HUGS SHOW DIPLOMATIC CLOSENESS
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.