Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) Part I: What is ARIA & Findings

Today, we shall be looking at the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) that was signed into law on December 31st. Originally, I had planned to cover the entire document, as well as some articles surrounding it, but I soon discovered that the magnitude of the review was longer than I initially intended and so will be splitting my findings into multiple parts. I encourage you to view the document yourself.

Now, what is ARIA? ARIA is a bill that was initially put forward by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cyber Security with the intention of solidifying American policy in what is now referred to as the Indo-Pacific region. More specifically, as stated by the Diplomat, ARIA has a goal of ensuring the Trump administration develops “a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted, and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region…”.

I shall begin the review at Section 2, entitled Findings, Subsection 5. The bill states, “It is imperative that the United States continue to play a leading role in the Indo-Pacific region by—

(A) defending peace and security;

(B) advancing economic prosperity; and

(C) promoting respect for fundamental human rights.

Focusing on parts (A) and (B), I noticed one potential issue. Not with the concepts themselves, those appear to be very standard statements and expected in a document about the advancement of a national policy. The potential for conflict lies in what is not said.

As stated earlier the bill has a goal of ensuring the Trump administration develops a proper, long-term policy in the Indo-Pacific region. In the same article, it is stated, “ARIA is a good example of the U.S. Congress exercising oversight over the Executive through authorizing expenditure for specific activities, requiring annual reports on a number of security issues, and mandating specific strategies to achieve U.S. objectives”. This suggests the bill could be the future staging grounds of a conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch, namely the current Trump administration.

This is not to say that this issue is sure to appear. The bill did receive bipartisan support and the President did sign it less than two weeks after it was approved by the Senate in its amended state. However, to overlook the potential for conflict, especially given the current climate of hostility between the Trump administration and members of Congress, is foolhardy and will possibly lead to future frustration if not at least considered.

Part (C) provides a more likely conflict however as the focus on “promoting respect for fundamental human rights” puts the U.S. at direct odds with numerous states in the Indo-Pacific region, most notably, China.

To push China on this issue will result in some level of retribution, especially given the already tense climate between the U.S. and China. To be sure, the U.S. does have plenty of which they could raise issue with regarding human rights. China’s recent attacks on Muslims and Christians in the Communist Party’s attempts to bring them to heel, would certainly count. Such a move would also likely earn them some good will from other countries concerned with human rights, but whether or not those brownie points will mean much against the ire of an increasingly aggressive China, is most certainly up for debate.

Another part I’d like to take note of is Section 2, Subsection 6, part (B). Here
Dr. Graham Allison, states, “Chinese leaders…believe that as the tide that brought the United States to Asia recedes, America must leave with it”. This opens up numerous discussions. For one, China recognizes that the U.S. is losing it’s position as the leading world power and is pulling back into a position similar to modern Britain. It also brings up the question of what exactly is the responsibility of a given state on the world stage. Should a state interfere with the affairs of others over such concerns as human rights or should each state respect the sovereignty of others as Emer de Vattel would suggest? Do the rules change depending on the power of the individual state? Does being a hegemonic power demand that a particular state involve itself in the matters of other nations? Is involving oneself in the matters of others what creates a hegemonic state to begin with? My purpose here is not to answer these questions, but merely spark debate and open the floor for further discussion.

Moving on to Subsection 7, The United States National Security Strategy, released in December, 2017 and focusing on part (B), there are numerous points of potential conflict that arise. One such conflict arises with the statement, “share respect for sovereignty”. Now, this quote is in reference to existing and potential future alliances and partnerships, which the National Security Strategy states is a major focus. However, this claim could easily be taken by countries such as China or North Korea as a point of hypocritical contention, given the United State’s involvement, not only in their affairs, but the affairs of many other states around the world. The previously mentioned religious groups and South China Sea incidents come to mind, not to mention Taiwan and nuclear weapons.

