2016 US Elections Perspectives
Listen to what Dean Kishore Mahbubani told Bloomberg News about the U.S. election’s impact on the future of Asia here.
First Interview with: Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
- It is said that ASEAN has never had a better friend in the White House than President Obama. Do you see America’s ‘pivot’ towards the ASEAN changing with the new President?
Obama knows well how unique ASEAN is because he lived there as a child. He also knows that there are massive reservoirs of goodwill towards America in the region. Hence, he made ASEAN a priority.
Looking ahead, it would be a mistake to predict the future American president’s foreign policies on the basis of campaign statements. In 1992, Bill Clinton said he would not “coddle the butchers of Beijing”. Yet, that is exactly what he did a year later.
When either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump assume office in January 2017, their policies towards ASEAN will be guided by American interests. These are well-served by a strong and dynamic ASEAN. ASEAN has profoundly changed the political chemistry of East Asia, and it provides the only viable platform for great powers to engage each other. It is therefore in America’s interests to strengthen ASEAN. Both Clinton and Trump will do this.
At the same time, there is no doubt that Clinton understands ASEAN better. As former Secretary of State, she participated in several ASEAN meetings. She also has strong personal networks in the region.
- How do you see regional security being impacted, especially on the South China Sea issue?
Managing a rising China will be the priority for the next American President. However, if the South China Sea issue is used to embarrass China, it may yield short-term dividends, but also lead to long-term costs.
An aggressive struggle over the South China Sea would severely stress ASEAN. It could even lead to its break-up if ASEAN members are forced to choose between America and China.
Wiser heads should therefore prevail in Beijing and Washington. Both countries should see the value in sustaining a strong and dynamic ASEAN and avoid taking a hard stance on the South China Sea issue. If America and China focus on their common global mercantile interests, a solution is possible.
- What should ASEAN’s priorities be when navigating the new relationship with the White House?
ASEAN’s main priority in dealing with the new White House will be to once again educate it on America’s long-term interests in Asia. The 21st century will be the Asian century. As America surveys the region and assesses who its long-term friends have been, few can match the consistency and strength of ASEAN. My next book on ASEAN documents how America has benefitted from ASEAN’s success.
America should participate actively in ASEAN’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2017, and lay the foundation for another 50 years of steady relationship. As American foreign policy is known for short-term calculations, it should demonstrate that it is capable of being a strong and reliable long-term partner to ASEAN.
Second Interview with: Professor Khong Yuen Foong, Li Ka Shing Professor of Political Science of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
- What aspects of Obama’s Asia foreign policy should the new American president continue?
America’s active economic and military engagement with Asia should continue mainly because of its contribution to regional peace and prosperity.
The perception that America has neglected the region is a misconception. If you look carefully at what the superpower has done since the Cold War, I would argue that it has reaffirmed and consolidated virtually all its military alliances in Asia. America has elevated its alliances with Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Thailand, and has given them all major non-NATO ally status.
Also, America has encouraged military allies to have strategic links with one and another, such as Australia and Japan, and India and Australia. By encouraging these democracies to interact strategically with one another, America hopes to continue as the hegemon in the region.
- How will the two presidential candidates impact US-Asia foreign policy?
Hillary Clinton would like to continue with both the ‘pivot’ (after all she was instrumental in starting it) as well as the TPP, if only the politics allowed it. She is a member of the Eastern establishment. She plays by Washington’s rulebook, and is well versed with what is good for America’s prosperity and security.
There are many advantages of the pivot and of America’s alliances in Asia. I would be very surprised if any American president chooses to change engagement rules in Asia (although Trump has made statements to this effect). If you pull out troops, where are you going to house them? It might be more costly to base them at home than in Asia. There is a huge domestic political incentive to let things carry on as they are.
- What does Asia expect of America, regardless of who comes into the White House?
There is a diversity of opinion about what to expect from America. For instance, China hopes that Asia will be responsible for solving its own problems. Indonesia has, in the past, also used this vocabulary.
Asia is not facing America with one voice. That being said, the majority of Asia welcomes American engagement on the military and economic fronts, and acknowledges that the relationship has played an important role in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
- Will the TPP be a priority for both the presidential candidates?
The TPP is a non-starter for both candidates. For Trump, free trade agreements have had an adverse impact on American interests, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He is not entirely wrong here, as globalisation and free trade pacts have cost America many jobs; he has just failed to factor in the enormous .gains accruing to America’s hard-to-beat services and technological industries .
Clinton has retracted her support for the TPP. From her perspective, the best thing that can happen is for the TPP to be ratified by Congress when Obama is still in office. If not, Clinton—if she wins– will have to go back to the drawing board to renegotiate the treaty, or give it up altogether.