Philippines calls for ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between ASEAN, China on sea code


By Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato | MANILA Fri May 19, 2017 | 7:58am EDT

Southeast Asian nations and China should start with a “gentleman’s agreement” on the busy South China Sea waterway because no mechanism exists to legally enforce any deal, the Philippine foreign minister said on Friday.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China on Thursday finished a draft framework for negotiating a code of conduct, despite regional scepticism whether Beijing will commit to rules likely to restrain its maritime ambitions.

Southeast Asian nations with claims in the South China Sea have long wanted to sign China up to a legally binding and enforceable code. It was unclear if that was mentioned in the framework draft, which has not been made public.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano played down the importance of a legally binding contract.

“If it’s legally binding, which court can the parties go to? And the countries that do not comply, will they respect that court?” he asked reporters.

“Let’s start with it being binding, gentlemen’s agreement. We have a community of nations that signed it.”

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in sea-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Click tmsnrt.rs/2qyBNpf for graphic on overlapping claims in the South China Sea

Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, in a case filed on maritime boundaries filed by the previous Philippine government in 2013.

A code of conduct is the key objective of a 2002 Declaration on Conduct, large parts of which China has ignored, particularly a commitment not to occupy or reclaim uninhabited features.

China has piled sand upon reefs to build seven islands in disputed parts of the Spratly archipelago. China has unfinished business there and has been transforming three of the reefs into what experts believe could be forward operating bases.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday described them as “some kind of armed garrison.”

The code framework would envisage a round-the-clock hotline and urge defense officials to find ways to follow the code, Chee Wee Kiong of Singapore’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Some ASEAN diplomats fear China’s sudden interest in completing it could be a strategy to buy time for Beijing to wrap up construction activities.

Experts say China wants to appear to engage ASEAN or bind its claimant states to a weak code at a time when U.S. policy on the South China Sea is in a state of flux.

One ASEAN diplomat said the latest draft did not mention any dispute settlement mechanism or sanctions for violations, but focused mostly on managing tension and building trust.

“We are very realistic and practical,” said the source, who declined to be identified. “We wanted first to pick the low hanging fruit. If we went straight to the contentious issues, we would not get to where we are now.”

The framework represented progress, but expectations should be realistic, said Jay Batongbacal, a Philippine academic and expert on the South China Sea.

“Given it’s been 15 years to get to a draft, I’m not really holding my breath,” he added.

Click tmsnrt.rs/2pSNmZq for graphic on Turf war on the South China Sea

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: Reuters “Philippines calls for ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between ASEAN, China on sea code”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


China, ASEAN agree on framework for South China Sea code of conduct


China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on Thursday to a framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, China’s foreign ministry said, as both sides step up efforts to ease tension in the strategic waterway.

China and the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had been hoping to agree on the framework this year, 15 years after committing to draft it.

After a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the Chinese city of Guiyang, China’s foreign ministry said the framework had been agreed upon, but gave no details of its contents.

It said the talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements.

All parties “uphold using the framework of regional rules to manage and control disputes, to deepen practical maritime cooperation, to promote consultation on the code and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” China’s foreign ministry said.

The permanent secretary of Singapore’s foreign ministry, Chee Wee Kiong, said that what he called a “draft” framework would be submitted to a meeting of the foreign ministers of China and the ASEAN states in August in the Philippines.

“We hope to continue the positive momentum of consultation and make steady progress toward a substantive CoC based on consensus as directed by our leaders,” Chee said, in remarks also shown on Chinese state television.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, in comments carried on state television, said the framework was comprehensive and took into account the concerns of all sides.

But he called on others to stay out, apparently a coded message to the United States.

“We hope that our consultations on the code are not subject to any outside interference,” Liu said.

The U.S. State Department said it understood ASEAN and China had “not agreed on a text of a Code of Conduct, but on an initial framework describing how such a document might be structured”.

“As we have not seen that text, we would not be in a position to comment on it,” a spokeswoman, Anna Richey-Allen, said.

She said the United States had been calling for “an effective and meaningful” code of conduct compatible with international law, in particular the Law of the Sea Convention.

Some ASEAN diplomats have expressed concern about whether China is being sincere, or whether ASEAN has enough leverage to get China to commit to a set of rules.

