By Sehr Taneja:
The American presidential debates have thus far accounted for four and a half hours of insults, interruptions, personal attacks, and frustrated viewers. Yet, amid this overflow of negativity, there was some room to discuss important foreign policy issues and policies.
With the focus on China, Russia, and the Korean peninsula, there is a lot at stake for Asian countries in this presidential election. With the U.S. ‘pivot to Asia‘, the centrality of the continent in both economic and security matters cannot be ignored. Perhaps, it is worth isolating these instances of foreign policy discussions from the broader debate to analyse what they insinuate and how they would impact the various Asian actors. So, then the question is: who would serve Asia’s interests: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Let’s start with the most daunting threat — the nuclear arsenal of North Korea. The U.S. has over 25,000 troops installed in South Korea to oppose their northern neighbour. Yet, the nuclear menace persists, marked by repeated missile tests and threats from the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.
Passing the buck to China, GOP candidate Donald Trump said in the first debate, “You look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us.” Subtly suggesting that China should invade, Trump said, “China should go into North Korea.”
While his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton made no comments specific to North Korea in either of the debates, her running mate Tim Kaine passingly suggested that she understands that it is important to work alongside China to mitigate the threat from a power like North Korea.
However, following North Korea’s latest missile test, Clinton announced to the press on September 9 that it was imperative to rethink the nuclear strategy of the U.S. in relation to North Korea. She suggested that the U.S. increase sanctions and push China to understand that this is a matter of grave concern, reported the New York Times.
Interestingly, despite stating that China should take charge of the denuclearisation of North Korea, Trump has previously suggested that U.S. troops should not be responsible in South Korea; instead, he thought it a good idea to allow neighboring nations of South Korea and Japan to build their own nuclear weapons. As paradoxical as it is to nuclearise surrounding countries to denuclearise North Korea, it’s Trump’s take on foreign policy.
Trump’s take may definitely be an invitation to two more countries to join the global nuclear group, however, it underestimates the deplorable outcome that could arise from use (or abuse) of nuclear weapons. So, while South Korea and Japan may be enticed by this idea, for the larger good of Asia, Hillary proposes a more rational, diplomatic solution.
On the topic of trade, the trans-pacific partnership is especially important given its impact on the 12 countries involved. It aims to build closer economic ties between members of the trade and affects about 18,000 tariffs, according to BBC.
In the second presidential debate, Trump took a toss at former president Bill Clinton — over his decision to sign the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — and then followed by saying, “And now she (Hillary Clinton) wants to sign TPP, even though she said now she’s for it. She called it the gold standard.”
While Clinton did not directly address the TPP during the debate, she stated that she holds all trade deals to her test: “Will they create jobs in America? Will they raise incomes in America? And are they good for our national security?” However, at the CNN Democratic debate in October 2015, Clinton clarified that while she had hoped the TPP would be of the ‘gold standard‘, once written up, it did not meet her requirements. She highlighted that she now believes that the deal would need to be strengthened in favor of the U.S. or otherwise abandoned.
As an extension to this, a matter of utmost importance was China’s role in the partnership. Trump articulated that he believes that although China is not part of the deal now, it will find a way in. Both candidates expressed concern over China’s dumping strategy that has impacted jobs and currency value in the U.S., having a negative impact on the U.S. economy.
It then appears that Trumps complete opposition to the TPP is met with Hillary’s attempts to strategically modify the deal. While both would harm Asian interests, given the reduction of tariffs on a series of products the deal provides for, Trump by completing clamping down, is sure to be in the less favored view of Asian countries.
With their involvement in the Clinton email controversy and Putin’s announcement of Trump as the “absolute leader in the presidential race,” Russia has a more-than-normal investment in the 2016 presidential elections. The question to consider is Russia’s support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Trump took a defensive stance for Russia, highlighting that Russia and Iran are together fighting ISIS. He further pointed out that Russia’s nuclear capabilities are far more developed than those of the Unites States. With Trump’s recent call to Russia to look up and publicly share Clinton’s emails, the topic of Russia is a particularly controversial one.
On the other hand, Clinton emphasised Russia’s airstrikes that are taking down the city of Aleppo. She stressed the need to get leverage over Russia to bring them to the negotiations table and to find a diplomatic way to effectively take down ISIS.
Russia has long been on the opposite side of U.S. and Trump’s proclivity toward Russia is rather new in the political rhetoric of the country. However, it is important to note Russia’s importance in the global arena with its position as a large and powerful nuclear nation.
For Russia, it appears that Trump would be the winning candidate. However, whether or not the rest of Asia stands with Russia on this is questionable.
There are still other matters that are crucial in this dialogue including China’s assertion of power South China Sea and the controversial role of Pakistan as a hub for terrorism. While the question of Pakistan and other South Asian affairs did not come up in the debates, their importance cannot be denied.
A Normura poll has shown that 32 percent of voters believe that Asia will be most affected by a Trump presidency. From this analysis, it appears that with Trump proposing nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan, demanding higher compensation for military support in South Korea and suggesting an abrupt end to the TPP, . However, with Clinton’s more balanced, negotiation-centred strategy for North Korea, the TPP and Russia, most Asian countries would benefit. Nonetheless, Russia is an opposing case of its own. Now, come November, only the people of America can decide whether the results will swing in favor of Russian desires or larger Asian interests.