America first, geo-economic logic last


April 27, 2017

America first, geo-economic logic last

by Gary Hawke, Victoria University of Wellington

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for tomahawk over syriaTrumponomics–Military Power over Geo-Economics

The Trump Administration has introduced a new set of challenges to the international economy. It has profoundly changed the role of the United States in international economic diplomacy, ceasing to be a champion of multilateralism.

Within the first 100 days of the Trump administration, reality has overwhelmed a good deal of campaign rhetoric, and individuals experienced and skilled in conventional public management have prevailed over some who epitomised revolt against elites. But ideas that challenge longstanding US positions on the world economy and international integration remain at the core of the Trump administration.

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Get the Message, Theresa May?

Bilateral trade balances have long been known to be an inappropriate policy objective. Yet the Trump administration is pursuing this without any sound argument. Its belief is that only bilaterally balanced trade (or an excess of US exports) is ‘fair trade’. This nonsense is reinforced by concentrating on trade in goods, ignoring surpluses on services trade. And the capital account is ignored entirely.

Trump expands the idea of bilateral balance to the trading relationship with every other country. He insists on what Gary Hufbauer has called ‘mirror-image reciprocity’. Every component of a deal, every individual tariff rate, any provision about rules of origin for specific products, and any condition for foreign investment must be no less favourable for US exporters than the corresponding rule applied to the United States. This is misplaced concreteness has gone mad.

The idea of a win-win overall deal is rejected. The very idea of complementarities between economies is ignored. That this is endorsed by the chair of the newly established National Trade Council Peter Navarro, who holds a Harvard PhD in economics, is a conclusive argument for an enquiry into Harvard standards.

Two of Trump’s executive orders on trade deficits and trade laws would both fail the most elementary of economics examinations.

Under the Trump Administration, history is no more respected than economics. It has been argued that the WTO and its predecessor GATT were intended to apply only to developed economies. Those who were at the Havana conference in the 1940s and those who negotiated with developing economies in the Uruguay Round saw no such belief among their US colleagues.

This is a thin disguise for wishing to continue using subterfuge rather than economic logic in consideration of so-called ‘countervailing duties’ and ‘anti-dumping penalties’ against China. The idea that there is an indisputable definition of a ‘market economy’ is absurd, but then so is the underlying idea of dumping. Artificial lowering of prices with the intention of raising them after forcing a competitor out of business should be countered — if it were ever properly detected.

Even more absurd is the notion that ‘over capacity’ is something that requires government intervention. Consumers gain from cheap products. When producers cannot sustain output levels at such low prices, the appropriate response is for the least efficient producers to exit. In the case of steel, ‘least efficient’ is probably not the same as ‘Chinese’.

Most concerning is an attack on the WTO dispute resolution system. US opposition to it predated the Trump administration. The Obama administration vetoed the reappointment of a judge to the Appellate Body for the little-disguised reason that his decisions were uncongenial.

US resistance to the dispute resolution system has never been far from the surface. It is often rationalised by a constitutional principle that only the US Congress can create laws which bind US citizens. Some US judges can nevertheless make positive use of international reasoning, and previous administrations have recognised that membership of international institutions could require them to persuade Congress to amend US law or to compensate a foreign party.

The language in the final statement of the WTO dispute resolution system is in no way an exemption of the United States from the dispute resolution system. The words of the dispute settlement understanding that a ruling can’t ‘add to or diminish the rights or obligations’ of a member country — relate to member countries’ commitments, not US law, and their interpretation is not a US prerogative.

Rhetoric about a ‘rules-based international order’ or the ‘modern liberal international order’ is now entirely empty when set beside the declared intentions of the Trump administration. Again, the problem is deeper than Trump. No country can be an effective advocate of the rule of law when its partisan politics dominates the choice of its most senior judges. Fundamentally, the United States has to adjust to no longer being able to dominate global affairs.

Economic integration now has to be led by countries other than the United States. But successful integration elsewhere will cause responses within the United States as businesses miss profitable opportunities and as voters see that they are missing out on consumption and employment gains.

Gary Hawke is retired Head of the School of Government and Professor of Economic History, Victoria University of Wellington.

