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No Free Lunch

A prophetic pivot?

/ 12:09 AM February 07, 2017

President Duterte’s pivot to China may have been prophetic. At the rate things are going, one is easily led to think that America is doing the wrong things while China is doing things right, and that a reversal of global roles for the two may be in the offing. Many see America to be wittingly or unwittingly yielding economic and political domination in the Asian region, and possibly in the global arena as well, to China. Two recent speeches delivered three days apart — by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 17 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and by US President Donald Trump on Jan. 20 at his inauguration in Washington, DC — signal what sounds like an impending dramatic reversal of roles between the countries they lead.

Consider what Xi said: “China’s outstanding development achievements and the vastly improved living standards of the Chinese people are a blessing to both China and the world. China’s development is an opportunity for the world; it has not only benefited from economic globalization but also contributed to it. China’s remarkable achievement in poverty reduction has contributed to more inclusive global growth. And China’s continuous progress in reform and opening-up has lent much momentum to an open world economy. We applaud the achievements made by others and wish them a better future. We are not jealous of others’ success; and we will not complain about others who have benefited so much from the great opportunities presented by China’s development.”

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In stark contrast, Trump’s inaugural (as well as campaign) rhetoric claims: “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

One European editorial described President Xi’s speech as “a staunch defense of economic globalization, and international cooperation on issues that threaten global prosperity and growth.” The same editorial described President Trump’s speech as “outbursts about the unfair advantages built into the global economy’s rules of the game — [the same] rules that have paved the way for the US’s rise to the top.” Thus, while he rails against other countries “stealing American jobs,” Trump is actually railing against big American businesses that had immensely benefited by “exporting American jobs abroad.” America, especially its big US businesses and consumers, actually gained big-time from open trade, but seemingly failed to address its impacts on millions of American workers.

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Xi’s speech clearly illustrates China’s “charm offensive” that has been winning it approval abroad. Trump’s speech is seen to be pushing American isolationism, arrogantly at that, which, while sending shivers among friends and foes alike, is not earning the United States any admiration at this time. Setting aside alleged hypocrisy by both — Xi’s speech has been met with as much vitriol from skeptics as Trump’s speech elicited apprehension and disdain from those with a different world view — what usually matters is optics, and the optics are now in China’s favor. While Trump has so far walked his tough talk, particularly in his promise of immigration restrictions, China has so far demonstrated its professed benevolence by showering huge sums on appreciative partners, especially in Africa and Latin America.

In this seeming contest of the giants, it may be well worth asking: Is the promise of “greatness” achieved by sowing fear and disdain, or is it something better achieved by winning the goodwill, respect and admiration of the world?

cielito.habito@gmail.com

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TAGS: China, Diplomacy, Duterte, foreign policy, foreign relations, opinion, Putin, Russia, Trump, US, Xi
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