How East Asia’s balance of power is shaping its US election stance

Both principles and pragmatism are at play in the region ahead of the presidential contest. 

Underpinning the complex international relations of East Asia today is a crude reality: for each of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, China is the largest trading partner, but the United States is the guarantor of security. As a result, in a region increasingly marked by competition between the two superpowers, economic interests often conflict with values, and pragmatism must sometimes trump principles.

On principles – including a commitment to the international order – the president of the United States was once a constant. Donald Trump’s disavowal of international norms by withdrawing from a number of multilateral initiatives, including the World Health Organisation, has complicated such considerations for East Asian publics. But an expansionist China and volatile North Korea, means that amongst administrations at least, support for the incumbent US president remains robust.

The challenges facing the region are numerous. In June, the same month that Beijing enacted its controversial National Security Law in Hong Kong, North Korea blew up a joint liaison office with South Korea in Kaesong, near its border. More recently, encroachments on Taiwanese airspace by Chinese military aircraft have increased; meanwhile, a trade war between South Korea and Japan rumbles on.

In Taiwan in particular, Trump’s tough stance on China has been welcomed by many. Since 1979, when the US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing and signed the Taiwan Relations Act, Taiwan has relied on the “strategically ambiguous” backing of the US – meaning that Washington opposed any non-peaceful attempts to unify Taiwan with China, but would not state unequivocally whether they would assist in the event of a Chinese attack.

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Numerous diplomatic coups for Taiwan have come under Trump’s watch. In March 2018, Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, encouraging cabinet-level visits between Taiwan and the US; and in March this year, he also signed the Taipei Act, encouraging better engagement between international organisations and Taipei. Finally, earlier this month, a new economic dialogue between Taiwan and the US was announced.

Concerns remain in Taipei, however, that too strident an approach from Trump after re-election – perhaps even overturning the US’s long-standing policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ – might prove a step too far for Beijing.

Beijing has already signalled its intent. From mid-September to October 11, fleets of Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwanese airspace on a total of 17 occasions. The incursions began in response to the visit to Taiwan of Keith Krach, US Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs. Krach’s visit was the second of a Trump administration official in two months, following that of Alex Azar, US Health Secretary, in August. (Azar’s trip was the highest level visit of a US official to Taiwan since the US severed ties with Taiwan in 1979.)

[See also: Electoral triumph for Taiwan’s China-sceptic Tsai Ing-wen poses big questions for Beijing]

Furthermore, in a nation fiercely proud of its democratic system, some Taiwanese have criticised Trump for his behaviour domestically, especially the fanning of racial tensions and …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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