East-Asian Regionalism — A Bulwark Against a “Post-Liberal” International Order?


November 18, 2017

East-Asian Regionalism — A Bulwark Against a “Post-Liberal” International Order?

http://www.jpi.or.kr/eng/regular/policy_view.sky?code=EnOther&id=5325–www.eastasiaforum.org

By  See Seng Tan (RSIS, Nanyang Technological University)

In his January 2017 address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Chinese President Xi Jinping positioned himself—unusually for the leader of Communist China—as a defender of globalization and free trade. Without a doubt, Xi’s remarks were directed at incoming US President Donald Trump, whose campaign rhetoric stressed resistance to globalization and promised the likelihood of an increasingly nationalist, isolationist, and protectionist America. Trump is not alone in wanting to reverse the tide of globalization the current pro-Brexit UK government has been singing a similar tune.

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This paper makes three interrelated points. First, the rising nationalist cum protectionist tide in the West is not a foregone conclusion due to mitigating factors that impel the great powers to cooperate, if only instrumentally and in the short term. Second, the history of East Asia from the Cold War to the present has been one where an emphasis on the preservation and protection of neutrality has given way in the post-Cold War period to so-called open regionalism, a broad-based preference for extensive and deep engagement with external powers and access to outside markets and resources. Third, East Asia’s shared commitment to open regionalism makes East Asian Regionalism, despite the present uncertainty surrounding regional trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an important counter-narrative and alternative model to the isolationist and protectionist zeitgeist.

Is the World Turning Protectionist?

Should Trump and other anti-globalists have their way, how might their behavior impact the liberal international economic order? According to a Brookings Institution report, despite holding the largest share of world trade and foreign capital, the US, relative to its size, is not as globally integrated as other countries.1) What could prove detrimental, however, is if other countries retaliate against US protectionist policies this fact serves as the basis for concerns that Trump could precipitate a trade war. Yet while retaliatory trade behavior might only be a short-term issue, the more fundamental risk is if countries repudiate global norms and institutions that underpin the globalized economy. This is possible if they feel that the US is no longer committed to upholding the liberal economic order and shouldering its burden—a worry that predates the Trump presidency but has since been reinforced by it.2)

Additionally, there is concern whether China, despite President Xi’s performance at Davos 2017, will honor the commitments it has made. These include accepting imported manufactured products and services as well as fully implementing TRIPS (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) as China promised to do when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.3) Finally, there is also concern about various types of “covert” protectionism (i.e., the so-called behind-the-border barriers) rampant in China and other emerging markets that are challenging to address.4)

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Recent developments suggest that Trump has been forced by unanticipated events to delay or defer the pursuit of his anti-liberal agenda. The Trump administration has made a series of abrupt reversals in foreign policy, such as revising his earlier opinions about NATO, US involvement in Syria, burden sharing by US allies, the One China policy, US involvement in the South China Sea, and the US Export-Import Bank. It has also retreated from intended protectionist moves toward China because Chinese cooperation is sorely needed to manage a recalcitrant North Korea. Consequently, Trump has gone from accusing China of being the “grand champion” of currency manipulation to declaring they have not manipulated the China’s currency in months. Additionally, since initially proposing a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods for allegedly hollowing out US manufacturing, the administration has gone quiet (whilst at the same time threatening to impose a 20 percent tariff on Canadian lumber). Crucially, Trump has also expressed strong support for bilateral free trade deals.5)

Whether this retreat from protectionism and isolationism is a temporary or expedient move remains to be seen. After all, there is evidence to suggest that, despite these reversals toward what some observers see as a more traditional US foreign policy,6) Trump appears to persist in his preference for transactional approaches.7) This was apparent during the Trump-Xi summit, where both leaders reportedly deliberated with “a cold calculation of interests” as they mutually exacted concessions from one another while still acknowledging their interdependence.8) In other words, the reversals merely reflect the Trump administration‟s pragmatic response to evolving international conditions that require corresponding changes in reciprocity. These are the quid pro quos that embody transactional diplomacy. Still, by acknowledging mutual dependence, even if only on a transactional basis, a slide towards full-blown protectionism and unadulterated solipsism has been kept at bay.9)

East Asia: From “Neutrality” to “Open Regionalism”

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A More Engaged and Assertive Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