Soothing East Asia’s Nerves–Mike Pence in Asia


April 21, 2017

Soothing East Asia’s Nerves

https://www.stratfor.com

Forecast

  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s 10-day tour of East Asia will focus primarily on easing uncertainty among U.S. allies about the administration’s policies in the region.
  • U.S. moves to contain North Korea and compel China toward cooperation will dominate discussions in Seoul and Tokyo, though tension over the Trump administration’s trade policies will loom large in both visits.
  • Indonesia and Australia will remain wary of joining U.S. initiatives that risk provoking China but also receptive to U.S. efforts to lay the groundwork for more robust defense cooperation.

Analysis

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Nearly 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, uncertainty over the direction of U.S. policy and its behavior in the Asia-Pacific continues to pervade the region, including among many of Washington’s most important allies. In particular, between Trump’s early calls for strategic partners such Japan and South Korea to cover more of the costs of supporting U.S. troops on their shores, his decision to withdraw the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, and his administration’s recent statements and actions in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Trump has helped put the typically slow-moving and carefully managed geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific in flux.

In doing so, his administration has arguably opened avenues for progress on issues of longstanding concern to Washington, especially U.S.-China trade relations and North Korean nuclearization. At the same time, the White House’s actions have left countries such as Japan, South Korea and Australia — traditional linchpins of U.S. strategy in the region — looking for greater stability and predictability from Washington.

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US Vice President Mike Pence at The DMZ , South Korea

During his ongoing tour of the region, which started April 15 and will end April 25, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is seeking to project precisely that: a more stable, predictable and reliable United States. In meetings with heads of state and key lawmakers in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia, the Vice President will reaffirm Washington’s commitment to stability in the region and the defense of allies and partners against a range of threats, including North Korea, Chinese maritime expansion and terrorism. Likewise, in scheduled “listening sessions” with business leaders from each country — and, in particular, by formally opening the U.S.-Japanese economic dialogue with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso — Pence will seek to address regional concerns over Washington’s trade, investment and currency policies and foreground its continued commitment to regional free trade, albeit through avenues other than multilateral pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Notably, on April 18, Pence announced that Washington plans to review and reform the 2007 U.S.-South Korean trade pact.)

To the extent that Pence’s visit is aimed at shoring up Washington’s regional alliances and partnerships, the four stops of his tour share at least one common theme: the goal of countering China’s expanding security footprint in the South and East China seas and, more broadly, to constrain Beijing’s long-term strategy of replacing the United States as the dominant power in East Asia. But each leg of his tour will address a different aspect of this underlying imperative. Like his visit to South Korea on April 16-17, Pence’s subsequent meetings in Tokyo likely will center on managing North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program and, in Japan’s case, checking Chinese maritime activities in the East China Sea. His meetings in Indonesia and Australia from April 20-23, by contrast, will focus on clarifying Washington’s positions on regional trade and South China Sea security, while smoothing over earlier bumps in relations (in Australia’s case) and offering increased defense support both for maritime and counter-terrorism activities (in Indonesia’s case).

Pence’s Seoul Visit and the North Korean Nuclear Quagmire

Given the visibility and significance of mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it is no surprise that South Korea was the first stop on Pence’s tour. His visit, which comes just ahead of the expected arrival in Northeast Asian waters of the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group and, more significantly, the North’s ballistic missile test on April 15 — the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung — sought to reaffirm U.S. defense support for South Korea and signal Washington’s willingness to take unilateral military action against the North if diplomacy fails. Such moves are aimed as much at compelling China to step up its own efforts to coerce North Korea as at deterring Pyongyang itself from conducting further nuclear or missile tests. Last week, the semiofficial Chinese news outlet Global Times said China would cut off oil supplies to the North (one of Beijing’s most effective tools of leverage over the Kim government) if Pyongyang conducted additional nuclear tests.

But while China’s tacit announcement, followed with a phone call between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, signal burgeoning cooperation, however limited, between Washington and Beijing on North Korea, the situation on the peninsula is highly fraught and fluid. In particular, it remains to be seen whether the United States can compel China to throw its full diplomatic weight behind the effort to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It is also unclear whether China possesses sufficient leverage to compel the North to meaningfully change its behavior.

