November 21, 2017        Reading Time: 2 minutes

Your weekly digest of foreign policy commentary:

Reading Time: 2 min read

Richard Heydarian observes that the US is gradually losing the “defining battle” of trade and investment. Image credit – The White House / flickr



This is How a Superpower Commits Suicide, Washington Post, by Richard Heydarian, Former Policy Advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives

“What is at stake isn’t only American hegemony but also the autonomy of smaller states as well as the survival of a rules-based order in Asia.”

  • Richard Heydarian argues that President Trump’s visit to Asia shows that the US is gradually losing the defining battle of the century, which is “trade and investment.” This could erode US influence in the region and the autonomy of smaller states.
    • President Trump’s decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP) has left the US with no economic initiatives in the Asia-Pacific. Countries in the region are resuscitating the TPP without the US, to expand regional trade and balance China’s influence.
    • At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, President Xi presented China as a guardian of globalisation and multilateral diplomacy. This contrasts with President Trump’s “America First” neo-isolationist foreign policy.
    • China’s regional economic initiatives could, however, threaten the autonomy of smaller states. China’s “autocratic model of development” could negatively influence democracies in the region.



Saudi Arabia’s Populist Temptation, Project Syndicate, by Ishac Diwan, Visiting Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs

“There are also structural reasons for Prince Mohammed’s brand of populism. Understanding these factors is key to finding a better path forward.”

  • Ishac Diwan explains that recent political changes in Saudi Arabia should be viewed in light of structural economic change.
    • Saudi Arabia’s per capita revenue from oil exports has sharply declined, and the economic security offered to its 20 million nationals in exchange for loyalty to the royal family is therefore unsustainable.
    • The country’s anti-corruption campaign indicates that the Saudi Crown Prince could be following a populist “republican strategy” of survival, like other leaders in the region. This strategy involves addressing citizen needs through various forms of patronage and repressing the economic elite.
    • Alternatively, however, Saudi Arabia could adopt a strategy of economic reform, which would grow the economic pie for all groups. These reforms may be painful but are feasible, given Saudi Arabia’s youthful society, well-educated women, and the millions of jobs created for expats that could be transferred to nationals.

Written by Malinda Meegoda and edited by Anishka De Zylva.

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