BOOK REVIEW: A ‘Vulcan’s’ Version of Asia-Pacific History


February 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: A ‘Vulcan’s’ Version of Asia-Pacific History

by John Bethelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

Prosecuting an adequate foreign policy in Asia for the United States “requires mastering a strategic concept at least as complex as three-dimensional chess,” according to Michael J Green, who served on the National Security Council staff as a special adviser to George W Bush.

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“To use that analogy, on the top of the board, the United States must seek to reinforce a rules-based regional order underpinned by US leadership and backed by strong alliances, partnerships, trade agreements and multilateral engagement. On the middle board, the US will have to work toward a stable and productive relationship with China, constantly seeking new areas of cooperation based on a recognition of how much China can potentially contribute to global progress and prosperity. On the bottom board, the United States will have to continue ensuring that it has the military capabilities and posture necessary to defeat any attempts to overturn the current regional order through force.”

Think about the implications of that paragraph in connection with the government installed by President Donald Trump on January 20, 2016, and the astonishing damage the administration has done to the US position in Asia. The United States, Green writes, emerged as the preeminent power in the Pacific “not by providence alone but through the effective (if not always efficient) application of military, diplomatic, economic and ideational tools of national power to the problems of Asia.”  That 200-year campaign is now clearly over.

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The 45th POTUS is messing up US engagement with Asia– His All Options on the Table with North Korea Policy is creating tensions in Asia

Green, now a Senior Vice President for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC as well as a member of the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University, has written the most deeply-researched, cogent and important book I have ever read on the US experience in the Asia Pacific, “By More than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific since 1783,” published in mid-2017. It is also badly flawed and has to be read in recognition that Green was a Vulcan, a member of the foreign policy team that advised Bush prior to his election in 2000.

Containing 174 pages of notes, bibliography and index in its 723 pages, it is arguably the most exhaustive history of the US presence in Asia going back to the founding of the Republic with the landing in what was then Canton of the clipper ship Empress of China at the Whampoa dock.

Image result for Michael J. Green By More than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific since 1783,”
It is the most deeply-researched, cogent and important book I have ever read on the US experience in the Asia Pacific–John Berthelsen

The book is an invaluable resource, a history of President-by-President Asia policy from George Washington to through Barack Obama drawn from hundreds of official sources and Green’s own experience. After the chapter on the administration of Gerald Ford, it needs to be read extremely carefully and critically. Although Green served as an adviser in the Clinton administration and as a member of the NSC under Bush the younger, it is clear where his heart is.

Even before that there are some significant elisions. The 1965 Gulf of Tonkin resolution is dealt with in a single sentence without mention of the fact that the linchpin for the resolution was a supposed attack on the US destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy by North Vietnam patrol boats during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. But the fact is that no such attack ever took place. The justification for US entry to a tragic war that took perhaps a million Vietnamese lives and 57,000 American ones was built on a lie.

There are other shortcomings. President Clinton’s decision to send two aircraft carrier battle groups to intercede in Chinese rocket rattling against the Strait of Taiwan gets short shrift although many analysts regarded it as a courageous strategic move.  Barack Obama is accused of waffling – which he did – although Edward Luce, in his new book “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” gives Obama rather higher marks.

George Schultz and Henry Kissinger

Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz is called “the most effective Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific policy in the history of the republic, which be news to Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, Edward Stettinius, James F Byrnes and others.

While he gives George H W Bush his due – a far more effective President than most give him credit for – Green far overplays Bush the younger, whose administration “came into office with a clear strategic concept on Asia focused on shaping a favorable geopolitical equilibrium in the region, and that generally held through a series of short-term crises and the attacks of 9/11.” He gives only passing reference to the infamous Bush Doctrine, which included not only unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM treaty, rejecting the Kyoto protocol, and a willingness to start preemptive wars, which meant that Asia cannot be considered separately from a long series of international disasters that reduced global approbation of US foreign policy.

His declaration of a “war on terror” included “rendition” of those suspected of terrorist activities to black site where they were tortured unmercifully.  The Bush administration also split its forces between Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting neither war very well. As a result, both countries ended up in a botch. In the wake of 9/11, when the world needed effective law enforcement and intelligence-gathering instead of the blunderbuss of twin invasions, Bush ridiculed John Kerry, his opponent in his second presidential race, as “fundamentally misunderstanding the war on terror.” The fact is that Kerry understood it a lot better than Bush did, to America’s deep misfortune.

Having said all that, the value in Green’s book is its deep wealth of detail about how successive governments – even the Bush 43 one – have conducted enormously layered foreign policies, not just in the Asia Pacific but across the world.  For those interested in foreign policy, it is a must read, especially given the tragedy that is being visited on US strategic interests by the current administration.

Trump, as Luce points out, “has chosen to drive America’s regional allies into China’s arms. Even Australia, which comes closest to US values, wants to enter China’s rival trade group, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.”  He voided the Transpacific Partnership, arguably over pique at Obama. At a time when a rising China is setting out to return to the global pre-eminence it enjoyed up to the 17th Century, throwing its weight around in East Asia, enormously skilled diplomacy is called for. Instead, Trump has decimated the State Department, appointed an oil man with no government experience as Secretary of State – and won’t listen to him even when he tries to talk sense into him.

Image result for john berthelsen asia sentinelJohn Berthelsen

The current President is not a man for three-dimensional chess. He is not a man for chess at all. As Luce points out – and Green probably would if he could add a chapter – the US has entered arguably the most dangerous period in the country’s history when it comes to Asian policy, if not global diplomacy overall.

https://www.asiasentinel.com/book-review/book-review-by-more-than-providence/

 

US President Donald J. Trump’s First State of the Union Address to US Congress


February 1, 2018

US President Donald J. Trump’s First State of the Union Address to US Congress

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(CNN)–President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. Read the President’s speech as prepared for delivery and released by the White House:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States, and my fellow Americans:

Less than 1 year has passed since I first stood at this podium, in this majestic chamber, to speak on behalf of the American People — and to address their concerns, their hopes, and their dreams. That night, our new Administration had already taken swift action. A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land.

