Tuesday, November 20, 2012

USA and China leadership changes and Bangladesh

Daily Sun
November 18,2012

M. Serajul Islam  

The two most powerful nations in the world have just changed guards at their respective top level of government. The US voters went to the polls on November 6 to elect their President for the 2013-2017 term as well as their legislators. The Chinese through a vastly different system met for a week at the Congress held once in five years to choose a new president and a new prime Minister as well as members of the 205 members strong Central Committee, the 25 member Politburo and the 7 member Standing Committee (brought down from 9) upon whom the state’s power will be entrusted for the next five years and most likely to be extended for another five years. 

In the United States, the President was given another term. In China, the leaders who ruled for 10 years have given way to the “fifth generation” leaders. Hu Jintao has been replaced by his Deputy Xi Jinping as Head of the Communist Party and the President of China while Premier Wen Jiabao has been replaced by his Deputy Li Keqiang. In their different ways, China and the United States have chosen in favour of continuity. In the United States, Governor Romney had promised to change directions in foreign and domestic policies that would have affected policies on handling the economy and taxation, healthcare; immigration and women issues as well as its foreign policy profoundly.  

With President Obama re-elected, the United States will no doubt continue with the economic/taxation policies that are now showing clear signs of bringing the country out of the cold. In his new administration, his healthcare programme called Obamacare will see its fruition. In foreign affairs, the President’s second administration will no doubt pursue the policies of the first term where the voters generally gave the President full marks. In fact, if foreign affairs had figured ahead of the economic issues, then the President would have won by a landslide. In a poll taken just on the eve of the election, over 80% of respondents interviewed in 35 countries wanted President Obama to return. In fact, the rest of the world is happy that he did. In this term thus the President will need to consolidate the gains of the first term in Afghanistan by ending the war there. In Iran, his policy was one of engagement against Mitt Romney’s war cry. That policy will no doubt be the preferred one in the President’s second term. In view of the rest of the world’s welcoming gesture to his second term, the President will be better advised to build up USA’s falling image in the world by responding positively to what the rest of the world thinks of the USA. 

The Middle East has changed fundamentally with the pro-people upsurges in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Syria remains a thorn. In the second term, the President will need to spin the gains for democracy in the region that he did not seriously pursue in his first term. He has neglected Palestine. He will need to do all these in his coming term if he has any intentions of going down in his history as a great President. Those who were disappointed with President Obama’s neglect of the Palestine issue have been relieved at the failed attempt of Governor Romney who left no one in doubt that he would have, if elected, allowed Tel Aviv to run Washington’s policies with regards to Palestine. 

A second term of President Obama will be gain for Asia. The USA-China strategic alliance is expected not just to enhance Asia’s importance in Washington but that of South and Southeast Asia. Hillary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar has opened tremendous possibilities and the news that President Obama will soon be visiting the once reclusive country has opened great possibilities. One huge change in President Obama’s new administration however will be the departure of Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State under whom most of the foreign policy initiatives were initiated and undertaken. Fortunately, her departure is her decision and she will continue to remain a major force in US’ domestic and international politics as she is expected to be the party’s next Presidential candidate.  Thus in foreign affairs, there is little chance that the second administration will depart from the ground work laid by her. In fact these initiatives are expected to be strengthened. 

China’s new leadership has been carefully chosen over the past five years by the outgoing leadership. In the new leadership, Xi Jinping will formally emerge with more powers than his predecessor who resigned from his position as head of the powerful military, a position that will now go to his successor giving him more authority. Nevertheless, in contrast to what the rest of the world perceives, Chinese top leadership is not “decisive and all powerful in reality.” The reason is in that top leadership is represented by individuals who represent different factions in the Chinese Communist Party that yields power without any challenge. Within the party, the new supreme leader Xi Jinping is backed by the party’s patriarch the octogenarian Jang Zemin while the new Premier is backed by leader of the other main faction the outgoing Supreme leader Hu Jintao. 

Except the fact that the “fifth generation” leaders are younger; there is little that will change in their leadership of the China they will inherit. In fact, the new leader Xi Jinping has already made it known that under his leadership and that of his compatriots, China will follow Deng Xiaopeng’s famous dictum of “communism with Chinese characteristics.’ The new leadership has been painstakingly crafted by the outgoing one where there is a clear choice of not putting at top leadership any individual with charisma, a lesson that China has learnt after its tryst with the charismatic Mao Tse Tung. The new leadership is even more innocuous than the outgoing one; something the world saw when Xi Jinping made his speech at the concluding session of the Congress that elected him and his compatriots. 

For Bangladesh, the new Obama administration will bring hope that with a new face in charge of the State Department, there could be a new beginning. The tension and animosities that had come into the relations over Dr. Mohammad Yunus could lose a little less focus. Nevertheless, in the second Obama term, the Bangladesh Government will need to demonstrate its willingness to leave the past behind to get on the right side of the second Obama administration. It should bear in mind that the Dr. Yunus issue did not only upset Hillary Clinton; it also made President Obama unhappy because Dr. Yunus is also the recipient of two of US’s most prestigious medals, the President Medal of Honour and the Congressional Medal. 

China’s new President Xi Jinping had visited Bangladesh in 2010. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited China later. Thus there has already been contact between the Bangladesh Government and the new leadership. The BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia recently visited China and also met the new leadership. The country is thus well poised to carry forward the excellent relations that have existed with China. The hiccups in relationship that came in the way when the AL led Government tended to lean heavily on the Indians have now been overcome helped partly by the fact that the Indians failed to deliver to Bangladesh what it had committed after Bangladesh had established its goodwill by delivering to the Indians the land transit on a trial basis and ensuring that Bangladesh’ soil would not be used by Indian insurgents. China has of course benefitted by its trade with Bangladesh where the balance is heavily in its favour. China has continued to remain the principal supplier of the needs of the Bangladesh armed forces. 

The recent proposal about a Bangladesh-China-India Consortium with a deep sea port at Sonadia that the Chinese discussed with Begum Zia when she visited Beijing has now attracted positive attention in New Delhi. Thus a positive spin to this by the new Chinese leadership with support from Bangladesh will no doubt make the ushering of the “fifth generation” leadership in China a positive development for Bangladesh and the region provided of course the Indians come on board. In spun with a positive mindset by the three countries, this Consortium could even attract the second Obama administration.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador to Japan and Egypt

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