It is worth noting that the emergence and evolution of East Asian Regionalism (EAR) did not occur outside the liberal international order but within it. If anything, EAR has sought to complement rather than compete against liberalism. When former Malaysian Premier Mahathir bin Mohamad’s idea of an East Asian Economic Grouping (EAEG)—later amended to an East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC)—was proposed in 1990, the assumption then was that the EAEG/EAEC would form a Japan-led regional bloc that could serve as a counterweight to emerging—and potentially rival—regionalisms in Europe (such as the European Union, or EU) and North America (such as the North American Free Trade Area, or NAFTA). However, EAR would take a back seat to Asia-Pacific regionalism with the formation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994. Together with the earlier formation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade forum, the emergence of ARF—with ASEAN as first its midwife and subsequently its anointed custodian—marked a strategic shift in the way ASEAN viewed the involvement of great and regional powers within Southeast Asia. For the ASEAN countries, the Cold War perspective of the great powers as outsiders seeking to intervene, exploit, and divide the region and who therefore must be checked—as embodied in the 1971 ASEAN declaration of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN)—was gradually replaced by a post-Cold War perspective of those same powers as external actors with whom Southeast Asians ought to actively engage through multilateral diplomacy, among other means.

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Cambodia and China–Strategic Partners in Development

Far from exclusivist, the new regionalism that emerged in the early post-Cold War years in the Asia-Pacific is what some have termed open regionalism. This concept argues for cooperation across national borders in a region to reduce transaction costs through the collective involvement of governments in “trade facilitation,” or the expansion of open trade.10)

Second, open regionalism is meant to be inclusive in that it seeks to incorporate outside powers such as the US and other eastern Pacific Rim countries into APEC and ARF.11) Belief in such inclusivism—coupled with the perceived need to construct a stable regional balance of power by including outside groups to counter possible hegemonic ambitions—led to a push to enlarge the membership of the East Asia Summit (EAS) to include countries beyond the 10+3 of ASEAN plus Three (APT).12)

Third, open regionalism encourages groups to make their enterprises compatible with institutional arrangements and practices in other parts of the world, including world bodies. For example, the architects of ARF made it clear that the forum is not meant to replace the San Francisco system of military alliances. Instead, it serves as a supplementary mechanism for dialogue and consultation. Likewise with the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI) reserve currency pool, an institutional expression of EAR and APT, was launched against the backof the crippling Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Speculations that the CMI—along with its multilateral component, the CMI Multilateralization (CMIM)—would surpass the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the region‟s first port of call for financial assistance in times of crisis were put to rest when it became clear that regional countries either prefer IMF assistance or bilateral swap agreements that had no IMF links.13)

This is also evident in how ASEAN and its suite of regional offshoots have avoided asserting themselves as the region‟s savior organizations when troubles hit by limiting their aim and remit. As in the case of the CMI/CMIM, Asian countries involved in territorial disputes have looked to world bodies such as the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ)—as in the cases of the Indonesia-Malaysia dispute over Sipadan and Ligitan, the Malaysia-Singapore dispute over Pedra Branca, and the Cambodia-Thailand disputes over Preah Vihear and its promontory—the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), or the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) for UNCLOS Annex VII arbitrations—activated recently in the case of the China-Philippines dispute over the South China Sea (SCS). Alternatively, they rely on bilateral means of dispute settlement rather than ASEAN-based dispute settlement mechanisms.14)

Reinforcing the Liberal Message Though EAR

Since the knee-jerk reactions in the immediate aftermath of the US withdrawal from the TPP—in particular, Japan’s insistence that a TPP without the US would be “meaningless”—Australia and Japan have emerged as the loudest voices in favor of an 11-member TPP trade deal sans the US, without ruling out the possibility of the latter’s return to the fold.15) Meanwhile some are hoping that RCEP will launch by the end of 2017, though the best possible outcome is likely to be a framework agreement.16) Much was made at the RCEP Kobe meeting in February 2017 about an inclusive agreement that ensures roles for all stakeholders. The argument by RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee Chief Iman Pambagyo, for example, that RCEP balance the needs of both developed and developing nations implies that progress is likely to be slow and by no means guaranteed.17) APEC supports a third trade pact, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), but it remains at the consultative stage despite receiving strong support from China when it chaired the 2014 APEC summit.18)

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Open regionalism inherently and intuitively liberalizes trade and refutes protectionism. Or it tries to. Despite the uncertainty surrounding TPP-11 and RCEP, they remain key reference points for any defense of trade liberalization. There is a longstanding debate over whether regional trade agreements compete with the world trade system.19) But, as we have seen, the ways in which open regionalism has hitherto been conceptualized and practiced in both the economic and security domains in East Asia render EAR a key political counterpoint to the anti-globalization fever that has seized the geo-economic cum geopolitical imaginations of the West. This is perhaps the most important role that EAR can and hopefully will play in the future, namely, as a bulwark against the anti-globalization tide through reinforcement of a liberal message.

