The brouhaha over Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump has subsided for now. Much of the commentary on the meeting was characterized by cascades of misinformation and ignorance.
There was a certain photograph that went viral, purportedly of the Caribbean leaders visiting Trump, waiting for a meeting with the president at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The photograph was cropped. It was not taken at Mar-a-Lago. It was factually a picture of the leaders waiting for a lunch hosted by the president of the Dominican Republic.
Fake news reigns on social media. It is irresponsibly perpetuated by those who should know better, and by those willing to believe just about any fakery and nonsense if it serves their pigeonholed and jaundiced agendas.
Some Bahamians were aghast that Minnis went to meet with Trump. It is an extraordinarily ignorant, stupid, cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face position to advise that a Bahamas prime minister should refuse to meet with a U.S. head of state.
Many, including this writer, have a low regard for Trump. But he is the president of the world’s leading superpower, our most significant trading partner and foreign ally on whom we rely for any number of economic and national security matters.
At the meeting, the Caribbean heads of government raised the deleterious and often outsized impact of U.S. State Department travel advisories on our tourism economies.
A friend who studied international relations at the prestigious Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) recalls a professor warning his class not to discuss complex matters of foreign policy with those who little understand diplomacy or international relations.
The recent volley of profound ignorance and near cataclysmic stupidity about the prime minister’s trip and our relationships with the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China on most of the radio talk programs and in other quarters confirmed the lesson taught by the SAIS professor.
We live in a world of realpolitik where a small country must protect and advance its interests, and chart a careful, nuanced course in international relations. Minnis met with Trump even as he affirmed our good relations with China.
The prime minister observed: “The issue with China came up during one of the early meetings… I pointed out very clearly that China and The Bahamas are allies with a good working relationship, and that will not change.”
Minnis’ comments were delivered in the context of a White House statement before the Mar-a-Lago meeting, in which the U.S. warned of supposedly predatory economic practices.
Long gone are the days when China will be bullied by any American president, let alone the current occupant of that office. The Chinese Embassy in The Bahamas fired back, arguing that the U.S. was seeking to: “disintegrate solidarity and cooperation between China and other developing countries”.
Haigang Yin, the charge d’affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Nassau, pressed: “The accusations of predatory economic practices are completely baseless, unreasonable and contradictory to the facts.”
He noted: “Facing the fabricated lies and irresponsible accusations, we have faith in the people of The Bahamas, with whom rests the final judgment. We are confident that the Bahamian people and government will not be misled by others.”
The Bahamas must play the long game in international relations, maintaining good relations with the international community generally and with powerful allies such as the U.S.A. and China.
We will best navigate our international relations through a dispassionate understanding of our interests and needs, as well as by better understanding of the countries with which we must do business for our survival and advancement.
We must ramp up our diplomatic infrastructure, having more capable diplomats akin to Caribbean partners like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados. We have typically posted overseas as heads of missions, individuals not always best matched for our national and diplomatic interests.
The U.S.A. typically thinks in short bursts and election cycles. But China thinks long term and in centuries. The Bahamas must also think of its long-term interests.
Even if he wins re-election, Donald Trump will be a blip in the eyes of China, though the politics and mindset he represents are deep-seated as the U.S.A. is panicked by the re-emergence of China as a superpower that will rival the American hegemon.
Many have written of the Chinese and Anglo-American worldviews as captured in the respective games of wei qi (pronounced “way chee”), commonly known in the West by its Japanese name go, and chess.
In his book, “On China”, veteran Chinese watcher and American foreign policy guru Henry Kissinger explores the Western and Sino approaches to international relations and the balance of global power as demonstrated in chess and wei qi. It is worth quoting Kissinger at length.
Of wei qi Kissinger writes: “Each player has 180 pieces, or stones at his disposal, each of equal value with the others. The players take turns placing stones at any point on the board, building up positions of strength while working to encircle and capture the opponent’s stones.”
Kissinger continues: “Multiple contests take place simultaneously in different regions of the board. The balance of forces shifts incrementally with each move, as the players implement strategic plans and react to each other’s initiatives. At the end of a well-played game, the board is filled by partially interlocking areas of strength. The margin of advantage is often slim, and to the untrained eye, the identity of the winner is not always immediately obvious.”
The former secretary of state notes of chess: “Chess, on the other hand is always total victory. The purpose of the game is checkmate, to put the opposing king into a position where he cannot move without being destroyed. The vast majority of games end in total victory achieved by attrition or, more rarely, a dramatic, skillful maneuver. The only other possible outcome is a draw, meaning the abandonment of hope for victory by both parties.”
Kissinger then compares the two game theories: “If chess is about decisive battle wei qi is about the protracted campaign. The chess player aims for total victory. The wei qi player seeks relative advantage. In chess, the player always has the capability of the adversary in front of him; all the pieces are always fully deployed.
“The wei qi player needs to access not only the pieces on the board but the reinforcements the adversary is in a position to deploy. Chess teaches the Clausewitzian [Prussian military strategist Carl Phillip von Clausewitz] concepts of center of gravity” and the “decisive point” – the game usually begins as a struggle for the center of the board.
“Wei qi teaches the art of strategic encirclement. Where the skillful chess player aims to eliminate his opponent’s pieces in a series of head-on clashes, a talented wei qi player moves into ‘empty’ spaces on the board, gradually mitigating the strategic potential of his opponent’s pieces. Chess produces single-mindedness; wei qi generates strategic flexibility.”
In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte, the great French military genius and later emperor of France, stood pointing at a map and is reported to have said, “Here lies a sleeping lion. Let him sleep, for when he wakes up, he will shake the world.”
There are variations of this famous quote but that he was talking about China is not in doubt. China is not rising. It is rising again. China is not emerging. It is re-emerging.
In 18 of the last 20 centuries, Kissinger noted, “…China produced a greater share of total world GDP than any Western society. As late as 1820, it produced over 30 percent of world GDP – an amount exceeding the GDP of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States combined.”
More next week on the re-emergence of China, with which The Bahamas must continue to have good relations just as it does with our long-term ally and partner, the United States of America.