Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States


July 6, 2018

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States

by Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla, The Habibie Center

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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ASEAN countries are no strangers to conflict and violence. As a region comprising diverse nation-states, Southeast Asia has experienced a number of inter- and intra-state conflicts. Political stability in the region has improved over the last decade, especially due to a decline in inter-state disputes. But intra-state disputes in the form of ethnic conflicts, violence against minorities and violent extremism — including terrorism — are gaining ground.

 

There are ongoing reports about Rohingya trying to escape from Myanmar and seeking refuge in Malaysia. Amid the Myanmar army’s denial of its alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, about 700,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled the country since August 2017.

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Meanwhile, according to the Global Peace Index, the Philippines is one of the least peaceful countries in the region due to its bloody war against drugs and crime that has resulted in increasing rates of homicide, incarceration and extrajudicial killings. Based on the same report, Indonesia had the greatest performance drop in the Asia Pacific in terms of peacefulness due to an increase in politically-motivated terrorism and growing tensions between hard-line fundamentalists and minority groups. Indonesia is also more and more vulnerable to the threat of an alliance between the so-called Islamic State, Darul Islam and some local violent extremist groups, as shown in the recent Surabaya bombing.

Even decades before the United Nations’ An Agenda for Peace report in 1992, ASEAN had committed to maintaining peace in the region without using the label of ‘preventive diplomacy’. From its inception, ASEAN was intended to be a regional conflict-prevention mechanism that internalised the practices of peaceful dialogue, consultation and consensus building among its members, amid the geopolitical uncertainty and diplomatic breakdowns that characterised the Cold War period.

The ASEAN Regional Forum defined preventive diplomacy for ASEAN in 2001 as member states’ diplomatic or political action to prevent disputes or conflicts that could pose a threat to regional stability, with the purpose of preventing such disputes from escalating to armed confrontation and minimising the impact of those conflicts and disputes on the region.

But in practice, preventive diplomacy in ASEAN is limited to the execution of forums and meetings that do not necessarily producing binding mechanisms to resolve potentially destabilising intra-state conflicts. ASEAN seems to be stuck in confidence-building measures and has not completely implemented preventive diplomacy as envisioned by the United Nations.

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Critics point to the development gap and significant political differences between ASEAN member states. The ‘ASEAN way’ that rests on the principles of consensus building and non-intervention is often cited as one of the factors that undermine a deeper commitment to implementing preventive diplomacy. ASEAN’s limited definition of preventive diplomacy is also criticised for constraining the practice of preventive diplomacy in the region to only include conflicts between and among states. This excludes non-state and intra-state conflicts or violence, which are seemingly growing in the post-Cold War era.

But the biggest challenge to preventive violence in ASEAN yet to be taken seriously is the lack of knowledge about conflicts and violence. To this day, it remains a challenge to pinpoint the general trend and exact number of violent events and conflicts within ASEAN. Some instances were allegedly perpetrated by the state, while others were committed by non-state entities and individuals. Although some reports intuitively indicate that violence in ASEAN is increasing, it is hard to identify the exact number of incidents because the data is scarce and rarely updated.

The limited reliable data that is available reveals that each country in Southeast Asia has its own patterns and characteristics of conflict and violence. In terms of intensity, there are also differences in the number of casualties and frequency of incidents. The types of violence also differ and include civil wars, insurgency, crimes, communal conflicts and violence against minority groups.

Relatively little data on violent incidents existed until recently, and the data is generally focused at the national level. Data on regional trends is patchy and scattered across various sources, which makes it difficult to generate a quick and accurate analysis to aid policy making processes. Not all countries have the capacity to record such data, which itself can be a controversial process in a number of ASEAN member states where conflicts are sometimes highly political.

Knowledge about the distinct features of violence in ASEAN is crucial to enable policymakers and stakeholders to identify shortcomings in the region’s approach to responding and preventing conflict. Such knowledge would also equip them to come up with effective policies and strategies to promote peace and stability in ASEAN.

A knowledge-based approach would enable stakeholders to resolve conflicts more effectively — not only by managing the impacts but also by preventing the escalation of future conflicts and violence. It would also encourage better practices of data collection and recording violence in and between ASEAN member states — which is essential to monitoring and evaluating preventive diplomacy and progress towards peace in the region.

Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla are Researchers at the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center, Jakarta.

 

Thwarted Revolt –A Weakened UMNO brewing


July 2, 2018

Thwarted Revolt –A Weakened UMNO brewing

   A Najib Proxy wins UMNO Presidential Elections

COMMENT | The results of the UMNO polls are in and the internal pressures for meaningful reform have been thwarted.

It would appear that the election of Najib Razak’s proxy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as President has prevented the party from bringing about needed changes from within. A closer look at the election campaign and results, however, shows that UMNO is seriously divided, and there is in fact an ongoing revolt within the party that is far from over.

Najib pity party

The struggle between “old” politics – money, warlord pressure, insularity, entitlement, racial rhetoric and unquestioned loyalty to the leader – and “new” politics – ideas and policies, more national and substantive engagement on issues and with communities, and greater empowerment of the grassroots – played itself out in the party campaign. The dominant narrative of the party election was one of reform.

History was made with a televised public debate, brought about by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s challenge to his competitors, and there was an unprecedented level of competition for leadership positions. Unlike the hotly-contested 1987 party election, the 2018 UMNO election provided clearer choices for the direction of the party, as opposed to primarily supporting different personalities and camps.

The outcome of the election revealed the control of vested “old” interests in the party with the election of Zahid and many in his camp, notably Vice-Presidents Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Mahdzir Khalid and Wanita Chief Noraini Ahmad.

Over half of the incumbent division chiefs and deputies were returned, with 37 percent of them unopposed. The share of Wanita incumbents returned was even higher, with over half of these 56 percent contested. At the supreme council, the results show a predominance of incumbents as well. The forces for status quo held onto power.

They did so largely by using money and pressure politics – “instructing” delegates how to vote. “Duit raya”, or rather more aptly “duit rakyat”, was used to buy delegates, with some envelope payouts allegedly reaching over RM1,000 per delegate. These tactics were combined with the feeding of the view on the need to defend the party against “enemies” and the mistaken delusion that it was a matter of time before UMNO would get back to power through alliances with new partners and divisions within the ruling Pakatan Harapan.

The main proponent of this defensive and denial politics is Najib, who used his influence to assure that his proxy(ies) won so that he can continue to feed on sympathy within the party and secure a (mistaken belief in a) safe landing for himself. Many of the warlords and division chiefs, who were responsible for keeping Najib in power after the 1MDB scandal was revealed, joined the ‘Najib pity party’ out of self-interest and self-preservation, and pressured the delegates to toe the line.

The revolt

Many of the delegates rejected these pressures, some outrightly in a revolt and an embrace of “new” politics, while others through more indirect resistance. The results show that while “old” forces won pluralities, they did not win consistent majorities. The number of branches that favoured reform candidates – Razaleigh and Khairy Jamaluddin – outnumbered those that favoured Zahid, 53,054 to 39,197, and votes within an overwhelming majority of branches were sharply divided.

The fact that the reform camp was divided, split between Razaleigh and Khairy, undercut its success. Yet the “winner take all” electoral college system of the election also weakened the vote for reform, as those incumbents holding position had more sway in the final outcome as they comprised the bulk of the 160,000 delegates.

If UMNO had a more democratic electoral system with all of its grassroots being able to vote, the outcome would have revealed that the majority of the party members want change. They are trapped in an undemocratic electoral system that disempowers members and advantages incumbents.

The results show that despite this imbalance, the revolt in UMNO is strong. The supreme council contains many of those closely linked to the Khairy camp, notably Zambry Abdul Kadir, Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Reezal Merican Naina Merican, among others.

Annuar Musa’s defeat is perhaps the most obvious sign of this discontent. He was perceived as the candidate closest to the Najib-Zahid camp and most actively reportedly engaged in vote buying. In a head-to-head contest, he lost to Mohamad (Mat) Hassan, Khairy’s cousin and seen as more aligned with reformers.

 

Khaled Nordin’s (photo) victory as Vice-President is also illustrative, as he was most openly aligned to the Razaleigh camp and advocated for change in the party campaign, most obviously by repudiating money politics.

