The Asia Pacific region contains both the seeds of long-term conflict with China, and today the world's most urgent nuclear threat - North Korea.
The Obama Administration's "pivot" to Asia was first outlined in the oft-cited Foreign Policy piece attributed to Hillary Clinton in 2011. It is understood - in combination with the now-defunct Trans Pacific Partnernship - as America's response to China's economic miracle and growing power in Southeast Asia (including China's intent to exert control over the South China Sea). The Pivot has since been described as the end of Pax Americana, as the start of a new Cold War, and as a prelude to World War III.
The Pivot was rooted in American exceptionalism, the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy - that it is first among nations, and as such can do what ever it wants (consider anew Andrew Bacevich's extensive commentary on the limits of U.S. power.) Fitting, then, that The Pivot was championed by a leading Obama administration foreign policy hawk, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her world-view can be understood in the context of a sampling of statements she made at a 2016 presidential campaign stop:
The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln's last, best hope of Earth. We're still Reagan's shining city on a hill. We're still Robert Kennedy's great, unselfish, compassionate country.
And it's not just that we have the greatest military or that our economy is larger than any on Earth. It's also the strength of our values, the strength of the American people.
In fact, we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.
It means that we recognize America's unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity. Our power comes with a responsibility to lead, humbly, thoughtfully, and with a fierce commitment to our values.
American leadership means standing with our allies because our network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional.
At our best the United States is the global force for freedom, justice and human dignity.
Defending American exceptionalism should always be above politics.
A more complete and compelling view of Madame Clinton's commitment to the unfettered exercise of American exceptionalism can be found in a reading of Diana Johnstone's outstanding book Queen of Chaos - for those who can't invest the time (you really should), the Coles Notes version is neatly captured in Hillary's mirthful response to the death of Gaddafi in Libya, "We came, we saw, he died!"
A survey of The Pivot's intent and outcomes to date generally produces a negative assessment. In one review the initiative's real problem is seen in the American shift in security and defense policy.
By putting Asia at the center of its security strategy, the Obama administration inadvertently made the entire enterprise seem to Beijing like an effort to contain China militarily. This led China to respond by becoming more aggressive, helping to undo the general tranquility that existed before 2008.
Emblematic of this mistake was the roll-out of the Air-Sea Battle doctrine. First outlined in a then-classified memo in 2009, ASB became official doctrine in 2010. From the beginning, it was an effort to develop an operational doctrine for a possible military confrontation with China and then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates openly discussed the need to counter China’s growing military capabilities. The signal received in Beijing was the U.S. had hostile intentions toward China and was trying to contain it militarily. The result was that the entire pivot was seen by Beijing as part of a broader effort to encircle China.
If the first flaw in the pivot was the prominence of its military component, the second flaw was that there wasn’t a compelling reason to have a military component at all. The premise of the pivot was that Asia was more important relative to other parts of the world because it was home to a rising proportion of global GDP and was now at the center of the world economy. But this called for an economic response to take advantage of an opportunity, not a military response to counter threats. Yet, the pivot to Asia contained a robust military component.
China understood the entire initiative, not just its military components, as a broad strategy of containment. Their assessment was affirmed in 2015 when Obama said of the Trans Pacific Partnership, "TPP allows America - and not countries like China - to write the rules of the road in the 21st century." American exceptionalism writ large.
America's desire to write the rules of the road for China dates to the mid 19th century. The annexation of Hawaii and brutal conquest of the Philippines were part of a larger strategy of U.S. economic expansion, in which China was its ultimate prize. This time round, however, the circumstances are much different: China's economic might has dramatically raised the living standards - and thus the political integration - among and within the Southeast Asian grouping of countries; the U.S. itself is now deeply enmeshed economically with China (including China's $1 trillion holdings of American debt); and the continuing growth of China's military capabilities represents a not-insignificant counterbalance to American visions of domination.
These considerations, and those expressed elsewhere on this site in the writings of Escobar, Whitney, Walsh, and others, present to U.S. interests more a challenge than an impediment. Thus, a large amount of institutional (think-tank) support has been commissioned to bolster and propel The Pivot, as seen, for example, in the work of the University of Southern California's US-China Institute. The Institute's film "The Pivot" (shown below) speaks in the same institutional language of Clinton's Foreign Policy piece, and portrays the same images and themes. The film portrays China, for example, as the "military challenge which needs to be faced," and cites as evidence the country's 12 to 15 percent annual growth in military spending; it fails, however, to reference the network of U.S. bases that encircle China, and it does not acknowledge the enormous gulf in the actual military spending of the two countries.
The Pivot and The New Silk Road An unforeseen consequence of The Pivot - later rebranded a "rebalance" - was China's own pivot to Eurasia, and through it a direct route to Europe. This is the One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR), or The New Silk Road - now rebranded, "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI) - China's scholars and political elites have argued that China’s “march westward” is a “strategic necessity,” because the Obama administration's focus (the "pivot," or “rebalance”) threatens to lock Sino-U.S. relations into a “zero-sum game” in East Asia.
For most of its history, the PRC was strategically oriented to the east due to the “traditional development advantages” of the country’s eastern provinces and the fact that the major strategic and military threats to the country emanated from its maritime frontiers. Now, however, a “march westwards” is needed to ensure that: “harmony and stability” in Xinjiang (and Tibet) are not threatened by “extremism, terrorism and other hostile external forces”; “the supply channels for oil and other bulk commodities to the west of China’s borders remain open”; and China can expand its economic cooperation (including the provision of economic aid) with “all West Asian nations.
From this perspective Central Asia emerges as a strategic safety valve for the expansion of Chinese influence, given the perceived decline of U.S. influence and interest in the region after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Maritime Silk Road seeks to complement this strategic shift by seeking to bolster economic interconnectivity between China and the maritime states of Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. A crucial commonality between both the “land” and “maritime” Silk Roads as far as Beijing is concerned is their potential to deliver greater access (and security of supply) to the oil and gas of both Central Asia and the Middle East.
China's strategic move westward raises the stakes in the New Great Game. The lands and nations overrun in the U.S. response to 9/11 are again in play, as China and Russia form a counterbalance to the American presence, and seek to exploit - if not foment - any decline in U.S. influence in the region.
Central Asia’s apparent receptiveness to China’s initiatives must also be framed by the region’s evolving view of the role of the United States and Russia. The Obama administration’s approach to Central Asia as a whole arguably became captive to its dilemmas in Afghanistan. That Washington would view the region through this particular lens was not surprising given Obama’s “surge” of 30,000 extra U.S. troops into Afghanistan from July 2009 and withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. and NATO forces by 2014. For the Central Asian states that had benefitted from the arrival of the U.S. on the regional stage after 9/11; however, the prospect of declining U.S. attention to the region suggested they would be squeezed between an ascendant Beijing and a weakened yet assertive Russia.
The U.S. has made much of the benign intent of the rebalance. In her Foreign Policy article, Madame Clinton wrote "a thriving America is good for China and a thriving China is good for America," a sentiment later affirmed when Obama said the United States welcomed the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China. The Chinese are much less sanguine about American intentions:
Far from seeing the rebalance as a benign reassurance about building a constructive relationship with China, Chinese policy elites consider it a major strategic challenge that must be met with a determined yet patient response.
OBOR (recently rebranded Belt and Road Initiative - or BRI) and China's pivot west will thus continue to be major considerations for the U.S. foreign policy elite, and as such will continue to fuel military studies and informed speculation about the potential for war in the region.
Asia Pacific Policy Under Trump The bold assertions of Madame Clinton, who hailed the new century as "America's Pacific century," and of Barack Obama, who hailed himself as "America's first Pacific president," were completely swept aside by Donald Trump. As with much else in his administration, there is an intensely unpredictable quality to 45's foreign policy. And in the ensuing vacuum, China eagerly assumed leadership. Prior to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January of this year, Chinese officials were already advancing President Xi's message of "inclusive globalization":
“President Xi would go to Davos to push for development, cooperation and economic globalization in order to build ‘a human community with shared destiny.’ ‘With the rise of populism, protectionism, and nativism, the world has come to a historic crossroad where one road leads to war, poverty, confrontation and domination while the other road leads to peace, development, cooperation and win-win solutions.’”
