By M.R. Josse
GAITHERSBURG, MD: Like in the past, the week just over has been chock-a-block with important events, some of which may even have some influence on each of our lives. Here, we take up a handful beginning with the long-expected announcement by Joe Biden – former United States vice-president and former senator from Delaware – of his bid to wrest the Democratic party nomination for the 2020 presidential sweepstakes.
Biden hopes to challenge the incumbent, American President Donald Trump, the virtually certain Republican nominee for that contest. Trump, true to form, lost no time in dismissing Biden’s attempt as one by ‘Sleepy Joe’.
At this patently early stage, it is very difficult to predict what Biden’s electoral prospects are. Thus, while his earlier bids – in 1988 and 2009 – went down the tube, former American President Barack Obama dissuaded him in doing so once again in 2016. The latter, however, offered him the position of running mate in 2009, following Biden’s failure to gain traction during the 2009 party primaries.
As is well-known, Obama’s offer was purportedly influenced by Biden’s impressive foreign affairs credentials, honed by many years serving as chairman, Senate’s foreign relations committee. His protean experience in government should I believe be a weighty political asset.
His advanced age apart, there are those who believe that his lackluster past record on policy positions such as on policing and – more recently – his acknowledged touchy-feely instincts vis-à-vis women may militate against him, at a time when attitudes towards women have become a front burner policy issue.
I was struck by a commentator who dismissed Biden saying harshly “he’s a bit cured and worn, smoked by history” while going on to add that he is making “not so much a gallop but a crawl into the U.S. executive.”
The very same critic shot down Biden’s campaign video claim to represent a rescue mission for America’s ‘soul’, rather that it did the inexplicable, or “giving a platform for the very individuals he wished to condemn: far-right, torch-bearing yahoos which he associated with the vile history of the 1930s Europe.”
While Trump, of course, continues to make political waves, drawing both cutting criticism and glowing praise, he is set to embark of a full-dress state visit to the United Kingdom, June 3-5, 2019, at the invitation of the British Queen.
Last year, despite considerable opposition from the British public and a segment of parliament, Trump had a most memorable working visit that included tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and official talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at Checkers, her country residence – following by a golf holiday in Scotland.
After being fussed and feted at resplendent state welcoming rituals and ceremonials in Britain this time around, Trump will jet off to Paris for other eye-catching, headline grabbing activities. If all goes well, he may increase his political capital and his prospects for re-election in 2020; if, however, these occasions turn out to be rank embarrassments, the outcome could, of course, be rather different.
Last week also witnessed a summit meeting on Russky Island in eastern Russia, near Vladivostok, between North Korean caudillo Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin which, in the main, seems to have achieved at least two things.
It occasioned Putin’s call for another round of six-party talks to discuss North Korea’s nuclear programme and provided Kim the welcome opportunity for his first diplomatic foray to Russia, one timed following President Trump walking out of a ‘bad deal’ at the second U.S.- North Korea summit in Hanoi in February.
The Kim-Putin show seemingly put Moscow in the middle of the Korea denuclearization talks assuming that the six-party talks – set in Beijing, 2003 through 2009 and participated by U.S., China, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia – are resumed at some point in the future.
This proposal, reportedly, came in the form of a declaration by Putin that North Korea needs internationally recognized security guarantees before any denuclearization takes place. That obviously would have to include more countries than just the United States.
It may be recalled that Pyongyang’s ties to Moscow are as old as North Korea itself. What bears remembering, too, is that in principle Russia is in favor of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula; in fact, quite a few North Korean test-missiles have been known to have landed accidentally on Russian territory.
Also worth mulling over is that while Russia does not view North Korea’s WMD programme in the same fretful manner as the United States, which takes the view that it represents a nuclear threat to regional security and stability, as well as to the U.S. mainland.
SECOND BRI FORUM
Yet another attention-grabbing event last week was the conclusion in Beijing of the second Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum, the highlight was the signing of a final communiqué that pledged to pursue high-standard, people-centered and sustainable development “in line with our national legislation, regulatory frameworks, applicable international obligations and standards.” It was signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and 37 heads of state/governments – including Nepal’s President Bidya Bhandari. Some other notable signatories included Italy, Greece, Portugal, Singapore, and Thailand, not to mention new members such as Luxembourg, Peru, Cyprus, and Yemen.
As news media have it, 14 countries became new to Xi’s visionary initiative, first unveiled in 2013. To date, BRI is now supported by no less than 126 states, plus a host of international organizations. As one knowledgeable commentator put it, “this is the new, truthful, realistic face of the ‘international community’ – way bigger, diversified and more representative than G20.”
Analysts have noted that the BRI Second Forum sought to reassure the world that the BRI is about partnership rather than the pursuit of unilateral advantage. It is thus only a matter of time, I believe, that nay-sayers, like India and Bhutan, come around.
A mixed bag: From Trump and Biden to Kim, Putin and Xi
By M.R. Josse