Some Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the United States, have expressed concern at what they see as China’s militarization of the South China Sea, including building air strips on man-made islands.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Leslie Adler)

Source: Reuters “China, ASEAN agree on framework for South China Sea code of conduct”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


China, ASEAN agree on framework for South China Sea code of conduct


China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on Thursday to a framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, China’s foreign ministry said, as both sides step up efforts to ease tension in the strategic waterway.

China and the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had been hoping to agree on the framework this year, 15 years after committing to draft it.

After a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the Chinese city of Guiyang, China’s foreign ministry said the framework had been agreed upon, but gave no details of its contents.

It said the talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements.

All parties “uphold using the framework of regional rules to manage and control disputes, to deepen practical maritime cooperation, to promote consultation on the code and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” China’s foreign ministry said.

The permanent secretary of Singapore’s foreign ministry, Chee Wee Kiong, said that what he called a “draft” framework would be submitted to a meeting of the foreign ministers of China and the ASEAN states in August in the Philippines.

“We hope to continue the positive momentum of consultation and make steady progress toward a substantive CoC based on consensus as directed by our leaders,” Chee said, in remarks also shown on Chinese state television.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, in comments carried on state television, said the framework was comprehensive and took into account the concerns of all sides.

But he called on others to stay out, apparently a coded message to the United States.

“We hope that our consultations on the code are not subject to any outside interference,” Liu said.

The U.S. State Department said it understood ASEAN and China had “not agreed on a text of a Code of Conduct, but on an initial framework describing how such a document might be structured”.

“As we have not seen that text, we would not be in a position to comment on it,” a spokeswoman, Anna Richey-Allen, said.

She said the United States had been calling for “an effective and meaningful” code of conduct compatible with international law, in particular the Law of the Sea Convention.

Some ASEAN diplomats have expressed concern about whether China is being sincere, or whether ASEAN has enough leverage to get China to commit to a set of rules.

Some Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the United States, have expressed concern at what they see as China’s militarization of the South China Sea, including building air strips on man-made islands.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Leslie Adler)

Source: Reuters “China, ASEAN agree on framework for South China Sea code of conduct”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


US Has Lost Southeast Asia, but Trump Is Not to Blame


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte returns the salute of a Chinese Navy officer as he tours a Chinese Naval ship during a visit to Davao city, southern Philippines, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Former US president Obama was stupid in pushing Russia and China together to form a firm alliance, which has made them bold to challenge the US.

Russia is now active in Ukraine’s and Syria’s civil wars in Europe and the Middle East, China challenged the US to fight a war in order to resist US interference in the South China Sea.

However, those are problems left behind by Obama instead of trouble caused by Trump, who simply finds that the US lacks strength to deal with Russia-China alliance that has rallied lots of countries around it.

A clear indication is that India and Pakistan have applied for membership of Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and will soon be accepted by SCO.

Reuters wails over US loss of Southeast Asia to China in its report “Asian nations pulled into China’s orbit as Trump puts America first” today, but fails to see its cause: The US is declining and unable to bully a rising China in the South China Sea.

What can the US do to bring ASEAN back to its side? Can it fight a war with China?

Obama’s pivot to Asia is bankrupt due to its failure to use military strength to force China to accept the arbitration award that deprives China of all its rights and interests there.

The US lacks not only financial and military resources but also wisdom in challenging China in Asia. Obama must be clearly aware that it is impossible to entirely deprive China’s rights and interests there but has tried to do so and failed. By do doing, he betrayed US weakness and caused Southeastern countries to lose confidence in the US.

What Trump shall do is but to recover US economic strength so as to be strong enough to deal with China and Russia.

Driving a wedge between China and Russia is certainly a wise diplomacy. Trump has failed to draw Russia to his side in order to achieve that. His only wise choice now is to draw China to his side to drive such a wedge. Whether he will be able to break China-Russia alliance that constitutes the greatest threat to US world leadership remains a question, but it will test Chinese and Russian leaders’ wisdom. For China the best choice is to keep the alliance while conducting win-win cooperation with the US. For that, Xi Jinping shall be very clever in applying balancing art.

Trump is realistic in his America-first policy, but lots of people including Reuters’ are still dreaming that the US can still maintain its world hegemony with declining strength in the face of strong Russia-China alliance.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ report, full text of which is reblogged below:

Asian nations pulled into China’s orbit as Trump puts America first

By Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato | MANILA Mon May 1, 2017 | 8:13am EDT

Across Asia, more and more countries are being pulled into Beijing’s orbit, with the timid stance adopted by Southeast Asian nations on the South China Sea at a weekend summit a clear sign this fundamental geostrategic shift is gathering momentum.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s flurry of calls at the weekend to the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore might cheer those who fear his predecessor Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has been abandoned in favor of an “America First” agenda.

