Generation 40s – 四十世代

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政治抉擇 兩惡取其輕

信報財經新聞
忽然文化
2017-02-18

占飛

本來,民主選舉就是要選出能夠造福人民的候選人。可是,當兩個候選人都不符標準時,選民只有兩個選擇:不投票(No vote),或投票給lesser evil,所謂「兩害取其輕」也。去年的美國總統選舉,只有希拉莉和特朗普兩個候選人,很多評論都稱之為「兩害取其輕」的選舉。

用「兩害取其輕」翻譯lesser evil,不算十分準確。Evil是個宗教概念。對耶教徒──無論是羅馬天主教徒抑或新教基督教徒──幹了evil的事,就是犯了宗教的罪(Sin)。犯了宗教的罪,是要受懲罰的。在此世逃脫懲罰,死後仍要受天主或上帝審判,懲罰是躲不了的。對天主教徒來說,宗教的大罪、重罪犯得多,可能上不了天堂,要下地獄。

被動地作惡

此所以邪惡(Evil)與魔鬼(Devil)只是一字母之差。幹evil的事,就是與魔鬼為伍。韋斯曼(Eyal Weizman)在《萬惡中最輕者》(The Least of All Possible Evils)書中云:魔鬼是6-6-6的話,那lesser evil只是6-6-5,差別很小。萬惡中取最輕者仍是惡,仍會為害,不單害別人,還害自己──喪失了最寶貴的靈魂是也!「兩害取其輕」的害,即沒有「害人亦害己」的意思。Evil,譯為惡可能更好,作惡,就是為害個人的良知或良心。

不投票論者認為:lesser evil始終是evil。兩惡取其小,依然是作了惡。為存清白,應該不投票或投白票。反對不投票論則認為,不投票給「較小之惡」等於幫助「較大之惡」取勝。對惡袖手旁觀,表面上沒有作惡,實則是被動的(Passively)作了惡。正所謂「我不殺伯仁,伯仁為我而死」。漢娜鄂蘭(Hannah Arendt)在《平庸之為惡》(The Banality of Evil)中指:「選擇『較小之惡』的人,太輕率地忘記了:他選擇了惡。(He who chooses for the lesser evil all too readily forgets having chosen evil.)」正是這個意思。

「兩惡取其輕」的問題很早就困擾天主教的神學家。公元四世紀,聖奧古斯丁(St. Augustine)便提出「惡非實體論」:上帝創造萬物,如果惡是實體存在之物,那誰來創造惡呢?不就是上帝嗎?可是,上帝是至善的,本身不可能有丁點兒的惡,也就不可能創造惡(上帝也不是無所不能的呀!)。惡不是實體,那惡是什麼?聖奧古斯丁的答案是:惡只是善的失去(Loss of good)或善的否定(Negation of good)。

作「必要之惡」

「惡非實體論」,主要為對抗當時流行的摩尼教。聖奧古斯丁在歸信天主教前,曾是摩尼教徒。摩尼教相信,善和惡都是實體存在,善是光明和真理,惡是黑暗和錯誤。萬事萬物中,都存在善和惡、光明和黑暗、真理與錯誤的鬥爭。人要得到救贖,就要取善去惡,得光明除黑暗。摩尼教主張善惡二元論。聖奧古斯丁則主張一元論──只有善是實體,惡不是。故此,大惡、小惡、較小之惡、較大之惡……只要是惡,都不應為之,頂多是容忍,因為有時好人也不得不行「必要之惡」(Necessary evil)。比如「正義之戰」(Jus ad bellum):雖然所有戰爭都是惡,甚至是萬惡之首,但反侵略、反壓迫、護教,便不得不戰。戰爭中必要殺人,殺人是惡,違反十誡,但打「正義之戰」,就不得不殺人,故此是「必要之惡」。

在羅馬君士坦丁大帝(Constantine the Great)在位期間,他頒令天主教為國教,教廷的勢力日益壯大,不單天主教至尊無上,且教廷擁有政治、經濟甚至軍事權力。聖奧古斯丁的「惡非實體論」來得十分及時,無他,教廷插手世俗事務,難免要「兩惡取其輕」和作一些「必要之惡」。聖奧古斯丁正正在教義上「合理化」此等行為。

時至當今,羅馬教廷有時也要順應時代。比如教宗若望保祿二世(Pope John Paul II)在《生命的福音》通諭(Evangelium Vitae)中就說到:教廷雖認為墮胎是作惡,但假如無法阻止墮胎合法化,教徒只能盡量減少其禍害。這就是「兩惡取其輕」矣!教宗本篤十六世(Pope Benedict XVI)亦發過通諭指出,教廷雖反對避孕和使用避孕工具,但在HIV 肆虐的地區,使用避孕套、派安全針筒予吸毒者,不算是助紂為虐,協助犯宗教的罪。

由此可見,教廷沒有明言,現實是默許「兩惡取其輕」。畢竟,正如佐治奧威爾(George Orwell)所言:「政治是兩惡取其小。」(Politics is the choice between the lesser of two evils.)