Washington’s ability to nudge Beijing toward action depends on a number of factors — in particular, what measures the White House has asked the Chinese to take toward Pyongyang and the extent to which Beijing, given its own geopolitical constraints and often countervailing interests, can or is willing to intervene. The Trump administration’s threats to use military force against Pyongyang and its expected positioning of the carrier strike group near the peninsula are likely intended to undercut China’s capacity to parlay its leverage on North Korea into concessions from Washington on other issues. The U.S. moves also raise the direct costs for China of continued intransigence on negotiations with Pyongyang. The prospect of an even greater U.S. defense footprint in South Korea and Japan is deeply worrisome for Beijing, independent of what happens to North Korea. China’s recent statements suggest that Washington’s actions have had some effect. Even so, it is questionable whether any action China takes against North Korea, short of completely cutting off the latter’s economic lifelines, will deter Pyongyang from pursuing a functional nuclear deterrent. In fact, punitive actions by Beijing and increased saber rattling by the United States may only accelerate the North’s nuclear weapons development efforts.

Against this backdrop, Pence’s visit to Seoul served primarily as an opportunity to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the South’s security and, to that end, to shore up political support within South Korea for rapid deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in the face of Chinese economic retaliation. The emphasis on the reliability of U.S. support will carry over into Pence’s visit to Japan from April 18-21. But unlike in South Korea, where Washington must carefully weigh its options against the risks and costs of retaliation by China or further provocations by North Korea, the United States faces fewer such constraints in Japan.

Reflecting the approach of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis during his February visit to Tokyo, Pence will use his time in Japan to emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance as foundational to regional stability. In addition, he may urge Tokyo to take on a more prominent and proactive role in maintaining security in the East and South China seas and discuss avenues for future U.S.-Japanese defense cooperation.

Looking South: Indonesia and Australia

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US Vice President Mike Pence and his family were taken on a tour of Istiqlal, Indonesia’s biggest mosque, in Jakarta © POOL/AFP / Adek BERRY–Indonesia is a truly moderate Islamic country.

Pence’s discussions on Japan’s expanding diplomatic and security roles in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea will pave the way for the second half of his trip.

Conspicuously, Pence is not visiting Thailand or the Philippines, the United States’ two treaty allies in Southeast Asia, but which have both been tilting slightly toward China. Nor is Pence visiting Vietnam or Malaysia, two parties to the dispute with China over the South China Sea with which the Barack Obama administration was keen to enhance defense ties. What the decision to steer clear of the front lines of the South China Sea dispute signals, if anything, is difficult to say, though the Trump administration appears to be relying increasingly on Japan’s growing influence in these countries to further U.S. regional goals.

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Vice President  Mike Pence seen with Indonesia’s President Jokowi Widodo gives Malaysia a pass?

But Indonesia and Australia are increasingly pivotal players in the Western Pacific in their own right. In Jakarta, Pence will urge an inward-focused government to embrace the country’s potential role as a regional counterweight to China, a unifying voice within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and a robust check on sources of maritime insecurity. And in Australia, a steadfast treaty ally of the United States, Pence will focus on smoothing over lingering uncertainties about the Trump administration’s commitment to maintaining the U.S.-led economic and security architecture in the Western Pacific — doubts magnified by the famously rocky start to Trump’s relationship with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In particular, Pence will seek to build on the momentum of his lengthy, reportedly fruitful talks with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop during her trip to Washington in February.

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Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop meets with US Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in Washington. Picture: Yuri Gripas

One important difference between Japan on one hand, and Indonesia and Australia on the other, is that where Tokyo possesses the requisite economic, diplomatic and military power to chart a strategic course openly at odds with Chinese interests, Jakarta and Canberra depend heavily on China for investment and as a market for their raw materials and finished goods. Indonesia and Australia’s interests in maintaining stable, close ties with Beijing will limit their ability and desire to throw their full weight behind U.S.-led efforts to check Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

In fact, though the United States and Indonesia have ample room for cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, Jakarta remains exceedingly reluctant to entangle itself in regional disputes, and bilateral defense ties are relatively underdeveloped because of past U.S. sanctions over the military’s human rights abuses. (Jakarta’s deep suspicions about Canberra’s strategic intentions have also hindered development of Australian-Indonesian defense cooperation, despite a recent warming of ties.) Meanwhile, entrenched protectionist forces at home limit Indonesia’s ability to diversify its trade relationships and expand its economic influence in Southeast Asia. Australia, for its part, has a geopolitical imperative to ally itself with the world’s foremost naval power, but it, too, remains wary of provoking China, for example by joining U.S. “freedom of navigation operations” aimed at discrediting Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Even so, both countries have powerful incentives to keep the United States close. Though not directly involved in maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Australia relies on global sea lines of communication — and the freedom of navigation through them afforded by U.S. protection — as the bedrock of its export-intensive economy. Indonesia, for its part, has stepped up efforts in recent years to defend its territorial claims in areas such as the Natuna Islands against China, as well as Malaysia and Vietnam. For Jakarta, substantially stronger defense ties with the one country capable of enforcing rules and checking Chinese expansionism in the region would be critical in a crisis.

