PacNet #27 – Comparative Connections Summary- May 2020 Issue

Pacnet image.jpg
here

COMPARATIVE CONNECTIONS SUMMARY- MAY 2020 ISSUE

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

THE PANDEMIC SPREADS AND THE WORLD RESPONDS

BY RALPH COSSA, PACIFIC FORUM & BRAD GLOSSERMAN, TAMA UNIVERSITY CRS/PACIFIC FORUM

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged the international community’s ability to respond, and looks to take a heavy and enduring toll on the global economy. International focus on the pandemic should not cause us to overlook other significant events: increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and toward Hong Kong and Taiwan, growing China-Australia tensions, the non-summit between President Trump and ASEAN leaders, South Korean elections, and a dispute over host nation support which raised questions about the ROK-US alliance. Meanwhile, the disappearance of Kim Jong Un from the public eye raised questions about how prepared the world is for dealing with a sudden leadership change on the Korean Peninsula.

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

COVID-19 OVERTAKES JAPAN AND THE UNITED STATES

BY SHEILA A. SMITH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & CHARLES MCCLEAN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO

It took time for Tokyo and Washington to understand the scope of the COVID-19 crisis, as the virus continues to spread in both Japan and the United States. The routine that would normally define US-Japan relations has been set aside, but it is too early to draw inferences about what this pandemic might mean for the relationship, for Asia, or indeed for the world. At the very least, the disease confounded plans in the United States and Japan for 2020. COVID-19 upended the carefully developed agenda for post-Abe leadership transitions in Japan and threw President Trump, already campaigning for re-election in the November presidential race, into a chaotic scramble to cope with the worst crisis in a century.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

US-CHINA RELATIONS HIT NEW LOWS AMID PANDEMIC

BY BONNIE GLASER, CSIS & KELLY FLAHERTY, CSIS

The COVID-19 virus sent US-China relations into a tailspin as 2020 opened. Recriminations flew over who was responsible for the virus that killed hundreds of thousands of people and brought economic activity to a halt. The Trump administration took a series of measures against Chinese media organizations and journalists in the United States, which provoked Beijing to expel US journalists working in China. The Phase 1 trade deal was signed, and some tariffs were lifted, though the COVID-19 outbreak hampered China’s ability to purchase the promised amount of US goods and services. With the 2020 US presidential election picking up speed, Trump campaign strategists are actively targeting China.

US-KOREA RELATIONS

FAILING TO FIND COMMON CAUSE

BY ROB YORK, PACIFIC FORUM & HARRY KAZIANIS, CENTER FOR NATIONAL INTEREST

The US impasse with both Koreas carried over into 2020, with little official contact with North Korea and negotiations with South Korea over troop burden-sharing going into overtime. The global pandemic forced all three governments to make sharp adjustments, with President Trump reaching out to both Seoul and Pyongyang to either offer or solicit assistance. But in both cases, the rifts appear too deep to forget, even in the face of a shared catastrophe like COVID-19.

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

FIGHTING THE PANDEMIC, ASEAN BRACES FOR ECONOMIC PAIN

BY CATHARIN DALPINO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Many Southeast Asian countries’ growth rates have been stripped to near zero by COVID-19, and leaders expect a crisis that could exceed that of the Asian Financial Crisis. The pandemic defined Southeast Asia’s diplomatic relations from March, with high-level meetings moved to video conferences. The US-ASEAN summit, scheduled for March 24, was postponed but no new date has been announced. With US elections ramping up and questions about the COVID-19 pandemic outstanding, a 2020 US-ASEAN summit appears unlikely.

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

FROM LOW PRIORITY TO HIGH TENSIONS

BY ROBERT SUTTER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY & CHIN-HAO HUANG, YALE-NUS COLLEGE

For most of the first four months of 2020, China’s generally low priority treatment of Southeast Asia featured cooperation on the coronavirus, standard treatment of South China Sea issues, and a visit by Xi Jinping to Myanmar. However, April saw tensions rise in the South China Sea, with an increase in US criticism of Chinese actions and US military moves against Chinese challenges as well as Chinese initiatives and ongoing provocations.

