The Asianist

Balanced and fact-based analysis of Asian affairs

Posts Tagged ‘united states

New Piece on the Next Steps for US-Vietnam Relations

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I have a new piece out over at World Politics Review looking at some of the key issues that have shaped will shape US-Vietnam relations. I argue that the Washington needs to sustain and balance its engagement with Vietnam and Asia more generally this year even as it is consumed by elections, manage its relationship with China adroitly, and try to make progress on further strengthening economic and trade relations. Hanoi, for its part, needs to sustain internal reforms and address some of Washington’s concerns about human rights in order to increase the ‘ceiling’ on what can be achieved in the relationship. These measures will help both sides elevate the relationship “to the next level” as leaders often declare. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Relations between the United States and Vietnam have progressed rapidly and comprehensively since the normalization of ties in 1995. In just the past few years, the two countries have inked agreements in areas including environmental protection, nuclear energy and health research cooperation. They have also deepened their robust economic relationship, with Vietnam signing on to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, and have declared their common interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Yet if the U.S. and Vietnam wish to take their emerging strategic partnership to the next level, as officials from both sides have indicated, they will need to get past several challenges.

For the United States, the challenge will be sustaining and balancing its engagement with Vietnam and Asia more generally. Vietnam has welcomed the great strides made in relations between the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) under the Obama administration, including developments such as the Lower Mekong Initiative and American attendance at the East Asia Summit last year. However, Hanoi worries about the sustainability of the U.S. presence. This is a particular concern this year as the Obama White House moves fully into election mode. The management of noncrisis foreign policy issues may drop off the priority list, while foreign travel may be limited and new and existing agreements shelved. The potential departure of key Asia-focused members of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would only exacerbate this sense of drift, with potentially profound consequences for the regional security environment. …



Is Obama Expecting Too Much From China?

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Maybe, hints John Pomfret in yesterday’s Washington Post.

He recounts a May 24 U.S.-China meeting at a state guesthouse in Beijing, where Rear Adm. Guan Youfei of the People’s Liberation Army, went on the following tirade:

Everything, Guan said, that is going right in U.S. relations with China is because of China. Everything, he continued, that is going wrong is the fault of the United States. Guan accused the United States of being a “hegemon” and of plotting to encircle China with strategic alliances. The official saved the bulk of his bile for U.S. arms sales to China’s nemesis, Taiwan — Guan said these prove that the United States views China as an enemy.

The Obama administration, which some say has already spent too much time reassuring the Chinese — from postponing Mr. Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama to downplaying human rights concerns — with little gain on issues like North Korea or climate change,  has dismissed Mr. Guan’s remarks as an outlier:

U.S. officials have since depicted Guan’s three-minute jeremiad as an anomaly. A senior U.S. official traveling on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plane back to the United States dismissed it, saying it was “out of step” with the rest of the two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And last week in Singapore, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sought to portray not just Guan, but the whole of the People’s Liberation Army, as an outlier intent on blocking better ties with Washington while the rest of China’s government moves ahead.

That doesn’t seem to be Mr. Pomfret’s reading:

But interviews in China with a wide range of experts, Chinese officials and military officers indicate that Guan’s rant — for all its discomfiting bluster — actually represents the mainstream views of the Chinese Communist Party, and that perhaps the real outliers might be those in China’s government who want to side with the United States. More broadly, many Chinese security experts and officials view the Obama administration’s policy of encouraging Chinese participation in solving the world’s problems — including climate change, the global financial crisis and the security challenges in Iran and North Korea — not as attempts to elevate China into the ranks of global leadership but rather as a scheme to enmesh it in a paralyzing web of commitments.

“Admiral Guan was representing what all of us think about the United States in our hearts,” a senior Chinese official, who deals with the United States regularly, said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with a reporter. “It may not have been politically correct, but it wasn’t an accident.” “It’s silly to talk about factions when it comes to relations with the United States,” said a general in the PLA who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The army follows the party. Do you really think that Guan did this unilaterally?”

