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US Foreign Policy Challenges in East Asia

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Despite the media’s constant barrage of news pertaining to the Middle East, another region that is strategically imperative to the US is East Asia. The Far East is comprised of economic powerhouses such as China and Japan as well as the vibrant and growing economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others. East Asia will be the global economic center of gravity in the coming decades.

While the economic forecast looks promising, the diplomatic and military situation appears tenuous at best. One of the bigger concerns for the next president of the US will be how they approach the growing rift in East Asia between China and her neighbors.

China

Currently, there doesn’t appear to be any major challenger to US hegemony in the world but many commentators refer to China as the most viable contender. The Chinese economy has been growing consistently each year for the past thirty years. On par with the economic growth, the Chinese defense budget has been increasing as well.

At the moment, China does not appear to wield any sort of ideological bent that it desires to propagate to other nations instead it is focusing on economic development. As such, it does not appear that China will become an ideological rival to the US on the global stage like the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, as China grows it will want to reassert itself in its backyard without any foreign meddling. This aspiration poses a long-term strategic threat to US security imperatives in the region. Aside from not being able to fulfill mutual defense treaties with allies such as Japan and Taiwan, the US can be left out of a region with the largest economic growth projected in the near future.

Aside from the military tensions in the region, the next president needs to impress upon China the role and responsibility of a rising power with respect to its international duties. One of the major issues that the US and other nations have encountered recently is the currency devaluation practice China employs in order to help stimulate exports at the expense of international trade. Another contentious problem that will need to be addressed is the protection of intellectual property. The Chinese have become notorious for stealing and imitating an array of intellectual property and rebranding it as her own.

Additionally, the Chinese will need to be confronted on matters of cyber infiltration. With the ever growing digitalization of the developed world, the vulnerability of the US to a cyber-attack continues to grow. The US has already sustained cyber-attacks allegedly by Chinese hackers that were working for the People’s Liberation Army. These types of attacks resulted in losses of American military and corporate intelligence.  

In the last couple of decades, the fashionable mantra in politics is to point out that the US is in decline while China is on the rise. Even though China may match American economic might in the coming decades, its military and technological gap is still wide. With the US on the path to becoming energy independent and a potential energy exporter, the supposed decline of America might be not so near. However in order to perpetuate the status quo, the next president has to work on maintaining a relationship with China that helps bring both nations closer together to resolve global issues while ensuring both nations are working on equitable terms.

South China Sea

Robert Kaplan, one of the foremost experts on the region, stated: “The South China Sea will be the 21 st Century’s defining battleground.” This large swathe of a sea is considered to be a great economic source of wealth as well as vital to geopolitical strategy.

With eight nations vying for control of the maritime features, tensions are starting to spill over into potential conflict. One of the most recent flashpoints has been the artificial island constructions by China, which were employed as airstrips. This allows China to create forward operating “islands” in the middle of nowhere and increase its Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ).

The significance of the South China Sea is its potential for wealth as well as the strategic advantage it will bequest upon whoever controls it. Unlike other seas, the South China Sea has three factors that make it one of the most important seas to observe and promises a major conflict in the next few decades.

The South China Sea has a wealth of resources such as fishery stocks that comprise the livelihood and diet of so many in the region. It is believed to be one of the most lucrative fishing areas in the world. Securing a stable food sources will be a critical aspect for most countries in the region as their population continues to grow.

The discovery of large sources of oil and gas reserves under the seabed has only further enticed the surrounding littoral nations to intensify their claims for control of the sea. Chinese officials have estimated the oil reserves at one trillion US dollars. The potential for gas is even larger. If any nations manage to wrest control of the region, energy independence as well as a large revenue stream is guaranteed.

The control of the South China Sea is vital in projecting power to the Eurasian rimlands and eventually to the vast interiors. The sea also serves as a natural link between the Indian and Pacific Oceans only furthering its appeal. This natural passageway between the two oceans creates what is known as the Malacca Dilemma for Chinese strategists. The Malacca Dilemma refers to the dependence of China on the Strait of Malacca both economically and geopolitically. The Strait of Malacca is analogous in importance to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. One-third of all global trade transits through the strait as well as more than the overwhelming majority of raw materials and energy needs for the Chinese economy. Due to the increased traffic over the years, it has become a critical chokepoint.