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

CORONAVIRUS EMBITTERS CROSS-STRAIT RELATIONS

BY DAVID G. BROWN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES & KYLE CHURCHMAN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

After President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and her Democratic Progressive Party retained its legislative majority, COVID-19 dominated the news, further embittered cross-strait relations, and provoked a sharp confrontation over Taiwan’s involvement in the World Health Organization. Beijing conducted more military operations near the island in response to concern that Taiwan is pushing independence, and the Trump and Tsai administrations strengthened ties. The opposition Kuomintang chose a younger, reform-minded leader following the latest in a series of defeats.

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

TESTING TIMES

BY AIDAN FOSTER-CARTER, LEEDS UNIVERSITY, UK

Inter-Korean relations stayed frozen in the early part of 2020. ROK President Moon Jae-in’s outreach was hardly reciprocated by Kim Jong Un, whose sister snapped back when Seoul mildly criticized Pyongyang’s missile launches in March. For both Koreas the challenge of COVID-19 was overwhelming, yet the North refused any cooperation on this. In April Moon’s liberal party scored a big win in parliamentary elections; two DPRK defectors gained seats for the conservative opposition. Kim caused a global media frenzy by briefly vanishing from view. Moon has less than two years left in office, so Kim’s shunning of him looks short-sighted.

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS UNDER QUARANTINE

SCOTT SNYDER, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS & SEE-WON BYUN, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY

The outbreak of COVID-19, first in China and then in South Korea, placed plans for a highly anticipated summit between Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in on hold. Beijing and Seoul’s priorities focused on fighting the virus together through aid exchanges, a new inter-agency mechanism led by their foreign ministries, and multilateral cooperation with Japan and ASEAN. As cases spread across borders, political frictions emerged over entry bans and relief supplies. The public health crisis triggered efforts to mitigate its socioeconomic repercussions, raising questions over  long-term US influence. The virus also dramatically interrupted the normal diplomatic and economic interactions between China and North Korea.

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

SINO-JAPANESE RELATIONS: IN A HOLDING PATTERN

BY JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

Politically, the major news in Japan-China relations was that Xi Jinping’s long-anticipated state visit was postponed. While the coronavirus was a factor, the two sides had also been unable to agree on the text of the Fourth Communiqué, and there was considerable opposition within Japan to the visit due to issues between them. Several major Japanese companies announced major investments in the People’s Republic of China, even as the Japanese government agreed to subsidize companies to move their supply chains out of the country.

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

PRAGMATIC STABILITY, LATENT TENSIONS

BY MINTARO OBA, WEST WING WRITERS & JI-YOUNG LEE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

In the first months of 2020, Japan and South Korea maintained pragmatic stability despite a brief flare-up over travel restrictions. The need to prioritize recovery from COVID-19 pushed both countries to focus on domestic issues. With the landslide victory of the ruling Democratic Party in April parliamentary elections in South Korea, it is not likely that Seoul’s approach to bilateral disputes with Tokyo will undergo fundamental change anytime soon. With the US presidential election six months away, stalemate in US-South Korea military cost-sharing talks and volatility surrounding North Korea form an important backdrop to uncertainties in the South Korea-Japan bilateral relationship. By September, we may know whether it is pragmatic stability or latent tension that is the defining force in South Korea-Japan relations in 2020.

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

ENDING STRATEGIC DISTANCING IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

BY YU BIN, WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY

In the first four months of 2020, as COVID-19 raged throughout the world, Russia and China increased, and even intensified, their diplomatic interactions, mutual support, and strategic coordination. Patience for maintaining an informal entente, rather than an alliance, seemed to be running thin. This happened even as the city of Moscow’s own brief “Chinese exclusion” policy evoked sharp dissonance in China’s public space. These developments occurred against the backdrop of a Middle East crisis and political shakeup in Russia. As the rest of the world sank into a state of despair, disconnect, and devastation, the two large powers moved visibly toward each other amid an increasing backlash from the US, particularly regarding China’s early actions in the pandemic.