The challenge in this campaign was that given its brevity, the time to build clear alliances in the reform camp was limited. The reform movement, as a whole, lacked clear candidates as to who the reformers were at the supreme council, divisional and branch levels. These contests were largely about personality and personal loyalties rather than the direction of the party.

As such – despite the revolt within UMNO for change – delegates had little choice in bringing about that change in the lower-level contests of the party to sustain the needed support to offset the institutional advantages and stranglehold of control that the “old” politics of Najib-Zahid maintain.

War within continues

The election, however, was only a battle, for the war inside UMNO continues. There are three trends that are likely to continue.

The first is an exodus from the party. So far, three elected parliamentarians have left to become “independent”. This trend will continue, as Zahid does not have the confidence of large shares of the party. As many as half of the parliamentarians may leave, with even more at the state level.

It remains to be seen whether those leaving will form a different party, but the split inside UMNO is real. Zahid’s victory is a defeat for the party, as it has meant that the party will not hold together. This could come in the form of large numbers leaving, resulting in a split or more gradual attrition and disengagement. Either path points to an erosion of support within the party itself.

Zahid’s victory has made UMNO an even greater political target, as he not only perpetuates responsibility for the scandal of 1MDB in the party leadership, he brings his own scandals and baggage. Zahid is not popular by any measure among the general public. He is currently not able to command the respect of the voters, including a majority of UMNO voters.

Zahid’s poor showing in the UMNO presidential debate did little to bring respect to the party among the public and this trend will continue with Najib continuing to overshadow his proxy. Zahid – and UMNO as large – will face the continued wrath of voters who demand accountability over 1MDB and further scandal revelations will bring even more contempt.

Losers are actually winners

Zahid’s visit to the MACC today will likely not be the first. He will not be alone in having to face questions about the finances and money within the party, as the election of the “old guard” makes the entire leadership more vulnerable. Najib’s claim that 1MDB was used to “help” the party and the cash in his apartment was actually UMNO money – his practice of using the party for his own defence – is now haunting the party as a whole.

 

Ironically, many of the victors in the UMNO polls are actually losers, with the losers actually winners. Khairy (photo, far left) and Razaleigh have both come out of the contest stronger than when they went in, standing up for change and advocating for a more hopeful alternative future for the party. Sadly, Najib’s continued hold over the party in alliance with many warlords and the debacle of his leadership has rained down further suffering on UMNO.

The third trend is one where there will be efforts to survive the internal divisions and external censure. This will likely follow the same “old” playbook of Najib – denial and defensiveness, cash-and-carry politics, ratcheting up race and religious rhetoric and the use of underhanded undemocratic tactics.

Expect greater outreach to PAS under Zahid’s proxy leadership, with efforts to mobilise more conservative religious and racial forces. The election of non-reform aligned religiously conservative UMNO Youth chief Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki will likely further enhance this trajectory.

Sadly, this sort of approach–old politics with an even deeper conservative religious orientation–will only undermine UMNO further as it cannot attest to any moral high ground with its current leaders. But the denial and insularity of many leaders in the party blind many inside to how destructive this path will be, both for UMNO itself and Malaysia’s social fabric. Offers of defection and disturbing discourse are coming in a climate of desperation as those elected try to hold the party’s debilitation at bay.

Historically, splits in UMNO, legal challenges for the party and defensive responses have been dangerous times in Malaysian politics. This time, however, UMNO is in opposition and the dangers it faces are primarily self-destructive.

This does not mean that there will not be spillovers, creating greater political uncertainty in Malaysia, as new Malaysia still contends with forces of the past who are doing everything in their power to survive and perhaps inflict damage to Malay body politic and Malaysia’s image abroad.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

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

ASEAN’s Role in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy


June 28, 2018

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Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 425

ASEAN’s Role in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

Ever since US President Donald Trump announced the Indo-Pacific strategy at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in November, 2017 at Danang, Vietnam, the leaders from of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have been anxious trying to figure out what it really means and to understand the possible long-term regional implications.

