|Looking to the Orient. Overview of the Political Relevance in Asian Region during November, 2016
Far East and Southeast Asia
South Korea, India and other Southeast Asian countries which associate their
security and economic well-being with the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region
worry about the isolationist tendencies in the electoral rhetoric of the US
president-elect Donald Trump. More than once, Donald Trump had mentioned that
Japan and South Korea should put more effort into their own defence and
maintaining US troops stationed on their soil, and that if they don’t increase
funding, US military outfits could be recalled, giving these countries an
opportunity to develop their own nuclear arsenals and counter threats coming from China and
North Korea. With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Japan
and South Korea had committed to refrain from buying and manufacturing nuclear
weapons. This is one of the reasons why these countries seek US military aid.
relations between Japan and South Korea, especially regarding cooperation on
security, had never been close. However, on 23 November Japan and South Korea had reached an agreement on direct sharing of military intelligence
data. This is no good news to China, which had often relied on exploiting any disputes
arising between the two countries in order to counter US influence and become
the dominant power in the region.
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe had met with Donald Trump in New York on 17
November. The apparent aim of the visit was to “remind” (or diplomatically “enlighten”)
Donald Trump of the finer points of Asian politics, which are quite a bit more
complicated than a straightforward cost-benefit analysis.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit was held on 19-20 November in
Peru, which mostly concerned the future of the forum itself. The Trans Pacific Partnership
Agreement, signed by the US and 11 other countries of the Asia-Pacific Region,
was harshly criticised by Donald Trump, who claimed it to be “…
a death blow to American workers and manufacturers”. The Prime Minister of
Japan said that “without the US, this free trade agreement is meaningless”, and
the Australian Minister of Trade Steven Ciobo mentioned his country might start
looking for other alternatives.
these alternatives is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Project,
initiated by China, which would include most of the countries currently under
APEC. If China were to implement this project, which would likely be joined by
Australia, Japan or the Philippines, it would successfully boost its position
in the region.
Donald Trump, who had outlined his policy plans for the first 100 days in
office on 21 November, claimed withdrawal from APEC to be one of his top
priorities. Such rapid changes in the course of US foreign policy can lead to
new pockets of geopolitical vacuum, which may soon be filled by China or
The “16+1” Summit, attended by 16 Central and Eastern
European countries and China, was held on 5 November in Latvia. For China the
main goal was to broadcast a positive self-image in Central and Eastern
European countries and look for common economic grounds for cooperation. Given
that these countries can serve as a bridge to Western Europe, China is interested
in making use of their infrastructure. The summit culminated in the adoption of
the Riga Declaration by which the countries of the region and
China declared their intention to intensify cooperation by developing harbours,
transport corridors and communication nodes between them, and established a
“16+1” investment fund designed to finance joint projects between Central and
Eastern European countries and China. Unfortunately, Lithuania has no
conceptual vision with regards to the issue. These questions are not addressed
in any of Lithuania’s documents on long- or mid-term strategic planning.
Mass demonstrations broke out in South Korea regarding the
scandal which arose after the news about President Park Geun-hye’s ties to her
old ally Choi Soon-sil. Prosecutors have said they are investigating whether
the President’s ally was involved in illegal financial schemes and supplied
with classified information by the President. Political parties currently in
opposition are now moving to impeach the President on 9 December, while those
in power urge her to step down “in honour”.
former President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov had veered the country into
a dictatorship, which is arguably second only to that of North Korea. Vast
reserves of natural gas had allowed him to develop a socially-oriented, yet
inefficient economy. The new leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is now trying to
“open” a “window” for the country onto the outside world.
November, he had met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi to discuss matters of
security and finance. Officially, the country is politically neutral, but its
geopolitical status (the country is situated near Russia and China) and
mounting challenges posed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and threats of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is forcing it
to seek out new strategic partners and attendant security guarantees. Relations
between Moscow and Ashgabat had been growing increasingly unstable ever since
Gazprom discontinued import of gas from Turkmenistan. One possible alternative is the joint
pipeline initiative of China and the so-called TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan and India).
is facing a difficult economic situation. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow would like
to renew cooperation with Gazprom. Although Russia doesn’t need Turkmenistan’s
gas, the aim of increasing its influence in the country may lead it to offer
cooperation on the principle of “one-for-one”, i.e., to ask Turkmenistan to renounce its military connections
with the US (there is some speculation that Ashgabat is considering the
possibility of admitting the US into its former Soviet military base “Mary”)
and/or the TAPI construction plans.
political crisis has developed in Kyrgyzstan – the parliamentary coalition had
failed, the government had resigned, and the President is “pushing” a
controversial constitutional reform. The essence of the reform is giving more power to the prime
minister, a position thought to be held by the current leader Almazbek
Atambayev in the future. The opposition’s stance against the reform had
resulted in the failure of the coalition, which was abandoned by the Atan-Meken
Socialist Party. Given that Almazbek Atambayev has nowhere to retreat to,
leading to a build-up of tension, the situation might erupt in upheavals on the
the death of the long-time leader of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, the entire
region has been anxiously awaiting the change in power in a country with many
competing interest groups, previously controlled by a single individual.
Fortunately, the problem had been solved in a faily simple manner. Prime Minister
Shavkat Mirziyoyev, thought to be backed by Russia, has been nominated a
presidential candidate. Vladimir Putin had visited Uzbekistan to honour the
deceased and meet with the Prime Minister. The candidate’s programme specifies
that the country will not join any military-political blocs and will not host
foreign military bases on its territory. It is not clear whether this is
actually true as Uzbekistan had changed the course of its foreign policy
multiple times in the past, which means there is a distinct possibility that
Tashkent will become another Central Asian satellite of Russia.
had recently seen protests against the government’s plans to legalise long-term
leasing of agricultural land. The reform was later revealed to be an artefact
of an agreement between Kazakhstan and China regarding the latter’s plans to
move its manufacturing to the country. The people of Kazakhstan fear China will
not only seize, but also pollute their lands, all to the benefit of Chinese
workers and experts.
has expressed worries over Russia’s plans for civil aviation. The Russians had
decided to start flying passengers to Dushanbe and Khujand from the newly-built
Zhukovsky Airport near Moscow. The locals contend this will breach the parity between the Tajik and Russian
airlines. The Kremlin threatened that if its demands are not met, it will
discontinue air transport between the two countries altogether, which would be
a serious blow to Tajikistan because Russia is home to a massive number of
Tajik migrants responsible for creating about half the country’s GDP.
Ultimately, Dushanbe gave in, resulting in the first planes of Ural Airlines
taking off Zhukovsky Airport towards the aforementioned Tajik cities on 23
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