In recent years, the formation of “bromance” between male international leaders and its implications for world politics have become a subject of particular interest among diplomats and international relations academics.
The term “bromance” is a portmanteau of “brother” and “romance” coined by the American media back in the 1990s, which refers to a kind of close, intimate, affectionate and emotional but non-sexual bond between two men of which the intensity and intimacy exceed that of usual friendship.
But it doesn’t have any connotation of male homosexuality whatsoever.
Simply put, “bromance” is a kind of close-knit and firmly established brotherhood which is formed between two men with no blood relationship.
One typical example of “bromance” in politics is the close and long-standing friendship between former US president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden. Unlike his predecessor Dick Cheney, Biden was more interested in promoting gender equality, anti-discrimination and the fight against cancer than building his personal political capital during his term of office.
When Joe Biden’s son became terminally ill and eventually died of brain cancer in 2013, Obama stood by him and his family all the way through, which was often seen as an unmistakable indication that the relationship between the two had already transcended that between usual colleagues.
And the fact that a black president and a white vice-president had established such a strong and steadfast brotherhood also made good material for political publicity, which was fully utilized by the White House and the Democrats to their advantage throughout Obama’s presidency.
The most recent example of “bromance” between state leaders is the close male bonding between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Both young, handsome, libertarian and highly popular in their own countries, Trudeau and Macron simply hit it off with each other when they first met at the G7 summit held in Sicily in May.
Moreover, apart from their similar age and political views, the fact that Trudeau is of French descent and can speak fluent French is also considered another major contributing factor to their “love at first sight”.
Trudeau and Macron share not only the same views on a lot of issues, but also a common enemy: US President Donald Trump, whose anti-globalization and isolationist approach to diplomacy has simply drawn Canada and France closer together, as both Trudeau and Macron are champions of globalization and are determined to cast off the shadow of the United States so as to allow their own countries to assume more independent and influential roles in world politics.
One some occasions, “bromance” between political leaders could even change the course of history. For example, the bromance between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and their close partnership were instrumental in toppling the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959.
After Castro had taken power, Che Guevara was appointed to various key government positions in Havana for a considerable period of time before he eventually left the country to export the ideas of the Cuban Revolution to the rest of the world.
Another major example of bromance between world leaders is the close friendship between former US president Bill Clinton and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
According to recently declassified information, the two were such close and intimate friends that they often bantered with each other about basically everything over the phone, and some of the jokes they made about each other or somebody else turned out to be pretty near the knuckle.
Such a close bond between the leaders of two major powers is definitely rare in international politics.
Some might argue that the implications of bromance for world politics could have been overstated, let alone the notion that it could change the course of history.
However, in my opinion, the influence of personal factors and human emotions on diplomacy should not be underestimated either. Let’s not forget that being a world leader is indeed a very stressful and lonely job, and the kind of intense loneliness, isolation, detachment, seclusion and desolation they have to endure are often unspeakable.
As such, it is possible that being able to find a soul mate among their foreign counterparts might really have profound influence on the political views of world leaders and their decisions.
After all, human beings are social animals, and even the most formidable and battle-hardened politicians are still made of flesh and blood like everybody else and therefore can’t be totally immune to human emotions.
While it is widely believed that the bromance between Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron is likely to strengthen in the days ahead, there is also talk that there could be potential for bromance between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But to me, the idea of bromance between the two still sounds a bit far-fetched.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 21
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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