Sat, Jun 09, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Asia sees China and US as threats to rules-based order

Faith in US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ reassurances is increasingly not enough in the face of trade tariffs

By Marc Champion  /  Bloomberg

However, that is not yet producing the unity required to isolate China and force it into the kind of recalculation that Mattis foresaw.

The country that has lately shifted its China policy most, Australia, has been frozen out by China, rather than the other way around. Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo recently became the first Cabinet minister to visit China this year amid a freeze on invitations from Beijing. He went to attend a soccer match and his request to meet with officials was rejected.

“ASEAN is roadkill,” Boutilier said of the 10-nation group.

He pointed to the Philippines, where Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has distanced his government from the US and made accommodations with China. Duterte and others have noted that the chances of the US actually coming to the aid of the Philippines or others militarily over disputed land features in the South China Sea are remote.

Meanwhile, China has taken steps to set aside security disputes with some neighbors, including India, Japan and South Korea. Its diplomats have been touring European capitals promising greater markets access.

A possible route to providing new substance to the US strategy is a grouping of four significant Asia-Pacific military powers — the US, Australia, India and Japan — that struggled on launch in 2007 because Australia’s then-government withdrew to avoid provoking China. The Quad, as it is known, was revived last year as Australia hardened its approach.

Yet neither Mattis nor Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who became the first Indian leader to attend a Shangri-La conference, mentioned the Quad in their speeches, suggesting they are wary about fueling Chinese suspicions that the US and its allies are seeking to contain Beijing.

China denies violating freedom of navigation and has said that its Belt and Road Initiative provides win-win solutions for developing countries.

The US might have few better options available in the face of China’s size and economic growth. However, the fundamental flaw in US policy is money, said former minister of national defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖), who heads the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei.

On the one hand, Washington is demanding that allies spend more on their own defense and pay higher trade tariffs, while at the same time, the US is asking them to beware of Chinese largess and risk alienating their largest trade partner, Yang said.

“Those things are very hard to reconcile,” he said.

If the US were willing to compete with China in offering large infrastructure investments or buy up debts that countries like the Maldives owe to China, the policy would be more coherent, he said.

Yet that would counter the whole bent of the administration’s foreign and trade policies, which are predicated on the idea that other countries must stop taking advantage of US generosity.

A bill now before Congress, the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, seeks to provide the missing financial link to Mattis’ strategy. It would authorize US$1.5 billion annually to “enhance US presence in the Indo-Pacific” and encourage the negotiation of bilateral and multilateral trade pacts.

Yet Trump shows little interest in negotiating new multilateral trade deals, while the sums on offer under the bill pale next to Chinese investments.

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