Re­port warns of Asia arms race if Trump with­draws US forces China views a Trump pres­i­dency with less trep­i­da­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The US ap­proach to Asia faces a ma­jor over­haul when Don­ald Trump takes of­fice, but what will take its place? A new re­port warns of a lead­er­ship vac­uum and even a nu­clear arms race if the US with­draws from a re­gion threat­ened by a provoca­tive North Korea. But au­thors of the Asia Foun­da­tion re­port pro­vided to The As­so­ci­ated Press ahead of its pub­li­ca­tion yes­ter­day also say in some parts of the re­gion there’s hope that a shift from Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture for­eign pol­icy could be for the good.

De­spite the ma­jor di­plo­matic cap­i­tal in­vested by Obama in reach­ing out to Asia in the past eight years, his so-called “pivot” pol­icy has yielded only mod­est gains in coun­ter­ing the rise of an as­sertive China. There’s been a slight in­crease in the US mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion; a po­lit­i­cal open­ing in for­mer pariah state Myan­mar; and bet­ter re­la­tions with old en­emy Viet­nam. The main eco­nomic plank of his pol­icy - the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship - is in ru­ins. Trump’s elec­tion vic­tory has erased chances of early US rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the 12-na­tion trade pact.

Mas­sive desta­bi­liza­tion

De­ter­min­ing what else of Trump’s pop­ulist cam­paign rhetoric trans­lates into ac­tion re­mains a guess­ing game - one with high stakes for Asia. Trump has raised the specter of with­draw­ing US forces from South Korea and Ja­pan un­less they share more of the bur­den of host­ing the 80,000 troops - even as neigh­bor­ing North Korea has con­ducted nu­clear and mis­sile tests with un­prece­dented in­ten­sity. The Asia Foun­da­tion re­port, based on con­sul­ta­tions among aca­demics and for­mer of­fi­cials from 20 Asian na­tions, warns that with­draw­ing US forces could com­pel Tokyo and Seoul to seek their own nu­clear de­ter­rents - rather than rely on Amer­ica’s - which in turn would “trig­ger mas­sive desta­bi­liza­tion of the re­gional order.”

“A pre­cip­i­tous re­duc­tion of en­gage­ment in Asia would be detri­men­tal to the in­ter­ests of most Asian coun­tries as well as the United States,” the re­port says. Trump has taken some early steps to al­lay those fears. He quickly re­as­sured the lead­ers of Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and South Korea of his com­mit­ment to US al­liances. To­mor­row, Trump will meet in New York with Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe who is trav­el­ing to a sum­mit of Asi­aPa­cific lead­ers in Peru. Ja­pan’s archri­val, China views a Trump pres­i­dency with less trep­i­da­tion. It has viewed the pivot as a US at­tempt to con­tain China’s rise as a mil­i­tary and eco­nomic power.

But Bei­jing is wary of Trump’s threat to im­pose hefty im­port tar­iffs over al­leged trade and cur­rency vi­o­la­tions, amid fears it could stoke a trade war. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping Mon­day called Trump and told him that co­op­er­a­tion was needed be­tween the world’s two big­gest economies. Thiti­nan Pong­sud­hi­rak, a Thai aca­demic and one of three co-au­thors of the re­port, said that de­spite the un­cer­tainty over Trump’s lack of govern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, he has some­thing in his fa­vor - a clean slate. Thiti­nan said that’s a plus in South­east Asia, where cur­rent US pol­icy has failed to live up to its billing and where crit­i­cism on hu­man rights has turned off old al­lies like the Philip­pines and Thai­land.

Pivot and re­bal­ance

“South­east Asian na­tions don’t want to be dom­i­nated by China, they don’t want to put all their eggs in the China bas­ket, but they’ve had to be­cause the pivot and re­bal­ance were shal­low and ul­ti­mately hol­low,” he said. In­dian aca­demic C Raja Mo­han said Trump has in his own chaotic way opened a con­struc­tive de­bate about how Asian na­tions might take a more ac­tive role to cope with the rise of China with less de­pen­dence on Amer­ica. “Un­like the Euro­pean lib­er­als’ re­ac­tion in the last few days, Asians are go­ing to ac­com­mo­date rather than ob­ject,” Mo­han said. “We have to deal with who is in power in Wash­ing­ton.” Once Trump fills top po­si­tions on for­eign pol­icy and de­fense, his in­ten­tions on Asia should be­come clearer. A re­cent com­men­tary by two Trump ad­vis­ers may of­fer clues. For­mer Repub­li­can con­gres­sional aide Alexan­der Gray and Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia economist Peter Navarro ad­vo­cated an Asia-Pa­cific pol­icy of “peace through strength.”

They cited Trump’s com­mit­ment to in­crease the US Navy from 274 to 350 ships, say­ing it will re­as­sure al­lies that the US “re­mains com­mit­ted in the long term to its tra­di­tional role as guar­an­tor of the lib­eral order in Asia.” But they add: “It’s only fair - and long past time - for each coun­try to step up to the full cost-shar­ing plate.” South Korea cur­rently pays about $860 mil­lion a year about 50 per­cent of non-per­son­nel costs of the US mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment on its soil - and is pay­ing $9.7 bil­lion more for re­lo­cat­ing US mil­i­tary bases. Ja­pan pays about $2 bil­lion a year, about half of the cost of the sta­tion­ing US forces. De­spite fears of chaos if the US with­draws its mil­i­tary, for­mer South Korean for­eign min­is­ter, Yoon Youngk­wan, there will be “strong reser­va­tions” about pay­ing more.

— AP

Chi­nese air­craft car­rier Liaon­ing cruises for a test in the sea. The Liaon­ing’s po­lit­i­cal com­mis­sar Se­nior Cap­tain Li Dongyou said China’s first air­craft car­rier is now ready to en­gage in com­bat, mark­ing a mile­stone for a navy that has in­vested heav­ily in its abil­ity to project power far from China’s shores.

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