What can we in Asia expect from a Hillary Clinton Presidency?–A Point of View

November 7, 2016

What can we in Asia expect from a Hillary Clinton Presidency?–A Point of View

by T J Pempel, University of California, Berkeley

By mid-afternoon on Wednesday 9 November 2016, Asians will be temporarily unified by their collective sigh of relief. Early US election results will be announcing their reprieve from four years of torment under a Trump presidency. With less than two weeks until election day, the United States’ six major polling models range in their predictions of the likelihood of a Clinton presidency between 85 and 97 per cent. FBI Director James Comey’s 28 October precedent-breaking announcement that new emails had been discovered rewrote the scripts of both campaigns but subsequent polls suggested that few presidential votes would shift as a result. Short of a zombie invasion or some equivalent deus ex machina, Hillary’s presidency is all but guaranteed.

 Image result for President-Elect Hillary Clinton

 The Most Likely Outc0me on November 8, 2016

Her victory will provide two valuable reassurances. First, continuity is likely. As Secretary of State, Clinton was a major contributor to Obama’s Asia policy, including the ‘rebalance’ to Asia. Second, her current Asia policy team is stacked with a deep bench of individuals sharing extensive experience and familiarity with all aspects of East Asia.

This will not be an administration that is fomenting trade or currency wars, reducing alliances to their economic transaction costs or encouraging Japan and South Korea to develop autonomous nuclear programs — as promised by Trump. Obama’s Asia policies have their critics, and expertise by no means guarantees compatibility. But ‘slow and steady’ policies under adult supervision will be far more regionally welcome than the alternative.

Clinton more hawkish than Barack Obama

Though a Clinton presidency will mean continuity, her past suggests that she is also more prone than Obama to employ military force. As one interviewer observed, she prefers the ‘nail eating, swamp-crawling’ military officers to diplomats wearing uniforms.

This is likely to generate more robust challenges by the United States towards North Korea and a greater willingness to employ the Seventh Fleet as a check on maritime assertiveness. It may also make Clinton reluctant to change plans for the highly controversial Marine Corps base repositioning within Okinawa, despite massive Okinawan opposition to the relocation. And it may influence her handling of complex alliance relations like those with Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines or the generals running Thailand.

Equally significant, however, Clinton devours her briefing books and is adept at combining tactical manoeuvring with attention to her long-term agenda. She will be willing to exchange tit-for-tat on specific provocations while bolstering existing alliances and building on tentative cooperation with China in areas such as climate change, piracy and the Iran nuclear deal.

But any abstract commitment by the Clinton administration to prioritise Asia will confront at least three huge hurdles.

TPPA ?–Go or No Go–Tussle with Congress

First, instability and warfare in the Middle East will continue to devour disproportionate amounts of policy making bandwidth. Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran, not to mention Israeli–Palestinian relations, will remain gargantuan Middle Eastern sand dunes that impede the footsteps and obscure the vision of any moves toward Asia.Image result for TPPA

Second, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), key to Obama’s efforts to engage and structure Asia-Pacific trade and investment, is dead for the foreseeable future. Mitch McConnell, Republican Majority Leader of the US Senate, has declared that the Senate will not consider the TPP during the November–January ‘lame duck’ session, continuing his adamant obstruction of every Obama initiative. His refusal also closes an otherwise convenient back door by which Hillary could have benefited from the TPP’s ratification without reversing her campaign trail promises.

Those promises plus the looming political exigencies of the 2018 Congressional elections work against her bringing the TPP forward in her first two years, regardless of the pleadings of the other eleven signatories or the TPP’s potential benefit to United States’ economic engagement with Asia.

Mending Party and cultural divisions in the US

This feeds into the third impediment. Even with a big Electoral College win, Clinton will enjoy no honeymoon. Party and cultural divisions in the United States have taken on tribal exclusivity. Clinton is not likely to see more than a one to three seat Democratic majority in the Senate at most, while to capture a House majority, Democrats must gain 30 seats from at most 35 vulnerable Republican-held seats, an always tough task made harder by the Comey announcement which has remobilised dispirited Republicans now anxious to ensure a Congressional check on a Clinton presidency.