撰文 : 占飛

善惡 一銀兩面

世間事往往善惡混雜,不易清楚的劃出界線:說這樣做就是善,那樣做就是惡。任何選擇,都可能有利有弊。斯時也,應該如何抉擇?

雙面效應原則

耶教倫理學家於是提出「雙面效應原則」(The principle of double effect)。簡要言之,這個原則包括下列4點:(1)該選擇或行為必須本身是善的,至少無善無惡。(2)該選擇或行為之善,不能由惡達至。換句話說,不能先作惡,以取得善果。比如「地獄式訓練」培養運動精英,就違反了這個原則,因為誰都不敢肯定「地獄式訓練」必修成正果。萬一失敗,受「地獄式訓練」者身心受損,卻無法成為精英運動員,豈不是未見其利,先受其害;作了惡,而善不可得?

(3)行動者選擇某一行為時,動機須為善,不是為惡。好心做壞事不算作惡。比如捐款救災,善款卻被貪官據為私有,持財作惡,那不算違反這個原則。但捐款動機不是為救濟災民,而是沽名釣譽,那便不算為善矣!(4)行為的後果必須合乎比例的善惡兼得,且善多於惡。

第(4)個條件是最難達至的。事前,誰敢肯定行為產生的後果必然善多於惡?冷戰期間,美國視共產陣營為萬惡之首,惡莫大於共產主義或社會主義,因此,美國對殘民以自肥,孟子所謂「聞誅一夫紂矣」的一夫獨裁者,也給予金錢援助和武器供一夫鎮壓人民,並以「兩惡取其輕」合理化這個外交政策──此政策名為柯克帕特里克主義(The Kirkpatrick Doctrine)──列根正是遵從柯克帕特里克主義而支持危地馬拉、菲律賓、阿根廷等國的獨裁政權,以及安哥拉、尼加拉瓜等地的反蘇游擊隊。最不智的是,援助和訓練阿富汗的聖戰士乃至拉登、塔利班等,間接導致現今的伊斯蘭激進恐怖主義。凡此種種均說明,當初以為選擇的是「較小之惡」(Lesser evil),發展下去,卻變成「較大之惡」(Greater evil)!

撰文 : 占飛


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Shinzo Abe, friend of Trump and lacking Asian allies, is a true son of modern Japan

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-02-16
Jean-Pierre Lehmann says the prime minister’s cosying up to the US is consistent with the ideological arc of modern Japan, which more than a century ago decided to cast its lot with the West, turning its back on Asia

 

“Datsu-A, Nyu-O” was the title of a Japanese publication that first appeared in 1885, 17 years after the start of the so-called Meiji Restoration (1868), a period marking Japan’s amazing drive to modernisation. Not until perhaps the reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in China, in 1979, had the world seen anything comparable. From backward feudal isolation, in the space of a few short decades, Japan emerged as a modern, industrialised, imperialist world power. It was the only non-Western nation that succeeded in meeting the West on Western terms.

The document that set out the vision of this new Japan was titled “The Charter Oath of Five Articles”, the fourth and fifth of which read: “Evil customs of the past shall be discontinued, and new customs shall be based on the just laws of nature”; “Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world in order to promote the welfare of the empire.” The knowledge being sought was in fact from the West. The Datsu-A, Nyu-O publication – which literally means, “Exit Asia, Enter the West” – confirmed that promoting the welfare of the empire required “de-Asianisation” and “Westernisation”.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Japan learned and assimilated a lot from the West, primarily Britain, Germany, France and the US: constitutional law, jurisprudence, banking and finance, education, capitalism, modern military and naval strategy, railway building, industry, music, painting, sports (baseball from the US in 1873), lighthouses, textile manufacturing, watch making … the list runs on. Until the undertaking of these reforms, ever since the fifth century, Japan had been a student of China and, to a lesser extent, Korea. Thus, “evil customs of the past” referred to Chinese learning.