At the meeting itself, Xi wasted no time in asserting China's leadership role:
“In his opening address, Xi told a packed conference hall that the Chinese were ‘leaders of our times’. He said his country was ready to make globalization work for everyone, and not just the few. ‘The people of all countries expect nothing less from us, and this is our unshirkable responsibility as leaders of our times.'"
As the phrase "the exceptional nation" gives way to "make America great again," it is difficult to know if Trump is even dimly aware of this transfer of power, and what reaction it might provoke if and when he finally does grasp its significance.
Within the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Trump's options and actions in Asia generate considerable angst. The insights of Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning during her four years at the State Department, offer an insider's view of the potential outcomes for Trump in the next four years; Sullivan is a subject matter expert on The Pivot and TPP, and is considered something of a wunderkind in foreign policy circles. As a Clinton/Obama surrogate, his views represent the status quo of American exceptionalism, and that makes them all the more important given The Pivot's demise, because the Asia Pacific region contains both the seeds of long-term conflict with China, and today the world's most urgent nuclear threat - North Korea.
In assessing the direction of U.S. policy in Asia Pacific, Sullivan describes a "band of outcomes that is incredibly wide," ranging from the status quo, to neglect and drift, to catastrophe, and suggests "the outcome of American policy towards the Asia Pacific in the years ahead will be dictated by yet unknown answers to five key questions."
"The first concerns the most urgent security threat in the region today, North Korea. Is there any path forward that does not either lead to war, or to living with a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles?"
With respect to Trump's handling of the situation thus far, Sullivan notes his Asia policy is basically a North Korea policy. As he says, "The North Korea issue for Trump blocks out the sun." This is due in part to the steady stream of provocations brought by Kim Jong-un, and in part to Obama's warning to Trump that North Korea was "the paramount security concern he would face." Trump soon after declared, "the era of strategic patience is over," which echoed a position announced by both Bush and Obama before him. So, what is the thing that will work?
"Millions of civilians in Seoul live within dozens of miles of the DMZ, and just on the other side of the DMZ are North Korean artillery, positioned to wreck havoc and destruction - not just on South Korean civilians but also on American troops who are stationed in Seoul."
And Sullivan is also convinced the old approach to carrot-and-stick diplomacy has proven ineffective. Rather, he says, Trump will need to play the China card in a different way, making China a partner in the negotiations. The U.S. has spent - to little effect - in the recent past half a billion dollars to purchase North Korea's restraint; in the next round of diplomacy, Sullivan suggests China must be at the table with the U.S. and must also contribute to funding the North's roll back of its nuclear and missile programs. Trump can't continue to press the Chinese to increase the level of economic pressure on the North and expect a new and acceptable result. (It seems clear the North Koreans wish to talk, as they've reached out through back-channels to GOP operatives in the futile hope of understanding Trump - causing Trump to undercut Secretary Tillerson for his engagement with them.)
The second(s) question posed by Sullivan is: "How long will the Trump/Xi honeymoon last?" "If it lasts, what does that mean?" "If it doesn't, what happens then?" These questions are informed by two important facts for the Chinese leader: Xi has figured out that Trump responds very well to praise, and he also knows that North Korea is so central to Trump's thinking about Asia (Obama's warning resonated deeply) that Xi "could essentially trade relative quiet on other issues for the promise of cooperation on the DPRK." This has played out in China's favour:
"Trump is effusive in his praise of Xi, respectful in his tone with respect to China, which is an astounding reversal from his campaign rhetoric. And Trump has thus far taken a less confrontational policy line than any of us might have expected when it comes to issues like trade or even the South China Sea."
Sullivan believes Trump is rather less invested in other areas of U.S.-Asia policy beyond getting some form of cooperation on North Korea. The problem with Trump's transactional nature, his focus on a media-tangible wins, is that it plays into a Chinese foreign policy based on the long game. As long as the honeymoon is in full bloom, China is relatively free to pursue its OBOR and South China Sea initiatives - advantage Xi. Should Trump come to the view that China is taking him for a ride, however, all bets are off.
Sullivan takes his analysis beyond the personalities of the two leaders and considers the structural fundamentals of the two nations. As he says, "The bottom line is that the basic strategic dynamic between the United States and China remains fraught." In this, he references a new book by Graham Allison, in which the author views the current U.S.-China relationship through the lens of Thucydides' Trap; the Greek historian Thucydides understood that a rising Athens and an anxious Sparta led to the Peloponnesian War 2,500 years ago.
"What Allison did was he looked at 16 cases where an established power had to deal with a rising power. Twelve of those cases resulted in war. So without careful management, there are a lot of forces pulling the United States and China towards confrontation."
China has sought to blunt this outcome by speaking of "a new model of great power relations." Language can be a tricky thing, however. While the U.S. imagined the phrase to mean China would rise into a new order and play by American rules, China intended that the U.S. would stay on its side of the Pacific. This disconnect remains at the heart of U.S-China relations. Thucydides' Trap remains in play. It is clear that a policy of containment by the U.S. cannot work. It is possible that a new, rules-based order in the Asia Pacific and Eurasia may not be written by the United States. In any case, Sullivan suggests that U.S.-China relations "will require care, prudence, and strategic foresight, and maybe even more basically it will require sustained attention." These are attributes in rather short supply in Washington at the present time.
Beyond Trump's simple focus on North Korea, Sullivan cautions that policy for the Asia Pacific incorporates the sum of all the ASEAN countries, and India, Japan, Korea, and Australia. Trump's distrust of broader alliances, and his preference for bilateral relations - thinking them more amenable to American coercion - may be to China's advantage. Sullivan foresees that a rising China could slowly ease the United States out while it consolidates its power and influence in a way that "forces regional nations to supplicate." In the manner of the indispensable nation, he says, "Our treaty alliances have been the basic foundation upon which our engagement in the Asia Pacific is built."
This brings Sullivan to his third question, as he asks: "Will America's alliances in the Asia Pacific stay solid with Trump in change?" He points out Trump does not accept the merit of the alliance structure that forms the basis of U.S. foreign policy. Going back to the 1980's, he says, this has run counter to Trump's basic instincts, in which he views allies as "essentially free riders who bring more burdens than benefits." In his presidential campaign and post-inauguration pronouncements, Trump has variously targeted Japan, South Korea and NATO countries for their failure to sufficiently meet his understanding of their financial commitments.
Trump's basic instinct that alliances are obsolete "lines up," according to Sullivan, with China's argument that they are relics of the Cold War, and thus obstacles to a U.S.-China condominium. As Sullivan points out, China has made enormous effort to pull the Philippines and Thailand from the American orbit, and wonders if Trump might be "beguiled" by Xi's logic. As Sullivan asks,
Will our allies come to believe that they can't trust Trump, even as they try adapt and play nice with him? And if that happens, will that fundamentally change how they see U.S. policy in the region, and how they hedge with China?
Sullivan speaks for the foreign policy establishment when he says the erosion of these alliances "would strike a brutal blow against American leadership in Asia."
Sullivan pivots from the security aspect of America's alliances to economic considerations. His fourth question, "Is there life after TPP?" underscores the American view that some form of economic alliance is crucial to U.S. leadership in the region. Trump killed TPP without any understanding of what to do in its place.
"The fact is he doesn't like multi-lateral deals of any kind. ... He just doesn't accept, and maybe even doesn't quite grasp, the logic that a multi-nation deal can set new rules and standards that shape economic engagement - not just in Asia and beyond - and that if the United States is not participating with our partners in setting those rules, they will be set elsewhere, and probably to our disadvantage."
Ultimately, Trump's metric in this area is trade deficits - "he is focused almost exclusively on reducing them." As Sullivan suggests, this ignores "the centrality of economics to the future of the Asia Pacific." Sullivan is convinced American financial power, technological capacity, and "will," are important systemic strengths that can overcome the aberration that is the Trump presidency.
But the aberration of the Trump presidency is likely to persist beyond the flickering hopes of impeachment, and the unconventional nature of Trump as president is relevant to Sullivan's last question,
"How will the president's conspicuous rejection of values as a guiding force in our foreign policy affect the advance or retreat of democracy and human rights in the Asia Pacific?"
