apple and Microsoft that he wouldn’t censor the Internet.

Cyberjaya, like so many of Mahathir’s alleged megalomanic projects, never really took off. But at least the Internet has surprisingly remained relatively free in Malaysia, and thus I can write what I like, or rather what my editors deem not so dangerously politically provocative as to get Malaysiakini raided or banned, in this column.

But Najib and his UMNO-BN accomplices and supporters are apparently quite prepared if not happy to tolerate this relatively minor annoyance, as it gives them a pretext on which to pretend they permit at least some slight degree of press freedom.

And in any event they must figure that however much bad news gets out about them, they can keep buying enough voters to keep them in power with money they SK1M from the public purse to fund annual hand-outs billed as BR1M, which Najib recently boasted increases in amount every year.

Or, to put this another way, there are always enough Malaysians prepared to be so D1M as to accept BR1M and in return to pretend that they’re unaware that Najib, like every one of his fellow UMNO-BN members and cronies, is a KR1M.

In short, though Najib Abdul Razak might seem to the embarrassed, embarrassing and deeply-embattled Donald Trump to be a winner in the contest between himself and the essential democratic institutions of truth, transparency and justice, the Malaysian people are the ‘sure-fire losers’.

Just as the American people will be if Trump and his goofers can’t be persuaded or if necessary forced to finally get themselves on the ball, stop playing around like dimwit banana-republic demagogues and realise that there’s as huge a gulf between their performance so far and true world leadership as between hit-and-giggle golf and the real thing.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

John Pilger: The Issue Is Not Donald Trump. It Is Us.


January 18, 2017

John Pilger: The Issue Is Not Donald Trump. It Is Us.

US president elect, Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore, Flickr).

Donald Trump. for all his flaws, is not Barack Obama, an American President who has set new lows in foreign slaughter and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the mega-rich, writes John Pilger.

On the day President Trump is inaugurated, thousands of writers in the United States will express their indignation. “In order for us to heal and move forward…,” say Writers Resist, “we wish to bypass direct political discourse, in favour of an inspired focus on the future, and how we, as writers, can be a unifying force for the protection of democracy.”

And: “We urge local organizers and speakers to avoid using the names of politicians or adopting ‘anti’ language as the focus for their Writers Resist event. It’s important to ensure that nonprofit organizations, which are prohibited from political campaigning, will feel confident participating in and sponsoring these events.”

Thus, real protest is to be avoided, for it is not tax exempt.

Compare such drivel with the declarations of the Congress of American Writers, held at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1935, and again two years later. They were electric events, with writers discussing how they could confront ominous events in Abyssinia, China and Spain. Telegrams from Thomas Mann, C Day Lewis, Upton Sinclair and Albert Einstein were read out, reflecting the fear that great power was now rampant and that it had become impossible to discuss art and literature without politics or, indeed, direct political action.

“A writer,” the journalist Martha Gellhorn told the second congress, “must be a man of action now… A man who has given a year of his life to steel strikes, or to the unemployed, or to the problems of racial prejudice, has not lost or wasted time. He is a man who has known where he belonged. If you should survive such action, what you have to say about it afterwards is the truth, is necessary and real, and it will last.”

Her words echo across the unction and violence of the Obama era and the silence of those who colluded with his deceptions.

That the menace of rapacious power – rampant long before the rise of Trump – has been accepted by writers, many of them privileged and celebrated, and by those who guard the gates of literary criticism, and culture, including popular culture, is uncontroversial. Not for them the impossibility of writing and promoting literature bereft of politics. Not for them the responsibility to speak out, regardless of who occupies the White House.

US Democrat presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. (IMAGE: Pan Photo, Flickr)

The Defeated Democratic Party Candidate Hillary Clinton who ran a Obama Copycat Policy Campaign–Americans want Change in Washington DC.

Today, false symbolism is all. “Identity” is all. In 2016, Hillary Clinton stigmatised millions of voters as “a basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it”. Her abuse was handed out at an LGBT rally as part of her cynical campaign to win over minorities by abusing a white mostly working-class majority. Divide and rule, this is called; or identity politics in which race and gender conceal class, and allow the waging of class war. Trump understood this.

