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Letter from the Editors
The bull has entered the China shop. While US President Donald Trump’s preoccupation with what he sees as unfair trade agreements and practices was a staple of his campaign for office, few expected him to pursue those concerns with the vigor and vitriol now on display. After the recent G-7 summit, where Trump found himself roundly isolated by US allies for his tough stance on steel and aluminum tariffs, as well as other trade issues, the very future of the rules-based trade order that the US was instrumental in creating after the Second World War seems in question.
In our cover package, we examine how Northeast Asia’s major nations are grappling with challenges posed by Trump’s unorthodox approach to trade. China figures prominently, as it runs by far the largest trade surplus with the US. As predicted in these pages last year, Trump is proving a “transactional president,” seeking with Beijing to cobble together a package of concessions not aimed at adhering to any broad, multilateral framework, but rather to extract benefits that will hasten a narrowing of the US trade deficit. Beijing is thus faced with unwelcome pressure to address US concerns without appearing to surrender China’s growing influence on the debate about global rules and norms, including those involving trade.
Japan is also grappling with Trump’s new bilateral approach, fending off calls to negotiate a US-Japan free-trade agreement and US threats of steep tariffs on Japanese auto imports. For many in Tokyo, the struggle with Trump’s demands harks back to the 1980s and early 1990s, when the US sought voluntary import restraints that, in effect, violated the prevailing global trade rules. But Tokyo is also pushing ahead in its new leadership role in the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership(TTP) trade accord, from which Trump withdrew the US in his first week in office, and hoping eventually to persuade the US to rejoin.
South Korea, for its part, has already succeeded in cutting a deal with the US after Washington demanded a renegotiation of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). Seoul’s example could prove instructive in how to handle Trump’s transactional and bilateral approach to trade.
Elsewhere in this issue, our Features section looks at the historic North Korea-South Korea summit in April and Trump-Kim summit in Singapore in June; why the argument that China presents a new, alternative authoritarian model for the world is a myth; what Malaysia needs to do, now that it has ousted the party that ruled it for 60 years; the challenges of regulating cryptocurrencies in Asia; the importance of Australia-South Korea relations; and what fiction-writing in North Korea reveals about Kim Jong Un and his rule.
Our In Focus section takes an in-depth look at the renewed role for Europe in Asian security in the face of the growing US -China rivalry for influence in the region. Europe’s relevance to security issues in Asia receded after the end of the Cold War, but new opportunities for European engagement are now emerging.
In addition, we feature an expanded book review section in this issue, focusing as always on some of the most engaging works on Asia.
Walter C. Clemens, Jr
07 Feb 2018 - North Korea now deigns to take part in the Winter Olympics. Its rulers may again be ready to negotiate—not only with South Korea but also with the United States. Claiming that it now has the means to deter an American attack, Pyongyang exudes confidence that it can counter threats by the US and its South Korean ally. US Ambassador Nikki Haley complains that North Korea is “obses… Read full post
05 Dec 2017 - The recent electoral victory of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-Komeito coalition has brought down the curtains -- at least for now -- on a period of political flux and uncertainty in the country’s political landscape. In the run-up to the elections held on Oct. 22, the Abe government had been plagued by a series of scandals and g… Read full post
20 Sep 2017 - The Malabar 2017 naval exercises were held in the Bay of Bengal during July 10-17 with participation from the Indian, US and Japanese navies to “increase interoperability amongst the three navies as well as to develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.”1 Although the Malabar started out as bilateral exercises between India and the US back in 19… Read full post
06 Sep 2017 - Amid the growing anxiety generated by North Korea’s recent missile tests and its dramatic sixth nuclear test, the Trump administration is grappling with the challenge of finding a proportionate response. Somehow, it needs to simultaneously punish the North for its continuing provocations, slow down and ultimately reverse Kim Jong-un’s WMD modernization program, and ensure that t… Read full post
Robert E. McCoy
25 Aug 2017 - Much has been made of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s desire to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), the special industrial zone set up in 2002 in North Korea where South Korean businesses could operate using workers from the North. As most readers will recall, Moon’s predecessor shut down the KIC in February 2016 in response to an earlier North Korean nuclear test … Read full post
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