Eight months have elapsed and the US has not yet come out with detailed strategic and operational plans, except for some outlines. The US State Department views the Indo-Pacific strategy in an all-encompassing way, which includes security, economic, and social aspects. The Defense Department’s version, however, puts more emphasis on strategic matters. Both share key commonalities of an ideal Indo-Pacific region that must be free from any coercion, open for free and competitive trade, abide by rules of law and universal principles. Emphasis is also placed by both on commercial governance as well as high-quality investment in infrastructure and connectivity.

 

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At the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018 in Singapore  Defense Secretary General James Mattis reiterated that ASEAN centrality remains vital to the success of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018 in Singapore, Defense Secretary General James Mattis highlighted four pivotal elements of this strategy. First, it has to do with the maritime commons, which requires capacity and capabilities building in naval and law enforcement. It is aimed at improving monitoring and projection of maritime borders and interests within the region. Second, it is about expanding interoperability and establishing a network of allies and partners working together to increase mutual trust between militaries and economies. Third, it aims at strengthening the rule of law, civil society and transparent governance, promoting sustainable economic development. Finally, it foresees an increasing role of private sector in promoting development and finance institutions to be “better, more responsive partners.” Transfer of knowledge and technology with end-to-end solutions would also be front and center to this approach without abandoning economic sovereignty of recipient nations.

The essence of US Indo-Pacific strategy has been aptly summarized by General Mattis, who called it a subset of the US broader security strategy: “Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater,” he declared. Indeed, the Pacific Command, which oversees security stretching both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has changed its name to the Indo-Pacific Command.

During the informal meeting with ASEAN Defense Ministers on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue, Gen Mattis praised the group’s consensus-making process, which aims to avoid confrontation. He reiterated that ASEAN centrality remains vital to the success of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

Over the past months, Australia, Japan, and India, which are democratic allies of the United States, have also put forward their visions of Indo-Pacific strategy. They comprise similar features to the US concept, emphasizing an international rules-based order and norms, transparency, governance, maritime security, and infrastructure. Furthermore, they also pinpointed ASEAN centrality as a driving force for forging closer cooperation in the region.

However, Japan and India also have broadened the Indo-Pacific’s geographic footprints to include not only the two oceans — Indian and Pacific — but also the two continents of Asia and Africa. Obviously, as major Asian economies, they would like to connect the Asian continent and business opportunities with Africa, which has enjoyed impressive growth over the past two decades.

As ASEAN has been accorded a higher profile by major powers, the 10 member-states are also under constant pressure to respond to their clarion calls and prove their mettle. Given the rapid shifts of the regional and international environment, ASEAN has to be more proactive and adopt forward-looking positions on key transnational issues such as the North Korean nuclear crisis, extremism, and cyber security. Most importantly, it must ensure that no one nation should be allowed to dominate the region. This appeal comes at the time when ASEAN is building up its regional security architecture, reliance on its existing security mechanism, and security partnerships.

For the time being, only three countries — Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam — have expressed their individual opinions about the perceived role of ASEAN in the overall Indo-Pacific scheme. Obviously, as the group’s biggest economy, Indonesia has been the leading voice on the Indo-Pacific concept. In 2013, former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa proposed that ASEAN and its dialogue partners committed to peace-building and non-use of force to further prevent conflicts in the region, but received lukewarm support. However, the government under President Joko Widodo has decided to revive the idea again after Trump’s announcement of Indo-Pacific with a new emphasis that rebranded Indonesia as a maritime power.

To ensure continuity, Jakarta is working closely with Thailand, the upcoming chair of ASEAN. Bangkok will coordinate all ASEAN positions and prepare a report for the members next year. At the 32nd ASEAN summit, the leaders discussed the Indo-Pacific concept but did not come up with any position. In the chairman’s statement, it simply said that ASEAN looked forward to further discussing the new concept.

Granted the lack of details from Washington, ASEAN senior officials quickly filled the gap. They have already discussed and exchanged notes on points of convergence that need to be included in the ASEAN Indo-Pacific version. These are some of elements: free and open, rules based, complementary, ASEAN-led mechanism, ASEAN centrality, connectivity, infrastructure, inclusiveness, and not involving a third party.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based ASEAN diplomats have been informed by the US State Department that the details of US Indo-Pacific would soon be available. President Donald Trump is scheduled to take part in the 13th East Asian Summit in early November in Singapore. He expects to outline the contour of the Indo-Pacific strategy himself.