“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident poet Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”

This is not an American phenomenon. A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then Professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that “for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”.

No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake for utopian dreams, no Byron damns the corruption of the ruling class, no Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin reveal the moral disaster of capitalism. William Morris, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw have no equivalents today. Harold Pinter was the last to raise his voice. Among today’s insistent voices of consumer-feminism, none echoes Virginia Woolf, who described “the arts of dominating other people… of ruling, of killing, of acquiring land and capital”.

There is something both venal and profoundly stupid about famous writers as they venture outside their cosseted world and embrace an “issue”. Across the Review section of the Guardian on 10 December was a dreamy picture of Barack Obama looking up to the heavens and the words, “Amazing Grace” and “Farewell the Chief”.

The sycophancy ran like a polluted babbling brook through page after page. “He was a vulnerable figure in many ways…. But the grace. The all-encompassing grace: in manner and form, in argument and intellect, with humour and cool …. [He] is a blazing tribute to what has been, and what can be again… He seems ready to keep fighting, and remains a formidable champion to have on our side… … The grace … the almost surreal levels of grace….”

44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (IMAGE: Marc Nozell, Flickr)

I have conflated these quotes. There are others even more hagiographic and bereft of mitigation. The Guardian’s chief apologist for Obama, Gary Younge, has always been careful to mitigate, to say that his hero “could have done more”: oh, but there were the “calm, measured and consensual solutions….”

None of them, however, could surpass the American writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the recipient of a “genius” grant worth $625,000 from a liberal foundation. In an interminable essay for The Atlantic entitled, “My President Was Black”, Coates brought new meaning to prostration. The final “chapter”, entitled “When You Left, You Took All of Me With You”, a line from a Marvin Gaye song, describes seeing the Obamas “rising out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity”. The Ascension, no less.

One of the persistent strands in American political life is a cultish extremism that approaches fascism. This was given expression and reinforced during the two terms of Barack Obama. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said Obama, who expanded America’s favourite military pastime, bombing, and death squads (“special operations”) as no other president has done since the Cold War.

According to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 alone Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people on earth, in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan.

Every Tuesday – reported the New York Times – he personally selected those who would be murdered by mostly hellfire missiles fired from drones. Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target”. A leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, estimated, approvingly, that Obama’s drones killed 4,700 people. “Sometimes you hit innocent people and I hate that,” he said, but we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda.”

Like the fascism of the 1930s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent media whose description now fits that of the Nuremberg prosecutor. “Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically…. In the propaganda system… it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

Take the catastrophe in Libya. In 2011, Obama said Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi was planning “genocide” against his own people. “We knew… that if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

This was the known lie of Islamist militias facing defeat by Libyan government forces. It became the media story; and Nato – led by Obama and Hillary Clinton – launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. Uranium warheads were used; the cities of Misurata and Sirte were carpet-bombed. The Red Cross identified mass graves, and Unicef reported that “most [of the children killed]were under the age of 10”.

Under Obama, the US has extended secret “special forces” operations to 138 countries, or 70 per cent of the world’s population. The first African-American president launched what amounted to a full-scale invasion of Africa. Reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, the US African Command (Africom) has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments. Africom’s “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds US officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. Only pith helmets are missing.

It is as if Africa’s proud history of liberation, from Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela, is consigned to oblivion by a new master’s black colonial elite whose “historic mission”, warned Frantz Fanon half a century ago, is the promotion of “a capitalism rampant though camouflaged”.

It was Obama who, in 2011, announced what became known as the “pivot to Asia”, in which almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to the Asia-Pacific to “confront China”, in the words of his Defence Secretary. There was no threat from China; the entire enterprise was unnecessary. It was an extreme provocation to keep the Pentagon and its demented brass happy.

In 2014, Obama’s administration oversaw and paid for a fascist-led coup in Ukraine against the democratically elected government, threatening Russia in the western borderland through which Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, with a loss of 27 million lives. It was Obama who placed missiles in Eastern Europe aimed at Russia, and it was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who increased spending on nuclear warheads to a level higher than that of any administration since the cold war – having promised, in an emotional speech in Prague, to “help rid the world of nuclear weapons”.

