英文

A Book Explorer's Odyssey:Obama revisited

【明報專訊】ALL eyes will be on the US presidential election today, and nothing seems to concern us Hong Kongers more than the foreign policies of incumbent president Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. It is widely surmised (臆測) that a Biden victory, now highly likely thanks to the mainstream media's immensely helpful burial of the ''laptop from hell'' scandal, might mean a return of Obama-era diplomacy.

But what is that ''Obama doctrine'' exactly about? What kind of world view shaped his diplomatic policies during his eight-year rule? Before his election as president, the young senator Obama published a book titled The Audacity of Hope in 2006. It is a memoir as well as political statement which I think very much set the tone of his presidency.

Obama's diplomatic propositions are in chapter 8 (''The World Beyond our Borders''), which combines a condensed history of American diplomacy since its founding and the strategies he proposed for the world the US was facing back then. For a start, Obama is a multilateralist, an advocate for international co-operation rather than the US acting alone. An exact opposite to Trump, Obama is a vigorous proponent of international rules, arguing that ''no other nation on earth has a greater capacity to shape that global system, or to build consensus around a new set of international rules that expand the zones of freedom, personal safety, and economic well-being.''

To Obama, the best global strategy is through the concerted effort of and support for like-minded allies. One example is the Marshall Plan, a US investment scheme adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War to provide financial aid for Western European countries reeling from (因……不知所措) its devastation. The goal was to prevent them from falling into the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. Obama sees the Marshall Plan as a wise course of action between two extremes, the argument for the military destruction of the USSR and the isolationist approach counselled by others.

Obama does not just favour the Marshall Plan, which he credits for Europe's economic recovery and the USSR's ultimate demise. He also commends the creation of institutions such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the Bretton Woods System for maintaining global stability. In his book Obama stresses the importance of the US to be a role model in the observance of such international rules and institutions. From UNICEF, UN peacekeeping forces to the WHO, his view is that ''no country has a bigger stake than we (the US) do in strengthening international institutions''.

In hindsight (事後看來), Obama's insistence on solving global issues under international frameworks did result in some successes in the forms of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Accord on climate change, but it might be fair to say that it also hamstrung his action to promote peace globally. An often-cited case in point is Syria. An ally of Russia, which sits at the UN Security Council and can veto any US proposal for military action, the Assad regime was able to perpetrate humanitarian atrocities against its people (對人民施暴) with the Obama administration basically sitting on the sidelines (作壁上觀).

Of course, among us Hong Kongers, nothing attracts more debate over Obama's attitude against China. The Audacity of Hope was written at a time when China was much less assertive than it is today, and Obama mentioned China often together with India, the focus being their rapidly rising economies and the challenges such rises posed to the US. China's communist regime was not emphasised; in fact, he bemoaned in the book how politicians during the Cold War era ''red-baited'' each other and criticised each other for being ''weak on communism''. A lot happened during the eight years of his presidency, and obviously towards the end of it he began to be alarmed by China's growing influence, hence the creation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Nevertheless, in later interviews he remained eager to play down (淡化) an ideological or Thucydidean conflict with China, which Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo have emphasised. ''We welcome the peaceful rise of China, consistent with international norms,'' he said in a 2016 interview to Fareed Zakaria, ten years after the publication of this book.

In the final presidential debate last month, Joe Biden said that ''What I'd make China do is play by the international rules, not like he (Trump) has done. He has caused the deficit of China to go up, not down, with China, up, not down. We are making sure that in order to do business in China, you have to give all your intellectual property. You have to have a partner in China'' in answer to a question which was actually about the novel coronavirus. To what extent does that signal a return of the Obama-era policy to China? We will have to wait and see, but I am afraid many of us have drawn our conclusions already.

■Writer's Profile

If life is a voyage, Terence Yip (葉凱楓) likes to navigate by the books. That's what he does in this column.

(Email: terenceyipmingpao@outlook.com)

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