November 8, 2018
Mahathir on Malaysia’s Foreign Policy
November 8, 2018
May 1, 2018
If French President Emmanuel Macron’s appeals to Trump’s vanity were producing positive outcomes for along the way, Macron’s efforts might be worthwhile. But to flatter Trump is one thing; to obtain significant diplomatic and trade concessions from him is quite another.
PARIS – For centuries, France and the United States have been friends, allies, and competitors. Both have been world powers; both have been models of liberal democracy; and both achieved democratization through revolution. In fact, France was the first ally of the new US, having provided military support during the American Revolutionary War – the first of many times the countries would collaborate in military endeavors.
On his recent trip to Washington, DC, French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to use this history to reinforce the bilateral relationship today, potentially giving France more influence over US President Donald Trump’s unpredictable administration. But Macron’s affability and bonhomie cannot obscure the fact that the two countries are operating under very different circumstances than in the past, much less ensure any semblance of reliability from the Trump administration.
During the Cold War, General Charles de Gaulle wanted France to serve as a bridge between the West and the East. This implied being a faithful US ally, in good times and in bad, while acting as something of a fair-weather friend to the Soviet Union and China.
Today, Macron wants France to serve as a bridge within the West: between the US and Europe. This might seem to be an easier task, given the two sides’ shared history and values. And, indeed, it is that history and those values that Macron attempted to invoke, as he established himself as a defender of liberal democracy and internationalism, with language and vision marked by American-style optimism.
Nor is this the first time a French president has acted like an American leader. But Nicolas Sarkozy – who literally coined for himself the nickname “Sarko the American” – was more eager to align himself with George W. Bush, especially when it came to foreign policy. Macron, by contrast, is espousing the values and adopting the rhetoric of Barack Obama.
French President Emmanuel Macron criticizes Trump in his Address to US Congress
Neither has much in common with Trump, who, in the words of former FBI Director James Comey, acts more like a mafia boss than a US President, and seems utterly disinterested in sustaining US global leadership. The challenge ahead for Macron may thus turn out to be even more formidable than the one confronted by De Gaulle.
If Macron’s visit were a soccer game, it would have included some beautifully executed plays – such as Macron’s speech to the US Congress – before ending in a draw. Beneath the veneer of mutual affection on display in Washington, Macron’s visit was marked by deep disagreements, including over climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.
Macron’s declaration that “there is no Planet B” has not elicited any substantive move by Trump to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. And, despite the mention of a new, enlarged agreement with Iran, Trump continues to embrace the radical visions of his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser, John Bolton.
By establishing a friendly public rapport with Trump, Macron may even have put himself at risk. After all, it will not look good if Macron is closely aligned with a Trump who makes catastrophic strategic decisions or ends up in the jaws of the US justice system. Trump is simply too unpredictable for a close relationship with him to be anything other than a political liability.
If that closeness – those appeals to Trump’s vanity – were producing positive outcomes for along the way, Macron’s efforts might be worthwhile. But to flatter Trump is one thing; to obtain significant diplomatic and trade concessions from him is quite another. And Macron seems to have found success on only one of those fronts.
By establishing himself as a voice of reason, moderation, and responsibility, Macron tried to lay the groundwork for his emergence as a real agent of change. He does not want his legacy to comprise simply powerful speeches; he wants to tackle real issues affecting France, Europe, and the world. But it remains far from clear whether his tactics will work, particularly with regard to Trump.
The question is whether the alternative approach to Trump – the far less friendly, more businesslike approach of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – will produce better results. It seems unlikely, but when it comes to securing actual concessions, at least Merkel cannot do much worse.
April 4, 2018
by Dr. Shankaran Nambiar (received via e-mail)
WHAT is at stake in the next general election? There are accusations and counter-accusations being traded. Scandals are being hung for all to see – on both sides of the divide.
Can one expect a major shift in the economic policy framework? It is not certain if the next government is going to cut the size of the civil service. Or if we are going to have high quality state-financed healthcare as in Norway, Finland or the United Kingdom. Or if higher education is going to be entirely a public sector affair as in the UK or Australia.
It seems that the fundamental economic model is set and will not change. Nevertheless, all political parties are strongly convinced of the importance of free trade, regional integration and the role of foreign direct investment. The implementation and details will vary with each party.The devil, as usual, is in the details.
