May 30, 2017
Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS
May 30, 2017
April 16, 2017
March 26, 2017
by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my
Beyond the noisy protests over Trump’s presidency, there are important policy issues and implications that need better understanding – but which are still neglected.
NOT too long ago, there was hope, even a belief, that the fuss about Donald Trump’s fitness for presidential office would fade away after his inauguration. But even after more than two months into the presidency, critics are still carping and cynics are still canting. The real issues affecting people’s lives, badly neglected by the US media, are still being ignored.
Since US policies have a global reach, its actions affect other countries in various ways. So what can we expect from the Trump White House?In strategic terms, Trump has inherited some foreign policy challenges from the preceding administration. Then there are issues he has created on his own.
Nearest home is the controversy over the Mexican border “wall”. This is a typical issue blown out of proportion by Trump’s own grandstanding and his opponents bent on inflating it.
Trump first said he would build a wall, then added it could be a fence in parts. Since there is already a part-wall, part-fence on the border, what is his proposal and the objection to it about?
On Syria, Obama had already shifted from insisting on President Assad’s immediate removal to accepting his place as head of government. From being regarded as “part of the problem,” an Assad still popular with his people came to be seen grudgingly by Obama as part of the solution – but still one that had to resolve itself.
Trump is not keen on ousting Assad either. Assad has even suggested that Syria may host US troops dispatched by Trump to fight terrorism together.
For both leaders, exterminating such terrorist groups as IS is top priority while welcoming Russian support in the fight. Trump would openly receive what Obama would haltingly accept, with little or no difference on the ground.
Where differences largely comprise rhetoric, they become unbridgeable. In non-official Washington, this concerns “Russia”: not as a large Eurasian nation with a rich history, but as the bogeyman Other.
“Russia” is also a way for Trump’s enemies to dredge the swamp for issues to hit him with. This would at least deter any attempt at “resetting” relations with Moscow that would alarm the US deep state.
Since the issue of Syria is mostly a function of US-Russia relations, the Trump White House will soon have to decide what to do and how to do it. Beltway ideologues have already put a pugnacious Trump on the defensive over “Russia”, so his room for manoeuvre is limited.
Developing a clear and coherent position on Iran is just as delicate, especially after Trump had pledged to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. His primal aversion to Iran derives from a lack of familiarity, images of hardline mullahs, and limited contact with the Syiah sect.
Iran, however, can breathe a sigh of relief now that Lt-Gen Mike Flynn has been replaced as National Security Adviser. Flynn was exceptionally caustic about Teheran and dismissive of it.
Since US-China ties are the world’s most important bilateral relationship, China should command most of Washington’s attention among all its foreign relations.The relationship was never pristine as Trump blamed China for currency manipulation and unfair trade terms. It crashed to a low after Beijing criticised Trump for speaking to the Taiwanese President, and Trump responded by questioning China’s core strategic interests.
China then moved to salvage the situation. President Xi Jinping spoke personally to Trump on the phone, followed by a visit to Washington by State Councillor Yang Jiechi to arrange a summit.
The White House is now planning to host Xi at Trump’s opulent Florida estate over April 6 to 7. Among the issues they will discuss is a lethally recalcitrant North Korea.
As expected, Trump will say China needs to do more to rein in North Korea, and Xi will say China is already doing all it can with this Jong-un of an upstart. On the economic front, matters may be less predictable but just as important.Trump may reach for a new deal with Xi in an early bid to establish his legacy in world trade. And nothing beats striking a new, productive deal with a rising China.
Elsewhere, Trump will be fettling the terms of new trade deals with various countries. These distinct new bilateral relations will be the “spokes” of a customised world trade wheel, with the US as the hub.
The question for Xi and Trump will be where China would be in the wheel, since it is too big to be just a spoke. The economic reality could be that China is fast becoming the axle for the entire wheel.
