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GEOPOLITICAL BULLETIN

NOVEMBER 2017

THE US IN ASIA;   BELARUS: THE UNFREE;   QATAR AND THE GULF CRISIS

 

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM


Who will replace the US in Asia? 

The question arises because President Trump, who currently is himself in Asia, has withdrawn the US from an Obama done-deal, the much vaunted Trans-Pacific Partnership, as of the 1st day of his presidency. This was the largest trade deal in history involving many heavyweight players:- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, as well of course the USA. When reaching for the presidency, he campaigned on this action claiming that these kind of international trade deals took jobs away from the US (and the TPP was to have been the biggest).

Quite separately and very recently another Obama signature bi-lateral Trade deal with South Korea (KORUS) is going out-the-door, for the same reason (be that to expunge the legacy of Obama’s presidency, and/or to save jobs in the USA, even at the cost of growth in the economy and of US prestige). The deal was done, but it is reported that the President has instructed his people that ‘ways must be found to withdraw’. It is not impossible that Trump will change his mind, he is too new in the job for his concept of the presidency to be fully understood, but in both situations: TPP and S. Korea, many economic trade experts, US and others, believe that these actions will inevitably harm the US economy. Apparently without the US, the ‘TPPartnership’ deal now won’t go through, although there are big and resourceful players amongst those nations who may move on together in some areas. Of course in reality from the very beginning, the key geopolitical point was to neutralise the effects of the further expansion of China in the Pacific region. Suddenly, that situation all opens up again. 

With fortuitous timing and in a completely contrary move, China has embarked on a gigantic expansion plan, a truly enormous civil engineering project to advance its international trade (and of course influence) by an expansion through Central Asia, all the way to the markets of Europe, accessing South Asia, en route. This is known as the “One Belt One Road” project, which envisages a rail and highway route through the enormous and extremely difficult terrain of Central Asia, where a number of new nations have emerged since the end of the Soviet Union, several being ‘minerals resource-rich’ to which China’s growing industries need access. 

It takes over in geopolitical terms the earlier TRACECA, a similar concept moving in the opposite direction, from Europe through Transcaucasus to Central Asia, encouraged by the UN and the EU, of which little has been heard during the 20 years since its inception. 

There were historically several vestigial routes through Central Asia, all generically known as “the Silk Road,” because they did eventually converge in China’s westernmost region Sinkiang, with it’s last great barrier to accessing ‘civilisation’, the immense Taklamaken Desert. 

Chinese planners will be working on routes to include China’s own mineral requirements from Central Asia, lonely Kazakhstan being potentially the most important, as well as eventually incorporating direct access to Eurasian markets and eventually those of Western Europe. It is conceivable that Russia might be unhappy at this development, since Central Asia from the time of the Tsars has largely been its bailiwick. Alternatively, the promise of railway access linking through to South Asia might suit it well. That is too early to call! 

At a time when the US under Trump is so plainly disengaging from foreign trading partnerships, the One Belt One Road policy costing trillions of dollars, will possibly allow China with its immense resources to become the new champion of international trade. 

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” With US policies under Trump seemingly reversing what appeared to be a settled policy of continuing involvement in Asia, the new question arises as to how will this evolve, if the US, as is apparently happening, also militarily downsizes from Asia? There is a gut reaction in the US against military involvement in East Asia and such distant places, not alleviated by North Korean nuclear posturing. Also, an understanding after the continual loss of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, that conflicts in such faraway countries are effectively unwinnable and too expensive, in every sense, to merely facilitate expanding trade. 

This self-imposed curb on growth by the US, coinciding with China’s stunning ambition for the opposite, will perhaps come to be seen as the biggest pivotal event in the geopolitics of our time. Although we will be returning to this theme in terms of Eurasia, etc; we now present in this issue an article by Professor Yuen Foong Khong of the National University of Singapore, in respect of how the very relevant multi-nation South East Asia reviews this contingency, first published in ASIA FORUM.

GO TO: "WHO WILL REPLACE THE USA IN SE ASIA?"

* * *

Belarus: The Unfree

BELARUS in 2017 is not a polity that one can admire, no fault of the generally West Slavic people (with a minority admixture of other former Soviet nationalities as in all former members of the Russian empire). It has never escaped from the Soviet trap of totalitarianism when most of the constituent republics and the soviet satellites, after 1991 and the collapse of the USSR, moved on, several even to becoming democracies, good enough indeed for EU membership. But Belarus had been ruled with an iron hand by Alexander Lukashenko, power inherited perhaps from his father, also an administrator, both being earlier described as Soviet State Co-operative Farm managers, which in fact, ‘managed’ all aspects of civil life for those rural dwellers within its enormous catchment areas (think ‘County’ or Province). The rest of the broken USSR went on its way after 1991. Russia was concerned to retain its great influence with some, like the important minerals territory of giant Kazakhstan; and with Uzbekistan, whose capital Tashkent served since Tsarist times as “capital” and key to both Imperial and Communist Russia’s presence in Asia, for example. But Moscow was not exercised about the future of Belarus, partly because, well, where else did it have to go but Moscow? 

Yet, partly because Lukashenko positively insisted on remaining a part of what became the CIS, in the fading years of Yeltsin. It became obvious to Russia-watchers that he, Lukashenko, not only did NOT want independence, but pre-Putin, presumed to fancy his own chances for the top job in Moscow. He cobbled up some sort of “two nation agreement”, effectively to include himself and Belarus as a party in Russian post-soviet political manoeuvres. Needless to say, that finished up with Lukashenko never being seriously considered, and with Putin ever since, as the new top boss of Russia, the CIS, and ‘all who sail in her.’ That was all happening more than a score of years ago, since when Lukashenko has strenuously kept Belarus unfree; with the economy and everything really significant, in thrall to Russia. This leaves Belarus as Europe’s only dictatorship, with fewer gestures towards freedom and democracy, even than Russia itself. Sara Bielecki has described here what Belarus has now become.

GO TO: BELARUS

* * *

Qatar & The Gulf Crisis

The world was surprised a short time ago when the mid-east, so full of nasty surprises over past years, suddenly produced something quite new. A nasty-enough dispute with wide geopolitical implications between two ultra-rich Gulf states of similar, yet critically not identical, salafist Islamic inclinations. Each with secular rulers having much in common; comparatively young men compared with the recent past. Our mid-east specialist Alessandro Bruno, guides us through the desert scrub to examine this confrontation, which if unresolved, he suggests, could become even more significant in the Arabian peninsula, perhaps even further afield, than the eternal Sunni-Shiite divide which dominates the region. 

GO TO: QATAR AND THE GULF CRISIS


 
Clive Lindley - Publisher/Editor
 
 
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