But there is no doubt that the country needs a clear agenda for economic progress. The principles guiding economic reform have to be re-visited and a framework will have to be designed.
One such list of priorities could be as follows:
» Rolling down government involvement in business
» Prioritising efficiency and the achievement of outcomes
» Creating adequate opportunities for all groups, particularly the disadvantaged
» Ensuring the economic neutrality of the country
» Affirming good governance
From One Malaysia to Malaysia TN50–Quo Vadis, Malaysia
A little elaboration is in order. First, government participation in business cannot be ruled out. As economic theory suggests, government participation is necessary in areas that are not attractive to the private sector. The government’s involvement is usually welcome if security issues are at stake; or if the investment is risky but necessary for the public good.
The rationale for government-linked companies to invest in hospitals or private universities is a bit of a puzzle. Why should the government (even if indirectly) get in the business of healthcare and education when it should be supporting the provision of these services?
Second, the efficiency of the public sector has to be further upgraded. This includes public delivery systems (where there has been tremendous improvement in many areas) and it should also include public procurement and the decision-making on projects (particularly mega projects).
Third, the responsibility of the government should be to ensure the fair distribution of opportunities. Prioritising opportunities entirely on the basis of ethnicity can create inefficiencies. It can also de-incentivise targeted agents. People who have been selected to receive benefits can lose the motivation to maximise their performance.
Efficiency and the achievement of outcomes cannot be pushed aside. There is a debate in economics on outcomes versus opportunities. In practical terms, one cannot indefinitely defend creating an opportunity-rich environment with no regard for outcomes.
Fourth, good governance covers a range of issues including institutional integrity, the freedom to voice one’s opinions, being free from violence, transparency and zero tolerance for corruption.
The Rule of Law is a key pillar of good governance. It should stand above position, title, religious belief and political association.
Fifth, it is essential that Malaysia retain its independence and sovereignty.
Razeen Sally, a prominent academic and Sri Lanka observer, is known to have remarked at a conference that Sri Lanka should not become a vassal state of China. The same cautionary comment could be made in a different and perhaps a more general context. Malaysia should resist any attempt to reduce itself into being a vassal state of any superpower.
Politicians claim that Malaysia needs foreign direct investment and that it does not matter where this comes from. This is a naïve argument. There is a difference between an investment made for commercial reasons and one that is made so that a superpower can exert its sphere of influence.
A careful examination is necessary to decide on the economic viability of any foreign investment.
A set of criteria should be established to assess whether foreign investment should be accepted: the rates of return should be acceptable, the use of foreign labour should be allowed subject to need, there should be transfer of technology, and the terms on which loans are offered should not be unfavourable.
Malaysia has to remain economically and politically neutral, a state that is free to pursue its own agenda.If Malaysia is to be a star it needs to develop a more liberal culture in the economic and social spheres.
Dr Shankaran Nambiar is a senior research fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research. He is author of Malaysia in Troubled Times. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 14, 2017
By: Asia Sentinel editors
The Donald Trump wrecking ball has now completed its swath across Asia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan. It began on May 20 when he chose Riyadh, the capital of the medieval kingdom and ground zero of Muslim extremism, as his first overseas visit after taking office and has ended with his now-concluded 12 day swing and his embrace of the Philippines’ murderous president Rodrigo Duterte. He took time out to outrage the US’s intelligence community by his fawning embrace of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin, who, wide-eyed, told Trump he had nothing to do with sabotaging the US election that brought Trump to power.
Thus far the results have been more dangerous in West Asia, where the young Saudi de facto ruler Prince Mohamed bin Salman has since embarked on confrontations with Iran in Yemen and now Lebanon, actions which appear to please few other than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s expansionist government.
In east Asia on the other hand, the reaction to Trump has been to gasp at his gaffes and empty rhetoric and try to carry on as though he did not exist. So far the only damage has been to the US itself as it sees the policies of 70 years which have so benefited trade and prosperity in the US itself as well as much of Asia viewed as contrary to US interests. For Trump it appears that the only free trade he wants is ability to plant Trump Towers everywhere from Riyadh to Bali to Manila via Moscow.