But White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the conversations were aimed at lining up Asian partners in case tensions over North Korea lead to “nuclear and massive destruction in Asia”, and mentioned no broader strategic goal.

Southeast Asian nations will need more than that to convince them the United States still has their backs.

In the meantime, some are leaning closer to China, soft-pedalling quarrels over the disputed South China Sea and angling for a slice of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure investment program to compensate for the U.S. abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

The unexpected bonhomie that has emerged between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping could give Asian countries further confidence to continue their swing toward Beijing.

“Before, most Southeast Asian states wanted to benefit from Chinese regional economic initiatives and from American pushback against China,” said Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“The second part of this balance is now in question. Hence, the pressure to acquiesce to China diplomatically and on security issues is stronger.”

“IT’S POINTLESS PRESSURING BEIJING”

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, piqued by the Obama administration’s criticism of his human rights record, last year announced his “separation” from longtime ally the United States while on a visit to Beijing.

The White House described Trump’s conversation with the firebrand Philippines leader as “very friendly” and – prompting criticism from Human Rights Watch for “effectively endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs” – invited him to Washington.

But, underlining his new-found friendship with Beijing, Duterte on Monday inspected a Chinese naval ships docked at his hometown, the first visit of its kind to the Philippines in years.

Duterte, who last year put aside a legal challenge to Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea to start negotiating billions of dollars worth of loans and infrastructure investments, chaired the latest summit of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila.

Several ASEAN diplomats said China sent officials to lobby the Philippines ahead of the summit, and before the leaders had even gathered Duterte said it was pointless pressuring Beijing over its maritime activities.

An early draft of the summit statement seen by Reuters made references to land reclamation and militarization in the disputed waterway, but they were subsequently dropped, as were references to “tensions” and “escalation of activities”.

Cook said it was clear that, with the Philippines steering the summit to this conclusion, “it is no longer just Cambodia that is acting as an agent of Chinese influence in ASEAN over the South China Sea dispute”.

ASEAN RISKS LOSING LEVERAGE

Thailand and Malaysia have also moved closer to China. Thailand’s relations with Washington came under strain during the Obama administration because of concerns about freedoms under its military-dominated government.

Trump invited Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to visit Washington during their call on Sunday, but the former general’s government has its eyes elsewhere: last week it approved the first of three submarine purchases from China worth more than $1 billion.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says Washington’s new posture has shifted Asia’s political and economic balance.

Lee, whose country, like Vietnam, has shown no signs of moving closer to Beijing, stressed to his ASEAN counterparts on Saturday that, despite Trump’s “radically different approach”, they should balance their ties between the United States and China.

Trump has said he will attend two summits in the region in November.

But Southeast Asian nations are trying to gauge how far they can still rely on Washington as a shield against Chinese assertiveness. ASEAN foreign ministers will be seeking answers at a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington this Thursday.

Uncertainty over Washington’s commitment, analysts say, will only draw ASEAN countries further toward China, which can lure them with cheap loans, infrastructure investments and tariff cuts, but with a risk of diminished bargaining power.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said it was imperative for ASEAN to regain leverage by bringing Washington back into the equation and expanding the influence of Japan.

“ASEAN is in a precarious position now with the concessions, accommodation and even appeasement with China,” Thitinan said. “If China continues to be shrewd and takes ASEAN on another ride, then ASEAN will be much worse off.”

(Writing by Martin Petty and John Chalmers; Editing by Alex Richardson)


China’s Claim to South China Sea No Longer Challenged


Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders link arms during the opening ceremony of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Crisanto/Pool

Before US interference, there were disputes among various claimants but friendly relations were maintained. For example both China and the Philippines fished and patrolled Scarborough Shoal but no conflicts occurred.

When US began its interference, Philippine thought it had a big brother behind it so that it sent its navy to round up Chinese fishermen operating in the Shoal and thus began the standoff there. However, being militarily much weaker and having got no US military support, the Philippines had to retreat and was not allowed by China to fish or patrol the shoal.

With US support, the Philippines filed arbitration and got a favorable arbitration award, but China simply disregarded it and sent air force to conduct combat patrol there to deal with any action intended in denying its rights and interests based on the arbitration award. The US sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to scare China but China responded with the decision to fight a war to protect its interests. China has built seven artificial islands with three airports there. With further support from its land-based air force and missiles, it has geographical advantages to defeat the US there. The US could not but withdraw.