Each day since, we have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission — to make America great again for all Americans

Over the last year, we have made incredible progress and achieved extraordinary success. We have faced challenges we expected, and others we could never have imagined. We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We endured floods and fires and storms. But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul, and the steel in America’s spine.

Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are, and show us what we can be.

We saw the volunteers of the “Cajun Navy,” racing to the rescue with their fishing boats to save people in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane.We saw strangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas strip.

We heard tales of Americans like Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who is here tonight in the gallery with Melania. Ashlee was aboard one of the first helicopters on the scene in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Through 18 hours of wind and rain, Ashlee braved live power lines and deep water, to help save more than 40 lives. Thank you, Ashlee.

We heard about Americans like firefighter David Dahlberg. He is here with us too. David faced down walls of flame to rescue almost 60 children trapped at a California summer camp threatened by wildfires.

To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else — we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together.

Some trials over the past year touched this chamber very personally. With us tonight is one of the toughest people ever to serve in this House — a guy who took a bullet, almost died, and was back to work three and a half months later: the legend from Louisiana, Congressman Steve Scalise.

We are incredibly grateful for the heroic efforts of the Capitol Police Officers, the Alexandria Police, and the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who saved his life, and the lives of many others in this room.

In the aftermath of that terrible shooting, we came together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as representatives of the people. But it is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy. Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.

Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it.

So let us begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our Union is strong because our people are strong. And together, we are building a safe, strong, and proud America.

Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone. After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.

Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.

Small business confidence is at an all-time high. The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401k, retirement, pension, and college savings accounts.

And just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.  Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.

To lower tax rates for hardworking Americans, we nearly doubled the standard deduction for everyone. Now, the first $24,000 earned by a married couple is completely tax-free. We also doubled the child tax credit.

A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000 — slashing their tax bill in half.

This April will be the last time you ever file under the old broken system — and millions of Americans will have more take-home pay starting next month.

We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year — forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they could not afford government-ordered health plans. We repealed the core of disastrous Obamacare — the individual mandate is now gone.

We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000. Small businesses have also received a massive tax cut, and can now deduct 20 percent of their business income.

Here tonight are Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger of Staub Manufacturing — a small business in Ohio. They have just finished the best year in their 20-year history. Because of tax reform, they are handing out raises, hiring an additional 14 people, and expanding into the building next door.

One of Staub’s employees, Corey Adams, is also with us tonight. Corey is an all-American worker. He supported himself through high school, lost his job during the 2008 recession, and was later hired by Staub, where he trained to become a welder. Like many hardworking Americans, Corey plans to invest his tax‑cut raise into his new home and his two daughters’ education. Please join me in congratulating Corey.

Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker. Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.

This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream. So to every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.

Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of Nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.

We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag. Together, we are rediscovering the American way.

In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.” And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support.

Here tonight is Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who noticed that veterans’ graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. He decided to change that, and started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of our great heroes. Preston: a job well done.

Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

Americans love their country. And they deserve a Government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return.For the last year we have sought to restore the bonds of trust between our citizens and their Government.

Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court Justice, and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country.

We are defending our Second Amendment, and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.

And we are serving our brave veterans, including giving our veterans choice in their healthcare decisions. Last year, the Congress passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my Administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve — and we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.

I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey.

All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history. We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

In Detroit, I halted Government mandates that crippled America’s autoworkers — so we can get the Motor City revving its engines once again.

Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan; Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama. Soon, plants will be opening up all over the country. This is all news Americans are unaccustomed to hearing — for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are coming back.

Exciting progress is happening every day.

To speed access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs, last year the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our history.

We also believe that patients with terminal conditions should have access to experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives.

People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home. It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the “right to try.”

One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. That is why I have directed my Administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.

America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our Nation’s wealth.

Image result for Trump The era of economic surrender is over

The era of economic surrender is over.  From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.

We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules. As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?

I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.

Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.

Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.

Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one. Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.

We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we love. We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity.

As tax cuts create new jobs, let us invest in workforce development and job training. Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential. And let us support working families by supporting paid family leave.

As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.

Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.

For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.

Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th Birthday, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors ‑- and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.

Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you. Everyone in America is grieving for you. And 320 million hearts are breaking for you. We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.

Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.

The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

Here tonight is one leader in the effort to defend our country: Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez — he goes by CJ. CJ served 15 years in the Air Force before becoming an ICE agent and spending the last 15 years fighting gang violence and getting dangerous criminals off our streets. At one point, MS-13 leaders ordered CJ’s murder. But he did not cave to threats or fear. Last May, he commanded an operation to track down gang members on Long Island. His team has arrested nearly 400, including more than 220 from MS-13. CJ: Great work.

Now let us get the Congress to send you some reinforcements. Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate will be voting on an immigration reform package.

In recent months, my Administration has met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bipartisan approach to immigration reform. Based on these discussions, we presented the Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise — one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.

Here are the four pillars of our plan:

The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States.

The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a wall on the Southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like CJ to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of “catch and release.”

The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people. It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.

The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children. This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security, and our future.

In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration. In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can no longer afford. It is time to reform these outdated immigration rules, and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise, and one that will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system. For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen.

Most importantly, these four pillars will produce legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to only sign a bill that puts America first. So let us come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done.

These reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction. In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses: 174 deaths per day. Seven per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.

My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.

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As we have seen tonight, the most difficult challenges bring out the best in America. We see a vivid expression of this truth in the story of the Holets family of New Mexico. Ryan Holets is 27 years old, and an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department. He is here tonight with his wife Rebecca. Last year, Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin. When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.