This point is further exasperated by the statement, “We will reinforce our commitment to freedom of the seas”. It won’t matter to China if the Security Strategy adds, “and the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes in accordance with international law” afterwards, it will still be seen as a direct challenge and one that is unlikely to simmer down in the near future.

The final note will be on the statement “We will work with allies and partners to achieve complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and preserve the non-proliferation regime in Northeast Asia”. Not only is this statement quite bold, but it fails to recognize a key issue. The U.S. has not been doing remarkably well with regards to keeping allies calm and in the loop on its actions. In regards to the situation with North Korea, Japan has been noticeable out of the loop with regards to knowledge and influence.

Time and again Japan has been taken by “surprise” such as with Trump’s cancellation of the U.S.-South Korean war games, or “been the odd man out” with regards to what the U.S. and North Korea are doing.

This has largely to do with Trump’s unorthodox nature, but it would be foolish to say this is the failure of one man, or even one country, especially given that North Korea has made it clear they do not want the Japanese to participate in the nuclear discussions.

If the U.S. is to uphold the standards it has presented itself, steps must be taken on multiple fronts. One: Japan must be brought into the loop on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As a regional partner, and arguably the United State’s most important ally in the region, sidelining the state is a foolish and insulting move. It should be noted though that this will likely cause tensions, not only with North Korea for its previously stated position, but quite possibly with South Korea as well, given the continued tension between Japan and South Korea over the comfort women issue. If possible, the U.S. should try to calm the tension between its two allies as much as possible, but only if an effective means of doing so presents itself. Pushing the issue could easily backfire. Secondly, it would be wise for the Trump administration to end its current conflict with Japan over matters of trade, at least for now. If the two are to work together to their highest effectiveness there needs to be as little bad blood between them as possible. Doing likewise with China, again, if only for the moment, may also aid in the process of denuclearization, by making China a more willing partner in the process. Overall, the U.S. must make it perfectly clear that not only is it listening to its allies, but that their opinions matter and are respected, that way better ensuring their good will and better cooperation on all fronts.

So ends part I on ARIA. I hope this has been enlightening to you, and I look forward to any and all discussions that arise from this article. Below I shall also leave a list of names that appeared in this section of the bill in case you are interested in researching them. With that, thank you very much for reading.

Representative Randy Forbes

Ambassador Robert Gallucci

Ms. Tami Overby

Dr. Robert Orr

Ambassador Derek Mitchell

Ambassador Robert King

Mr. Murray Hiebert

Dr. Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

Bibliography

Congress.gov,
S.2736 – Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/2736/text#toc-H6013C5BE3DA34822BCCA1E905EE1BDCC

Asia Reassurance Initiative Act: A Republican Vision for Engaging Southeast Asia, The Diplomat, Carl Thayer, July 19, 2017

https://thediplomat.com/2017/07/asia-reassurance-initiative-act-a-republican-vision-for-engaging-southeast-asia/

ARIA: Congress Makes Its Mark on US Asia Policy, The Diplomat, Carl Thayer, January 8, 2019

https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/aria-congress-makes-its-mark-on-us-asia-policy/

The West begins to stir over China’s massive abuse of Muslims, The Economist, November 22, 2018

https://www.economist.com/china/2018/11/24/the-west-begins-to-stir-over-chinas-massive-abuse-of-muslims

In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture, The Guardian, The Observer, Lily Kuo, January 13, 2019

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/13/china-christians-religious-persecution-translation-bible

China Sends Military to Intercept U.S. Navy in South China Sea As Tensions Rise, Newsweek, Tom O’Connor, January 7, 2019

https://www.newsweek.com/china-military-intercept-navy-south-sea-1282736

Was Japan the biggest loser in Singapore?, The Japan Times, Yuki Tatsumi, June 28, 2018

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/06/28/commentary/japan-commentary/japan-biggest-loser-singapore/#.XEEU7PZFyUm

US-China Relations: Suggestions for the Future

American-Chinese relations are in a difficult position. Tensions over trade, territory, and North Korea, among others, has turned their relationship into an all-out rivalry. But there are ways to improve the current predicament so that both sides may feel more secure and benefit from their relationship.

