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.

Mongolia’s Foreign Policy in a Precarious International Setting


October 5, 2017

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Number 399 | October 4, 2017

ANALYSIS

Mongolia’s Foreign Policy in a Precarious International Setting

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

When global and regional orders change and  tensions among great powers intensify, small states face precarious circumstances. For states like Mongolia, contentious internal politics make skillful, professional management of foreign policy difficult. Mongolia started losing control of foreign policy mostly due to domestic political rivalries among politicians, factions, and parties.  At this moment of great uncertainty, every uncoordinated Mongolian foreign policy move is costly , because the country has little room for maneuvering among its great power neighbors. The situation has become more acute as President Putin has been seeking Chinese friendship since his invasion of the Crimea and as Mongolia’s fiscal situation has deteriorated, making the government financially dependent on Chinese goodwill.

From its democratic revolution in 1990, through the early 2010s, Mongolia became something of a “sweetheart” for Western democracy promoters, mining investors, and international investment bankers. The “scrappy democracy” stood out among post-socialist Asian countries for seemingly institutionalizing democracy through repeated elections and peaceful transitions of government. With the discovery of large coal, copper, and gold deposits in the early 2000s, Mongolia seemed to establish itself as a likely candidate for sustainable development based on natural resources. However, the fiscal profligacy of the mining boom years turned the Mongolian government into a debtor – likely delighting international lenders.

Image result for ulaanbaatar mongoliaGreat Chinggis Khan Square–Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Other international supporters have turned more doubtful on Mongolia’s trajectory.  While Mongolia has consolidated electoral democracy, the rule of law is still weak: well-formulated policies often remain aspirational rather than implemented, and awareness of endemic corruption has undermined trust in political institutions.  Mongolia has managed to secure several mining deals, but institutions are too weak to ensure the necessary stability to make long-term investment agreements pay off for investors and Mongolians alike. The country is in dire need of foreign loans to pay back sovereign debts. Despite these evident challenges neither of the two major political parties has abandoned patronage as a political principle or fought against practices that treat public office as an earnings opportunity.  Even though politicians have called for increased economic relations with OECD members to forge economic ties beyond its immediate neighbors, concrete steps toward intensified economic relations seem to become secondary to parochial interests.

Despite its continued reference to “third neighbors”, Mongolia has lost the trust and perhaps even the interest of distant great powers.  At the same time, these neighbors – particularly the United States, Germany, Japan, and India – have little ability to support Mongolia politically or economically.

This leaves Mongolian politicians to deal with the country’s powerful, populous geographical neighbors: China and Russia.  Mongolians continue to express an affinity towards Russia, but they equally fear a reassertion of the Kremlin’s control. The past 14 months have seen the landslide victory of the Mongolian People’s Party, which has close ties with President Putin’s party, in the 2016 parliamentary elections and the election of Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaagiin Battulga – a wealthy pro-Russian politician and former sambo wrestler – in the 2017 presidential election. Many Mongolians are hopeful that these leaders will develop closer ties with President Putin.  For the Kremlin, Mongolia may be a low priority in dealings with Beijing, compared to bilateral issues such as Central Asia or the Korean peninsula. The Kremlin has lost interest in Mongolia and cannot help the Mongolian government solve its own economic challenges.  Rather, Moscow might pressure Mongolia to support Russia in its crisis-ridden relations with the West, join in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and delay major economic projects until Russian interests have been secured – demands which will not be supported in Mongolia.

For Chinese leaders, Mongolia is an important neighbor, which has intimate connections with its autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, and which causes no major headaches concerning border demarcation, migration, or ‘three evils’ (terrorism, separatism and religious extremism) unlike China’s other 14 immediate neighbors. Xi Jinping’s government has promoted Mongolia as an exemplary case for China’s treatment of its small neighbors and a potential beneficiary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But, Mongolia’s connection with the Dalai Lama, and deep-seated anti-Chinese sentiments in Mongolia continue to exist. Unsurprisingly, Beijing briefly suspended all political talks with Mongolia in response to the Dalai Lama’s December 2016 visit. This fueled Mongolia’s fear of what economic dependence on Chinese goodwill might imply.

