Small states must play smart

October 5, 2018

Small states must play smart

by Chheang Vannarith

Cambodia Flag
“Cambodia is pursuing a light hedging strategy and striving to strengthen multi-lateralism through an omi-enmeshment strategy – a diversification strategy to create an interlocking network of partners with common economic and security interests.”– Chheang Vannarith

The foreign policy of small states is constrained by the size and location of the country and its natural resources and population. Small states are more vulnerable to external changes and shocks, the level of dependency on external sources for security and development, and the perception of their national roles.

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Size does matter for small states. They find it difficult to have favourable foreign policy outcomes than larger nations. To make up for this, small states tend to focus on their immediate geographic area and economic diplomacy, with an emphasis on international rules and norms, while promoting multilateralism and international cooperation.

The primary objective of small states is to ensure their survival and strengthen their position and relevance in a fluid or even anarchic international system. The fast-evolving international system together with global power shifts is posing more challenges for small states to adjust and realise their foreign policy objective. Hence they must play smart and be innovative in order to achieve their foreign policy goals.

Cambodia is thriving to stay relevant in the international system through the implementation of a dual-track diplomacy: bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Recently, Cambodia has taken a relatively proactive approach in strengthening multilateralism and a rules-based international order as these two norms are under stress and threat caused by unilateralism and protectionism. The US retreat from multilateral institutions has caused severe disruptions and turbulence in the international liberal order.

Cambodia’s foreign policy is at a critical juncture as the country remains at the frontline of geopolitical rivalry in the Mekong region – a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia. Geopolitical risks are heightening as major powers are vying to create their own sphere of influence in the region. The Kingdom is very much vulnerable to becoming a pawn of major power politics if foreign policy is not managed carefully. The evolving geopolitical dynamics thus demands that Cambodian leaders be more adaptive, flexible, resilient, and pragmatic.

As geopolitical risks and vulnerabilities rise further, Cambodia’s foreign policy options could be more constrained. The strategic space for Cambodia to manoeuver is getting narrower. Once geopolitical power rivalry becomes clear-cut and all-out, Cambodia could lose its balance and would be structurally forced to hop on the bandwagon of a major power for its survival.

At the moment, Cambodia is pursuing a light hedging strategy and striving to strengthen multi-lateralism through an omi-enmeshment strategy – a diversification strategy to create an interlocking network of partners with common economic and security interests.

Hedging is the best strategic option for Cambodia, especially in dealing with uncertainty. However, implementing this strategy is a huge challenge. It requires strategic articulation on certain issues and strategic ambiguity on others. Even sometimes it requires to have contradictory views on certain issues but it must be implemented smartly in order not to lose trust with any major power.

The key challenge now for Cambodia is how it could gain trust from all major powers. At the moment, Cambodia’s relations with the US faces a serious trust deficit. It is urgent that Cambodia and the US find common grounds and explore innovative pathways to restore trust and normalize their bilateral relationship.

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Economic pragmatism, strategic diversification, a denial to a regional hegemonic power, and regime legitimization are the key components of a hedging strategy. ASEAN as a regional grouping is an important shield for Cambodia and the group’s other members to neutralize and cushion the adverse effects created by rivalry between the major powers.

Yet ASEAN faces the risk of being marginalized by two competing institutional frameworks – China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the US-initiated Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Unless ASEAN member states are able to stay united and forge a common foreign policy position, they risk becoming the proxy states of major powers. Consequently, the region will be divided into two diametric poles: the pro-China camp versus the pro-US camp.

To avert these risks, ASEAN must be more innovative and adopt a bolder approach to protect common regional interests. Just playing it safe and keeping a low profile is not a solution. ASEAN must be bold enough to stand up against any major power that intends to build its hegemonic dominence in the region at the expense of the core interests of its member countries.

Cambodia is of the view that ASEAN driven multilateral institutions and mechanisms play a critical role in constructing an open and inclusive regional order that can accommodate all major powers. ASEAN is widely regarded as the main vehicle for its members to engage and integrate major powers, and hopefully shape the behaviour of major powers.

Engaging major powers is a viable strategic option for small states. Engagement is a means to integration. Small states like Cambodia can partially contribute to constructing an international order by engaging and integrating major powers into a rules-based international system and getting them to assume responsible leadership role in multilateral institutions.

Dr. Chheang Vannarith is a board member and Senior Fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP).

