Generation 40s – 四十世代

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How Donald Trump betrayed American values and Jeffersonian legacy with trip to Saudi Arabia

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

In his highly choreographed first overseas trip, President Donald Trump appeared to have repeated president Richard Nixon’s trip to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East during the Watergate crisis some 33 years ago. Like Nixon, the returning chief American diplomat remains entangled in a major scandal – Trump’s involving Russia.

Unlike Nixon, however, Trump’s choice of the Saudi kingdom as his first stop not only undermined America’s democratic allies but also disregarded the founding Jeffersonian values of the republic. His selection seemed to compensate for his anti-Islam rhetoric and minimise his disastrous immigration policy of banning Muslims from countries other than Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, where the Trump family has business deals.

Saudi Arabia has for years been considered one of the worst human rights offenders. The disoriented White House has thus mistakenly transmitted the exact antithesis of American values on religious freedom, human rights, democracy and personal liberty that would emphasise the country’s moral vision and current standing in the world.

Trump, a former businessman, is a transactional leader as opposed to a transformational one. The Trump White House, with political operatives as his brain trust, is a hodgepodge of short-term tacticians, neither fully immersed in US history nor in international affairs. Their policies appear to be measured in pure financial terms.

The foundation of American primacy has, however, derived from the reflective actions of “transformational” leaders like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.

The current White House and State Department, with Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – ­another transactional businessman – are being questioned about their abilities to manage the complex ­organisations of the US government, where, as designed, there is “nobody in charge,” as the late US statesman Harlan Cleveland put it.

Given all this, why did the White House choose the absolute Saudi monarchy, whose strict sharia law – the ­Islamic religious law Trump has repeatedly denounced – is ­inimical to American values and traditions?

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the financier and promoter of Salafism, a Sunni movement that advocates the medieval traditions of the Prophet Mohammed. These forms of Wahhabism in the Muslim faith are also being exported through the madrassa school system – the fountainhead of Islamist terrorism around the globe. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 attacks were Saudi citizens. The 9/11 Commission report found that al-Qaeda, which masterminded the attacks under Osama bin Laden, raised money from Saudi society. As a private citizen, Trump himself had called Saudi Arabia “the world’s biggest funder of terrorism”.

Tillerson acknowledged the Saudi human rights problem at a congressional hearing, followed by sending his “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, which documents human rights violations in the kingdom.

The Sunni kingdom neither tolerates religious worship by adherents of other faiths nor allows women to drive. Homosexuality is punishable by stoning to death. These sharia laws are hostile to the most conservative views of Trump’s electoral base of the Christian right.

In his recent speech at the State Department, Tillerson argued that American values must take a back seat while national security and commercial interests drive President Trump’s “America First” strategy. He maintains a US “foreign policy projected with a strong ability to enforce the protection of our freedoms with a strong military.” For him, “we can only do that with economic prosperity” as the Saudis, Russian and Chinese do.

Such economic determinism with assorted other elements of the “America First” plan – like banning or deporting immigrants – is a dramatic departure from America’s ­Jeffersonian foreign policy tradition of championing its founding values and protecting human rights.

Trump is driven by money and motivated by instant self-indulgence. When he first met President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Florida, the North Korean nuclear issue and ­bilateral trade concessions were purposefully linked for a possible deal. As the Trump family has commercial interests in China, a transactional business relationship seems to work well with Xi’s “China First” strategy and the “America First” plan. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, Trump has also changed his rhetoric as he did with China.

Trump said, “Saudi Arabia – and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend US$40 million, US$50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” His commercial interactions with the Saudi royal family go back to the 1990s, when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud had helped “bail” him out after his Plaza Hotel in New York and his Atlantic City casinos were struggling.

Unlike the civilisational societies of Saudi Arabia, Iran and even China, the United States was created by an enlightened band of founding fathers with a global vision for the new republic.

Welcoming immigrants from all corners of the globe, America has become the world and the world is America. The Jeffersonian ideals embedded in the Statue of Liberty – a gift from the French – and Ellis Island in New York must be the bedrock of American foreign policy.

The Jeffersonian inspiration is the “invisible attraction” that makes America stronger and more prosperous, not “a strong military” as Tillerson has argued. The most logical rationale came from Trump’s defence secretary, James Mattis, who wisely remarked: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

The deal-making, transactional president must not forget founding father and presidential forebear Thomas Jefferson, whose iconic memorial to the south of the White House keeps a watchful eye on the chief diplomat in the Oval Office.

Indifference to Jeffersonian values and American foreign policy tradition, which made America a great democratic nation, will have associated consequences for the troubled presidency.

