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US Presidential Election 2016: The Asian Angle, Day 1

Nov. 7, 2016

There's only one more day to go until the US Presidential Election. Welcome to Newsroom Tokyo. I am Sho Beppu in Washington, DC.

While American voters are nearing the final stage of deciding their new leader, people around the world are wondering what impact the next president’s policies may have on their countries and regions.

Over the next 3 days, we will analyze the election from an Asian perspective. Today, we focus on the 2 candidates’ policies for Asia.

After 8 years, Barack Obama’s presidency is nearing an end, and people and government leaders in Asia are waiting to learn what will happen to the Asian Pivot policies that his administration has been promoting.

The US is engaged in Asia economically and militarily through various agreements with Asian allies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. On the other hand, it is facing a challenge from China’s growing assertiveness.

Asia has so much at stake with the next American leader’s policies and that’s why we decided to bring you this special 3 day coverage.

In fact, the two main candidates differ enormously in their policies and their Asian policies are no exception. The race is extremely tight and it’s hard to predict the outcome.


Campaign Down to the Wire

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has cleared Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing in its latest email probe. The FBI last month reopened its case on her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

But officials say they found no evidence of criminality.

"We're glad to see this matter is resolved," said Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was quick to respond from the campaign trail.

"Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it. And now it's up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box on November 8th," Trump said.

On Saturday, Trump visited 4 states. He is locked in a tight race there with his Democratic rival.

"Hillary Clinton has all of these celebrities and failed politicians out campaigning for her, and she has crowds so much smaller than ours. I just have me, but I have my family," Trump said in a speech to his supporters.

Clinton told a crowd in the state of Florida that she visited 112 countries when she was secretary of state and that she has stood up for the rights of women, workers and members of the LGBT community.

"I want to be the president for everybody. Everybody who agrees with me, people who vote for me people who do not vote for me," Clinton said. "So let's get out let's vote for the future, let's vote for what we, for our country and our children and our grandchildren. God bless you."

As of Sunday, nationwide opinion polls showed Clinton had a narrow lead of 1.8 percentage points.


Opposing Views on Asian Alliances

We will start by analyzing the American candidates’ positions on how to deal with their Asian allies. Their remarks on this subject have attracted a lot of attention from the early stages of the campaign.

More precisely, people and governments in Asia lifted their eyebrows at this remark by Trump.

"They do not pay us what they should be paying us because we are providing tremendous service and were losing a fortune.... They may have to defend themselves or they may have to help us out."
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

So, what is behind this remark? Professor William Keylor, an expert on history and international relations at Boston University, says that, despite the rhetoric that might sound extreme, some of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements are fully compatible with the thinking of respectable schools of thought on the question of America’s role in the world.

Keylor: I think that he was emphasizing the fact that the most of America’s allies, both in Europe and in Asia, are from his point of view, do not pay their fair share of the burden.... I don’t think he knows much about Japan’s contribution, but he certainly has included Japan and South Korea in that analysis. From his point of view, the American economy is in difficult shape. I personally believe that he is exaggerating the difficulties that the United States faces economically, but he has said this over and over again. And he has appealed particularly to those people in the United States who have lost jobs and who are frustrated that they understand that the America’s allies are receiving all of this ― all of this financial assistance, they are not getting anything.

"I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America's word be good.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

Evan Medeiros, Managing Director, Asia, Eurasia Group, served as senior director for Asian affairs at the White House’s National Security Council until he stepped down from the post last year. I asked him about Clinton’s positions.

Medeiros: Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, and now as a candidate for president, has been a very strong, and very consistent supporter of US allies, and that begins with Japan, and of course it includes the ROK (South Korea), Australia, and other US allies. She understands that our alliances are the foundation of US presence and influence in Asia Pacific that they are critical to protecting US security interest and promoting US economic interest.

Beppu: But would it be more asking of sharing burdens financially, or in terms of the role that the country should play, when Hillary Clinton becomes president?

Medeiros: I think the United States right now, recognizes that there is a good equitable balance under the Obama administration. And I would expect the Hillary Clinton administration to continue with that approach. That doesn’t mean no burden-sharing. It just means making sure that the balance is equitable, eventually beneficial to both sides.