While some Asian third neighbors, most notably Japan and India, seem keen to leverage disagreements between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar for their own agendas, their support has mostly come through words, rather than through actions or investment. With limited alternatives, Mongolian leaders reach out to the IMF and the Kremlin for financial assistance when Chinese help becomes unavailable. Similarly, anti-Chinese political rhetoric has continued to be a useful strategy in winning domestic elections. Clearly, support for the Dalai Lama and anti-Chinese attitudes can be mobilized by populist politicians for their own political gains in the future. Unless politicians and diplomats handle these issues delicately, President Xi’s assertive China may tire of Mongolia, while Mongolia’s hopeful partners – Russia, Japan, and the US – would avoid worsening their relations with Beijing over Mongolia.

Mongolian diplomats need to disentangle foreign policy from domestic political competition. The successful conduct of its foreign policy since the 1990s resulted in settling all major issues with its two neighbors, establishing somewhat ideological links with the United States, OECD members, and India, and increased connections with the EU, OSCE, NATO, UN, and the ASEAN Regional Forum despite Mongolia’s “regionless” fate between two major powers. However, with the commodity boom, Mongolian politicians appear to be conducting their own separate foreign policies – all running to Berlin or Tokyo for political campaign photos and playing multiple roles with foreign investors within the four-year electoral cycle. Now, Mongolia is entering into a difficult situation where the patronage-ridden ruling party in parliament and the cabinet along with a newly-elected, populist president who advocates a pro-Russia policy have further weakened a merit-driven, unified foreign policy. The nexus between Mongolia’s domestic politics and precarious international situation is threatening to the country’s prosperity, stability and progress over the past two decades.

About the Author

Mendee Jargalsaikhan is a political science PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia. He can be contacted at mendee@alumni.ubc.ca.

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.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic? by Dr. Fareed Zakaria


September 17, 2017

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

Kim Jong Un — smart and strategic?

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I am sometimes asked what world figure I most want to interview. For me, the answer is obvious: Kim Jong Un. The general impression around the globe continues to be that the North Korean leader is crazy, provocative and unpredictable, but I think that he might well be strategic, smart and utterly rational. Because I am unlikely to get that interview, I have decided to imagine it instead.

Q: Marshal Kim, why do you keep building and testing nuclear weapons and missiles, even though they result in massive, crippling economic sanctions?

A: My nation faces a fundamental challenge — survival. The regime is more threatened than ever before. My forefathers had it easy. The Great Leader, my grandfather, ruled with the support of the world’s other superpower at the time, the Soviet Union, as well as our gigantic neighbor, China. The Dear Leader, my father, still had Beijing’s help for the most part. But today, the Soviet Union is history and China has become more integrated with the Western system. And the sole superpower, the United States, has made it clear that it seeks regime change in my country. And yet, we have survived with our ideology and system intact. How? Because we have built a protection for ourselves in the form of nuclear weapons.

Q: But China still provides you with crucial supplies of food and fuel. Don’t you see it as an ally?

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2017 News Maker of The Year–Keeping Trump, Xi,  Putin Abe and Moon Jae-in on on their toes

A: China is ruthlessly pragmatic. It supports us for its own selfish interests. It doesn’t want millions of refugees — or a unified Korea on its border that is a larger version of what South Korea is now, with U.S. troops and a treaty alliance. But I believe that China no longer considers us an ally. It has voted to sanction us in the U.N. Security Council. The current president, Xi Jinping, cultivates close relations with South Korea. He has never met with me, the leader of North Korea, something that the leader of China has always done. Meanwhile, he has had about 10 meetings with the last two presidents of South Korea. At the grand celebrations in Beijing two years ago commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he placed the president of Russia and the president of South Korea at his side. In North Korea, we pay a lot of attention to ceremonies and what they signal.

