Predictions for 2017 in a Nutshell: Asia-Pacific
To say that 2016 was eventful would be an understatement. There probably isn't a word to describe the shenanigans that occurred this crazy year. With the Brexit, the Italian referendum, the death of Fidel Castro, the brutality of the wars in the Middle East, Chinese expansionism in East Asia, the migrant crisis in Europe as well as others, none compared to the United States election. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was one of the most unpredictable events ever to take place in our nation. Our nation and global affairs will begin to take a dramatic shift from the policies and agenda that occurred under the eight years of the Obama Administration — a shift that is desperately needed, as our current Commander in Chief has done more harm than good on the world stage.
Tensions in East Asia have boiled in the last year, particularly to one behemoth nation in the region who is of the belief that their territorial control just isn't large enough: China. In the last decade since China's economy took off, the nation has expanded the size of its military as well as its technological capabilities. In particular, the Chinese have pushed the limits of their territorial control with claims to the South China Sea. In their expansion, the Chinese have dredged sand from the bottom of the sea to build man made islands with military installations and airstrips. These unwarranted and aggressive actions have led to the ire of many of China's neighbors, who have stepped up their military capabilities in response. Japan, last year passed legislation that allowed it to fully utilize its military in non-defensive measures. This issue was extensively covered in an article from the Millennial Review in September. Following this, it has joined the US Navy in conducting freedom of navigation patrols to ensure that China does not take claim to anymore islands and trade routes that are in international waters. In the last year, President Obama has expanded his Pivot to Asia and has included the freedom of navigation patrols with allied nations in order to contain China's expansion. Presumably, President Trump will continue to expand the freedom of navigation patrols with Australia, Japan and other nations in the region, which will put more pressure on the Chinese for their unwarranted actions.
Relations between the US and Taiwan also seem to be taking a turn. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People's Republic of China, as it seemed that China was a growing power that would be representing the Chinese people for the foreseeable future, and Taiwan was nothing but a remnant of a former Chinese Government that had no significant diplomatic or military sway in international affairs. Until now, the United States has maintained unofficial support for Taiwan by ensuring their protection and by maintaining an unofficial diplomatic office in Taipei, the nation's capital. In addition to this, the United States has also supplied Taiwan with military equipment and weaponry, as recently as last December, when the Obama Administration sold $1.83 billion worth of arms to the island nation. Late last month President-Elect Donald Trump received a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen, who wanted to congratulate him on his election victory.
This phone call was unprecedented as it was the first time since 1979 that a President or President-Elect has directly spoken to a Taiwanese President. The response from China was unsurprising. Their Foreign Ministry claimed that Trump was jeopardizing the One-China Policy and stability in the region by conversing with President Wen. In reality, it is the Chinese Government that is jeopardizing stability by maintaining their half a century old claim on a nation that has been self governing since 1949.
It seems that Trump will be using this new found relationship as a bargaining chip with the Chinese to pressure them on their unfair trade practices and their aggressive foreign policy. It is yet to be seen as to what steps will be taken by the incoming Trump Administration in regards to the relationship with Taiwan, but Trump's rhetoric towards China has been quite adversarial and he seems to be taking strategic steps to keep them in check.
Another development in this area is the appointment of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as Ambassador to China. Branstad's close personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping can be used to calm the waters if any tension arises between the Presidents of the two powerful nations. This appointment may prove to be essential in ensuring a stable relationship with China while containing its territorial expansion and attempts to dominate the global economy.
The election of Rodrigo Duterte as President of the Philippines may also prove to be a detriment to the stability of the Asia-Pacific Region. His actions and policies can be seen more thoroughly in an article published by the Millennial Review here. Duterte has taken a sharp turn away from his predecessor's policies and has essentially cut ties with the United States and has turned to China for assistance. In addition to this, he has ended joint US-Philippines military exercises. In addition to this the Philippines has cancelled joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea, presumably due to Duterte's new found relationship with China.
Duterte has been particularly hostile towards President Obama, mainly due to the United States President and his officials consistently condemning Duterte's brutal crackdown on drugs, which has killed over 6,200 people from both legitimate police forces and vigilante squads. Duterte's position towards Trump, however seems to be somewhat more compromising. On Friday, December 7th, Rodrigo Duterte reportedly called President-Elect Trump congratulating him on his election victory. According to Duterte, Trump praised his Drug crackdown and invited him to visit the White House, something that the Trump team has yet to confirm. If Trump did indeed say this to Duterte, it may be a clever move to woo Duterte back over to the United States sphere of influence and away from China. Time will tell, but it seems that the incoming administration will be taking a more conciliatory tone towards the Philippines' new President in order to maintain the longstanding alliance between the two countries.
The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most vitally important areas in the world in regards to trade and economic growth. It is essential that the relative stability that has been achieved since the end of the Vietnam War is maintained. While there are many issues that are to take note of in the Asia-Pacific, China is the elephant in the room that threatens the region's stability. Its imperialistic actions jeopardize global trade and the national sovereignty of nations in the region. Obama's Pivot to Asia and freedom of navigation patrols was one of the few good foreign policies that our outgoing President has put forward.
However, it wasn't nearly tough enough. Trump will undoubtedly continue the Pivot to Asia in his own manner, but it will have more teeth. A lot is at stake in 2017 for the Asia-Pacific region. Hopefully the next Presidential administration will take the right steps to ensure regional and economic stability.