On the American side, there are a variety of methods that they can enact to ease tensions and improve cooperation. First and foremost, the trade war pushed forward by President Trump must be ended. He is not wrong that the Chinese government has manipulated the scales in order to benefit their own economy, but a trade war only serves to increase tensions and will do significant harm to numerous wings of the American economy. Instead, the President should promote economic interdependence, tying China as heavily to the American economy as heavily to the United States as possible. This would be a major piece in a much broader program of creating more open forums for discussion and cooperation. As the world’s two leading nations, there must be numerous, and easy to use lines of dialogue in order solve issues and bolster their interests.

Naturally though, the US is skeptical of China’s rising power and is rightfully concerned about Chinese investment and acquisitions in such areas as artificial intelligence and other dual-purpose technologies. As such, it was wise to strengthen their Committee on Foreign Investment and more steps should be taken to ensure sensitive technology and information is protected. On that note, the US should focus more heavily on their cyber defense capabilities. The US has an extensive arsenal of cyber tools, but they are focused on offensive capabilities, which opened not only itself, but the world to cyber attack when those tools are lost, and the US can be sure that China is bolstering is capacity to wage war in cyberspace.  

Finally, the US must reinvigorate old alliances. The President may see legit issues with current alliances, but in these times of nervousness and tension he would do well to set aside these points of contention, at least for now. The US must join with friendly nations like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, to properly handle the problems associated with China’s rising power. It must also join with newer partners, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia, who have shown increasing concern about their larger neighbor.

However, the US is not the only one which must change if a resolution is to be found. China has issues, as well, that it must address if it wishes to ease current tensions.

Firstly, China must cease its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. Its profound claims of ownership, coupled with its island building and sequent construction of military installations, is an affront to international stability and disturbs numerous countries, such as the previously mentioned Vietnam.

Another action China must take, should it wish to ease tensions abroad, is open up their markets. China is notorious for limiting foreign access to its markets at the same time it is actively pumping money into other markets including real estate and artificial intelligence. This has led to frustration by China’s two largest trading partners: the European Union, and the United States. Added onto to this is the issue of China’s State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), which are insulated from outside forces. These too, must be made more open, at least in some, non-strategic sectors, not only to elevate pressure from foreign entities looking to enter the Chinese market, but also to end the drain on China’s economy itself.

On the issue of economics, China must also gain a respect for intellectual property rights. The scope of China’s intellectual theft is extensive with a 2017 updated report from the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property stating the cost to the US economy totaling somewhere between $225 and $600 billion annually. This can only do harm to any relationship between the US and China and will remain an open wound for future grievances until properly addressed.

There are also actions that both may improve their relationship.  As stated earlier, creating or improving existing conferences and institutions that allow for a forum of discussion and a mode to address issues is vital. Should tensions between the two strain their capacity for an open dialogue, a chain of communication, such as through Japan or South Korea, could also be utilized. This would have the added benefit of bringing such countries into the fold and decreasing the risk that they feel sidelined.

These are but a few methods that may be used to improve the current condition of US-China relations and ease concerns amongst the many parties, and there are certainly others. For both countries they may find the suggestions provided difficult to implement, or even against their perceived interests. In some ways they may be right. However, it’s to no one’s interests that the US and China, the two largest economies, vaste populations, and both controlling nuclear arsenals, should come into conflict.