Obama, the constitutional lawyer, prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other president in history, even though the US constitution protects them. He declared Chelsea Manning guilty before the end of a trial that was a travesty. He has refused to pardon Manning who has suffered years of inhumane treatment which the UN says amounts to torture. He has pursued an entirely bogus case against Julian Assange. He promised to close the Guantanamo concentration camp and didn’t.

Following the public relations disaster of George W. Bush, Obama, the smooth operator from Chicago via Harvard, was enlisted to restore what he calls “leadership” throughout the world. The Nobel Prize committee’s decision was part of this: the kind of cloying reverse racism that beatified the man for no reason other than he was attractive to liberal sensibilities and, of course, American power, if not to the children he kills in impoverished, mostly Muslim countries.

US president Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama has pardoned Chelsea Manning

This is the Call of Obama. It is not unlike a dog whistle: inaudible to most, irresistible to the besotted and boneheaded, especially “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics,” as Luciana Bohne put it. “When Obama walks into a room,” gushed George Clooney, “you want to follow him somewhere, anywhere.”

William I. Robinson, Professor at the University of California, and one of an uncontaminated group of American strategic thinkers who have retained their independence during the years of intellectual dog-whistling since 9/11, wrote this last week:

“President Barack Obama… may have done more than anyone to assure [Donald] Trump’s victory. While Trump’s election has triggered a rapid expansion of fascist currents in US civil society, a fascist outcome for the political system is far from inevitable…. But that fight back requires clarity as to how we got to such a dangerous precipice. The seeds of 21st century fascism were planted, fertilized and watered by the Obama administration and the politically bankrupt liberal elite.”

Robinson points out that “whether in its 20th or its emerging 21st century variants, fascism is, above all, a response to deep structural crises of capitalism, such as that of the 1930s and the one that began with the financial meltdown in 2008…. There is a near-straight line here from Obama to Trump…. The liberal elite’s refusal to challenge the rapaciousness of transnational capital and its brand of identity politics served to eclipse the language of the working and popular classes… pushing white workers into an ‘identity’ of white nationalism and helping the neo-fascists to organise them”.

The seedbed is Obama’s Weimar Republic, a landscape of endemic poverty, militarised police and barbaric prisons: the consequence of a “market” extremism which, under his presidency, prompted the transfer of $14 trillion in public money to criminal enterprises in Wall Street.

Perhaps his greatest “legacy” is the co-option and disorientation of any real opposition. Bernie Sanders’ specious “revolution” does not apply. Propaganda is his triumph.

The lies about Russia – in whose elections the US has openly intervened – have made the world’s most self-important journalists laughing stocks. In the country with constitutionally the freest press in the world, free journalism now exists only in its honourable exceptions.

The obsession with Trump is a cover for many of those calling themselves “left/liberal”, as if to claim political decency. They are not “left”, neither are they especially “liberal”. Much of America’s aggression towards the rest of humanity has come from so-called liberal Democratic administrations – such as Obama’s.

US president elect, Donald Trump.

45th US President (wef January 20, 2017) Donald Trump.

America’s political spectrum extends from the mythical centre to the lunar right. The “left” are homeless renegades Martha Gellhorn described as “a rare and wholly admirable fraternity”. She excluded those who confuse politics with a fixation on their navels.

While they “heal” and “move forward”, will the Writers Resist campaigners and other anti-Trumpists reflect upon this? More to the point: when will a genuine movement of opposition arise? Angry, eloquent, all-for-one-and-one-for all. Until real politics return to people’s lives, the enemy is not Trump, it is ourselves.

Trump’s Unrealpolitik


January 7, 2017

Trump’s Unrealpolitik

by Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.–http://www.project-syndicate.org

Some in the United States have praised President-elect Donald Trump for his supposed realism. He will do what is right for America, they argue, without getting caught up in thorny moral dilemmas, or letting himself be carried away by some grand sense of responsibility for the rest of the world. By acting with the shrewd pragmatism of a businessman, he will make America stronger and more prosperous.

This view is, to be frank, delusional.

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It is certainly true that Trump will not be caught up in questions of morality. He is precisely what the Greek historian Thucydides defined as an immoral leader: one of “violent character” who “wins over the people by deceiving them” and by exploiting “their angry feelings and emotions.”