Despite President Trump’s decisions to revoke several of the international commitments and cooperative frameworks of his predecessor Barack Obama, including the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), he has maintained existing programs and activities related to US-ASEAN bilateral cooperation. With continued strong bipartisan support, Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy will be value-added to further strengthening the US interoperability and networks of security partners in the region.

All in all, it is incumbent on ASEAN to reach out to the United States, Japan, India, and Australia to ascertain that all proposed elements are synergized and most importantly, the emerging broader strategy would place ASEAN in the center.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, DC, and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University. He can be contacted at Chongkik@eastwestcenter.org.

APB Series Founding Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye | APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

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Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises


June10, 2018

Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.–Bunn Nagara

Image result for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, in Qingdao, China on June 10, 2018.

THE week that was ended with a significant non-Western event often ignored or misunderstood by the West: the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

The 18th annual SCO summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao this weekend is only the fourth held in China. Beijing is relaxed about its role in a growing organisation of eight member countries, six Dialogue Partners and four observer nations – a confidence that suggests considerable clout.

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Tajikistan President Imomali Rakhmon, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk for talks at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong Province Sunday, June 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

 

China and Russia are the two hulking members of a group that boasts formal parity, being the conspicuous “firsts among equals.” And as two consecutive US administrations unwittingly drive these giants closer than ever before strategically, Western attention is led astray.

Western reports track President Putin’s travel to Qingdao and the diplomatic niceties exchanged there. At the same time, Western commentators are tempted to dismiss the summit as yet another futile talk fest. Both approaches are wrong or misplaced. While Xi-Putin exchanges may not be the highlight of this year’s SCO summit, neither are they insignificant.

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.

The latest SCO summit reaffirms the trend but adds only marginally to it by way of atmospherics. There are more important developments visible at, if not represented by, the Qingdao summit.

It is the first SCO summit at which both India and Pakistan arrive as full members.

Beginning as the Shanghai Five in the mid-1990s, the SCO has grown steadily and now incorporates three giants – China, Russia and India – in the great Eurasian land mass where both the US and the EU have scant inputs.

With Pakistan coming in at the same time as India as an equal partner, the SCO should be free from any sub-regional turbulence within South Asia.

Turkey is also an SCO Dialogue Partner whose interest in full membership is not without broader implications for the West.

Turkey has considerable military strength and is also a member of NATO, hosting its Allied Land Command and a US air base in Izmir. However, Ankara’s years-long effort to join the EU has been snubbed by Brussels.

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Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has famously mulled over choosing between the EU and the SCO, reportedly preferring the latter. How would the West find a NATO member joining a non-Western group led by Russia and China?

Deep-seated discomfort would be a mild way to put a reaction in Brussels and Washington. To US policymakers, Turkey is a strategic country because of its location as well as its status as a prominent Muslim country.

Both China and Russia have sounded positive about Turkey’s prospective membership of the SCO. Nonetheless, SCO members share an understanding of sorts that Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

However, Beijing and Moscow may be less concerned than Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s SCO membership with its NATO credentials intact. That immediately makes Turkey more comfortable to be in SCO company.

Turkey has already received what amounts to special treatment within the SCO that no other Dialogue Partner has enjoyed. Last year it was elected as Chair of the SCO’s Energy Club, a position previously enjoyed only by full members.

Erdogan has called the SCO “more powerful” than the EU, particularly in a time of Brexit. Bahrain and Qatar seek full SCO membership; Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Ukraine and Vietnam want to be Dialogue Partners; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Syria want Observer status.

Iran already has SCO Observer status and had applied for full membership in 2008. Following the easing of UN sanctions on Tehran, China declared its support for Iran’s membership bid in 2016.

The recent US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) has further prodded Tehran to “look East.” These days that means China and a China-led SCO.

Iran already trades heavily with China with myriad deals in multiple sectors. Mutual interests abound, far exceeding the basic relationship of oil and gas sales to China.

As Europe treads carefully, mindful of possible new sanctions on Iran following the US cop out, cash-rich Chinese firms take up the slack. US policy is also pushing Iran, among others, closer to China.

