The end of ‘Pax Americana’? » Manila Bulletin News



By Edgardo J. Angara
Former Senator

Former Senator Edgardo J. Angara

The world has undergone a sea change in the past four decades, a transformation triggered by the Internet. It has witnessed a restructuring of the world order and reordering of trade and commerce.

In the political world, the decline of “Pax Americana” is quite rapid. The US abdicated its leadership of the free world, retreating into “America First” policy. It made unilateral decisions on key global issues.

For one, the US pulled out from the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement, which was supported virtually by the entire world.

With the US pull-out, China and the European Union quickly firmed up an alliance aimed at accelerating efforts under the Paris Accord. And as Foreign Policy puts it, with the US out of the Paris Accord, China will rule the world’s “energy future.”

For another, the US rescinded through an executive order its participation in the biggest free trade treaty in history — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Signed in 2016, the TPP covered 12 Asia-Pacific countries, accounting for an annual Gross Domestic Product worth US$28 trillion or up to 40 percent of global GDP, and one-third of world trade.

China quickly seized the moment and energetically promoted its Belt and Road initiative as the economic deal of choice. Beijing offers a package of US$1-trillion infrastructure deals, especially to developing countries. The avowed goal is link up to 60 countries across Asia and Europe where export goods from Asia can reach Europe in 22 days.

Undoubtedly, it’s too early to pass judgment on China’s looming ascendancy in place of the US default. The existing world was constructed by the US and its allies after World War II, making the world free of global war and gave it opportunity to prosper.

America’s retreat from the world stage may not necessarily be President Trump’s invention. A December, 2015, Foreign Affairs article stated that President Barack Obama had an “ideological preference for diminished global engagement.”

But where Obama’s retrenchment was meant to preserve the values and institutions of the US-led international world order, President Donald Trump’s unilateralism appears to be based on narrow interests. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen commented in December,  2016: “[Trump’s] foreign policy will be transactional… Trump’s United States will be agnostic on human rights, freedom, and democracy… [The] valueless approach of the kind Trump proposes leaves the world rudderless.”

This moral vacuum may partly explain why people search for new leadership who will inject vigor, dynamism, and vision into governance. For instance, this year, France and Ireland elected young heads of state — Emmanuel Macron (39 years old) and Leo Varadkar (38 years old), respectively.

But what about people in the Philippines? In 2016, we chose a strong leader, President Duterte. Does it also mean we chose to turn away from the principal values of a liberal democracy —  the right to free expression, the right to belief, and, above all, the primacy of the rule of law?

There seems to be a rising tendency among us to overlook breaches, avoidance, or even outright violations of rules and law. But every time we accept such behavior, or look the other way, our belief in and respect for law slowly but surely gets eroded. So do the credibility and authority of democratic institutions get diminished.

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