The Great Man Theory of history simply says that great leaders with charisma, intelligence, wisdom and political skills immensely shape their country and the world through their monumental and game-changing acts and decisions. It was popular in the 19th century but from the 20th century forward, it had lost its currency.
The rise of Mr. Trump has somewhat pushed political scientists into digging it up from the archives, but with the agenda to stress to what low great powers could sink once they are led by ineffectual leaders.
Applied to Mr. Trump, according to an American political scientist, the Great Man Theory has a new version – The Great Jackass Theory. The body of Mr. Trump’s policy preferences, building a border wall, shunning immigrants, trade protectionism, abetting white supremacists and quarrelling with Iran and North Korea will transform America from a global leader into an inward-looking nation, if not a wingnut isolationist like North Korea, Mr. Trump’s pet peeve.
The results of the 31st Asean Summit in Manila proved that. After the summit was over, State Secretary Rex Tillerson was asked by journalists to assess the validity of Mr. Trump’s statement that the Summit was a success for “ me” and for “America.” Instead of playing full supplicant and agreeing with the statement of Mr. Trump, Secretary Tillerson ignored the question and merely said, “ Thank You,” to prevent a follow-through question from being asked.
American experts on trade and diplomacy said that the $300 billion in deals that Mr. Trump supposedly negotiated during the Summit were just words, not real deals.
“The principal takeaway from Trump’s big Asia trip: virtually zero on any issue that matters to Americans. Ultimately, that is the biggest win for China,” Ian Bremmer , president of the Eurasia Group, was quoted in the Politico magazine as saying .
And while Mr. Trump was literally wined and dined, and our President Duterte serenaded him, the issue that mattered most to Americans – the US at the forefront of the global trading order – had been abandoned by Trump soon after taking office, by pulling the US out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
At the Summit, while the 11 countries that remained with the TPP after Trump’s go-it-alone announcement vowed to strengthen and expand their trade ties, there was no solid action that the US took to start bilateral trade agreements with the 11 countries solidly with the TPP. Worse for the US, other countries may join in, including the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia to bring the TPP membership to 15 countries.
What about Mr. Trump’s big campaign promise to “rebalance” trade relations with China? After he was feted in Beijing before coming to Manila, Mr. Trump failed to take a single concrete step toward that promise of “rebalancing.”
As Mr. Trump descended into an all-time low at home – only 40 percent of voters say they will vote for Mr. Trump, and his approval rating is now down to 37 percent – China’s Xi Jinping is taking his country to a 21st century with China, not the US, as the dominant global power. Mr. Xi is quietly basking in Mr. Trump’s abandonment of the traditional US role of global leadership and the ceding of that role to China. With the US out of TPP, China is the de facto leader of that trading bloc and the policies laid out by Mr. Xi are all directed at propping up, and expanding, that leadership.
Put into operations in late 2015, The China-led and China-founded Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) has 56 member-states and a $100 billion capital. It is a multilateral development bank just like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, but its avowed mission of supporting the infrastructure build-up of fund-short member-countries has a side agenda of moving countries further into the China Axis.
The bank’s outreach involves moving Chinese engineers, Chinese construction methodologies, Chinese equipment and Chinese finance people into the member-states as part of the support group of AIIB.
China’s more ambitious foray into what is now known as geoeconomics is being pursued via the OBOR, or One Belt, One Road Initiative. The ambitious infrastructure build-up covers the regions China traded with during the Silk Road trade. A Eurasian Land Bridge will be built that would run from Western China to Western Russia via Kazakhstan. The Maritime Silk Road will build seaports, supported by roads and bridges, from the China Coast, then to Singapore to the Mediterranean.
At home, Mr. Xi is close to fulfilling the ideals set by the Great Man Theory. He is the only third Chinese leader with his name on China’s Constitution, after Mao and Deng. Just voted to his second term, Mr. Xi has packed the Politburo with loyalists after a massive purge of anti-Xi forces who might sabotage his ambitious plans to remake China according to his bold agenda. The image of Mr. Xi now litters the whole of China, a sort of cult-worship reminiscent of Mao’s time as the paramount leader.
The geopolitical environment favors Mr. Xi and China.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin are busy stirring up the nativist urges of their white population and are now contesting who would lead their imaginary Judeo-Christian world purged of races black, brown and yellow.
Mr. Xi speaks of continental integration under China’s leadership, with “new technologies, new business models, new business patterns and new products.”
As Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump bask in dark engagements, Mr. Xi is precisely defining the leadership terms of the 21st century and beyond.
OK, let us answer this question: How does that impact us, our country, in the broader sense? The answer is in plain sight. China is utterly pragmatic and its leadership is devoid of altruism. When it deals with us, it has national interest, not PH interest, on the agenda.