Bibliography

Congress Strengthens Reviews of Chinese and Other Foreign Investments, New York Times, August 1, 2018

Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core, New York Times, November 12, 2017
Chinese investors are inflating housing markets in the US, Canada, and Australia, Business Insider, June 10, 2018

The European Commission, China, Trade,
http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/china/

Fixing China Inc, The Economist, August 30th, 2014

The Unreal Scope of China’s Intellectual Property Theft, The American Conservative, July 23, 2018

Update to the IP Commission Report, The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, published by The National Bureau of Asian Research, February 2017, initial Report May 2013

The World Bank, World Integrated Trade Solution, China, https://wits.worldbank.org/CountryProfile/en/Country/CHN/Year/LTST/TradeFlow/EXPIMP/Partner/by-country

US-Japan Relations in the 21st century

    The US-Japanese alliance is one of the longest lasting, and most tightly intertwined of the modern era, encompassing economic, political, social, and military links. Each nation is vital to the other’s strategic interests. For the United States, Japan is the most valuable ally in East Asia. For Japan, the United States offers an umbrella of protection against both North Korea and the rising power of China. It is important, though, to critically examine any relationship, so one may better understand it and contemplate the relationship’s future. Such contemplation is especially essential now, given current world instability. To be unaware of a relationship’s strength and vulnerabilities during such a time could prove disastrous. To understand the importance of the US-Japanese alliance, this work will be looking at the following: first, the waning power of the United States; second, how and why Japan is failing to live up to its potential and remedies for its shortcomings; third the current, unstable state of global affairs and how this could allow new powers to rise; fourth the importance of the US-Japanese alliance and possible methods of strengthening it.

    The United States remains, arguably, the strongest state in the world. It maintains huge economic and political power, exerts tremendous social and cultural influence, and spends more on its military than the next few nations combined. This preeminence though, is far from unchallenged, as the European Union has overtaken the United States in terms of economic clout, and both the EU and China are looking to expand their military capabilities. India’s power is waxing as well; the nation may soon surpass China in population, and is expanding its military budget, albeit not at a rate that matches their GDP. All of this indicates that the days of American supremacy may be ending. Now the United States faces the rise of a multi-polar world in which new allies and new rivals are sure to rise up in the near future. The United States must reexamine its position and relationships and devise a way to secure its global position. Japan will be a vital part of that strategy.

    The days of Japan as a future superpower are long past. But, with the nation’s “Ghost Decade” now past, Japan is recovering its influence. There are a few caveats to this statement though. For one, in spite of the efforts of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, inflation remains low, which has kept wages down. Exacerbating all policy concerns is Japan’s aging population. With fewer births and more of its population entering into advanced years, Japan will have an increasingly difficult time remaining an economic powerhouse. Should Japan lose its economic edge, the core of its soft power, the US-Japan alliance will weaken, as Japan’s ability to make economic deals that tie states to its interests and therein have the capacity to punish outlandish nations will diminish. This puts both Japanese interests, and American interests by proxy, at greater risk. Despite these concerns, the economy has grown for years and unemployment has reached less than three percent. If Prime Minister Abe is able to properly implement his “Abenomics” to its fullest potential, continued growth is likely.

On top of their economic concerns, Japan faces two other, interconnected issues: a pacifist constitution and a bellicose neighborhood. For decades Article 9, the section of the Japanese constitution that forbids Japan from maintaining a military and declaring war, has restrained Japan. The problem is even more troubling given recent events with North Korea, including the missiles that flew over Japan on August of 2017. On top of these concerns is the rising power of China, which has shown an increasing willingness to use aggression to forward its goals. All of this culminates in a Japan that, while still strong, needs reform, economically, politically, and militarily. Absent reforms any contributions it makes to an alliance with the United States will be minimal and thus, strain the relationship with the Western ally.

There is hope though. China’s economy seems to finally be slowing down and its birth rate is decreasing, despite relaxed restrictions on having children. Additionally, with Xi Jinping’s ending of term limits, the increasing restrictions on minority groups such as the Uighurs of Xinjiang province, the growing anger of migrant workers, and other similar problems, unrest is likely to grow. Predicting the nature and consequences of such dissent is impossible, given the size of the problems and the strength of the Chinese government, but it would wise for both the United States and Japan to keep these factors in mind when contemplating China and deciding on what actions to take with regards to the nation.