Professor Patrick Mendis, a naturalised US citizen and a former State Department official and military professor during the Clinton and Bush administrations, is an associate-in-research at the Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the Harvard University or the US government



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可以預計的是,派糖派錢的保守措施,比追求嶄新發展,把人們推出舒適區(Comfort zone)的教育政策更受認同,阻力亦更少,可是近年社會上卻少有人提起,當初這些「問題」究竟從何而來:幼師為何被取消薪級表?為何會出現合約教師?事實上,兩大聘任問題的源頭,皆源於政府的教育市場化理念。

2006年,小學剛經歷了嚴峻的殺校潮,教育局為方便彈性安排人手(或曰隨時削減人手),容許學校以合約方式聘請新教師,並推出不同類型一筆過撥款,予學校聘請各類非恒常教席;2007年,政府藉推行學券計劃,取消沿用多年的「建議的幼稚園教學人員標準薪級表」,讓幼稚園直資化,幼師薪酬從此被喻為「海鮮價」。此兩項措施,反映着政府一改回歸前的管理焦點,從以往每分錢也牢牢控制的監察投入(Monitor input)改為更具彈性的監察產出(Monitor output),以各種績效指標與服務使用者的滿意度來分配資源,提升教學質素,而這亦是九十年代起政府公營部門改革(Public Sector Reform)的延伸理念。









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Opinion: Hong Kong’s science students shouldn’t be strong armed into liberal studies

‘The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives’

The recent report on “Science, Technology and Mathematics Education” (or the Tsui Lap Chee Report) issued by the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong finds our secondary school curriculum and university admissions criteria have under-emphasised science education, and that this will hamper prospects in the new economy.

Another education failure, not the subject of the Tsui Report, is the underinvestment in senior secondary and tertiary education for at least two decades. This has been the leading cause of our lacklustre economic performance.

Both failures should be corrected at the same time for the sake of Hong Kong’s economic future.

Domestic and foreign investments are attracted to localities where they can recruit the necessary skilled manpower. For a small open economy like Hong Kong, an abundance of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) graduates is absolutely necessary for attracting business investments in the new innovative technology economy.

Many commentators and even economists blame our failure to develop new innovative and technology industries on the government’s misguided belief in positive non-interventionism.

Much of this criticism is ideologically motivated rather than evidence based. It is not obvious that facilitating institutions and a pro-active policy to correct market failures and capital market imperfections, and provide preferential tax treatments and land subvention advantages for innovative and technology industries, can compensate for the lack of skilled manpower. The latter is a prerequisite for attracting investments in the new economy.

I subscribe to what I call the “Gobi Desert” narrative. Adopting the best institutions and policies in the middle of the Gobi Desert will not spawn new industries because no one is willing to go there to live. It will remain empty and desolate.

In Hong Kong, among the population aged 25 to 34 in 2012, only 34.7 per cent had university degrees versus 49.3 per cent in Singapore. Among those aged 35 to 44, the corresponding figures were 24.8 per cent and 40.4 per cent. Is it at all surprising that Hong Kong has lagged behind Singapore in new economy activity given our inability to attract educated and skilled workers and our failure to invest in education?

This does not mean that everyone will become a scientist, engineer or technologist. But it does mean more and more jobs will require workers to possess scientific and technological know-how. Workers in the new economy must possess an understanding of the fundamentals and principles of science and technology to engage in lifelong learning.

Government policy can address the problems of attracting skilled workers to Hong Kong but it must also address the greater challenge of developing home-grown talent.

In this regard, curriculum reform in the schools and admissions criteria of the universities should be revisited.

Nearly half of senior secondary students have no exposure to a science subject. Moreover, students taking advanced mathematics have dropped from 23 per cent in 2012, when the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) was introduced, to 14 per cent in 2016.

Moreover, over two-thirds of the students sitting the HKDSE examinations took only two electives due to overemphasis on the four core subjects—English, Chinese, mathematics, and liberal studies. Before 2012, students took on average four elective subjects outside three core subjects. The dominance of the four HKDSE core subjects crowd out electives and effectively stream students away from science.

The Tsui Report recommends trimming the core HKDSE subjects to achieve better balance between science and non-science subjects. It does not recommend which ones to trim, but liberal studies is an obvious target, which could either be dropped or changed into a pass-fail subject. This would create room for more students to pursue a balanced choice of elective subjects between science and non-science subjects.

Students showcase their all-weather electricity generator prototype during the 35th Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair held in Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Xinhua

It very sensibly recommends module flexibility for science subjects to cater for a range of aptitudes among students, and greater recognition of advanced mathematics to encourage its inclusion as a core subject.

It also calls for universities to review their admissions criteria to redress the imbalance between core and elective subjects to achieve a better balance between science and non-science subjects.

The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives. The large majority of students, especially those with self-doubt about abilities, have chosen non-science subjects in a bid to improve their public examination scores as they compete for heavily-subsidised scarce university places.

Liberal studies is often mistaken for a “liberal arts” education, which it is not. The latter is a conception of university education that covers a balance of humanities, social and natural science subjects, and generally refers to studies not relating to professional, vocational or technical education. Given this, dropping liberal studies from the HKDSE core will better prepare students that wish to pursue a “liberal arts” education.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong

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Is China’s belt and road ready to be the new face of globalisation?