Sullivan cites the conditions and negative trends in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and India as examples of the need for greater U.S. engagement in the region. [This argument recalls the thoughts of Andrew Bacevich, posted elsewhere on this site, who suggested, "For the American way of life to endure, freedom must prevail everywhere." And, as he says, this focus on democracy serves "...as an infinitely expansible grant of authority, empowering the United States to do whatever it wants because, by definition, 'it acts on freedom's behalf'."] Sullivan reiterates the essence of Bacevich's point when he says:
"Without the United States as an active supporter of core liberal values, these trends are likely to accelerate."
Sullivan suggests that Trump's is, at best, blasé on this issue. Further, he says Trump doesn't factor in that "the acceleration of authoritarian and illiberal tendencies will create more brittleness and fragility in domestic systems, and more instability in the regional order." Sullivan goes on to say,
"...our model right now is under pressure. Our competitors, our adversaries, are waging a sustained ideological struggle to discredit our model, to undermine it and to roll it back where ever they can."
He captures this trend with the phrase "authoritarianism has gone global." In closing his discussion, Sullivan links Trump's foreign policy actions to the domestic turbulence around the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election: "Obviously, his domestic standing is going to have an impact on his decision-making abroad."
"If things break bad for Trump you can expect at least two consequences for our policy toward the Asia Pacific. First, he'll be distracted, so he'll be paying less attention, and since he's failed to staff the State Department or the Defence Department at the level of assistant secretary and above, the normal functioning of the U.S. government is only going to be more anemic. Second, he will likely then be more prone to dramatic and potentially destabilizing moves as a means for compensating for otherwise finding a balance to any travails he's having on the domestic front."
Whatever the outcomes of the Senate investigation and the Mueller inquiry, Donald Trump will continue to be exactly who has shown himself to be - a deeply narcissistic man, reacting with vitriol to virtually every issue of his presidency on the basis of a zero-sum mentality. And this is the key consideration that informs the next four years of American engagement in Asia Pacific.
On This Page The commentary presented in the film by the U.S.-China Institute, and also by Jake Sullivan in his presentation, is certainly worthy of your time (the full video of Sullivan, including his Q&A, in particular). This page is continues with the original Clinton Foreign Policy piece, and with it the warm embrace of American exceptionalism.
We shatter this comity with two damning commentaries. The first, by Professor James Petras, provides a much needed counterbalancing review of the U. S. pivot which, he suggests, was about:
"...extending and deepening its regional military alliances in order to confront and encircle Russia and China. The goal would be to cripple their economies and foster social unrest leading to political instability and regime change."
"The so-called ‘pivot to Asia’ had a two-pronged approach, based on an economic trading pact and various military treaty agreements. The entire U.S. strategy of retaining global supremacy depended on securing and enhancing its control over its regional allies and proxies. Failure of the Obama regime to retain Washington’s vassal states would accelerate its decline and encourage more desperate political maneuvers."
As Professor Petras writes, "Without a doubt, every military decision and action made by the Obama Administration with regard to the Asia-Pacific Region has had only one purpose – to weaken China’s defense capabilities, undermine its economy and force Beijing to submit to Washington’s domination." The Chinese are certainly aware of The Pivot's intent, and are busily engaged in strategies that both blunt this possibility, while perhaps also averting war with the United States.
An article by John Walsh concludes the page. His review of Diane Johnstone's excellent book, Queen of Chaos, provides a fitting coda to Madame Clinton's roll-out of The Pivot.
America's Pacific Century
by Hillary Clinton...
As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment - diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise - in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas, the region spans two oceans - the Pacific and the Indian - that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy. It boasts almost half the world’s population. It includes many of the key engines of the global economy, as well as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. It is home to several of our key allies and important emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia.
At a time when the region is building a more mature security and economic architecture to promote stability and prosperity, U.S. commitment there is essential. It will help build that architecture and pay dividends for continued American leadership well into this century, just as our post-World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting transatlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over - and continues to do so. The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power, a strategic course set by President Barack Obama from the outset of his administration and one that is already yielding benefits. With Iraq and Afghanistan still in transition and serious economic challenges in our own country, there are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities. These impulses are understandable, but they are misguided. Those who say that we can no longer afford to engage with the world have it exactly backward - we cannot afford not to. From opening new markets for American businesses to curbing nuclear proliferation to keeping the sea lanes free for commerce and navigation, our work abroad holds the key to our prosperity and security at home. For more than six decades, the United States has resisted the gravitational pull of these "come home" debates and the implicit zero-sum logic of these arguments. We must do so again. Beyond our borders, people are also wondering about America’s intentions - our willingness to remain engaged and to lead. In Asia, they ask whether we are really there to stay, whether we are likely to be distracted again by events elsewhere, whether we can make - and keep - credible economic and strategic commitments, and whether we can back those commitments with action. The answer is: We can, and we will.
Harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region’s key players. Just as Asia is critical to America’s future, an engaged America is vital to Asia’s future. The region is eager for our leadership and our business - perhaps more so than at any time in modern history. We are the only power with a network of strong alliances in the region, no territorial ambitions, and a long record of providing for the common good. Along with our allies, we have underwritten regional security for decades - patrolling Asia’s sea lanes and preserving stability - and that in turn has helped create the conditions for growth. We have helped integrate billions of people across the region into the global economy by spurring economic productivity, social empowerment, and greater people-to-people links. We are a major trade and investment partner, a source of innovation that benefits workers and businesses on both sides of the Pacific, a host to 350,000 Asian students every year, a champion of open markets, and an advocate for universal human rights.
President Obama has led a multifaceted and persistent effort to embrace fully our irreplaceable role in the Pacific, spanning the entire U.S. government. It has often been a quiet effort. A lot of our work has not been on the front pages, both because of its nature - long-term investment is less exciting than immediate crises - and because of competing headlines in other parts of the world.
As secretary of state, I broke with tradition and embarked on my first official overseas trip to Asia. In my seven trips since, I have had the privilege to see firsthand the rapid transformations taking place in the region, underscoring how much the future of the United States is intimately intertwined with the future of the Asia-Pacific. A strategic turn to the region fits logically into our overall global effort to secure and sustain America’s global leadership. The success of this turn requires maintaining and advancing a bipartisan consensus on the importance of the Asia-Pacific to our national interests; we seek to build upon a strong tradition of engagement by presidents and secretaries of state of both parties across many decades. It also requires smart execution of a coherent regional strategy that accounts for the global implications of our choices.
WHAT DOES THAT regional strategy look like? For starters, it calls for a sustained commitment to what I have called "forward-deployed" diplomacy. That means continuing to dispatch the full range of our diplomatic assets - including our highest-ranking officials, our development experts, our interagency teams, and our permanent assets - to every country and corner of the Asia-Pacific region. Our strategy will have to keep accounting for and adapting to the rapid and dramatic shifts playing out across Asia. With this in mind, our work will proceed along six key lines of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights. By virtue of our unique geography, the United States is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power. We are proud of our European partnerships and all that they deliver. Our challenge now is to build a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is as durable and as consistent with American interests and values as the web we have built across the Atlantic. That is the touchstone of our efforts in all these areas.
Our treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand are the fulcrum for our strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific. They have underwritten regional peace and security for more than half a century, shaping the environment for the region’s remarkable economic ascent. They leverage our regional presence and enhance our regional leadership at a time of evolving security challenges. As successful as these alliances have been, we can’t afford simply to sustain them - we need to update them for a changing world. In this effort, the Obama administration is guided by three core principles. First, we have to maintain political consensus on the core objectives of our alliances. Second, we have to ensure that our alliances are nimble and adaptive so that they can successfully address new challenges and seize new opportunities. Third, we have to guarantee that the defense capabilities and communications infrastructure of our alliances are operationally and materially capable of deterring provocation from the full spectrum of state and nonstate actors.