Understanding Dr M’s grand diplomacy and trip to China( August 17-21, 2018)

August 16, 2018

Foreign Policy: Understanding Dr M’s grand diplomacy and trip to China( August 17-21, 2018)

by Rais Hussin

COMMENT | China, if the historical accounts of Lord George Macartney (George Macartney, 1737-1806) are to be believed, once reached a stage of opulence that never needed the world at all, including, and especially, England. To China, England was but a speck in the Far West.

Indeed, one of the most famous British attempts to expand trade with China demonstrates the miscommunication between the two nations.

As other historical recollections would have it, Lord Macartney led a mission in 1793 to the court of the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) of China.

This emperor had reigned over perhaps the most luxurious court in all Chinese history*. He had inherited a full treasury, and his nation seemed strong and wealthy enough to reach its greatest size ever, and also to attain a splendour that out-dazzled even the best Europe could then offer.

Indeed, the research of Professor Frederick Wakeman once at Columbia University affirmed that “King George III (1738-1820) of England sent Macartney to convince the Chinese emperor to open northern port cities to British traders and to allow British ships to be repaired on Chinese territory.”

To which Wakeman added: “Macartney arrived in North China in a warship with a retinue of 95, an artillery of 50 redcoats, and 600 packages of magnificent presents that required 90 wagons, 40 barrows, 200 horses and 3,000 porters to carry them to Peking.”

Yet, as history had showed, the best gifts the king of England had to offer – elaborate clocks, globes, porcelain – “seemed insignificant beside the splendours of the Asian court.”

The Chinese emperor also insisted that Lord Macartney had to kow-tow to him. Since Lord Macartney refused, all deals and negotiations were off. Some thirty years would pass before China lost to the British in the First Opium War in 1832, leading to a succession of territorial seccessions that led to the fall of Hong Kong, and subsequently of Kow Loon and the new Territories to the British, in turn inviting other colonial powers like Portugal to insist on getting Macao, and the works.

From August 17 to 21, 2018, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed would once again encounter a powerful China, possibly a thousand times stronger and scientifically more advanced than the imperial China described by Lord Macartney. Yet, China ought to remember three things.

First of all, Malaysia is not asking for any concessions. Of the eleven China projects that span Malaysia, which are worth a total of US$134 billion (RM550 billion), based on the research of South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, which is incidentally owned by Chinese tycoon Jack Ma, whom Dr Mahathir will also meet again in Hangzhou on August 17, some of these projects have been found to be of questionable value, indeed, origins.

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Although many are deemed to be done under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of President Xi Jinping, some have a system of payment that does not reflect the very fairness and transparency urged by President Xi himself.

His anti-corruption drive in China, for example, has netted some 300,000 officials and unscrupulous businessmen to date.

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Yet, within the context of the BRI in Malaysia, some projects carried the imprint of 88 percent of the payment being made while only 13 percent of the projects being completed.

Second, while Malaysia has discovered these financial oddities, Dr Mahathir has understood the complexities and protocols of China’s inner sanctum.

Minister of Finance Lim Guan Eng and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) are not tagging along.

For the lack of a better word, despite being an elder statesman of Asia, Dr Mahathir has abided by the Malay concept of diplomacy – to not exploit the weaknesses of the others but to tell the truth.

Indeed, Dr Mahathir has embodied the idea that “Melayu pantang dicabar,” (Malays do not like to be challenged or insulted) and “berani kerana benar” (to be bold is to be truthful). These two Malay adages have formed the twin templates of Dr Mahathir’s key motivation to China.

Thirdly, when Sino-Malaysian abnormalities have grown to huge proportions to be more than half of the combinsed national debt and liabilities of Malaysia of US$250 billion (RM1 trillion), it goes without saying that this is beyond government to government negotiations.

Something is seriously wrong either with BRI in Malaysia or BRI in some parts of the world, where research at Harvard University, as conducted by Sam Barker, has shown a serious case of “debt” that are practically unpayable by sixteen countries and counting. Malaysia, luckily, is not one of these sixteen countries. But Malaysia does not want to be number 17.

Indeed, BRI ought to be applauded for its scale and ambition to connect some 68 countries to China, of which Malaysia is but a vital vector since it controls the Straits of Malacca and part of the South China Sea, hence, is one of the three littoral states including Singapore and Indonesia.

To be sure, there are no cabinet ministers in Malaysia who, to date, oppose BRI in any way or form. They just want it to be more accountable and transparent to prevent any insidious corruption, the likes of which was practiced by the previous administration of Najib Razak.

