Mon, Sep 24, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Ryan Hass On Taiwan: Navigating Asia’s diplomatic tides

Asian diplomacy will kick into high gear over the coming months. Autumn is the season of the United Nations General Assembly, the G20 Leaders’ Summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting, and the East Asia Summit, as well as the many leader-level meetings that occur on the margins of these events. The outcomes of these meetings will set the direction for developments in the region for the year ahead.

As this season approaches, here are a few key Asian diplomatic trends to watch:

The first key storyline is the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Guided by his unwavering determination to advance inter-Korean reconciliation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in traveled to Pyongyang on Sept. 18-20. He next will travel to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, where he will urge the UN to cheer on progress toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.

When Moon meets with Trump on the margins of the United Nations proceedings, he almost certainly will encourage Trump to hold a second summit with Kim Jong-un this fall. He likely also will nudge Trump to use a second summit to sign a declaration of an end to hostilities, as a step toward an eventual peace accord to formally end the Korean War. If this sequence materializes, North Korea simultaneously will have improved relations with South Korea, the United States, and China, all without having made meaningful concessions on its nuclear program.

Another key storyline will be China’s charm offensives. Xi Jinping (習近平) will host Japanese Prime Minister Abe in late October on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan. This visit follows Xi’s rapprochement with Indian Prime Minister Modi in April, his hosting of virtually all of Africa’s leaders in Beijing earlier this month for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, as well as his high-profile engagement with Russian President Putin in Vladivostok earlier this month. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) similarly has been working to pull the European Union closer to China, including through efforts to conclude a China-EU Bilateral Investment Treaty.

Xi also will advance China’s diplomatic agenda through an ambitious schedule of visits to Latin American countries around the time of the G20 and to Southeast Asian nations alongside his participation at the APEC Leaders’ Meeting. Even if these visits produce few lasting and tangible outcomes, the optics of Xi enjoying high-profile receptions around the world will reinforce a popular narrative of China being on the march. Such a perception will be amplified by the likely isolation of the American president among his peers at the G20, and then by Trump’s voluntary choice not to attend APEC and the East Asia Summit.

A third significant storyline in the region will be the persistent deterioration of US-China relations. At the moment, cooperation is a fading concept, and competition increasingly is giving way to confrontation. Neither side sees value in reaching compromise with the other, in large part because neither has confidence that doing so would resolve the underlying causes of confrontation — America’s fear of China’s determination to dominate Asia, and China’s entrenched belief that the United States is scapegoating China for its own domestic problems and is determined to derail China’s rise. Even though worsening relations are harming both sides through tit-for-tat tariffs, lost coordination on shared challenges, and less security at greater cost, neither leader seems willing to pull back from confrontation, for fear that doing so would signal weakness through perceived capitulation to pressure from the other.

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