But immorality is neither desirable nor a necessary feature of realism. (Thucydides himself was an ethical realist.) And there is little to suggest that Trump has any of the other realist qualities that his supporters see. How could anyone expect the proudly unpredictable and deeply uninformed Trump to execute grand strategic designs, such as the Realpolitik recommended by Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, Henry Kissinger’s biographer, following the election?

Image result for Harvard’s Niall Ferguson on Realpolitik Quote

Ferguson, like Kissinger, believes that true Realpolitik under Trump should begin with an alliance among the US, China, and Russia, based on a mutual fear of Islamic extremism and a shared desire to exploit lesser powers to boost their own economies. These countries would agree to prevent Europe from attaining great-power status (by destroying the European Union), and to ensure that populist or authoritarian governments control the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members.

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To this end, Trump could work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s anti-EU nationalist right, win April’s presidential election. Moreover, in order to consolidate a post-EU Anglo-Atlantic sphere, Trump could transform the North American Free-Trade Agreement into a North Atlantic arrangement, replacing Mexico with the United Kingdom. Finally, he could put pressure on NATO members to pay more for defense – a move that would surely undermine the security of the Baltic states and Ukraine.

Achieving these goals would require more than an ability to avoid moral impediments. Like all statecraft, it would require an aptitude for careful diplomatic engineering, respect for facts and truth, historical knowledge, and a capacity for cautious examination of complex situations when formulating (or revising) policies.

Yet Trump is the most anarchic, capricious, and inconsistent individual ever to occupy the White House, and all he has to help guide him is a cabinet full of billionaire deal-makers like him, preoccupied with calculable immediate interests. For them, casting off allies might seem like an easy way to streamline decision-making (and boost share prices).

But repudiating America’s role as a global beacon – and thus the idea of American exceptionalism – is a bad bet for the future. Scrapping free-trade deals with Asia and Latin America, for example, could provide a short-term gain for the US economy; but doing so would ultimately undercut the projection of American power there, paving the way for penetration by China.

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The US should be aiming to curtail China’s influence without incurring its wrath. Another lesson from Thucydides – reinforced by historical experience – is that rising, not established, powers tend to upset the international order.

Protecting that order requires the main global power to uphold the institutions that underpin it, in order to prevent revolutionary behavior by lesser powers. Yet Trump has criticized and disregarded international institutions to such an extent that it is now China that is defending global governance – including the Paris agreement on climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran – from a revolutionary US.

Worse, Trump has seemingly abandoned all caution with regard to China. On the diplomatic front, by speaking directly with the president of Taiwan after the election, he violated a protocol maintained for four decades, by Democratic and Republican presidents alike. On the economic front, he has leveled reckless (and plainly wrong) accusations that China is manipulating its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage.

Provoking China, doubting NATO, and threatening trade wars is nihilism, not strategy. At this point, Trump seems set to do on a global scale what former President George W. Bush did to the Middle East – intentionally destabilize the old order, and then fail to create a new one. The first step would be a deal with Putin on Syria – a move that, like Bush’s defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, would amount to handing a victory to Iran.

This is not to say that none of the Realpolitik envisioned by Ferguson will come to fruition. But what elements of it do emerge will likely be driven more by Putin than by Trump – with dangerous outcomes. Already, Putin has begun work on dismantling the EU. After Le Pen was refused credit from French banks, Russian banks saved her campaign. And Russian state-sponsored propaganda is helping to drive former Soviet republics away from the EU.

Trump, a vocal Putin fan, is unlikely to redress the tilting balance of power as part of, let alone as a condition for, a diplomatic “reset” with Russia. What kind of a realist would not use a united Western alliance to limit a Russia that is trying to engineer a return to Cold War spheres of influence?

And, for that matter, what kind of a realist sends to Israel an Ambassador whose pro-settlement rhetoric threatens to inflame the entire Muslim world against the US? What is so realistic about a war of annihilation against the Islamic State that is not backed by a plan for engagement with the broader Middle East?

Trump might have some realistic instincts. But they will not be enough to ensure measured responses to even the slightest provocation, much less to underpin a sweeping and consistent strategy.