Interviews with South China Morning Post three weeks after the strategic electoral upset of May 9, 2018, also revealed Dr Mahathir’s affirmation that he had once written a letter to President Xi to encourage him to build a train “1.5 times bigger (than the size of any current trains)” to pulsate the land locked economies of Central Asia. President Xi seemed to like the idea of reviving the Silk Road and added the “maritime portion” too, Dr Mahathir added.

For the lack of a better word, China and Malaysia do not have to allow the errors of the past administration, and the unscrupulous elements in that relationship, to affect the strategic partnership of the two countries. When Japan did not want to discuss the issues of Asia in G7, it was Dr Mahathir who raised the concept of the East Asia Economic Group (EAEG), or the East Asia Economic Caucus, to former Prime Minister Li Peng in 1990, a delicate time when China was ostracised by the rest of the world due to the Tiananmen incident of 1989. Instead of ganging up on China, Malaysia encouraged China to lead Asia.

All open and classified records would show between 1990 and 2018, Dr Mahathir had never made a single anti-China statement except when questioning some questionable deals. Dr Mahathir even dismissed the China threat peddled by some in the West and Japan.

It is with this context and backdrop in mind, that the world that makes contemporary China – whether in the physical or virtual realm – should appreciate Dr Mahathir’s upcoming trip. Malaysia does not want China to be torn asunder, like other colonial powers before had wanted.

Nor does Malaysia want China to express any sympathies for its unfortunate national debt that could potentially become gangrenous.

Dr Mahathir, on behalf of many Malaysians, merely want China to listen deeply and attentively: let’s aim for “shuang ying”, or win-win solutions, to enrich the two countries and regions which they represent for posterity to come. If there are businesses and investments to be made, let the two countries and regions of Northeast and Southeast Asia merge as one grand diplomatic concert, where all can prosper in peace.

After all prosper thy neighbor is many times better than the reverse.

* Source: The Fall of Imperial China (Frederick Wakeman, Jr, Free Press, 1977), pg 101.

RAIS HUSSIN is Bersatu supreme council member and policy and strategy bureau head.

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

India :Rajiv Gandhi’s Foreign Policy

August 11, 2018

India :Rajiv Gandhi’s Foreign Policy– Diplomacy in Tough Times

By Antony Clement

 “Though he was advised about the threat for his life but never shied away from facing the challenges. He was involved in ‘making India ‘strong, independent and self-reliant’. Further, he never yielded to any sentiments. He knew that there was no room for sentiments while making foreign policy. He was ready to sacrifice anything in the interest of the country. Thus ‘moral and physical courage’ were the central part of his foreign policy making. He carefully chose his foreign visits as well as his policy had brought positive implications on India’s diplomacy.

His breakthroughs have been standing today as good examples and as a guiding pillar for us to formulate policies with respect to many countries. It would be sure the present day diplomatic circle cannot articulate policy without pronouncing the name ‘Rajiv Gandhi.”

…his achievements in the area of India’s foreign policy would not be wiped out or to be erased. The imprint of his legacy in the making of Indian foreign policy will stay longer in shaping of India’s diplomacy and ever lingers in our memory. –Antony Clement


The Late Air India Pilot who left his footprints in the Indian Sands as Prime Minister


The end of the World War II in 1945 gave the birth to Cold War among the two superpowers. The U.S. and the USSR had respectively been spreading their ideologies (Capitalism and Socialism) across the globe. This was continued till the disintegration of the Soviet in 1991. International relations scholars described 1980s as the peak period of bipolar competition which had already expanded to the Indian Sub-continent. Shri Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of our country during that time (1984-89).

Throughout the Cold War many developing countries were on the hinge, had stuck without moving either side but wedged with Non-allied Movement (NAM). Moreover, at that time India was leading the NAM, a trustful head for the Third World countries. Further, throughout the Cold War playoffs, building relations with other countries were not only a hard task but getting a new partner would be seen as suspicious in our old friend’s camp. Hence, in the Cold War era reaching out to new friends while keeping the old friends close to us was one of the difficult jobs and challenging. In general, articulating strategy and diplomacy would be really a tough choice but necessary. If a single word is spelt out wrongly would have greater consequences in the international stage. However, the neo-realist thinker Kenneth Waltz “believes that bipolar systems are more stable and thus provide a better guarantee of peace and security” (Jackson & Sorensen, 2003).

In this article let us discuss his important visits and how Rajiv Gandhi’s state visits were received by the major-powers at the time of the Cold War and what India has gained from his diplomacy.