Without US support, who in Southeast Asia dare to challenge China. The US has lost its hegemony in the South China Sea due to its lack of both military and economic strength there.

Reuters shows its disappointment at that fact in its report today titled “ASEAN gives Beijing a pass on South China Sea dispute, cites ‘improving cooperation’”

It will have much more to be disappointed in the future as the US keeps on declining while China keeps on rising.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters report, full text of which is reblogged below:

ASEAN gives Beijing a pass on South China Sea dispute, cites ‘improving cooperation’

By Manuel Mogato | MANILA Sun Apr 30, 2017 | 3:26am EDT

Southeast Asian countries took a softer stance on South China Sea disputes during a weekend summit, according to a statement issued on Sunday, which went easy on China by avoiding tacit references to its building and arming of its manmade islands.

A chairman’s statement of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was released about 12 hours after the summit ended, and dropped references to “land reclamation and militarization” included in the text issued at last year’s meeting, and in an earlier, unpublished version seen by Reuters on Saturday.

The outcome follows what two ASEAN diplomats on Saturday said were efforts by Chinese foreign ministry and embassy officials to pressure ASEAN chair the Philippines to keep Beijing’s contentious activities in the strategic waterway off ASEAN’s official agenda.

It also indicates four ASEAN members who the diplomats said had wanted a firmer position had agreed to the statement’s more conciliatory tone.

China is not a member of the 10-member bloc and did not attend the summit but is extremely sensitive about the content of its statements. It has often been accused of trying to influence the drafts to muzzle what it sees as dissent and challenges to its sweeping sovereignty claim.

China’s embassy in Manila could not be reached and its foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment on Saturday.

The statement also noted “the improving cooperation between ASEAN and China”, and did not include references to “tensions” or “escalation of activities” seen in earlier drafts and in last year’s text. It noted, without elaborating, some leaders’ concerns about “recent developments” in the strategic, resource-rich waterway

A Philippine diplomat said it was an open secret that China tries to lean on ASEAN members to protect its interests, but that was not the reason for the unusual delay in issuing the statement.

“There are one or two member countries which lobbied for some changes in some text in the statement, but not related to the South China Sea,” the source said.

Beijing has reacted angrily to individual members expressing their concern about its rapid reclamation of reefs in the Spratlys and its installation of missile systems on them.

Another ASEAN diplomat said the statement was a genuine representation of the atmosphere of the Manila meetings.

“We respected the Philippines’ views and cooperated,” the diplomat said. “It clearly reflected how the issue was discussed.”

POINTLESS TO PRESSURE

The softened statement comes as the current ASEAN chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, seeks to bury the hatchet with China after years of wrangling over its maritime assertiveness. After lobbying from Duterte, China agreed to let Filipinos back to the rich fishing ground of the Scarborough Shoal following a four-year blockade.

The no-nonsense leader set the tone for the meeting on Thursday when he said it was pointless discussing China’s maritime activities, because no one dared to pressure Beijing anyway.

As a sign of Duterte’s friendship with Beijing, three Chinese navy vessels on Sunday made a rare visit to the Philippines. Duterte will inspect a guided-missile destroyer in his hometown of Davao on Monday.

Also In South China Sea
SE Asian summit ends in uncertainty over South China Sea stance
Asia weighs risk and reward in Trump ‘bromance’ with China’s Xi

Duterte’s foreign policy strategy is a stunning reversal of that of the previous administration, which had close ties with the United States and was seen by China as a nuisance.

That Philippines government in 2013 challenged Beijing by lodging a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013.

Two weeks into Duterte’s presidency last year, the Hague court ruled in favor of the Philippines, angering China. But Duterte has made it clear he would not press Beijing to comply anytime soon, and is more interested in doing business than sparring.

The final chairman’s statement issued made no mention to the arbitration case. However, it did include in a section separate to the South China Sea chapter the need to show “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes” in resolving disputes.

Underlining Beijing’s sensitivity about the arbitration award, the two diplomatic sources on Saturday said Chinese embassy officials had lobbied behind the scenes for that sentence to be dropped, and considered it a veiled reference to the ruling.

One diplomat indicated that ongoing moves between China and ASEAN to draft a framework for negotiating a maritime code of conduct may have been a factor in agreeing the softened statement.