Putting the Pacific on China’s Radar


January 6, 2017

Image result for Asia-Pacific Bulletin

Number 366 | January 5, 2017

ANALYSIS

Putting the Pacific on China’s Radar

by Tristan Kenderdine

As China’s foreign direct investment strategy is increasingly formalized into international capacity cooperation funds, Pacific Island economies are struggling to engage China’s broader Belt and Road policies. While Beijing’s investment and trade strategy continues to transform the ocean corridor west from Southern China to Southeast India, the South Pacific looks to be orphaned through yet another period of history. However, the Pacific Islands Forum economies have a huge opportunity to align with China’s global geo-strategy through the new capacity cooperation financing mechanisms.

In 2016, China embarked on a massive capacity cooperation funding campaign to develop a parallel trading system which bypasses international capital infrastructure and allows China to invest abroad while maintaining a closed capital account. This campaign forms the vanguard of a state trade strategy with a transformative power over the macro Asian region. Targeted economies include Central Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and most recently Central and Eastern Europe.

Both the People’s Republic and the Republic of China have long engaged in aid-for-diplomacy strategies in Pacific Island states. However Beijing now sees a crossroads emerging between South America and China through the Pacific, and has a new strategic interest which goes beyond the Taiwan issue.

China’s slowing industrial economy has also seen a growing desperation from Beijing to offshore industrial growth. Foreign direct investment from Chinese state-driven infrastructure projects has increasingly found its way to states recognizing the People’s Republic: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Despite this, no specific capacity cooperation funds – the finance mechanism for Belt and Road offshoring industrial capacity – have yet been earmarked for Pacific Island states.

China’s wider ocean strategy includes industrial and agribusiness offshore investment. Its Pacific Island trade and investment strategy is run through Guangdong Province and provincial level cities there which coordinate investment in Pacific Island fisheries, agriculture, and infrastructure.

The more specific Belt and Road strategy links China’s eastern and southern port cities with Europe via the Indian Ocean port system. Designated trading routes pass through the South China Sea and the Malacca Straits, then through Myanmar and Sri Lanka on the way past India, and the Middle East toward European sea terminals in Greece, Turkey and Italy.

Pacific Island countries sit at a different crossroads, between South America and China’s East Coast. The development of China’s rail and canal projects is opening logistics infrastructure hubs in South and Central America. This means that a new South Pacific shipping corridor is likely to open up.

A deep-water container port at a half-way point could replicate Dubai’s air strategy on the sea. Fiji becoming a maritime Dubai would bring investment to the region and facilitate trans-Pacific trade logistics. As Papua New Guinea has benefited from liquefied natural gas exports to Taiwan, China and Japan, so too can other Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian island economies find new trade avenues into the Asian mainland.

Containerized intermodal shipping logistics and refrigerated shipping will see huge demand as China’s domestic cold-chain logistics system develops. Chinese demand for a variety of commodities from South and Central America will see increased demand for both soft and hard commodities shipping. A global downturn in shipping paired with an oversupply of ships creates opportunity for Pacific Island countries to develop trade routes while infrastructure is affordable.

South Pacific fisheries and food industrialization present an opportunity to feed China’s huge and growing demand for fish protein that neither global wild catch nor industrial aquaculture can currently service. Mariculture, landing stations and harbor infrastructure, fish processing facilities, and aquaculture development all hold potential for Pacific Island economies. Fish processing facilities could leverage Chinese investment in infrastructure, build aquaculture employment bases and export clean fish products to the Chinese mainland. China’s distant water fleets already exploit wild-catch in both the Pacific and Southern Oceans and China has a huge demand for high-quality, safe, standardized food.

Gene industrialization and gene research is a key strategic industry for China. Legal and organizational developments in seed and animal genetics are laying the groundwork for China to become a world leader in genetics. Interest in biodiversity in the Pacific and the seabed are clear. Negotiations on Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction demonstrate China’s interest in marine biodiversity.

“Commerce with China [could] build the Pacific Islands into a genuine trade bloc.”

China is also at the forefront of international seabed mining, taking a leading role in the International Seabed Authority. Chinese state owned enterprise, China Ocean Mineral Resource Research and Development Association currently has 15-year exploratory rights over areas in the Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone, searching for ferromanganese, cobalt and polymetallic nodules. As more industrialized nations engage in the 21st century submarine land-grab, the Pacific Island economies are sitting on more land than most continental countries that, if leveraged well, could bring huge benefit to their populations.