Reflecting this vision and trend, in the course of modern history, Japan has formed three major alliances with Western powers: Britain, from 1902 to 1922; Nazi Germany, from 1938 to 1945; and the US since 1953. While Japan had a number of Asian colonies (Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria) and invaded most countries in East Asia, it has never had, does not have, and, based on the current schmoozing between Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe, is unlikely to have any Asian allies. While playing golf with Trump in Florida, Abe pointed out that his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960, was the last Japanese prime minister to have played golf with an American president (Dwight Eisenhower).

In this June 1957 photo, then Japanese prime minister Nobusuke Kishi shakes hands with then senator Prescott S. Bush, watched by then US president Dwight Eisenhower. Photo: AP

Kishi in many ways embodied the Datsu-A, Nyu-O syndrome. During the war as the senior official in charge of the industrial policy of Manchukuo, he was responsible for the abduction of hundreds of thousands of Chinese slave labour, for which he earned the sobriquet Showa no yokai – “Showa-era monster”. For his war crimes, Kishi spent three years in Sugamo prison, but was released by the US as the Chinese liberation, the Korean war and the cold war changed the picture of the Asia-Pacific theatre. He was judged a good candidate to help lead Japan in a pro-US direction.

While sucking up to its American ally, Tokyo insults its former Asian colonies and enemies

Washington was not to be disappointed. In 1960, in spite of massive demonstrations by Japanese pacifists, Kishi, then prime minister, managed to ram through the Diet (Japan’s parliament) the ratification of the US-Japan security treaty that had been signed at the end of the US’ military occupation of Japan and that has served Japan so overwhelmingly well for the ensuing decades. Japan was transformed from America’s hated enemy to its pampered protégé, a status for which Kishi, who was dubbed “America’s Favourite War Criminal”, was an important architect.

Abe’s main obsession in kowtowing so obsequiously to Washington was to preserve the treaty and the alliance with the US. As far as one can judge from the fraternising last weekend, it would seem to be “mission successful”, though with Trump’s renowned volatility on the Japanese front, cautious optimism would be more in order than euphoria. Since the news of Trump’s election in November created a degree of panic in Tokyo, Abe has sought many means to brown-nose America. In December, he paid a “historic” visit to Pearl Harbour.

The Datsu-A, Nyu-O syndrome continues to be flagrantly illustrated, for example, from the fact that just a day after Abe’s trip to Pearl Harbour, his defence minister, Tomomi Inada, made an official pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, where, inter alia, “repose” the spirits of a number of Japanese class-A war criminals, which is no doubt where Kishi’s spirit would also be had he been executed rather than liberated by the Americans. While sucking up to its American ally, Tokyo insults its former Asian colonies and enemies.

Whether the consolidation of the US-Japan security treaty (if indeed this is to happen) will strengthen peace in the Asia-Pacific remains to be seen. We live in very dangerous times: Asia generally, northeast Asia in particular, is a geopolitical cauldron. As Deng Yuwen wrote in the Post recently, “in the Trump era, we can’t rule out war between China and the US”.

Were Japan to re-enter Asia, contritely for the crimes committed in the past and constructively to bring about greater peace and prosperity in the turbulent continent, the world would be on a positive-sum game trajectory and the impact on Asia would be tremendous. As it is, by persisting in the Datsu-A, Nyu-O syndrome, tensions are exacerbated and the risks of war enhanced.

China was the US’ ally against Japan (and Nazi Germany) in the second world war, it would be a terribly tragic paradox if Japan and the US were to ally against China in a third world war.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is emeritus professor at IMD, founder of The Evian Group, and visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong


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Trump may be bad news for US universities, but Chinese institutions could benefit

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-02-06
Gerard A. Postiglione says Trump’s policies are already causing disruptions on campuses in the US, an opportunity competing Chinese universities could seize to get ahead. Overall, however, a deteriorating bilateral relationship will bring more harm than good
Like never before, universities have become instruments of competition between nations. Diplomatic relations can have major repercussions. When the US and China were on the verge of normalising relations in the 1970s, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping ( 鄧小平 ) became adamant that China should have a thousand talented scientists who would be recognised around the world. Ezra Vogel recounts the story of a 1978 phone call to president Jimmy Carter at 3am, Washington time, by his science adviser, who was visiting China at the time, because Deng wanted quick approval to send several hundred Chinese to study at American universities.

