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What Will/Should Trump’s Asia Policy Look Like?

Donald Trump

Courtesy thierry ehrmann/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Pacific Forum CSIS on 9 November 2016.

Like most American Asia-watchers, I have no clue what the basic tenants of the incoming Trump administration’s Asia policy will be. I have learned from experience to discount at least half of what is said during presidential campaigns: Reagan was going to recognize Taiwan; Carter was going to withdraw US troops from the Korean Peninsula; etc., etc. The challenge is knowing which half not to believe.

While I don’t know what Trump’s Asia policy will be, I have a pretty good idea what it SHOULD be, so allow me to offer some unsolicited advice.

The pivot is dead, long live the pivot. The “pivot” or “rebalance” toward Asia is an Obama slogan which will leave with him – it likely would have even if Clinton was elected – but America’s focus on Asia as a national security priority has been a bipartisan constant since the end of the Cold War and the centrality of the US alliance system in Asia (with Australia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand) – as in Europe (NATO) – has likewise been a bipartisan constant since the 1950s. The going in assumption seems to be that a Trump administration is less committed to maintaining the alliance system as a vital component of America’s security (as well as the security of our allies). If he truly believes this, he needs to say so and address the alternatives and consequences. What he SHOULD do is to reaffirm the centrality of both Asia and the US alliance system to America’s continuing commitment to sustaining peace and security in Asia and beyond. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton did this by producing overarching East Asia Strategy Reports; a new one is sorely needed.

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Disaster Diplomacy for Asia and the Middle East

Cyclone Pam nears Vanuatu

Courtesy Harrison Tran/flickr

This article was originally published by the Middle East Institute (MEI) on 16 June 2016.

What is Disaster Diplomacy?

Disaster diplomacy investigates how and why disaster-related activities (pre-disaster and post-disaster) influence conflict and cooperation. [1]

Planning, preparation, and damage reduction are part of pre-disaster activities, which are termed ‘disaster risk reduction,’ focusing on addressing the root causes of disasters. Those root causes are, fundamentally, power and politics (particularly as related to resource allocation), societal sectors gaining from others’ vulnerability, and preference for short-term profit over long-term safety. Post-disaster activities refer to response, reconstruction, and recovery.

There have been numerous case studies of disaster diplomacy, covering various countries, regions and time periods, as well as a wide array of hazards—from environmental phenomena, such as earthquakes and floods, to technology-related incidences, such as train crashes and poisonings. The case studies have investigated many types of diplomacy: bilateralism, multilateralism, intergovernmental and international organizations, nongovernmental entities, and international relations conducted by non-sovereign jurisdictions such as provinces or cities (often called para-diplomacy, proto-diplomacy, and micro-diplomacy). The case studies also encompass many forms of conflict, ranging from interstate war and internal insurrections to the absence of diplomatic relations, frosty interactions, and political disagreements.

Across all case studies, no examples have been found where disaster-related activities have created new diplomatic initiatives. To be sure, disaster-related activities can serve as a catalyst for pre-existing diplomatic endeavors. In such instances, cultural links, informal or secret diplomatic negotiations, interactions in multilateral organizations, trade connections, or business and economic development can provide the conditions conducive to spurring disaster diplomacy.

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The Multipolar Asian Century

Sepia Map centered on Asia

Grunge textured world map on vintage paper, courtesy of Nicholas Raymond/flickr

This article was originally published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s The Interpreter on 1 June 2016.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global political and economic architecture has been undergirded largely by one superpower, which set the stage for an unprecedented period of globalisation managed through multilateral institutions and actors. Now that unipolar moment is giving way to an era of diffused powers, with countries like the US, China and Russia each bearing considerable disruptive capacities, and each struggling to stitch together new norms and rules for these rapidly changing times.

This phase, the beginning of which was marked by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and characterised by America’s two bruising wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen a vacuum emerge. Many are seeking to fill it, most determinedly China, but with a push back from countries such as Japan and India. Separately, ISIS and radical energies in the Middle East also seek to grab new space. Russia has chosen this very moment to signal its ability to muddy the Eurasian fields and intervene in the Middle East. The fact is, there is not enough room to accommodate all of these ambitions.

A median will have to be arrived at, but who will sacrifice what?

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Friendless China

Irrawaddy River, courtesy of Bjorn Christian Torrissen /Wikimedia Commons

HONG KONG – At a time when China’s territorial assertiveness has strained its ties with many countries in the region, and its once-tight hold on Myanmar has weakened, its deteriorating relationship with North Korea, once its vassal, renders it a power with no real allies. The question now is whether the United States and other powers can use this development to create a diplomatic opening to North Korea that could help transform northeast Asia’s fraught geopolitics.

China’s ties with Myanmar began to deteriorate in late 2011, when Myanmar decided to suspend work on its largest and most controversial Chinese-aided project: the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam, located at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River. The decision shocked China, which had been treating Myanmar as a client state – one where it retains significant interests, despite today’s rift. » More

The Rise of China – A View from Singapore

 Ng Eng Hen

Singapore’s Defense Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen (right). Photo: U.S. Pacific Fleet/flickr.

In international relations, there exists diplomatic theater and diplomatic facts. A recent example of theater is the agreement between China and the United States to expand their military exchanges and bilateral scientific contacts. The reality, however, is something quite different. The US Department of Defense, for example, continues to comply with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, which forbids any contact with People’s Liberation Army (PLA) staff members that might result in the “inappropriate exposure” of key US operational plans, dispositions or activities. China’s astronauts, in turn, remain banned from the International Space Station and, more recently, its scientists were prohibited from attending an academic conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

At the heart of these prohibitions is the US Congress. Over the past few years it has thwarted the funding for joint Sino-American projects; it has voiced concerns about the potential theft of US space technology; and it played a key role in terminating an exchange program that helped facilitate Sino-America dialogue on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Unsurprisingly, leading American scientists are upset about the missed opportunities that these restrictions represent. Yes, they include missed chances for collaborative research, but they also represent a lost opportunity for each country to gain deeper insights into the long-term strategic interests of each other. » More

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