Since the end of the World War II (apart from the five established ‘major powers’ – the U.S., Soviet Russia, France, UK and China) India was the only country that has been expected, and has the required potential, to become a major power. Surely, this would not be a sweet tune to neither the U.S. nor China. So both the countries worked against India with the strategy of containment policy supporting Pakistan in South Asia. As we said, the various U.S administrations have their strategy to contain to keep India within the Sub-continent, have been well working with the help of puppet regimes in Pakistan.

On the other hand, China was blindly helping India’s adversary Pakistan to build nuclear arsenals and was then waiting to consider if Islamabad would lose the support of Washington at any point of time in a situation when the Soviet Union withdraws its forces from Afghanistan. Presuming the “U.S. inaction in the face of the Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons with the assistance of China, Rajiv Gandhi took the plunge and secretly authorized going nuclear, notwithstanding his personal sentiments to the contrary. The Agni was successfully test-fired in May 1989” (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003).

During the Cold War period the international politics was tough but Rajiv Gandhi’s visits brought new friends and breakthrough in India’s diplomacy. Under his leadership it was a proud moment for India in the international system. The young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s new approaches were received by the world leaders. He never goes for the state visits without having solutions for the long outstanding issues. Some of the divergent issues were converted into convergent because of fresh thoughts pouring in the Indian foreign policy making.

It has strengthened India’s authority in the Indian Ocean and particularly gave a turning point in India’s relations with the U.S. and China. His diplomatic visits to Sri Lanka or Australia – there were new lessons to be learned. Therefore, the international relations scholars described, “Indeed, his period in office saw India become more assertive in power terms in the region. At the same time Rajiv Gandhi’s government “walking on two legs: Economic reform and nuclear weaponisation” (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003).

In May 1988, under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India detonated her second nuclear test. But it was built, a decade ago under the able administration of Rajiv Gandhi. He was the architect of pro-poor liberal economy. Moreover, modernization in telecommunication sector, reforms in education, science & technology took place under his leadership. He introduced computer in consultation with Shri Sam Pitroda, the communication wizard and Rajiv is the builder of the 21st century India.

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Rajiv and Sanjay with their mother Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

Rajiv Gandhi always looks at our neighbors in two dimensions. First, when they are in need of our help he immediately reaches out to them. Through this approach he always makes them feel comfortable but at the same time keeps India’s interest alive. Second, his policies are formulated to make the neighbors to stay close to New Delhi. Also he never keeps quiet  in Delhi by sending a statement through the diplomatic channel while our neighbors were facing troubles.

In 1988, ‘The Operation Cactus’ in Maldives to thwart the coup against President Abdul Gayoom’s government would be seen as the best example for his realist approach. However, he always gave room for ‘mutual cooperation.’ Thus his foreign policy had the mixture of realism and liberalism, maintains India’s power balance in the Indian Ocean Region. Particularly in the Male crisis before the superpowers turn their focus on Gayoom’s invitation, Rajiv Gandhi “responded with an overwhelming speed and efficiency. With less than 16 hours since President Gayoom’s call – Indian troops were deployed in one swift motion” and saved the Maldives government (Vishnu Gopinath, The Quint, Feb 06, 2018). At the same time since Feb 2018, 16 weeks had gone; the new political crisis in Maldives is seeking India’s help. The department of external affairs has sent few statements regarding the Male issue and then kept mum.

These approaches indicate that Modi’s government is not in a position to enhance India’s power projection in the Indian Ocean Region, but extending an olive branch to cool down China. These are the policy differences of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the present Prime Minister Narendera Modi.

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It would be understandable that the relations between India and Pakistan were never in comfortable course. During his visit to the SARC Summit in Islamabad the ‘mutual effort’ of Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto brought a new twist in ‘normalization of bilateral relations’ between India and Pakistan. “Both prime ministers pledged not to attack or assist foreign powers to attack either country’s nuclear installations and facilities. This summit was described as the dawn of a new era in Pak-India ties” (Shaikh Aziz, The Dawn, August 2016). Further, both the leaders applied step by step approach and “widened their official contacts initiating unprecedented military – to military talks to ace tensions on their northern border, where Indian and Pakistani troops have skirmished for years” (Steve Coll, The Washington Post, July 17, 1989). These developments suggest us that the visits of the state heads are not only mandatory but it should demonstrate some valuable output.

Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in the Island-nation of Sri Lanka was the striking example for bringing peace and unity in Sri Lanka, and India’s articulation of power. This was also with the aim of keeping the U.S. out of the Indian Ocean especially not to get a foothold in Colombo in the time of Cold War. For the same cause, he lost his life at the very young age but he never folded his hands nor sat quiet when our neighbor was in need.