Overall, Pence’s Asia tour is unlikely to bring major policy breakthroughs. Rather, the aim of his visits is to reaffirm the fundamental continuity of U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific and to communicate that while the ways in which Washington wields its power may be subject to modification under the Trump administration, that power and influence will not diminish.

Uncertainty in ASEAN-China-US Relations on the South China Sea


April 20, 2017

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Number 378 | April 19, 2017
ANALYSIS

Uncertainty in ASEAN-China-US Relations on the South China Sea 

by Nong Hong

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ASEAN’s expectations regarding US engagement in the South China Sea (SCS) evolve in parallel to the organization’s relationship with China and developments in the SCS itself. Though it has not defined China as a potential threat, in 1992 ASEAN recommended that the United States maintain its forces in the region because Chinese claims and advances in the SCS implied that Southeast Asia was not immune to the consequences of Chinese and American strategic choices. Some Southeast Asian states consider continued US military balancing of China a necessity, as Southeast Asian military capabilities are no match for those of China, and a unified ASEAN defense and security identity is absent.

By the late 1990s, most Southeast Asian states had established some form of military cooperation with the USA, ranging from defense dialogues to alliance agreements requiring mutual defense against aggression. Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines constitute the core US partners in Southeast Asia. Cooperation agreements involve large-scale exercises, frequent visits of US troops, and – in Singapore’s case – the permanent stationing of a small US logistics unit.

US military cooperation with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei are more modest. This principally involves limited transit, refueling, and visiting rights, as well as joint training. Increased Malaysian and Indonesian support for a continued US military presence is particularly noteworthy because during the Cold War these countries tended to consider US regional engagement a potentially destabilizing factor.

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Of the new member-states of ASEAN – Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia – only Vietnam has even considered establishing a military relationship with the USA. The three other states, constituting the periphery of ASEAN in terms of military, economic, and diplomatic capabilities, remain wary. The presence of these states in ASEAN, amenable to understanding and promoting Chinese concerns in the SCS, arguably reduces China’s fears that its interests will be ignored in multilateral security settings.

ASEAN’s inclusion of Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia implies that Sino-US strategic competition in the region is becoming inevitable, with Southeast Asian countries recognizing that they cannot opt out of such competition. The states differ on the appropriate position of Southeast Asia within the framework of Sino-US strategic competition.

China’s concern over increasing US engagement in the SCS started in early June 2009, when a Chinese submarine was found to be shadowing a US Navy ship – possibly undetected by sonar equipment being towed behind the American destroyer. The SCS, where the incident occurred, and where the US Navy operates amid a complex patchwork of competing territorial claims, is also a familiar backdrop for such incidents. According to a Malaysian military media outlet, the frequent US military exercises in Southeast Asia serve to acquaint its navy vessels with the geography and war environment in the SCS, the objective obviously pointing to China.

Chinese analysts hold that the consistent presence of US warships in the SCS indicates that the US position is shifting away from neutrality on the SCS disputes. While not every incident gets reported, evidence suggests that they are happening more frequently, as Beijing flexes its improved naval capabilities and asserts its objections to US Naval activity in disputed waters. The Chinese, however, believe that US military exercises in Southeast Asia aim at blocking passage for Chinese submarines. Some Chinese analysts also suspect US influence in the SCS Arbitration Case.

Regional efforts helped to reduce the temperature in the SCS after July 2016, when the arbitral proceeding came to an end. One of these efforts was the pragmatic approach adopted by President Duterte to move to a bilateral dialogue with China without explicitly urging for the enforcement of the award. Philippine ships have been allowed access to Scarborough Shoal in the SCS. The coast guards of the Philippines and China lined up joint drills, including search and rescue, oil pollution management, boarding, and law enforcement – particularly on combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes – to be conducted this year, implementing an agreement that President Duterte signed during his state visit to China in October 2016.

