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U.S.-China Relations: Washington’s Bold Moves Have Few Buyers

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US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping could meet in Japan later this month. Photo: AFP

The intensifying U.S.-China strategic competition is not in the interests of Japan and other regional stakeholders.

By now, it is widely known that Washington is tightening the screws on Beijing across all areas of competition — from trade, technology to security. Chief among the signature initiatives by the Trump administration that have damaged the interests of Japan and other stakeholders in the region is the U.S.-China trade war.

American allies such as Japan that have any manufacturing footprint in the Chinese market were subject to American tariffs directed at goods being exported out of China into the U.S. Supporters of American tariffs would argue that they would balance bilateral trade between the world’s two largest economies, as well as encourage businesses to reshore back to the U.S. or other countries.

The facts are a convenient measure of how effective tariffs have been in terms of balancing U.S.-China relations.

For example, in August, China reported a 27 percent increase in its trade surplus with the U.S. from the same period last year. In contrast, imports from the U.S. only increased 1.8 percent.

The argument that tariffs accelerate reshoring is also flimsy. According to surveys recently conducted by PwC China and the American Chamber of Commerce in China, “the majority of members will not be packing up and leaving China anytime soon.”

The survey found that while some businesses may consider diversifying or reshoring back to the U.S., the cost is not cheap. It is time-consuming, and may shut American businesses out from the Chinese market.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and China becoming the first economy to go back to business even as most Western economies languish, there are further disincentives for companies to pull out of an economy that is actually functioning.

In Japan, U.S. businesses are taking a page from Tokyo’s playbook, which was formulated from its experience of dealing with Beijing’s economic coercion — to diversify their exposure to China by keeping one aspect of their business in China and the other in Southeast Asia or elsewhere.

Japan’s supplementary budget could be mistaken to be a commitment to decoupling from the Chinese market and an effort to move away from Japan’s own China strategy.

In reality, the supplementary budget includes subsidies meant to promote domestic investment for support of supply chains, and for supporting diversification of global supply chains. These are not divorce papers, rather the supplementary budget is meant to help Japanese corporations deal with shocks to supply chains in and out of China.

Japan and other regional stakeholders are firmly wedded to the Chinese economy with China being the biggest trading partner for all its neighbors. Proximity to China and dependence on its market size and comparative advantages means U.S. economic policies towards China in the region have few buyers, if any.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed at his speech at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries do not want to choose between their relationship with China and the U.S. Their development, prosperity, and future as a region is dependent on having good relationships with both states.

Japan, South Korea, and India are in the same boat. Their biggest trading partner is China and any U.S. approach to pressuring China will not succeed if stakeholders have to choose between trade and security, they are inseparable.

China is complicate in this negative spiral in bilateral relations. Economic coercion, assertive economic, cyber and maritime expansionism and political influence campaigns have all rocked confidence in the Chinese leadership. Further adding fuel to the fire, China’s practice of hostage diplomacy and politically targeted arrests as illustrated by this week’s near arrest of Australia’s ABC television reporters Bill Birtles and Mike Smith raise questions in capitals throughout the region as to what kind of regime they will need to deal with going forward.

Likewise, domestic policies in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and towards Taiwan foster trepidation about the nature and evolutionary trajectory of socialism with Chinese characteristics and official ideas known as Xi Jinping Thought.

What is clear is that Japan and stakeholders in the region want a trading relationship with China, they want more diplomatic engagement of the U.S. in the region, and they would like a U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy to focus on the needs of the interests of the littoral states in the region.

These interests include multilateral trade, developmental assistance, infrastructure and connectivity, and a significant commitment to dealing with nontraditional security issues such as piracy, illegal fishing, climate change, uncontrolled migration, and now, the economic tsunami to the formal an informal economies throughout the region.

These interests are not based on a China or U.S. formula. In fact, most countries in the region would prioritize U.S.-China cooperation in all these areas as they see these issues as the interests of all stakeholders in the region.

While nontraditional security areas are fertile ground for the U.S. and China to promote cooperation that could get real buy-in from stakeholders in the region, there are lingering hard security issues that will remain an area of rigorous contestation.

The advocacy of techno-authoritarianism domestically as well as initiatives such as the BRI, which transform the regional economic architecture away from an ASEAN centered integration, are both demonstrations of efforts to reshape the region along Beijing’s lines.

Chinese incursions into the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands remain a problem as does China’s building and militarizing of islands in the South China Sea. These are both evidence of revisionism and a long-term concerted effort to become the regional hegemon.