On the yawning trade deficit and colossal US debt, Trump will try hard to close the issues. Unlike most previous presidents, he sees their successful conclusion as a vital mission and a measure of his competence.
Given the circumstances, pledging to balance the budget and eliminate national debt in eight years as Trump did would be a fool’s errand. It may be no more than an incentive for voters to elect him for a second term.
Independent analysts expect Trump’s tax-cutting and public expenditure policies to add US$6tril (RM26tril) to US national debt over the next decade. At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office said Obama’s fiscal trajectory would have added US$10tril (RM44tril) debt over the same period.
Trump’s plan to cut taxes across the board is said to encourage business growth. This is expected to affect SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) if no other industry sector to expand their businesses.This approach to revive US industry is deemed conservative, but also somewhat unconventional. It is still trickle-down economics but in a different way.
Unlike most Republicans’ (and Democrats’) preference for encouraging corporations to expand abroad, reap economies of scale, multiply profits and then be taxed more on their higher turnover, Trump would cut taxes and encourage them to return home, hire more American workers and energise the economy that way.
This would mean less outsourcing abroad, fewer foreign relocations for manufacturing, more job creation at home and a healthier economy. Some of this has already begun.
Trump would also cut foreign labour content in the manufacture of US goods. This comes in restricting the entry of foreign migrants and the “export” of US jobs.
In the short to medium terms, this would see a measure of economic recovery as wages rise and consumption picks up. However, since the global economy is an integrated planetary entity, it would also mean higher prices for US goods and a decline in US competitiveness.
Developing sets of bilateral trade deals with various countries will also take time. Meanwhile, this region will see development of the ASEAN Community, besides the ASEAN-proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement and the China-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
The US will be without the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Other countries averse to this situation for their own interests must now learn to accept it.
Superpowers act in their own self interests and not out of a charitable impulse to assist another country. Smaller and less able countries may want to ally with a larger and more powerful one, but not vice-versa.
Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.
March 16, 2017
By Endy Bayuni
When he came to Indonesia last week, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was not just another head of government passing through on an Asian tour. At least not by the way Indonesia greeted him. He received as close to a royal welcome as possible for a republic to provide. Perhaps deservedly so. King Salman is special because he is the custodian of the two Islamic holy cities, Mecca and Medina, while Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. The king is the first Saudi monarch to visit Indonesia in 47 years, and local media celebrated the significance of the visit. The 1,500-member royal delegation arrived in eight wide-bodied jets with cargo that included a few limousines. The king and his entourage spent a nine-day holiday in Bali – Indonesia’s most famous tourist island.
While the visit was historic, it raises the question: why now? If it has taken this long for a Saudi leader to visit Indonesia, what is the true state of relations between te two countries?
In Asian culture, regular face-to-face encounters are essential in nurturing relations. Islam similarly has silaturrahim, the tradition of visiting friends and relatives on a regular basis. This is true in everyday life, and should also be true in diplomacy. Indonesian presidents, Suharto, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Joko Widodo all visited Riyadh, symbolizing the importance they attached to Saudi ties. The visits by Indonesia’s leaders were as much addressed to the Saudi hosts as to the Indonesian public who judge their leaders by their displays of religiosity. Religion is indeed the one thing that binds Indonesia and Saudi Arabia more than other factors like economics and politics. To suggest that the relationship lacks warmth because of the long absence of a Saudi king’s visit is to deny the power of Islam in bringing two nations together.
Trade and investment between the two countries have remained low in comparison with the economic ties Saudi Arabia has forged with Indonesia’s neighbor Malaysia and many non-Muslim countries. In Jakarta, King Salman witnessed the signing of several economic agreements, including a pledge of $1 billion from the Saudi Fund contribution to finance development projects. There were deals worth $2.4 billion signed separately by private business sectors. Prior to the visit, Indonesian officials had raised the prospect of multibillion dollar deals. After the king’s departure, they decided to include the $6 billon oil refinery project signed in December to the king’s overall economic package. Even that still falls short of the $25 billion they had touted ahead of the visit.