Obama's Asia Pivot

The candidates' contrasting views about America and its Asian allies can be seen as a reflection of their different views on the Obama administration’s pivot towards Asia.

Clinton is widely seen as a promoter of the rebalance while Trump is basically calling for it to be amended. Let’s now take a look at how Obama has been pursuing his Asia policies.

In November 2011, US President Barack Obama announced a major foreign policy shift. He had inherited 2 unpopular wars from the Bush administration, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"As a president, I've therefore made a delivered and strategic decision. As a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role and shaping this region and its future," Obama said.

At about the same time, Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, released an article titled "America's Pacific Century."

"The United States stands at a pivot point," it reads. "One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment -- diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise -- in the Asia-Pacific region."

The initiative became known as the "Asia Pivot Strategy." The US planned to shift US military resources from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region while strengthening ties with countries in the region. The US also hoped to incorporate the economies of the ever-growing Asian markets into a single entity.

Fumiaki Kubo, a professor at the University of Tokyo, says Obama's decision to implement the pivot was prompted by China's increasing presence in the region.

"I guess that there was a sense in United States that the United States spent too many resources on Middle East," Kubo says. "Then you were seeing the emergence of china as a second-largest economy in 2010. So what would you do? I think the core element of rebalance, first called the pivot to Asia, was to reallocate the resources and establish the national security and foreign policy posture to deal with Asia on a stable basis."

Five years have since passed, and questions remain about the status of the pivot. Chinese state-owned vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Japan controls the islands. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. China and Taiwan claim them.

In the South China Sea, China lays claim to most of the area. It's built a number of artificial islands with facilities on them that are believed to be for military use.

"The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," said US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, "and the South China Sea is not, and will not be an exception."

The US government doesn't recognize China's claim to the South China Sea. Last year, it began conducting freedom of navigation operations that brought its warships within a 12-nautical-mile zone around the artificial islands.

But China continues its maritime activities in the region.

"There was probably some disappointment among the United States' allies and partners when they saw Mr. Obama was little bit soft on China. Mr. Obama was eager to seek cooperation with China on some issues like on dealing with North Korea or climate change, which is a very important policy for Mr. Obama and his supporters. So he was not very decisive in dealing with the new and rising China, whose military activities in South China Sea are getting more and more active," Kubo says.

In recent years, North Korea has repeatedly conducted nuclear tests and launched ballistic missiles. The US has been urging China to use its leverage with the country, but the situation hasn't improved at all.

On the economic front, Obama has been pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, in the hope of establishing a free-trade zone in the region. Twelve countries reached broad agreement on the TPP last year, but it remains unknown whether the US Congress will approve it.

The future of the US pivot toward the Asia-Pacific will soon be in the hands of a new administration. The next president of the United States will face numerous challenges in designing a fresh strategy for the Asia region.


Focus on Asian Issues

Now we will see how the 2 candidates differ on these major issues in Asia.

South China Sea

"They are building this massive, massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea. They are not supposed to be doing it, but they are doing it because they don’t respect our president."
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

Keylor:He thinks that China is taking advantage of the United States, is trying to project its power into the South China Sea, and he hasn’t quite indicated what he was going to do about that. So I think that that is a distinct danger, a distinct problem of, for Trump, that is that he continues to criticize China as openly as he has, then the Chinese are going to respond to that presumably by pushing back.

"China's military is growing very quickly. They're establishing military installations that again threaten countries we have treaties with."
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

Medeiros: I think her position on the South China Sea issue has been very, very clear from the beginning. It's been very clear, very consistent, and I would expect the same type of clarity and consistency, you know, on the issue. Secretary Clinton, beginning in 2010, has always been at a forefront of the South China Sea issue. And the issue for the United States really is, how is China going to address these disputed claims? Is it going to use coercion to do so, or is it going to use diplomacy and will China follow the rule of law as a body in UN commission on the law of the sea. And that's the issue.

