Your leader pieces on Trump in Asia (December 2016 issue) had a tinge of cautious pessimism about them, which is understandable. The US President-elect’s seemingly isolationist tendencies could open up a power vacuum in Asia if the US withdraws, leading to potentially worrying scenarios such as China stepping in to fill the gap, or an Asian arms race, maybe nuclear, as countries rush to replace their erstwhile protector.
However, we should look at the possibly positive aspects too. Trump’s proposals to reduce troops in South Korea, for instance, might help to reduce tensions with China as America’s despised role as the world’s ‘policeman’ is lessened. And his threatening stance and lack of diplomacy might actually help to curb China’s notorious protectionism and hence open up free trade there.
There are no doubt elements to dislike in Trump the man, and caution must be exercised in dealing with such a capricious character who has been handed so much global clout. But some of the political fears he has evoked may yet prove unfounded, even if he does, in the end, mean what he says.
Scandal’s strategic impact
South Korea’s continuing woes under the corrupt Park Geun-hye are depressing enough (‘A rudderless ship of state’, Asian Affairs, Dec. 2016), but even more concerning is that the scandal is giving fuel to the fire of Kim Jon-un’s provocations as North Korea takes greater strides towards acquiring reliable nuclear weapons. To stand against the threat from the north, South Korea needs to make the most of its trilateral security arrangements with Japan and the US (though that may now change in light of shifts in the political landscape), which Park, despite her shortcomings, has fostered and strengthened. The paralysis caused by South Korea’s internal crisis could not have come at a worse time.
Tough measures for tough times
Thank you to AK Bhattacharya for an incisive and balanced piece on India’s demonetisation. No one can deny the panic and inconvenience the move to withdraw Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes has caused across the country, but I believe it is a temporary and necessary pain, like pulling out a rotten tooth. The intention behind Shri Modi’s move is clearly to keep controls on black money, which helps to fund terrorists, mafia, corrupt politicians and other anti-social elements. The people of India have to endure this short-term difficulty for longer-term benefits.
Of course, AK Bhattacharya is right to suggest that there is also a political motive behind demonetisation. The Modi government is facing an enormous task as it attempts to make huge improvements and cannot be blamed for employing measures to try and keep optimism alive in a time of economic and political worries at home and abroad.
Let us give the Indian government the benefit of the doubt and see this as the first step towards bigger, bolder steps in fighting corruption, both in the streets and in the halls of power.
Pride without prejudice
Asian Affairs’ obituary for Sir Mota Singh was one of several I read in the national and local press, which all revealed both the monumental accomplishments and humility of the man. To achieve so much against such odds as he faced is remarkable, and should remind us all that hard work, resilience and compassion are vital components of any proud, civilised person and society. The late Sir Mota makes me proud to be a Sikh.