Clinton’s skills in negotiating across the partisan aisle are justifiably touted as superior to Obama’s, and Asia policies are not inherently partisan triggers. But incentives still remain high for Republicans to sustain a united wall of opposition. Senate elections in 2018 are likely to return a Republican majority while in the House, a fractious Republican caucus and House Speaker Paul Ryan whose long run presidential ambitions will circumscribe any incentive he might have to ‘sell out’ by cooperating with Clinton.

House Republicans are already promising that if they retain even the slimmest majority they will begin an endless cycle of well-publicised investigations of Clinton and even potential impeachment hearings before she unpacks in the White House. And public scepticism about a Clinton victory remains high among Republican voters. An NBC/SurveyMonkey poll released on 20 October found that a full 45 per cent of Republicans definitely wouldn’t or are unlikely to accept the results of the election if their candidate lost.

A Meaningless Asia Policy without Economic and Financial Engagement

Any collective post-election relief Asians might feel is likely to be short-lived in the face of the prioritisation of non-Asian issues on the US agenda, an Asia policy devoid of economic and financial engagement and the clown show that passes for the US Congress. But relief may be in sight; candidates are already gearing up for the 2020 presidential elections.

T J Pempel is Jack M Forcey Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley.

What can Asia expect under Hillary’s presidency?


9 thoughts on “What can we in Asia expect from a Hillary Clinton Presidency?–A Point of View

  1. I have, on a couple of occasions at UC Berkeley, had very pleasant conversation with Professor TJ Pempel. I find him an excellent orator, a very well-mannered man with great humor, a great intellectual who is very well-informed on the events in East Asia, especially Northeast Asia. I find myself in agreement with most of his objective points of view. The students of UC Berkeley are lucky to have him as their professor.

  2. For those of us in Asia look for a system of government that can double GDP every 15 years to match population growth. Otherwise we will all continue to be a 50/50 region with Mercedes Benz breaking sales records.

  3. Hillary may be a hawk but she always back away from a tough open fight, prefer stealth and attacking opponent weakness even to the extent of being underhanded. She is more likely to encourage her opponent’s opponents and use friends to work on her opponent allies. My sense is she will try make her mark with women issue like gender pay, drug prices or infrastructure rather than tackle the toughest issue of entitlement or healthcare.

  4. “Obama’s Asia policies have their critics, and expertise by no means guarantees compatibility. But ‘slow and steady’ policies under adult supervision will be far more regionally welcome than the alternative.”

    Don’t hold your breadth on that if the Clinton becomes POTUS. Uncle Sam’s refocus on the Asia Pacific ie around SCS, is not to protect the interests and rights of the respective countries in the region. It is to protect American geo-political interests and the special interests of the Anglo-American oil conglomerates that want to continue their stranglehold on the vast natural resources in the area.
    American aggressive intent to break up China’s string of pearls to contain China and to sabotage her economic influence in the region has in turn triggered China’s offensive response to protect her own strategic and economic interests, notably, to set up a military base in the region.
    Give us break. It is all about business and big money and not about any other phoney excuse you want to play up. There will be a price to pay if America is deluded ito think she can destabilise the region like in the Mid East. She may have to go through BRICS first to get to China.

  5. Our world has entered an era of global discontent. From Brexit to the ugly US election season are just two of many signals of the deep divisions, social and economic, that characterize many countries today. A sense of disillusion is felt increasingly across the world that the much touted benefits of globalization have left large numbers of people behind. The United States has not escaped the challenge of rising inequality.

    Tomorrow is the American Election Day. Whoever becomes the next President, it remains to be seen how he/she will address this discontent and anger. America is never more divided before.

    Our challenge, as individuals in this era of discontent, is to ensure that amidst the madness, our own sanity endures. Even more so, our shared challenge is also to ensure that we can still come together to move forward and improve the lives of all.
    It is no longer the winter of discontent; it is the spring of disenchantment in the US. The ordinary Americans are sick and tired of corrupt politics in Washington DC and that is why Trumpism is strong.

