Information overload, boys and girls, so just a quick summary of events of significance as we roll into the weekend. First and most important for the world, is the naming of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia. The problem is this may put other congressional investigations under wraps which will feed rumors and uncertainty – in other words, Rob Mueller has to push this through really fast, because meanwhile the world is moving on, and we all need an answer to the question of how long before Trump is gone.
This impacts on East Asia is a number of ways. South Korea is one, mentioned last week, and the Philippines is another. Duterte just declined any development aid from the EU with China being quite happy to be the sole sugar daddy – with strings. If the US creates a vacuum, something will move to fill it. The greatest threat from Mr Trump is the loss of the US’s moral authority. it can be recovered if undermined, but with a price to be paid. His personal situation is the material of Greek Tragedy and ultimately of little consequence. If he ends up as a bitter, angry outcast, which is highly likely, then he only has himself to blame.
Next is Guo Wengui, the well-connected billionaire with allegedly lots of info on the leadership. It seems he’s done a deal, which has allowed his wife and daughter to leave China. In return, presumably, for being more selective on information released. No doubt to the relief of Those In Command as they look towards the 19th Congress. The core question is whether Wang Qishan will get to buck the retirement age rule at the big 19th, as was apparently planned. If he doesn’t, that would make it harder for Mr Xi to do the same at the 20th. Almost no transparency, a vacuum of information. But – who knows – possibly no less drama than on the other side of the Pacific.
Then to round it all out, we saw the the OBOR – Belt/Road – event in Beijing take the whole Chinese global development aid strategy to a new level. But there is still little clarity on how the money will work. Chinese aid in recent years has not always ended up in the right pockets and is often self-serving. That is also true of much US aid, of course, but there are differences in motives and transparency. The OBOR story also relates to the vacuum referred to at the top. It didn’t need to be this way, and also this is not the end of the story. Don’t count the US out – as a system it has a resilience that no other system can match, and what is playing out in Washington in the end strengthens that system by reaffirming some basic principles. Assuming the Washington drama plays out clean.