Aerospace technologies, satellite communications and space policy are also rapidly being developed by China, which has signaled a desire to create a network of floating satellite ground stations. Given an increasing constellation of satellites and more sophisticated use, China needs reliable communications surface stations in the South Pacific.

China also faces a dependency on US controlled submarine internet communications lines. The global internet infrastructure is dependent on cables lying across the ocean floor such as Blue Sky – the proposed line from New Zealand to the US. China has already laid its own cables between South America and Africa, and faces bottlenecks to both service and security in the Hawaiian dominated north Pacific. A South Pacific communications route to South America would be invaluable to China, and access to this cable infrastructure would be equally valuable to Pacific Island economies.

In 2016, China embarked on a massive capacity cooperation funding campaign to develop a parallel trading system which bypasses international capital infrastructure and allows China to invest abroad while maintaining a closed capital account. This campaign forms the vanguard of a state trade strategy with a transformative power over the macro Asian region. Targeted economies include Central Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and most recently Central and Eastern Europe.

Both the People’s Republic and the Republic of China have long engaged in aid-for-diplomacy strategies in Pacific Island states. However Beijing now sees a crossroads emerging between South America and China through the Pacific, and has a new strategic interest which goes beyond the Taiwan issue.

Thinking of China as a net exporter of capital goods, and importer of consumer goods, means small economies plugged into China need pay attention to consumer sentiment and behavior in the country. China’s wider geopolitical and marine strategies will bring investment and infrastructure to Pacific Island economies. This capital of course comes with state mercantilist strategies attached. However, access to these consumer markets will allow Pacific Island exports to feed China’s demand for fish protein, hydrocarbons, minerals, biopharmaceuticals and marine energy.

Outside analysis of economic development in the Pacific has too long focused on tourism, remittance and aid, ignoring the export potential of the island economies. As the Pacific Island economies increasingly engage with global trade, capital investment from China can help to develop industrial infrastructure for further regional economic integration. While both Chinese capital and construction projects present sustainability and quality problems, an impending wave of investment should be harnessed by the Pacific Islands Forum as an opportunity for capital, infrastructure and economic development for the region as a contiguous whole. Let commerce with China build the Pacific Islands into a genuine trade bloc and let us banish dependency economics once and for all.

About the Author

Tristan Kenderdine is Research Director at Future Risk and Assistant Professor at Dalian Maritime University. He can be contacted at Tristan.Kenderdine@anu.edu.au.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

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The Abandonment of Progress


January 4, 2016

 

Image result for obama hope posterGoodbye to Audacity of Hope

In 2008, US President Barack Obama campaigned on “hope” and “change we can believe in.” The substantive response to the reactionary revival must be to give content to this largely unfulfilled promise.

The Abandonment of Progress

by Jean Pisani-Ferry

Jean Pisani- Ferry is a Professor at the Hertie School of Governance (Berlin) and Sciences Po (Paris). He currently serves as Commissioner-General of France Stratégie, a public policy advisory institution.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/populism-and-abandonment-of-progress-by-jean-pisani-ferry-2017-01

Image result for reagan and thatcher

Welcome to Strange Brew and Nostalgia

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are remembered for the laissez-faire revolution they launched in the early 1980s. They campaigned and won on the promise that free-market capitalism would unleash growth and boost prosperity. In 2016, Nigel Farage, the then-leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) who masterminded Brexit, and US President-elect Donald Trump campaigned and won on a very different basis: nostalgia. Tellingly, their promises were to “take back control” and “make America great again” – in other words, to turn back the clock.

As Columbia University’s Mark Lilla has observed, the United Kingdom and the US are not alone in experiencing a reactionary revival. In many advanced and emerging countries, the past suddenly seems to have much more appeal than the future. In France, Marine Le Pen, the nationalist right’s candidate in the upcoming presidential election, explicitly appeals to the era when the French government controlled the borders, protected industry, and managed the currency. Such solutions worked in the 1960s, the National Front leader claims, so implementing them now would bring back prosperity.