The question for regional stakeholders such as Japan is what is the best way to deal with this assertive Chinese behavior? Through expanded military cooperation? Enhanced diplomatic and economic investment in the region? Or both?

Obviously, both would be idea but the challenge for Japan and other countries is to get buy-in from their public. In Japan as well as other states in the region, citizens are deeply concerned about being pulled into a kinetic conflict between the U.S. and China.

Policy makers and citizens want the U.S. in the region. They want friendly relations with China. They also want the U.S. to focus on enhancing its diplomacy, returning to multilateralism, and to returning to trade agreements as a central pillar to engagement in the region.

Diplomacy means regular and top-level engagement in forums in the region. It means enhanced cooperation, coordination, and communication (three C’s) with and between allies and friends in the region. The three C’s must include security, trade, technology, and diplomacy.

Multilateralism means a pragmatic approach to cooperation. Here Prime Minister Abe demonstrated a realist track-record of forging a multitude of relationships with democracies to authoritarian states as evidenced by the CPTPP, RCEP, and the Japan-EU Infrastructure and Connectivity Initiative. Taking a card from his play book would accrue political capital in the region and help rebuild the U.S.’s reputation in the region.

In the areas of security cooperation, here again Japan has something to teach the U.S. about the region. Rather than weapons and battleships, Japan has actively tried to enhance the capabilities of states in the region through diplomacy, interoperability training, the provision of coast guard vessels, and the provision of developmental aid. The logic is that stronger economies with better human capital and resources can manage security challenges through cooperation not confrontation.

The U.S.-China strategic competition may define the Indo-Pacific region going forward. This can and will happen if Japan and other middle powers don’t proactively and pragmatically find ways to shape both U.S. and Chinese policies in the region. Japan has stepped up to the plate under Prime Minister Abe in terms of a willingness to shoulder more of a burden in the region as has successive governments in Canberra. Burden sharing can ensure that the U.S. remains fully engaged in the region. At the same time, Japan and others need to focus their diplomatic and other resources to ensure that China understands that the region will be an Indo-Pacific centered region and not a Sino-centric region. Japan Times


Stephen R. Nagy is a senior associate professor at International Christian University and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs.

 

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OPINION

2018 Golden Globes Red Carpet and #MeToo Movement

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Bella Hadid attends "The Unknown Girl (La Fille Inconnue)" premiere at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 18, 2016. GETTY IMAGES

It seems so painfully obvious now, in the #MeToo era, that to ask a woman only
about what she’s wearing, and then to turn to the man next to her and ask him nothing about his clothing, and everything about his work, is sexist, reductive and diminishing.

And yet, before we launched #AskHerMore in 2014, it was de rigueur red carpet tradition.

Over the years the campaign did its work on the red carpet — Hollywood women from Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes joined in, the internet exploded and the hashtag trended. Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic changed their tune and asked more substantive questions. Chris Rock even highlighted us in his opening Oscar’s monologue in 2016.

But #AskHerMore was never just about the red carpet. It was always about our larger culture — a culture that never celebrates a woman’s accomplishments as much as her looks.

Women who walk Hollywood’s red carpets are some of the most well-known women in the world. They’re the best at their craft and make a ton of money — though perhaps not as much as their male counterparts — and still cannot be taken seriously. And it’s not just, “Who are you wearing?” But also: “What’s your morning routine?” “How did you lose the baby weight?” “Who’s at home watching the kids?

As the Harvey Weinstein fallout and the numerous #MeToos that followed showed us, the reverberations of that kind of culture are profound. Not even the most well-known women in the world are immune to the sexism, discrimination and violence that follows.

But in the wake of #MeToo, people understandably wondered whether the red carpet even mattered at all anymore. The 2018 Golden Globes was proof that it still does – perhaps it’s even more important than ever.

These women have always had something to say, but were systematically silenced – told by the subtle and not so subtle signs of our culture that what she had to say didn’t really matter. At least not as much as what she looked like, and definitely not as much as what the man standing next to her had to say.

So what happens when you really value what a woman has to say instead of what she is wearing? When you allow women to take the lead and set the stage? Something quite extraordinary. The night was dominated by the conversation that women demanded we have.

A good majority of red carpet coverage went to the eight activists who were brought by A-list actors – Saru Jayaraman, Ai-jen Poo, Tarana Burke, Rosa Clemente, Marai Larasi, Mónica Ramírez, Calina Lawrence and Billie Jean King – bringing a national primetime spotlight to issues that never get the spotlight. Some of these issues include domestic care work, the One Fair Wage campaign and farmworkers’ rights.