In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: “You will do it — because you can.” He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then, he went home to tell his wife Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.

Ryan and Rebecca: You embody the goodness of our Nation. Thank you, and congratulations.

As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad.

Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.

In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense. For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.

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As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.

Last year, I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth. One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.

Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck is here tonight. Near Raqqa last November, Justin and his comrade, Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy, were on a mission to clear buildings that ISIS had rigged with explosives so that civilians could return to the city.

Clearing the second floor of a vital hospital, Kenton Stacy was severely wounded by an explosion. Immediately, Justin bounded into the booby-trapped building and found Kenton in bad shape. He applied pressure to the wound and inserted a tube to reopen an airway. He then performed CPR for 20 straight minutes during the ground transport and maintained artificial respiration through 2 hours of emergency surgery.

Kenton Stacy would have died if not for Justin’s selfless love for a fellow warrior. Tonight, Kenton is recovering in Texas. Raqqa is liberated. And Justin is wearing his new Bronze Star, with a “V” for “Valor.” Staff Sergeant Peck: All of America salutes you.

Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil. When possible, we annihilate them. When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.

In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi. So today, I am keeping another promise. I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.

I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qa’ida, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.

Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before: I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition. American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year.

That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends. As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries.

When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.

I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.

My Administration has also imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela. But no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.

North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.

Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.

We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.

Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia. On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state. After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June — horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return.

Image result for In Congress Fred and Cindy Warmbier

Fred and Cindy Warmbier– “Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.”–Donald Trump

Otto’s Parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are with us tonight — along with Otto’s brother and sister, Austin and Greta. You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all.  Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.

Finally, we are joined by one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. Ji Seong-ho.

In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves — permanently stunting their own growth. Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had — and he resolved to be free.

 

Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death.

Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most ‑- the truth.

Image result for In Congress Ji Seong-ho.

Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all. Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.

It was that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America. It was a small cluster of colonies caught between a great ocean and a vast wilderness. But it was home to an incredible people with a revolutionary idea: that they could rule themselves. That they could chart their own destiny. And that, together, they could light up the world.

That is what our country has always been about. That is what Americans have always stood for, always strived for, and always done.

Atop the dome of this Capitol stands the Statue of Freedom. She stands tall and dignified among the monuments to our ancestors who fought and lived and died to protect her. Monuments to Washington and Jefferson — to Lincoln and King. Memorials to the heroes of Yorktown and Saratoga — to young Americans who shed their blood on the shores of Normandy, and the fields beyond. And others, who went down in the waters of the Pacific and the skies over Asia.

And freedom stands tall over one more monument: this one. This Capitol. This living monument to the American people. A people whose heroes live not only in the past, but all around us — defending hope, pride, and the American way.

They work in every trade. They sacrifice to raise a family. They care for our children at home. They defend our flag abroad. They are strong moms and brave kids. They are firefighters, police officers, border agents, medics, and Marines.

But above all else, they are Americans. And this Capitol, this city, and this Nation, belong to them. Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.

Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again.

As long as we are proud of who we are, and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will not fail. Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper. And our Nation will forever be safe and strong and proud and mighty and free.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Chomsky: How the US Is Playing with Fire in Asia


January 18, 2018

Chomsky: How the US Is Playing with Fire in Asia

A shifting balance of power in Asia has the potential for regional conflicts if it’s not managed, warns Chomsky.

Often dubbed one of the world’s most important intellectuals and its leading public dissident, Noam Chomsky was for years among the top 10 most quoted academics on the planet, edged out only by William Shakespeare, Karl Marx, Aristotle.

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An unrelenting critic of U.S. foreign policy since the 1960s, much of his intellectual life has been spent stripping away what he calls America’s “flattering self-image” and the layers of self-justification and propaganda he says it uses to mask its naked pursuit of power and profit around the world.

Now aged 85, Chomsky is still in demand across the world as a public speaker. He maintains a punishing work schedule that requires him to write, lecture and personally answer thousands of emails that flood into his account every week. He is professor emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where he has been based for nearly 60 years.

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Chomsky will make a rare trip to Tokyo in March, where he is scheduled to give two lectures at Sophia University. Among the themes he will discuss are conceptions of the common good, one deriving from classical liberalism, the other from neoliberal globalization that he predicts will lead to disaster very soon if not radically modified.

“That gives the answer to the question posed in the title of the talk: ‘Capitalist Democracy and the Prospects for Survival,’ ” he says. “The quick answer is ‘dim.’ ”

Tell us about your connections to Japan.

I’ve been interested in Japan since the 1930s, when I read about Japan’s vicious crimes in Manchuria and China. In the early 1940s, as a young teenager, I was utterly appalled by the racist and jingoist hysteria of the anti-Japanese propaganda. The Germans were evil, but treated with some respect: They were, after all, blond Aryan types, just like our imaginary self-image. Japanese were mere vermin, to be crushed like ants. Enough was reported about the firebombing of cities in Japan to recognize that major war crimes were underway, worse in many ways than the atom bombs.

I heard a story once that you were so appalled by the bombing of Hiroshima and the reaction of Americans that you had to go off and mourn alone . . .

Yes. On August 6, 1945, I was at a summer camp for children when the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was announced over the public address system. Everyone listened, and then at once went on to their next activity: baseball, swimming, et cetera. Not a comment. I was practically speechless with shock, both at the horrifying events and at the null reaction. So what? More Japs incinerated. And since we have the bomb and no one else does, great; we can rule the world and everyone will be happy.

I followed the postwar settlement with considerable disgust as well. I didn’t know then what I do now, of course, but enough information was available to undermine the patriotic fairy tale.

My first trip to Japan was with my wife and children 50 years ago. It was linguistics, purely, though on my own I met with people from Beheiren (Citizen’s League for Peace in Vietnam). I’ve returned a number of times since, always to study linguistics. I was quite struck by the fact that Japan is the only country I visited — and there were many — where talks and interviews focused solely on linguistics and related matters, even while the world was burning.