The record of the President‘s Asian tour was indeed remarkable, leaving a string of Asian leaders agog at his superficiality. Shinzo Abe was suitably flattering and took him golfing. But the highlight of the visit was a meal which proved that the Donald had little taste for his host nation’s acclaimed foods but needed a large cheeseburger of US-produced beef and cheese to keep him going while Abe looked on, bemused. On trade issues, which he says are so important, nothing significant transpired, with the President focusing on the art of the deal across Asia rather than the structural reforms that the trade regime needs.
A Chinese decision to ease foreign access to financial markets appears to have had no direct connection to the visit. Trump even undercut his own cause by suggesting that China’s huge trade surplus with the US was the fault of the system, not China itself, saying “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”
Instead, Trump blamed past American presidents. By definition this undermined demands of US businessmen for fairer treatment by China – treatment of the type which was the norm in most of its major trade partners. Legitimate US complaints could be ignored.
His South Korea visit demonstrated just how much his violent rhetoric against North Korea, not to mention his attacks on trade pacts, had already so damaged relations that Seoul succumbed to Chinese economic and diplomatic pressures and agreed to limiting deployment of THAAD missiles.
On to Vietnam and, the APEC meeting in Da Nang showed just how far Trump was out of step with the attempts of the other nations on either side of the Pacific to forge closer economic links and reduce trade barriers. Meanwhile the remaining nine members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, following withdrawal of the US, humiliated Trump while he was in Asia by announcing the revival of the plan, albeit under a slightly altered name.
If that wasn’t a huge slap in the face for the US from its major Asian allies, more derision was to follow. Trump proclaimed himself a potential mediator in South China Sea disputes. Reactions ranged from open-mouthed amazement to guffaws of laughter. The only person who seemed to take it seriously was the Philippines’ neophyte foreign minister Alan Peter Cayetano who was quoted saying “We welcome that offer.”
But at least for Trump he was now headed for the one country in the world where, according to recent surveys, he enjoys more positive than negative views. That certainly fits well in a nation which still gives high marks to President Duterte despite, or because of, a campaign of extrajudicial killings of thousands of supposed, mostly poor, drug users – or, too often – people who weren’t drug users at all, but infants as young as 3 who were murdered mistakenly by police.
Trump remained silent on that topic but meanwhile was able to share with Duterte their mutual disdain for President Obama. This was certainly no way to win friends and influence people in the rest of Asia which has relatively very fond memories of the thoughtful and dignified former president.
Nor did Trump’s pals-act with Duterte make any dent in Duterte’s preference for Chinese money over asserting the rights in the sea accorded by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The one plus, at least in some quarters, of the visit was Trump’s reference to the Indo-Pacific rather than Asia Pacific, bringing India into the regional equation. This was not in fact new. The phrase had been used by Obama and it accords with history in so far as Indian cultural and trade influence was long bigger than China’s in much of Southeast Asia.
But that for now is a sideshow as apparent battle lines are drawn between an east Asian focus on open trade and a Trumpian desire to tear up multilateral pacts in favor of bilateral deals. That would spell the death of US influence in the region. Most likely it will not happen because US business, military and bureaucracy are all more concerned with building US influence to counter China than retreating behind tariff walls. But meanwhile China is tempted to gloat and smaller Asian countries are reluctantly trimming their policies in response to US trade threats and general incoherence.
October 5, 2017
By Mendee Jargalsaikhan
When global and regional orders change and tensions among great powers intensify, small states face precarious circumstances. For states like Mongolia, contentious internal politics make skillful, professional management of foreign policy difficult. Mongolia started losing control of foreign policy mostly due to domestic political rivalries among politicians, factions, and parties. At this moment of great uncertainty, every uncoordinated Mongolian foreign policy move is costly , because the country has little room for maneuvering among its great power neighbors. The situation has become more acute as President Putin has been seeking Chinese friendship since his invasion of the Crimea and as Mongolia’s fiscal situation has deteriorated, making the government financially dependent on Chinese goodwill.
From its democratic revolution in 1990, through the early 2010s, Mongolia became something of a “sweetheart” for Western democracy promoters, mining investors, and international investment bankers. The “scrappy democracy” stood out among post-socialist Asian countries for seemingly institutionalizing democracy through repeated elections and peaceful transitions of government. With the discovery of large coal, copper, and gold deposits in the early 2000s, Mongolia seemed to establish itself as a likely candidate for sustainable development based on natural resources. However, the fiscal profligacy of the mining boom years turned the Mongolian government into a debtor – likely delighting international lenders.
