WASHINGTON – With the Republican and Democratic parties set to hold their respective national conventions later this month, trade and Asian security have emerged as contentious issues for their presumptive presidential nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Amid a populist surge in the United States in the run-up to November’s presidential election, Trump has made his anti-globalization message a cornerstone of his campaign, including a threat to pull Washington out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal. Clinton has also turned against the 12-nation deal she once championed.
Together with Trump’s suggestion to withdraw U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea despite China’s rapid military buildup and North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, such a protectionist atmosphere has fueled concern among other TPP members and Washington’s Asian allies that U.S. trade and foreign policy may undergo radical changes after President Barack Obama completes his term in January.
In reflection of Trump’s position on trade, a draft policy platform to be presented at the four-day Republican National Convention starting Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, has no reference to the TPP, according to U.S. media reports, in stark contrast to the party’s 2012 platform, which promoted it.
The business mogul has argued the Pacific pact, pending approval by Congress, would cost millions of U.S. jobs and provocatively attacked it as a “rape of our country.”
Clinton, who promoted the TPP as secretary of state under Obama’s first term and called it the “gold standard” of trade deals, dropped her support for it during her tough primary race against rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, who now endorses Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee, had accused her of advocating what he termed “a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multinational corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy.”
In an effort to attract Sanders’ progressive supporters, Clinton has suggested renegotiating the deal, which she said “does not meet my high bar for raising wages or creating good paying jobs” for Americans.
Taking into account Sanders’ protectionist stance and Obama’s desire to make the TPP part of his legacy, a draft platform to be presented at the Democratic National Convention slated for July 25-28 in Philadelphia does not explicitly oppose the TPP, but says the United States has signed “trade deals that have not lived up to the hype.”
“Any future trade agreements must make sure that our trading partners cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment,” says the draft, which is available online.
As if to counter rising protectionism in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, the leaders of four major Japanese business organizations have urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to work toward ratification by the Diet of the TPP during an extraordinary session slated for later this autumn.
During a meeting Wednesday in Tokyo, the business leaders called for Abe’s “strong leadership” in achieving an early realization of the TPP, saying Japan’s swift ratification will propel the United States and other members to expedite their domestic procedures for effectuation of the pact.
Abe agreed and said, “The TPP is one of the pillars of (Japan’s) growth strategy.” The U.S. and Japan are the two biggest economies in the deal covering about 40 percent of the global economy.
The draft GOP platform contains “general language condemning trade deficits while calling international trade ‘crucial,'” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, a sign that a Trump administration may press China, Japan and other Asian economies with large trade surpluses with the United States to appreciate their currencies against the U.S. dollar.
On foreign policy, Trump indicated that if elected, he would consider withdrawing U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea unless the two allies “substantially increase their contributions to the costs” for defense by the U.S. military, and instead allow them to go nuclear for self-defense.
Security experts warn such a posture would undermine Washington’s deterrence capabilities and presence in the region in the face of China’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas, as well as North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development programs. It could also prompt Taiwan to pursue a nuclear deterrent against China.
The two White House hopefuls are faced with a China that refuses to comply with an international tribunal ruling that dismissed the country’s unilateral claims in almost the whole of the South China Sea.
Washington is closely watching whether Beijing will take further provocative actions such as unilaterally declaring an air defense identification zone over the disputed waters and reclaiming Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines claims as its territory.
Clinton dismissed Trump’s view on Asian security as “reckless and risky,” saying, “For 70 years Democrats and Republicans alike, we have done everything we could to prevent more countries from having nuclear weapons.”
“This is the talk of a loose cannon who is making statements and creating confusion,” she was quoted by U.S. political newspaper the Hill as saying. “We need to keep the country on the right track, and we have to keep the world as stable as possible.”
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