Biden forging Cold War security bloc – Asian Media Report

Sep 9, 2023
Earth globe with glowing details of Asia.

In Asian media this week: Hanoi, but not Jakarta, a deliberate choice. Plus: ASEAN must ease great power tensions; G20 starts with Xi’s snub of the West; global inflation to last for years; BRICS the real challenge to US-led order; Indonesia supports bloc but will not join; Manila ‘taking defence seriously’.

The decision by US President Joe Biden to skip this week’s ASEAN meetings in Jakarta and visit Hanoi instead was deliberate – a matter of priorities, not of timetables.

A commentary in The Korea Herald says Biden plans to upgrade the relationship between the US and Vietnam to a “strategic partnership”.

The article, by American security policy academics Kelly A. Grieco and Jennifer Kavanagh, says Biden’s decision to go to Hanoi and send Vice President Kamala Harris to Jakarta is exactly backward.

Biden, they say, is doubling down on efforts to build, nation-by-nation, a Cold War-style security bloc to counter China – and shunning regional groups, such as ASEAN, that are likely to decide the region’s future.

“In an increasingly multipolar world, Washington needs to become more effective at navigating fluid and flexible coalitions, not rerun an old playbook,” they say.

An opinion article in The Japan Times makes a similar point. The piece, by Bloomberg Asia politics columnist Karishma Vaswani, says Biden is snubbing a major regional power.

“Given that the US consistently said it wants to build a stronger relationship with Asia, it feels a little like an own goal,” Vaswani says.

The article quotes leading journalist and author Michael Vatikiotis as saying the decision was cold and calculated – reinforcing the strategy of consolidating individual allies and partners, such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and now Vietnam.

“It’s all about spooking China,” Vatikiotis said. “Picking off each of those countries one by one is easier, rather than in a multilateral forum where Beijing will be present China Daily said in an editorial there was nothing wrong with the US and Vietnam upgrading their ties. But Biden’s decision to miss the ASEAN summit meetings and focus on the Vietnam visit gave rise to concerns about the role the US wanted Vietnam to play in its geopolitical strategy.

“Developing ties with a country with the ill intent of driving a wedge between it and another country is a threat to regional peace and stability,” the editorial said.

Southeast Asia right in the firing line

The annual East Asia summit, a central part of the ASEAN summit, is crucial to the future of the Indo-Pacific, says an opinion piece in The Jakarta Post.

The article, by senior editor Endy Bayuni, says Southeast Asia is right in the firing line should war break out between the US and China.

This year’s summit was held without the presence of US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Nevertheless, ASEAN must do all it can to reduce US-China tension and prevent war from erupting, the article says.

Singapore’s The Straits Times publishes a long rundown of the ASEAN summit, and related meetings, as seen through the eyes of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The reports quotes Lee as saying the ASEAN economy is an international bright spot as the global economy is not very vibrant now.

In a separate story, the paper reports Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo as reminding regional leaders not to be dragged by currents of geopolitical rivalry.

“If we are not able to manage differences, we will be destroyed,” Mr Widodo said. “If we join the currents of rivalry we will be destroyed.

“This world needs a safe house and ASEAN is on track to be able to perform that role.”

Relevance of G20 being questioned

The G20 summit is being held in New Delhi over the weekend but without Vladimir Putin (whose absence was expected) or Xi Jinping (whose absence remains unexplained).

The Hindu newspaper reported the Chinese Foreign Ministry had announced Xi would skip the meeting, the first time he had failed to attend a G20 summit. No reason was given. The paper noted Xi had attended last month’s BRICS summit in South Africa.

An opinion piece in the paper said his absence would be seen as a snub – but of the West, not of India.

India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, said the absence of the two leaders was not unusual, The Hindu reported. “At different points of time in G20, there have been presidents or prime ministers who have chosen not to come,” he said.

India’s The Statesman newspaper said while Putin’s absence was expected, Xi’s was a calculated snub. “Their non-participation sends a signal that consensus on key issues may be hard to come by,” the paper said.

“An inconclusive summit could reveal the limits of co-operation between Western and non-Western powers.”

A commentary in The Korea Times said Xi’s decision not to attend was deeply perturbing. “With the absence of the leader of the world’s second-largest economy, an agreed-upon Leaders’ communique seems very unlikely,” economist Song Kyung-jin said… “The world will once again question the relevance of the G20 as a global steering group.”

Terry Su, president of a Hong Kong geopolitical think tank, said in an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post that Xi was passing up a chance to meet US President Joe Biden. The two had not met since the G20 summit in Bali last November.

He said Xi was pushing back against the US. “The Chinese leadership refuses to go with the flow of Washington’s ideological narrative and is seeking to extract more concessions from the US,” he said.

“Xi is likely to keep Biden waiting until the next window of opportunity.”

China’s deflation will stay in China

With China entering a time of deflation, lower prices of Chinese goods might be expected to help tame inflation elsewhere. But that will not happen, says economist Andy Xie.