All sides want to complete the framework this year, although there is some scepticism that China’s would agree to a set of rules that could impact its geostrategic interests.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Lincoln Feast)


SE Asian summit ends in uncertainty over South China Sea stance


Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders link arms during the opening ceremony of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines April 29, 2017. L-R: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. REUTERS/Mark Crisanto/Pool

By Manuel Mogato and Enrico Dela Cruz | MANILA Sat Apr 29, 2017

Southeast Asian leaders wrapped up a summit on Saturday with no indication of an agreement on how to address Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, a divisive issue in a region uncertain about its ties with the United States.

Six hours after the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit officially ended in Manila, no customary joint statement had been issued and it was unclear whether there was agreement over including references to China’s militarization and island-building in the hotly disputed waterway.

ASEAN references to the South China Sea issue typically do not name China. Beijing is extremely sensitive to anything it perceives as a veiled reference to its expansion of its seven manmade islands in the Spratly archipelago, including with hangers, runways, radars and missiles.

This year’s summit comes at a time of uncertainty about U.S. interests in the region and whether it will maintain its maritime presence to counter Chinese assertiveness that has often put the region on edge.

A spokesman for the Philippines foreign ministry said a statement would be issued on Saturday.

Two ASEAN diplomatic sources earlier on Saturday told Reuters that Chinese embassy representatives in Manila had sought to influence the content of the communique.

The sources said the Chinese officials had lobbied the Philippines to keep tacit references to Beijing’s island-building and arming of artificial islands out of the statement.

But an unpublished draft dated Friday and seen by Reuters included the term “land reclamation and militarization”, which were not featured in a draft two days earlier. The diplomats said four ASEAN member states had objected to it being omitted.

China is not a member of ASEAN and was not attending the summit. China’s embassy in Manila could not be reached and its foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.

The content of Friday’s draft would indicate ASEAN was resisting moves by China to keep its contentious activities in the strategic South China Sea off ASEAN’s official agenda.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who chaired Saturday’s meeting, did not answer a question after the summit about whether the statement would refer to “militarization”.

He said ASEAN wanted to complete a framework for a maritime code of conduct with Beijing this year to defuse tensions.

REGIONAL FLASHPOINT

“They want the code of conduct enacted by the at least, at the very least before the end of this year so that everybody would just feel comfortable,” Duterte told a news conference.

“Because if not, it remains to be a flashpoint.”

Duterte also made a no-nonsense call for calm on the Korean Peninsula and urged the United States not to be provoked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who he said “wants to end the world” and “relishes letting go of missiles”.

Duterte spoke by phone to U.S. President Donald Trump late on Saturday, his aide said. The Philippine leader earlier told reporters he would urge Trump not to be provoked by Kim.

He called for joint efforts to halt extremism and piracy, and several times stressed the importance of non-interference in a country’s affairs.

Duterte also called for collaboration to tackle illegal drugs, amid a fierce crackdown at home that has killed thousands of Filipinos and caused international alarm.

“The illegal drug trade apparatus is massive. But it is not impregnable,” he said in opening the summit.

“With political will and cooperation, it can be dismantled, it can be destroyed before it destroys our societies.”

(Additional reporting Kanupriya Kapoor, and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ros Russell)

Source: Reuters “SE Asian summit ends in uncertainty over South China Sea stance”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Asia weighs risk and reward in Trump ‘bromance’ with China’s Xi


FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen | BEIJING Fri Apr 28, 2017 | 12:44pm EDT

U.S. President Donald Trump’s warm words for Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as a “good man” will reassure Beijing that he finally understands the importance of good ties, but risks leaving America’s regional allies puzzling over where they fit into the new order.

The budding relationship between the two leaders appeared highly unlikely when Trump was lambasting China on the campaign trail for stealing U.S. jobs with unfair trade polices.

In December, after winning office, he upended protocol by taking a call from the president of self-ruled Taiwan, which China regards as its own territory.

A few months on, after meeting Xi at his Florida residence earlier in April, Trump appears to have done a complete volte-face, praising Xi for trying hard to rein in nuclear-armed North Korea and rebuffing Taiwan’s president’s suggestion of another call.

But the big question is whether the rapprochement will last. Trump also expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign, but that relationship has since chilled.

Chinese officials will no doubt be pleased by Trump’s overtures, said Jia Qingguo, a leading academic who has advised the government on foreign policy.

