Taiwan’s strategic confusion

Taiwan US Trade

Author: Wen-Ti Sung, ANU

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou’s mantra of ‘no unification, no independence, and no use of force’ is coming under increasing strain.

This pressure is due to a number of factors — Washington’s benign neglect of Taiwan, Beijing’s ever-stronger leverage over Taipei, and Taiwan’s own strategic confusion. Read more…

Obama’s visit to Indonesia and Australia and the TPP

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York with Dr. N. Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs  and his wife, Mrs. Wirajuda, on Wednesday, September 23, 2009. (Photo: Lawrence Jackson/White House)

Author: Bernard K. Gordon, University of New Hampshire

President Obama’s twice-deferred trip to Indonesia is now scheduled for the week after next, and will be combined with a visit to Australia. In the familiar phrase, these visits come at the ‘best of times and the worst of times.’ It is the best of times because US relations with both Jakarta and Canberra have never been better. In 2008, President Yudhoyono announced his Comprehensive Partnership with the US‘ — a sea-change for Jakarta—and it will be further formalised and intensified during Obama’s three-day visit.

The goal will be both to ‘catch up’ in sectors that have been relatively neglected in recent years, and to open up new fields for Indonesia-US cooperation. Read more…

President Obama, the TPP and U.S. leadership in Asia

Sultan of Brunei Hasanol Bolkiah (1st L), Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (2nd L), Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (3rd L), Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (4 th L) Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (C), Indonesian President (4th R), US President Barack Obama (3R), Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Hu Jintao pose during a photo at in Singapore on November 14, 2009, during the APEC Summit. (Photo: Getty Images)

Author: Claude Barfield and Philip I. Levy, AEI

After prolonged ambivalence about trade, President Obama finally found an agreement he could embrace – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But what is the object of the President’s new found passion? Why has the South Pacific caught his fancy when pending agreements in Latin America and Northeast Asia could not? And will this amount to anything more than the Administration’s rather empty promises to wrap up the Doha Round of WTO global trade talks?

In fact, the TPP is potentially a significant addition to U.S. trade policy. It could be a model for trade liberalisation and a means to address long-standing U.S. interests in Asia. Read more…

North Korea – the US still caught between speaking with the enemy and listening to allies

U.S. special envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth (L) and South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek (photo: Reuters)

Author: Jonas Parello-Plesner

Barack Obama: ‘America … has to talk with its enemies.’ ‘[It] requires allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other’.

North Korea is a litmus test for Obama’s foreign policy tenets. On the one hand, Obama promised to speak with the enemy to bring new results in foreign policy. Read more…

Obama and East Asia: No Room for Complacency

President Obama at the 1st U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (Photo: Whitehouse.gov/Chuck Kennedy)

Author: Gerald Curtis, Columbia University

The Obama administration’s foreign policy in East Asia has been characterized more by continuity than by change, building on policies of previous administrations that have served U.S. interests well. But there is a danger that, forced by events to focus attention on the world’s hot spots, continuity will shade into complacency, leaving the administration to constantly try to catch up with developments in an East Asia that is rapidly changing.

Managing trilateral relations among the U.S., China, and Japan requires a multi-level approach. Each of these countries is in a transformative period that is changing the dynamics of their interaction. Bilateral relationships will remain central. It is unrealistic and unwise, however, to think of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship as comprising a G-2 for dealing with regional and global issues. The notion of a G-2 exaggerates China’s strengths. It is not in the interests of the U.S. to encourage China to believe that it has more power to influence global affairs than it actually possesses. Being the largest overseas purchaser of U.S. Treasury notes gives China considerable leverage in relations with the U.S. But one should not underestimate the mutual hostage quality that results from China being the largest holder of U.S. bonds, which has a kind of economic Mutually Assured Destruction character to it.

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US gives a long overdue nod to Indonesia

Hillary Clinton meets with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Author: Ann Marie Murphy, Whitehead School of Diplomacy, Columbia University

Hillary Clinton deserves credit for making Indonesia the second country she visited as Secretary of State. Indonesia may be the world’s fourth most populous country, third largest democracy, and home to the world’s largest community of Muslims, but it is also the most important country Americans know virtually nothing about. Clinton’s visit sends an early signal to Jakarta that Washington recognizes Indonesia’s growing international clout and builds a firm foundation for future cooperation.

Clinton’s trip had multiple goals: to highlight the example Indonesia’s transition to democracy sets for the broader Muslim world; to reinforce US interest in Southeast Asia by visiting the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and to lay the foundation for a strategic partnership with Indonesia. Indonesian officials welcomed US attention to their country and recognition of its achievements over the past decade.

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Showing up in Asia

US Secretary of State meets with Japan's Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone (AP Photo/Tomohiro Ohsumi)

Author: Nina Hachigian, Center for American Progress

Less than a month into the new Obama administration and the Secretary of State was on the ground in Asia.

Add that to the growing list of acts, symbolic and real, that signal a major departure from the last eight years of American policymaking.

Already, ‘green jobs’ are actually being created, not just debated as a concept, and the Secretary of Energy is a Nobel Prize winning scientist who speaks forcefully about the devastating potential of climate change. Women now enjoy broader rights to sue over unequal pay, millions more American children have access to health insurance, two additional brigades are on their way to Afghanistan and the CIA can no longer torture detainees.