R. Hariharan a military intelligence specialist wonderfully writes, “The Rajiv Gandhi – Jayewardene Accord, signed in the Cold War era in 1987 was undoubtedly strategic – collectively address all the three contentious issues between India and Sri Lanka: strategic interests, people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka and Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka. The Accord was unique with respect to India’s beginning with respect to India’s articulation of power, set a strong message to its neighbors, global powers and delineated India’s strategic zone of influence in the Indian Ocean region” (R. Hariharan, July 28, 2010, The Hindu)..

These are indications of his presumption on the importance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for our security and our responsibility in maintaining the freedom of navigation. Rajiv Gandhi was well presumed of China’s interest in the Sub-continent. Hence, he had formulated India’s policies toward in keeping our neighborhood closer to us. The whole of his tenure as the prime minister he thwarted the Chinese entry from the Indian Ocean.

The war with China in 1962 had completely stalled the ties between New Delhi and Beijing. Accepting the then Chinese Premier Li Pang invitation in 1988 he landed in Beijing. Prof. Harsh Pant from the Department of War Studies, Kings College, London says “A new leaf in Sino-Indian ties” (Harsh V. Pant, 2016). “This visit was followed by a flurry of high-level diplomatic exchanges” (David M. Malone, 2011).  Further, Baldev Raj Nayar commenting about this visit a ‘turning point’, “When the two countries agreed to set up a joint working group to resolve the border dispute. A key element in the forward movement was the Indian concession not to insist on prior resolution of the border dispute, though without shelving it, but to move on to improve relations in other areas” (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003).

Further, both the countries come to an understanding of in realizing to initiate the trust building and set up a border management mechanism. Today, the Doklum crisis or Chinese troops crossing into India in the Himalayan border has been managed under this institutional framework. Thus changes were made in the Indo-China relations. However, Rajiv Gandhi never promised to the Indian voters that he would do miracles if he voted for power. But Modi has promised to the Indian public if voted to power he would do wonders in six months. Does he bring breakthrough in India’s border talks with China? Or does he raise the Doklum issue with China’s president often meeting him in various bilateral and multilateral forums?

Further, in recent times Modi had to snub Dalai Lama to pacify China was not a policy mistake, but deliberately performed. He knows since the general elections are just ten months away from now if “China-triggered flashpoint would be more harmful for his political future” (Rajeev Sharma, Hence, for his short-term political gains he decided to turning his back on Dalai Lama. Further, his ‘strategic restraint’ exposed in the case of crisis in Maldives also.

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Rajiv’s first foreign state visit was to the longtime friend, the former Soviet Union. Commentators viewed the first destination was deliberately chosen. Apart from the usual bilateral ties between India and Soviet Union, various areas from military procurement to civil nuclear technology, and mutual agreements in other sectors, Rajiv had always maintained India’s ‘Special Relations’ with the Soviet Union. Because “Soviet Union consistently gave India valuable political, diplomatic and strategic support bilaterally as well as in international forums on Kashmir and other vital issues affecting India’s national interests” (Rajiv Sikri, 2009). However, in every meeting he raised the universal concern of the danger of nuclear weapons with President Mikhail Gorbachev. He stood against the illusion of ‘limited nuclear war.’ His presumption was at any moment nuclear weapons would not and should not be as a guarantor of global peace. At that time since India was the leader of the NAM obviously criticisms were poured out against India’s ‘Friendship Treaty’ with the Soviet. However, Rajiv Gandhi bravely raises the global concern on nuclear arsenals equally with the U.S. and the USSR. At this point the young prime minister’s articulation of foreign policy toward the West was sometimes concern for the Soviet leaders, but Rajiv comfortably expressed India’s view. Meanwhile, the USSR understood India’s rise through the prism of Rajiv Gandhi. Hence, the Soviet Union gave Rajiv Gandhi the ‘status of a world leader.’

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In the Cold War climate Rajiv Gandhi and his predecessors were compelled to manage the U.S.’s regional containment strategy. For the U.S., they well know India’s leadership and major power aspirations. So they don’t want to give a path for the Soviet’s best friend India to rise out of the Sub-continent. At this juncture Rajiv decided to bring down the hostility nature of India-U.S. relations. He visited the U.S. in June 1985. “That trip has been hailed by many as likely to contribute to a new era of cooperation between New Delhi and Washington (Steven R. Weisman, The New York Times, 1985).

He gave a wonderful speech which was sweet and short by carrying a hint in his hand which had the strategy for both the countries to have greater understanding. At the Joint session of the US Congress he said, “I am young and I too have a dream. I have no doubt this visit will help to bring about greater understanding between our countries” (Youtube).