Dean Cheng over at the Heritage Foundation also counsels against taking this Chinese tone too lightly. PLA Major General Zhu Chenghu, who was Mr. Gates’ interlocutor at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and bluntly stated: “You, the Americans, are taking China as the enemy”, is also far from an ‘outlier':

General Zhu is the same officer who, in 2005, broached the idea that China’s nuclear “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons might not apply if China was attacked with conventional weapons. Except that Zhu was subsequently appointed to head the Defense Affairs Institute at the PLA’s National Defense University (NDU). The PLA’s NDU is the equivalent of a military region, with precedence ahead of the actual military regions. More to the point, he is now attending the Shangri-La Asia Security Summit, representing the PRC…Beijing knows exactly what it was doing. In which case, Secretary Gates is seriously misreading the message that China is sending — China’s leadership, both military and civilian, are not interested in deepening military-to-military relations unless the US abandons its commitment to Taiwan.

I would only add that a worrying number of people knowledgeable about China have also expressed grave doubts about Beijing’s willingness to cooperate in recent months. “The truth”, one U.S. official told Council on Foreign Relations China expert Elizabeth Economy late last year, “is that the Chinese do not want to cooperate”. After extensive discussions with foreign policy analysts and Chinese strategists and elites, Brad Glosserman, director of Pacific Forum CSIS – a think tank — concluded that China tends to attribute problems like North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan-Pakistan to these countries’ desire to reshape their bilateral relationships with the United States,  and therefore feels like Washington should bear the burden of resolving these dilemmas, while Beijing has a small, if any role to play (this is similar to the kind of sentiment Mr. Pomfret found). A CSIS survey of Chinese elites also showed that few saw any sense of international responsibility for Beijing globally, with a whopping 90 percent rejecting an international leadership role for China.

Chinese conduct up to this point mostly confirms this. With the exception of not vetoing fresh Iran sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, China wrecked last year’s Copenhagen conference, has thus far refused to take a tougher stance on North Korea despite its clear involvement in the sinking of a South Korean ship, and declined to lift a finger to assist in the Af-Pak region. Meanwhile, China’s blistering military modernization is sounding alarm bells among Washington’s allies in Asia (consider Singapore’s patriarch Lee Kuan Yew’s concern about China expressed during his last trip to Washington , or Australia’s recent defense white paper). Secretary Gates himself admitted last year that China “could threaten America’s [previously unchallenged] ability to project power and help allies in the Pacific”. And a handful of U.S. experts from across the political spectrum, including some who were previously more optimistic about China, recently concluded almost universally that Beijing had reverted to an aggressive stance in the South China Sea (others also seem to agree).

I agree that U.S. cooperation with China is essential in order for progress to be made on a range of important global issues, and that both Washington and Beijing should try to make this come about. I also realize these matters are tough and don’t yield quick results. I just think the Obama administration, like any other administration in office in the United States, ought to be more honest and realistic about how much and how far the Chinese are willing to go to cooperate. So far, I suspect that even some State Department officials would agree with me when I say that the record hasn’t been very encouraging. If so, the United States should start acting like this is the case, instead of harboring illusions about how China perceives Washington as recent reports seem to suggest.

The U.S. and East Asian Regionalism

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Leaders at a recent East Asia Summit.

As United States thinks about its future approach to East Asian regionalism, perhaps one of the most important questions is whether or not it should join the East Asia Summit (EAS), and what other options it could pursue beyond this.

I’ve got a new piece out at World Politics Review analyzing a few of these options as they stand now.

I’ve pasted the full article below, but you can also read it here.

The U.S. and the East Asia Summit

Prashanth Parameswaran | 02 Jun 2010

As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for his visit to Asia in June — one of three potential roundtrips to the region this year — it is worth exploring what Washington’s future policy options are with respect to Asian regionalism.

