Must America and China clash?

That was the main header of the panel discussion that I attended today. The sub-header was: ‘The troubled future of Sino-US relations’.

The panel discussion was moderated by James Crabtree of FT who is now on a  sabbatical at Singapore LKY School of Public Policy. The panelists were

Mr. Gideon Rachman
Chief Foreign Affairs Columnist, The Financial Times
Dr. Tim Huxley
Executive Director, The International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia
Prof. Huang Jing
Lee Foundation Professor on US-China Relations; Director, Centre on
Asia and Globalization, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Prof. Huang Jing is an American citizen.

What surprised me was the near unanimity among the panelists that the
relationship was headed for rocky times. I am not quoting individual
names but what I type below was said by one of the three:

(1) The Obama administration wanted to be constructive. But, the mood in the Administration has consistently turned darker and the administration officials now think that the relationship is 80% dysfunctional.

(2) Ms. Clinton, if she won, would definitely be more hawkish on China than Obama had been.

(3) Without TPP, America would lose credibility in the Pacific. It is best approved during Obama’s lameduck session. Otherwise, both candidates have to find ways of retracting from their stated positions.

(4) Trump’s strategy towards China is not clear since he wants to cut the military umbrella given to Korea and Japan.

(5) America’s pivot to Asia and standing in the Pacific would be badly damaged if it abandoned Japan.

(6) China needs South China Sea because of the need to deepen its second strike capability. That can be placed only in nuclear submarines. Right now, all their warheads are land based. (I may not have heard this correctly)

(7) Both sides may have to go to the brink before they can find ways of  constructively engaging.

(8) Cambodia did not echo China’s statement on the South China Sea matter released on April 25. Laos and Brunei too kept quiet. ASEAN will slowly grow a spine in dealing with China. (I may not have heard this correctly).

[postscript: a friend corrected me and said that Laos refuted China]

(9) American Presidential candidates usually have the support of one of the three powerful lobbies or some combination of the three: Defence, Wall Street and Energy.

Trump has the support of none of them, at present. That he has come this far tells us something about his success in tapping the underlying swirl or current in the country. But, once in office, he will have to (or) he will have to get one of the three or preferably all three behind him, for a smooth Presidency. (I am not 100% sure that I heard it all correctly on this one)


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