Asian leaders worried about protectionism, nationalism

HANOI (Viet Nam News/ANN) - Trade tensions among powers and climate change to the worrying trends of protectionism and nationalism are being concerned by Asian leaders regarding the shifting Asia geopolitical landscape.

As Asian leaders expressed concerns over the rise of protectionism and nationalism, they also called for a rules-based order in the region.

Foreign ministers from Vietnam, Japan and South Korea yesterday joined a discussion with Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore, on a panel at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN, where they talked about the region’s rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamic.

Concerns regarding the shifting Asia geopolitical landscape, they said, ranged from trade tensions among powers and climate change to the worrying trends of protectionism and nationalism.

“Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and friction between America and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order,” said Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

“What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law be decayed, diminished or can it be strengthened?”

Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh shared this observation, saying that power politics and strategic competition would lead to nations big and small having to make choices to adapt to the situation.

Taro Kono, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, suggested the establishment of a rules-based international order.

“With any unilateral challenge to the status quo; the international community needs to stand up against it,” Taro said.

The “collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war” between the United States and China, he said, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.

Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore, said she would be watching developments in the South China Sea.

“China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. I think it matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether the balance of power in the region is governed by might or right,” she said.

“China claims that the region is at peace and harmony, but I think that is the result of smaller and weaker countries in the region suffering what they must,” she added.

For her part, Kang Kyung-Wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea,  said she wanted to make sure that initiatives offered in the region would be presented in a complimentary way, citing the initiative on Indo-Pacific free trade or One Belt One Road initiative to increase regional connectivity by China.

“We must ensure that these initiatives are presented in a way that preserves openness, inclusivity and transparency and are in line with international norm,” she said.

Kang also said that while there are clear regional fractures, there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearization efforts on the Korean Peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.

“On US-China relations, if you look at just the trade side it does look tense, but I think these are two big players on the global stage with strategic calculations that sometimes diverge, but also at times converge,” she said.

Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono agreed, speaking of efforts to push forward on the TPP trade pact, despite the withdrawal of the United States under President Trump.

"We believe the TPP is still the best option for the United States. It will go into effect at the end of this year. Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, probably South Korea, other Latin American countries plus the UK are all interested in joining, too, so it will create a large free trade regime based in the Asia-Pacific. It will be very attractive for American industries. We’re still hoping the Trump administration or the administration after that will be interested or will come back to the TPP."

In addition to traditional geopolitical threats, such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister said that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes due to climate change.

“The biggest concern is probably climate change—the sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, heavier rain,” he said, adding that regional countries needed to be serious about taking care of this issue.

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