“People will say that the only thing we know for sure about Donald Trump’s administration is uncertainty and unpredictability,” said Jia, dean of the School of International Studies at the elite Peking University.

“But judging from what he has been saying and doing, it’s quite reassuring as far as China is concerned. Certainly I think people have developed more positive views about the Donald Trump administration here and we have a lot of expectations that we can work together constructively.”

For China’s neighbors, it is a little more complicated.

On one level, a healthy relationship between the world’s two biggest economies suits everyone.

“It’s hugely positive that there’s been a reasonably constructive start to the bilateral dialogue between those two countries,” Tom Lembong, Indonesia’s investment chief and close aide to President Joko Widodo, told Reuters.

But long-time allies may also be wondering just how far Washington still has their back.

Shashank Joshi, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said countries such as Japan and South Korea could lose influence if Trump’s focus on enlisting Xi’s help over North Korea creates a “sort of U.S.-China G2”.

“There are competing instincts within Trump pushing him in opposite directions,” said Joshi.

“His nationalism pushes him towards competition with China, but his deal-making instinct, his openness to personal influence, and his affinity for strongmen pushes him towards Xi, especially if he can show results on North Korea.”

But Trump, who has long touted his deal-making ability as a real estate developer, has also made clear his approach to China is transactional. He is so focused on securing cooperation against North Korea, his top national security priority, that he has even publicly promised to go easier on Beijing over critical trade issues in return.

Some of Trump’s aides doubt, however, that China will do enough to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmers. Some experts believe the thaw between the economic rivals could be fleeting if Xi fails to come through on the North Korean issue.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Singapore-based security expert Ian Store said he believed Trump’s remarks would be closely scrutinized by Southeast Asian leaders looking for signs of an emerging Asia strategy.

“Most would welcome a calm, co-operative relationship between China and the U.S., but they will be deeply concerned at anything that looks like Trump will give Xi a free hand over the South China Sea dispute, or elsewhere,” said Storey, who is based at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

The administration has so far sent out mixed rhetorical signals over the hotly disputed South China Sea. China’s extensive claims to the vital global trade route are challenged by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.

The U.S. has increased naval deployments in the South China Sea in recent years amid roiling tensions and extensive island-building by China but, under Trump, its warships have yet to challenge China with a so-called freedom of navigation patrol close to disputed islets and reefs.

A Trump administration official has told Reuters the United States wants to avoid antagonizing China on sensitive issues like the South China Sea for now while waiting to see how far Beijing will go tightening the screws on North Korea. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this did not mean abandoning efforts to counter China’s growing military and economic might in the Asia-Pacific region.

Admiral Harry Harris, the chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the U.S. Congress this week that he expected to be carrying out such patrols in the South China Sea soon, and repeated earlier concerns at China’s continued militarization of the area.

“Given Trump’s newfound friendship with Xi Jinping, it might make it significantly harder for the Pacific Command to get its plans approved for the next freedom of navigation patrols,” Storey said.

UNPREDICTABLE

In Japan, often at odds with China over what Beijing views as Tokyo’s failure to properly atone for World War Two, a Japanese government source sought to downplay any impact the burgeoning Trump-Xi friendship might have on Japan-U.S. ties.

“Trump’s softened approach to Xi may seem to be some kind of shift in the balance of power but security cooperation between Japan and the United States is extremely stable and has been confirmed in the face of the current crisis situation in North Korea,” the source told Reuters.

The tricky issue of Taiwan has not gone away either, and is one of several that could upset relations.

Democratic Taiwan has many friends in Washington who will not want to allow autocratic China to get its way with the island, and the United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Wang Dong, associate professor of international studies at Peking University, said China would remain on alert for another change of direction by Trump.

“There are reasons for optimism, but we are still being realistic. There are still issues out there, from Taiwan to the South China Sea,” he said.

One Beijing-based Western diplomat told Reuters that, while China might be pleased to see Trump hang ally South Korea out to dry with his criticism of their free trade deal and demand Seoul pay $1 billion to host a U.S. anti-missile system China has strongly opposed, China should not have any illusions.

“He’s so unpredictable who knows what he’ll say next week or next month?” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “His mood turns on a pin.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Linda Sieg in Toyko; Kanupriya Kapoor and Karen Lema in Manila; Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

Source: Reuters “Asia weighs risk and reward in Trump ‘bromance’ with China’s Xi”

Note: This is Reuters’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.