China appears to be both the most economic and militarily preponderant force in the region. As China continues to grow, it will assert itself much more forcefully in the South China Sea in order to expel the US military from the region. If successful, the Chinese can disturb the freedom of navigation in the major sea lanes. This will threaten US economic interests. The next president will need to watch the sea carefully and continue to use the US navy as a buffer to Chinese ambitions in order to ensure freedom of navigation.

North Korea

North Korea or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) poses one of the most precarious predicaments in politics due to its nuclear arsenal, fickle dictator, unstable economy, and repressed population. The volatile situation makes all the regional states apprehensive and afraid of the ruinous potential that exists in being dragged into a conflict. The Chinese are reticent to defend the North Koreans yet more fearful of a united Korea with an American base on its border. Across the demilitarized zone, the US is weary of defending the South Koreans yet it cannot be perceived that it won’t fulfill its commitment to an ally. The best way out is a compromise between the two Koreas but there isn’t any desire on either side of the border to do so.

China is the main lever that can control North Korea’s actions to an extent. The next president will need to work and goad China to rein in the instability caused by Pyongyang. With an insecure dictator that possesses a nuclear arsenal, North Korea will be a country that keeps the next president awake at night.

Taiwan

Taiwan or the Republic of China continues to be a thorn in the Sino-American relationship. When Taipei announced its government, the US was not diplomatically apt to recognize the country. It was not until the Korean War that the US started a policy of containment in the Pacific Rim region with the protection of Taiwan as a priority.

As China grows economically and militarily, the Taiwan question will come more into play. Of all the perils associated with the South China Sea to security and peace, the disorder affecting the Taiwan Straits is by far the most threatening. The prospect of war is nowhere more promising than in this dispute. The US mutual defense agreement with Taiwan has helped secure it from a Chinese invasion for now. As the Chinese military continues to strengthen its capabilities, especially its anti-access/area denial capabilities, it will become more brazen in its actions towards Taiwan. The next US president will need to watch the precarious situation develop while maintaining its commitment to Taiwan. The US will not only need to play the role of a security guarantor to Taiwan but also a tension mollifier between the two rivals in order to maintain the peace.

Vietnam

Once an enemy of the US, Vietnam today represents one of the most pro-American countries in the region. With the rise of China, Vietnam’s status in the Pacific tug of war between the US and China has enhanced. Naturally, Vietnam is inclined towards the US because of its long and quarrelsome history with Beijing as well as China’s regional hegemonic aspiration. Although the US and Vietnam have not cozied up to the level of other regional states, the common interest of containing China’s regional goals is motivation enough for both countries to further develop their burgeoning relationship.  

China and Vietnam are currently engaged in disputes in and around the South China Sea mainly the Paracel Islands. While Vietnam claims the islands, China fully controls them. The islands have been the site of many clashes. When China placed an oil rig within Vietnam’s EEZ and justified it by arguing that the area was within the Chinese EEZ due to its “sovereignty” over the Paracel Islands, a face-off ensued. After a few clashes, the Chinese withdrew citing completion of their test but warned they reserved the right to return. While the US called the Chinese move rabble-rousing it did not impose any punitive measures. At the same time, the US continues to not sell any lethal weapons to Vietnam. With the US uninvolved and China’s growing naval strength, Vietnam is becoming somewhat intimidated and may eventually bend to the Chinese whim.

As the US begins to pivot more to Asia, the next US president needs to consider taking the relationship with Vietnam to the next level. With a deep water port and growing industrial manufacturing capabilities, Vietnam can play a great military and economic role in the US East Asia strategy.

Burma (Myanmar)

Burma has the potential to play the pivotal trump card in the US-China tango for East Asia. Due to the lack of media coverage, Burma’s importance to the US strategic imperative for the region is not stressed enough.

China has a long and comfortable relationship with the country since its independence in the middle of the 20th century. China is a vital military supplier and has many strategic military cooperation initiatives. In exchange, China is granted access to Burma’s naval ports, which grants it an entrance to the Indian Ocean bypassing the Malacca Strait. China hopes to use the nation as a corridor to the Indian Ocean and reduce its reliance on the South China Sea. The country also serves as a pivot point for China to observe Indian military movements in the region. However, this friendly relationship between the two nations has hit a few bumps in the last couple of years. Burma has beckoned a change in its foreign policy by engaging other regional players and reducing its dependence on China.