General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to China in early 2017 provided an opportunity for China and Vietnam to promote mediation in their SCS issues. ASEAN and China adopted a set of guidelines to establish telephone hotlines among their foreign ministries to be used in times of crisis. The two sides also agreed to apply the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) to the SCS so as to reduce the risk of potentially dangerous incidents at sea. ASEAN and China have committed to accelerate negotiations for finalizing a Code of Conduct for the SCS.

While China and ASEAN are cooperating to better manage the dispute, the role of other stakeholders, especially the United States, should not be ignored. In 2016 the United States increased the frequency of its naval patrols in and outside the 12 nautical mile zones of the Spratly and Paracel Islands under the name of innocent passage and freedom of navigation, without challenging China’s sovereignty claims.

Compared with its strong reaction to the 2001 EP-3 incident and the 2009 Impeccable incident, during which a strong nationalism dominated public discourse, China reacted with low-profile official protests, without objecting to the doctrine of freedom of navigation itself. The behavior of the United States and China reflects the political willingness of both countries to keep the South China Sea dispute under control and to enhance maritime cooperation despite these divergent views.

“There is a concern, however, that the uncertainty of Trump’s policy in the SCS, and the increasing presence of US naval power in this region will decrease trust and upset the balance of power in the SCS and Southeast Asia, which has been moving towards pragmatism.”

Whether this balance will continue during the Trump administration is not yet clear. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a tougher stance against China’s presence in the South China Sea. Recently, however, he reportedly pushed President Donald Trump to reaffirm the One China policy after the President had indicated that it should be reconsidered.

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Read: Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida where US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping  met on April 6 and 7, 2017

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2084304/why-xi-trump-summit-high-stakes-gamble

Secretary of Defense James Mattis also seems eager to walk back the rhetoric a little, suggesting during his inaugural trip to Tokyo that there is “no need for dramatic US military moves in [the] South China Sea.” At the same time, however, Steve Bannon, the appointed senior counselor to the president, said “there is no doubt” that the United States is “going to war in the South China Sea in 5 to 10 years.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that “we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country.” Notably, the words “freedom of navigation” – the linchpin of Obama-era declamations of US interests in the South China Sea – did not appear at the briefing. Whether this absence signaled a departure from the former US approach to handling China’s territorial claims at sea remains to be seen. All these comments from key members of Trump’s foreign policy team suggest an uncertain US policy in the SCS.

China and regional states are not concerned about US freedom of navigation operations. Despite the divergence of legal interpretation, China and the United States are working hard to balance their respective national interests. There is a concern, however, that the uncertainty of Trump’s policy in the SCS, and the increasing presence of US naval power in this region will decrease trust and upset the balance of power in the SCS and Southeast Asia, which has been moving towards pragmatism. Whether the United States is playing the role of balancing regional powers as desired by ASEAN, or jeopardizing the existing ASEAN-China framework in managing the SCS remains to be seen.

About the Author

Nong Hong is Executive Director and Senior Fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies, US. She can be reached at hongnong@chinaus-icas.org

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.

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

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

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

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Doctor Soft Power–“What I Tell My Non-American Friends”


April 17, 2017

Doctor Soft Power–“What I Tell My Non-American Friends”

by Joseph S. Nye

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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/american-institutions-resilence-trump-by-joseph-s–nye-2017-04

I frequently travel overseas, and invariably my foreign friends ask, with varying degrees of bewilderment: What in the world is going on in your country? Here is what I say.

First, do not misinterpret the 2016 election. Contrary to some commentary, the American political system has not been swept away by a wave of populism. True, we have a long history of rebelling against elites. Donald Trump tapped into a tradition associated with leaders like Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan in the nineteenth century and Huey Long and George Wallace in the twentieth century.

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The Enigma that is Donald J. Trump–Keeping the World Guessing–Unpredictability

And yet Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million. He won the election by appealing to populist resentment in three Rust Belt states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – that had previously voted Democratic. If a hundred thousand votes had been cast differently in those states, Trump would have lost the Electoral College and the Presidency.

That said, Trump’s victory points to a real problem of growing social and regional inequality in the United States. J.D. Vance’s recent best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy compellingly describes the vast difference between California and Appalachia.