JAPAN-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

GREAT DISRUPTION: UNCERTAINTY OVER THE INDO-PACIFIC

BY KEI KOGA, NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY

Japan and Southeast Asia faced completely different situations in 2019 and 2020 because of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Japan-Southeast Asia relations were continuously positive. One of the major developments among Southeast Asian states was the creation of the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” (AOIP) which resonated with the principles in Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) concept. As a result, Japan expressed explicit support for AOIP. Functionally, they made progress, particularly in the fields of defense, infrastructure development, and digital, as illustrated by various Japanese initiatives—“Vientiane Vision2.0,” “Initiative on Overseas Loan and Investment for ASEAN,” and “Data Free Flow with Trust.” As such, both Japan and Southeast Asian states began to synthesize their respective visions of the Indo-Pacific and to establish concrete cooperative mechanisms. Diplomatic momentum was put on halt in 2020 as COVID-19 spread. While Japan, Southeast Asian states, and ASEAN made efforts to coordinate counter-measures, share information and best practices, and provide mutual assistance through teleconferences such as the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 in April 2020, each state faces different social and political situations, making it difficult to cooperate. As such, great uncertainty looms over Japan-Southeast Asia cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #1 – Comparative Connections Summary: January 2020

Pacnet image.jpg
here

REGIONAL OVERVIEW

Most Questions Remain Unanswered as 2019 Stutters to a Close

By Ralph Cossa, Pacific Forum & Brad Glosserman, Tama University CRS/Pacific Forum

The final trimester of the year is usually a time for Asian multilateralism to take center stage; this year, not so much. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting, which was supposed to take place in Chile, was cancelled (due to civil disturbances in the host country) while the East Asia Summit (EAS) proceeded without either US President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence (his normal stand-in) in attendance. Regional economic developments (and US trade actions impacting the broader Indo-Asia-Pacific region) grabbed the headlines instead. Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) participants gathered along the EAS sidelines to finalize their trade agreement, sans India, which balked at the last minute. Meanwhile, the White House and US House of Representatives, while locked in a battle over impeachment, nonetheless reached common ground on the US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) while the administration announced a “phase one” trade deal with Beijing. There appears to be less than meets the eye in both agreements, but each impacts the region writ large. Finally, not to be overshadowed, the State Department issued its own explanation of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy, complementing the Pentagon’s version, which was analyzed in our last issue.

 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS

The Finale for Abe-Trump Alliance Management?

By Sheila A. Smith, Council on Foreign Relations & Charles McClean, University of California, San Diego

The highlight of 2019 was undoubtedly the US-Japan trade deal. It was two years in the making, but in September, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and US President Donald Trump concluded their much-anticipated trade agreement, ending a worrisome source of dissonance in the relationship. Two focal points characterized this first step in resolving trade frictions: market access in Japan for US agricultural goods and a new set of rules for digital trade. However, Abe got some pushback at home, and the Trump administration cautioned that this was just the first step to redressing the deficit.

 

US-CHINA RELATIONS

“Phase One” Trade Deal Reached, but Unlikely to Defuse Tensions

By Bonnie Glaser, CSIS & Kelly Flaherty, CSIS

The US and China reached a “phase one” trade deal that includes low-hanging fruit and postpones contentious issues. Sources of friction in the bilateral relationship included President Donald Trump’s signing into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, US Navy operations enforcing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, US support for Taiwan, and China’s arbitrary detention of Xinjiang Uighurs in internment camps. A tweet by the NBA’s Houston Rockets general manager supporting protesters in Hong Kong triggered an unexpected controversy. Top US and Chinese defense leaders met on the margins of the ASEAN Defense Minister’s Meeting-Plus in Bangkok and a joint humanitarian rescue and disaster relief exercise took place in Hawaii. The US continued to take measures to crack down on Chinese espionage.