While the two countries have a growing economic relationship, the pace remains slow. Indonesia has never been a major beneficiary of Saudi’s petro-dollars. Any hope that the visit will change economic relations has to be tempered by the fact that Saudi Arabia is undergoing an economic recession and is itself undertaking a National Transformation Program making the economy less dependent upon oil.
There is probably more money flowing in the other direction. Indonesia sends the largest contingent of any country to the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca/Medina. With rising economic prosperity, many Indonesians choose Saudi Arabia as their first overseas trip, to perform the umrah, the off-season pilgrimage. Riyadh is spending billions of dollars renovating and expanding the capacity of Mecca and Medina as part of its post-oil Saudi plan. When tourism replaces oil as a chief source of revenue, Indonesia will be the main target because of the sheer size of its Muslim population.
It is not exactly a two-way road when it comes to tourism. King Salman’s visit to Bali may be a good promotion for Indonesia, but the Middle East has never been a big market, and only a few places in Indonesia cater to the specific needs of Arab tourists. Instead, they go after the bigger markets like Australia, Europe, the United States, and Asia, including now China.
Indonesia also contributes a significant number of workers to Saudi Arabia, particularly domestic helpers. When Indonesia halted the flow of young women to work in Saudi houses following reports of abuse, Riyadh intervened, pleading with Jakarta to resume the flow of these workers.
Bali, a predominantly Hindu island, made the point of not covering up the nude statutes during King Salman’s visit. “Take Bali as it is” was the message when the island welcomed the Saudi royals. The Saudis could have gone to Lombok, the island next door, which is developing its sharia-tourism to attract Muslim tourists. Nevertheless the king chose Bali, even extending his stay by three days.
Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have some common but limited strategic interests. Although predominantly Sunni, Indonesia has stayed away from the rivalry between Sunni-Saudi Arabia and Shiite-Iran by cultivating relations with both countries. The week of King Salman’s visit, Indonesia announced billions of dollars of new oil deals with Iran. Indonesia has tried to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, an effort that did not go very far. But the gesture is important diplomatically to show Jakarta’s non-aligned status in this rivalry that is almost as old as Islam itself.
Religion is the one big factor binding the two nations, but even in religion they do not always see eye to eye. Indonesia has not been spared from the global struggle within Islam between more traditional, strict interpretations of the religion and the moderate and tolerant brand that has evolved in Southeast Asia. The battle line has been drawn between Wahabism, the conservative ideology propagated and financed by the Saudi Kingdom, and Nusantara Islam, the name Indonesian Muslim scholars coined to describe the Islam widely practiced in nusantara (the archipelago) that incorporates local cultures and wisdoms.
King Salman also announced the establishment of Arab language centers in three Indonesian cities in addition to the one in Jakarta, which is also known as the center for the propagation of Wahabism. The Indonesian government raised no objection to the plan, but President Widodo organized a meeting between King Salman and leaders of various religions to show that in spite of being a majority-Muslim nation, Indonesia is progressive when it comes to interfaith relations.
The language used by the two countries’ leaders reflects an ideological gap. While King Salman in his speeches stresses the need for unity among Muslims to face their common challenges, Indonesian leaders put the emphasis on more tolerance and moderation. Islam may bind the two nations, but each seems to have its own interpretation.
About the Author
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.
The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.
APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington
December 7, 2016
by Joschka Fisher@Project Syndicate
Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States, the end of what was heretofore termed the “West” has become all but certain. That term described a transatlantic world that emerged from the twentieth century’s two world wars, redefined the international order during the four-decade Cold War, and dominated the globe – until now.