Footnotes:

1) Brina Seideland Laurence Chandy, “Donald Trump and the future of globalization”, Brookings, 18 November 2016,
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2016/11/18/donald-trump-and-the-future-of-globalization/
2) Kati Suominen, Peerless and Periled: The Paradox of American Leadership in the World Economic Order (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 243.
3) Douglas Bulloch, “Protectionism May Be Rising Around The World, But In China It Never Went Away”, Forbes, 12 October 2016,
https://www.forbes.com/sites/douglasbulloch/2016/10/12/protectionism-may-be-rising-around-the-world-but-in-china-it-never-went-away/#359ae9bc73da
4) “Protectionism: The Hidden Persuaders”, The Economist, 12 October 2013,
http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21587381-protectionism-can-take-many-forms-not-all-them-obvious-hidden-persuaders
5) Geoffrey Gertz, “What will Trump‟s embrace of bilateralism mean for America‟s trade partners?” Brookings, 8 February 2017,
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2017/02/08/what-will-trumps-embrace-of-bilateralism-mean-for-americas-trade-partners/
6) David Ignatius, “Trump moves slightly toward pillars of traditional foreign policy”, USA Today, 13 April 2017,
https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/04/13/trump-moves-slightly-toward-pillars-traditional-foreign-policy/100413776/
7) Greg Jaffe and Joshua Partlow, “Trump phone calls signal a new transactional approach to allies and neighbors”, The Washington Post, 2 February 2017,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-phone-calls-signals-a-new-transactional-approach-to-allies-and-neighbors/2017/02/02/dcb797fa-e989-11e6-b82f-687d6e6a3e7c_story.html?utm_term=.97755b835303
8) Lexington, “A coldly transactional China policy: Donald Trump‟s first meeting with Xi Jinping was all about business”, The Economist, 8 April 2017,
http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2017/04/coldly-transactional-china-policy
9) Robert Kagan, “Trump marks the end of America as world‟s „indispensable nation‟”, The Financial Times, 20 November 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/782381b6-ad91-11e6-ba7d-76378e4fef24
10) Ross Garnaut, Open Regionalism and Trade Liberalization: An Asia-Pacific Contribution to the World Trade System (Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak, 1996).
11) Amitav Acharya, “Ideas, Identity, and Institution-building: From the „ASEAN Way‟ to the „Asia-Pacific Way‟?”, The Pacific Review, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1997), pp. 319-346.
12) Malcolm Cook and Nick Bisley, “Contested Asia and the East Asia Summit”, ISEAS Perspective, No. 46, 18 August 2016.
13) Hal Hill and Jayant Menon, “Asia‟s new financial safety net: Is the Chiang Mai Initiative designed not to be used?”, Vox, 25 July 2012, http://voxeu.org/article/chiang-mai-initiative-designed-not-be-used
14) See Seng Tan, “The Institutionalisation of Dispute Settlements in Southeast Asia: The Legitimacy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in De-securitising Trade and Territorial Disputes”, in Hitoshi Nasu and Kim Rubenstein, eds., Legal Perspectives on Security Institutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 248-266.
15) WSim, “Australia, Japan lobby for TPP-11”, The Straits Times, 21 April 2017, http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/australia-japan-lobby-for-tpp-11 “’TPP 11′ to Washington: We’ll keep your seat warm”, Nikkei Review, 16 May 2017,
http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/TPP-11-to-Washington-We-ll-keep-your-seat-warm
16) Shefali Rekhi, “Will RCEP be a reality by the end of 2017?” The Straits Times, 23 April 2017,
http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/will-rcep-be-a-reality-by-the-end-of-2017
17) Eric Johnston, “16-nation RCEP talks resume in wake of TPP‟s demise”, The Japan Times, 27 February 2017,
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/27/business/16-nation-rcep-talks-resume-wake-tpps-demise/#.WR1RaU21v3g
18) Mireya Solís, “China flexes its muscles at APEC with the revival of FTAAP”, East Asia Forum, 24 November 2014.
19) Parthapratim Pal, “Regional Trade Agreements in a Multilateral Trade Regime: A Survey of Recent Issues”, Foreign Trade Review, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2005), pp. 27-48.

