It wasn’t long ago that Germany’s Angela Merkel was anointed as the last defender of liberal Western values. She was even expected to hold America’s Donald Trump to account. But that vision died with her announcement that she supported prohibiting Muslim women from wearing a “full veil” face covering.
America's alliance structure in Europe and Asia dates back more than six decades. A few of the smaller, less viable organizations collapsed (CENTO, SEATO), but since the end of the Cold War, Washington has expanded rather than contracted its treaty obligations. That includes in the Philippines, which two years ago approved a new agreement providing the U.S. military with bases and joining in exercises.
Barack Obama assumed office promising to restore some of the U.S. foreign policy credibility notoriously squandered by his predecessor. But if Congress doesn’t ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement before Christmas, the president will leave office with American commercial and strategic positions weakened in the Asia-Pacific and U.S. credibility further diminished globally. The specter of that outcome should be keeping the president awake at night.
Rising powers tend to be cocky and pushy. They believe their time has arrived and they want their just desserts—now. So it is with China. Alas, there’s a downside, which Beijing has discovered. Rising powers don’t make many friends. The more obnoxious their behavior, the harder diplomacy becomes.
In the presidential debates and on the campaign trail, U.S. trade policy has taken a beating. Trump would slap a 45 percent tax on all imports from China. Sanders claims that trade agreements have been “a disaster for the American worker.” Cruz perpetuates the myth that Congress has ceded its authority on trade to President Obama. And Clinton would oppose a trade agreement she helped craft.
The big trade news recently was that government officials from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership traveled to New Zealand for the official signing ceremony. While the negotiators are no doubt relieved, and are looking forward to some time off, we now get to perhaps the most difficult part of the process: Seeing whether Congress will approve what the Obama administration negotiated.
President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou recently met in Singapore. Never before has Beijing treated the island’s government as an equal. It was a small step for peace, but the circle remains to be squared. China insists that Taiwan is a wayward province, while the vast majority of Taiwanese feel no allegiance to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
On July 20, Cuba formally reopened its embassy in Washington for the first time in 54 years, a step that was reciprocated by the U.S. in mid-August. However, it will be some time yet before relations are fully normalized. The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress has made clear that it will not approve the lifting of the embargo on trade and investment with Cuba in the absence of substantive political reform.
The grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU and the center-left SPD is showing signs of strain. This, however, is not cause for concern given the conflicting policy preferences of the governing parties — which include the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU — and the series of regional crises that Merkel has had to manage over the last two years.
Whenever China is mentioned in a presidential campaign, the consequences are rarely good. In 2012 residents of Ohio, where anti-Beijing ads proliferated, might have believed that the campaign hinged on which candidate was tougher on China. Next year U.S. policy toward the People’s Republic of China might become a broader election issue, leading to serious damage in the relationship.
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