Monday, June 10, 2013

Guest commentary: New age diplomacy – is it real?

by Ambassador Rodney Charles
Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Presidents Xi and Obama at their 'positive' summit 
“Unscripted, unique (BBC), informal, a new path, taking the relationship to a new more cooperative level despite tensions over cyber security, a new historic starting point, building a new model, a new type of great power relationship,” were words used either by the Presidents Xi or Obama, their aides or major news agencies to describe this week’s meeting of the Presidents of the world’s two largest economies.

According to President Xi, “We need to think creatively and act energetically so that working together we can build a new model of major country relationship”.

“Some Chinese diplomats had grumbled that President Xi should not have agreed to meet in California since it was President Obama’s turn to visit China. But Mr. Xi himself dispensed with the strict protocol of alternating leaders’ visits,” reports the New York Times.

Clearly something “new” is occurring in global diplomacy and whatever the “experts” may think, it is a reality.

We can see it at the UN in the daily tensions between the nation state, that 16th and 17th century construct, and the evolving multilateral architecture.

These tensions are manifest in a plethora of issues from climate change, to global financial governance, to counter terrorism, to the narcotics trade, to sharing of water from rivers, to arms trade, to sustainable development, to money laundering, immigration, border security, fundamentalist Islam, Security Council Reform – you name it.

These issues, in this internet driven world, are not amenable to solutions based on states acting. The challenge is to determine how much sovereignty should be given up, if at all, to ensure our collective survival.

Trinidad and Tobago will not be acting alone to solve the issues of climate change, human trafficking, money laundering or global financial governance. These demand multilateral responses.

And these problems can no longer be ignored given that the very survival of humankind is involved. Already scientists are saying that the world has reached a threshold of 400 parts per million of CO2 emissions and this may irreversibly lead to ocean acidification, rises in sea levels and climate change.

Talk to residents of Manzanilla or Los Iros or Icacos about rising sea levels and you will get an earful.

Try as it might, the US knows that the path to the solutions of the North Korean crisis, or increased global trade or cyber security passes through China.

In September this year the International Prayer Breakfast will host a luncheon at the UN for diplomats. It will be addressed by Dr Os Guinness great, great grandson of the founder of Guinness brewery and author of the book: “The Case for Civility and Why our Future Depends on It”. 

He will challenge invitees to “love” those holding diametrically opposing views. “Love God with all one’s heart, soul and might; and love thy neighbor as thyself” is the basis for his thesis. This embrace – not toleration - of others’ perspectives he sees as a requirement of the new diplomacy.

In this world of global interdependence Trinidad and Tobago is seen as being critically important.

That is why President Xi visited us first on this trip to these parts – even before he visited the United States. That is why Vice President Joe Biden made it his business to be in Trinidad and Tobago during the same week.

My diplomatic colleagues at the UN see Trinidad and Tobago as a natural global leader whose views are increasingly being solicited as a matter of course. In just over two years I have been invited to Japan, Azerbaijan, India, China (Hong Kong), Haiti (twice), Finland, Bangladesh and Australia among others.

Countries want to engage us. We are important even if we have difficulty internalizing this fact. And unto whom much is given much is expected.

We are the largest economy in CARICOM, our per capita GDP places us in the highest rung among developing countries, we are a significant global player in a host of energy based products, we are self confident, assertive, open to new ideas and we have no historic “chips” on our shoulders. 

More importantly we have within our small space all the great philosophies of planet earth – Islam, Christianity, Orisha and Hinduism. We are global peoples as the late Cuthbert Joseph used to say – we are natural Homo sapiens internationalists.

Combine this with the late Lloyd Best’s view that we were established, and our peoples were brought here, as part of, and to facilitate, international commerce.

Globalization is in our DNA.

Our challenge is to fashion a foreign policy that leverages our God given talents to become global interlocutors in the development of the new multilateral architecture. We must shape that architecture.

Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran in his expected erudite manner is fleshing out his concept of a foreign policy of pro-active global engagement backed by a CARICOM convergence model. It demands a self confident but humble, strategic, assertive, knowledge driven, pro active leadership that recognizes Trinidad and Tobago not merely as a player but more so as a leader in its diplomatic engagements. In this new model Trinidad and Tobago is located at the centre (not the periphery) of our global engagements. Conceptually that is heady stuff.

This will replace the old model of what some called victimhood, mendicancy, and tentativeness.

I have seen Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar on many occasions exuding that self confidence and natural leadership at the UN that have forced nations to sit up and take notice. 

I have seen our President, His Excellency Anthony Carmona being interviewed months ago at the UN for a position of judge of the ICC and our delegation receiving texts about his undoubted erudition and mental acuity. 

I have witnessed Ambassador Parsan bringing together in Washington at an Africa/America business forum, movers and shakers from the US, Africa and the Caribbean to actualize South/South cooperation – with Trinidad and Tobago at the centre. 

I have seen Ambassador Patrick Edwards ensuring that our entrepreneurs become significant players in the fledging oil and gas industries in East Africa.

I may be wrong but this diplomacy of global engagement which sees Trinidad and Tobago as the centre, leveraging our resources for global leadership and being courted by global leaders may be something old.

If I am wrong because I am new to the business, then I humbly apologize.

But don’t take my word for it. It was President Xi who said that in recent times Trinidad and Tobago has taken a notable leadership role in international diplomacy.

Rodney Charles

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai