President Trump = Matilah Singapore

November 10, 2016

Q: Asians seem very anxious about Trump elected as president. Trump mentioned recently in a rally, Singapore is stealing American jobs. How does it all fare for Asia and specifically Singapore.

A: Understand this! And I have said before time and again. Nothing will change. Not significantly in the short term at least since your question pertains specifically to foreign policy in the Asian Pacific theater. You’ve got to understand to Trump foreign policy in Asia is like quantum physics to a caveman.

Even if there is going to be changes – appreciating the long time lines is key.

I understand completely the reasons for anxiety – as so many wild things have been thrown out during the GOP. But that is all election talk to pander for votes.

Trump the man who was running to be president. And president Trump are not necessarily one of the same reality – they cannot possibly be. Even if they want to be. As there exist real constraints on the office of the president.

I know Trump threw out many wild statements concerning Asia, like he wanted Japan and Korea to pay for US policing in the Pacific. But they’re already doing that, the Japanese are prolific hoarders of US bonds, so are the Koreans. Obliquely that is an indirect way of funding the US and propping up their economy – so it’s not as if the US is getting nothing out of stationing their seventh fleet in Asia. Without US presence. They stand to lose much more. Trump may not completely appreciate the realpolitik nor limits as president. But as soon as he gets a briefing from the Republican intelligentsia on foreign policy – maybe Henry Kissinger or perhaps Madeline Albright or even the Republican et al think tank. He will eventually come to terms with the facts of life which is simply this – there is more pay out for the US to stick to status quo than to embark on a wild goose chase and change the set pieces in Asia.

I am not saying as president he’s entirely powerless. No. He can for example gradually steer the US as an outward-looking country that is committed to ensuring peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region through a diplomatic and military presence, to an inward-xenophobic nation that cares little for what goes on beyond its immediate neighbourhood – that he can do. But it will take at least eight years and even then it will be such a long and windy road because power is Balkanized in the US by the doctrine of separation of powers – and it will take truck loads of buy in. That he can do – but my point is there’s the factor of factor of time and opportunity cost.

But he cannot just pull plugs out of Asia wildly like force US firms to pack up their factories and go back to the US like a traveling circus – he cannot like he said just visit North Korea like Gardens at the Bay. Dennis Rodman the basketball superstar can. But it’s impossible for the President of the US to do the same – there is such a thing called international law – along with protocol, convention and agreements which are both formal and tacit. He has to go to the UN to get buy in to set aside sanctions. Do the same with the South Koreans and Japanese – senate and congress needs to ratify all this and above it all needs to be congruent to the US design of realpolitik and geopolitical realities.

So please don’t panic unnecessarily.

Q: What about the TPP – Trump has mentioned he will scrap it. What’s your take?

A: As I said before when he has had a combo meal of KFC with the likes of heavy weights like Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright. The TPP will be given a make over and perhaps repackaged as the Trump deal of the century and it will be signed and passed. But I want to emphasize – it’s essentially a wolf in the sheep’s clothing – it will be the TPP.

As I said before too much is already invested in the TPP and it all connects with a larger schema – I don’t see how it can just simply die.

Q: If both Malaysia and Philippines decide to pull out from the TPP will that kill it?

A: That’s if they can pull out – I don’t think they can, not without being cut off completely from market access. The TPP may be principally packaged as a free trade agreement to enhance market accessibility and harmonization of cross border trade legislation – but what many people don’t seem to appreciate is it’s also an ultimatum to many signatory countries by the US – if you don’t join me. You perish!

Q: Can the TPP exist alongside China’s economic agenda for primacy in the Asia Pacific region?

A: That is a very good question. There are gaps – by this I mean to say the TPP is a negotiated treaty that is customized to take account the strengths and weaknesses of each country. In the case of the Philippines, Japan and New Zealand – there exist significant compromises on agriculture and livestock to such an extent where it’s not truly possible to say free trade rules and the lowest producer wins. In that respect agriculture and livestock will still continue to enjoy exemptions from globalization.

This in part answers your question somewhat – the TPP does to some extent provision room for each country to customize their needs. In Malaysia for example, pure application of free trade translates into revoking Malay privileges in the form of changing the national economic policy that favors bumiputra’s – I don’t see how that can ever happen.

I think it’s fair to say as it is – China aspiration for economic primacy in the Pacific and the TPP can co-exist. It may be tight in some areas especially intellectual capital / but in phase 1 of TPP there is plenty of room for improvisation.

Q: Do you see a divided America being an issue that will militate against the Brexit Trump administration?