The alliance with Japan, the cornerstone of peace and stability in the region, demonstrates how the Obama administration is giving these principles life. We share a common vision of a stable regional order with clear rules of the road - from freedom of navigation to open markets and fair competition. We have agreed to a new arrangement, including a contribution from the Japanese government of more than $5 billion, to ensure the continued enduring presence of American forces in Japan, while expanding joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities to deter and react quickly to regional security challenges, as well as information sharing to address cyberthreats. We have concluded an Open Skies agreement that will enhance access for businesses and people-to-people ties, launched a strategic dialogue on the Asia-Pacific, and been working hand in hand as the two largest donor countries in Afghanistan.
Similarly, our alliance with South Korea has become stronger and more operationally integrated, and we continue to develop our combined capabilities to deter and respond to North Korean provocations. We have agreed on a plan to ensure successful transition of operational control during wartime and anticipate successful passage of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. And our alliance has gone global, through our work together in the G-20 and the Nuclear Security Summit and through our common efforts in Haiti and Afghanistan. We are also expanding our alliance with Australia from a Pacific partnership to an Indo-Pacific one, and indeed a global partnership. From cybersecurity to Afghanistan to the Arab Awakening to strengthening regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific, Australia’s counsel and commitment have been indispensable. And in Southeast Asia, we are renewing and strengthening our alliances with the Philippines and Thailand, increasing, for example, the number of ship visits to the Philippines and working to ensure the successful training of Filipino counterterrorism forces through our Joint Special Operations Task Force in Mindanao. In Thailand - our oldest treaty partner in Asia - we are working to establish a hub of regional humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in the region.
AS WE UPDATE our alliances for new demands, we are also building new partnerships to help solve shared problems. Our outreach to China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Pacific Island countries is all part of a broader effort to ensure a more comprehensive approach to American strategy and engagement in the region. We are asking these emerging partners to join us in shaping and participating in a rules-based regional and global order. One of the most prominent of these emerging partners is, of course, China. Like so many other countries before it, China has prospered as part of the open and rules-based system that the United States helped to build and works to sustain. And today, China represents one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships the United States has ever had to manage. This calls for careful, steady, dynamic stewardship, an approach to China on our part that is grounded in reality, focused on results, and true to our principles and interests.
We all know that fears and misperceptions linger on both sides of the Pacific. Some in our country see China’s progress as a threat to the United States; some in China worry that America seeks to constrain China’s growth. We reject both those views. The fact is that a thriving America is good for China and a thriving China is good for America. We both have much more to gain from cooperation than from conflict. But you cannot build a relationship on aspirations alone. It is up to both of us to more consistently translate positive words into effective cooperation - and, crucially, to meet our respective global responsibilities and obligations. These are the things that will determine whether our relationship delivers on its potential in the years to come. We also have to be honest about our differences. We will address them firmly and decisively as we pursue the urgent work we have to do together. And we have to avoid unrealistic expectations. Over the last two-and-a-half years, one of my top priorities has been to identify and expand areas of common interest, to work with China to build mutual trust, and to encourage China’s active efforts in global problem-solving. This is why Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and I launched the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the most intensive and expansive talks ever between our governments, bringing together dozens of agencies from both sides to discuss our most pressing bilateral issues, from security to energy to human rights.
We are also working to increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation or miscues between our militaries. The United States and the international community have watched China’s efforts to modernize and expand its military, and we have sought clarity as to its intentions. Both sides would benefit from sustained and substantive military-to-military engagement that increases transparency. So we look to Beijing to overcome its reluctance at times and join us in forging a durable military-to-military dialogue. And we need to work together to strengthen the Strategic Security Dialogue, which brings together military and civilian leaders to discuss sensitive issues like maritime security and cybersecurity.
As we build trust together, we are committed to working with China to address critical regional and global security issues. This is why I have met so frequently - often in informal settings - with my Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, for candid discussions about important challenges like North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and developments in the South China Sea. On the economic front, the United States and China need to work together to ensure strong, sustained, and balanced future global growth. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the United States and China worked effectively through the G-20 to help pull the global economy back from the brink. We have to build on that cooperation. U.S. firms want fair opportunities to export to China’s growing markets, which can be important sources of jobs here in the United States, as well as assurances that the $50 billion of American capital invested in China will create a strong foundation for new market and investment opportunities that will support global competitiveness. At the same time, Chinese firms want to be able to buy more high-tech products from the United States, make more investments here, and be accorded the same terms of access that market economies enjoy. We can work together on these objectives, but China still needs to take important steps toward reform. In particular, we are working with China to end unfair discrimination against U.S. and other foreign companies or against their innovative technologies, remove preferences for domestic firms, and end measures that disadvantage or appropriate foreign intellectual property. And we look to China to take steps to allow its currency to appreciate more rapidly, both against the dollar and against the currencies of its other major trading partners. Such reforms, we believe, would not only benefit both our countries (indeed, they would support the goals of China’s own five-year plan, which calls for more domestic-led growth), but also contribute to global economic balance, predictability, and broader prosperity.
Of course, we have made very clear, publicly and privately, our serious concerns about human rights. And when we see reports of public-interest lawyers, writers, artists, and others who are detained or disappeared, the United States speaks up, both publicly and privately, with our concerns about human rights. We make the case to our Chinese colleagues that a deep respect for international law and a more open political system would provide China with a foundation for far greater stability and growth - and increase the confidence of China’s partners. Without them, China is placing unnecessary limitations on its own development.
At the end of the day, there is no handbook for the evolving U.S.-China relationship. But the stakes are much too high for us to fail. As we proceed, we will continue to embed our relationship with China in a broader regional framework of security alliances, economic networks, and social connections.
Among key emerging powers with which we will work closely are India and Indonesia, two of the most dynamic and significant democratic powers of Asia, and both countries with which the Obama administration has pursued broader, deeper, and more purposeful relationships. The stretch of sea from the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca to the Pacific contains the world’s most vibrant trade and energy routes. Together, India and Indonesia already account for almost a quarter of the world’s population. They are key drivers of the global economy, important partners for the United States, and increasingly central contributors to peace and security in the region. And their importance is likely to grow in the years ahead.
President Obama told the Indian parliament last year that the relationship between India and America will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, rooted in common values and interests. There are still obstacles to overcome and questions to answer on both sides, but the United States is making a strategic bet on India’s future - that India’s greater role on the world stage will enhance peace and security, that opening India’s markets to the world will pave the way to greater regional and global prosperity, that Indian advances in science and technology will improve lives and advance human knowledge everywhere, and that India’s vibrant, pluralistic democracy will produce measurable results and improvements for its citizens and inspire others to follow a similar path of openness and tolerance. So the Obama administration has expanded our bilateral partnership; actively supported India’s Look East efforts, including through a new trilateral dialogue with India and Japan; and outlined a new vision for a more economically integrated and politically stable South and Central Asia, with India as a linchpin.
We are also forging a new partnership with Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and a member of the G-20. We have resumed joint training of Indonesian special forces units and signed a number of agreements on health, educational exchanges, science and technology, and defense. And this year, at the invitation of the Indonesian government, President Obama will inaugurate American participation in the East Asia Summit. But there is still some distance to travel - we have to work together to overcome bureaucratic impediments, lingering historical suspicions, and some gaps in understanding each other’s perspectives and interests.
EVEN AS WE strengthen these bilateral relationships, we have emphasized the importance of multilateral cooperation, for we believe that addressing complex transnational challenges of the sort now faced by Asia requires a set of institutions capable of mustering collective action. And a more robust and coherent regional architecture in Asia would reinforce the system of rules and responsibilities, from protecting intellectual property to ensuring freedom of navigation, that form the basis of an effective international order. In multilateral settings, responsible behavior is rewarded with legitimacy and respect, and we can work together to hold accountable those who undermine peace, stability, and prosperity. So the United States has moved to fully engage the region’s multilateral institutions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, mindful that our work with regional institutions supplements and does not supplant our bilateral ties. There is a demand from the region that America play an active role in the agenda-setting of these institutions - and it is in our interests as well that they be effective and responsive.