Other international supporters have turned more doubtful on Mongolia’s trajectory. While Mongolia has consolidated electoral democracy, the rule of law is still weak: well-formulated policies often remain aspirational rather than implemented, and awareness of endemic corruption has undermined trust in political institutions. Mongolia has managed to secure several mining deals, but institutions are too weak to ensure the necessary stability to make long-term investment agreements pay off for investors and Mongolians alike. The country is in dire need of foreign loans to pay back sovereign debts. Despite these evident challenges neither of the two major political parties has abandoned patronage as a political principle or fought against practices that treat public office as an earnings opportunity. Even though politicians have called for increased economic relations with OECD members to forge economic ties beyond its immediate neighbors, concrete steps toward intensified economic relations seem to become secondary to parochial interests.
Despite its continued reference to “third neighbors”, Mongolia has lost the trust and perhaps even the interest of distant great powers. At the same time, these neighbors – particularly the United States, Germany, Japan, and India – have little ability to support Mongolia politically or economically.
This leaves Mongolian politicians to deal with the country’s powerful, populous geographical neighbors: China and Russia. Mongolians continue to express an affinity towards Russia, but they equally fear a reassertion of the Kremlin’s control. The past 14 months have seen the landslide victory of the Mongolian People’s Party, which has close ties with President Putin’s party, in the 2016 parliamentary elections and the election of Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaagiin Battulga – a wealthy pro-Russian politician and former sambo wrestler – in the 2017 presidential election. Many Mongolians are hopeful that these leaders will develop closer ties with President Putin. For the Kremlin, Mongolia may be a low priority in dealings with Beijing, compared to bilateral issues such as Central Asia or the Korean peninsula. The Kremlin has lost interest in Mongolia and cannot help the Mongolian government solve its own economic challenges. Rather, Moscow might pressure Mongolia to support Russia in its crisis-ridden relations with the West, join in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and delay major economic projects until Russian interests have been secured – demands which will not be supported in Mongolia.
For Chinese leaders, Mongolia is an important neighbor, which has intimate connections with its autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, and which causes no major headaches concerning border demarcation, migration, or ‘three evils’ (terrorism, separatism and religious extremism) unlike China’s other 14 immediate neighbors. Xi Jinping’s government has promoted Mongolia as an exemplary case for China’s treatment of its small neighbors and a potential beneficiary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But, Mongolia’s connection with the Dalai Lama, and deep-seated anti-Chinese sentiments in Mongolia continue to exist. Unsurprisingly, Beijing briefly suspended all political talks with Mongolia in response to the Dalai Lama’s December 2016 visit. This fueled Mongolia’s fear of what economic dependence on Chinese goodwill might imply.
While some Asian third neighbors, most notably Japan and India, seem keen to leverage disagreements between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar for their own agendas, their support has mostly come through words, rather than through actions or investment. With limited alternatives, Mongolian leaders reach out to the IMF and the Kremlin for financial assistance when Chinese help becomes unavailable. Similarly, anti-Chinese political rhetoric has continued to be a useful strategy in winning domestic elections. Clearly, support for the Dalai Lama and anti-Chinese attitudes can be mobilized by populist politicians for their own political gains in the future. Unless politicians and diplomats handle these issues delicately, President Xi’s assertive China may tire of Mongolia, while Mongolia’s hopeful partners – Russia, Japan, and the US – would avoid worsening their relations with Beijing over Mongolia.
Mongolian diplomats need to disentangle foreign policy from domestic political competition. The successful conduct of its foreign policy since the 1990s resulted in settling all major issues with its two neighbors, establishing somewhat ideological links with the United States, OECD members, and India, and increased connections with the EU, OSCE, NATO, UN, and the ASEAN Regional Forum despite Mongolia’s “regionless” fate between two major powers. However, with the commodity boom, Mongolian politicians appear to be conducting their own separate foreign policies – all running to Berlin or Tokyo for political campaign photos and playing multiple roles with foreign investors within the four-year electoral cycle. Now, Mongolia is entering into a difficult situation where the patronage-ridden ruling party in parliament and the cabinet along with a newly-elected, populist president who advocates a pro-Russia policy have further weakened a merit-driven, unified foreign policy. The nexus between Mongolia’s domestic politics and precarious international situation is threatening to the country’s prosperity, stability and progress over the past two decades.