* This is a presentation manuscript in the panel “Regionalism After Liberalism”, Jeju Forum, 31 May 2017.

An American Bull in Asia’s China Shop


November 14, 2017

An American Bull in Asia’s China Shop

By: Asia Sentinel editors

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/donald-trump-asia/

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The Donald Trump wrecking ball has now completed its swath across Asia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan. It began on May 20 when he chose Riyadh, the capital of the medieval kingdom and ground zero of Muslim extremism, as his first overseas visit after taking office and has ended with his now-concluded 12 day swing and his embrace of the Philippines’ murderous president Rodrigo Duterte. He took time out to outrage the US’s intelligence community by his fawning embrace of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin, who, wide-eyed, told Trump he had nothing to do with sabotaging the US election that brought Trump to power.

Thus far the results have been more dangerous in West Asia, where the young Saudi de facto ruler Prince Mohamed bin Salman has since embarked on confrontations with Iran in Yemen and now Lebanon, actions which appear to please few other than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s expansionist government.

In east Asia on the other hand, the reaction to Trump has been to gasp at his gaffes and empty rhetoric and try to carry on as though he did not exist. So far the only damage has been to the US itself as it sees the policies of 70 years which have so benefited trade and prosperity in the US itself as well as much of Asia viewed as contrary to US interests. For Trump it appears that the only free trade he wants is ability to plant Trump Towers everywhere from Riyadh to Bali to Manila via Moscow.

The record of the President‘s Asian tour was indeed remarkable, leaving a string of Asian leaders agog at his superficiality. Shinzo Abe was suitably flattering and took him golfing. But the highlight of the visit was a meal which proved that the Donald had little taste for his host nation’s acclaimed foods but needed a large cheeseburger of US-produced beef and cheese to keep him going while Abe looked on, bemused. On trade issues, which he says are so important, nothing significant transpired, with the President focusing on the art of the deal across Asia rather than the structural reforms that the trade regime needs.

China did even better in flattering him with a display of pomp which would give credit to an ancient empire, with Xi Jinping as emperor – an emperor whose growing power is sending tremors throughout the rest of Asia.  But again Trump came home empty-handed on trade.  Promises of US$250 billion of imports to China may well be built on sand. Commercial sales announced totalled US$65 million, many involving goods that Chinese companies buy routinely. Others were merely memorandums of understanding.

A Chinese decision to ease foreign access to financial markets appears to have had no direct connection to the visit. Trump even undercut his own cause by suggesting that China’s huge trade surplus with the US was the fault of the system, not China itself, saying “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

Instead, Trump blamed past American presidents. By definition this undermined demands of US businessmen for fairer treatment by China – treatment of the type which was the norm in most of its major trade partners. Legitimate US complaints could be ignored.

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His South Korea visit demonstrated just how much his violent rhetoric against North Korea, not to mention his attacks on trade pacts, had already so damaged relations that Seoul succumbed to Chinese economic and diplomatic pressures and agreed to limiting deployment of THAAD missiles.

On to Vietnam and, the APEC meeting in Da Nang showed just how far Trump was out of step with the attempts of the other nations on either side of the Pacific to forge closer economic links and reduce trade barriers. Meanwhile the remaining nine members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, following withdrawal of the US, humiliated Trump while he was in Asia by announcing the revival of the plan, albeit under a slightly altered name.

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If that wasn’t a huge slap in the face for the US from its major Asian allies, more derision was to follow.  Trump proclaimed himself a potential mediator in South China Sea disputes. Reactions ranged from open-mouthed amazement to guffaws of laughter. The only person who seemed to take it seriously was the Philippines’ neophyte foreign minister Alan Peter Cayetano who was quoted saying “We welcome that offer.”

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But at least for Trump he was now headed for the one country in the world where, according to recent surveys, he enjoys more positive than negative views. That certainly fits well in a nation which still gives high marks to President Duterte despite, or because of, a campaign of extrajudicial killings of thousands of supposed, mostly poor, drug users – or, too often – people who weren’t drug users at all, but infants as young as 3 who were murdered mistakenly by police.