In his reply President Ronald Reagan said, “Today we opened up personal channels of communication.” Further, signing a “memorandum of understanding” with the U.S., he promotes technological cooperation between both the countries (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003). Hence, we should understand our present relations with the U.S. or China are the continuation of Rajiv’s breakthrough made during his visits to those countries in his premiership.

Modi went to the U.S. several times in the last four years. What happened to the India-U.S. seriously negotiated nuclear deal? Are there any changes in the position of India and U.S. in the liability issue to implement the nuclear deal?


The 1980s has registered the crucial period in the history of Cold War. But each of Rajiv Gandhi’s visits was well planned in advance; policies were made with sufficient consultations, and had definite trajectories to strengthen India’s interest globally. His visits to Pakistan, China and the U.S., further, the way he was handling the crisis in the Indian Ocean islands would tell us how much is he committed in keeping not only India’s ambition in the international system but also have delivered India’s moral responsibility to help our neighbors while they required our support. Under Modi’s leadership our capabilities are not properly demonstrated.

Modi even evaded in visiting Maldives in his Indian Ocean Islands tour in 2015, the reason for his evasion was stated by his office as ‘the time was not favorable for the prime minister to visit’. Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan in a crucial time of the Cold War. His office does not say that Pakistan’ situation was not conducive to the prime minister to visit that country.

Though he was advised about the thereat for his life but never shied away from facing the challenges. He involved in ‘making India ‘strong, independent and self-reliant’. Further, he never yields to any sentiments. He knew that there was no room for sentiments while making foreign policy. He was ready to sacrifice anything in the interest of the country. Thus ‘moral and physical courage’ were the central part of his foreign policy making. He carefully chooses his foreign visits as well as his policy had brought positive implications on India’s diplomacy. His breakthroughs have been standing today as good examples and as a guiding pillar for us to formulate policies with respect to many countries. It would be sure the present day diplomatic circle cannot articulate policy without pronouncing the name ‘Rajiv Gandhi.’

Hence, his achievements in the area of India’s foreign policy would not be wiped out or to be erased. The imprint of his legacy in the making of Indian foreign policy will stay longer in shaping of India’s diplomacy and ever lingers in our memory.

ASEAN is Priority, says Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

July 25, 2018

Foreign Policy: ASEAN is Priority, says Malaysia’s Foreign Minister  Saifuddin Abdullah

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by  Yiswaree Palansamy

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Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, in Jakarta

“ASEAN is always premium. ASEAN member states really have to come together, be on the same page, not only with China, but any superpower.– Saifuddin

Malaysia’s foreign policy will continue to be focused on strengthening ties with its South-east Asian neighbours, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said as China flexes its muscle over the resource-rich region.

But he added that the full extent of the country’s foreign policy will be spelt out by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, Straits Times reported today.

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 “ASEAN is always premium. ASEAN member states really have to come together, be on the same page, not only with China, but any superpower,” Saifuddin told the Singapore daily in an interview yesterday.

The Malaysian Foreign Minister admitted that it will not be easy to manage ties with China, which is also Malaysia’s largest trade partner, noting that other ASEAN members too have significant trade and other bilateral interests with the Asian superpower.

“Security is another story altogether, and ASEAN centrality is missing. We can speak in one voice and negotiate and explain our position better. Hopefully, then China and others will appreciate our position and concerns,” he was quoted saying.

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While Malaysia still holds to the “fundamental principles of non-alignment, non-interference” and does not support violent actions by sovereign powers, Saifuddin expressed confidence that the business community in the 10-member ASEAN will look to Dr Mahathir to play a key role as he has done in the past to safeguard their economic interests.

“The grassroots, the small businessmen, the small-medium enterprises don’t really feel (ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) represents them. Social entrepreneurship is where you can strike a common denominator where people in all 10 member states can benefit.

“We need to bring them as government contractors, if you like, or as empowered non-state actors to play a more active role,” he told the Singapore paper.

Saifuddin also said he hopes to engage Singapore — one of the five founding members of ASEAN — on ways to bring other parties into discussions to enlarge the ASEAN Economic Community and to move away from the concept that the grouping is only for “big people and big companies”.

US Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s humiliation in Helsinki

July 23, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s humiliation in Helsinki

How to interpret a shameful press conference with Vladimir Putin

“Perhaps, as some suspect, Mr Putin really does have material compromising Mr Trump. Either way, where America once aspired to be a beacon, relativism rules. That leaves all democracies more vulnerable.”- The Economist

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How to make America Great? By Making Russia Great Again. That was what the POTUS did in Helsinki, Finland. He made Putin smell roses.

