Get ready folks for a new premiere of slapstick comedy between Korea and China featuring a new actor, Moon Jae-in, elected South Korea’s president on May 9. A Korean president’s slapstick comedy show is a never-ending story. We already watched a couple of episodes featuring former president Park Geun-hye. One was her attendance at China’s military parade in 2015, triggering questions about her diplomatic stance between Washington and Beijing.
South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in could find himself stuck between a rock and hard place in the months ahead. Indeed, dealing with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un on the one hand and US President Donald Trump on the other could be the cause for a number of sleepless nights for Seoul’s new president. While the former is still announcing that he will turn the Korean Peninsula into a ‘sea of fire’ on a regular basis, the latter – at least so he announced the other day - wants ‘his’ money back.
Two years have passed since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won Japan’s last general elections with a landslide. Abe, so it seems, is firmly in the saddle to lead the world’s third biggest economy. To be sure, the years ahead will be testing Abe’s leadership skills. He will be confronted with an increasingly assertive China challenging Asia’s maritime territorial boundaries in the East and South China Seas and with a new U.S. President, who on the campaign trail announced to want (much) more from Japan in terms of burden–sharing for Asian security.
Anyone who says that they know what Donald Trump will do as president is lying. Trump himself does not know what his policies or responses to particular situations will be – which is not surprising for someone who has no background on most issues a president confronts, no record of government service, no appetite for preparation, a preference for going with his gut, and the apparent absence of an ideological or moral compass.
When Japan experienced a historic power transition in August 2009, as the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party was removed from power by voters for the first time in the LDP’s fifty four years of history, and replaced by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), many observers hailed the arrival of serious inter-party competition and even a two-party political system. Nonetheless, the DPJ was itself then voted out of power in December 2012 in a crushing defeat almost as big as the LDP’s 2009 defeat.
On 5 December 2016, Shizo Abe became the fourth longest serving prime minister in the postwar Japan after Eisaku Sato, Shigeru Yoshida, and Junichiro Koizumi. Before Abe became prime minister for the second time in December 2012, six prime ministers stayed in power only around one year respectively. Abe won two lower house elections and two upper house elections since December 2012 until July 2016. This is an unprecedented record.
While the US is seeking a way of rebalancing China in East Asia its approach left space for interpretation. The strategy of positioning itself in Asia on basis of concrete security issues and alliances while keeping its involvement open is seemingly only one aspect of the new game. Today a more or less refined toolbox of ‘strategic persuasion’ was designed in order to deal with an increasingly influential and powerful China. Instead of engaging in a non-desirable and costly direct military opposition to China, the US tries to pull all the strings in order influence its behavior towards moderation particularly in East Asia. In so doing, Washington is encountering an expectation-perception gap. So far the strategy has not necessarily proven successful. In Beijing, strategic maneuvers were often not fully understood and responses did not turn out not as initially desired. The US’ pivot to Asia has aroused a primordial fear in modern China: containment by outside powers. With a return to more traditional language of balancing, in China the situation was better understood. Yet, the implication remains the same. China has in reaction adopted a more assertive stance in military affairs while gradually trying to limit political damage in the ASEAN framework.
Since the partition of the Korean peninsula, the crises between Seoul and Pyongyang have ranked high in the US political agenda. Nonetheless, the profile that the Obama administration has chosen to keep is relatively low. This choice has triggered criticisms, however the posture has brought its own benefits. Moreover, in a difficult economic situation, and in the face of increasing pressures for the curtailing of government expenditure, the ‘low profile’ approach meets the demands of a Congress whose support the White House increasingly needs. The main uncertainty is in the attitude of the PRC. However Beijing, more than any other nation, has a keen interest in keeping East Asia stable. This does not mean that China will become a sort of ‘US cop’ in East Asia. However, some forms of localized cooperation can be envisaged; a cooperation that could strengthen, as China will progress in occupying the international position that its leadership believes the country deserves.
“Rebalancing” to the Asia Pacific is the signature foreign policy initiative of the Obama administration. Despite the attention it has rightfully garnered, the rebalance remains poorly understood. In addition to misapprehension about its fundamental principles, discussion appears to be dominated by what this policy isn’t rather than what it is. This essay aims to clear up the confusion, explain what the U.S. is doing as it shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region, and its implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Although the US’s recent ‘pivot’ toward the East Asian region has been much discussed, inadequate attention has been paid to the political and economic consequences of this initiative. This paper considers the political-economy of the pivot and suggests that it is best understood as part of a long-standing pattern of American engagement with the region. However, the rise of China is placing important new constraints on America’s ability to use economic leverage as an element of its overall policies in the region. The paper explains why and details some of the most important elements in the evolving Asia-Pacific political-economy.