Trump remained silent on that topic but meanwhile was able to share with Duterte their mutual disdain for President Obama.  This was certainly no way to win friends and influence people in the rest of Asia which has relatively very fond memories of the thoughtful and dignified former president.

Nor did Trump’s pals-act with Duterte make any dent in Duterte’s preference for Chinese money over asserting the rights in the sea accorded by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

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The one plus, at least in some quarters, of the visit was Trump’s reference to the Indo-Pacific rather than Asia Pacific, bringing India into the regional equation. This was not in fact new. The phrase had been used by Obama and it accords with history in so far as Indian cultural and trade influence was long bigger than China’s in much of Southeast Asia.

 

But that for now is a sideshow as apparent battle lines are drawn between an east Asian focus on open trade and a Trumpian desire to tear up multilateral pacts in favor of bilateral deals. That would spell the death of US influence in the region. Most likely it will not happen because US business, military and bureaucracy are all more concerned with building US influence to counter China than retreating behind tariff walls. But meanwhile China is tempted to gloat and smaller Asian countries are reluctantly trimming their policies in response to US trade threats and general incoherence.

Hugs, handshakes, diplomacy: Modi and Trump’s ASEAN meeting will be their third


November 14, 2017

Hugs, handshakes, diplomacy: Modi and Trump’s ASEAN meeting will be their third

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/hugs-handshakes-diplomacy-modi-and-trump-s-asean-meeting-will-be-their-third/story-1Oti6vDNtEhi6jH7GgWmMN.html

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting at Manila today was their third encounter so far.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a bilateral meeting with US president Donald Trump on Monday on the sidelines of the 15th ASEAN­–India summit in Manila.

Modi arrived in the Philippines capital on Sunday for a three-day visit during which he will also attend the 12th East Asia meet on Tuesday. Modi and Trump, who met briefly at a gala dinner on Sunday, DISCUSSED counter-terrorism, trade and the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region.

The leaders of two of the world’s biggest democracies have met twice before this, the first time during Modi’s Washington trip and the second when Trump waved over Modi at the G20 Economic Summit for an “impromptu discussion”.

Here’s what they discussed and said:

Modi’s trip to Washington

The two world leaders held their first meeting on June 26, 2017 as the Indian PM visited the White House. Modi and Trump discussed a wide variety of issues including terrorism and radicalisation, Afghanistan, trade, commerce and investment and boosting maritime trade and cooperation.

After the meeting, the two leaders addressed media from the White House’s Rose Garden.

President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hug while making statements in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP)

 

“The relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger, never been better,” Trump told reporters.

Trump called Modi a “great Prime Minister” and lauded him for his social media skills. “I am proud to announce to media, American people and to Indian people that PM Modi and I are world leaders in social media”, said Trump.

Modi, on his part, called the talks “crucial”. “Our talks today are an important moment in the cooperation between our nations. They have been very crucial talks,” he said.

The Indian Premier also extended an invitation to Trump and his family to visit India in the near future.

President Donald Trump also hosted a dinner for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the White House. (AP)

 

An interaction at the G20 Summit

Trump and Modi’s second meeting was more of an “an impromptu interaction”. On the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg in June this year, Trump walked up to Modi and started chatting with him, as other world leaders gathered around.

Arvind Panagariya, sherpa for India at the Summit, tweeted about the “interaction”, along with pictures of the two leaders and others.

In an impromptu interaction at G20 Summit, POTUS waves to the PM, walks to him, other leaders gather around. Gr8 moments

Modi also met Ivanka Trump at the summit. At their June meeting, Modi and Trump had announced the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), a joint enterprise to be held in Hyderabad from November 28-30, 2017, with Ivanka Trump leading the US delegation.

A fact sheet issued by the White House said: “The United States and India will co-host a Global Entrepreneurship Summit this year in India, focused on supporting women entrepreneurs, and geared toward solving 21st century challenges and improving lives. President Trump has asked Ivanka Trump to lead the United States delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.”

India’s Evolving Subregional Strategy


November 2, 2017

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Number 403 | November 1, 2017

ANALYSIS

India’s Evolving Subregional Strategy

 

By K. Yhome

Development and security issues are interconnected in India’s eastern subregions – the Bay of Bengal, the Himalayas, and the Mekong subregion. Together, these subregions form India’s first geostrategic chain in the wider Indo-Pacific region. A subregion is a small group of geographically adjoining countries sharing a common ecosystem with interconnected development and security spaces. New Delhi’s evolving subregional approach needs to view the three subregions as a single strategic arch.