That is why President Obama will participate in the East Asia Summit for the first time in November. To pave the way, the United States has opened a new U.S. Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta and signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN. Our focus on developing a more results-oriented agenda has been instrumental in efforts to address disputes in the South China Sea. In 2010, at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi, the United States helped shape a regionwide effort to protect unfettered access to and passage through the South China Sea, and to uphold the key international rules for defining territorial claims in the South China Sea’s waters. Given that half the world’s merchant tonnage flows through this body of water, this was a consequential undertaking. And over the past year, we have made strides in protecting our vital interests in stability and freedom of navigation and have paved the way for sustained multilateral diplomacy among the many parties with claims in the South China Sea, seeking to ensure disputes are settled peacefully and in accordance with established principles of international law.
We have also worked to strengthen APEC as a serious leaders-level institution focused on advancing economic integration and trade linkages across the Pacific. After last year’s bold call by the group for a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific, President Obama will host the 2011 APEC Leaders’ Meeting in Hawaii this November. We are committed to cementing APEC as the Asia-Pacific’s premier regional economic institution, setting the economic agenda in a way that brings together advanced and emerging economies to promote open trade and investment, as well as to build capacity and enhance regulatory regimes. APEC and its work help expand U.S. exports and create and support high-quality jobs in the United States, while fostering growth throughout the region. APEC also provides a key vehicle to drive a broad agenda to unlock the economic growth potential that women represent. In this regard, the United States is committed to working with our partners on ambitious steps to accelerate the arrival of the Participation Age, where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace.
In addition to our commitment to these broader multilateral institutions, we have worked hard to create and launch a number of "minilateral" meetings, small groupings of interested states to tackle specific challenges, such as the Lower Mekong Initiative we launched to support education, health, and environmental programs in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands Forum, where we are working to support its members as they confront challenges from climate change to overfishing to freedom of navigation. We are also starting to pursue new trilateral opportunities with countries as diverse as Mongolia, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, and South Korea. And we are setting our sights as well on enhancing coordination and engagement among the three giants of the Asia-Pacific: China, India, and the United States.
In all these different ways, we are seeking to shape and participate in a responsive, flexible, and effective regional architecture — and ensure it connects to a broader global architecture that not only protects international stability and commerce but also advances our values. OUR EMPHASIS ON the economic work of APEC is in keeping with our broader commitment to elevate economic statecraft as a pillar of American foreign policy. Increasingly, economic progress depends on strong diplomatic ties, and diplomatic progress depends on strong economic ties. And naturally, a focus on promoting American prosperity means a greater focus on trade and economic openness in the Asia-Pacific. The region already generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade. As we strive to meet President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015, we are looking for opportunities to do even more business in Asia. Last year, American exports to the Pacific Rim totaled $320 billion, supporting 850,000 American jobs. So there is much that favors us as we think through this repositioning.
When I talk to my Asian counterparts, one theme consistently stands out: They still want America to be an engaged and creative partner in the region’s flourishing trade and financial interactions. And as I talk with business leaders across our own nation, I hear how important it is for the United States to expand our exports and our investment opportunities in Asia’s dynamic markets. Last March in APEC meetings in Washington, and again in Hong Kong in July, I laid out four attributes that I believe characterize healthy economic competition: open, free, transparent, and fair. Through our engagement in the Asia-Pacific, we are helping to give shape to these principles and showing the world their value. We are pursuing new cutting-edge trade deals that raise the standards for fair competition even as they open new markets. For instance, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement will eliminate tariffs on 95 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports within five years and support an estimated 70,000 American jobs. Its tariff reductions alone could increase exports of American goods by more than $10 billion and help South Korea’s economy grow by 6 percent. It will level the playing field for U.S. auto companies and workers. So, whether you are an American manufacturer of machinery or a South Korean chemicals exporter, this deal lowers the barriers that keep you from reaching new customers.
We are also making progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will bring together economies from across the Pacific - developed and developing alike - into a single trading community. Our goal is to create not just more growth, but better growth. We believe trade agreements need to include strong protections for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and innovation. They should also promote the free flow of information technology and the spread of green technology, as well as the coherence of our regulatory system and the efficiency of supply chains. Ultimately, our progress will be measured by the quality of people’s lives - whether men and women can work in dignity, earn a decent wage, raise healthy families, educate their children, and take hold of the opportunities to improve their own and the next generation’s fortunes. Our hope is that a TPP agreement with high standards can serve as a benchmark for future agreements - and grow to serve as a platform for broader regional interaction and eventually a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific.
Achieving balance in our trade relationships requires a two-way commitment. That’s the nature of balance - it can’t be unilaterally imposed. So we are working through APEC, the G-20, and our bilateral relationships to advocate for more open markets, fewer restrictions on exports, more transparency, and an overall commitment to fairness. American businesses and workers need to have confidence that they are operating on a level playing field, with predictable rules on everything from intellectual property to indigenous innovation.
ASIA’S REMARKABLE ECONOMIC growth over the past decade and its potential for continued growth in the future depend on the security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military, including more than 50,000 American servicemen and servicewomen serving in Japan and South Korea. The challenges of today’s rapidly changing region - from territorial and maritime disputes to new threats to freedom of navigation to the heightened impact of natural disasters - require that the United States pursue a more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture.
We are modernizing our basing arrangements with traditional allies in Northeast Asia - and our commitment on this is rock solid - while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean. For example, the United States will be deploying littoral combat ships to Singapore, and we are examining other ways to increase opportunities for our two militaries to train and operate together. And the United States and Australia agreed this year to explore a greater American military presence in Australia to enhance opportunities for more joint training and exercises. We are also looking at how we can increase our operational access in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region and deepen our contacts with allies and partners.
How we translate the growing connection between the Indian and Pacific oceans into an operational concept is a question that we need to answer if we are to adapt to new challenges in the region. Against this backdrop, a more broadly distributed military presence across the region will provide vital advantages. The United States will be better positioned to support humanitarian missions; equally important, working with more allies and partners will provide a more robust bulwark against threats or efforts to undermine regional peace and stability. But even more than our military might or the size of our economy, our most potent asset as a nation is the power of our values - in particular, our steadfast support for democracy and human rights. This speaks to our deepest national character and is at the heart of our foreign policy, including our strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific region.
As we deepen our engagement with partners with whom we disagree on these issues, we will continue to urge them to embrace reforms that would improve governance, protect human rights, and advance political freedoms. We have made it clear, for example, to Vietnam that our ambition to develop a strategic partnership requires that it take steps to further protect human rights and advance political freedoms. Or consider Burma, where we are determined to seek accountability for human rights violations. We are closely following developments in Nay Pyi Taw and the increasing interactions between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government leadership. We have underscored to the government that it must release political prisoners, advance political freedoms and human rights, and break from the policies of the past. As for North Korea, the regime in Pyongyang has shown persistent disregard for the rights of its people, and we continue to speak out forcefully against the threats it poses to the region and beyond.
We cannot and do not aspire to impose our system on other countries, but we do believe that certain values are universal - that people in every nation in the world, including in Asia, cherish them - and that they are intrinsic to stable, peaceful, and prosperous countries. Ultimately, it is up to the people of Asia to pursue their own rights and aspirations, just as we have seen people do all over the world.
IN THE LAST decade, our foreign policy has transitioned from dealing with the post-Cold War peace dividend to demanding commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those wars wind down, we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities. We know that these new realities require us to innovate, to compete, and to lead in new ways. Rather than pull back from the world, we need to press forward and renew our leadership. In a time of scarce resources, there’s no question that we need to invest them wisely where they will yield the biggest returns, which is why the Asia-Pacific represents such a real 21st-century opportunity for us.
Other regions remain vitally important, of course. Europe, home to most of our traditional allies, is still a partner of first resort, working alongside the United States on nearly every urgent global challenge, and we are investing in updating the structures of our alliance. The people of the Middle East and North Africa are charting a new path that is already having profound global consequences, and the United States is committed to active and sustained partnerships as the region transforms. Africa holds enormous untapped potential for economic and political development in the years ahead. And our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere are not just our biggest export partners; they are also playing a growing role in global political and economic affairs. Each of these regions demands American engagement and leadership.