Since then, diplomatic relations between the US and China have steadily improved, through not without regular periodic strains over economic, political and military issues. Nevertheless, economic interdependence and finely tuned statecraft ensured that cool heads prevailed in times of stress, and economic progress for both countries continued for several decades.

Today, there are signs that US-China relations are in for a jolt. Newly installed US President Donald Trump has threatened to undo 40 years of US-China diplomacy and ignite a trade war between the world’s two largest economies. The leaders of both countries have a similar goal. For Trump, it is to “make America great again”. For President Xi Jinping (習近平), it is to rejuvenate China and restore it to its place when it led the world. While China has declared its support for deepening economic globalisation, the new US administration has turned inward to save jobs for workers who fell victim to what journalist Thomas Friedman calls the “flattening world”.

Trump’s vitriol was initially met with anger from Beijing. That soon turned to laughter at what the Chinese press perceived as amateur statesmanship. However, the possibility of new tariffs to block access to the US market is now being met by plans for a Chinese economic pivot. If tensions continue, there could be several potential consequences for universities.

First, while US universities are now scrambling to become sanctuaries for immigrant students and safe havens for scholars needing rescue from visa-banned countries, American universities and programmes in China may also feel pressure from a Trump administration. The political atmosphere at Chinese universities has tightened, but American campuses and programmes in China continue to find ways to get round internet restrictions and operate with little interference. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress are already harassing American campuses in China and we can expect more of the same from Trump Republicans.

Second, Trump’s contention that China is stealing American jobs, even though the decision to transfer jobs was made by US corporations, may come to affect universities. Chinese scientists who graduate from US universities and join the American workforce may face a backlash, or even tougher visa restrictions, if they are perceived as taking jobs from American graduates. Trump stokes suspicion about the Chinese as hackers, which may create an even more toxic atmosphere for Chinese scholars studying and visiting US universities, especially in fields such as computer science, a field that China sees as being essential to its own economic restructuring.

Third, former president Barack Obama’s initiative to send thousands of US students to China for language study will become less popular in an environment of China-bashing under Trump. The aim of the Obama initiative – to build trust and understanding – could be severely compromised.

Fourth, the illiberal turn of Trump’s policies, including the higher entry barriers for scholars from majority-Muslim countries, may make young scholars and scientists from some countries give more serious consideration to the long-term advantages of studying at a Chinese university.

Fifth, while Trump has weakened the resonance of liberalism and globalisation in American universities, China stands to gain as it takes a lead in economic globalisation with its “One Belt, One Road” initiative and funding mechanisms such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Furthermore, the elimination of Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) proposal has opened up a leadership void.

With as many college-educated citizens as the US by 2020, several globally competitive universities, and generous funding for attracting notable scientists for visits, China stands to gain. Much energy at American universities will be focused on fending off Trumpism, amid an international atmosphere made unsteady by possible changes in US policy in Europe and Asia. China’s top-tier universities may advance in global visibility. China is already the third most popular destination for international students.

Sixth, the wild card is tension in the South China Sea. For China, the Taiwan issue is non-negotiable and territorial claims are a matter for countries that have claims. Should this situation intensify, educational and academic exchanges would surely fall victim to any conflict. For example, China may restrict the Fulbright programme, as it has done in the past. Such a move could lead to a tit-for-tat tussle with the Confucian Institutes in the US.

Moreover, Trump’s reversal of the TTP has weakened Southeast Asian nations’ balancing act between China and the US. The pattern of overseas study of Southeast Asian students would shift even more to China.

There will be no winners in a changing relationship between the US and China; universities in both countries could suffer. Nevertheless, the advantage could go to China if it continues to invest heavily in teaching and research, and further its internationalisation. With increased autonomy, China’s research universities will not only help to restructure the economy by injecting more innovation into the mix, but also extend its influence on international higher education.

The US-China relationship under the Trump administration will surely test the autonomy of universities in both countries, and the potential of the academic community to be a force for rational discussion. This is an opportunity for universities to distinguish themselves not only as instruments of national competition but also as institutions for international peace. Universities in both countries may not be able to eliminate the confrontations that may be in store under a Trump administration, but there is much they can do to keep US-China relations on an even keel until 2020.

Gerard A. Postiglione is professor and chair of higher education at the University of Hong Kong


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Who can save the world from being trampled by Trump?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-02-03
Kevin Rafferty says the US president’s apocalyptic policies pose a grave risk, not only for the future of America as a nation, but the fragile planet itself
Commentators and pundits, American and foreign, have sadly misunderstood US President Donald Trump. They expected him to calm down and become presidential, at least when he became the unlikely ­Republican candidate, or when he beat Hillary Clinton – or, at the very least, when he went through the solemn pomp and panoply of the inauguration and he took possession of the Oval Office.