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The recent military standoff between India and China in the Himalayas, the winning of strategic port contracts in key littorals of the Bay of Bengal by Chinese companies, Islamabad’s reluctance to be part of regional initiatives and China’s growing regional political clout – as demonstrated by the willingness of most nations in the subregions to join the Chinese ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – have further complicated India’s subregional policies.

Within this challenging environment, India and its smaller neighbors in the subregions have been looking to strengthen alternative subregional institutions such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Initiative, and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC). The renewed focused on these subregional groupings contributes to both India’s domestic and regional governance needs.

That New Delhi has been recalibrating its approach toward its subregions is evident through the launching of the “Neighborhood First” policy and the “Act East” policy. However, in the changed geo-political context, traditional compartmentalized views of the subregions are unlikely to provide the fullest benefits to India.
India’s eastern subregions play a critical role in advancing two objectives of the Act East policy. Together the subregions provide India with both land and maritime options to access the East, and have emerged as key spaces for New Delhi to push its cross-border connectivity projects. The ongoing trilateral highway project – linking India’s Northeast with Thailand through Myanmar – is one such initiative with plans to further extend it to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the next phase.
As New Delhi strengthens its security engagements with the region, nations in the three subregions are emerging as important partners. In 2011, New Delhi put into practice its subregional approach in defense cooperation when it set up trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka and Maldives to enhance maritime security. The idea was later expanded by inviting Mauritius and Seychelles to join the initiative.
India has entered into new defense and security agreements and initiated joint patrols and exercises with several nations in the subregions. Recent signings of memoranda of understanding for defense cooperation and offers of extending credit for purchase of arms and ammunition to subregional countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Vietnam, are indications of New Delhi’s renewed increase of subregional security cooperation.
The following elements define India’s evolving approach:
New Delhi’s subregional strategy aims at finding synergies between domestic and external policies, with the goal of advancing its foreign policy interests. Development of its frontier regions is thus a priority, because those regions play a critical role in the effective implementation of the strategy. In this context, India’s Northeast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands – along with the entire eastern seaboard – are key spaces in pushing forward India’s subregional strategy.
Building partnerships with like-minded countries in the development and security of the sub-regions forms another vital element of India’s approach. Unlike the past, when New Delhi was wary of collaborating with external actors in its subregions, India is now willing to leverage its partners where strategic interests converge. The subregions are opening up new opportunities for such collaboration. In this context, a shared vision of an Indo-Pacific region guided by ‘values-based’ and ‘rules-based order’ forms the basis for building partnerships.
New Delhi also has been giving greater roles and responsibilities to its states under the principle of cooperative federalism. The emphasis on the states’ role in regional diplomacy is another facet of the subregional approach. In practice, this is a work in progress. For cooperative federalism to support the subregional strategy there is need for effective coordination between the two. There is also need for creating a cadre of subregional specialists in the bureaucracy and a new policy for India bureaucratic services based on geographical zones that are in line with its subregional strategy.
The rebuilding of mutual trust with neighbours is another critical feature of India’s subregional approach. At a time when China is a willing partner in these subregions, and the smaller neighbors are seeking to maximize benefits, New Delhi is trying to minimize the mistrust that has long characterized its relations with smaller neighboring countries. One such attempt is by reviewing past bilateral treaties and agreements that are considered ‘unequal’ by smaller neighbors. In 2007, India updated the 1949 friendship treaty with Bhutan and last year a joint mechanism between India and Nepal was set up to update all bilateral treaties and agreements.

As India’s global aspirations grow, there is recognition that an unstable neighborhood can guarantee neither economic development, nor security. In this context, India’s vision in its eastern subregions has been to share its economic growth and enhance security cooperation, with the aim to build an ‘interlinked destiny’ of peace and prosperity in the region.
India’s eastern subregions are critical in safeguarding the country’s primacy and in expanding its strategic reach. As New Delhi fine tunes its subregional approach, there is need for constant nurturing of the strategy and assessment of its effectiveness in these ever-changing regional dynamics. This revisiting of the strategy should be aimed at injecting it with new dynamism and innovative ideas to keep pace with the changing times.

