According to the US Federal Reserve, Americans’ net worth has fallen 40 percent since 2007, returning to its 1992 level. Progress toward recovery will be slow and difficult, and the US economy will be weak throughout the run-up to November’s presidential and congressional elections. Can any incumbent — and especially US President Barack Obama — win re-election in such conditions?
To be sure, the blame for the US’ malaise lies squarely with Obama’s predecessors: former US president Bill Clinton, for encouraging the Fed to take its eye off financial market supervision and regulation, and former US president George W. Bush, for his costly wars, which added massively to US government debt. However, come election day, many (if not most) Americans are likely to ignore recent history and vote against the incumbent.
Given this, it would not be surprising if Obama and others in his administration were seeking non-economic issues to energize his campaign. National security problems in general, and the challenge posed by China in particular, may be shaping up as just such issues.
Obama’s foreign and defense policies have been assertive, to say the least, especially in the Middle East and the Pacific. He has sanctioned far more unmanned drone strikes than Bush did, extended the security services’ intrusion into Americans’ privacy, allowed the CIA to continue its rendition program, approved trials of accused terrorists by flawed military tribunals and has not shut Guantanamo Bay.
Moreover, the US is increasing its troop presence in the Pacific at a time when it already has more military force in the region than all other countries combined. Six aircraft carriers, with their accompanying support vessels — 60 percent of the US’ entire Navy — are now stationed in the Pacific.
In addition, Obama’s administration has been conducting talks with the Philippines to increase and enhance naval cooperation. Singapore has been persuaded to host four advanced naval ships. Australia has established a base for US Marines in Darwin and another for unmanned spy planes on the Cocos Islands.
That is not all. In a move that has received little or no publicity, congressional Republicans added a clause to the Defense Appropriation Bill for next year requiring the Obama administration to consult with countries in the Western Pacific about stationing even more forces — including tactical nuclear weapons — in the region. US Senator Richard Lugar has advised me that since there has been little or no objection to the amendment from the White House, he sees no reason why it will not pass the US Senate.
At a recent security conference in Singapore, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta emphasized the US military build-up in the region. Afterward, he went to Vietnam, allegedly for discussions about the US Navy’s use of Cam Ranh Bay, a major US base during the Vietnam War.
The US, like Australia, denies that all of this adds up to a policy of containment aimed at China. However, few in the Western Pacific see it that way.
Panetta’s visit to Vietnam followed hard on US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Beijing for strategic and economic talks. Those talks seemed to go well, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the US is pursuing a two-track policy: talks, yes, but also a build-up and repositioning of US military power in the Pacific just in case.
All of this is happening at a time when China is preparing for a change of leadership. I happen to believe that the political transition will occur smoothly. Others suggest that it will be — and already is — a difficult period of turmoil and uncertainty.
The Obama administration may believe that toughness directed at China will generate electoral support in the US. During major international incidents or crises, the US has seldom voted against an incumbent president. Yet has he properly reckoned with how provocative his policies are to China?
None of this is meant to suggest that the Pacific region does not need the US. However, while the US obviously has a significant role to play in the region, it should have learned by now that its political objectives are unlikely to be achieved by military means.
The Chinese themselves do not want the Americans to leave the Western Pacific, as that would make smaller countries on China’s periphery even more nervous about Chinese power. China is mature enough to understand this; nonetheless, a major US military build-up throughout the region is another matter.
These are dangerous days, not only economically, but also strategically. We really do need to ask whether Obama is trying to play a China card to shift the electoral scales in his favor. If that is his intention, it is a move fraught with great danger.
Australia should be saying to the US that it will have none of this. I would sooner abrogate the Ausralia, New Zealand, US Security Treaty — that is, I would sooner end defense cooperation with the US — than allow nuclear missiles to be sited on Australian territory.
The current Australian government would not take such a step and the opposition would be unlikely to do so as well. However, more Australians are beginning to question the closeness and wisdom of strategic ties to the US. Perhaps Australia’s best hope for stability and peace lies in China’s refusal to be provoked. The Chinese understand the game being played. I suspect that they will remain on the sidelines during the US election campaign.
Malcolm Fraser is a former Australian prime minister.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) hasn’t had a very good spring, either economically or politically. Not that long ago, he seemed to be riding high. The PRC economy had been on a long winning streak of more than six percent annual growth, catapulting the world’s most populous nation into the second-largest power, behind only the United States. Hundreds of millions had been brought out of poverty. Beijing’s military too had emerged as the most powerful in Asia, lagging only behind the US, the long-time leader on the global stage. One can attribute much of the recent downturn to the international economic
An outrageous dismissal of the exemplary Taiwanese fight against COVID-19 has been perpetrated by the EU. There is no excuse. I presume that everyone who reads the Taipei Times knows that the EU has excluded Taiwan from its so-called “safe list,” which permits citizens unhindered travel to and from the countries of the EU. As the EU does not feel that it needs to explain the character of this exclusive list, perhaps we should examine it ourselves in some detail. There are 14 nations on the list that have been chosen as safe countries of origin and safe countries of destination for
Filmmakers in Taiwan used to struggle when it came to telling a story that could resonate internationally. Things started to change when the 2017 drama series The Teenage Psychic (通靈少女), a collaboration between HBO Asia and Taiwanese Public Television Service (PTS), became a huge hit not just locally, but also internationally. The coming-of-age story was adapted from the 2013 PTS-produced short film The Busy Young Psychic (神算). Entirely filmed in Taiwan, the Mandarin-language series even made it on HBO’s streaming platforms in the US. It is proof that a well-told Taiwanese story can absolutely win the hearts and minds of hard-to-please