It is now clear that Trump must be taken both literally and seriously, however outrageous his demands, however personal, dark and unrealistic his world view. He will not let it stand in his way that he was the choice of only 27 per cent of eligible voters or that he lost to Clinton by 2.8 popular million votes.

He believes that if he promised or threatened it on the campaign trail, victory gives him the mandate to do it. And he has set to work like a Force 13 hurricane, caring little about anyone standing in his way.

For America itself, there will be a price to pay as Trump’s hyperactivity in producing executive orders, firing people and hectoring bosses to bring factories back raises heavy protectionist costs. But the rest of the world has greater reason to beware. Being “Trumpled”, that is, trampled by Trump, is a real danger not only for other countries but for the fragile planet itself.

In his inaugural address, Trump thumped out his determination to “Make America Great Again”. With little grace or eloquence, he let out an angry patriotic roar vowing to recreate brilliant shining America, improve education, bring back industry, create jobs, get rid of crime and restore power to the people, not the corrupt elite of Washington.

He went to work immediately. His now notorious refugee and immigration ban even on people vetted and given visas was only the culmination of the first week of his hurricane. Trump claimed that all he wanted to do was keep the US safe from the “bad dudes” out there. But terrorists from the countries banned were responsible for zero American deaths between 1975 and 2015, whereas terrorists from Saudi Arabia killed 2,369 Americans, and those from the United Arab Emirates killed 314. Both these countries were missing from Trump’s list.

For a sense of perspective, jihadists have killed 94 people in the US since 9/11, but 301,797 Americans have been shot dead by other Americans in the past decade, 21 of them by toddlers. Between 2005 and 2014, nine Americans were killed by Islamic jihadists – who in most cases were US citizens, not immigrants.

Trump started with an order to undermine Obamacare; he went on to authorise building the infamous wall with Mexico, and perhaps impose duties of 20 per cent on Mexican goods to pay for it; to remove roadblocks from the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and promise to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico; he expressed his personal support for torture to extract information; he promised new trade deals and pressured US firms to bring jobs back; he pledged a stronger military to crush America’s enemies; and sacked four key state department management officials with 150 years of combined experience in “house cleaning”. Dissenting bureaucrats were told to obey or quit.

In between, he attacked the media for not seeing the hundreds of thousands of invisible people really occupying the empty spaces on the National Mall at his inauguration, and for not counting up to five million fraudulent voters who had denied him victory in the popular vote.

Americans have only themselves to blame: they voted Trump into power. Foreigners are not so lucky: they clearly get no say in Trump’s world.

If Trump carries out the foreign policies he promised, the already fragile global geopolitical, economic, trade and environment system will be devastated. Economic progress made by many developing nations will be threatened as America turns inwards and protectionist.

There are bigger dangers to the Earth itself. Trump’s professed policies risk subjecting the world to a slow suffocating death as he disregards international climate change treaties [10] and encourages a new carbon economy. Or it could suffer a fiery death in war as Trump destroys old alliances and picks fights that could escalate dangerously. This, of course, is all too apocalyptic. But Trump’s policies are apocalyptic.

That’s why editors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the “Doomsday Clock” 30 seconds closer to midnight, now just 2½ minutes away.

Trump’s way of changing the world is equally dangerous. He continues to behave like a real estate mogul, cajoling, hectoring, bullying and shaming rivals or clients to grovel to get his way.

Sadly, it is hard to see any world leader with the stature and courage to challenge Trump in the name of the fragile Earth. World Bank and International Monetary Fund leaders, quick to give their opinions on Brexit, threats from disease and other crises, have been silent, perhaps for fear of upsetting their largest shareholder, the US.

There is talk of Trump getting together with his best buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to carve up the 21st-century world as Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill divided the post-second-world-war world at Yalta.

Who gets to control Europe, China, Japan and the rest of Asia, Africa and Oceania may be up for grabs, unless China is brought into a triumvirate to control the world.

This would require an unlikely deal by the dealmaker, not least because of his strident claims that China stole US jobs and sapped the strength of its industry, and his condemnation of Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea.