About the Author

K. Yhome is a Senior Fellow with New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF). He can be reached at khriezo@gmail.com.
The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

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China’s Xi Jinping–The World’s Most Powerful Man


October 17, 2017

THE ECONOMIST

China’s Xi Jinping–The World’s Most Powerful Man

Xi Jinping has more clout than Donald Trump. The world should be wary

Do not expect Mr Xi to change China, or the world, for the better

Print edition | Leaders

Oct 14th 2017

One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.

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Two Giants of Asia–Xi and Modi–Friends or Foes

AMERICAN Presidents have a habit of describing their Chinese counterparts in terms of awe. A fawning Richard Nixon said to Mao Zedong that the chairman’s writings had “changed the world”. To Jimmy Carter, Deng Xiaoping was a string of flattering adjectives: “smart, tough, intelligent, frank, courageous, personable, self-assured, friendly”. Bill Clinton described China’s then president, Jiang Zemin, as a “visionary” and “a man of extraordinary intellect”. Donald Trump is no less wowed. The Washington Post quotes him as saying that China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is “probably the most powerful” China has had in a century.

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Mr Trump may be right. And were it not political suicide for an American president to say so, he might plausibly have added: “Xi Jinping is the world’s most powerful leader.” To be sure, China’s economy is still second in size to America’s and its army, though rapidly gaining muscle, pales in comparison. But economic heft and military hardware are not everything. The leader of the free world has a narrow, transactional approach to foreigners and seems unable to enact his agenda at home. The United States is still the world’s most powerful country, but its leader is weaker at home and less effective abroad than any of his recent predecessors, not least because he scorns the values and alliances that underpin American influence.

The President of the world’s largest authoritarian state, by contrast, walks with swagger abroad. His grip on China is tighter than any leader’s since Mao. And whereas Mao’s China was chaotic and miserably poor, Mr Xi’s is a dominant engine of global growth. His clout will soon be on full display. On October 18th China’s ruling Communist Party will convene a five-yearly congress in Beijing (see Briefing). It will be the first one presided over by Mr Xi. Its 2,300 delegates will sing his praises to the skies. More sceptical observers might ask whether Mr Xi will use his extraordinary power for good or ill.

World, take note

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On his numerous foreign tours, Mr Xi presents himself as an apostle of peace and friendship, a voice of reason in a confused and troubled world. Mr Trump’s failings have made this much easier. At Davos in January Mr Xi promised the global elite that he would be a champion of globalisation, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change. Members of his audience were delighted and relieved. At least, they thought, one great power was willing to stand up for what was right, even if Mr Trump (then President-Elect) would not.

Mr Xi’s words are heeded partly because he has the world’s largest stockpile of foreign currency to back them up. His “Belt and Road Initiative” may be puzzlingly named, but its message is clear—hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese money are to be invested abroad in railways, ports, power stations and other infrastructure that will help vast swathes of the world to prosper. That is the kind of leadership America has not shown since the post-war days of the Marshall Plan in western Europe (which was considerably smaller).

Mr Xi is also projecting what for China is unprecedented military power abroad. This year he opened the country’s first foreign military base, in Djibouti. He has sent the Chinese navy on manoeuvres ever farther afield, including in July on NATO’s doorstep in the Baltic Sea alongside Russia’s fleet. China says it would never invade other countries to impose its will (apart from Taiwan, which it does not consider a country). Its base-building efforts are to support peacekeeping, anti-piracy and humanitarian missions, it says. As for the artificial islands with military-grade runways it is building in the South China Sea, these are purely defensive.

Unlike Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, Mr Xi is not a global troublemaker who seeks to subvert democracy and destabilise the West. Still, he is too tolerant of troublemaking by his nuke-brandishing ally, North Korea (see Schumpeter). And some of China’s military behaviour alarms its neighbours, not only in South-East Asia but also in India and Japan.

At home, Mr Xi’s instincts are at least as illiberal as those of his Russian counterpart. He believes that even a little political permissiveness could prove not only his own undoing, but that of his regime. The fate of the Soviet Union haunts him, and that insecurity has consequences. He mistrusts not only the enemies his purges have created but also China’s fast-growing, smartphone-wielding middle class, and the shoots of civil society that were sprouting when he took over. He seems determined to tighten control over Chinese society, not least by enhancing the state’s powers of surveillance, and to keep the commanding heights of the economy firmly under the party’s thumb. All this will make China less rich than it should be, and a more stifling place to live. Human-rights abuses have grown worse under Mr Xi, with barely a murmur of complaint from other world leaders.

