Two lessons for the next US pres­i­dent

The Myanmar Times - - News - CHRIS PAT­TEN news­room@mm­times.com

LOOK­ING out of my win­dow across the har­bour of the re­mark­able city of Na­gasaki, Ja­pan, two thoughts of con­sid­er­able rel­e­vance to the next Amer­i­can pres­i­dent come to mind.

Na­gasaki has en­dured the worst of hu­man­ity. In Au­gust 1945, a plu­to­nium bomb dec­i­mated the city, caus­ing mas­sive phys­i­cal dam­age and un­told human suf­fer­ing. Since then, how­ever, the city has ex­em­pli­fied the best of human achieve­ment, rising from the rub­ble thanks to the spirit and en­ter­prise of Ja­panese men and women, who trade the things that they build – for ex­am­ple, at the Mit­subishi ship­yards – with the rest of the world.

But Na­gasaki – and Ja­pan, more broadly – has not al­ways been open to the world, reach­ing across the ocean to con­nect with other coun­tries, from near neigh­bours like China to far­away al­lies like the United States. For cen­turies, Ja­panese minds, and Ja­panese bor­ders, were dis­tinctly closed.

On a hill­side in Na­gasaki, there is a stark re­minder of this rad­i­cal closed-mind­ed­ness. A mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rates the mar­tyr­dom of 26 Ro­man Catholics, who were cru­ci­fied at the end of the 16th cen­tury as part of the ef­fort to stamp out the growth of Chris­tian­ity in Ja­pan. The Amer­i­can film direc­tor Martin Scors­ese is now com­plet­ing an adap­ta­tion of th­ese events, based on Shusaku Endo’s novel Si­lence.

Ja­pan’s em­brace of moder­nity came cen­turies later, with the decades-long Meiji restora­tion that be­gan in the late 1860s. Rather than los­ing touch with its own cul­ture and tra­di­tions, how­ever, Ja­pan merged the two, mov­ing for­ward without los­ing sight of the past. This bal­ance is re­flected in Ja­panese ar­chi­tec­ture, which is thor­oughly mod­ern, yet steeped in tra­di­tion.

So what does all this have to do with the US elec­tion? For one thing, the US, like some parts of Europe, is now at risk of en­ter­ing its own pe­riod of closed minds and closed bor­ders. While the more mod­er­ate Hil­lary Clin­ton is likely to de­feat the reck­lessly iso­la­tion­ist Don­ald Trump, the back­lash against open­ness that has fu­elled Trump’s rise will not dis­si­pate on its own.

Of course, a Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, along with other pol­i­cy­mak­ers, would do well to un­der­score the lead­ing role that di­ver­sity has played in driv­ing Amer­ica’s suc­cess. Pro­vid­ing a haven for peo­ple from all over the world, where all peo­ple are sub­ject to the same rules and laws, has been a key strength of the US for most of its his­tory. This idea is re­flected in the words on the coun­try’s seal: E Pluribus Unum (from many, one).

But Clin­ton will also have to ad­dress some of the real griev­ances that spurred the back­lash against eco­nomic open­ness. An in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram, by cre­at­ing huge num­bers of pro­duc­tive jobs and dis­trib­uted wealth, would be a good start – one that would be far eas­ier to achieve if her Demo­cratic Party also won the Se­nate. With such an ap­proach, the US could re­vive its rep­u­ta­tion as the “land of op­por­tu­nity”, which has been so crit­i­cal to US soft power in the past.

As she works to over­come rifts at home, Clin­ton will also have plenty of work to do abroad. Herein lies the sec­ond les­son of Na­gasaki’s his­tory: the over­whelm­ing threat posed by nu­clear weapons.

To­day, it is North Korea that em­bod­ies that threat most acutely. That coun­try’s volatile regime, led by the world’s most pow­er­ful ju­ve­nile delin­quent, Kim Jong-un, not only pos­sesses nu­clear weapons, but is also work­ing to de­velop long-range de­liv­ery ca­pac­ity. Re­cent tests of nu­clear weapons and lon­grange mis­siles – in­clud­ing the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful nu­clear test ever, car­ried out last month – show just how close the Her­mit King­dom is to achiev­ing its goals.

Even if Clin­ton takes a re­strained ap­proach to the use of force in in­ter­na­tional dis­putes, as US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has over the past eight years, she would not be able to stand by idly if North Korea had the ca­pac­ity to launch a long-range nu­clear strike. Amer­ica would have to pro­tect its Asian al­lies – not to men­tion its own cit­i­zens, were the North able to strike the US main­land.

But uni­lat­eral ac­tion would cer­tainly not be the best op­tion. It would be far bet­ter to per­suade China to in­ter­vene to bring Kim’s regime to heel. That would de­mand some deft diplo­macy.

Chi­nese of­fi­cials still in­sist that they can­not con­trol North Korea. That may be true, up to a point. Yet it is clear that no one has as much clout in Py­ongyang as China’s Com­mu­nist Party bosses. And it is very pos­si­ble that, be­hind closed doors, Chi­nese of­fi­cials are al­ready test­ing their abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late some of the shad­owy fig­ures sur­round­ing Kim, who ap­pears in­creas­ingly para­noid about the pos­si­bil­ity of a coup.

But China would be un­likely to agree to more di­rect in­ter­ven­tion in North Korea without some quid pro quo. Per­haps Amer­ica, with its Asian al­lies, could make some mod­est shift in their ap­proach to China’s il­le­gal pur­suit of ter­ri­to­rial claims in the South and East China Seas. This would, to be sure, be un­pop­u­lar, par­tic­u­larly among China’s neigh­bours. But it might also be nec­es­sary to quell the North Korean nu­clear threat. De­fus­ing North Korea’s nu­clear am­bi­tions would be worth the sac­ri­fice.

When view­ing the world from the per­spec­tive of Na­gasaki, the need to pre­serve plu­ral­ity and open­ness, while ad­vanc­ing Amer­ica’s strate­gic pivot to Asia, be­comes starkly clear. It is a per­spec­tive that the next US pres­i­dent should em­brace.

– Project Syn­di­cate

Chris Pat­ten, the last Bri­tish gover­nor of Hong Kong and a for­mer EU com­mis­sioner for ex­ter­nal af­fairs, is chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Ox­ford.

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