The West shouldn’t be confused with the “Occident.” While the West’s culture, norms, and predominant religion are broadly Occidental in origin, it evolved into something different over time. The Occident’s basic character was shaped over centuries by the Mediterranean region (though parts of Europe north of the Alps made many important contributions to its development). The West, by contrast, is transatlantic, and it is a child of the twentieth century.
When World War I began, it was a European conflict between the Central Powers and the Entente of Britain, France, and Russia. It became a true world war only in 1917, when the US entered the fray. This is the moment when what we now call the West began to take form.
The West can be said to have received its birth certificate during World War II. In August 1941, after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met on a warship off the coast of Newfoundland and signed the Atlantic Charter. That agreement would later develop into NATO, which, for four decades, enabled an alliance of independent democracies with shared values and market economies to withstand the Soviet threat – and which has safeguarded Europe to this day.
More fundamentally, the West was founded on an American commitment to come to its allies’ defense. The Western order cannot exist without the US playing this crucial role, which it may now abnegate under Trump. As a result, the future of the West itself is now at stake.
No one can be certain what Trump’s election will mean for American democracy, or what he will do when he takes office. But we can already make two reasonable assumptions. First, his presidency will be highly disruptive to American domestic and foreign policy. Trump won the presidency by flouting virtually every unwritten rule of American politics. He beat not only Hillary Clinton, but also the Republican Party establishment. There is little reason to think that he will suddenly abandon this winning strategy come January 20.
We can also safely assume that Trump will stick firmly to his pledge to “Make America great again”; this will be the foundation for his presidency, come what may. Former President Ronald Reagan also promised this, but he did so while the US, still engaged in the Cold War, could take an imperial approach. Thus, Reagan pursued rearmament on such a large scale that it ultimately led to the Soviet Union’s collapse; and he paved the way for an American economic boom with a massive increase in the national debt.
Trump does not have the luxury of an imperial approach. On the contrary, during the campaign, he heaped criticism on America’s senseless wars in the Middle East; and his supporters want nothing more than for the US to abandon its global leadership role and retreat from the world. A US that moves toward isolationist nationalism will remain the world’s most powerful country by a wide margin; but it will no longer guarantee Western countries’ security or defend an international order based on free trade and globalization.
The only remaining questions now concern how quickly US policy will change, and how radical those changes will be. Trump has already pledged to scrap the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership – a decision that amounts to a gift to China, whether he realizes it or not. He could also bestow upon China another gift: reducing US engagement in the South China Sea. China might soon find itself the new guarantor of global free trade – and probably the new global leader in combating climate change, too.
With respect to the war in Syria, Trump might simply hand that devastated country over to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran. Practically speaking, this would overturn the balance of power in the Middle East, with grave consequences well beyond the region; morally, it would be a cruel betrayal of the Syrian opposition and a boon to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
And if Trump defers to Putin in the Middle East, one wonders what he will do with respect to Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. Should we expect a Yalta Conference 2.0 to recognize Putin’s new de facto sphere of influence?
The new course Trump will chart for the US is already discernible; we just don’t know how quickly the ship will sail. Much will depend on the opposition (Democrats and Republicans alike) that Trump encounters in the US Congress, and on pushback from the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.
But we should not harbor any illusions: Europe is far too weak and divided to stand in for the US strategically; and, without US leadership, the West cannot survive. Thus, the Western world as virtually everyone alive today has known it will almost certainly perish before our eyes.
So what comes next? China, we can be certain, is preparing to fill America’s shoes. And in Europe, the crypts of nationalism have been opened; in time, they will once again release their demons upon the continent – and the world.
November 29, 2016
Fidel Castro, the great Cuban revolutionary and the icon of all those who have over the last half a century struggled for national liberation, freedom from colonial and capitalistic exploitation, and the establishment of a just and equitable world order passed away on Friday in Havana at the age of 90.
At the time of his death, he had become outdated just as the instrumentalities that he had chosen for his epic struggle, that is, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 (G-77) and Third World, had become anachronistic. He had remained merely a symbol of his strivings and achievements during his life time. He rode like a colossus in the global arena during the best part of the second half of the 20th century.
