Obama Ignores China in Asian Tour

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US President Barack Obama has recently concluded a four-country tour of Asia, ending it with a rather undeniable reassuring that America will remain the dominant military force in the region.

The visit does not pretend to be about anything else, with a first-stop visit to Japan (presently involved in tense territorial disputes with China) and ending with a renewed military agreement with the Philippines.

Obama’s visit also reassured the region besides military obligations, including the muddled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which aims to lower trade barriers between the most economically dynamic region in the world and the US.

In hindsight, all of these ‘high-profile’ gestures highlight what was missing: the involvement of China.

Military Intimidation Shrouded in Neutrality

The message is clear since Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ proclamation in 2011: lest it forgets, the US must reassure China that no other power should try to ‘change the status quo’, for better or for worse. This ‘rebalancing’ of power, a shift of US military emphasis from the Middle East to the Pacific (China’s borders, from the Pacific to South Asia), has been cheerfully greeted by the region’s leaders.

Obama’s visit to Japan finally shows that the Washington is not neutral in the island disputes in the region. In a press conference in Tokyo, he stated that the US and Japan have a mutual security treaty that covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands–a complete about-face to his past statements regarding territorial disputes between China and Japan.

Benigno Aquino, President of the Philippines, (son of former President Corazon Aquino who was put to power by the American government in the late 1980s), hailed a new ten-year defense pact with the US as an agreement that “reaffirms our countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security, and promotes regional peace and stability.”

One common theme in this is their willingness to be part of Washington’s new focus on Asia. Indeed it seems to ‘work’ both ways: with the waning of American military power the US pushes these countries to be more aggressive against China, while the same countries can focus on developing their economies and outsource their defense and security needs to Washington.

Economic Partnership a “Bridge to Far”

Actively promoted by the United States, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to give China’s neighbors an alternative to Beijing’s economic clout through less trade barriers and bureaucracy. China’s economic might, role, and influence in the global economy is undeniable. As such, a trade agreement that fails to include the second-biggest economy in the world (some speculate it to surpass the US as early as 2016), is a failure in itself already.

For instance, in the bilateral trade between Japan and the US, there has been suspicion on both sides about unfair government protectionist policies (Japanese automobile industry) and unfair government subsidies (US agriculture). Obama’s latest visit just showed how difficult it is to accomplish anything beyond the trade barriers.

And history is on the side of the free trade skeptics: today it is widely accepted that free trade agreements are discriminatory by nature, which is the reason why most economists today prefer to call the free trade agreements (FTAs) as preferential trade agreements (PTAs).

Indeed, the more Obama denied his visit was not about China, the more it was perceived as being about militarily and economically containing China.

 

 

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Addressing the democratic deficiency of EU elections

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Years of public spending cuts and unimpressive economic recovery has not only changed the minds of EU citizens regarding the legitimacy of the whole European Union experiment but also how its leaders try to engage the public in the European project as a whole.

Under the slogan “This time it’s different”, there is an attempt to persuade voters to go to the ballot box this coming May, which EU leaders hope to increase the EU’s legitimacy.

Such inadequacy was expressed recently by the European Commission’s vice president, Maros Sefcovic, stating that the ‘democratic deficiency’ of the Commission’s actions had been regularly raised in the past four years, in a statement to Reuters.

In a statement made in Brussels, Sefcovic expressed that “the recent strengthening of European integration means the Commission is playing more and more a political role and all of Europe needs to boost democratic legitimacy more than ever.”

But more than increasing the democratic deficiency of the EU project, there has been a progressive decrease in electoral participation by the public and overall attitude towards the EU. In a PEW research conducted last May, it showed that positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future.”

The research blamed the public distaste on prolonged economic crisis which “has created centrifugal forces that are pulling European public opinion apart.”

Also reasoned is the general disillusionment toward elected leaders, where Europeans “are losing faith in the capacity of their own national leaders to cope” with economic woes, including the inability of leaders to address the lack of employment opportunities in the continent.

As for the coming elections itself, some observers caution that “if any political party is looking forward to the EU election, it has to be the hard right, anti-EU National Front”, as exemplified in France these days. The general mood there is that “France has lost its sovereignty since the EU was created.” Polls show that the French public has lost their ‘faith’ in the ability of the EU to solve the country’s economic crisis.

In Britain, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, said the mood in France is shared by Southern ‘peripheral’ economies, which are at the receiving end of the financial bailouts.

In Germany, feelings of burdensome tax payer bailouts to help ailing economies across Europe stem from factors including lack of transparency through to doubts in the merits of the EU-US free trade agreement (TIPP).

Indeed, it will be exciting to see how the decision to include the election of the Commission President in the ballots will turn out this May.