The Relations of U.S. in the Asia-Pacific Area

Asia pacific has been always germane to the U.S. national interest. In 2011 Barack Obama administration proclaimed strategic turn towards Asia, intending to raise region priority. Idea of active involvement ended with its initiator. Moreover, as Donald Trump has elected, he shows no interest in pursuing previous policy. On the third day after ascending presidency Donald trump withdrawn from trans-pacific partnership (TPP). Tradition allies of America in Asia has already express ed tacit discontent and relations hoped to reach progress have gradually deteriorated. Article suggests that Trump’s reflection over Asian policy has already produced grim results and current evolving trend only plays on Russian and Chinese hand. States that are considered as main challengers of the U.S. prosperity and security are always ready to exploit every opportunity squandered by their adversaries.

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The engrained belief in the universality of capitalism has been tarnished. Putin who, after Stalin, has been in power for the longest period of time, rules Russia following the principles of “realpolitik”, establishing new spheres of influences. However, in journalistic parlance, new cold war mostly related to the U.S-China power games. Despite the conclusion of a trade deal and high awareness of coronavirus, China remains on its ground with higher GDP of the U.S. potential enemy as ever. By extending its political and economic influence, China is gradually winning in the so-called zero-sum. In militaristic terms, the Chinese military budget has surged, reaching $ 239.2 bn. As shown in the recent study, in 18 war games simulating a potential conflict and a high-end fight against China in the South China Sea, the U.S.  has lost all battles. Instead of cementing ties with the allies, Donald Trump’s rhetoric makes the Asian nightmare forthcoming by lambasting international organizations, demanding more money for the security, eventually damaging the U.S. prestige. Vivid example of the existing trend can be seen even amongst the U.S. traditional allies, when Trump’s plea of being a mediator between Japan and south Korea trade was ignored.  However, if some can only go along with diplomatic gesture, others can go beyond. Philippines indeed fell in that number.

The Cold War Rhetoric Style

Duterte’s speech at the 2020 Ani ng Dangal Awards in Malacañang resembles the Cold War rhetoric, when states were in a bipolar limbo. The 74-year-old president bemoaned the fate of most of the small states needing oxygen for survival. Previously Mayor of Davao, whose career surge mostly depended on wild diplomacy, was known for his anti-U.S. speeches, bold enough to call Barack Obama a “son of a whore”.

Philippines have always considered the Americas an ally. Given the U.S. support for the CIA counterinsurgency operations against communistic movements (note that Duterte’s government is still fighting against communists). Close relations articulated in the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allowed the U.S. army’s official presence in joint military training exercises, emphasize the Philippines’ high geopolitical importance. Trump’s decision not to grant visa to senator Dela Rose was the last straw for Duterte. Such a scenario was not a surprise for those who follow the Philippines president’s campaign. His anger fueled the U.S. decision to curb aid from the Millennium Challenge Corp. agency which funded anti-poverty programs. At that time, Mr. Duterte just warned to be prepared for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and in 2016 he embarked on the state visits to Cambodia and Singapore. After four years, the threat became real, when, on 11 February, Teodoro Loscin Jr. the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, signed and sent to the U.S. government the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Now the question is whether Duterte will further distance Philippines from Washington? It should be noted that the two agreements still apply to the relations between the two countries. The Mutual Defense Treaty and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are the legal basis for running the military facilities in the Philippines. Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary, called ending the VFA a wrong move, inevitably by mentioning China, the great power games, and location of island. While Donald Trump who ponders only about how to drop off the foreign expenditures just concluded that it would save money for the country.

Needless to say, Russia and China would try to fill the void and we should expect Duterte’s further bold moves. China has already become the country’s biggest trading partner and is going to expand its political clout over the island. The possible antagonization between China and Philippines over the disputed area in the South China Sea settled down while two leaders reach a preliminary agreement on oil and gas exploration around the conflicting area, including enhancing cooperation in the agricultural and infrastructural project. To sum up, as long as Duterte is in power, the country would – to say it harshly in the president’s word – rather be a Chinese province, rather than an American territory.

Alarming tendency

John Kerry, the Secretary of the State, condemned the 2014 military coup in Thailand which ran the country off democratic rails, urgently calling for the restoration of the civil liberties. Further response crystalized in suspending military financing and military education programs (respectively 3.5 million in foreign military financing and 85,000 in international military education and training (IMET) funds). China became main trade partner of Philippines surpassing the U.S. in the recent years. Except for closer economic ties, the government of the retired general Prayut Chan-o-cha for example ordered submarines from China, saying nothing about the “Blue Strike 2016” joint military exercise.

Unlike the “tariff man” (it’s how Donald Trump calls himself), the U.S. previous presidents showed enough prudency and wisdom to accept a key features of winning strategy of Great power game, that fell upon the U.S. prestige and reliability. As China is continuously growing, the clock is ticking against the United States, and without alliances the future of the existing global order is grim.

About the author: 

Shota Mgeladze studies geopolitics at Charles university, he was an intern at IIR, now is an intern in Georgian Parliament and research fellow at Foreign Policy Council.