Q: Is that why you seem to go out of your way to embarrass China and Xi specifically?

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What does it  take for him to sit down and talk since sanctions only strengthens his resolve to pursue the nuclearisation of his country and unify his proud people?

A: We will not be pushed around. We heard that senior officials in China and the United States were discussing whether to encourage a coup in North Korea to get a more pliable ruler. So I’ve taken steps to ensure that this can’t happen. The man in our government closest to the Chinese, who could have arranged such a coup attempt, was my uncle. The man who would have been my natural replacement was my half brother. Both have been liquidated, as have more than 100 disloyal high-level officials.

Q: So will you come to the negotiating table? Will you agree to denuclearization in return for the lifting of sanctions?

A: Yes and no. We will readily come to the table. But we will never give up our arsenal. We’re not stupid. It’s all that is keeping us alive. Look at Saddam Hussein — and we never forget that North Korea was named as part of the “axis of evil” a year before the United States invaded Iraq. Look what happened to Moammar Gaddafi in Libya after he agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program. Look at what’s happening to Iran right now. After Washington signed a deal and the Iranians have been certified to be adhering to it, President Trump now says he’s going to tear it up anyway. Do you think we would be stupid enough to believe American promises after all this? We are a nuclear power. That is not negotiable. We are willing to talk about limits, test bans, freezes — but we would need to be given something in return, and not just money. We need security, in the form of diplomatic recognition by Washington and guarantees of nonaggression from China, Japan and the United States.

Q: Many Americans worry that you will soon have the capacity and the intention to launch missiles at the United States.

A: We will have the capacity. And it serves my purposes to keep you off guard. But why would I strike America and invite a retaliatory counterstrike that would put an end to my regime? Keep in mind, the whole point of this — my entire strategy, all our efforts and the hardships we have borne — is to ensure that my regime and I survive. Why would I risk that? I believe in assassination, not suicide.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS


May 30, 2017

Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS

 

Mr. Trump’s 10-Second Convictions–Oh Lord, this guy is pure blabber


April 16, 2017

Mr. Trump’s 10-Second Convictions–Oh Lord, this guy is pure blabber

 

Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics


March 26, 2017

Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

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Beyond the noisy protests over Trump’s presidency, there are important policy issues and implications that need better understanding – but which are still neglected.

NOT too long ago, there was hope, even a belief, that the fuss about Donald Trump’s fitness for presidential office would fade away after his inauguration. But even after more than two months into the presidency, critics are still carping and cynics are still canting. The real issues affecting people’s lives, badly neglected by the US media, are still being ignored.

Since US policies have a global reach, its actions affect other countries in various ways. So what can we expect from the Trump White House?In strategic terms, Trump has inherited some foreign policy challenges from the preceding administration. Then there are issues he has created on his own.

Nearest home is the controversy over the Mexican border “wall”. This is a typical issue blown out of proportion by Trump’s own grandstanding and his opponents bent on inflating it.

Trump first said he would build a wall, then added it could be a fence in parts. Since there is already a part-wall, part-fence on the border, what is his proposal and the objection to it about?

On Syria, Obama had already shifted from insisting on President Assad’s immediate removal to accepting his place as head of government. From being regarded as “part of the problem,” an Assad still popular with his people came to be seen grudgingly by Obama as part of the solution – but still one that had to resolve itself.

Trump is not keen on ousting Assad either. Assad has even suggested that Syria may host US troops dispatched by Trump to fight terrorism together.

For both leaders, exterminating such terrorist groups as IS is top priority while welcoming Russian support in the fight. Trump would openly receive what Obama would haltingly accept, with little or no difference on the ground.

Where differences largely comprise rhetoric, they become unbridgeable. In non-official Washington, this concerns “Russia”: not as a large Eurasian nation with a rich history, but as the bogeyman Other.