And we are prepared to lead. Now, I’m well aware that there are those who question our staying power around the world. We’ve heard this talk before. At the end of the Vietnam War, there was a thriving industry of global commentators promoting the idea that America was in retreat, and it is a theme that repeats itself every few decades. But whenever the United States has experienced setbacks, we’ve overcome them through reinvention and innovation. Our capacity to come back stronger is unmatched in modern history. It flows from our model of free democracy and free enterprise, a model that remains the most powerful source of prosperity and progress known to humankind. I hear everywhere I go that the world still looks to the United States for leadership. Our military is by far the strongest, and our economy is by far the largest in the world. Our workers are the most productive. Our universities are renowned the world over. So there should be no doubt that America has the capacity to secure and sustain our global leadership in this century as we did in the last.
As we move forward to set the stage for engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next 60 years, we are mindful of the bipartisan legacy that has shaped our engagement for the past 60. And we are focused on the steps we have to take at home - increasing our savings, reforming our financial systems, relying less on borrowing, overcoming partisan division - to secure and sustain our leadership abroad. This kind of pivot is not easy, but we have paved the way for it over the past two-and-a-half years, and we are committed to seeing it through as among the most important diplomatic efforts of our time.
Written by Hillary Clinton, first published in Foreign Policy, October 11, 2011
A Debacle Unfolding
by Prof. James Petras...
In 2012 President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter launched a new chapter in their quest for global dominance: a realignment of policies designed to shift priorities from the Middle East to Asia. Dubbed the ‘Pivot to Asia’, it suggested that the U.S. would concentrate its economic, military and diplomatic resources toward strengthening its dominant position and undercutting China’s rising influence in the region.
The ‘pivot to Asia’ did not shift existing resources from the Middle East, it added military commitments to the region, while provoking more conflicts with Russia and China.
The “pivot to Asia” meant that the U.S. was extending and deepening its regional military alliances in order to confront and encircle Russia and China. The goal would be to cripple their economies and foster social unrest leading to political instability and regime change.
The U.S. onslaught for greater empire depended on the cooperation of proxies and allies to accomplish its strategic goals.
The so-called ‘pivot to Asia’ had a two-pronged approach, based on an economic trading pact and various military treaty agreements. The entire U.S. strategy of retaining global supremacy depended on securing and enhancing its control over its regional allies and proxies. Failure of the Obama regime to retain Washington’s vassal states would accelerate its decline and encourage more desperate political maneuvers.
Strategic Military Posturing Without a doubt, every military decision and action made by the Obama Administration with regard to the Asia-Pacific Region has had only one purpose – to weaken China’s defense capabilities, undermine its economy and force Beijing to submit to Washington’s domination.
In pursuit of military supremacy, Washington has installed an advanced missile system in South Korea, increased its air and maritime armada and expanded its provocative activities along China’s coastline and its vital maritime trade routes. Washington has embarked on a military base expansion campaign in Australia, Japan and the Philippines.
This explains why Washington pressured its client regime in Manila under the former President ‘Nonoy’ Aquino, Jr., to bring its territorial dispute with China over the Spratly Islands before a relatively obscure tribunal in Holland. The European ruling, unsurprisingly in favor of Manila, would provide the U.S. with a ‘legal’ cover for its planned aggression against China in the South China Sea. The Spratly and Paracel Islands are mostly barren coral islands and shoals located within the world’s busiest shipping trade routes, explaining China’s (both Beijing and Taipei) refusal to recognize the ‘Court of Special Arbitration’.
Strategic Economic Intervention: TPP The U.S. authored and promoted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) is a trade and investment agreement covering 12 Pacific countries designed to ensure U.S. regional dominance while deliberately cutting out China. The TPP was to be the linchpin of U.S. efforts to promote profits for overseas U.S. multi-nationals by undercutting the rules for domestic producers, labor laws for workers and environmental regulations for consumers. As a result of its unpopular domestic provisions, which had alienated U.S. workers and consumers, the electorate forced both Presidential candidates to withdraw their support for the TPP – what one scribbler for the Financial Times denounced as “the dangers of popular democracy”. The Washington empire builders envisioned the TPP as a tool for dictating and enforcing their ‘rules’ on a captive Asia-Pacific trading system. From the perspective of U.S. big business, the TPP was the instrument of choice for retaining supremacy in Asia by excluding China.
The Eclipse of Washington's "Asian Century" For over seventy years the U.S. has dominated Asia, ravaging the continent with two major wars in Korea and Indo-China with millions of casualties, and multiple counter-insurgency interventions in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor, Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The strategic goal has been to expand its military and political power, exploit the economies and resources and encircle China and North Korea.
Under the Obama-Clinton-Kerry Regime, the imperial structures in Asia are coming apart.
Washington’s anti-China TPP is collapsing and has been replaced by the Chinese sponsored Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with over fifty member countries worldwide, including the ten nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASAEN), plus Australia, India, South Korea and New Zealand. Of course, China is funding most of the partnership and, to no one’s surprise, Washington has not been invited to join.
As a result of the highly favorable terms in the RCEP, each and every current and former U.S. ally and colony has been signing on, shifting trade allegiances to China, and effectively changing the configuration of power. Already Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia have formalized growing economic ties with China. The debacle of the TPP has just accelerated the shift toward China’s new trade pact (RCEP). The U.S. is left to rely on its ‘loyalist four’, a stagnant Japan, Australia, South Korea and its impoverished former colony, Philippines, to bolster its quest to militarily encircle China.
President Détente's Pivot to China and the End of U.S. Supremely in SE Asia? For over a century (since the invasion of the Philippines in 1896), especially since the end of WWII, when the U.S. asserted its primacy in Asia, Washington has used the strategic Philippine Archipelago as a trampoline for controlling Southeast Asia. Control of the Philippines is fundamental to U.S. Imperialism: Washington’s strategic superiority depends on its access to sea, air, communications and ground bases and operations located in the Philippines and a compliant Philippine ruling class.
The centerpiece of U.S. strategy to encircle and tighten control over China’s maritime routes to and from the world-economy is the massive build-up of U.S. military installations in the Philippines.
The U.S. self-styled “pivot to Asia” involves locating five military bases directed at dominating the South China Sea. The Pentagon expanded its access to four strategic air and one military base through the ‘Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement’ signed by the Philippine President Aquino in 2014 but held up by the Philippine Courts until April 2016. These include:
Antonio Bautista Airbase on the island of Palawan, located near the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Basa Airbase 40 miles northwest of the Philippines capital of Manila, overlooking the South China Sea.
Lumbia Airbase located in the port of Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, a huge US facility under construction.
Mactan – Benito Ebuen airbase located on Mactan Island off the coast of Cebu in the central Philippines.
Fort Magsaysay located in Nueva Ecija, on Luzon, the Philippine Army’s Central Training and command center, its largest military installation which will serve the US as the training and indoctrination base for the Philippine army.
Pentagon planners had envisioned targeting Chinese shipping and air bases in the South China Sea from its new bases on western shores of the Philippines. This essentially threatens the stability of the entire region, especially the vital Chinese trade routes to the global economy.
Washington has been intensifying its intervention in the South China Sea relying on decrees issued by its previous proxy President Benigno (Noynoy) Aquino, III (2010-2016). These, however, were not ratified by the Congress and had been challenged by the Philippine Supreme Court.
Washington’s entire “pivot to Asia” has centered its vast military build-up on its access to the Philippines. This access is now at risk. Newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte, who succeeded Aquino in June 2016, is pursuing an independent foreign policy, with the aim of transforming the impoverished Philippines from a subservient US military colony to opening large-scale, long-term economic trade and development ties with China and other regional economic powers. Duterte has openly challenged the U.S. policy of using the Philippines to encircle and provoke China.
Without total U.S. control over the Philippines, Washington’s strategic arc of encirclement against China is broken.
The Philippine “pivot to China” quickly advanced from colorful rhetoric to a major trade and investment meeting of President Duterte and a huge delegation of Philippine business leaders with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing in late October 2016. During his first 3 months in office Duterte blasted Washington for meddling in his ongoing campaign against drug lords and dealers. Obama’s so-called ‘concerns for human rights’ in the anti-drug campaign were answered with counter-charges that the US had accommodated notorious narco-politician-oligarchs to further its military base expansion program. President Duterte’s war on drugs expanded well beyond the alleged U.S. narco-elite alliance when he proposed two strategic changes: (1) he promised to end the U.S.-Philippine sea patrols of disputed waters designed to provoke Beijing in the South China Sea; and (2) President Duterte announced he would end military exercises with Washington, especially in Mindanao, because they threatened China and undermined Philippine sovereignty.