Obviously, such appeals have struck a chord with electorates throughout the West. The main factor underlying this shift in public attitudes is that many citizens have lost faith in progress. They no longer believe that the future will bring them material improvement and that their children will have a better life than their own. They look backward because they are afraid to look ahead.

Progress has lost its shine for several reasons. The first is a decade of dismal economic performance: for anyone below the age of 30, especially in Europe, the new normal is recession and stagnation. The toll taken by the financial crisis has been heavy. Furthermore, the pace of productivity gains in the advanced countries (and to a large extent in emerging countries) remains disappointingly low. As a result, there is very little in the way of income gains to distribute – and even less in aging societies where fewer people are at work and those out of work live longer. This grim reality may not last (not all economists agree that it will); but citizens can be forgiven for taking reality at face value.

The second reason progress has lost credibility is that the digital revolution risks undermining the middle class that formed the backbone of the post-war societies of the world’s advanced economies. As long as technological progress was destroying unskilled jobs, the straightforward policy response was education. Robotization and artificial intelligence are destroying medium-skilled jobs, leading to a polarized labor market, with jobs created at the two ends of the wage distribution. For those whose skills have lost value and whose jobs are threatened by automation, this hardly counts as “progress.”

A third, related, reason is the massively skewed distribution of national income gains that prevails in many countries. Social progress rested on the promise that the benefits of technological and economic advancement would be shared. But recent path-breaking research by Raj Chetty and his colleagues shows that whereas 90% of US adults born in the early 1940s earned more than their parents, this proportion has steadily declined ever since, to 50% for those born in the mid-1980s. Only one-quarter of this decline is due to slower economic growth; the remainder is attributable to an increasingly unequal distribution of income. When inequality reaches such proportions, it erodes the very basis of the social contract. It is impossible to speak of overall progress when children have an even chance of being worse off than their parents.

Fourth, the new inequality has a politically salient spatial dimension. Educated, professionally successful people increasingly marry and live close to one another, mostly in large, prosperous metropolitan areas. Those left out also marry and live close to one another, mostly in depressed areas or small towns. The result, reckon the Brookings Institution’s Mark Muro and Sifan Liu, is that US counties won by Trump account for just 36% of GDP, whereas won by Hillary Clinton account for 64%. Massive spatial inequality creates large communities of people with no future, where the prevailing aspiration can only be to turn back the clock.

Faith in progress was a key provision of the political and social contract of the post-war decades. It was always a part of the left’s DNA; but the right embraced it as well. After what happened in 2016, support for a concept forged in the Enlightenment can no longer be taken for granted.

For anyone who believes that progress should remain the compass guiding societies in the twenty-first century, the priority is to redefine it in today’s context and to spell out the corresponding policy agenda.

Even leaving aside other important dimensions of the issue – such as fear of globalization, growing ethical doubts about contemporary technologies, and concerns about the environmental consequences of growth – redefining progress is a challenge of daunting magnitude. This is partly because a sensible agenda must simultaneously address its macroeconomic, educational, distributional, and spatial dimensions. It is also because yesterday’s solutions belong to the past: a social compact designed for an environment of high-growth, equalizing technological progress won’t help address the problems of a low-growth world of divisive technological innovation.

In short, social justice is not a matter only for fair-weather environments. For several decades, growth has served as a substitute for sensible social cohesion policies. What advanced societies need now are social compacts that are resilient to demographic shifts, technological disruptions, and economic shocks.

In 2008, US President Barack Obama campaigned on “hope” and “change we can believe in.” The substantive response to the reactionary revival must be to give content to this largely unfulfilled promise.

 

PS Most-Read on Economics & World Affairs 2016


January 4, 2017

PS Most-Read on Economics & World Affairs 2016

https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/ps-ten-most-read-commentaries-on-politics-2016-12

Image result for Project Syndicate.orgPresident-Elect Donald J. Trump

Political rage went global in 2016, fueling a populist backlash across the democratic world and appalling terrorist violence in the Middle East, Europe, and beyond. Here is a selection of commentaries – of the year’s 1,140 published by Project Syndicate – on the global political upheaval of the last 12 months, and its economic causes and consequences, that resonated most with our online readers. http://www.project-syndicate.org