Both President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) and Premier Li Keqiang ( 李克) have spoken up for the global commons but, to be a true world leader, Beijing would have to throw off centuries of history of the Middle Kingdom used to seeing neighbours as vassal states paying tribute. It would require China to join forces with other leaders in Asia and Europe in asserting the overriding needs of the Earth.

German chancellor Angela Merkel understands the need for global wisdom, but she and other European leaders are threatened by populist parties, encouraged by Trump and sometimes by Putin, who would happily break up the European Union.

Japan has been a great beneficiary of the peace and economic progress since the second world war. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sights are set on a deal with Trump and rewriting history, rather than seeking allies who could make common cause in keeping the world – including the US itself, which would suffer from protectionism – open and safe against Trump’s threats. Abe and UK Prime Minister Theresa May should understand that being America’s mistress can only end in disaster when Trump makes the rules.

The important point is that Trump is wrong: the fragile Earth of the 21st century needs leaders with global, not greedy nationalistic, solutions for our common problems.

Kevin Rafferty worked for the World Bank and reported from Washington DC under six US presidents


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US-Thailand friendship turns cold, further weakening America’s influence in Asia

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-11-28

Benjamin Zawacki

Benjamin Zawacki says the gradual loss of a solid US ally in the region will only be exacerbated by the Thai king’s death and Donald Trump’s election as US president

Recent momentous events in Thailand and the United States are more connected than they seem, and will have an impact on both nations for years to come. In mid-October, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyedaj, born in the US and the only king most Thais had ever known, passed away after 70 years on the throne. A month later, political neophyte Donald Trump was elected the 45th US president, defeating a candidate who had spent a quarter of a century in the corridors of American power. Bilateral relations between these two treaty allies, already at an historical ebb, are now set for further, faster, and ever more costly decline.

Thailand and the US emerged from the second world war with common cause as the cold war got under way. After taking the throne, King Bhumibol committed Thai troops to assist the war effort in Indochina. When Bangkok finally dismissed the 50,000 US soldiers based in Thailand in the mid-1970s, it was the king who assured that the closing of one chapter was merely path and prelude to another. A decade of rising trade, refugee assistance and large-scale joint military exercises followed.

Enter 1992. In Bangkok, the king reached the zenith of his power and international prestige, when his intervention amid violent unrest resulted in a dictator’s departure and five years of democratic “spring”. In Washington, president Bill Clinton won the White House, alongside first lady and future candidate Hillary, and backed Thailand’s post-cold-war trajectory.

But the unravelling began in 1997 with Clinton’s heavy-handed and ham-fisted response to Thailand’s financial crisis, contravening the king’s model of a “sufficiency economy”. His successor’s “War on Terror”, joined by a Thai prime minister often at odds with the monarchy, further strained relations. President George W. Bush’s unlawful torture programme began on Thai soil, and his response to a 2006 coup d’état was contradictory and self-defeating. During a visit two years later, he shocked his hosts by not meeting the ageing king.

By the time President Barack Obama placed Thailand atop his second-term travel schedule, he had all but ignored the country for four years and would fail to turn the symbolic gesture into substance. Critically, however, militating against Obama’s drift was a policy articulated in late 2011. The vision of then secretary of state Hillary Clinton for a US “pivot” to Asia would depend on long-time friends like Thailand. In addition to political influence, economic growth, military projection and national security, central to the policy was the advancement of US “values”: human rights, humanitarian assistance, rule of law, democracy.

Ironically, voters in the recent US election placed far more weight on Clinton’s handling of official State Department email than on her foreign policy experience and acumen. Thus, following the death of the single most steadfast US ally in Southeast Asia since the second world war, the pivot – and Thailand’s pivotal role in it – has likewise passed. Foreign policy was limited and largely incoherent in Trump’s election campaign, characterised by an isolationism both anachronistic and ill-advised.

Yet, Asian allies matter to the US because China is not one. Its expansion into Southeast Asia has been comprehensive and swift, particularly in Thailand, which separates the all-important Strait of Malacca from the volatile South China Sea. Through the strait passes one-third of global trade and two-thirds of all oil and liquefied natural gas.

No less important, China’s model of authoritarian capitalism has been increasingly embraced across the political spectrum. Advancing Thailand’s 2014 coup were popular and prolonged demonstrations against democracy. The currency of American values has plummeted; how much more might they do so under a president who holds them in similarly low esteem?

As tens of millions of Thais mourn King Bhumibol and an equal number of Americans decry Trump’s election, a valuable relationship pivots sharply in the wrong direction.

Benjamin Zawacki is author of the forthcoming book, Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the US and a Rising China