You arrive in Japan at a possibly defining moment: the government is preparing to launch a major challenge to the nation’s six-decade pacifist stance, arguing that it must be “more flexible” in responding to external threats; relations with China and Korea have turned toxic; and there is even talk of war. Should we be concerned?

We should most definitely be concerned. Instead of abandoning its pacifist stance, Japan should take pride in it as an inspiring model for the world, and should take the lead in upholding the goals of the United Nations “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The challenges in the region are real, but what is needed is steps toward political accommodation and establishing peaceful relations, not a return to policies that proved disastrous not so long ago.

How in concrete terms, though, can political accommodation be achieved? The historical precedents for the kind of situation we face in Asia — competing nationalisms; a rising undemocratic power with opaque military spending and something to prove in tandem with a declining power, increasingly fearful about what this means — are not good.

There is a real issue, but I think the question should be formulated a bit differently. Chinese military spending is carefully monitored by the United States. It is indeed growing, but it is a small fraction of U.S. expenditures, which are amplified by U.S. allies (China has none). China is indeed seeking to break out of the arc of containment in the Pacific that limits its control over the waters essential to its commerce and open access to the Pacific. That does set up possible conflicts, partly with regional powers that have their own interests, but mainly with the U.S., which of course would never even consider anything remotely comparable for itself and, furthermore, insists upon global control.

Although the U.S. is a “declining power,” and has been since the late 1940s, it still has no remote competitor as a hegemonic power. Its military spending virtually matches the rest of the world combined, and it is far more technologically advanced. No other country could dream of having a network of hundreds of military bases all over the world, nor of carrying out the world’s most expansive campaign of terror — and that is exactly what (President Barack) Obama’s drone assassination campaign is. And the U.S., of course, has a brutal record of aggression and subversion.

These are the essential conditions within which political accommodation should be sought. In concrete terms, China’s interests should be recognized along with those of others in the region. But there is no justification for accepting the domination of a global hegemon.

One of the perceived problems with Japan’s “pacifist” Constitution is that it is so at odds with the facts. Japan operates under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and is host to dozens of bases and thousands of American soldiers. Is that an embodiment of the pacifist ideals of Article 9?

Insofar as Japan’s behavior is inconsistent with the legitimate constitutional ideals, the behavior should be changed — not the ideals.

Are you following the political return of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? His critics call him an ultranationalist. Supporters say he is merely trying to update Japan’s three outdated charters — education, the 1947 pacifist Constitution and the security treaty with Washington — all products of the U.S. postwar occupation. What’s your view?

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It makes sense for Japan to pursue a more independent role in the world, following Latin America and others in freeing itself from U.S. domination. But it should do so in a manner that is virtually the opposite of Abe’s ultranationalism, a term that seems to me accurate. The pacifist Constitution, in particular, is one legacy of the occupation that should be vigorously defended.

What do you make of comparisons between the rise of Nazi Germany and China? We hear such comparisons frequently from nationalists in Japan, and also recently from Benigno Aquino, the Philippine president. China’s rise is often cited as a reason for Japan to stop pulling in its horns.

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China is a rising power, casting off its “century of humiliation” in a bid to become a force in regional and world affairs. As always, there are negative and sometimes threatening aspects to such a development. But a comparison to Nazi Germany is absurd. We might note that in an international poll released at the end of 2013 on the question which country is “the greatest threat to world peace,” the U.S. was ranked far higher than any other, receiving four times the votes of China. There are quite solid reasons for this judgment, some mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, to compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany would be completely absurd, and a fortiori that holds for China’s far lesser resort to violence, subversion and other forms of intervention.

The comparison between China and Nazi Germany really is hysteria. I wonder whether Japanese readers have even the slightest idea of what the U.S. is doing throughout the world, and has been since it took over Britain’s role of global dominance — and greatly expanded it — after World War II.

Some see the possible emergence of an Asian regionalism building on the dynamic of intertwined trade centered on China, Japan and South Korea but extending throughout Asia. Under what conditions could such an approach trump both U.S. hegemony and nationalism?

It is not just possible, it already exists. China’s recent growth spurt is based very heavily on advanced parts, components, design and other high-tech contributions from the surrounding industrial powers. And the rest of Asia is becoming linked to this system, too. The U.S. is a crucial part of the system — Western Europe, too. The U.S. exports production, including high technology, to China, and imports finished goods, all on an enormous scale. The value added in China remains small, although it will increase as China moves up the technology ladder. These developments, if handled properly, can contribute to the general political accommodation that is imperative if serious conflict is to be avoided.

The recent tension over the Senkaku Islands has raised the threat of military conflict between China and Japan. Most commenters still think war is unlikely, given the enormous consequences and the deep finance and trade links that bind the two economies together. What’s your view?

The confrontations taking place are extremely hazardous. The same is true of China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone in a contested region, and Washington’s immediate violation of it. History has certainly taught us that playing with fire is not a wise course, particularly for states with an awesome capacity to destroy. Small incidents can rapidly escalate, overwhelming economic links.

What’s the U.S. role in all this? It seems clear that Washington does not want to be pulled into a conflict with Beijing. We also understand that the Obama administration is upset at Abe’s views on history, and his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the linchpin of historical revisionism in Japan. However we can hardly call the U.S. an honest broker . . .

Hardly. The U.S. is surrounding China with military bases, not conversely. U.S. strategic analysts describe a “classic security dilemma” in the region, as the U.S. and China each perceive the other’s stance as a threat to their basic interests. The issue is control of the seas off China’s coasts, not the Caribbean or the waters off California. For the U.S., global control is a “vital interest.”