About the Author
Mendee Jargalsaikhan is a political science PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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.
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September 17, 2017
by Dr. Fareed Zakaria
I am sometimes asked what world figure I most want to interview. For me, the answer is obvious: Kim Jong Un. The general impression around the globe continues to be that the North Korean leader is crazy, provocative and unpredictable, but I think that he might well be strategic, smart and utterly rational. Because I am unlikely to get that interview, I have decided to imagine it instead.
Q: Marshal Kim, why do you keep building and testing nuclear weapons and missiles, even though they result in massive, crippling economic sanctions?
A: My nation faces a fundamental challenge — survival. The regime is more threatened than ever before. My forefathers had it easy. The Great Leader, my grandfather, ruled with the support of the world’s other superpower at the time, the Soviet Union, as well as our gigantic neighbor, China. The Dear Leader, my father, still had Beijing’s help for the most part. But today, the Soviet Union is history and China has become more integrated with the Western system. And the sole superpower, the United States, has made it clear that it seeks regime change in my country. And yet, we have survived with our ideology and system intact. How? Because we have built a protection for ourselves in the form of nuclear weapons.
Q: But China still provides you with crucial supplies of food and fuel. Don’t you see it as an ally?
2017 News Maker of The Year–Keeping Trump, Xi, Putin Abe and Moon Jae-in on on their toes
A: China is ruthlessly pragmatic. It supports us for its own selfish interests. It doesn’t want millions of refugees — or a unified Korea on its border that is a larger version of what South Korea is now, with U.S. troops and a treaty alliance. But I believe that China no longer considers us an ally. It has voted to sanction us in the U.N. Security Council. The current president, Xi Jinping, cultivates close relations with South Korea. He has never met with me, the leader of North Korea, something that the leader of China has always done. Meanwhile, he has had about 10 meetings with the last two presidents of South Korea. At the grand celebrations in Beijing two years ago commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he placed the president of Russia and the president of South Korea at his side. In North Korea, we pay a lot of attention to ceremonies and what they signal.
Q: Is that why you seem to go out of your way to embarrass China and Xi specifically?
What does it take for him to sit down and talk since sanctions only strengthens his resolve to pursue the nuclearisation of his country and unify his proud people?
A: We will not be pushed around. We heard that senior officials in China and the United States were discussing whether to encourage a coup in North Korea to get a more pliable ruler. So I’ve taken steps to ensure that this can’t happen. The man in our government closest to the Chinese, who could have arranged such a coup attempt, was my uncle. The man who would have been my natural replacement was my half brother. Both have been liquidated, as have more than 100 disloyal high-level officials.
Q: So will you come to the negotiating table? Will you agree to denuclearization in return for the lifting of sanctions?
A: Yes and no. We will readily come to the table. But we will never give up our arsenal. We’re not stupid. It’s all that is keeping us alive. Look at Saddam Hussein — and we never forget that North Korea was named as part of the “axis of evil” a year before the United States invaded Iraq. Look what happened to Moammar Gaddafi in Libya after he agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program. Look at what’s happening to Iran right now. After Washington signed a deal and the Iranians have been certified to be adhering to it, President Trump now says he’s going to tear it up anyway. Do you think we would be stupid enough to believe American promises after all this? We are a nuclear power. That is not negotiable. We are willing to talk about limits, test bans, freezes — but we would need to be given something in return, and not just money. We need security, in the form of diplomatic recognition by Washington and guarantees of nonaggression from China, Japan and the United States.
Q: Many Americans worry that you will soon have the capacity and the intention to launch missiles at the United States.
A: We will have the capacity. And it serves my purposes to keep you off guard. But why would I strike America and invite a retaliatory counterstrike that would put an end to my regime? Keep in mind, the whole point of this — my entire strategy, all our efforts and the hardships we have borne — is to ensure that my regime and I survive. Why would I risk that? I believe in assassination, not suicide.
(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group