    The US-Japanese alliance is one of the great influences in East Asia, protecting the interests of both nations and ensuring stability in the region. With a combined GDP of  over $25 trillion, a combined defense budget of over $650 billion, and a combined population of nearly 500,000,000, the two nations act as a balance against the increasing power of China, and other ascendant states. The US-Japanese alliance remains as vital as ever and should be strengthened, with the two sides working to improve communication and understanding to better manage current and future crises. To do this Trump must stop alienating allies in Asia and elsewhere, and create a more united front. Failure to do this will result in any action he wishes to take, both globally and within the region, having less force behind it as allies show their unwillingness to back his measures. Trump should also take steps to strengthen the dollar. An active attempt to increase the value of the dollar could win him support in Japan by counteracting the nation’s inflation problem, in turn boosting the Japanese economy. The Japanese, in turn, should seek ways to increase their military strength, by abolishing Article 9 or circumventing it. Given the creation and maintenance of JSDF, which remains widely popular in Japan, this is not out of the question. These steps would bolster the alliance and the individual nations, while providing needed clarity of the roles of each state.

    There are reasons to be concerned about the US-Japanese alliance. Its role in balancing power in the region is critical, as are its mutual economic and cultural ties. If either state wishes to properly manage North Korea or China, they must work together. With serious, thoughtful effort, the two nations can repair the alliance. If they do so, both the United States and Japan will be better prepared to traverse the world to come.

Bibliography

Military Expenditure: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/china-saudi-arabia-top-list-military-spending-180502060524362.html

Japan inflation: https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2017/11/16/what-five-years-of-abenomics-has-and-has-not-achieved

China South China Sea: https://www.economist.com/china/2018/05/10/china-has-put-missiles-on-islands-in-the-south-china-sea

EU Army:http://www.businessinsider.com/eu-countries-agree-mega-army-2017-11

India Army: https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/03/28/india-spends-a-fortune-on-defence-and-gets-poor-value-for-money

Japan, the superpower: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/02/europe-is-the-next-rival-superpower-but-then-so-was-japan/303774/

Japan and missiles: https://www.economist.com/asia/2017/08/31/japan-is-alarmed-and-outraged-by-north-koreas-missile-test

Japan trade: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/world/asia/japan-trump-tariffs-trade-.html & https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/18/world/asia/japan-trump-tariffs-wto-.html

President Moon, Nobel Prize: http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-deserves-nobel-peace-prize-for-north-korea-work-sks-moon-2018-4

China, muslims: https://www.economist.com/briefing/2018/05/31/china-has-turned-xinjiang-into-a-police-state-like-no-other

China, migrant workers: https://www.economist.com/china/2018/05/03/in-chinas-cities-young-people-with-rural-ties-are-angry

Combined GDP: http://statisticstimes.com/economy/countries-by-projected-gdp.php (contains link to IMF report)

Welcome

Hello and welcome. My name is Benton Walters and I am the founder of the US-East Asian Relations blog.

This blog will feature works dedicated to the political, economic, social, and cultural ties between the United States and East Asia, namely China, Japan, North and South Korea, and Taiwan. The purpose will be to educate the readers on matters pertaining to the relationship these countries share, garner interest in the countries themselves, and inspire discussion about issues.

I actively encourage you, my reader, to comment and share your ideas and opinions, but also to make requests. If there is something you wish to know more about, or a story you would like me to discuss, please contact me. I cannot promise that every request will be taken, for example, if you ask me to write on the history of mochi, I will more than likely, decline. However, please don’t let this discourage you as I am very interested in hearing from you and I know that there will always be something I miss, even on my best days. So please, if there’s something you would like me to look into and write on, send me a request. I will try to answer requests on a first come first serve basis, but I reserve the right to do things out of order if something piques my interest.

With all that said, welcome. I look forward to hearing from you.