We might also recall the fate of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when he followed the will of the large majority of Okinawans, defying Washington. As The New York Times reported, “Apologizing for failing to fulfill a prominent campaign promise, Hatoyama told outraged residents of Okinawa on Sunday that he has decided to relocate an American air base to the north side of the island as originally agreed upon with the United States.” His “capitulation,” as it was correctly described, resulted from strong U.S. pressure.

China is now embroiled in territorial conflicts with Japan and the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea as well as the air defense identification zone on its contested borders. In all of these cases, the U.S. is directly or indirectly involved. Should these be understood as cases of Chinese expansionism?

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People pose with Chinese national flags after landing on Meiji Reef in the South China Sea

China is seeking to expand its regional influence, which conflicts with the traditional U.S. demand to be recognized as the global hegemon, and conflicts as well with local interests of regional powers. The phrase “Chinese expansionism” is accurate, but rather misleading, in the light of overwhelming U.S. global dominance.

It is useful to think back to the early post-World War II period. U.S. global planning took for granted that Asia would be under U.S. control. China’s independence was a serious blow to these intentions. In U.S. discourse, it is called “the loss of China,” and the issue of who was responsible for “the loss of China” became a major domestic issue, including the rise of McCarthyism. The terminology itself is revealing. I can lose my wallet, but I cannot lose yours. The tacit assumption of U.S. discourse is that China was ours by right. One should be cautious about using the phrase “expansionism” without due attention to this hegemonic conception and its ugly history.

On Okinawa, the scene seems set for a major confrontation between the mainland and prefectural governments, which support the construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko, and the local population, which last month overwhelmingly re-elected an anti-base mayor. Do you have any thoughts on how this will play out?

One can only admire the courage of the people of Nago city and Mayor Inamine Susumu in rejecting the deplorable efforts of the Abe government to coerce them into accepting a military base to which the population was overwhelmingly opposed. And it was no less disgraceful that the central government instantly overrode their democratic decision. What the outcome will be, I cannot predict. It will, however, have considerable import for the fate of democracy and the prospects for peace.

The Abe government is trying to rekindle nuclear power and restart Japan’s idling reactors. Supporters say the cost of keeping those reactors offline is a massive increase in energy costs and use of fossil fuels. Opponents say it is too dangerous . . .

The general question of nuclear power is not a simple one. It is hardly necessary to stress how dangerous it is after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which has far from ended. Continued use of fossil fuels threatens global disaster, and not in the distant future. The sensible course would be to move as quickly as possible to sustainable energy sources, as Germany is now doing. The alternatives are too disastrous to contemplate.

You’ll have followed the work of committed environmentalists such as James Lovelock and George Monbiot, who say nuclear power is the only way to save the planet from cooking. In the short term, that analysis seems to have some merit: One of the immediate consequences of Japan’s nuclear disaster has been a massive expansion in imports of coal, gas and oil. They say there is no way for us to produce enough renewables in time to stop runaway climate change.

As I said, there is some merit in these views. More accurately, there would be if limited and short-term reliance on nuclear energy, with all of its extreme hazards and unsolved problems — like waste disposal — was taken as an opportunity for rapid and extensive development of sustainable energy. That should be the highest priority, and very quickly, because severe threats of environmental catastrophe are not remote.

Noam Chomsky is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is http://www.chomsky.info.

The Koreas: President Moon Jae-in pursues the Path to Peace the Kim Dae Jung Way


January 9, 2017

The Koreas: President Moon Jae-in pursues the Path to Peace the Kim Dae Jung Way

By Stephen Costello, AsiaEast

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It is hard to overstate the drama that has gripped the South Korean political world during the past 12 months. But the return of pragmatic democratic leadership today offers a crucial opportunity for President Moon Jae-in to reshape the perilous security situation in Northeast Asia as well as to reinvigorate South Korea’s democracy and economy.

The political year really began in October 2016, when then President Park Geun-hye’s combination of corruption and incompetence propelled hundreds of thousands of citizens onto the streets in lively but peaceful protests. On 10 March 2017, the National Assembly voted unanimously to impeach Park. Sixty days later Moon Jae-in was elected. There may not be any other democracy today that could do this.

Image result for president moon jae-inMoon Jae-In is a pragmatic strategist, not an ideologue

 

South Koreans can be rightfully proud of this. Yet it is not clear that government leaders or the policy community at large have fully digested the country’s growth or fully recognised its middle power potential. In this sense, they lag behind much of the public.

For South Korea and Northeast Asia, the most important aspect of Moon’s election is that he is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. That makes him unique right now in Northeast Asia. His task is to advertise South Korea’s assets and insist on the country’s rightful seat at the decision making table. If the Moon government can become a channel for clear and pragmatic policies, it can then lead on critical issues such as North Korean denuclearisation and development, disaster relief, clean energy and arms reduction.

Yet to do that, impediments within South Korea’s policy space must be acknowledged and managed — some will even have to be addressed head-on. One is that conservatives fear modernism and miss the imagined certainty of the pre-democratic era. Another is that there is a persistent political and personality war among democrats that may determine how successfully Moon can shape policy debates and maintain support in the National Assembly. Moon must also cooperate with the progressive People’s Party and the Justice Party in order to push through his initiatives.

There are two other challenges that could constrain South Korean power and flexibility. One is the radically different views that persist of South Korea’s role, power and responsibilities: on one hand, a weak and dependent South Korea, and on the other, a South Korea that stands as middle power. Even the President seems torn between them; Moon recently said that the regional situation ‘is not favourable to us’ and that South Korea ‘has no power to resolve the current crisis or help relevant sides seek an agreement’. But he has also insisted for months that Seoul should be ‘in the driver’s seat’ on North Korea issues, and he has begun to cultivate his relationship with Xi Jinping.

