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Asian business must brace for a new US era

Clouds over the White House on Nov. 9. © Reuters

In his victory speech in the early hours of Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump was clearly trying to strike a more conciliatory tone toward the outside world and specifically to those concerned that his campaign rhetoric could lead to testy economic, trade and diplomatic relations with America.

Even though Trump has frequently pledged to protect U.S. jobs from free trade agreements -- a promise he will presumably try to fulfill -- businesses in Asia, or more specifically in Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, will, as businesses always do, adjust to the reality of the Trump presidency.

Read more: Asian business must brace for a new US era

How did he – Trump – get there?

WHATEVER happens in the United States Presidential election next Tuesday, the Donald Trump phenomenon is the strongest signal coming out of America.

It is not just an aberration, something transient, but a disturbing condition which is a bad omen for the future of the country and America’s leading position in the world.

The sustained support he has obtained on base and isolationist arguments represents a substantial part of the American people.

The erudite analyses on how Trump has got to where he has, many of which look at the sorry state of the Republican Party that nominated him, miss the point of the malady in the society at large. Indeed the bitterness, anger and attitudes Trump has been able to galvanise precisely sneer and snort at these kinds of analyses which do not get it.

The intellectuals are talking among themselves, as they always have done, whereas Trump actually talks and reaches out to the people below. The intellectuals, like the elites generally, are the ones who are isolated.

Being politically correct, they do not take up issues in clear black and white. How many have said openly and loudly the American Congress is racist in hindering Barack Obama’s presidency? They may come out and join the chorus of indignation when the police shoot and kill defenceless blacks, but how many come down hard on institutional racism in the police force?

Read more: How did he – Trump – get there?

Britain looks east towards Asean

Unsettling period: The City of London is getting increasingly nervous about its future after Brexit. Many foreign banks are fretting and there is talk of relocating. – Bloomberg

FROM Britain, where they are only and still debating four months afterwards the pros and cons of leaving the European Union (EU) in the Brexit decision, Asean looks like an oasis of opportunity and hope.

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To NCC2 or not to NCC2?

THE great tragedy in Malaysian political history is that neither Tun Abdul Razak Hussein nor Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman lived long enough to ensure the principles, policies and objectives of nationhood they had identified after the May 1969 racial riots were fulfilled.

They both died young, Tun Dr Ismail in August, 1973 and Tun Razak in January, 1976, at the age of 57 and 53 respectively. They worked so hard and so closely in the aftermath of May 1969 to revive the nation and plan its future.

No Malaysian national leader and his deputy have worked as effectively together as they did. They had such clear common purpose that either, or both, could have fulfilled the vision for Malaysia’s future – and we would all today be the better for it.

Tun Razak, with Tun Dr Ismail always in support, became Director of the National Operations Council – to restore law and order from 1969 to 1971, when it was dissolved with the restoration of Parliament.

Read more: To NCC2 or not to NCC2?

Threats of illiberal disorder

ALAIN Juppé may not be a household name in Malaysia but the principled politics of this former French Prime Minister (1995-1997) in his country’s fraught national environment is worthy of note.

Despite France’s reputation for being the most pessimistic nation on earth, he projects himself as a prophet of happiness. He attunes himself to the promise of a happy national identity.

He strongly argues the diverse and mixed society is not a threat to France. He is against calls for a ban on burkinis (a preferred swimming costume among Muslim women).

He proclaims: “I won’t turn people in France against each other.” Notably, in the Islamophobic climate in France, he holds to the concept of integration against assimilation.

He is not a starry-eyed idealist however. He is clear integration carries fixed rules: charter of secularism, reorganise Islam in France to ensure French funding and preaching, firm line on immigration control with annual quotas set by Parliament.

Read more: Threats of illiberal disorder

If goodwill alone could drive integration...

WHEN President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines arrived to give his address at the Asean Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) in Vientiane last Tuesday, none of us from the Asean Business Advisory Council (Asean-BAC) was there to greet him.

We were waiting for the dialogue with Asean leaders which had fallen seriously behind schedule as the leaders overshot their various other meetings. Duterte was supposed to be with the other Asean leaders. So there should have been no problem that we were running one hour late.

