Results of leadership: Merkel, Trump, Xi, Duterte

> During the pandemic, Germany immediately developed their tests, did not waste its lockdowns, closely monitored metrics, quickly disseminated data, and apply learnings.
> In spite of the pandemic, FDI to China actually poured in at the highest levels, their technical capacity arises.
> In the U.S., the overall deficit increased, agriculture was hurt, manufacturing did not move back to the US, racial relations exploded, and the US recorded the most pandemic deaths in the world.
> Philippines have Free college tuition, universal basic health care, protection for our OFWs, safer streets, massive countryside development with infrastructure, environmental cleanups, high tourism growth.
> The new normal challenges show that countries that are led by people who have a background in the sciences and experts with proven track records of success had thrived in spite of the pandemic.

Results of leadership: Merkel, Trump, Xi, Duterte
George Siy
February 8, 2021

Do we need charismatic or steady logical leaders? Will democratic electoral systems select effective working leaders or just mostly entertaining, captivating people? How did Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel and Rodrigo Duterte do over the year 2020 — the toughest year for the world on record for nearly a century, given the double trouble of a world pandemic and economic lockdowns? What does this show about how effectively each country selects and develops its leaders?

The review of a past year must precede the plans of a new one. Let’s start with an inspiring story of quiet leadership in Germany that still got moving recognition from the citizenry.

Germany. In December 2018, delegates from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party gave her a six-minute standing ovation, with placards of “Thank you, Chief!” as she declared she will not be running again after 18 years as party leader. This reception expressed appreciation of her leadership. Even her very controversial admitting of a million immigrants, the financial crisis issues of 2008 and fragmenting political issues of the European Union, etc., are testimonies to a system of true and effective servant leadership. And the Germans appreciated this effectiveness despite differences.

In December 2020 as her term was coming to an end, she was again given applause.

Instead of touting the improved balancing of the budget, increased investments or the strong trade performance during her term when Germany sometimes even outperformed China, she instead frankly warned of new risks with the virus and begged for her people to close down for the holidays, or it may be “the last celebration with the grandparents…surely then we will have messed up.”

Germany had responded quickly to news of the pandemic, immediately developing their tests as China gave the genome sequence in January 2020, did not waste its lockdowns, closely monitored metrics, quickly disseminated data and applied learnings, continually following the advice of science.

Merkel has a doctorate in quantum chemistry and was born in East Germany. She was mentored by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, yet when he was embroiled in a financing scandal, she called out her former mentor. She does not seek to shine to her people or in the company of other leaders and shows humility. She often does her own market shopping, is accessible and agreeable and, with her husband, does house chores. She lives in the same villa she started in before she became the leader of the largest economy in Europe. A journalist asked Merkel, “We notice that your suit is repeated, don’t you have another?” She replied, “I am a government employee, not a model.” This combination of principle, humility and compassion has won people’s trust and respect, if not always their agreement.

Despite heavy US pressure to isolate Russia and China, Germany had agreed to do business with Russia, to accept Chinese investments and security-vetted use of Huawei and expressed openness to pursue the Iran non-nuclear deal. Recently, she opposed the US position for a new cold war with China, but also called on China for more transparency.

CHINA. Xi Jin Ping is a chemical engineer — given Chinese leadership preference for technical people in government — and may have not been directly elected by the people but has the wide approval of the Chinese people. Unlike what Western media portrays, any visitor will sense the people’s optimism and energy especially with the quickest reactivation of economy among the major economies, and the dynamism of a whole generation feeling empowered by enterprise, having experienced in one lifetime per capita GDP growth from $200 in 1980 to $10,000 in 2019, with the absolute number in poverty dropping way below that of the United States, uplifting over 800 million people out of poverty (World Bank).

While it is true the people have their different preferences on various political issues and ANT Financial IPO has been constrained, among others, the pandemic was managed swiftly enough that the country will have positive growth in 2020. Huawei’s mobile-phone business was damaged by the US tech war, but overall has continued to grow. China’s satellite has just brought back moon rock samples, 2 gigawatts of solar power are being installed, electric vehicles have boomed, and pollution is being significantly reduced.

The Program for International Student Assessment or PISA and actual international university results show a majority of Confucian cultures in the top 10 achievers in the world in 78 participants. Tesla and JP Morgan have expanded in China, with many new areas, including in retail, liberalized. Foreign direct investments to China actually poured in at the highest levels ever in 2020 at over $163 billion against some $134 billion in 2019. Xi and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened dialogue despite territorial and historical issues, which led to both countries leading the trailblazing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, creating one of the world’s most comprehensive regional trade deals that removes tariffs on over 80 percent of Japan’s exports to China. People always want more, but it is easy to visit and see they are by a great majority not unhappy with their government in China.

The United States. Hopefully, the US electoral system will give the world more stable leadership for the world going forward. US President Trump, “p-grabbing” veteran survivor of six bankruptcies, engaged in hardball negotiation and confrontations against most of the world in an “America First” policy. The world’s loss of respect for his administration, seeing that the US will break various trade, environment and disarmament agreements easily, has caused worldwide trade disruptions. He has refused to recognize facts, blocked humanitarian aid and continued to kick out elected governments, e.g., in Venezuela and Bolivia. Eventually the US elections kicked him out as well, which he tried to do to election winner Biden by inciting a revolt, earning himself a second impeachment filing. Is this the model of leader selection and management the US wants the world to follow?

Earlier in Trump’s term, he did gain increased employment levels, good GDP growth and a booming stock market. He reopened communication with North Korea and Russia and initially tried to reduce US military presence abroad, achieved a reduction of some $80 billion a year in deficit with China, and a US tech elite that achieved spectacular developments. But the US overall deficit increased, agriculture was hurt, manufacturing did not move back to the US, racial relations exploded, and the US recorded the most pandemic deaths in the world with the wearing of masks alone becoming a burning national issue. Let us see how Biden will lead.

The Philippines’ Duterte had achievements previously considered unimaginable. Free college tuition, universal basic health care, protection for our OFWs. Despite allegations of human rights shortcuts, much exaggerated and extensive profanities and macho comments, we had safer streets, massive countryside development with infrastructure, environmental cleanups, high tourism growth. He quelled the Marawi rebellion in less than eight months, posted the highest debt quality ratings and lowest debt ratios, and obtained unprecedented foreign direct investments. Corruption, a never-ending social ill, was much reduced, according to businesspeople, in the first few years.

Today, though, there is community talk of unexplained pricings; what appear to be favored groups that do not at least appear competent; projects like creating an artificial beach in a polluted bay; permitting processes that have become difficult; weak Covid planning logic and execution are visible and keeping us behind our Asian neighbors.

Overall, we have not done badly and achieved many things in this administration, hopefully we will not lose the lead in the last quarter of the game, possibly even go into a major loss…

Shouldn’t we redefine the way we select our leaders and develop them? Do we really think our qualification and election system allow a better selection and development of people, or should we begin to seriously study revisions in our laws, apply success models aside from what have been defined for us decades ago? Our system gives most weight to lawyers and popularity, when the new normal challenges will need solutions that will come from scientists and experts with proven track records of success.

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator. He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.

Also published in Manila Times. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (

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