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Editorial: John Kerry's candidacy

Published by The Straits Times, Singapore on 2004-07-31

In formally accepting the Democratic Party's nomination to challenge United States President George W. Bush in the November Presidential election, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts smartly re-introduced himself as a man who would confront terrorism globally in cooperation with America's allies, including the Europeans. He also pledged to emphasize environmental sustainability, social equality and human rights - issues that his Republican opponent isn't particularly comfortable with. Mr Kerry's well-crafted and potently delivered speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston on Thursday evening will undoubtedly fetch him a point or two in the polls, which currently have him running virtually neck-to-neck with Mr Bush. While convention addresses are understandably aimed at domestic voters and intended to set the political tone for the fall campaign, Mr Kerry missed an opportunity to reassure Asia on two key issues that could affect America's standing in the world's most populated region - the outsourcing of jobs by US multinationals, and further opening up of the American market to Asian producers. In what was clearly a sop to the barons of Big Labour whose support he needs for getting out the vote, Senator Kerry even vowed to keep American jobs in America, language that savvy observers such as India's Mr S. Nihal Singh would interpret as a code for protectionism.

Mr Kerry will never be able to enforce such sentiment, if elected. Globalisation is far too advanced now. American multinational businesses are reaping far too many benefits by outsourcing low-level jobs to low-cost countries like India, the Philippines, and Malaysia. And any attempts to adopt protectionism, however subtly, will surely invite numerous unfavourable rulings at the World Trade Organisation. The Brooking Institution's respected public policy analyst, Mr Parag Khanna, put it perceptively yesterday (Friday) when he said: "John Kerry will be expected to be a truly global president. That means attending to the aspirations of less fortunate nations as much as it means advancing American interests." In this connection, Mr Kerry missed another opportunity in his speech to telegraph the global inclusiveness of his incipient presidency: there was no reference whatsoever to America's giant trading partner, China, which enjoys a trade surplus of more than US$125 billion with the US. Perhaps Mr Kerry is worried that more American companies will migrate some of their operations to low-cost China. A kinder explanation would be that the Democratic nominee will expound on China-US relations during the campaign itself, which is expected to be hard fought, among other things, on the issue of each candidate's capability to be a knowledgeable world leader respected worldwide.

Mr Kerry has accepted his party's nomination at a particularly uncertain time when several regional issues have converged to challenge international peace and security, and economic stability. The insurgencies in Kashmir and some of India's eastern states threaten to escalate into another confrontation between India and its neighbour Pakistan, both nuclear nations. Israelis and Palestinians are in a constant state of conflict, threatening to drag the wider Arab world into yet another crisis with the industrialised countries that continue to heavily depend on Middle East oil. The spitting matches between China and Taiwan continue, always threatening to metastasize into an unwelcome conflict. There's the threat of the Chinese economy overheating to the point of coming in for a hard landing - mainly because of the wanton credit given by Chinese and other banks to the real-estate sector. The cohort of global poverty threatens to grow beyond the current 2 billion of the world's 6.1 billion people. The specter of HIV/AIDS threatens more regions of Africa, and vast areas of China and India.

Now that Mr Kerry has made his political pitch to American voters to put him in the White House instead of re-electing President Bush for a second term, he is going to have to offer his perspectives on such issues in great detail. A potential American President cannot neglect his true constituency - the global community - even if the ballots are only in America.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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