The second challenge is the South Korea–US alliance. The relationship is long overdue for readjustment and modernisation but is encountering numerous road blocks under the Trump administration. The Trump administration is an unreliable negotiating partner, and it has become hyper-sensitive to any hint of independent ambition by Seoul. While the alliance is not at risk, it sorely needs South Korea to assume greater responsibility. But US unpredictability and Trump’s bellicosity mean statements to that effect evoke nervousness among South Korean elites, and have prevented the government from advancing solutions.

Where does that leave South Korea’s foreign policy direction? President Moon needs to focus on three key external relations opportunities.

First is South Korea’s regional relations. Moon has already begun to manage the areas in which South Korean, Chinese and Japanese interests overlap. But it would be a grave mistake for Moon to continue to urge Russia and China to punish North Korea harder. Instead, his advantage lies in his ability to offer a roadmap for infrastructure and development that integrates the North. China, Russia and Japan would directly and amply benefit from this. Moon should also encourage diplomacy and increased global interaction with North Korea, which could form the basis for the next successful regional advancement.

Second is South Korea’s bilateral relations with North Korea. South Korea’s clear interest lies in reclaiming the strategic possibilities that emerged in 2000, when the North’s proposed denuclearisation benefitted each actor and Pyongyang’s security and development were tightly linked to it. But if the government continues to pursue the false notion that maximum isolation and pressure can lead to negotiations with Kim Jong-un, then it can make no progress.

Third is South Korea’s alliance with the United States. Due to mistakes of past US and South Korean presidents, the North Korea issue now largely defines bilateral relations. This was clear before Moon was elected. If he is to be a true friend to the United States rather than a Trump enabler, he will quickly take up leadership on Peninsular issues (which Trump has abandoned).

While the United States will eventually return to positive engagement on Peninsular issues, this may take five years or more, and Moon doesn’t have time to wait. Too much of South Korea’s agenda and its immediate security depend on him moving now. Trump has shown himself to be malleable — particularly if others arrange for the US’s advantageous participation. That possibility — rather than fuelling Trump’s non-strategic, ‘tough guy’ impulses — is where Seoul and Washington’s roles can be mutually reinforcing.

With its US ally temporarily drained of diplomatic and institutional capacity, and with broad public support, South Korea’s leadership has never possessed this level of capability, stability and flexibility. How and whether it is used will greatly impact regional dynamics in coming months and years. Will the government use its unprecedented power to play a decisive and positive role in 2018?

Stephen Costello is an independent analyst and consultant and the producer of AsiaEast. He was formerly director of the Korea Program at the Atlantic Council and director of the Kim Dae Jung Peace Foundation. His column appears at The Korea Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @CostelloScost.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/12/18/south-koreas-astonishing-political-year/

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.

 

How to think about US-China relations in 2018


January 6, 2018

How to think about US-China relations in 2018

Image result for Bilahari Kausikan Dealing with an Ambiguous Word“Simply put: The US under Mr Trump is not as bad as the American establishment and media – still in denial over his victory – portrays; China under Mr Xi is not the juggernaut the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus would have us believe.”–Bilahari Kausikan

 

Relations between the United States and China will remain the major axis of the East Asian strategic equation in 2018. The adjustments underway between the US and China will preoccupy the region for decades to come. It is imperative that we think about US-China relations clearly and clinically.

Two developments in 2017 – Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President and Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power at the 19th Party Congress – threaten to cloud our capacity for dispassionate analysis. They reinforced the tendency to think about US-China relations in deterministic, binary terms. This is inaccurate and dangerous.

A more symmetrical US-China strategic relationship is emerging. But neither China nor the US is going to trace a straight-line trajectory up or down.

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Simply put: The US under Mr Trump is not as bad as the American establishment and media – still in denial over his victory – portrays; China under Mr Xi is not the juggernaut the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus would have us believe.

This is clouded by the emotional shock of Mr Trump’s election and the confidence with which Mr Xi proclaimed China’s ambition for a “new era”.

The American establishment and media present almost everything Mr Trump does as wrong because they want him to fail in order to vindicate themselves.

China presents ambition as already existing reality because persuading others that it is so goes some way towards making it so.

Singapore’s establishment is generally comfortable with the American establishment, often sharing similar educational and career experiences.

It also cannot be denied that the cultural affinity towards China that some in our establishment feel makes us vulnerable to the seductions of Chinese narratives.

US-China competition is as much psychological as material. Biculturalism is an advantage. But it also exposes us to the worst of both worlds.

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The identity of a country only 53 years old is still tentative. There is an inchoate sense of deference among some Singaporeans towards more ancient civilisations, or supposedly more advanced political cultures.

The American media is undermining confidence in America as much as China’s propaganda apparatus. Typical is the contention that Mr Trump’s refusal to lead has undermined international order and given China an advantage. This is superficially persuasive, but grossly exaggerated.

The US National Security Strategy (NSS 2017) published in December 2017 makes clear that the Trump administration has not eschewed leadership, but has a different, narrower, concept of leadership that puts “America First” and stresses a more robust approach to competitors.

Whether the strategy will work is yet to be determined. But nothing that Mr Trump has done has been as disruptive of international order as George W Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The ensuing decade of war in the Middle East wearied Americans, discredited the establishment, and led to Mr Trump’s election, and that of Barack Obama before him.

In East Asia, Mr Trump’s cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a blow to American credibility. But as bad was Mr Obama’s failure to enforce the “red line” he drew in Syria.

Mr Trump’s decision to bomb Syria while at dinner with Mr Xi has done much to restore the credibility of American power. Without credible power, there can be no leadership.

Mr Trump has reaffirmed US alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia. There is no sign that his administration will retreat from the East and South China Seas, where he has given the 7th Fleet greater latitude to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations to challenge China.

Mr Trump attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the ASEAN-US Summit, and the East Asian Summit.

Whether he will continue to do so is as much up to ASEAN’s ability to demonstrate the utility of ASEAN-led multilateral diplomacy as it is up to an administration whose emphasis after Mr Obama is again on bilateralism.

The most important discontinuity is in trade, where NSS 2017 makes abundantly clear that the focus will be on fair, not free, trade. This poses risks to all, but more risk to China, which NSS 2017 labelled (along with Russia) a “revisionist power”.

Decisions on intellectual property, steel and aluminium are imminent. NSS 2017 signalled a more restrictive approach to investment and on STEM students from designated countries, which clearly includes China.

Mr Trump is moving from the failed decades-old policy of denuclearisation to one of deterrence against a nuclear North Korea by deploying more force than the region has seen for a long time.

The risk of war by design is low, although not non-existent. But the shift implies reduced dependence on China to manage North Korea, which could well enhance the trade risks.

Beijing has not responded effectively to this change of tack. It is angry with Pyongyang, aware of the economic and strategic risks, but ultimately impotent to influence either North Korean or American policy.

OPPORTUNITIES AMIDST UNCERTAINTIES

Western commentary on Mr Xi’s 19th Party Congress speech focused on China’s global ambitions and the abandonment of Deng Xiaoping’s policy of biding time. But the overwhelming focus of the speech was in fact domestic.

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Two points stand out: Mr Xi’s definition of the “principal contradiction” facing Chinese society as that between China’s “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life”, which are “increasingly broad”, and the urgent imperative of revitalising the Communist Party to meet those needs if the goal of building a “modern socialist country” is to be met.

This sets an extremely complex agenda: Moving industry up the value chain, cutting overcapacity, promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, improving the environment, revitalising the rural sector, promoting balanced regional growth, dealing with an ageing population, healthcare and social security, promoting social mobility, improving education, housing and food safety, dealing with corruption, defusing social tensions and expanding “orderly political participation”.

Each is a major challenge in itself, requiring enormous resources and attention, and this list is only partial.

Moreover, Mr Xi’s speech alluded only obliquely to a key issue left over from the 18th Party Congress in 2012: What is the appropriate balance between market efficiency and Communist Party control? The 19th Party Congress offered no clarity, and, in fact, there are no clear answers.

Mr Xi reaffirmed the commitment to economic efficiency, but his stronger insistence on the party’s role may have sharpened the dilemma.

There is nothing unusual about a big country having big ambitions. Still, China’s global ambitions, in particular Mr Xi’s hallmark Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), is as much about dealing with this fundamental domestic challenge as it is a new global strategy. The BRI is essentially the externalisation of a growth model heavily dependent on the stimulus of SOE-led infrastructure investment.

The 18th Party Congress had recognised that this was unsustainable within China itself. But a new growth model required structural adjustments that Beijing was not sure how to make without risking internal instability that could jeopardise party rule.

The BRI buys time for Beijing to deal with this serious internal question. It remains to be seen how it will be dealt with in Mr Xi’s second term.

Despite its “win-win” justification, the BRI is thus a “China First” strategy. This accounts for the uneasiness it has generated in many countries and the pushback it has encountered, recently even within Pakistan, which is almost entirely dependent on Chinese largesse now that Mr Trump has threatened to cut back American assistance.

None of this implies that there are no gains for other countries, or that China will fail.

Like the US, China is a creative and resilient society with a proven record of adaptability. But the complications suggest that the BRI’s implementation will at best be patchy, subject to conflicting demands on resources, and that the BRI is not a practical alternative to the current US-led international order.

The BRI – and China’s growth — are built on the foundation of the current order. Can they succeed if Mr Trump’s America First strategy fails and the US and China stumble into a trade war, or if the world turns protectionist? China was the greatest beneficiary of post-Cold War globalisation; it may be the greatest loser if globalisation falters.

In January and November last year, Mr Xi delivered eloquent defences of globalisation at Davos and the Danang APEC Summit.

He made much the same points in his 2018 New Year message, indicating his willingness to lead if America under Mr Trump was not. But this was more a rhetorical extension of the “Great Rejuvenation” narrative by which the party justifies its rule than a settled proposition.

The leader of an open international order must itself be open. It is precisely how much China will open up in its next stage of reform that Beijing has yet to decide.

Both Mr Trump and Mr Xi have signalled that they want to co-operate even as they compete. But we will face a prolonged period of more than usual uncertainty. There will be risks, but also opportunities.

Singaporeans should keep calm, watch developments alertly, understand the mind games that we are being subjected to, avoid rushing to judgement, and not forget the obvious: We are neither American nor Chinese, and have our own interests.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bilahari Kausikan is Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was previously Permanent Secretary.

http://www.todayonline.com/commentary/how-think-about-us-china-relations-2018

What to read about North Korea


January 4, 2018

 

North Korea may be the most secretive and totalitarian country in the world, as well as the wackiest. As a result, it inspires some of the best fiction and nonfiction, so the upside of the risk of nuclear war is an excuse to dip into literature that offers glimpses of this other world — and some insights into how to deal with it.

Thousands of North Koreans have fled their homeland since the famine of the late 1990s, and many are writing memoirs recounting their daily lives and extraordinary escapes. A leading example is IN ORDER TO LIVE: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (Penguin, paper, $17) by Yeonmi Park, with Maryanne Vollers. Park is a young woman whose father was a cigarette smuggler and black market trader. As a girl, she believed in the regime (as did her mother), for life was steeped in propaganda and anti-Americanism. Even in her math class, “a typical problem would go like this: ‘If you kill one American bastard and your comrade kills two, how many dead American bastards do you have?’”

What opened Park’s eyes was in part a pirated copy of the film “Titanic.” The government tries hard to ban any foreign television, internet or even music, and North Korean radios, which don’t have dials, can receive only local stations. But the black market fills the gap, with handymen who will tweak your radio to get Chinese stations, and with illegal thumb drives full of South Korean soap operas.