North Korea

"I would rather see Japan having some form of defense and maybe even offence against North Korea. Wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons? And they do have them, they absolutely have them."
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

Keylor: He doesn’t appreciate the allergy that the Japanese people have toward nuclear power, going back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So I don’t think that he has ever paid attention to that. I think that Trump is simply saying let’s move on from the end of World War II. This is a new world order, and Japan should be capable of defending itself and should not continue to depend on the United States for security, and that means rearmament -- not only military rearmament, but nuclear forces.

Beppu: No concerns about the increase of nuclear powers around the world that could destabilize?

Keylor: If Japan decides to become a nuclear power, and then South Korea does, and then it would be Saudi Arabia, and Egypt will, and we will have dozens of nuclear powers. And clearly that increases the likelihood of an accidental nuclear war or intentional nuclear wars. So I don’t think he has thought that through at all.

"The increasing threat posed by North Korea requires not only a rethinking of the strategy but an urgent effort to convince the neighbors, most particularly China, that this is not just a US issue."
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

Medeiros: I would expect the next president to have higher expectations about China’s ability to contribute to the problem. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are accelerating. They present a greater threat to security instability in the region. So more needs to be done, and China needs to be part of that solution.

Beppu: On the other hand, to make sure that China isn't bullish in the South China Sea, if she becomes president she will need cooperation on 2 different issues, and how would she be compatible in dealing with 2 issues at once?

Medeiros: Well that’s not a new problem. Finding the balance between multiple issues in the US-China relationship -- not just between 2 security issues like North Korea and South China Sea, but also between economic and security issues. It’s part and parcel of the difficulty of managing the U.S.-China relationship, but it can be done.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

"I oppose TPP now, I will oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president because it's one sided and unfair to American workers."
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

Beppu: When Hillary Clinton started to say that she can’t support the TPP, naturally it was met with a big surprise in Japan, for example. What’s behind her changing the position?

Medeiros: I think if she’s elected, one of the first questions is that many of the Asian countries will want to know is "what’s your game plan on TPP?" And I will be very curious to hear her answer. When she was secretary of state, she was one of the most articulate advocates for TPP, articulating both the security logic, as well as the economic logic of TPP. So the question is, how does she find the right balance between the benefits of TPP, which I believe she understands, but also modifying it, changing it in whatever way so it’s acceptable to her view about what serves the American workers, American consumers and American businesses. So as I said, a critical challenge for her, in her Asian policies to begin in, is to be able to articulate her approach to TPP.

Beppu: So, do you think that there is a possibility that she would flip again?

Medeiros: Again, she has said that she does not support it in its current form. So the question is what revisions are necessary. So I think we all need to better understand what that looks like.

"The TPP, as it's known, would be the death blow for American manufacturing."
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

Keylor: It fits a traditional thought, not only in the Republican party but in the Democratic party. If you have followed the campaign of Bernie Sanders, when he gave Hillary Clinton a real run for her money, Bernie Sanders was denouncing the TPP, was denouncing globalization, and was talking about bringing job back to America. And I think that by believing that and by claiming that, he is really appealing to the large section of the American public, particularly those people who are in industries that are on the decline.


Trump Targets Muslims

Among the various controversial remarks Trump has made during the campaign, his proposal to block Muslim immigration was particularly controversial in the United States.

And, that was the case in Asia as well. That's because Asia has a huge Muslim population in countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan.

Trump may have been talking about American domestic policies in terms of national security issues, but his proposal could also have diplomatic implications.

"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States."
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

Keylor: There is a possibility that when he becomes a president that he will institute a ban on refugees from troubled areas, which happen to coincide with a Muslim area or the Islamic areas. I think that it will cause a huge backlash not only within the United States, because it clearly goes against the principles of American democracy, but also what about countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and Pakistan? These are friendly countries, and to be told that your immigrants will not be allowed into the United States because of their religion and only because of their religion, I think is going to cause a real problem with the America’s allies and friends in the Muslim world.

Beppu: As we have been seeing, the outcome of the US Presidential election will have many implications for Asia. Tomorrow, in the second of our 3-part special on the US election as seen from an Asian angle, we will expand our analyses by having two experts join me in our studio in Washington.