Why Taiwan Could (Still) Start World War III

Guam
A B-52 Stratofortress bomber leads a formation of American and Japanese fighter jets in a flight over Guam, February 21, 2011 (USAF/Angelita M. Lawrence)

Surely you know already the tripwire: Taiwan is a de facto country but a de jure province of mainland China. The people’s republic wants to bring it back under mainland China’s rule while the people of Taiwan want exactly the opposite.

Moreover, Taiwan’s military security is guaranteed by the United States via the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which stipulates the United States must respond militarily to a communist invasion.

So if the PRC tries to bring Taiwan back into the fold by military force, the United States must retaliate. Conventional battles turn to nuclear battles and then we all die in the irradiated glow of our own monstrous weapons. Read more “Why Taiwan Could (Still) Start World War III”

In Era of Trump, Australia Looks to China for Leadership on Trade

Yoshihiko Noda Barack Obama Wen Jiabao
President Barack Obama, flanked by Prime Ministers Yoshihiko Noda of Japan and Wen Jiabao of China, attends the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 20, 2012 (State Department/William Ng)

Australia isn’t waiting for Donald Trump to assume office in January before recalibrating its foreign relations.

The island nation — America’s most reliable ally in the Pacific — has thrown its support behind Chinese trade initiatives now that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) appears dead.

Steven Ciobo, Australia’s trade minister, told the Financial Times he would work to conclude new trade pacts with other countries in the region, including China’s proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.

“Any move that reduces barriers to trade and helps us facilitate trade, facilitate exports and drive economic growth and employment is a step in the right direction,” Ciobo said.

But there is a strategic component to this as well. Read more “In Era of Trump, Australia Looks to China for Leadership on Trade”

The Death of a King

Bhumibol Adulyadej, the king of Thailand, visits the Netherlands, October 24, 196
Bhumibol Adulyadej, the king of Thailand, visits the Netherlands, October 24, 1960 (Nationaal Archief)

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej had a long run: from 1946 until today, his living memory involved Japanese occupation, cold warriors burning Vietnam, the self-immolation of Cambodia, the shunning and decades-later rehabilitation of Myanmar and the rise of China.

His death leaves many questions for Thai politics, not the least of which is what to do with the widely disliked crown prince, heir apparent to the throne.

But it also reveals the slow grind down of monarchy as a system, as Thais contemplate — quietly for now — whether they even need a king at all. Read more “The Death of a King”

Duterte Wants to Ditch America for China and Russia. Can They Bite?

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines attends a ceremony at a military cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 10
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines attends a ceremony at a military cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 10 (PPD/King Rodriguez)

Betteridge’s law of headlines states that any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered no. And so it is with this one, with a strong caveat: at least not now.

Since election in May, Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ “gotta make some murder to stop some murder” president, has grabbed up headlines by getting so tough on crime, crime is shot in the streets and by insulting the American president. Now, and most geopolitically significantly, Mr Duterte has threatened to bring his country into alliances with China and Russia.

As much of a boon as this would be to the Chinese and Russians, neither can replace the Americans. At least, not right now. Read more “Duterte Wants to Ditch America for China and Russia. Can They Bite?”

Japan’s Abe Once Again Puts Off Difficult Reforms

Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Shinzō Abe of Japan attend a ceremony in Tokyo, August 3, 2015
Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Shinzō Abe of Japan attend a ceremony in Tokyo, August 3, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe once again backed away from reform on Wednesday when he delayed a planned sales tax increase that was meant to shrink a huge deficit.

At this point, it seems we would be deluding ourselves if we still take “Abenomics” seriously as a program of economic reform.

When he returned to power in 2012, Abe promised to tackle sclerotic growth in three ways: short-term monetary and fiscal stimulus, long-term fiscal consolidation and structural economic reform.

He only managed the first and has constantly found excuses to put off the second and third — which are the more important if Japan is to find its way back to growth. Read more “Japan’s Abe Once Again Puts Off Difficult Reforms”

How Vietnam Went from American Foe to American Friend

American vice president Joe Biden listens as Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, makes a speech in Washington DC, July 7, 2015
American vice president Joe Biden listens as Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, makes a speech in Washington DC, July 7, 2015 (State Department)

It’s easy to hold grudges; it envelopes one in a sense of superiority, a feeling of wronged righteousness, that allows irrational behavior to feel very, very good. When someone hurts you, it can be wonderful to lord that over them forever.

Few wars in American history involve as many hurt feelings as the Vietnam War. Depending on when you chart it, the war lasted anywhere from the late 40s to 1975, when North Vietnam conquered the South. For the US, earnest combat began in 1965 and lasted until 1973, when the Nixon Administration washed its hands of Southeast Asia.

The toll was hefty: 58,000 Americans and anywhere from 1.4 to 3.8 million Vietnamese died. On the American side of the Pacific, the war gave counterculturalism a salient boost in the body politic and for decades much of American foreign and domestic policy hung on the legacy of those years. In Vietnam, the regime used fear of another American invasion to build legitimacy — and support war in Cambodia — up until the 1990s.

So it would be rather easy for both sides to neither forgive nor forget. Whole careers could be made off holding a grudge.

And yet the Americans are about to start arming the Vietnamese.

What the hell just happened here? Read more “How Vietnam Went from American Foe to American Friend”

Trump’s Worldview Will Alarm Allies

Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015 (Joshua M. Hoover)

Donal Trump would pull the United States back from East Asia and Europe, severing alliances that go back decades and putting American trade interests at risk.

The property tycoon and former reality TV star who is now the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination told The Washington Post on Monday that America can no longer afford its military presence in Europe.

“NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money,” he said.

The businessman had similar laments about America’s allies in Asia. Read more “Trump’s Worldview Will Alarm Allies”

Leaders Seek to Uphold Rules-Based Order in Asia

American president Barack Obama talks with advisors at the White House in Washington DC, December 5, 2015
American president Barack Obama talks with advisors at the White House in Washington DC, December 5, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza)

Leaders from Southeast Asia and the United States reaffirmed their commitment to a rules-based order in the region on the day it was revealed that China had moved missile systems to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea.

America’s Fox News reports that the Chinese military has stationed two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain.

The island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. Read more “Leaders Seek to Uphold Rules-Based Order in Asia”

Criticism of British Relations with China Overblown

British prime minister David Cameron walks with Chinese president Xi Jinping outside his Chequers country residence in Buckinghamshire, England, October 22
British prime minister David Cameron walks with Chinese president Xi Jinping outside his Chequers country residence in Buckinghamshire, England, October 22 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Georgina Coupe)

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United Kingdom this week inspired much handwringing about the island nation renouncing its liberal values and alliances, including with the United States, in favor of a closer relationship with the Asian power.

Such fears are overblown. Read more “Criticism of British Relations with China Overblown”

Why Japan Is Readying for War Again

Japan flag
The flag of Japan (Bryan Jones)

Ironically, the final vote was accompanied by a fist fight but it’s official: Japan may go to war again. The third largest economy on Earth entering the geopolitical sphere as a military power is absolutely huge. For Beijing, it’s a disaster. For DC, it’s the geopolitical coup of the decade. And for Japan, it’s increasingly necessary.

But why, and how? Let’s get super. Read more “Why Japan Is Readying for War Again”