A: From all our intelligence post – following directly from the shock outcome. I think many Americans who support Hillary Clinton will justifiably feel outrage. This is only natural. As this has been the most divisive clash that even you feel fit to describe as a Brexit vote.

A Brexit vote to me is just an elegant word to describe class and culture war between have’s and have not, educated and working class, beneficiaries of globalization and disenfranchised.

A postmortem needs to be done on the demographics of votership – but all this considered. However always remember just as Brexit was the result of a democracy at work in the form of a referendum – so was the elections of Trump. At the end of the day, the rule of law will prevail.

Personally I think the tenor of Trump will have to soften considerably – it has too. After all he too has access to intelligence concerning demographics.

Eventually we are likely to see a very different Trump from the Trump who was running for president.

Q: Is free trade and globalization at risk of being rendered obsolete – will Trump be more inward looking, xenophobic and less inclined to engage the rest of the world?

A: For many years I have written about the perils of how if the forces of globalization and free market is applied too dogmatically without adjustments to social realities – it can only produce class war leading to it’s eventual demise as an economic theory – not only in America. But everywhere else including Singapore. Including the virtual in our own game – we saw this simulated maybe fifteen years back ago. In our case it was so violent and divisive it culminated in the Ascension wars.

When I was promulgating my theory of how the free market had to be constantly tempered to redistribute wealth and the open up the aperture for social mobility – some netizens labelled me a communist and even used all kinds of charming words to describe me. Everything from delusional to egomaniacal.

Today against the backdrop of Brexit and the shock of Trump being elected as president – these same conceited erudite lot have the temerity to claim they are shocked, feel violated and insist their elemental rights have been gazzumped by malevolent forces. When they were the very ones who created this problem – by constantly insisting they are right even when so many fall off the sideline – now that so many of the disaffected have reached a tipping point. They all get together to throw out the status quo.

Q: How do you see Trump being different from other presidents who came before him?

A: We need to be patient and wait to see who his key persons and advisors will be – now it’s impossible to trace out the outlines. We are really just wasting time try to speculate.

Q: Trump has said he wants to cooperate with Putin instead of ostracizing him like Obama – what do you think?

A: Again difficult. He can of course do so – but he will end up pissing off so many people that instead of getting benefits. He will end up with more grief. As to have warmer relationships with Putin – a US president would have to condone so many things Russia has done that the EU bureaucrats and NATO don’t agree with, everything from the occupation and annexation of the Crimea to his open support of the Assad regime in Syria. Many vested interest is involved – it’s like one of those old houses, if you shift a beam, since it’s affected to the pillar and that supports the roof, it may all pack up like a house of cards.

Don’t want to sound boring and repeatative. But have to see whose in the line up of key persons and advisors.

Q: All in all do you think Trump’s presidency will produce more good than bad.

A: Good and bad for who? It depends which quadrant one identifies with. This is why people use the word divisive to describe this elections – if you’re a scholar that have a cushy job waiting for you with automatic salary increments. Trump is very bad news. But if you happen to be just a blue collar shift worker with maybe a dime per dozen diploma – then Trump is good.

The take away from all this is politicians and thinkers have to be mindful – globalization and free trade can no longer shut out the small guy – you cannot say just because people don’t have college degrees doesn’t automatically mean they’re at fault and don’t have a right to enjoy social mobility. For over fifteen years – so many years so many hard working folk in the US have been marginalized by globalization. Their salaries get smaller. Or stay the same. In some cases whole communities just disaapear as the industries that used to support the local economy is transplanted elsewhere.

So you have to be very mindful not to automatically conclude the Brits or Americans are necessarily stupid to vote for Brexit or Trump. This is especially true for regular readers here – as most are educated and beneficiries of globalization. Only remember many are not as lucky as you. They didn’t have the opportunities that once came your way. Maybe their parents were educated so they grew up with no one emphasizing the importance of education to increase opportunities and social mobility. Maybe they are slightly autistic and people just think they’re good to go for mopping up toilets or putting screws into stuff on a conveyor belt. Or maybe they are just plain unlucky in life, these people have lost out and they have no voice. No one seems to want to sit down and hear their petition.

I for one am happy now at least someone finally has – his name is Donald Trump.

You can say whatever you want to say about Mr Trump. But even you cannot deny had those leaders who came before him listened more to the disaffected classes. This day wouldn’t have even come.

So ultimately I blame the zealots of free trade and globalization – if you feel the need to blame anyone. You should direct it there and not at Trump.

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