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Modi and Xi–A Strategic Partnership for development and progress

In preparing for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Qingdao on Friday, Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale said both countries were determined to work in close partnership and would never be split apart.

This echoed two main points already shared by Indian and Chinese leaders – that their countries are partners in development and progress, and what they have in common are greater than their differences.

All of this seems set to undo the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that groups the US with Japan, Australia and India, all boasting a democratic system in common in a joint strategic encirclement of China. But India’s relations with China have been on the upswing for half a year now.

The day before Modi arrived in Qingdao, a Quad meeting in Singapore closed on Friday with India expressing differences with the other members. Its Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said the Quad was not the same as its hopes for an inclusive “Indo-Pacific region” (IPR) that did not target any country.

He added that India wanted closer ties with Russia as well in an IPR. Just a fortnight before, Russia’s recent Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak said President Trump also wanted closer ties with Russia.

That was only a small part of the roller-coaster ride of international diplomacy in the first half of 2018.

In January Trump condemned the Taliban for a spate of attacks in Afghanistan, vowing that all talks with them were off. Until then, top US diplomats were carefully planning negotiations with the Taliban.

In March, US officials blasted Russia for allegedly arming the Taliban, which Moscow denied. The following month Nato voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to talk with the Taliban to “save the country.”

Meanwhile Trump’s ramparts of trade barriers in the direction of a trade war would decimate allies from East Asia to Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a European position in reaching out to China on climate and security issues.

By March the EU had dug in, preparing for the worst of US trade barriers while vowing retaliation. The WTO also warned Washington that it was veering towards a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium.

In April, China’s new Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Wei rubbed it in for Washington, publicly announcing that his visit was to show the US the high level of strategic cooperation between China and Russia.

Two days later the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia expressed similar sentiments. They championed negotiations and sticking to pledges while weighing in against the unilateralism of a unipolar power.

Where China has the SCO, Russia has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

If any discomfort is felt in Washington, it is from acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world.

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

Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/behind-the-headlines/2018/06/10/nonwestern-eurasia-rises-where-us-policymakers-are-not-at-war-with-themselves-in-washington-they-thr/#pl8bhiuGHkVCyD5C.99

Singapore Summit: China is the biggest winner


June 14, 2014

The Biggest Winner at the U.S.-North Korea Summit: China

by Evan Osnos

https://www.newyorker.com

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Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things,” President Trump told reporters in Singapore on Tuesday night, after signing a page of loose declarations with Kim Jong Un. “I may stand before you in six months and say,‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” Perhaps no truer words were spoken at the Singapore summit, where Donald Trump, with a handshake and a shrug, opened a new phase in Asia that will eventually reveal him to be either a visionary who saw a path to peace where others did not or a dupe who squandered American credibility. He announced the opening of contact with North Korea with the bonhomie of a developer at a groundbreaking: he hailed an “excellent relationship” with a “talented” counterpart, and shooed away questions about timetables and the risk of default. He made no mention of Kim’s accelerated testing of missiles and nuclear weapons, or of his own threats, via Twitter last year, to “totally destroy” North Korea. He handed off the substantive work to his Cabinet, a team that is already sharply divided between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has expressed high hopes for peace, and the national-security adviser, John Bolton, who has argued for years that North Korea cannot be trusted.

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Kim-Trump Singapore Summit

Compared with the expectations for the summit—or with previous agreements—there was much that Trump failed to get. There was no exchange of liaison offices and no pledge to improve human rights. “I do not see what can really possibly hold in this remarkably imprecise and nonbinding document,” Andrei Lankov, a longtime North Korea watcher at Kookmin University, in Seoul, said. “It is truly remarkable how Donald Trump, being in such a strong negotiating position, has managed to get so little from the North Koreans.” For Trump, the goal, apparently, was the handshake itself. In his view, cheerful patter is easy and inexpensive, and he can renounce the positive vibes on a whim, as needed. In the annals of diplomacy, though, the risks of casual declarations abound. Most apropos in this case is George W. Bush’s first official trip to Europe as President, when he was asked if he trusted Vladimir Putin, and famously replied, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy—I was able to get a sense of his soul.” (Condoleezza Rice later lamented that response, writing, “We were never able to escape the perception that the President had naïvely trusted Putin and then been betrayed.”)