On the red carpet, celebrities were asked, “Why are you wearing black?”and we were treated to incredible moments as a result. Ava DuVernay tweeted: “I am wearing black today because balance and inclusion and diversity is not some kind of allowance to be made to accommodate people. No, sir. It is a correction of an error. It is a righting of a wrong. And it is going to be done. Now.”

And then of course, there was Oprah. Need we say more.

Yes, the silence of men was disappointing, but that’s not the point. The women shined brighter than any shadow the silent men cast.

Our job now is to ensure, with precision and purpose, that this movement doesn’t just benefit the most powerful women in the most glamorous spaces, but also the most marginalized women in spaces and workplaces that don’t make the news. Because feminism that only benefits women at the top — famous, wealthy and predominantly white — isn’t feminism at all.

The women of Hollywood have stepped up to that challenge in commendable ways. In addition to their stunning show of solidarity on the red carpet, famous women are leveraging their spotlight to highlight injustice and change it. They’re banding together to say “Time’s Up.” This collective is leaderless, collaborative and efficient.

They’ve created a legal fund to support women in much less powerful industries who are coming forward with harassment accusations. In joining together, hand-in-hand with the activists on the ground, they’re publicly acknowledging and declaring that their future and equality is bound to the equality and prosperity of others. That none of us are free until all of us are. In the words of Oprah — “a new day is on the horizon.”

This moment isn’t about the red carpet. It’s not about black dresses or about the actors wearing them. It never was. Instead, this is a moment about a movement. A movement that’s uplifting women’s voices, valuing women for their whole humanity and demanding justice. This movement is about creating a different culture — a better culture — and a more just and equitable world for all.

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OPINION

I’m a Conscientious Objector, Long After the Vietnam Draft

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Students in Boston protest the Vietnam War, which drove a deep wedge into the American public. GETTY IMAGES

“Let’s play guns!” There were giant mounds of dirt on Mabie Street in New Milford, New Jersey. It was 1955. What was once a farm was now being turned to a middle-class housing development. My immigrant father had moved our family of seven out of the Bronx to a better life in the suburbs. A good place for a 6-year-old kid to run around play baseball, football, and guns. Like so many families back then it was a new start in a better place. The future was bright, there were kids my age all over the place. We were happy and living on Mabie Street, USA.

We took sticks, toy guns, pistols, shotguns, machine guns, derringers, Lugers, water guns, and an occasional rubber Bowie knife, and we spent the day playing…guns. There were rules. You couldn’t just go shooting guys. When my friend Barry’s father was laying down the rules for the upcoming engagement (dads played too), he’d explain: “If you can see even part of the guy’s head and you point your gun and yell, ‘DA! DA! DA! YOU’RE DEAD!’ Then you are dead! No arguing!” Kind of final but we got the point: if you’re dead, you’re dead. That was a fixed rule. No exceptions. Kinda like life. Except you could get up again for the next battle.

In 1960, my oldest sister, Marianne became a young Democrat. JFK was running. My Italian Catholic family was beside itself with excitement. At Sunday mass, Monsignor Curry, ordered all Catholics to vote for Kennedy. It would be a sin not to. Kennedy was our guy. He played football and swam a hundred miles to save his buddies on PT 109.

JFK was coming to the Teaneck Armory, just a couple miles from us and the entire family was going to see him. I’m behind a rope at the armory with thousands of people. I look down a broad driveway and a giant convertible comes around the corner. The crowd breaks through the ropes to surround his car. I’m 10. People are going nuts. They finally clear the crowd. The great man is coming my way. At last, he gets to me. I wave. He looks me right in the eye, smiles, and waves back. He knew me… he said hello just to me. Three years later he was shot dead. Dead is dead. There was no arguing. He would not get up again.

I didn’t leave the TV those three days in November ‘63. I saw Oswald get shot dead by Ruby on TV. Saw the riderless horse leading the funeral parade, saw that beautiful little boy salute his daddy and Jackie lighting the eternal flame. I believe those events forever changed me. Took away my confidence, my security, and my invincibility.

When I started high school in 1963, no one had heard of Vietnam. By graduation in ‘67 it was a different story. More than 11,000 guys died that year, most of them were 19, 20, 21. Kids. By the end of 1968, 16,592 more would die. Back home there were marches, and cities burning, and Panthers, and lynchings, and Ali. Students were protesting and getting beat up in the streets, some died. Then Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy get shot. What the hell is going on?