DONALD TRUMP likes to boast that he does things differently from his predecessors. That was certainly true of his trip to Europe. In Brussels he chided Germany for a gas deal that left it “totally controlled by Russia”. In England he humiliated his host, Theresa May, blasting her Brexit plan before holding her hand and hailing “the highest level of special” relationship. From his Scottish golf resort he called the European Union a “foe” on trade. And in Helsinki, asked whether Russia had attacked America’s democracy, he treated President Vladimir Putin as someone he trusts more than his own intelligence agencies. It was a rotten result for America and the world.

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Americans were more than usually outraged. At the post-summit press conference in Helsinki, with the world watching and the American flag behind him, their head of state had appeared weak. He was unwilling to stand up for America in the face of an assault that had been graphically described three days earlier by Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing election meddling, in his indictment of 12 Russian military-intelligence officers . Republicans were among Mr Trump’s fiercest critics. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” wrote Senator John McCain. Even Newt Gingrich, normally a staunch defender, decried “the most serious mistake of his presidency”. The reaction forced Mr Trump into a convoluted series of climbdowns, which did little to repair the damage.

Yet, for all his hostility towards allies and cosiness with Mr. Putin, the trip could have been an even bigger disaster. Fears that Mr Trump might torpedo the NATO summit, as he had the G7 one, proved overblown. He put his name to a communiqué reaffirming the allies’ commitment to mutual defence and their tough stance against Russia. Worries that with Mr Putin he might promise to roll back sanctions or recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea proved groundless—as far as we can tell (the presidents met with only their interpreters present).

Mr Trump even did some useful things. He was right to press NATO allies to spend more on defence, even if his claim to have raised “vast amounts of money” is an exaggeration. And talking to his Russian counterpart makes sense. To be sure, Mr Trump’s hopes for a tremendous relationship with Mr Putin may end in a familiar disappointment: George W. Bush looked into Mr Putin’s eyes and detected a soul, and Russia invaded Georgia; Barack Obama pressed a “reset” button, and Russia invaded Ukraine. But America and Russia have a lot to discuss, not least on nuclear-arms control.

America worst

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However, these gains come at too high a price. Mr Trump’s behaviour, a quixotic mix of poison and flattery, has further undermined Europeans’ trust in America. When asked about the Mueller probe and the decline in relations with Russia, Mr Trump said feebly that he holds “both countries responsible”. Perhaps his vanity does not allow him to treat seriously a Russian attack that he fears could tarnish his own election triumph. Perhaps, as some suspect, Mr Putin really does have material compromising Mr Trump. Either way, where America once aspired to be a beacon, relativism rules. That leaves all democracies more vulnerable.

Mr Putin, fresh from a successful World Cup, thus emerges as the winner in Helsinki. True, he may have scored an own goal in admitting that, yes, he had wanted Mr Trump to win the election. But a self-doubting West, damaged democracy and the spectacle of America’s president deferring to him on the world stage count as a hat-trick at the other end. In Helsinki Mr Putin looked smug. Mr Trump looked, at best, a mug.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Humiliation in Helsinki”



Summitry can be overdone and self defeating

June 22, 2018

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating

by Bunn

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Trump-Putin Helsinki Summit: Football Diplomacy

TOP meetings of political leaders are supposed to mean something important and special. However, such meetings of leaders at their respective peaks, or summits, tend to be overdone by many countries for their perceived glamour value.

Even the supposed chutzpah and gravitas that summitry participants believe they would acquire seem to be wearing thin.Most summits appear to be no more than glorified photo-opportunities, a thriving cottage industry and something of a jet-setting racket.

Nonetheless, while routine summits between the leaders of Togo and Nauru may not seem likely, much less determine global events, a rare summit of major world powers is always significant.

Such an event can defuse tensions, build mutual confidence and goodwill, and improve bilateral relations generally. The benefits are also likely to be felt by smaller nations within strategic range.

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President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong

When US President Richard Nixon met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1972, the occasion deservedly made world headlines. Not only did they meet as the Cold War raged, but a conservative US President and leader of the “free world” had deigned to travel to China to confer with communist leaders there.

Washington found it worthwhile even if the Nixon-Kissinger team was seen to have journeyed far to “pay tribute” to the Great Helmsman. To US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, it was clearly more than just a diplomatic trip or even a state visit. No less important than improving US-China relations, the event developed an implicit US-China pact against the Soviet Union.

