We will be continuing with our look at the Asian Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) and focus, this time, on Title I: United States Policy and Diplomatic Strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Beginning at Section 101, part (1). Here, ARIA states that the policy of the United States will be secure the national security interests of itself and its allies and partners. Naturally this garners the question of what happens when the interests of one are not in the interests of the other. For example: South Korea has recently made a move to strength economic cooperation with Russia in what is called the New Northern Policy. This move could not only more greatly tie the two together, but strength the economic power of Russia which, despite any claim of how close President Trump is or is not to Russia, is still viewed in the terms of an adversary by much, if not most of the American government and populous. While there does not appear to be an American backlash in response to this move, that might change in the future.
Part (2) states that it will be policy to promote “American prosperity and economic interests by advancing economic growth and development of a rules-based Indo-Pacific economic community”. Beyond the question of what exactly “American prosperity” is, this piece raises the question of American investment in the region. Will the US government encourage investment in the Indo-Pacific? In Section 102, Parts (B) and (C), it is stated that the US intends to improve relations with allies by: improving information sharing, and increasing defense investment and trade, respectively, so this seems well within the possibility. However, other questions do arise. Does that include North Korea and would that be apart of a deal with the state in exchange for eliminating its nuclear arsenal? Will investment be turned away from China, especially in fields such as AI and cybernetics? If this is the intention of the US it may earn them some good will, but will also raise suspicion.
The bill restates the United States’ commitment to human rights, which, as stated before, will likely cause issues with numerous countries, including: China, North Korea, and the Philippines.
Returning to Section 102, the next major points of interest are points (D) and (E) which state: “(It is the diplomatic strategy of the United States—) to
ensure interoperability; and…to strengthen shared capabilities”. Now, this is another situation where, by itself, it is in no way surprising or outside the norms of strategic policy. Indeed, the statement might be heralded as a move in the right direction of international cooperation and regional stability. However the problem is that the unspoken reality is more complicated. In order to “ensure interoperability” and “strengthen shared capabilities” allies have to be on the same page, something which has already been stated, not to be the case. One key example of this is Trump’s cancellation of the US-South Korean War games, something done in the name of diplomacy with the North Koreans, but which has the Japanese government in a bit of unease.
Continuing on to Part (2), (B), the bill states that the American strategy will be to “strengthen relationships with partners who—… agree with fair and reciprocal trade”. One might view this as an effort to appease or some agreement with, President Trump given his heavy focus on matters of trade and the balance of trade deficits. This seems possible not only because of the common belief that ARIA is meant as a way of ensuring the Trump administration solidifies a strategy in the Indo-Pacific region (for more on that please refer back to Part I of this series, which you can find here), but also due to other findings which will be discussed momentarily. If so, it is important to reiterate the potential of future interbranch conflict in the US government.
Part (3) with it’s statement of American support for “functional problem-solving regional architecture”, comes off as a little hollow given Trump recently failed to attend numerous Indo-Pacific summits, though some may have been glad that Vice President Pence came in his stead.
With regards to part (4) sections (A) and (B) on freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution to maritime disputes, I will simply reiterate the earlier statement that this will likely lead to confrontation with China and a rise in tensions, even if the goal itself, is reasonable.
The bill goes on the reiterate a commitment to the complete denuclearization. If the US is to continue, effectively on this path, a few things should change. One: Japan needs to more fully included in the discussions. As previously stated, Japan is feeling slighted and lost on the front of North Korea. No doubt this anxiety has only increased with Trump’s rhetoric on trade. Japan, as a vital American ally and a nation sitting precariously close to North Korea, they must be brought in on some significant capacity. Though it is important to remember that the North Koreans have signaled this goes against their wishes and made, therefore, earn their ire, so precaution must be taken. In the event that the American delegation in charge of negotiations with North Korea fear that including Japan will derail the talks, it is highly recommended that Japan is made aware that the US takes their position seriously and an explanation is given. Failure to do so will only alienate Japan further.
Moving on to Part (8), ARIA states that it will be the policy of the US to “to pursue multilateral and bilateral trade agreements in a free, fair, and reciprocal manner and…committed to free markets”. This suggests a reversal in the Trump policy on trade, which could again indicate an attempt by Congress to flex its power and limit the executive. Whether they will use this bill in order to exercise that power against the current or future administrations, and in what manner, remains to be seen.
The bill also states that it will be policy to work with countries in the region to “pursue high-quality and transparent infrastructure projects”, which is surely a direct challenge to China’s highly ambitious, Belt and Road Initiatives. Indeed, Vice President Pence, in the previously mentioned summit, took a direct shot at the initiatives and their effects, which was in no way appreciated by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Finally, Title I finishes by stating that it will be American policy “to sustain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthen security relationships with allies and partners throughout the region”. This, again, will cause a confrontation with China, but more importantly, demands a correction of the current situation with allies and partners in the region and thawing the icy streak that has been in place for the last two years or so. Overall, Title I reiterates much of what it stated earlier and findings, and the greatest concerns appear to be centered around future conflict with China and current issues with American relations in the region, neither of which are surprising.
A Closer Look at South Korea’s Plan for Cooperation With Russia,
Valentin Voloshchak, The Diplomat, January 9, 2019
Why China’s AI push is worrying, The Economist, July 27th, 2017
Senator: Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war has killed 20,000, Ted Regencia, Al Jazeera, February 21, 2018
Pentagon suspends ‘war games’ with South Korea after Trump’s meeting with Kim, Dan Lamothe, The Washington Post, June 18, 2018
Mike Pence challenges China at Asia-Pacific economic summit,
Thomas Maresca, USA Today, November 17, 2018