Asia policy is unlikely to undergo as radical a change. But the fact that Secretary Clinton was there on her very first overseas trip when Condolezza Rice didn’t even regularly attend ASEAN summits, certainly shows a different kind of appreciation for the enormous importance of the region to the US.

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Indonesia and Obama: thinking past the honeymoon period

Hopes are running high for US-Indonesian relations under Obama

Author: Alexandra Retno Wulan, CSIS, Jakarta

As the first African-American to hold the office, the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama is a historic moment, and the beginning of a new era for the United States.

His personal background has tied a linkage between President Obama and the world outside of the United States of America. He has raised the hopes of millions at home and abroad, including many Indonesians.

People around the globe expect that Obama will bring significant changes to the US and the rest of the world. Many Indonesians are even more optimistic that Obama will strengthen Indonesia-US bilateral relations, as he spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia.

What, exactly, does Barack Obama intend for the Indonesia-US relationship? Based on President Obama’s inaugural speech, which highlights some of his policy goals, we can expect the following.

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A Chinese view of Obama’s Inaugural Address

Barack Obama, at his inauguration as 44th President of the United States (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images)

Author: Jia Qingguo, Peking University, Beijing

The election of Barack Obama to the White House has cheered the world, caught in a cold winter and a worsening global financial crisis. People of all continents appear to have found a way to relate to him and, probably for the first time in history, warmly welcomed a newly elected American president.

In his inaugural address, President Obama did not let people down, at least in rhetoric. He began with an acknowledgement of the daunting challenges the US is facing, including a worsening economic crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and climate change.

‘They are serious and they are many,’ he said. Instead of being cowered by these challenges, he said Americans will meet them through choosing ‘hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.’

On the international front, Obama said that the US needs to exercise power prudently and promised to work together with other countries to cope with various global challenges. ‘With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the spectre of a warming planet.’

All this sounds good and inspiring. How to address those challenges remains to be seen. In the presidential election campaign, Obama emphasized the word ‘change.’ As he comes into office, however, he may find that he does not have much room for the change he promised. Read more…

Caught in the middle: Obama and the ROK

Change has come to America, but what does Obama mean for East Asia?

Author: Chung-in Moon, Yonsei University, Seoul

East Asia is likely to draw less attention from the Obama administration given the current preoccupation with Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Nevertheless, the United States shows no sign of lessening its engagement in the region.

A prudent realism under the Obama administration will seek a more active cooperation with China, while maintaining existing bilateral alliances with Japan and South Korea. In so doing, the Obama administration is likely to seek a new regional security architecture that combines a bilateral alliance system with a multilateral security cooperation regime. We can expect the US will shift its emphasis from the logic of balance of power to that of the power of balance.

Domestic issues will be the first order of business for President Obama. However, the North Korean nuclear issue is not likely to be left idle, as Obama has defined the prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and defeating global terrorism as the twin pillars of his national security agenda. Hillary Clinton, his nominee for secretary of state, also made it clear during her Senate confirmation hearing that she will deal with the North Korean nuclear issue with urgency.

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Obama and Japan

Barack means blessed in Arabic: but will his administration prove a blessing for Japan?

Author: Kenji Takita, Chuo University, Tokyo

President Obama’s election was widely welcomed in Japan, by the general public as well as the power elite.

Most in Japan abhorred the Bush administration’s unilateralist foreign policy and expect the Obama administration to shift America towards a more multilateralist course. Multilateralism is closely associated with smart power. The shift towards multilateralism is likely to have two effects in implementing American foreign policy. It will go some way towards erasing the damage that the Bush Administration’s unilateralism has done to American standing. It will also make it easier to the United States to call on the assistance of other countries, especially that of allied powers.

While many Japanese welcome the Obama administration, they remain concerned about the new administration’s foreign and trade policies. For Japan these concerns focus on questions like will the Obama administration seek a resolution to the abduction issue as well as denuclearization in North Korea? Who will be America’s primary partner in East Asia? Will the administration introduce protectionist trade policies to ‘defend’ the US economy in the face of the current economic downturn?
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China’s Take on Obama and Obama’s Take on China

Author: Dominic Meagher

The US-China relationship is among the most important bilateral relationships in the world. Yet during the American Presidential election, China appeared something of a no-go zone.

In the US there are broadly two camps on China: those who would seek to contain, and those who seek to engage.

President-elect Obama is lauded for his instincts towards international engagement, cooperation, listening respectfully to others, and pragmatism. These are instincts that will serve him well dealing with China. But his comments on trade during his campaign for the Presidency, his penchant for blaming US manufacturing job losses on China and his promise to establish an ‘enforcement office’ at USTR to pressure China to revalue the RMB, point in a different direction and herald a trickier time for Sino-American relations.

Real Clear Politics has described considerable concern in Asia that the protectionist side of Obama will dominate his dealings with Asia, and notably China. Is the concern in Asia justified?

Perhaps not when you compare Obama with President Bush, when newly elected.

Read more…