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Nixon-Kissinger drove a wedge between Beijing and Moscow to deepen the Sino-Soviet split of the Khrushchev years. Kissinger had also negotiated separately with Khrushchev’s successor Leonid Brezhnev.

The instrumental nature of the Beijing summit could not escape Chinese and US realities. It served only to formalise bilateral ties, and it would take another seven years before their relations could be normalised.

One decade-plus after Beijing, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva. The 1985 summit was the first of several.

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President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev

Again, these had to do with more than improving bilateral relations. Formally they concerned arms limitation and common ties, but more broadly Reagan was also encouraging a reformist Gorbachev to open up his country.

Within three months of the initial summit, Gorbachev introduced restructuring (perestroika) in early 1986. The following year Reagan, in a visit to Berlin, rhetorically called on Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

In 1988 Gorbachev introduced a new openness and freedoms in the Soviet Union (glasnost). The Cold War was formally coming to an end – and on Boxing Day 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed.

A summit with the US President, particularly if it is one-on-one, is more than just a White House visit. It is a carefully staged, highly publicised event that is supposed to carry considerable weight and prestige.

Senior US officials therefore guard it jealously and grant it sparingly or not at all. Sometimes this means rejecting the prospect of a summit even when it can do some good.

When Senator Barack Obama was asked in mid-2007 if he would agree to unconditional talks with the leaders of Cuba, Iran or North Korea, he said he would.

An immediate backlash erupted, particularly from Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main rival as party nominee for the presidential campaign. She condemned his readiness to negotiate as “irresponsible” and “naïve”.

Ironically, just months before, Hillary voiced support for the US President talking with his global adversaries. She even claimed to have advised George W. Bush to proceed with such talks.

As usual, politics gets in the way of judicious perceptions of meaningful summits. The purpose and value of summits are diminished as a result.

The two inter-Korean summits in April and May this year signaled the opening of North Korea and its readiness to negotiate away its nuclear arms stockpile.

Both summits were preceded, and followed, by summits in China between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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The Singapore Trump-Kim Sentosa Summit on June 12, 2018 reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

All these summits with Kim were merely the build-up to the grand prize – the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore of June 12.

This was a first, and a summit to be held without preconditions.

North Korean leaders had wanted a summit with a US President for decades. And, until Trump, US Presidents had snubbed all such previous prospects.

Most US officials have hitherto regarded such a summit as a “reward” for an autocratic North Korean leader, oblivious to the goodwill and confidence-building it can generate. Still, the Singapore summit was generally regarded positively. Both leaders smiled pleasantly to the cameras and to each other, projecting cordiality without mishap.

Whatever the US Establishment might have thought then, or since, the international community welcomed the summit as a timely occasion heralding better times on the Korean peninsula and in Asia.

Warming to summit mode, Trump’s presence at the NATO summit in Brussels this month saw him in his trademark brusque transactional style.

There was no diplomatic incident only because there was nothing diplomatic about it. Trump reportedly rattled alliance presumptions and insisted that NATO allies pay more for their own defence.

This came just weeks after Trump alienated trade partners in Europe and Asia with tariffs. The NATO summit in turn left the security alliance feeling less than secure.

From Brussels Trump moved on to Helsinki, where he sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a four-eyes summit. The US media had no summit agenda and promptly speculated on what was discussed.

Inevitably a main item for the media was the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign. Did Trump succeed or fail in accusing Putin of such meddling to his face?

Such distractions divert from the actual content of the summit. When news broke about the summit covering a referendum for eastern Ukraine, some news reports focused on that but the alleged “meddling” issues remained. A summit-friendly Trump remains persona non grata to the US military-industrial complex despite his show of force in Syria, so the US deep state still wants to see him go. Even as his Presidency moves towards the mid-term, hopes of impeachment still linger.

Multiple investigations into supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign continue to pile on the pressure. But no sooner had Trump admitted that he “misspoke” to Putin at the summit, than he announces his invitation to Putin to visit the White House in the coming months.

This “return summit” is where Trump would now say the right things, or at least not say the wrong things. By now the US mainstream media, having thoroughly demonised Putin, relished a grand opportunity to take down Trump by association.

Trump may be getting the hang of summits, in stages, and possibly even enjoying summitry. However the knack of outpointing him by fair means or foul at such events remains with the US mainstream media.

The setup is not usually advantageous to a sitting President, especially when it is President Trump. He could reign supreme in his businesses, and his reality television shows. But the Presidency is a different kind of “business” altogether. Unlike other businesses where he may be the boss, a democracy rightly makes everyone else the boss of the leader.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.