Liberals once mourned the “ten lost years” of reform under Mr Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Those ten years have become 15, and may exceed 20. Some optimists argue that we have not yet seen the real Mr Xi—that the congress will help him consolidate his power, and after that he will begin social and economic reforms in earnest, building on his relative success in curbing corruption. If he is a closet pluralist, however, he disguises it well. And alarmingly for those who believe that all leaders have a sell-by date, Mr Xi is thought to be reluctant to step down in 2022, when precedent suggests he should.

Reasons to be fearful

Mr Xi may think that concentrating more or less unchecked power over 1.4bn Chinese in the hands of one man is, to borrow one of his favourite terms, the “new normal” of Chinese politics. But it is not normal; it is dangerous. No one should have that much power. One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “The world’s most powerful man”

Trump appeases an authoritarian Malaysian Prime Minister to The White House


September 13, 2017

Trump appeases an authoritarian Malaysian Prime Minister to the White House

By Editorial Board, The Washington Post

The Post’s View

Opinion

 

Malaysian PM Najib Razak reviews an honour guard at The White House. Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

PRESIDENT TRUMP has made a habit of embracing authoritarian rulers he regards as friendly, without regard for their subversion of democratic norms or gross human rights violations. Yet his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House on Tuesday sets a new low. Not only is Mr. Najib known for imprisoning peaceful opponents, silencing critical media and reversing Malaysia’s progress toward democracy. He also is a subject of the largest foreign kleptocracy investigation ever launched by the U.S. Justice Department.

U.S. investigators have charged that Mr. Najib and close associates diverted $4.5 billion from a Malaysian government investment fund for their own uses, including $730 million that ended up in accounts controlled by the Prime Minister. Justice first filed civil suits seeking the freezing of some $1.7 billion in assets in the United States, including real estate, artworks and stakes in Hollywood movies; more recently, the department asked that those actions be put on hold while it pursues a criminal investigation. Mr. Najib has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing, but the U.S. investigation prompted speculation in Malaysia that he could be arrested if he set foot on American soil — not good PR for a leader who is obligated to call an election sometime in the next few months.

[Here’s what President Trump should tell Malaysia’s prime minister]

With his White House invitation, Mr. Trump has neatly gotten Mr. Najib off that hook and provided him with what the regime will portray as a tacit pre-election endorsement. Despite his repression, Mr. Najib could use that sort of help: In the last election, in 2013, his party lost the popular vote and retained power only because of the gerrymandering of election districts.

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President Trump and other top American officials, left, met at the White House with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia and his delegation, right .The Post’s Editorial states: “The best way for the United States to build a stronger alliance with Malaysia and bolster its independence from China is to encourage those in the country who support liberal democratic values — while holding Mr. Najib accountable for his human rights violations, as well as any financial crimes he may have committed in the United States”.

If the White House received anything in exchange for that huge political favor, it’s not evident. That’s particularly unfortunate because Mr. Najib’s regime is not only a conspicuous violator of human rights but a relative friend to North Korea. The regime of Kim Jong Un has exported workers to Malaysia to earn hard currency. Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother was murdered in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport — so far with no consequences for Pyongyang.

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Mr. Trump isn’t the only  U.S. President to pursue a policy of appeasement toward Mr. Najib. Barack Obama was the first appeaser who played golf with and visited the Malaysian Prime Minister in Malaysia.

Mr. Trump isn’t the first U.S. President to pursue a policy of appeasement toward Mr. Najib. President Barack Obama golfed with the Prime Minister and flattered him with the first visit by a U.S. President to Malaysia in nearly half a century. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump may imagine that courting Mr. Najib is a necessary counter to China, which has hosted him twice in the past year and wooed him with promises of about $100 billion in investments. Yet Mr. Najib’s corruption and disregard for democratic norms mean he will inevitably prefer the values-free patronage of Beijing over alliance with Washington.

The best way for the United States to build a stronger alliance with Malaysia and bolster its independence from China is to encourage those in the country who support liberal democratic values — while holding Mr. Najib accountable for his human rights violations, as well as any financial crimes he may have committed in the United States. If Mr. Trump makes a start at that on Tuesday, he could begin to mitigate the error of inviting Mr. Najib to the White House.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trump-welcomes-an-authoritarian-to-the-white-house/2017/09/11/9d19f51c-9707-11e7-b569-3360011663b4_story.html?utm_term=.e59f606520a0