 

US-KOREA RELATIONS

Gaps Widen, Tensions Rise

By Stephen Noerper, Korea Society and Columbia University

US footing on the Korean Peninsula grew less firm as both Koreas resisted moves by Washington. The initial White House call for an increase in annual South Korean host-nation support (HNS) for US Forces in Korea to $5 billion was met with incredulity among the Republic of Korea’s officials and public. By yearend, there were media reports of a lowering of the US ask and agreement by Seoul to arms purchases, but the challenge of finalizing the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) and a residue of resentment remained. Seoul, too, was unhappy with Washington’s lack of progress with Pyongyang, a foil to President Moon Jae-in’s peace ambitions.

North Korea raised its stakes higher, rejecting diplomatic overtures by the United States and its “hostile policy,” disregarding curtailment of US-ROK military exercises, and testing 27 short range ballistic missiles, as well as multiple rocket launchers and engines, between May and the end of the year. December saw activity at the once-decommissioned Sohae Launch Facility. At year’s close, Kim Jong Un declared abandonment of North Korea’s long-range missile and nuclear testing moratorium, expectations of continued sanctions and renewed “self-reliance,” and the promise of a “new strategic weapon.”

 

US-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS RELATIONS

Engagement in Absentia? ASEAN Worries over Lack of US Attention

By Catharin Dalpino, Georgetown University

Stung by a US delegation to the East Asia Summit of lower rank than previous years, ASEAN leaders retaliated by presenting National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien with a partial boycott of the adjacent US-ASEAN Summit. The Trump administration brushed off the incident with a State Department fact sheet that began, “US engagement with the ten member states of ASEAN has never been stronger.”

 

CHINA-SOUTHEAST ASIA RELATIONS

Beijing Leads Regional Agenda, Rejects US Challenges

By Robert Sutter, George Washington University & Chin-Hao Huang, Yale-NUS College

The annual heads of government regional meetings convened by ASEAN leaders in Bangkok, topped by the 14th East Asian summit on Nov. 4, saw Beijing’s leaders set the pace for slow-moving negotiations on a China-ASEAN Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. They also celebrated the conclusion of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade accord that excludes the United States.

 

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

Election Portends Continued Tension

By David G. Brown, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies & Kyle Churchman, Johns Hopkins University

President Tsai Ing-wen triumphed over her populist Kuomintang (KMT) opponent Han Kuo-yu in Taiwan’s January 11, 2020 presidential election, garnering 57.1% of the vote to Han’s 38.6%. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also retained its majority in the Legislative Yuan (LY), albeit with the loss of some seats to the KMT and third parties. While there has been considerable attention to Beijing’s influence operations, the election illustrated Beijing’s limited ability to manipulate Taiwan elections. The outcome portends continued deadlock and tension in cross-strait relations in the coming months. Meanwhile, Taipei and Washington have strengthened ties by launching a series of bilateral and multilateral cooperative projects, intended in part to counter both Beijing’s influence operations and its continuing diplomatic, economic, and military pressures on Taiwan.

 

NORTH KOREA-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS

Still Nothing Doing

By Aidan Foster-Carter, Leeds University, UK

2019 was a bad year between the two Koreas, undoing advances made in 2018. North Korea eschewed contact with the South, while continuing with weapons tests, which the South finally protested in November. In a pattern of negativism, Pyongyang hosted (because it had to) a most unsporting inter-Korean soccer match. Both states were hit by swine fever, yet the North refused help from or to share data with the South. In a policy U-turn, Kim Jong Un told South Korea not to revive Mt. Kumgang tourism, but to come and take away its “shabby” and “ugly” facilities built there. Seoul’s stance on the North’s human rights attracted criticism. Yet President Moon Jae-in remained strangely upbeat. His New Year address reiterated a broad agenda for cooperation—whereas a big speech by Kim ignored the South completely. 2020 is unlikely to see any improvement.

 

CHINA-KOREA RELATIONS

Nuclear Weapons Cloud 70 Years of Friendship

By See-Won Byun, San Francisco State University

North Korea conducted five rounds of missile launches in this period as prospects for resuming dialogue with Washington dwindled. Although People’s Republic of China State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Pyongyang’s diplomatic efforts during his September visit to the North, US-DPRK talks in October made no progress. The nuclear impasse loomed over 70th anniversary celebrations of China-DPRK diplomatic ties, highlighting the expanding friendship Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un envisioned last June. Amid concerns over escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Beijing and Moscow proposed a draft UN resolution in December calling for the partial lifting of sanctions.

