May 23, 2013
Inside Asia? II
Since the agreements accompanying state visits are worked out well ahead while any benefits remains for the future to decide, it would be pointless to view President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's lengthy Asian swing in terms of results - this editorial will therefore focus on the presidential style. By style we do not mean the kind of scrutiny inflicted on Michelle Obama in terms of such fashion statements as CFK's Viet Cong guerrilla fatigues or Monday's nón lá broad-brimmed peasant hat (nor the Indonesian doll) but rather tone of rhetoric. This was not so much good or bad as anachronistic - stuck in the past in general and in CFK's favourite decade of the seventies in particular with her Viet Cong fixation while overlooking the giant strides and huge changes in Vietnam since. Equating Ho Chi Minh to José de San Martín as independence heroes, she proclaimed that the Viet Cong triumph taught the world that countries can only grow in peace but her conclusion is doubly inaccurate - given that Vietnamese fatalities in the war were 85 times higher than those of United States troops, the US did not so much lose the military conflict as the political will to continue while the Second World War gave the US economy an impetus it has only lost in the last five years (to give just one example of war as the "locomotive of history," as dubbed by Leon Trotsky).
There was a similar yesteryear feel to presidential rhetoric in Indonesia (a country not unknown to recently re-inaugurated US President Barack Obama). Indonesia was the birthplace of the non-aligned movement with the landmark Bandung Conference of 1955 and while CFK neither visited nor mentioned Bandung, her words breathed its spirit. Her speeches were full of invective against the World Trade Organization, European Union farm subsidies and the Washington Consensus when she could have looked ahead with a far more positive "our time is now" message to fellow emerging markets. While the global shift in the latter's favour is not absent from presidential discourse, the dominant note is bitter resentment over a lopsided struggle with the developed world when other emerging markets are embracing globalization and coming out on top. It seems amazing that in a visit including 40 percent of CIVET (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt and Turkey, the next generation of pace-setting emerging markets), CFK showed no sign of awareness of the bloc's existence.
Only the oil-rich United Arab Emirates provided any exception to this tendency to look back in anger - an attitude replicated far too often at home.