Monday, September 12, 2016

Lessons from G20 Summit: Two different routes to the future

This first appeared in Asia Times.

The just concluded G20 summit had on display the contrasting style of world leadership between China and the U.S. as exhibited by their leaders, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.

Xi’s message to the world was based on cooperation and collaboration. Obama’s message was for the world to follow the lead of American exceptionalism.

As the host nation, China got to set the agenda and had the advantage of giving the opening remarks. Xi’s opening address was to announce that China must embark on changing its economic growth model by becoming a country of innovation and a leader in science and technology.

Having taken 700 million out of poverty within China, Xi went on to say that China would continue to contribute to the global fight against poverty. That was the reason he launched the land and maritime Silk Road initiatives.

The so-called one belt, one road initiative was to improve the infrastructure along the way from East Asia to Western Europe and all points in between.  The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank formed concurrent to the OBOR has already begun financing some of the projects.

Improving the infrastructure of the countries on the Silk Road would inevitably improve the livelihood of the people in those countries. Xi observed, “It is meant to build not China’s own backyard garden but a garden shared by all countries.”

Xi stood firmly on the side of open trade and investment in the age of economic globalization. Repeatedly, he emphasized that it will be essential to seek win-win models of global growth, that all nations large or small, rich or poor must be treated equally with respect.

“The world will be a better place only when everyone is better off,” he said.

Because of conflicts and turmoil, a pandemic refugee crisis, climate change and terrorism, the world’s economy needs a new path for growth. Xi believes that path lies in technology innovation.

China is of course already a successful example of sustaining economic growth via technology innovation. Having in China the world’s largest network of high-speed rail and the longest open water bridges (nearly 100 miles long) are some of the indicators.

On its own, China has sent man into outer space, put a lander to roam the moon and built its own space station.

Just recently, China launched the world’s first ever quantum communications satellite.

China has developed its submersible technology such that they can now explore the ocean floor deeper than 4 miles below.

For six years in a row, China owns the world’s fastest super computer, leads in new applications for the mobile phone and new uses via the Internet. China’s economy is clearly no longer dependent on sweatshops. On the technology muscle beach, China is not the 97-pound weakling.

There is a fascinating and unconfirmed rumor circulating on China’s Internet that the US Navy withdrew from the South China Sea in July for a very practical reason.

Beijing government had quietly informed Pentagon that their missile firing submarines had their radar locked in on the American carriers and strongly suggested that the American fleet withdraw from the area.

The Pentagon asked the American fleet command for confirmation and the command was amazed to discover that indeed some radar had locked in on the carriers. However the American on-board finder could not locate where the locking radar was coming from. Thus they quietly hightailed out of the South China Sea.

If true, this incident is entirely consistent with China’s practice of Sun Zi’s Art of War, namely, the best way to win a battle is not having to fire a shot. A similar tactic was used nearly 20 years earlier.

Thomas Reed, an expert on nuclear weapons and former Secretary of Air Force, reported in September 2008 issue of Physics Today, that China in mid-1990’s had intentionally invited Danny Stillman of Los Alamos to tour China’s nuclear research facilities, which he did on numerous occasions.

Stillman was responsible for gathering intelligence on China’s nuclear weapon development capability and was the contact China wanted. Stillman got his book on China’s state of nuclear weapon technology ready for publication but the U.S. government quashed it.

At the time, the Clinton Administration was busy prosecuting Dr. Wen Ho Lee of Los Alamos alleging that he stole weapon related secrets for China. Publication of Stillman’s book would have been, at minimum, awkward. Stillman had to settle for telling the story to Reed later on.

President Obama as he headed to Hangzhou China for the G20 conference had planned on several one-on-one meetings on the sideline with other leaders, in addition to the high profile tea with President Xi.

Consistent with his mission as defender of human rights, he was planning to express his concerns to Philippines President Duterte over the thousands of extra-judicial executions of drug lords.

Upon hearing of Obama’s intention, Duterte flew into a rage saying among other things that Philippines is a sovereign nation and no longer a lap-dog of the U.S. He also asked rhetorically, what about the hundreds of thousands of civilians massacred by the Americans when they were the colonial masters of Philippines?

Duterte also called Obama the “son of a whore.”  Thanks to the Colbert Report, we now know that Duterte was not the first to use such indelicate language. Another exceptional U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, had called Gorbachev then leader of USSR the same name in his moments of extreme emotion.

Obama’s meeting with Turkey’s President Erdogan also did not go well. Erdogan in front of the foreign press aired his difference with Obama including naming a Kurdish group that the U.S. supports but Turkey considers a terrorist organization. (Of course, Asia Times has reported on numerous occasions that rebel groups fighting Syria’s Assad with U.S. support also fights for ISIS.)

Perhaps not wishing for another Duterte-like confrontation, and perhaps the price of offending Turkey would be too dear, Obama did not raise questions of human rights in Turkey with Erdogan—human rights issues such as crackdown of the press and the mass arrests that followed the unsuccessful coup.

Obama then proceeded to Laos to attend the ASEAN Summit. He was the first U.S. president to visit Laos and he formally apologized for the “secret” war America inflicted on Laos during the Vietnam conflict.

Reported elsewhere in Asia Times, Laos continues to suffer the aftermath consequences of carpet-bombing by the U.S. Air Force. Decades later there remain millions of unexploded cluster bombs in the countryside. These were accidentally detonated by unwitting farmers and their children with dismaying regularity.

Obama’s offer of $30 million per year for three years would barely scratch the surface for rendering Laos’ countryside safe for farming and allowing Laos to begin economic recovery.

Unlike hundreds of other nations, United States has never agreed to halt the use of landmines, antipersonnel and cluster bombs. The U.S. reserves the right to kill and maim and at the same time make obscene profits from it.

It’s no small irony that the great defender of human rights is also the dominant purveyor and user of these lethal takers of human life.  

The conscience salving donations to compensate for the past atrocities and human suffering is a drop in the bucket compared to the profits made on the victims’ bone piles. And as Christina Lin pointed out in Asia Times, the U.S. has made no efforts to stop the cycle of killing and profits, human rights be damned.

The distinction is clear. Xi Jinping offers cooperation and collaboration on a path for common prosperity. Obama offers umbrella of missile defense protection and a path to death and destruction.

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