There was no draft lottery yet but lots of talk of one. Nobody wanted to go to wherever the hell Vietnam was. We were kids. We just got our letter in football! Then in December of 1969, Congress thought a draft lottery would be a good idea. I end up No. 36. This couldn’t be possible. I met Kennedy for God’s sake. How can this be? 36. I’m dead.

What now? My only hope is my terrible hay fever. My sniffling and sneezing would be dangerous to the troops. My older brother escaped just months earlier by going completely nuts at the draft board. They classified him 4F. Unsuitable for war. I could try that but I was never as good an actor as my brother. Things had changed considerably at the draft since my brother’s award-winning 4F performance. No more BS. You could be bleeding from the eyes and you were going in. No escape. I was completely trapped. I just wanted to go home, lean on my Mom’s shoulder and watch TV with her like I used to. How am I gonna get out of this mess?

Sometime during my physical, I heard two words that changed everything. Conscientious Objector. All I have to do is explain my position in writing, have a personal interview with the Selective Service Board and convince them that I should not be in Vietnam with everyone else. My appointment day with the draft board came quickly. When I went into the small office in Hackensack, a kind-looking man probably in his 40s was behind a desk. He had my file in front of him including my epic essay on why I shouldn’t fight in Vietnam. This is the man who would decide my fate.

“We’ve all killed and been killed many times in our past lives!” I said. Oh Lord, this can’t be going well, did I just talk about past lives? Boot camp here I come! I continued, “We have been killing each other since the beginning of time. We don’t learn anything, and our Karmic burden on this planet gets worse and worse.” Then finally: ”I can’t in good conscience continue this endless cycle of killing boys my own age and collecting more bad Karma. My load is too heavy as it is.” The man looks at me… and says… ”Karma”… then after what seemed like forever… “I’m gonna put this through. You have six weeks to find alternative service. Good luck!”

Almost 50 years have passed since that karmic day in Hackensack, and by any measure, I’ve had plenty of good luck. I found my alternative service at NYU medical library working in the stacks. That’s right, I was putting med students’ library books back on their shelves. I found a small room in Astoria, Queens, to live in, complete with a hot plate and toilet in the hall. Not fancy but a lot better than living in the jungle in Vietnam and getting shot at every day.

It’s 2019, and I’m back here in Astoria. I knew about the old Paramount studios that were just a few blocks away from my luxurious 32nd Avenue Astoria address back then. They made 90 films there in the 1920s, with people like Valentino, The Gish sisters, W.C Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Now Murphy Brown, a show I first filmed with Candice Bergen in the 1990s, released the first season of a reboot, made at the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

And we’re dealing much of the same national madness and division that sent me to Astoria as a 20-year-old. Being here, how could I not be reminded of the guys born on August 24, 1949 who never heard of Alternative Service. Didn’t meet a kind draft board guy. Had no clue they could object. And never saw their moms again. I’m so sorry. We were all just scared little boys. I got the chance to grow up marry the gorgeous woman I’ve loved for 46 years, and have three kids of my own. They didn’t.

It feels like the world is falling off its axis again. Kids are still killing each other in some war or other. African Americans continue to be shot in the streets. People in power hurl nasty nicknames. Nazis have crawled back out from under their rocks. And anger infuses every public space. People say that they have not seen anything like this in their lifetimes. But if you’re my age, you have seen this madness before. And that’s scary. Where are we heading? What will my four beautiful grandkids have to face? Will some leader ask them to pick up a rifle and go kill somebody else’s grandkids in a war somewhere? Sadly, history tells us that might be the case.

Our little ones will discover the terrible things we do to each other on this planet soon enough. They don’t need to learn any pre-school war games from grandpa. So I’ll teach them a different game. There will be no talk of guns. When they find big dirt hills, like the ones we had on Mabie Street, they can play on them as much as they want. And there are still rules: You can climb up the hills and run down them as fast as you can. You can play a lot of stupid but very funny games. You can build huts with speakers and WiFi, get filthy dirty, laugh till you’re breathless, and then go home to mom for cookies and milk. Rules are rules. No arguing. Because what’s the point of any game unless you get to go home at the end?

Correction, Feb. 19

The original version of this story misstated whether there was a military draft before 1969. There was a process for conscripting men into military service, but not a draft lottery.

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OPINION

Angelina Jolie and Geraldine Van Bueren on Children’s Rights

Jolie: We’ve known each other for several years, but I’ve never actually heard how you became involved in drafting the convention.