He was the only leader in the post-Second World War period who was vilified and adored both in a fairly large measure. He was constrained and crippled by a group of countries led by the United States. At the same time, he endeared himself to a much larger group of countries and among vastly wider sections of the world population. Coming from a tiny country, he was better known among the common people the world over and particularly in the Third World, than most of the great leaders of his era.
Fond Farewell –“Hasta Siempre!”
In spite of his continuing struggle for his country’s survival against the crippling measures imposed by the neighbouring imperialist power, what he achieved for Cuba during his lifetime has remained unachieved in the rest of the Third World. He established an educational system in his country of which there is no parallel in any developing country and in a number of developed countries. The quality health system under his leadership, accessible to every Cuban virtually without charges, has no match even in developed countries. He failed in his plan to industrialise Cuba, but that was in large part due to the trade embargo maintained by the United States. For, a small country like Cuba cannot set up viable industries without being a part of the regional and global economic system, which was persistently denied to Cuba.
Under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba emerged as a great exponent of all that Third World stood for, that is, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, disarmament and development. There is hardly an example in recent history of a nation punching so unimaginably above its weight.
One of the greatest legacies of Fidel was the leadership both at the political and administrative level left behind by him. I have found Cuban politicians and diplomats among the most skilled, astute and far sighted negotiators in the world. They admirably combine their quest of national interest with concern for the world order and rule of international law.
Given its overwhelming reliance on the Soviet Union for its survival, Cuba’s foreign policy remained tilted during the Fidel era towards the Soviet Union and socialist outlook of the world. However, I found the Cubans under Fidel’s leadership never missing the opportunity of using the narrowest of space available to them for manoeuvre for promoting the wider cause of humanity.
I cannot claim to have personally known Fidel or of having come close to him, but I indeed feel blessed to have been born, lived and pursued my vocation of diplomacy in the world, during the era coinciding with Fidel’s life. I met him twice in the second half of the 1970s at delegation level in closed doors meetings to review and give impetus to our bilateral relations. I found him to be a genuine friend of India, entertaining legitimate expectations of cooperation with our country mainly in the economic field but somewhat disillusioned because of our not being forthcoming in our response and because of our propensity to hold a balance in pursuit of what we perceived to be a policy of genuine non-alignment. Those days, preventing Cuba from tilting the Non-Aligned Movement towards the Soviet direction was regarded as an important part of our diplomacy. At times, we went too far in this direction at the cost of our own enlightened self-interest.
I saw Fidel at the prime of his authority nationally and prestige internationally as the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Summit in Havana in 1979. One of our major concerns at that time was to get the oil producing exporting countries (OPEC) committed to a dual pricing system for oil.
In this endeavour, Cuba extended its full support without, however, rocking the boat. Obviously as a host country, their primary objective was to get a Havana Declaration and Plan of Action unanimously agreed and they eminently succeeded in this even though it involved their walking at the razor’s edge in the negotiations on several fronts.
At the time when the nuclear arms race had acquired ominous proportions and the threat of a nuclear winter seemed to be at our doorstep, Cuba took the initiative of getting convened in Havana a special Non-Aligned Conference on Disarmament. I had the privilege of steering the negotiations on the document that emerged out of this Conference, which was inaugurated by Fidel. Thanks to the highly positive, balanced and constructive attitude of the Cubans, we came out with one of the best documents on nuclear disarmament ever adopted in a large international forum like NAM.
And finally, I had the privilege of seeing from a distance this giant among the world statesmen when he came to New Delhi to hand over the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement to Indira Gandhi in the NAM Summit in 1982.
I bow my head in gratefulness to all that Fidel has done for Cuba, developing countries and the world.
(The author is a former Ambassador and former Indian Foreign Secretary. Views expressed are personal.)
First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 08:14 IST