In recent years, the relations between the US and Burma has warmed up with the exchange of ambassadors as well as the easing of sanctions against the country. Despite human rights abuses by the Burmese government against the Rohingya minority, economic exchanges with the US are still going forward. The US is supporting the democratic transition in Burma. As Burma’s neighbor to the north becomes stronger and richer, a counterweight is needed to help ensure Burma’s interest and regional stability is maintained. The next president of the US will have many countries to look at in this part of the world but Burma will play a fundamental role in determining if Chinese ambitions are checked for the region. A balance is needed between encouraging the transition to democracy and condemning their actions towards the minority population. It will be a fine line for the next president to tread on.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Americas

Prospects for U.S.-China Relations in the Biden Era

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The U.S. presidential election which will be held on November 3 is drawing ever closer. As the Trump administration performs poorly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the death toll in the U.S. exceeded 210,000, the election trend appears to be very unfavorable for Donald Trump.

According to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Joe Biden led Trump by 14 percentage points in the national elections. It is worth noting that retired American generals, who have traditionally been extremely low-key in politics, publicly supported Biden this year, something that is quite rare. On September 24, 489 retired generals and admirals, former national security officials and diplomats signed a joint letter in support of Biden. Among them are Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, showing that they have crossed the affiliation, and jointly support Biden to replace Trump. Although the opinion polls do not represent the final election, with the election only being one month away, the widening of the opinion gap is enough to predict the direction of the election.

For the whole world, especially for China, it is necessary to prepare for the advent of a possible Biden era of the United States. During Trump’s tenure, U.S.-China relations have taken a turn for the worse, and China has been listed as the foremost “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States.

There is a general view in China that after the Democratic Party comes to power, U.S.-China relations may worsen. The reason is that the Democratic Party places more emphasis on values such as human rights and ideology and is accustomed to using values such as human rights, democracy, and freedom in foreign policies against China. However, as far as U.S.-China relations are concerned, it is too vague to use the simple dichotomic “good” or “bad” to summarize the relationship of the two countries.

However, it is certain that after Biden takes office, his policies will be different from Trump’s. An important difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden will follow a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement his own policies, and he will also seek cooperation with China in certain bottom-line principled arrangements. It should be stressed that it is crucial for China and the United States to reach some principled arrangements in their relations.

From an economic point of view, should Biden become the next President, the United States will likely ease its trade policy, which will alleviate China’s trade pressure. It can be expected that the Biden administration may quell the U.S.-China tariff war and adjust punitive tariff policies that lead to “lose-lose” policies. If Biden takes office, he might be more concerned about politics and U.S.-China balance. In terms of trade, although he would continue to stick to the general direction of the past, this would not be the main direction of his governance. Therefore, the U.S.-China trade war could see certain respite and may even stop. In that scenario, China as the largest trading partner of the United States, could hope for the pressures in the trade with the U.S. being reduced.

China must also realize that even if Biden takes power, some key areas of U.S.-China relations will not change, such as the strategic positioning of China as the “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States. This is not something that is decided by the U.S. President but by the strategic judgment of the U.S. decision-making class on the direction of its relations with China. This strategic positioning destined that the future U.S.-China relations will be based on the pattern dominated by geopolitical confrontation. Biden sees that by expanding global influence, promoting its political model, and investing in future technologies, China is engaging a long-term competition with the U.S, and that is the challenge that the United States faces.

On the whole, if and when Biden takes office, the U.S. government’s domestic and diplomatic practices will be different from those of the Trump administration, although the strategic positioning of China will not change, and neither will it change the U.S.’ general direction of long-term suppression of China’s rise. However, in terms of specific practices, the Biden administration will have its own approaches, and will seek a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement its policies. He may also seek to reach some bottom-line principled arrangements with China. Under the basic framework, the future U.S.-China relations will undergo changes in many aspects. Instead of the crude “an eye for an eye” rivalry, we will see the return to the traditional systemic competition based on values, alliance interests, and rules. Facing the inevitable changes in U.S.-China relations, the world needs to adapt to the new situation.

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Third world needs ideological shift

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As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.

The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.

The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.

In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.

The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested  in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

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The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos

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The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  A  Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest.  Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive. 

Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion.  The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population.  The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets. 

There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates.  Trump won both in 2016.  Will he this time? 

Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose.  The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump.  The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account.  The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China.  The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015. 

The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden.  Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner.  This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other.  The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals.  There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’  

New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally.  Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.  

Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate.  Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic.  On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president.  This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public.  The same interests fund both major parties and they generally  get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself. 

From all the ridiculousness to the sublime.  Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range.  We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy.  From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.  

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