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Children Stage Mass Protest Parade Highlighting World Issues
Children march around Southbank Centre in London to celebrate children and young people's rights on Oct. 22, 2015. Ben Pruchnie—Getty Images

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When the Charter of the U.N. was signed in San Francisco in June 1945, it promised equal rights for all, but made no specific mention of children. Thirty years ago, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, recognizing for the first time that children have their own rights, distinct from adults. The distinction is vital to the millions of children who still live with conflict, poverty, violence and abuse. Professor Geraldine Van Bueren was one of the drafters of the convention. I asked her if it has lived up to its promise, and what her message is to children fighting to be heard today.

Jolie: We’ve known each other for several years, but I’ve never actually heard how you became involved in drafting the convention.

Van Bueren: I was invited by Amnesty International to represent them at the United Nations in the drafting process. I was only in my 20s.

What compelled you to say yes?

When I was young, we lived with my grandparents, who were refugees. My grandmother was a young child, one of 13 siblings, when she walked across Europe from Lithuania to the English Channel. It was in the days before aid agencies, mobile phones or instant food. I never heard her talk about how hard this must have been. Most of my Eastern European and Dutch family, including young cousins, were murdered in the Holocaust. From the age of 11, I wanted to be a human-rights lawyer to prevent the same thing happening to other people.

When we first met, I told you my children had a summary of the convention on the wall of their schoolroom, but that I had explained to them that so far, the U.S. hasn’t ratified it.

America’s refusal to ratify is puzzling as the country was one of the leading drafters. It protects children’s right to free speech and religious freedom, the founding principles of the Bill of Rights. It’s based upon the best interests of the child, which has been a fundamental principle of American law since at least the 19th century. But it does a lot more. The convention tells us to look at the child’s right to participate in decisions affecting them through a child’s eyes, and to provide information in a format appropriate to a child. So it also helps build an educated citizenship.

What difference does the lack of ratification make to children in the U.S.?

Because childhood was invisible to the Founding Fathers, the Constitution makes no provision for children. America was not alone in this, but other countries have added legal protection for the rights of children by accepting the convention. It also provides a safety net, which all children need to have in case their government fails them. Incongruously, the leading United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, has always had an American as its head, but UNICEF’s work is based around a treaty which America hasn’t ratified.

Two American children, Carl Smith and Alexandria Villaseñor, have joined Greta Thunberg and children from 10 other countries in filing a complaint arguing that carbon pollution violates their rights. Is this an example of the convention at work?

Their petition concerns all children, and generations yet unborn, so it is generous and compassionate. Under what is known as the Third Protocol, a treaty additional to the main convention, children can petition the U.N. Committee, but only after they have exhausted all possible national remedies. In other words, if America were party to it, state and federal legislators and state and federal courts would have opportunities first to remedy the violation.This is just common sense.

Could children apply the convention to other areas?

Absolutely. It’s a Bill of Rights for children. The main aim of the convention is to act as an early warning system, so that children and adults can point out that any particular policy or law, or lack of policy or law, has a detrimental impact on children—for instance, social media and the right to privacy.

We’ve discussed the importance of children’s being made aware of their rights. What is your message to them?

The convention is for the children of the world. Children participated in the drafting. American schoolchildren lobbied governments to persuade them to include the abolition of the death penalty, and Canadian First Nation children successfully called for the protection of indigenous children’s rights. Children can use the provisions in the Convention to call for their rights to be protected. Children can help other children and prevent their rights being violated. But to do this, children need to know their rights and be supported in how to use them.

There is a disconnect between what the U.N. Convention says are fundamental rights for children and the way governments pick and choose which ones they will or will not uphold. How do we get to the point that upholding children’s rights is seen as an absolute responsibility?

You are right that there is often a disconnect between what children are entitled to and what is happening to them, particularly to child refugees and children caught up in armed conflicts; situations for which they are not responsible. What the Convention does is to provide an avenue for children not to be targeted. But it requires political will. The challenge is to make children the central plank of our policies. Childhood cannot wait.

Do you ever despair at the gap between the ideals of U.N. and the selective way they are applied?

It’s not helpful to children to be despairing when so much more still needs to be done. Despair is a paralyzing emotion. We do not focus enough on the Convention’s successes, whether it is reducing infant mortality, providing necessary healthcare or creating ways in which children can and have effectively participated in policy—from children’s parliaments to children contributing to the shaping of budgets. If we keep in mind the successes as well as what needs to be done, then it gives us the energy to do more and to do it better. The U.N. system is imperfect but it is the best we have, and better than its predecessor, the League of Nations. Children deserve the best we have to give, so we have to work with what we have, whilst simultaneously trying to improve it.

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