New Straits Times - - Opinion -

HEAR­ING and read­ing the i nten­sity of re­port­ing on the vis­its by United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael, and the dif­fer­ent ways Trump was greeted by the hosts, have got many think­ing that per­haps there is more be­hind the hugs and hand­shakes dis­played for the world to see.

One must ob­tain a real un­der­stand­ing of what is go­ing on be­tween the coun­tries.

More of­ten, the mes­sage re­mains shrouded in mys­tery, only to be re­vealed at the right time.

It is nor­mal for world lead­ers, as diplo­matic pro­to­col de­mands it, upon their first meet­ing or be­fore they part, to shake hands or ex­change a hug or two as a sig­nal that ev­ery­thing has gone well with their meet­ings.

Lately, how­ever, we are see­ing lead­ers em­brac­ing one an­other to mark the success of their talks and that the re­la­tions be­tween their coun­tries have reached a new level.

On one level, the dif­fer­ences in de­meanour and body lan­guage are cul­tur­ally bi­ased. West­ern­ers ex­tend a hand­shake at their first meet­ing. Asians bow in front of the guests or clasp the hands of the other.

In oth­ers cases, main guests will rub noses as in New Zeal-and, or kiss one an­other’s cheeks, like in Arab coun­tries.

In Iran, its lead­ers em­brace their guests first on the right side of the shoul­der, fol­lowed by an­other on the left and, fi­nally, again to the right.

This may well be the prac­tice in other Arab coun­tries.

On an­other level, greet­ings are ex­changed by lead­ers through what is known in Rus­sia as bearhugs, mark­ing a cer­tain level of progress in re­la­tions be­tween coun­tries.

Such hugs sig­nal that the re­la­tions be­tween the coun­tries will be raised from nor­mal to strate­gic, or from this, to a com­pre­hen­sive and strate­gic one.

These hugs were ev­i­dent be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak and the Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping when­ever the two met. The re­la­tions be­tween Malaysia and China have reached greater heights.

In the sit­u­a­tion be­tween Malaysia and Saudi Ara­bia, the sig­nif­i­cance of the vis­its in re­cent times could be un­der­lined by the na­ture of the hugs from the sim­ple and for­mal, to a more se­ri­ous and friendlier one.

These were ev­i­dent in the Malaysia-China case and the Malaysia-Saudi Ara­bia sit­u­a­tion.

There were, in fact, very good rea­sons why they had hap­pened this way. Malaysia has been able to en­joy the high­est state of re­la­tions with the two coun­tries and has also en­gaged in ben­e­fi­cial con­tacts be­tween gov­ern­ments and peo­ple.

On a fi­nal level, we can con­sider the unique­ness of the wel­come rolled out by Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael dur­ing Trump’s vis­its.

Here we will go be­yond the sym­bol­ism and present the ra­tio­nale be­hind the dif­fer­ent ac­tions in­volved.

First, the US has reg­is­tered its in­ten­tion to play a more vig­or­ous role in the re­gion.

Sec­ond, Saudi Ara­bia suc­ceeded in get­ting the US to recog­nise the king­dom’s central role in West Asian af­fairs.

And, third, Is­rael would be happy to see the US “back” in the re­gion to me­di­ate be­tween them and the Pales­tini­ans.


One can ob­tain an un­der­stand­ing of what is go­ing on be­tween coun­tries in their wel­come of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers such as US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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