For their part, Beijing and Seoul advanced their strategic partnership through talks between Xi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the China-ROK-Japan summit in December, Wang’s visit to Seoul earlier that month, and the resumption of defense talks in October. But Moon’s latest China visit drew much domestic criticism for failing to secure Beijing’s cooperation on bilateral and regional priorities. Wang’s December visit to Seoul, meanwhile, was most remembered for his attacks on US “unilateralism” and “bullying.” US-China trade tensions and public clashes over Hong Kong present new challenges for the China-ROK partnership.

 

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS

Speaking Softly but Planning for the Worst

By June Teufel-Dreyer, University of Miami

As Tokyo continued to press unsuccessfully for a date on Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan, frictions continued on matters such as the number of Japanese nationals detained in China, human rights concerns involving Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and Japan’s tentative reaction to participation in both the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Belt and its Road Initiative. Trade relations remained strong despite declining economic growth in China and near stagnation in Japan, with both sides continuing to enhance their defense capabilities.

JAPAN-KOREA RELATIONS

Thaws and Tremors

By Ji-Young Lee, American University & Mintaro Oba, West Wing Writers

If relations between Japan and South Korea were defined by “cold economics, cold politics” through the summer of 2019 (as we described it in the September issue of Comparative Connections), South Korea-Japan ties at the end of 2019 had begun a tentative thaw. Tensions between the two countries have fallen in the waning months of 2019 from their peak in the summer, when Japan imposed export restrictions on South Korea and Seoul Korea indicated its intent to withdraw from the General Security of Military Information Sharing Agreement (GSOMIA). Following a comparatively quiet but tense period in September and October, both countries took de-escalatory steps starting in November—most notably South Korea’s conditional decision not to withdraw from GSOMIA after all—that improved the atmosphere and created space for diplomacy.

 

CHINA-RUSSIA RELATIONS

The Art and Agony of Avoiding an Alliance

By Yu Bin, Wittenberg University

In the last four months of 2019, Beijing and Moscow continued to broaden and deepen their strategic partnership across political, economic, diplomatic, and security areas with some visible outcomes: the 3,000-km, 38-bcm “Power of Siberia” gas line went into operation and the cross-border rail and road bridges were finally completed after decades of endless negotiations and delays. While Chinese and Russian top leaders jointly steered the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS through challenging times, it was in military relations that breakthroughs were made.

This included Russia’s assistance in the construction of a missile attack early-warning system for China, China’s participation in Russia’s Center-2019 large-scale exercises, and the first joint naval exercises with Iran in the last few days of 2019. These developments took place amid continuous discussion on both sides about the nature, scope, and degree of an “alliance” relationship, formal or not, in an increasingly fluid and challenging world. With the rapidly deteriorating Iran-US relations at the onset of the new decade, it remains to be seen how Moscow and Beijing can keep their “best ever” relationship short of moving to a formal alliance, a state of affairs they have been trying to avoid for years.

 

INDIA-EAST ASIA RELATIONS

Domestic Distractions Disrupt, but Not Derail, India’s Engagement

By Satu Limaye, East-West Center

India’s 2019 interactions with the Indo-Pacific were active if measured by diplomatic outreach and defense engagements, but ended with two “whimpers” rather than “bangs.” The first was the decision to drop out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), announced at the ASEAN-convened summits in Bangkok in November. Until the announcement, India seemed ready to join the agreement. The second was the postponement of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s scheduled trip to Assam and Manipur states in northeast India for an annual exchange of prime ministerial visits. The postponement was reportedly decided after discussions between the two governments in the wake of violence against the Indian government’s controversial citizenship bill. The two unrelated developments did speak to two common themes: the first being the limits of India’s East Asia relations, and the second the occasional interruption, by domestic drivers, of India’s continued upward (if not steep) trajectory in relations with the Indo-Pacific region.

 

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.