I’m among those who argue that we in the West should do more to support this kind of smuggling, because it’s a way to sow dissatisfaction. Indeed, what moved Park was the love story in “Titanic”: “I was amazed that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were willing to die for love, not just for the regime, as we were. The idea that people could choose their own destinies fascinated me. This pirated Hollywood movie gave me my first small taste of freedom.”

In the end, Park’s father was arrested for smuggling, and the family’s life collapsed. Park and her sister went hungry and had to drop out of school, and she survived eating insects and wild plants.

So at age 13, Park and her mother crossed illegally into China — and immediately into the hands of human traffickers who were as scary as the North Korean secret police. They raped her mother and eventually Park as well, and both struggled in the netherworld in which North Koreans are stuck in China — because the Chinese authorities regularly detain them and send them home to face prison camp. Park and her mother were lucky, finally managing to sneak into Mongolia and then on to South Korea.

Another powerful memoir is THE GIRL WITH SEVEN NAMES: A North Korean Defector’s Story (William Collins, paper, $15.99) by Hyeonseo Lee, with David John. She is from Hyesan, the same town as Park. It’s an area on the Chinese border where smuggling is rampant, where people know a bit about the outside world and where disaffection, consequently, is greater than average.

Still, Lee’s home, like every home, had portraits of the country’s first two leaders, Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, on the wall. (The grandson now in power, Kim Jong-un, hasn’t yet made his portrait ubiquitous.) Lee begins her story recounting how her father dashed into the family home as it was burning to rescue not family valuables but rather the portraits of the first leaders. There’s an entire genre of heroic propaganda stories in North Korea of people risking their lives to save such portraits.

Like other kids, Lee grew up in an environment of formal reverence for the Kim dynasty. At supper she would say a kind of grace — to “Respected Father Leader Kim Il-sung” — before picking up her chopsticks.

“Everything we learned about Americans was negative,” she writes. “In cartoons, they were snarling jackals. In the propaganda posters they were as thin as sticks with hook noses and blond hair. We were told they smelled bad. They had turned South Korea into a ‘hell on earth’ and were maintaining a puppet government there. The teachers never missed an opportunity to remind us of their villainy.

“‘If you meet a Yankee bastard on the street and he offers you candy, do not take it!’ one teacher warned us, wagging a finger in the air. ‘If you do, he’ll claim North Korean children are beggars. Be on your guard if he asks you anything, even the most innocent questions.’”

Hmm. No wonder my attempts at interviewing North Korean kids have never been very fruitful.

Lee escaped to China at age 17 and started a new life in Shanghai but remained in touch with her family. One day her mom called from North Korea. “I’ve got a few kilos of ice,” or crystal meth, she said, and she asked for Lee’s help in selling it in China. “In her world, the law was upside down,” Lee says, explaining how corruption and cynicism had shredded the social fabric of North Korea. “People had to break the law to live.”

It’s fair to wonder how accurate these books are, for there’s some incentive when selling a memoir to embellish adventures. I don’t know, and in the case of “In Order to Live,” skeptics have noted inconsistencies in the stories and raised legitimate questions.

So how did North Korea come to be the most bizarre country in the world? For the history, one can’t do better than Bradley K. Martin’s magisterial UNDER THE LOVING CARE OF THE FATHERLY LEADER: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty (St. Martin’s Griffin, paper, $29.99). Martin recounts how a minor anti-Japanese guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung came to be installed by the Russians as leader of the half of the Korean peninsula they controlled after World War II. Martin discovers that Kim’s father was a Christian and a church organist, and Kim himself attended church for a time. That didn’t last, and Kim later banned pretty much all religion — though he became something of a god himself, quite a trick for an atheist. But do North Koreans really believe in this “religion”?

Judging from defectors I’ve interviewed and much of the literature on North Korea, many do — especially older people, farmers and those farther from the North Korean border. That’s partly a tribute to the country’s shameless propaganda, which B.R. Myers explores in his interesting book, THE CLEANEST RACE: How North Koreans See Themselves — And Why It Matters (Melville House, paper, $16). He notes that North Korea produced a poster showing a Christian missionary murdering a Korean child and calling for “revenge against the Yankee vampires” — at the same time that the United States was the country’s single largest donor of humanitarian aid. Myers argues that North Koreans have focused on what he calls “race-based paranoid nationalism,” including bizarre ideas about how Koreans are “the cleanest race” — hence the title — bullied and persecuted by outsiders.

For a more sympathetic view of North Korea’s emergence, check out various books by Bruce Cumings, a University of Chicago historian, like KOREA’S PLACE IN THE SUN: A Modern History (W.W. Norton, paper, $19.95). Cumings argues that North Korea is to some degree a genuine expression of Korean nationalism. I think Cumings is nuts when he says, “it is Americans who bear the lion’s share of the responsibility” for the division of the Korean peninsula. But his work is worth reading — unless you have high blood pressure, in which case consult a physician first.

Whatever the uncertainties about the accuracy of recent North Korean memoirs, it’s absolutely clear that some stories about North Korea are fabricated — because they’re fiction. Today’s political crisis with Pyongyang is a great excuse to read Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON (Random House, paper, $17), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013. Johnson tells the story of a military man turned prisoner turned celebrity turned villain, dealing for a while with utterly confused American visitors — an account so implausible and bizarre that it’s a perfect narrative for North Korea.

The other fiction that I’d recommend is the Inspector O series by James Church, the pseudonym of a well-respected Western intelligence expert on North Korea. Inspector O is a North Korean police officer who investigates murders, a bank robbery and various other offenses, periodically dealing with foreigners and turning down chances to defect.

Inspector O is a complex, nuanced figure who understands that the regime he serves is corrupt, brutal and mendacious, but he remains loyal. That’s because he is a deeply patriotic and nationalistic Korean, and he resents the patronizing scorn of bullying Westerners. I think many North Korean officials today are an echo of the conflicted nationalist Inspector O.