    So, I am not sure that we can attribute this phenomenon to globalisation per se. America’s imperial ambition of democracy and human rights has led to its adventurism in Afghanistan, Iraq,Libya, and Syria.US foreign policy is not winning friends. To borrow from Senator William Fulbright, it is arrogance of power.

    Resources badly needed for education, research and social programmes have been diverted to the war effort. Today, America is a heavily indebted nation, able to continue using the greenbacks with impunity The financial and banking system created by the Allied Powers after World War II enabled the US to use its currency for international settlements. I do not know what the new POTUS can do about this about this. Being a banker to the world, the US can use its currency to run massive fiscal and trade deficits (with China in particular today) without a care in the world. What do you think, LaMoy?–Din Merican

  6. Din:
    Just came back from work at the election poll station. In a few hours time we will know who will become the next President of the United States. Whoever becomes the next President, he/she is unlikely to bring the country back together after this bitter election season.

    My dear friend, I think we both agree the US foreign policy often failed to accomplish its objectives and mostly behaved counterproductive. Force replaced diplomacy. Military solutions trampled negotiations. Counter-insurgency produced insurgents.

    It is interesting you brought up the subject of the US “being a banker to the world.” Today, more than 60% of all foreign currency reserves in the world are in US dollars, but there are big changes in the horizon. Some of the big economies have been making agreements with each other to move away from using the US dollar in international trade, and this shift is going to have massive implication for the US economy.

    A few months ago, China (2nd largest economy) and Japan (3rd largest economy) struck a deal which will promote the use of their own currencies when trading with each other. This was an incredibly important agreement that was virtually unreported by the American media. The US is in the stage of denial, and most Americans have no idea where the trends are taking us.

    Things are changing rapidly. BRICS plan to use their own currencies to trade with each other. The use of Chinese currency is growing tremendously in the whole of African continent. China and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to ditch the US dollar and use their own currencies in oil transactions, likely to be followed by Saudi Arabia and posing a serious threat to the petrodollar system. Iran has been one of the most aggressive nations when it comes to moving away from the US dollar in international trade.

    Eventually, I believe, there will be a new world reserve currency. In fact, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund have already started to push for a new world reserve currency.

    If the US dollar’s reign as the world reserve currency comes to an end, it will bring very undesirable changes to the American lifestyle. There will be massive inflation, high interest rates on mortgages/cars, and substantial increases in the cost of food, clothing and fuel. Of course, things will not happen overnight, but it is important to note that these changes are real and picking up steam. You never know when a shift in momentum can become a landslide or an avalanche.

    I have been consistently pro-Hillary since she chose to be in the Presidential race more than 2 years ago. Check my blog. I went to make a daring prediction that she would beat Trump. I am wrong. I am disappointed that she has performed poorly today. But The American people have spoken and I respect their choice of Trump as President-Elect. Why can’t Hillary accept that choice and concede defeat graciously. –Din Merican

  7. “Why can’t Hillary accept that choice and concede defeat graciously”. –Din Merican

    The irony is rich, isn’t it? TRUMP was criticised when he said he would only concede defeat if he’s satisfied that his defeat was fair and square.
    At least Trump was magnamous in victory when she didn’t even have the decency to thank her ardent supporters but sent her campaign manager instead to bundle them all to go home and sleep.

  8. Din:
    That’s Hillary, a sore loser. I didn’t support her because I’ve a personal grudge against her. I know her personally as a very nasty woman and had a verbal fight with her. Now that her political career is finished, let her just fades away.

    I didn’t vote for Trump either. But I always had the feeling that he had a very good chance to win. Campaign rhetoric is one thing, but no one knows what Trump is actually thinking but Trump himself. Americans have chosen a bullshitter over an liar to give Trump a chance. We just hope he will turn out to be a fairly good President. If not, we have to endure the next four years. That’s the name of the game, the so-called democracy.

    Just keep an eye on how the Republican establishment comes crawling back to lick Trump’s boots. That’s the nature of politicians.

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