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Olin Wethington

Based in Washington D.C. USA

  • Chairman and Principal, Wethington International LLC, an investment advisory firm
  • An expert in finance, the global economy, global geopolitical trends and U.S. foreign policy (Asia, Europe, Middle East)
  • Former Special Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the Economic Policy Council in the White House; Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, U.S. Treasury; Special Envoy on China, U.S. Treasury
  • Senior Fellow and Executive Director, Project on Shaping the Asia-Pacific Future, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council
  • Chairman and Principal, Wethington International LLC, an investment advisory firm
  • An expert in finance, the global economy, global geopolitical trends and U.S. foreign policy (Asia, Europe, Middle East)
  • Former Special Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the Economic Policy Council in the White House; Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, U.S. Treasury; Special Envoy on China, U.S. Treasury
  • Senior Fellow and Executive Director, Project on Shaping the Asia-Pacific Future, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council

Olin Wethington is an authority and leading expert on U.S. foreign policy and global geopolitical trends. With over 30 years’ experience in both government and the private sector, he has played a leadership role on a number of significant U.S. foreign policy issues in Asia and is a unique spokesperson on international financial issues and political risk to the global economy. His interests include strengthening security stability in Asia in the face of growing Chinese military power and the North Korean nuclear threat, and enhancing U.S. global economic performance. He offers new thinking and strategic vision. He is a tenacious proponent of strengthening the liberal rules-based international economic order.

As Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and Executive Director of the Project on Shaping the Asia-Pacific Future at the Atlantic Council, Mr. Wethington has co-authored two important reports: “Strengthening the Institutional Architecture for an Open, Rules-Based Economic Order,” and “A Path to Leadership in the Asia-Pacific: Revitalizing the Multilateral Financial Institutions.”

Mr. Wethington is the Founder of Wethington International LLC, an investment and business advisory firm, established in 2009, focused on advising companies and institutions on capital investment, financial structure and business strategy, particularly in emerging markets. From March 2006-January 2009, Wethington was Chairman, AIG Companies in China, with responsibilities for operation and expansion of American International Group’s business in China, including the broadening of AIG’s financial services platform in China to reflect AIG’s global capabilities.

During his time in the U.S. government, he played an important role on various significant international financial issues over the past several decades. These included financial market development in China, structural reform in Japan, the entry of Russia into the international financial system after the collapse of the Soviet Union, G-7 macro- economic policy coordination, the role of the IMF and World Bank, and economic reform in Latin America. From May–September 2005, Wethington served as Special Envoy on China, engaging in intensive discussions with senior Chinese financial and foreign policy officials on exchange rate flexibility and financial market reform, and related consultations with other governments. In late July 2005 China abandoned its decade- old fixed exchange rate mechanism and announced moves toward greater market responsiveness with respect to the value of its currency. From August 2004-September 2005, Wethington served as Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury. He advised on Iraq’s economic reform program with the IMF and played a central role in the international effort to reduce Iraq’s $125 billion external debt. He led the on-ground negotiations for the United States within the Paris Club that produced the landmark international agreement to eliminate 80% of Iraq’s external debt—the largest debt write-down ever up to that time by sovereign creditors. From November 2003-June 2004, Wethington served as the senior U.S. Treasury official at the Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad, Iraq, where he led the multilateral team of bankers, economists and government regulators focused on capacity-building at Iraq’s Central Bank and Finance Ministry. During previous Administrations, Wethington served as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the Economic Policy Council, White House (under President George H.W. Bush), and Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade, U.S. Department of Commerce. During his White House service, he coordinated the deliberations of the Cabinet-level Economic Policy Council, chaired by the President.

Mr. Wethington was partner at one of Washington, D.C.’s leading international law firms, Steptoe & Johnson, during 1985-89 and 1993-2003. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Board of Trustees of the George C. Marshall Foundation, and the Board of Directors of the International Republican Institute. He has participated in election observation missions to Cambodia, Egypt and Ukraine. He is a recipient of the Alexander Hamilton Award, the highest honor of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

TUNIS – On December 21, Tunisia completed a remarkable democratic transfer of power, with the election of Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of the secular political party Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia). As with the parliamentary election in October, the process of choosing a president was, for the most part, fair and free of violence.