Trump appears to have decided that the chance of a breakthrough is worth the risk of looking naïve. “I do trust him, yeah,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, in answer to the inevitable question about Kim. “He really wants to do a great job for North Korea. He’s de-nuking the whole place, and I think he’s going to start very quickly. He really wants to do something, I think, terrific for their country.”

What Kim really wants, however, may not be what Trump has in mind. “North Korean media wrote at remarkable length about Kim Jong Un’s trip to Singapore,” Lankov told me. State cameramen made a point of filming attentive, prosperous Singaporeans, a montage that will be used to fortify Kim’s image and to promote the prospect of economic reforms. The Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s major official newspaper, dedicated a large part of its front page to celebrating Singapore’s authoritarian capitalism. “The island state was praised on a scale one seldom sees in the North Korean newspapers,” Lankov added. But, in its early reports, North Korean media made conspicuously little mention of the substance of the summit, and Pyongyang gave no sign that the state is preparing its public to stop celebrating nuclear weapons as a singular achievement.

In fact, as expected, North Korea made no specific commitments about dismantling its nuclear program. In the joint statement, Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”—a reference to previous agreements, going back to 1992, which have not held. By far, the largest concession in the talks came from Trump, who announced his willingness to freeze joint military exercises with South Korean forces. For months, Trump’s aides described a freeze as a non-starter, but, on Tuesday, he adopted North Korea’s view that the exercises are, as he put it, “very provocative” and said that the suspension would “save us a tremendous amount of money.”

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Trump freezes joint military exercises with South Korean forces.That is no minor concession

That is no minor concession. The next round of war games with South Korea was scheduled to take place in August. After the announcement, Patrick Cronin, an Asia specialist at the Center for a New American Security, told me that joint exercises are designed to deter North Korea from attacks on the South, such as the sinking, in 2010, of the Cheonan, a naval vessel, which killed forty-six seamen. Deterrence relies on “a degree of professionalism and readiness for crisis response that can only come through military training and exercises,” he said. “If North Korea is not moving toward significant disclosure of its nuclear forces and then taking significant, verifiable steps in the direction of denuclearization, then we should resume pressure, including major exercises, by next spring.”

More surprising still, Trump raised the previously taboo prospect of withdrawing some of America’s nearly thirty thousand troops in South Korea. “I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home,” he said. That may have been improvisation. Hours earlier, Defense Secretary James Mattis had told reporters, “I don’t believe” that troops were up for negotiation. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and usually a Trump defender, said on NBC that he would “violently disagree” with any removal of troops from South Korea.

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“Trump may have also precipitated an outcome that he does not fully grasp: by suspending military exercises, and alluding to removing troops from South Korea, he will stir doubts about the strength of America’s commitment to its allies in Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. They will have no choice but to begin to reimagine America’s role in the region, and their relationships to Beijing.”–Evan Osnos

Nobody greeted the news from Singapore with more delight than China. For years, Chinese officials have urged Trump to freeze military exercises in South Korea, which Beijing regards as a threatening gesture in its neighborhood. Shortly after the announcement, the Global Times, a nationalist state newspaper in Beijing, hailed Trump’s move in an editorial headlined “End of ‘War Games’ Will Be a Big Step Forward for Peninsula.” Elizabeth Economy, a China specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me, “The Chinese are breathing a deep sigh of relief. They got what they most wanted.” She added, “And, best of all, it came out of President Trump’s mouth. The Chinese didn’t even have to rely on Kim Jong Un to do their bidding.”

Any negotiations in the months and years ahead will be fraught: the United States will need to get Kim to provide a full declaration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. International inspectors will seek to verify them. Only then can the U.S. begin to imagine dismantling them. But, more immediately, Trump may have also precipitated an outcome that he does not fully grasp: by suspending military exercises, and alluding to removing troops from South Korea, he will stir doubts about the strength of America’s commitment to its allies in Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. They will have no choice but to begin to reimagine America’s role in the region, and their relationships to Beijing. From Trump’s perspective, the encounter with Kim was an end in itself. For those who bear the consequences of his words and actions, this is just the beginning.

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  • Evan Osnos joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, and covers politics and foreign affairs. He is the author of “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.”