Sat | Feb 16, 2019

Editorial | Foreign policy in the age of Trump and Xi

Published:Tuesday | January 22, 2019 | 12:14 AM

America’s dominance of the last century was cemented following the end of WWII in 1945. Europe was exhausted, Japan was on its knees, and USSR and its allies were contained. The United States was in the ascendency. 

Its liberal values were welcomed globally. People craved the American lifestyle. While there was some resistance to the imperial dominance, this was no match for the overwhelming power generated by the rapidly growing US economy. Most countries looked to the US for leadership of the emerging world order.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the vanquishing of communism gave the US almost complete and final victory in the Cold War. So sweeping was the victory of the Western values and power that US Professor Fukuyama famously proclaimed the “end of history”. That was to signify the end of any rival to the dominance of Western liberal ideas. It was a time of triumphalism and hubris.

Globalisation was later unleashed to complete the total dominance of the US and the Western liberal economic order. The Washington Consensus pushed by the IMF and the World Bank then became the Holy Grail for countries wanting to enter the new economic kingdom. Jamaica, like most developing countries, fell in line.

Within the last 30 years, much has changed. China happened! With rapid growth (close to 10 per cent per annum for nearly 30 years), China is a power on the ascendancy. It was able to use the forces of globalisation, coupled with massive investments embodying advanced technologies, to leapfrog most Western economies. It brought over 700 million people out of poverty and became the industrial powerhouse of the world. During the same period, the rate of growth of the US slowed as its productivity prowess dimmed.

CONFRONTING CHINA

The US, under President Donald Trump, is pulling back from global leadership. The country is burdened by the very long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is fearful of absorbing more immigrants. It is abandoning multilateralism and proclaiming ‘America First’.

The only clear foreign-policy objective of the US appears to be its willingness to confront Xi Jinping’s China as a global rival. The US is now using tariffs and blocking technology transfer, as well as a military build-up in the Pacific, to achieve this.

If the relationship between China and the US is not managed properly, it could lead to serious conflict. It is, however, unclear what the ultimate objective of the US towards China is: containment or rollback.

US administration officials, from the days of President Barack Obama, have been travelling the world, warning developing countries to stop accepting Chinese investment and instead look to the US and other Western countries. Recently, the warnings have become more urgent. Jamaica, a major recipient of Chinese loans and investment, will be forced to make choices.

The Andrew Holness administration, living with the memory of the ‘Dudus’ extradition saga of 2010, is striving to avoid too much daylight between itself and the Trump administration. Jamaica’s dramatic shifts in policy towards Israel and Venezuela are clear indications. The Government is yet to outline any grand foreign-policy strategy. All the country has had is a series of tactical manoeuvres.

When it comes to China, any attempt by Jamaica to play both sides may not be viewed favourably in Washington. Meanwhile, siding with the US might see a major fall-off of Chinese investment and loans. Maybe Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke is already signalling this likelihood to the country. He told a recent seminar in Kingston that he is planning to tap the local capital markets to finance the Government’s ambitious infrastructure plans. While this would avoid new taxes, it will likely push up the public debt.

Given the tough foreign-policy choices, the Government may well look to Jamaica’s non-aligned approach to superpower rivalry of the past. In any case, it is time for the Holness administration to have a full parliamentary debate on foreign policy.