The alphabet soup of the so-called “regional architecture” includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Plus Three (APT), and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), to name just a few groupings. The main question now facing the United States is whether to join the East Asia Summit (EAS), a five-year-old body that groups the 10 countries of Southeast Asia as well as China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The impetus for joining is clear. Legally speaking, the United States meets all the criteria necessary for membership, having finally acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) last year. Substantively, participating in Asian summitry demonstrates Washington’s commitment to multilateralism, a symbolic yet significant metric in a region where process is equally important — and sometimes more so — than outcomes. “Half of diplomacy,” as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech on regional architecture earlier this year, “is showing up.”

More tangibly, the United States could also use its membership to energize the grouping or influence regionalism more generally in constructive ways. For instance, Washington might be able to provide leadership in ensuring that the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia within the EAS is compatible with the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific within APEC, thereby averting potential overlap or conflict.

Yet there are also compelling arguments against joining the EAS. The other half of diplomacy, as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell politely put it, is about “delivering results” and focusing “increasingly on action,” or “developing the capacity for problem-solving.”

Judged from this prism, the EAS, which has been referred to by some leaders and experts as a “brainstorming session” or “a dinner followed by 16 speeches,” looks more like a discussion forum compared to the APT. In the latter grouping, Southeast Asian nations along with Japan, China and South Korea have achieved more concrete results, including establishing a joint fund — the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization Agreement — to guard against future financial crises.

Some countries have acknowledged that the EAS “could make a significant contribution to . . . establishing an East Asian Community,” and it is clear that there is room for growth. But Washington may not want to sign off on a grouping that has yet to demonstrate its capacity for producing results.

Showing up is also easier said than done. Take Obama’s schedule for the rest of 2010. As of now, he already has three planned trips to Asia: a June trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia (which has already been postponed three times due to domestic imperatives), a series of ASEAN leaders’ meetings in Hanoi in late-October (including the Fifth EAS and the Second U.S.-ASEAN Summit), and visits to South Korea and Japan in November for the Fifth G-20 Summit and the 18th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting respectively. Yet there is deep skepticism over whether the president’s political advisers will let the EAS summit take precedence over domestic campaigning come October, just weeks before critical mid-term elections that his party could lose.

While the Obama administration could push for the U.S.-ASEAN Summit to be held in Honolulu or for it to be postponed so it coincides with his November visit, rescheduling the EAS is much harder to do, since it also requires agreement by six other non-Southeast Asian members, including China. There are ongoing discussions about this, but the outcome remains unclear. Furthermore, beyond 2010, in order for the U.S. to attend regularly as a member in the future, EAS nations would likely have to time meetings with the APEC or G-20 summits, and perhaps even consider holding them outside of Southeast Asia.

Alternatively, as Stanford University’s Donald K. Emmerson has suggested (.pdf), the United States could choose to “ease into” the EAS by first sending the vice president or secretary of state to Vietnam, the summit’s host in 2010. That would express U.S. support for regionalism while also affording it the opportunity to evaluate the grouping’s productivity before determining if it is worth pursuing membership. When Assistant Secretary Campbell spoke at the Project 2049 Institute in Washington last year, he said (.pdf) that Washington would “hang back a little bit” and see how both existing institutions and proposed initiatives — like Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Asia Pacific community and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s East Asia Community — evolve before stating its own preferences.

As U.S. policymakers mull these various options, it is worth noting that the decision about whether or not to join the EAS is hardly an exclusively American one. ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan hinted earlier this year in a speech at the Asia Society that Washington had to adapt to existing arrangements because “the landscape has changed” in the region. ASEAN leaders themselves are also currently weighing other options beyond just expanding the EAS to include the United States. These include a separate ASEAN+8 grouping — all current EAS members plus the U.S. and Russia — that would meet every few years. ASEAN+8, some have argued, would take into account the U.S. president’s scheduling problems by convening only every few years — as opposed to the annual EAS summits — and back-to-back with the APEC Leaders’ Meeting when it is hosted in the region.

In Tokyo last year, Obama insisted that the United States “expects to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve.” But in order to do so, his administration must first consult with Asian nations and determine how much it wants to actually commit to multilateralism in Asia, including the EAS.

Prashanth Parameswaran is a research assistant at the Project 2049 Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that covers Asian security issues.

Photo: East Asia Forum


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