“Russia” is also a way for Trump’s enemies to dredge the swamp for issues to hit him with. This would at least deter any attempt at “resetting” relations with Moscow that would alarm the US deep state.

Since the issue of Syria is mostly a function of US-Russia relations, the Trump White House will soon have to decide what to do and how to do it. Beltway ideologues have already put a pugnacious Trump on the defensive over “Russia”, so his room for manoeuvre is limited.

Developing a clear and coherent position on Iran is just as delicate, especially after Trump had pledged to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. His primal aversion to Iran derives from a lack of familiarity, images of hardline mullahs, and limited contact with the Syiah sect.

Iran, however, can breathe a sigh of relief now that Lt-Gen Mike Flynn has been replaced as National Security Adviser. Flynn was exceptionally caustic about Teheran and dismissive of it.

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Since US-China ties are the world’s most important bilateral relationship, China should command most of Washington’s attention among all its foreign relations.The relationship was never pristine as Trump blamed China for currency manipulation and unfair trade terms. It crashed to a low after Beijing criticised Trump for speaking to the Taiwanese President, and Trump responded by questioning China’s core strategic interests.

China then moved to salvage the situation. President Xi Jinping spoke personally to Trump on the phone, followed by a visit to Washington by State Councillor Yang Jiechi to arrange a summit.

The White House is now planning to host Xi at Trump’s opulent Florida estate over April 6 to 7. Among the issues they will discuss is a lethally recalcitrant North Korea.

As expected, Trump will say China needs to do more to rein in North Korea, and Xi will say China is already doing all it can with this Jong-un of an upstart. On the economic front, matters may be less predictable but just as important.Trump may reach for a new deal with Xi in an early bid to establish his legacy in world trade. And nothing beats striking a new, productive deal with a rising China.

Elsewhere, Trump will be fettling the terms of new trade deals with various countries. These distinct new bilateral relations will be the “spokes” of a customised world trade wheel, with the US as the hub.

The question for Xi and Trump will be where China would be in the wheel, since it is too big to be just a spoke. The economic reality could be that China is fast becoming the axle for the entire wheel.

On the yawning trade deficit and colossal US debt, Trump will try hard to close the issues. Unlike most previous presidents, he sees their successful conclusion as a vital mission and a measure of his competence.

Given the circumstances, pledging to balance the budget and eliminate national debt in eight years as Trump did would be a fool’s errand. It may be no more than an incentive for voters to elect him for a second term.

Independent analysts expect Trump’s tax-cutting and public expenditure policies to add US$6tril (RM26tril) to US national debt over the next decade. At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office said Obama’s fiscal trajectory would have added US$10tril (RM44tril) debt over the same period.

Trump’s plan to cut taxes across the board is said to encourage business growth. This is expected to affect SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) if no other industry sector to expand their businesses.This approach to revive US industry is deemed conservative, but also somewhat unconventional. It is still trickle-down economics but in a different way.

Unlike most Republicans’ (and Democrats’) preference for encouraging corporations to expand abroad, reap economies of scale, multiply profits and then be taxed more on their higher turnover, Trump would cut taxes and encourage them to return home, hire more American workers and energise the economy that way.

This would mean less outsourcing abroad, fewer foreign relocations for manufacturing, more job creation at home and a healthier economy. Some of this has already begun.

Trump would also cut foreign labour content in the manufacture of US goods. This comes in restricting the entry of foreign migrants and the “export” of US jobs.

In the short to medium terms, this would see a measure of economic recovery as wages rise and consumption picks up. However, since the global economy is an integrated planetary entity, it would also mean higher prices for US goods and a decline in US competitiveness.

Developing sets of bilateral trade deals with various countries will also take time. Meanwhile, this region will see development of the ASEAN Community, besides the ASEAN-proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement and the China-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The US will be without the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Other countries averse to this situation for their own interests must now learn to accept it.

Superpowers act in their own self interests and not out of a charitable impulse to assist another country. Smaller and less able countries may want to ally with a larger and more powerful one, but not vice-versa.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.