However, he had slipped out and gone to give the ABIS address without our being there. (He explained later he was feeling tired at the Asean leaders meetings and had left to give the ABIS address on time).

After meeting the leaders, we rushed to the venue for ABIS, expecting a mercurial outburst from the outspoken Philippines leader. But there he was in the VIP holding room, looking calm and collected, with no threat of a verbal explosion, like he had been offering Ban Ki-Moon, President Barack Obama and others who he thought had crossed him.

Read more: If goodwill alone could drive integration...

Asean – In or out? No way... not yet?

WHILE the close British decision to get out of the European Union (EU) – Brexit – was made in a referendum over two months ago, there is still the feeling in the country: “What have we done?”

Where do we go? How do we get there?

Questions that should have been asked at the referendum, rather than after it. But there you are. When raw emotion and shallow argument reign, profound decisions are made without proper reflection or preparation.

Since then the question has also been raised in our neck of the woods, whether or not such a thing could occur in Asean. It won’t, but then again it may.

First of all, let’s be clear. It is not likely there will ever be such a surplus of democracy in Asean, whether among individual member states or as a group, that there could be an “In or Out” referendum, such as on the EU, that has resulted in Brexit.

Read more: Asean – In or out? No way... not yet?

AEC building block of Asean community?


THE AEC (Asean Economic Community) could turn out to be the saviour of Asean. Whatever its shortcomings, it is real, unlike largely mere words of the Asean Political and Security Community, and the tamasha (carnival) of the socio-cultural communion.

Even so, there are developments worth noting which would make the AEC, or the Asean community, not what is envisaged in the fine official plans.

Read more: AEC building block of Asean community?

No political leadership in failing Asean

ASEAN is failing. It is not working in the way grand declarations and pronouncement of community just last year proclaim it would. Yet, in a pattern of self-deception which has become a regional characteristic, Asean – and its intellectual apologists – continue to deny what is plain for all to see.

If not before it is piece of fiction now to speak of Asean centrality. This was again proclaimed when the Asean Political and Security Community was pronounced last November. Asean foreign ministers even agreed in September on a “work plan” to strengthen this.

But, however Asean muddles through with a definition on what this centrality means, it is gone.

Surely, the first and foremost thing about Asean centrality must be that it is central to its member states. Is it? Certainly not in respect of how to project and defend an Asean position on the South China Sea.

Some have described Asean as toothless in this regard. This is unfair. You cannot expect Asean to bite or even bark at mighty China. However you would expect Asean to stand up for its principles and sovereign rights of states, big or small. Therefore Asean should more appropriately be described as spineless.

Read more: No political leadership in failing Asean

Asean – blowin’ in the wind

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (6th R) and foreign ministers from ASEAN-member nations pose for a group photo during a special ASEAN-China foreign ministers meeting in Yuxi, southwest Chinas Yunnan Province on June 14, 2016.Countries in Southeast Asia have serious concerns over recent events in the disputed South China Sea, an unusually strongly worded communique issued by their foreign ministers in China said on June 14. / AFP PHOTO / STR / China OUT


THE most significant point about the “now you see it, now you don’t” joint statement by Asean foreign ministers on the South China Sea issue in Kunming last month is how China is able to unravel the regional group’s decision ex post facto.

In a meeting among themselves, the ministers had earlier decided to express their deep concern over China’s – not named of course – assertiveness, land reclamation activities and militarisation of the South China Sea, and its threat to peace and stability.

Read more: Asean – blowin’ in the wind

Ill-wind blowing across the globe

Positive leadership: Mayor Sadiq Khan at a Labour party ‘Vote Remain’ campaign event at The Shard in London recently. His election as mayor of London is a beacon of hope in Europe. – AP


“Mussolini made the trains run on time.”

“Hitler saved Germany from communism.”

Many – actually most of the world’s young population today – might not remember the sentiments above which facilitated the rise to power of fascism, in the 1930s and 40s, that brought so much suffering, death and destruction and the last world war.

Read more: Ill-wind blowing across the globe