The steady erosion of U.S. politico-economic primacy in the Asia-Pacific region continues unabated. It has two sources: The first is China’s growing wealth and power. The second is America’s continuing distraction by wars, as well as President Donald Trump’s desire to disrupt Washington’s existing alliances and refusal to address pressing socio-economic issues at home.
The relationship between the US and North Korea has always been fractious. North Korea has remained an isolated nation for decades. Its nuclear program has especially been a concern for the international community. In 2017, North Korea has launched 23 missiles in the span of 16 tests. There has been escalated rhetoric of a military conflict in the Korean peninsula. To this day, there are 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in South Korea as part of United States Forces Korea (USFK).
Daisuke Kotegawa, Former Managing Director of IMF, Japan; Director of Canon Institute of Global Affairs, Tokyo, Lieutenant General P.G. Kamath, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, Former Commandant, Army War College and Patrick Cronin, Director, Centre for New American Security, Washington.
Kotegawa spoke at length about the US Presidential elections and Donald Trump. He noted that Wall Street donors, mainstream media and neoconservatives were the “big losers” as they had all backed Hillary Clinton. At the crux of the issue was the matter of job creation, noted Kotegawa. He said that Trump did not care if companies from China or Japan were the ones creating jobs in the US as long as there were jobs. Bringing the focus to Asia, Kotegawa also spoke about China’s One Belt One Road. He noted that Asia’s infrastructure must be improved.
Lieutenant General P.G. Kamath referred to Japan’s past military conflicts and invasion of the Korean region and China as “baggage”. He said that this continued to affect relations between the countries in the region. He stated that the Chinese after a century of humiliation have come out with a vengeance. The country now has massive economic and military power and has no “qualms in browbeating” smaller nations like Bhutan or Nepal. He also spoke about North Korea and referred to it as a “Frankenstein” power and noted that China itself is unable to control the region. Regarding ties between Japan and China, he said that China was pushing Japan towards militarization. Speaking of the future, Lieutenant General Kamath warned that US President Donald Trump seems to have “set the stage” in his latest visit to Asia where he met with all the stakeholders in the Korean peninsula. He said, “Don’t be surprised if there is an Operation Rocket man taking place one fine day.”
Patrick Cronin, Director, Centre for New American Security, Washington spoke about the escalated situation as it exists in North Korea and the threat posed by Kim Jong Un. He noted, “During Kim Jong Un’s reign, he has fired 80 missiles and conducted four nuclear tests. There’s an acceleration of weapons of mass destruction and cyber goes along with it.” Cronin said that Kim Jong Un is trying to control the population and the pace of growth. He noted that the United States has tried to strangulate the North Korean economy and Cronin stated that this was going to go into hyperdrive. He revealed that there is an agreed upon strategy between US President Donald Trump and South Korean leader Moon Jae-In that the situation in the Korean peninsula would be solved through diplomacy. However, he also pointed out that the smallest of provocations could lead to war.
Our assessment is that there is increased uncertainty regarding the countries in North East Asia. China has emerged as a key player in Asian as well as global politics. There are also concerns over the threat of war in the Korean peninsula. We believe that the forces of economic globalization, technological change and transnational population flow have rapidly transformed the region, from bipolar strategic competition to a cooperative and diversified network. We feel that the region today faces many common challenges including the aging of urban population, resources scarcity, threats to environment and the presence of strategic tensions. China’s successful rise will lead to growing competition with the US and compel countries like South Korea to carefully follow a hedging strategy.