For the moment, Tunisia is the only Arab Spring country that appears to be on a path to genuine democratic governance. Since the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the country has endured pressures from Islamic radicals, a deterioration of its economy, and a chaotic transitional period. But it has also written and adopted a new constitution structured to encourage the separation and balance of powers, and it seems on track to pull off a successful change in government.

Tunisia is relatively homogeneous ethnically and lacks sharp sectarian divisions; nonetheless, owing partly to its porous borders with Algeria and Libya, the specter of violence is always present. Indeed, the issue of security dominated both the parliamentary and presidential elections, with all sides claiming to be the best qualified to counter extremism. Lurking in the background of the presidential election was fear in some quarters that a victory by Nidaa Tounes, which won a plurality in parliament, might mean a return to authoritarian rule.

Given concerns about security and the fate of the democratic transition, economic issues were essentially put on hold in both elections. Now it is time for Tunisia’s leaders to put the economy at the top of their agenda.

In the coming weeks, Nidaa Tounes, which won 86 of the parliament’s 217 seats, will face a difficult decision as it attempts to form a government. The party’s leaders could strike a power-sharing arrangement with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which finished second, with 69 seats, and risk a stalemate over policy. Or they could piece together a working majority from smaller political parties and try to govern in an unstable coalition beset by deep policy disagreements.

Whatever Nidaa Tounes decides, the new government will have to act quickly. The country’s moribund economy has fueled public disillusionment. Unemployment is falling, but it remains high, at more than 15% – and higher still among the young. The fiscal and current-account deficits are widening, foreign investment is weak, inflation is rising, and corruption remains rampant. Distrust of political parties and disappointment in their ability to govern is widespread, as evidenced by low voter turnout in the recent elections. Tunisia’s political achievements could rapidly be reversed if the new government cannot quickly revive the economy and improve citizens’ daily lives.

Nidaa Tounes must take the lead in forging support from all major parties for a national-unity agenda on economic reforms. In its first 30 days, the new National Assembly should publicly announce a consensus vision for economic growth and job creation. A broad multi-party commitment would likely help discipline subsequent legislative action and assist in generating the necessary public support.

There is already broad agreement among the major political parties on the necessary priorities: bringing public spending under control, encouraging private-sector growth and employment, promoting regional development and social inclusion, and investing in essential infrastructure. In the previous assembly, work stalled on several significant pieces of legislation, including laws on public-private partnerships, foreign investment, and banking reform. The unity agenda should include early passage of these bills.

Tunisia’s politicians will be able to draw on existing work. The program developed by acting Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in September 2014 deserves serious consideration. The International Monetary Fund Stand-By Arrangement of 2013 provides a similar starting point. To maintain support from the IMF when its current program ends in summer 2015, Tunisia will need to negotiate new commitments. A consensus reform package could serve as a credible point of departure.

In the meantime, Western democracies must do their part and sustain engagement with Tunisia. The 2011 Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition, in which G-8 members pledged to support Arab countries’ efforts to move toward “free, democratic, and tolerant societies,” has a role to play. This mechanism may be unlikely to mobilize significant new financing, but participating countries can provide valuable political and technical support on structural reform, regional integration, and private-sector development.

Provided the security threats are contained, an early consensus within Tunisia on a credible economic agenda would open the taps of the largest potential source of capital: international financial markets. The incoming funds, and the subsequent growth and job creation, would undergird the consolidation of democracy – and thus help cement the impressive gains that Tunisia has made so far.

Originally by Olin Wethington, Source: Jan 8, 2015, Project Syndicate


The people of Ukraine went to the polls on Oct. 26 and voted overwhelmingly to continue the process launched by the Maidan movement. The results could fairly be interpreted as an overwhelming endorsement of economic reform and integration with the European Union, and a call to end corruption and resist Russian territorial encroachment and separatist violence. Rising above the campaign noise, the rallying cry of “Slava Ukraina” or “Glory to Ukraine” could clearly be heard in all parts of the country.

