WITH North Korea out of the way, Washington should now begin the process of disengagement from the Asian region. Whether the region will be more secure and stable without the United States is not the issue. The real issue is for us, Asians, to determine our own political destiny.
In hindsight, US President Donald Trump’s letter to Kim Jong-un at the eleventh hour was the tipping point. In the letter cancelling the summit, Trump cited tremendous anger and open hostility towards North Korea.
The absence of North Korean advance parties prior to the summit in Singapore was also another reason cited by Washington for cancelling the summit before reinstating it.
On the Korean side, there was anger against the US for threatening the regime with loose talk by Vice-President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton. Pyongyang read Pence’s statement on the Libyan model as a veiled attempt at regime change. In the Libyan case, Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated eight years after he agreed to abandon the nuclear programme.
In the same vein, Pyongyang was disturbed by Bolton’s remarks. Kim thought he would meet the same fate as Gaddafi after he disarmed his nuclear warheads. He also thought that the US was using the denuclearisation as an excuse to usurp his regime.
The change in Trump’s heart to reinstate the summit could be attributed to the diplomatic skill of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who convinced Kim that the US had no ulterior motive.
Pompeo clarified before a Congressional session that the reference to Gaddafi was not a threat to destabilise Kim’s regime, but rather a message of how the Bush administration in 2003 disarmed Libya and “welcomed it into the international community”.
Kim agreed to the summit only after Chinese President Xi Jinping assured him of his personal safety and the survival of his regime.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I see the Trump and Kim summit as an extension of the US-China often testy geopolitical relations. The current US-China relations must be seen in the context of a changing geopolitical world order where the US no longer dominates the world as it used to.
Reducing tensions in the Korean Peninsula would benefit China, which is currently at odds with the US over a host of issues including tensions over trade barriers.
The US’ decision to rescind its invitation to China’s Navy to participate in a multinational naval exercise off Hawaii was a blow to China’s reputation. Their disagreement over how to resolve problems in the South China Sea is a cause for concern to regional security.
One other challenge in US-Sino relations is the changing of the guard and its potential impact on regional security.
As China asserts greater political and economic influence in the region, it further undermines the US’ geopolitical interests.
China has always been an Asian nation for more than five thousand years. A China that is economically powerful and a strong military power seeks a rightful place in its backyard. A strong China is no longer, in my view, willing to become a rule taker; it wants to become a rule maker.
US-Sino geopolitical tension is a recent phenomenon. It started when the US viewed China as a threat to its primacy or pre-eminence in the region a decade after it helped Beijing join the rule-based World Trade Organisation in 2001.
More low-level tensions are expected as the two jockey for a position of influence and leadership. However, like most, I do not expect the two to go to war.
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia under then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte have leaned towards a more pragmatic policy towards Beijing. It is a truism in international relations that no power lasts forever. The examples of Pax Romana, Pax Persiana, Pax Britannica and other powerful nations come to mind.
After a while, all powers wilted like blooming flowers. In his book Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Allen Lane, 2011), Professor Norman Davies from Oxford University reminded students of the history of the transient nature of political power in international relations.
He wrote: “All states and nations, however great, bloom for a season and are replaced.”
The US, for all its greatness and hubris, has to end its blooming season. The time has come for Washington to take heed and disengage from the region.
The writer is a student of regional geopolitics, defence policy and
commentator on maritime security