Research by the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton shows that the demographic trends among lower-income whites without a college degree are worse than those for African-Americans, who historically anchored the lower extremes of inequality. In 1999, mortality rates among whites with no college were around 30% lower than those of African-Americans; by 2015, they were 30% higher.

Moreover, manufacturing employment, once a prime source of high-paying jobs for working-class whites, has fallen sharply over the last generation, to just 12% of the workforce. These previously Democratic voters were attracted by Trump’s promises to shake things up and bring back manufacturing jobs. Ironically, Trump’s efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation would make their lives worse.

The second thing I tell my foreign friends is not to underestimate Trump’s communications skills. Many are offended by his tweet storms and outrageous disregard for facts. But Trump is a veteran of reality television, where he learned that the key to success is to monopolize viewers’ attention, and that the way to do that is with extreme statements, not careful regard for the truth.

Twitter helps him to set the agenda and distract his critics. What offends commentators in the media and academia does not bother his supporters. But as he turns from his permanent self-centered campaigning to trying to govern, Twitter becomes a two-edged sword that deters needed allies.

Third, I tell my friends not to expect normal behavior. Normally, a president who loses the popular vote moves to the political center to attract additional support. This is what George W. Bush did successfully in 2001. Trump, by contrasts, proclaims that he won the popular vote and, acting as though he really did, appeals to his base voters.

While Trump has made solid centrist appointments to the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, his picks for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services are from the extremes of the Republican Party. His White House staff is divided between pragmatists and ideologues, and he caters to both.

Fourth, no one should underestimate US institutions. Sometimes my friends talk as though the sky is falling and ask if Trump is as dangerous a narcissist as Mussolini. I tell them not to panic. The US, for all its problems, is not Italy in 1922. Our national political elites are often polarized; but so were America’s founders.

In designing the US Constitution, the founders’ goal was not to ensure harmonious government, but to constrain political power with a system of checks and balances that made it difficult to exercise. The joke goes that the founders created a political system that made it impossible for King George to rule over us – or for anyone to ever do so. Inefficiency was placed in the service of liberty.

It is still early in the Trump Presidency, and we cannot be sure what might happen after, say, a major terrorist attack. So far, however, the courts, the Congress, and the states have checked and balanced the administration, as Madison intended. And the permanent civil servants in the executive departments add ballast.

Finally, my friends ask what all of this means for American foreign policy and the liberal international order led by the US since 1945. Frankly, I don’t know, but I worry less about the rise of China than the rise of Trump.

While American leaders, including Obama, have complained about free riders, the US has long taken the lead in providing key global public goods: security, a stable international reserve currency, relatively open markets, and stewardship of the Earth’s commons. Despite the US-led international order’s problems, the world has prospered and poverty has been reduced under it. But one cannot be sure it will continue. The US will need to cooperate with China, Europe, Japan, and others to manage transnational problems.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump was the first major party candidate in 70 years to call the American alliance system into question. Since taking office in January, statements by Trump and his appointees suggest that it is likely to persist. American hard and soft power, after all, stems largely from the fact that the US has 60 allies (while China has only a few).

But the stability of the multilateral institutions that help manage the world economy and global commons is more uncertain. Trump’s Budget Director speaks of a hard-power budget, with funds cut from the State Department and the United Nations system. Other officials advocate replacing multilateral trade deals with “fair and balanced” bilateral arrangements. And Trump is repudiating Obama’s efforts to address climate change. I tell my friends I wish I could reassure them on these issues. But I cannot.

 

The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew–Understanding Singapore’s Foreign Policy


April 16, 2017

The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew–Understanding Singapore’s Foreign Policy

Listen to the views of two brilliant Foreign Policy Experts who served Singapore as Ambassadors with unparalleled  distinction.

It was indeed my pleasure to have met Ambassador at Large Bilahari Kausikan last year (2016) when he delivered a Distinguished Lecture on The Future of ASEAN at The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. He was an outstanding and eloquent speaker, who was never afraid to speak his mind. I am delighted that we as friends are in touch via Facebook and e-mail. I remain his willing Foreign Policy student.

Unfortunately, I do not have the privilege to know Professor Chan Heng Chee, the long serving Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States. From her books, I can say that Professor Chan is a formidable intellect, and a superb specialist on International Relations.  Her two books titled Singapore: The Politics of Survival, 1965–1967 and The Dynamics of One Party Dominance: The PAP at the Grassroots (1976) are my favorite. –Din Merican