President Duterte, in pursuit of his independent nationalist-agenda, has moved rapidly and decisively to strengthen the Philippines ‘pivot’ toward China, which in the context of Southeast Asia is really ‘normalizing’ trade and investment relations with his giant neighbor. During the third week of October (2016) President Duterte, his political team and 250 business leaders met with China’s leaders to discuss multi-billion-dollar investment projects and trade agreements, as well as closer diplomatic relations. The initial results, which promise to expand even more, are over $13 billion dollars in trade and critical infrastructure projects. As the Philippine’s pivot to China advances, the quid pro quo will lead to a profound change in the politics and militarization of Southeast Asian. Without total U.S. control over the Philippines, Washington’s strategic arc of encirclement against China is broken.
According to a recent ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court, the controversial U.S. military base agreement (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) imposed by the former President Aquino by fiat without congressional ratification can be terminated by the new President by executive order. This ruling punches some major holes in what the Pentagon had considered its ‘ironclad’ stranglehold on the strategic Philippine bases. The Duterte government has repeatedly announced its administration’s commitment to a program of economic modernization and social reconstruction for Philippine society. That agenda can only be advanced through changes that include multi-billion dollar infrastructure investments, loans and technical cooperation from China, whereas remaining a backward U.S. military colony will not only threaten their Asian economic partners, but will condemn the Philippines to yet another generation of stagnation and corruption. Unique in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has long been mired in underdevelopment, forcing half of its qualified workforce to seek contract servitude abroad, while at home the society has become victims of drug and human trafficking gangs linked to the oligarchs.
Conclusion Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’, enshrined in its effort to corral the Asian countries into its anti-China crusade is not going as the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team had envisioned. It is proving to be a major foreign policy debacle for the outgoing and (presumably) incoming U.S. presidential administrations. Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton has been forced to denounce the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP), one of her own pet projects when she was Secretary of State. The Pentagon’s military base strategy stuck in a 1980’s time-warped vision of Southeast Asia is on the verge of imploding. The Philippines, its former colony and vassal state, is finally turning away from its total subservience to U.S. military dictates and toward greater independence and stronger regional ties to China and the rest of Asia. Southeast Asia and the South China Sea are no longer part of a grand chessboard subject to Pentagon moves for domination. In desperation, Washington may decide to resort to a military power grab - a coup in the Philippines, backed by a coalition of Manila-based oligarchs, narco-bosses and generals. The problem with a precipitate move to ‘regime change’ is that Rodrigo Duterte is immensely popular with the Philippine electorate – precisely for the reasons that the Washington elite and Manila oligarchs despise him. The mayor of Manila, Joseph Estrada, himself a former victim of a Washington-instigated regime change, has stated that any U.S. backed coup will face a million-member mass opposition and the bulk of the nationalist middle and powerful Chinese-oriented business class. A failed coup, like the disastrous coup in Venezuela in 2002 against Hugo Chavez could radicalize Duterte’s policy well beyond his staunchly nationalist agenda and further isolate the U.S.
Written by Prof. James Petras, first published in Global Research, October 25, 2016
Hillary Clinton, Queen of Chaos
by John V. Walsh...
Were Diana Johnstone, author of Queen of Chaos, to bump into Samantha Power in a dark alley, both would be instantly annihilated in a blaze of energy. For Johnstone, is the anti-Samantha Power, best known for her book, Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Illusions, where she meticulously uncovers the truth about the war on Serbia, thereby dismantling the fairy tale constructed by Power to justify the NATO assault on the Balkans. That fairy tale has been a model for similar sagas rolled out to whiten the sepulchers of the many “humanitarian” wars since, every one of which bears some of Hillary’s fingerprints.
Daughter of Empire in Its Heyday Johnstone’s new book, Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, is a must read, but it must be read carefully. It is a must read because it is a capsule history of the US Empire’s depredations over the past 25 years since the end of the Cold War when the Clintons came upon the national scene. Given the ever sharper confrontation which our elite is engineering with Russia and China, one that could well lead to nuclear war, this is a history we all need to review and understand correctly. Our very survival may well depend on it. And the book must be read carefully because, being both slim and comprehensive, it is packed tightly with information and pointed political insight. Such an eloquent and compact chronicle is of enormous usefulness right now.
Queen is not a gossipy bio, delineating Hillary’s shallow, belligerent, mendacious, psychopathic character, although such a tome, necessarily massive, would be welcome. These characteristics of Hillary’s necessarily emerge to some degree in Queen of Chaos. But personality portrayal is not the core of the book. Rather the book is historical. Johnstone sees Clinton as both a product of her times – privileged child of the U.S. Empire, white, Wellesley, Yale, a dishonest and ultimately fired operative on the Watergate committee right out of law school – as well as a ruthless actor in a global drama growing ever more deadly. The book is more history than Hillary. But by going this route Johnstone grasps the essential Clinton with crystal clarity.
What about the title, Queen of Chaos? Chaos? Is that too much? The book begins with a quote from George Kennan written in 1948 one year after the birth of Hillary, a prototypical boomer. WWII had ended only a few years earlier, leaving the US on top of the heap and the rest of the major powers in ashes. Kennan wrote then,
“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only about 6.3% of its population….In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. (This resentment is certainly not surprising since the US and its fellow European colonialists and neocolonialists had gained that wealth by disposing of others, for example in the American Indian genocide, or by extracting from the “other” nearly cost free labor of others, for example, the Black slaves brought to the concentration camps of the South. jw) Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain that position of disparity.”
After citing this passage of Kennan’s, Johnstone continues, “Since then the United States has failed to develop any great national purpose other than staying on top. In recent years it has become more frequent to speak of the United States as an Empire. Yet it is an Empire like no other. …Its actions are increasingly destructive because the purpose is not in reality to build an Empire but to destroy any real or potential rivals and so maintain the position of superiority gained in World War II…. The destructive nature of these wars is confirmed by the fact that on close examination none of these wars have been “won” in any meaningful sense. … These are essentially ‘spoiler’ wars intended to diminish potential rivals (or those who refuse to obey, jw). They create deepening chaos and bitter enemies, with no real benefit to anyone.” Thus chaos, of which Hillary is Queen.
There is no better example than China. All power, as we have known at least since Thucydides, grows from economic power. If China, with four times the US population, is to have the same standard of living, that is the same per capita GDP, as the US, then its economy must grow to be four times the size that of the US! But that means its economy would eclipse the combined GDP of the US and its allies in Western Europe and Japan. A high standard of living for the Chinese people is incompatible with the US being number one – not with US prosperity, let us be clear, but with US as global hegemon.Hence the US Empire is out to “contain” China, that is, to keep it from getting any richer and, if possible, to re-impoverish it or break it up. According to the IMF, China’s economy measured in terms of Purchasing Power Parity became number one in 2014. So the “containment” of China is a fool’s errand, which can only bring destruction and possibly world war. But with her “pivot” to Asia, Hillary is out to try.
Drang nach Osten by the Queen and her Erstwhile Consort Perhaps the Clintons’ greatest sin - to date - was initiating the expansion of NATO to the East. This was too much even for Kennan who cried out in old age in a NYT Op-Ed on February 5, 1997,
“In late 1996, the impression was allowed, or caused, to become prevalent that it had somehow and somewhere decided to expand NATO up to Russia’s borders. …The timing of this revelation — coinciding with the Presidential election….did not make it easy .. to insert a modest word of comment.”
Translation. There is nothing like a dash of Drang nach Osten to bring out the Polish and Baltic Nation vote as well as neocon support for re-election. But this policy was not merely part of electioneering tactics. It has become overwhelmingly evident since then that the policy was also a heartfelt project of Hillary’s. Two birds with one stone. Kennan continued:
“And perhaps it is not too late to advance a view that, I believe, is not only mine but is shared by others with extensive ..experience in Russian matters. The view, bluntly stated is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.