On election day I was in Sloviansk in Donetsk oblast, serving as an election observer with the International Republican Institute (IRI). Sloviansk is a city of over 100,000 mostly Russian-speaking people that was recaptured by the Ukrainian army in July from pro-Russian separatists. Moscow often points to the city as “evidence” that Ukrainians actually want Putin to come and restore “Russian greatness.”

What I saw in Sloviansk was a much different picture than the one depicted by Russian propaganda, or even on the daily news. Sloviansk also contrasts with this past Sunday’s illegitimate elections conducted by the militant separatists in the Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk oblast. My conversations with many voters revealed strong, near-universal opposition to the Russian separatists and Russian military intervention.

This sentiment was not a surprise to me or to the regional experts at IRI. An IRI poll conducted in eastern Ukraine a few weeks before the elections showed majority support for a united Ukraine and rejection of Russian military intervention and separatist pro-Russian militancy. These numbers had been trending upward in similar IRI polls over the previous six months.

On election day, turnout in the open election districts in Donetsk oblast and Sloviansk was actually higher than in open election districts in the presidential election in May. And while the Opposition Bloc (the old Yanukovich Party of Regions) made a decent showing in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk where voting took place, this did not indicate support for militant separatism. Rather, it more accurately reflected a desire for the familiar ways of the past, rather than support for an independent People’s Republic of Donetsk. The Opposition Bloc vote was actually much weaker — by half — in these elections in Donetsk oblast, and in Sloviansk specifically, than the vote in 2012 for the Party of Regions. Moreover, the pro-Ukraine unity parties collectively out-polled the Opposition Bloc in Donetsk oblast and Sloviansk.

One of the striking aspects about the single mandate portion of the ballot in Sloviansk was the number of new faces running for office. Also notable: the many young people serving as party observers and on precinct election commissions. In a revealing conversation, one woman told me she was inspired to become an election observer for the Opposition Bloc after reading about a woman who, after being released by Russia-backed separatists who captured and tortured her, ran for office in Donetsk oblast.

In fact, in Sloviansk there is no broad support for Russian military intervention. In this city at least, and I believe in other cities open for voting in the war-torn oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, eastern Ukraine has said “no” to Putin and his proxies.

Yet incredibly, a few official voices have resisted coming to the aid of Ukraine. When Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Washington, D.C., in early October, he pleaded with Congress and the Obama administration for assistance in repelling Russia’s relentless assault against Ukraine’s sovereignty on land and over the internet. The good news is that there is strong bipartisan support within Congress for providing defensive military assistance to Ukraine — because we must act. U.S. inaction risks locking in an enclave of Russian influence in eastern Ukraine, resulting in a “frozen conflict.” As time goes on, Russian separatism will be harder to dislodge and certainly will not stop. Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov and could provide Russia with a land bridge to Crimea, may be the next target.

As someone who watched Ukrainians speak in favor of democracy, I hope that Congress passes the Ukraine Freedom Support Act and that President Obama quickly signs it. With the prospect of Republican leadership in the Senate, there may be an opportunity to do just that.

Originally by Olin Wethington, Source: Nov 3, 2014, Foreign Policy

SAGE Speaker Olin Wethington participated in the panel discussion on China’s Economy at C-SPAN.

Panelists talked about the impact of China’s economic policies and slowing economic growth on global markets. Panelists explained why they thought China’s economic model was unsustainable, and spoke about some of the reforms called for by the Chinese government and its people. 

Click here to view the complete video of the panel: China’s Economy

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 1.08.55 PM

Source: April 15, 2014, C-SPAN

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  • Foresight on global security challenges: Forces shaping the future of global balance of power
  • Great-power relations in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in Northeast Asia
  • America’s economic and security role in Asia
  • Strengthening the institutional architecture of the global economy
  • Economic decision-making and reform in China
  • Assessing political risk to business in Asia and the Middle East