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Foreign Policy

A Baffling Speech

Oct 16 , 2018
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

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Development through innovation is a trend. But there are oftentimes things that go against the current. The rather puzzling speech by US President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly is a good example of this.

The most impressive and most baffling part of the speech was Trump’s attack on globalism.

Reportedly there had been heated discussions and varying views within the Republican Party on what is globalism and the relationship between globalism and nationalism.

Most importantly, we must understand Trump’s views on it.

President Trump has identified globalism as the opposite of patriotism and preconditioned patriotism on ‘America First’. As a matter of fact, the Trump Administration’s various provocations in the world, such as withdrawing from international agreements and provoking trade wars, have all featured unilateralism and protectionism. It’s quite apparent that he’s against globalism and for unilateralism.

Is unilateralism strong today?

Since the beginning of the 21st century, science and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, natural and social crises have increased, and interdependence between states has deepened. As a result, it is no longer possible for any country to seclude itself. In this situation, globalism, as a synonym of multilateralism, is a product of objectivity and cannot be changed by human will. As a concept with political connotations, globalism may of course be interpreted in many different ways but should not be attacked at will.

President Trump in his speech mentioned the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear deal, and turbulence in Syria plus efforts against climate change, cross-boundary crimes, infectious diseases, and nuclear proliferation, all of which are global issues. History and reality have both proven again and again that these issues may only be addressed internationally with the UN playing a central role instead of unilaterally.

President Trump’s stress on patriotism is no grounds for blame. However, patriotism is not the possession of any single country. If one can’t claim exclusive ownership of patriotism, doesn’t the aggregation of patriotism by all mean globalism? Trump’s stress on ‘America First’ is also not difficult to understand. But that does not mean others will accept discrimination against other countries’ interests. Most countries in this world accept the multilateralist principle of win-win cooperation exactly out of their respective non-exclusive understanding of patriotism. It is fair to claim that globalism is actually an extension of multilateralism. The UN, as the vehicle of multilateralism, thus plays an irreplaceably special and important role in globalization.

Many in the world listened to President Trump’s speech. Public opinion will be the best judge.

On 24 September, the Financial Times published an editorial: At the UN, America first becomes America alone. The next day, USA Today commented that Trump questions the very foundation of the UN while advocating his ‘America first policy’ and that he is far better at tearing up international agreements than producing better ones in their place. In a New York Times article, Trump ‘sounded as eager to claim credit for his achievements after 20 months in office, as he was to disrupt the world order’. French President Emmanuel Macron “denounced the rise of nationalist forces that he said had plunged the system of international cooperation into crisis. He warned of a ‘certain nationalism we’re seeing today, brandishing sovereignty as a way of attacking others’”.

And according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, ‘Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most. …In the face of massive, existential threats to people and planet - but equally at a time of compelling opportunities for shared prosperity - there is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good.’

German Chancellor Merkel believes that attacking the UN and opposing multilateralism is highly dangerous. At the European Political Symposium in Ottobeuren, Bavaria, on 30 September, she warned Trump not to attack the UN again. ‘Mr Trump failed to see the possibility for win-win solutions, instead seeing only one winner from any international negotiation. I believe that destroying something without having developed something new is extremely dangerous," she said.

China has long made its views on multilateralism known to the world and is actively practicing them. It calls upon all nations to work together to develop a community of shared future for all mankind and build an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity. China believes that global governance should be achieved through discussion and collaboration, that international relations should be democratized with all countries as equals regardless of their size, strength, or wealth, that the UN should continue playing a positive role and that the representation and say of developing countries in international affairs should be enhanced.

Against the apparent globalization trend, one can’t help but wonder whether President Trump is deliberately showcasing his defiance for some purpose by opposing multilateralism under various excuses.

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