Such a decision would be expected to inflame the anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking. And last, not least, it might make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure the Russian Duma’s ratification of the Start II agreement and to achieve further reductions of nuclear weaponry.” (Emphasis, jw)
Clearly the Clintons had gone too far even for Kennan who surely must have understood that the “unipolar moment” was over, whereas for Hillary it lives on forever. And the “others” cited by Kennan who shared his disgust with the Clintons included Jack Matlock, the last ambassador to the Soviet Union. Matlock, a Democrat, was Reagan’s ambassador to the USSR, and so sickened was he with the Clintons’ actions that he quit the Democratic Party.
The Queen’s dog whistle calls “Vote for me, I’m a woman.” Since the 1990s Hillary has operated solo in public life and has compiled an even bloodier history both in the Senate where she was an ardent supporter of Bush Jr’s War on Iraq and then as Secretary of State. All of this is in service of making her President.
Johnstone asks bluntly in the section of Queen entitled “Vote for Me. I’m a Woman,” “Is there something wrong with American women that they need Hillary Clinton as President to make them feel better?” And she answers thus: “Certainly not. American women are creating many new ways to lead fruitful, useful and rewarding lives. And rather than making us feel better, it might make us feel much worse if the first woman President brings disaster on the world. Let us hope that the first woman president will be a person distinguished by a profound understanding of the world and genuine human compassion, rather than relentless personal ambition.”
Johnstone adds, “Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent years trying to sell women on the idea that their ambition rather than hers will be rewarded if she is elected President of the United States.” Obama traded on the same idea among Blacks, but his presidency has not brought substantially better treatment for African Americans. Ask the people of Ferguson.
Johnstone continues, “Proving this fairly obvious point (that a woman is fully capable of being president) is not the most crucial issue at stake in the next U.S. Presidential election. There is also the little matter of whether or not to lead the country into war with a major nuclear power. ”
The Little Matter of Avoiding WWIII, Toria Nuland and Friends The “little matter” of avoiding WWIII, Johnstone addresses further in chapters entitled “Not Understanding Russia” and “Yugoslavia, the Clinton War Cycle.” The chapter on Yugoslavia is in some ways the most challenging since Johnstone. probably the leading Western expert on the matter, and one of the few committed to the truth, presents the story in detail and in relatively few words. But the chapter rewards the reader with a clearer understanding of what happened in the former Yugoslavia and how cynically human rights ideals were used to advance the U.S. agenda to lay Russia low.
More pertinent for the present moment of crisis is the chapter “Not Understanding Russia,” where Johnstone reminds us of President Vladimir Putin’s comment of March 4, 2014: “I sometimes get the feeling that somewhere across that huge pond, in America, people sit in a lab and conduct experiments, as with rats, without actually understanding he consequences of what they are doing.” Among those to whom he was referring is certainly Victoria Nuland, the wife of Uber-Neocon Robert Kagan and a protégé of Hillary’s, who served as her spokesperson at State and whom she called “Toria Nuland, my intrepid spokesperson.” Nuland also had served as a top advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, the real Butcher of Baghdad and of so much else. She had also served in the highest reaches of the Clinton administration.
Nuland then went on to become Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs where she was the principlal architect of the coup in Ukraine. Her role in this came out in her infamous intercepted phone conversation where she acknowledged that the U.S. had poured billions into Ukraine to set it at odds with Russia and where she responded to the EU’s resistance and misgivings with her diplomatic pronouncement, “Fuck the EU.” This maneuver has plunged Ukraine into a crisis with thousands of deaths, nearly a million fleeing the country to Russia and collapse of the economy of Ukraine. Most dangerously it has brought the US into a very sharp confrontation with Russia in Ukraine. Again the little matter of WWIII arises. Nuland is only one example of the tight bonds between Hillary and the Neocons, and Johnstone takes this up in her concluding chapter, The War Party.
The Queen’s Blood Lust Surfaces Again. Channeling Caesar after Killing Gaddafi Perhaps the sharpest insight into Hillary’s world view and bloodthirsty ways comes in the chapter, “Libya, A War of Her Own.” For as Rand Paul and many others have remarked, the assault on Libya was certainly Hillary’s war. She was the voice in the Obama regime that pushed hardest for it, and she got her way. Whatever one may think of Gaddafi’s governance (and the story is not so simple as conveyed in the West), Libya under Gaddafi had the highest Human Development Index (HDI) and highest standard of living in all of Africa. The HDI is a number assigned by the UN to every country in the world and it is a measure of literacy, health care, gender equity and standard of living.
But even though Gaddafi had entered into agreements with the West, which rendered impossible the non-existent grave military threat from Libya, he continued to be a defiant pan-Africanist who sought to weaken the Petrodollar’s hold on the world oil market. So he had to go. And when he was brutally killed, Clinton gloated on camera, “We came, we saw, he died.” Channeling Julius Caesar was a frightening scene to behold, something that is very telling about her statem of mind, as I have tried to capture elsewhere. As usual with Hillary, her own little war was cloaked in an appeal to human rights. And as a result, Libya today lies in ruins – like Ukraine. Chaos.
But Hillary’s war on Libya had an even more ominous aspect, UN Resolution 1973 championed by Hillary’s State Department. Res. 1973 called for a cease-fire in Libya (which Gaddafi promptly observed) and a no-fly zone to protect civilians from the Libyan air force – but nothing more. As a result a dubious Russia and China did not veto Resolution 1973 but abstained, allowing its passage for humanitarian reasons. Then the US and NATO went back on their word and began to bomb Gaddafi’s forces and supporters, inflicting massive damage and killing many civilians by taking sides in a civil war. Putin has remarked that this perversion of Resolution 1973 marked the last time that Russia would trust the West. Such an outcome is indeed very bad business. We can well imagine what China learned from this episode.
This brief commentary captures only a small fraction of the insights offered by Queen. They are abundant. A small example is the thumbnail that Johnstone gives of the stock recipe employed for regime change by the West in the section entitled “The Kosovo Experiment.” It is remarkably standard, and Johnstone sums it up in four short pages as a 9-step program: Hitlerization, Sanctions, Local Clients, Human Rights NGOs, Sabotaging Diplomacy, Criminalization, Scare Word “Genocide,” Media and Propaganda, and finally Bombing. The Chapters “Multicultural Misrepresentations” and “The Taming by the Shrew” which culminates in a section entitled “Women Against Women” are also gems on the topic of “humanitarian” imperialism.
A Desperate Pivot as the Sun Sets on the Empire. If there is a flaw in the book, it is the near absence of Hillary’s key role in the “Pivot” to Asia, an item not so much as cited in the index. This is understandable since Johnstone is an American journalist residing in Paris, and her beat has been Europe. And this book is about history and Hillary, whereas the “Pivot” has just begun and seems to have stalled. For a journalist with Johnstone’s high standards there is perhaps not yet enough information to deal with this. In general, Western intellectuals, as opposed to Western businessmen, often seem to live on a planet that does not include East Asia. But East Asia may yet be the site of the greatest atrocity perpetrated by Hillary and her counterparts.
Johnstone begins her book with an assessment of Hillary as a creature of the “American Century,” but that period is drawing rapidly to a close with the rise of China, which is pulling other developing countries along. In fact the 500 year Euro-American epoch of global dominance is coming to an end, and quickly so on a historical scale. Hillary and company are quite unprepared to accept this inevitability. There is no need to adapt to the changing world in their eyes. As Secretary of State, Hillary once gloated that there was no need for the U.S to change its ways because those ways have been working splendidly! If president, she will have the power to plunge us into nuclear Armageddon rather than abandon the dream of global domination and adapt peacefully to the new situation in the world. This blindness and willfulness may yet result in the greatest cataclysm, the worst chaos, that humanity has ever witnessed. This is the danger that confronts us now as the Queen of Chaos and her fellow neocons get closer to the presidency and weapons of unprecedented mass destruction. The assessments offered by Queen of Chaos may play a role in forestalling or neutralizing this chilling possibility. Be sure to read it.
Written by John V. Walsh, first published in Antiwar.com, December 8, 2015