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Andreea Brînza says the initiative has plenty of ambition but still lacks a clear vision or some early project successes. And, importantly, China’s relatively weak soft power remains a drawback at this stage

If Thomas Friedman wrote his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree today, maybe the Lexus would be replaced with a Chinese vehicle, like a Geely, for example, because globalisation has a new pole: China.

In the past, the US led the wave of globalisation through its economic might, soft power and hyper-connectivity. But with the Trump administration now promoting protectionism, China has replaced the US as a standard-bearer for globalisation. This new face of globalisation has Asian features, too, thanks to Beijing’s new soft power strategy: the Belt and Road Initiative.

Formerly known as the “One Belt, One Road” strategy, it was interpreted by Western observers as an ellipse of roads, railways and pipelines which link China to Europe. The new name emphasises that the idea is much more than a single belt and a single maritime corridor; it’s more of a network of corridors and roads which connect all parts of Eurasia.

Still, a quick look at the map will make us understand that the Belt and Road Initiative is not only a connection by land and water, but specifically one that encapsulates all Chinese investments along the way. If it were only a road, railway or corridor, it would pass through conflict zones like Afghanistan. Therefore, we should see the belt and road more as a zone of investment, rather than a de facto road.

Moreover, the recent Chinese investments in Africa and Latin America, placed under the umbrella of the belt and road, support the idea of a worldwide strategy. Thus, the belt and road should be perceived as a Chinese strategy for the 21st century and as a new type of Chinese external policy. The belt and road may well be Xi Jinping’s (習近平) landmark strategy, similar to Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) “peaceful rise”.

Some people no doubt hold the view that the belt and road is just an iron silk road, defined by infrastructure projects like the railways which connect China with Europe. But those railways aren’t new. Moreover, the first route of the iron Silk Road, from Chongqing ( 重慶 ) to Duisburg, Germany, was revived by Hewlett-Packard in 2011 to transport its products to Europe, and not by the Chinese government or Chinese companies. HP’s example was followed by other companies, giving an example of the potential of the Belt and Road Initiative.

We can also see the belt and road as a new face of globalisation. Even before the belt and road forum held on Sunday and Monday in Beijing, Chinese state media were already referring to it as “Globalisation 2.0”. On a theoretical basis, it fits perfectly with the idea of globalisation, because the initiative sets out to enhance the interconnectivity between countries and people, it promotes free trade, aims to become an avatar for China’s soft power strategy, and wants to help the countries along the road to develop.

But on the ground, the reality may be a little different.

“The Belt and Road Initiative, in a sense, is China’s answer to globalisation,” said Zhou Wenzhong, the secretary general of the Boao Forum for Asia. That much is clear, but how? Until now, despite the stated goals, China has yet to articulate a coherent strategy for the belt and road.

What does the project really involve and how will it be implemented? For example, how does China plan to achieve policy coordination in the belt and road countries, and how does it plan to strengthen people-to-people ties? Will the belt and road simply remain an infrastructure project? Nobody – apart from the Chinese officials, who have been quiet – really knows, but each scholar sees the project differently. There is no consistency even in the use of the name of the initiative. Many scholars still prefer the old “One Belt, One Road”.

One of the main goals of the belt and road is to forge connections within Eurasia and improve its infrastructure. But, almost four years after the announcement of the initiative, none of the projects envisioned by China has been completed. Even the most important Chinese project in Europe, the Budapest-Belgrade high-speed railway, is being held up by European Union regulations.

Another mission of the belt and road is to build bonds between people. The achievements in this area are debatable. In the Western world, the Chinese government actively tries to promote stronger ties through its Confucius institutes and various student grants and exchanges. But despite its efforts, China lacks the same sway with young people as Japan or South Korea, with their unmatched cultural soft power.

For China and the belt and road, this is a drawback, because without strong social ties, it is difficult to persuade people to open up to Chinese investments and opportunities. On the contrary, lately, debates have begun even in Europe about the need to restrict Chinese investments in the EU, on the basis of reciprocity, as foreign companies face numerous barriers in China.

Without a clear vision of the belt and road, without tangible achievements and with an inefficient soft power strategy, China doesn’t yet have the power to become a new driver of globalisation, even if the US has lost some of its worldwide appeal under the populist and anti-globalist Trump administration.

But let’s not be too pessimistic. Maybe the glorious times of the Tang dynasty, when China was the soft-power leader of Asia, may return, restoring China to the status it has longed for. And if in the past globalisation had the face of Disney characters with Mickey Mouse ears, maybe, in the near future, Disney will be replaced by the Wanda Group, and globalisation will have a panda’s face.

Andreea Brînza is vice-president of The Romanian Institute for the Study of the Asia-Pacific. Her research focuses on the geopolitics and geoeconomics of China and especially on the Belt and Road initiative