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Will America’s commitment to economic growth and security in Asia-Pacific Region survive another Presidency?

US presidential campaigns have raised questions on the ability of US to follow through on promises to deeply engage the Asia-Pacific.

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US Presidential Candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Wikimedia

Rhetoric on the U.S. presidential campaign trail has raised alarms in the Asia-Pacific region and cast doubt about America’s future in an area seen as critical to the nation’s future prosperity and security.

The caustic, tawdry and personal nature of the election has also left many nations in the region questioning the ability of the United States to follow through on promises to deeply engage the Asia-Pacific.

“It has really undermined the faith and the convictions that many regional actors have about the viability of American commitments [and] the stability of our own democracy,” said Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

Both former president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama worked to open diplomatic, security and economic channels in a bid to cement America as a leader in the Asia-Pacific, and experts say continuing U.S. leadership will help counter China’s growing power and influence.

US must ‘tap into’ Asia-Pacific

At a time when other regions like the Middle East are commanding vast amounts of U.S. attention and resources, America has sought to tap into the dynamic economic potential of the Asia-Pacific countries and establish order, to mitigate current and emerging security threats.

North Korea has ramped up nuclear and missile tests in the Korean Peninsula, tensions have mounted over China’s territorial claims and aggressive actions in the South China Sea, and the new president of longtime ally the Philippines has vowed to “break up with America” and turn to China and Russia.

This combination of Sept. 3, 2016 photos provided by the Philippine Government shows what it says are surveillance pictures of Chinese coast guard ships and barges at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
This combination of Sept. 3, 2016 photos provided by the Philippine Government shows what it says are surveillance pictures of Chinese coast guard ships and barges at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

However, statements by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have eroded hopes for a greater U.S. role in the region.

There is “fear and loathing” in the Asia Pacific about a potential Trump presidency, said Robert Manning of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. This feeling, Manning added, comes even though there is “not enough coherence to Trump’s comments” to discern his foreign policy.

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Clinton, Trump both oppose TPP

While Clinton is expected to continue the Obama administration’s strategic re-balance, she has been emphatic in her rejection of its economic cornerstone – the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Without an economic commitment in the region like TPP, U.S. credibility is lost, experts say.

Trade has been a key issue in the presidential campaign, with many Americans in both parties blaming such deals for lost jobs.

Trump has vehemently assailed the trade pact as a job-killing agreement.

During an economic address two months ago in Warren, Michigan, Clinton said of TPP: “I oppose it now. I’ll oppose it after the election and I’ll oppose it as president.” She had previously expressed support for the trade partnership.

The TPP, signed by 12 Pacific-rim nations, must be ratified by Congress, but it faces tough opposition by lawmakers from both major parties.

FILE - Demonstrators rally for fair trade at the Capitol in Washington.
Demonstrators rally for fair trade at the Capitol in Washington.

Clinton seeks ‘flexibility’

“I think in several of her more recent statements, [Clinton] seems to be trying to create a bit more space, a bit more flexibility,” Pollack of the Brookings Institution noted.

An adviser on Asian issues who worked with Clinton at the State Department gave a similarly nuanced description of her position during a discussion at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.

“She cannot accept the trade agreement, TPP, as it’s currently being negotiated,” said Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under Clinton. “At the same time, she also recognizes that some form of commercial engagement will be necessary going forward.”

On the security front, Trump has alarmed allies by suggesting he might walk away from a treaty obligation to protect them unless they contribute more to NATO.

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Trump cynical about alliances

During an August rally in Des Moines, Iowa, he expressed frustration about Japan, one of America’s closest allies. He told supporters Japan cannot help if the U.S. is attacked because its constitution bars overseas military action.

“If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do nothing,” Trump said. “They can stay at home, watching Sony television, right?”

“He fundamentally doesn’t seem to understand alliances,” Manning suggested. Alluding to a popular American television drama about organized crime, he said of Trump, “He has a kind of Sopranos view of the world: they have to pay us protection money.”

The U.S. depends on its Asia-Pacific allies to maintain a security presence to guard against potential threats from nations such as North Korea and China. Japan pays $1.6 billion a year in host-nation support for U.S. military operations in Japan, and South Korea pays almost $1 billion for the same reason.

Trump “has not displayed any understanding of the whole post Cold War, rules-based order that U.S. leadership has been essential in enforcing,” Manning contends. “Even though he sounds like he is trying to be tough, [his position] is essentially an abdication of American leadership.”

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South Korean Marines and U.S. Marines from 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based Okinawa, Japan, take positions near Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.
South Korean Marines and U.S. Marines from 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based Okinawa, Japan, take positions near Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.

Responsibilities to American workers

Trump adviser Peter Hoekstra, a former U.S. congressman, says his candidate recognizes the U.S. must invest in its role as a global leader, but “there are responsibilities to American taxpayers and American workers.”

“It’s time to go back and start from ground zero and do a full assessment of what our strategy needs to be to confront the challenges that are out there,” Hoekstra said during the discussion at the Korea Economic Institute. “It doesn’t mean to … challenge the relationships or the friendships that we have in Asia.”

On dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat, the Trump adviser said all options are open, and called for a reassessment of U.S. policy on North Korea.

Both Clinton’s adviser Kurt Campbell and Trump’s Hoekstra predicted continuing tensions between the U.S. and China.

Whoever is the next president, Pollack said, U.S. engagement should move forward in the Asia-Pacific region, given its economic, security and diplomatic importance around the world.

“It’s inconceivable to me,” the Brookings Institution analyst said, “that any American president will, in fact, try to detach the United States from the region.” (VOA)

 

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Pete Buttigieg Becomes the Latest Democrat to Enter 2020 Presidential Elections

Buttigieg would be America's first openly gay president. His husband, Chasten, has also won over many American voters

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presidential run
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announces that he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination during a rally, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. VOA

Kathleen Struck, Esha Sarai contributed to this report.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has become the latest Democrat to formally enter the crowded field of presidential candidates seeking to unseat Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

The 37-year-old, who announced a presidential exploratory committee in January, made it official at a rally in South Bend on Sunday.

The Harvard and Oxford graduate and Afghanistan war veteran has gone from being virtually unknown on the national political landscape to surging in recent polls, placing third behind behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

presidential run
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop at Portsmouth Gas Light, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, March 8, 2019. VOA
The son of an immigrant from Malta, Buttigieg attended Harvard College around the same time as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, spent seven months in Afghanistan in the U.S. Navy Reserves as an intelligence analyst and driver and worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Reportedly he speaks seven languages, some of them fluently, including Spanish and Norwegian.
And in 2011, he was elected mayor of his hometown, South Bend, population 100,000.

Buttigieg would be America’s first openly gay president. His husband, Chasten, has also won over many American voters.

“As for my husband, you know I’m pretty biased, because I love him, but it’s pretty great to see that the rest of America is falling in love with him too,” Buttigieg said at a recent appearance in New Hampshire.

presidential run
Mayor Pete Buttigieg talks with an AP reporter at his office in South Bend, Ind., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA
 The South Bend mayor has raised more than $7 million so far and assured himself a spot in the Democratic presidential debates that begin in June. Analysts say it remains to be seen if Buttigieg can maintain his recent momentum.
ALSO READ: Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is Gushing in the Democratic Presidential Elections

“Sometimes candidates have a few weeks or few months of stardom and then another ‘it candidate’ replaces them,” Leah Askarinam, a reporter and political analyst for Inside Elections, told VOA. “So I think we know he’s viable. I don’t think we know at this point that he’s going to be a star in the field.”

At least 18 Democrats are in the run to become the party’s nominee to face off against President Donald Trump in next year’s election. (VOA)