“Labour shortages, declining labour productivity, deglobalisation and a massive monetary overhang will sustain global inflation for years to come,” he says.

Xie, writing in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, says there is a structural labour shortage across the developed world. Employment is reaching record highs in OECD countries while the working-age population is predicted to decline as far as the eye can see.

Xie, a former Morgan Stanley chief Asia-Pacific economist, says monetary policy, influenced by what he calls the bizarre modern monetary theory, or MMT, is still highly inflationary.

The rise of China’s car industry should have an impact on global inflation but geopolitical considerations are stopping this happening. “The US already has high tariffs on Chinese cars,” he says. “Europe is talking about erecting barriers.”

Global inflation will reach a climax when the US dollar collapses. “It is the only logical end,” Xie says.

US to have trouble handling shift to Global South

A key factor shaping US policy towards China is the belief that only China has the intent and the strength to upset the so-called rules-based international order.

Now BRICS, says Malaysian observer Peter T.C. Chang, is challenging that assessment.

“Countries across the Global South are as keen to reshape the system,” he says in an article in the South China Morning Post.

Chang, deputy director of the Institute of China Studies at Kuala Lumpur’s University of Malaya, says the US polity has become ensnared in groupthink and alternative views on China are sidelined. There is a fundamental flaw in America’s democratic system: it does not foster opposing viewpoints on China.

But the growing clout of the BRICS bloc, now being increased to 11 nations, may well be shifting the geoeconomic and geopolitical centre from the Global North to the Global South.

“Unless this reality is acknowledged, an America overly preoccupied with China may have difficulty managing the reconfiguration of power from the US-led international system to a more inclusive one,” Chang says.

A commentary in The Hindu newspaper, by former diplomat Talmiz Ahmad, says the US had led the western alliance in both political and economic areas but BRICS challenges the western-led order.

“It promotes intra-BRICS economic and political co-operation, builds institutions outside western control and agitates robustly for wide-ranging reforms to accommodate the presence and interests of emerging economies,” he says.

An article in The Jakarta Post focuses on the EU as representing declining Western power. In 1990, the EU represented 25 per cent of global GDP; now it accounts for only 15 per cent. In the eyes of the people of ASEAN countries, the article says, the EU no longer has strategic political or economic influence in the region. “A thriving BRICS could spur Indonesia socio-economic development,” it says.

Another SCMP opinion piece, by journalist Hafijur Rahman, says many experts point to the long history of Western colonial exploitation as the glue ensuring the unity of the Global South.

Rahman says, however, anxiety is a bigger reason for the pursuit of fairer global governance system.

Factors he lists include: US sanctions (“economic coercion”) against developing nations; undeserved hardship from the US banking collapse of 2008; the hoarding of vaccines during the COVID pandemic; the lack of regard for the effects of sanctions against Russia on the Global South; and the impact of climate change on developing nations.

But he singles out the dismantling by the US of the WTO’s ability to settle trade disputes, by blocking appointments to the organisation’s appellate court.

“As the Sino-US rivalry intensifies and Washington continues its relentless efforts to hobble China’s technological and economic advancement, developing countries have more reason to be anxious,” Rahman says.

Indonesia aims for ‘rich men’s club’

Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo, attended last month’s BRICS summit in South Africa and made a speech that echoed many of the concerns of Global South nations.

“The world economic order today is unjust,” he said. “The development gap is widening, more people are becoming impoverished and hungry. We cannot let this situation go on.”

Yet Indonesia has decided not to join BRICS, even though it has been invited.

An analysis in The Jakarta Post newspaper said Indonesia saw its national interests as being best-served by joining the OECD – the “rich men’s club”, made up of 38 mostly Western countries.

If Indonesia joined, it would be only the third Asian country, after Japan and South Korea.

“Indonesia regained upper-middle-income status this year,” the article said. “The country has ambitions to make it to the world’s top-five largest economies before the middle of the century.

“The OECD, rather than BRICS, is the route to get there.”

Manila produces hard-edged security policy

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles has foreshadowed joint patrols of the South China Sea by the navies of Australia and the Philippines.

Marles told Al Jazeera the patrols would happen soon.

He said Australia had a security interest in the South China Sea and would work more closely with the Philippines on patrols in disputed waters.

Al Jazeera reported on amphibious landing and air assault exercises last month involving Australian, Philippine and US defence personnel.
RAAF F-35 fighters provided close air support and RAN ships secured surrounding waters in the first large-scale exercises between Australian and Philippine military forces.

The Philippines recently issued a new national security policy that an article in The Diplomat magazine said adopted a more sombre tone than previous documents. It set “defence and military security” as its central theme.

China, through its relentless moves in the South China Sea, was doing the Philippines a favour, said the article’s author, Joshua Bernard Espena, resident fellow at the Manila think-tank, International Development and Security Cooperation.

The Philippines was now being forced to take defence seriously.

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