In late 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the United States’ intention to participate in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The TPP has become the capstone of the U.S.’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and will be the largest free trade agreement (FTA) in the world. The TPP will set a new a standard for FTAs and consists of 11 member states. However, the world’s second largest economy, China, has not been a part of the negotiations. There have been voices calling for China’s inclusion and also exclusion. After the informal U.S.-China summit in Sunnylands, both leaders recognized the need for continued cooperation and economic integration. But is the time right for China to join the talks? Both the U.S. and China have goals and objectives that will prevent China from joining the TPP in the short term, but both countries should strive for further trade liberalization and economic integration.
One of the foreign policy dilemmas facing many Southeast Asian nations is how to deal with the competing interests of two superpowers in the region: China and the United States. The United States has had a vested interest in the region since the Vietnam War, but China’s influence stretches back as far as the Qin dynasty. Southeast Asian nations often side with one or the other in order to attract foreign aid or investment. Over the past decade, however, Cambodia has managed to play both sides, drawing huge capital inflows from both countries to fuel its economy.
"My soil, my mother will not turn into a desert!” “We do not want electricity destroying the Sundarbans!” These are only two of many more emotional slogans chanted by the participants of a long march protesting against the proposed installation of a power plant with Indian assistance. A 400km march en route to Rampal—a small town near the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest on the planet—from the capital city of Dhaka spearheaded by the left-leaning Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports ended just recently. Protesters participating in the long march vow to stop the building of a massive 1320 megawatt coal-based power plant that finds its home just 14 km away from the Sundarbans. They have also issued an ultimatum to the government to cancel the project by October 11th, as Professor Anu Mohammad, the member secretary of the Committee, recited from the Sundarbans Announcement. The speakers say that failure to comply with this will trigger fresh protests.
When India tested its nuclear weapons, one of its primary objectives was to develop a nuclear triad for the nation. A nuclear triad includes land based intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and SSBNs (fitted with Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles). In the Indian context, the Indian Air Force’s Mirage 2000H which was initially meant only for air defence, but was later chosen for nuclear strikes. The Jaguar-IM was also capable of delivering nuclear bombs. The MiG-27ML and Mirage 2000Ns were also considered to be a choice to deliver nuclear weapons.
Kyodo News reported on July 6th that the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MOD) is assessing the option to purchase two additional Aegis-equipped destroyers for BMD missions. The country’s current Aegis fleet consists of four Kongo-class destroyers. Combined with the commissioning of two Aegis-equipped destroyers currently under renovation, the new purchase would effectively double Japan’s Aegis fleet and make eight destroyers available for BMD missions in out years.
At the end of May, the Wilson Center hosted a conference on China’s economic and political outlook under its new generation of leadership. J. Stapleton Roy, Director of the Kissinger Institute, moderated the discussion featuring Junhua Wu, Chief Senior Economist at the Japan Research Institute Ltd. and a Wilson Center Senior Scholar, as well as Kiyoyuki Seguchi from the Canon Institute for Global Studies. While each panelist presented their opinions primarily on the economic outlook of China, each highlighted different challenges and opportunities for China’s fifth generation of leaders.
Junhua Wu began her presentation by focusing on the short-term economic projections put forth by the Chinese government. Furthermore, she questioned the legitimacy of these numbers. However, instead of delving into these topics, she reversed course and stated that both topics were irrelevant (unless you are an investment banker, she said) and that long-term projections were of utmost importance. “China’s economy has gone through ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ cycles since 1979,” she stated. She followed this by presenting a graph that showed China’s economy has grown, on average, at a blistering pace of 9.8 percent for the past three decades. She argued that less attention should be focused on whether or not China’s economy has had a “soft landing” and more attention given to potential long-term structural changes contemplated by China’s new leaders.
Since separating himself from the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in the late 1990s, Anwar Ibrahim has labored relentlessly at the forefront of Malaysia's political opposition movement. After successfully upending the BN's two-thirds parliamentary majority in the landmark 2008 general election, it looked as though 2013 would be the year in which the Anwar-fronted People's Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat) finally broke through at the ballot box.
That much hoped-for political watershed will now be deferred for at least one more election cycle. After a record turnout last Sunday, the BN emerged with a necessary majority of 133 seats against 89 for the opposition. Although they racked up 7 more seats than in 2008, Anwar and his allies remain well short of a parliamentary majority.
But while Prime Minister Najib gets to keep his job for the time being, in the long run, 2013 may amount to little more than a pyrrhic victory. The election results did little to bridge the growing political chasm between differing segments of Malaysian society. Going forward, the future viability of the ruling coalition is looking more precarious than ever.
In September 2012, when the Japanese Government purchased three uninhabited islands from their private Japanese owners, they thought they were defusing a crisis. The move to acquire the disputed islands in the Senkaku chain was meant to pre-empt right-wing Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing the islands. With Ishihara’s record of China-bashing and staunch nationalist views, Prime Minister Noda likely viewed his initiative as less provocative to China. Instead the Chinese reacted angrily and have increased the deployment of military forces to the contested territories. Relations between the two Asian giants have been affected by this crisis, and pundits have speculated about a miscalculation leading to war. Due to the new leadership in both countries and the change in the strategic balance between China and Japan, it is unlikely that a resolution to the row will be found in the near term and relations will worsen. These developments have no upside and will have consequences for both countries.
On November 21, 2012, in the midst of President Obama’s historic trip to Myanmar and embrace of Aung San Suu Kyi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to urgently reroute to the Middle East in order to help negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas before the attacks spun further out of control. This disruption of the carefully choreographed, high-visibility Asia trip revealed the impossibility of our pivoting to Asia if it means neglecting the Middle East. Our conduct in Asia and Middle East are both critical, and the successes in both regions are intertwined.
In December 2011, in an op-ed for Singapore’s Strait Times, I made the case for boosting American engagement with Asia. The economic rationale for this is clear: the exceptional opportunities and competitive threats that the economic dynamism of Asia presents; and the need to astutely and proactively respond to China’s growing economic, political, and military footprint. The United States under its Hawaii-born President should indeed revitalize its engagement on the Pacific frontier.
President Barack Obama’s visit to Myanmar (formerly Burma) on November 19th has the potential to reshape the strategic map in Asia. This first state visit by a U.S. President demonstrates the steady improvement in U.S.-Burmese relations over the past few years. President Thein Sein’s reform efforts that led to the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010 and her subsequent election to parliament, the release of political prisoners, and the dissolution of the military junta in 2011 have paved the way for renewed ties with the U.S. This improvement in relations marks one of the early successes of the U.S. pivot towards Asia, which features the U.S. focusing additional military and diplomatic resources on the region to counter a rising China. The advancement of U.S.-Burmese relations will have profound strategic implications for China as it nervously watches the U.S. moves in the region.
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