Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Japan, the Philippines deserve international support in Sea disputes with China — China is testing American allies, American resolve and United States alliances in Asia

April 24, 2014


There is a need to convince China that coercion will no longer work.

By Michael J. Green
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The mounting tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over the small chain of islands in the East China Sea called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China have profound implications for United States interests and the future of Asia.

Both Tokyo and Washington can do more to reduce tensions, but the fundamental problem is China’s pattern of coercion against neighbors along its maritime borders. Any American plan to ease the strain between Japan and China should convince Beijing that coercion will no longer work — but that dialogue and confidence building measures might.

The competing Japanese and Chinese claims to the islands, which are under Japanese control, are rooted in obscure historical documents and verbal understandings. Japan argues that China’s historical claims to the islands are revisionist, noting that Chinese officials never asserted sovereignty over the islands before 1971. Chinese officials say that by purchasing several of the islands in 2012 from private Japanese landowners, the Japanese government broke a tacit bilateral agreement dating from the 1970s to set the dispute aside.

Yet while each side says the other broke the status quo, China has been pressing its claim by increasing maritime patrols in the waters around the islands, embargoing strategic metal exports to Japan (in violation of international agreements), and expanding military operations around — and even through — the Japanese archipelago.

Maritime states from India to the Philippines are watching the friction between China and Japan with great concern. Beijing has used similar pressure tactics in disputes with those countries since the Central Military Commission approved a “Near Sea Doctrine” five years ago with the aim of asserting greater control over the waters of the East and South China Seas. The doctrine includes not only the sea, but also the air, as Beijing demonstrated last November when it announced an Air Defense Identification Zone over a range of small islands and waters in the East China Sea administered by Japan and South Korea.

Thus the issue at stake is not just the conflict between Japan and China over islets, but the more fundamental question of whether China will use its growing economic and military power to assert its interests without respect to international norms — or to American power.

The Obama administration has reiterated that the 1960 U.S.-Japan security treaty covers islands, like the ones in the East China Sea, even though Washington has not taken a position on the underlying sovereignty question.

All of the parties have an interest in avoiding an accidental conflict in the East China Sea. But the worst thing Washington could do is push Tokyo to compromise with Beijing in the face of Chinese pressure.

The Obama administration did just that with Manila two years ago, and the results were a setback for Washington.

At that time, China was also using expanded maritime patrols and mercantile embargoes to compel Manila to compromise in a dispute over the Scarborough Shoal in the Philippine Sea. As the possibility of a clash mounted because Manila insisted on protecting its traditional control of the suddenly contested waters, the Obama administration got nervous and brokered a deal in which both sides would pull back their ships.

After a brief withdrawal, China’s maritime forces rushed back in to take control, blocking not only the Philippines’ small navy, but also local fishermen whose families have made their livings around the shoals for generations. Manila has taken the issue to the International Court of Justice and Mr. Obama will announce a new security cooperation and access agreement when he visits the Philippines next week, but China has no intention of accepting the court’s arbitration, and Beijing considers the episode a victory.

The United States must not make the same mistake of being overly even-handed in the East China Sea dispute, where the stakes are higher. The best way to avoid an accidental military confrontation would be for China to accept Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s offer for open dialogue with President Xi Jinping, and the Japanese government’s proposal for military-to-military confidence-building talks, improved communications channels for ships and planes, and activation of a hotline.

China has refused all of these overtures. Instead, Beijing has engaged in a propaganda campaign designed to demonize the Japanese prime minister as a militarist — he increased Japan’s defense spending 0.8 percent — and has argued that Mr. Abe must fundamentally change his attitude before there can be a summit meeting between the two leaders.

Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has resisted Japanese confidence-building proposals, viewing military tensions and uncertainty as means to force compromise on underlying disputes.

Mr. Obama should make Chinese acceptance of these proposals the centerpiece of his public and private discussions about the island standoff when he is in Asia this week and next.

At their talks in Tokyo, Mr. Obama and Mr. Abe should also reiterate their intention to finalize new guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation by the end of the year, which would send a strong signal to potential adversaries that the United States and Japan will be ready to stand side-by-side in any regional crisis and that any efforts to isolate Japan from the United States will fail.

At the same time, Mr. Obama and Mr. Abe need to talk about measures that will reassure China and offer potential off-ramps to the crisis.

One would be to push for resumption of earlier discussions between China and Japan on joint development of resources in the East China Sea. Another would be for Mr. Abe to take advantage of a slight decrease in Chinese operations around the islands this year to see if Beijing might agree to longer-term arrangements accompanied by more open communication and transparency. Any small opening is worth exploring.

The bottom line is that the United States is not going to resolve the underlying dispute over the islands, which is about the future structure of power and order in the Western Pacific and not just fish, gas or nationalism. Though nowhere near as brazen as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in the Ukraine, China is testing the durability of the American-backed status quo and United States alliances in Asia. This line of thinking in Beijing about the region will not disappear overnight, but if the United States is credibly engaged with allies and partners to dissuade any use of coercion, there will be room for confidence-building measures that reduce tensions and buy time for later diplomatic resolutions. Japan has useful proposals on the table, and deserves international support.

Michael J. Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and associate professor at Georgetown University. He is a contributor to “Debating China: The U.S.-China Relationship in Ten Conversations.”

Obama: U.S. obligated by treaty to defend Tokyo in a confrontation with China over disputed islands

April 24, 2014


Royal welcome

U.S. President Barack Obama is welcomed by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko upon his arrival at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Thursday morning. AP Photo/Kimimasa Mayama, Pool

By JULIE PACE AP White House Correspondent

Showing solidarity with Japan, President Barack Obama affirmed Thursday that the U.S. would be obligated to defend Tokyo in a confrontation with Beijing over a set of disputed islands, but urged all sides to resolve the long-running dispute peacefully.

Wading cautiously into a diplomatic minefield, Obama insisted the U.S. takes no position on whether the islands in the East China Sea are ultimately in the dominion of China or Japan. But he noted that historically Japan has administered the islands, triggering America’s NATO obligations to defend its ally Japan should tensions escalate militarily.

“We do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally,” Obama said at a news conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “What is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.”

The dispute over the islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, has badly strained relations between the two Asian powers. Although Obama has sought to avoid getting dragged in to territorial disputes an ocean away, Japan and other U.S. allies see the disputes through the broader lens of China’s growing influence in Asia, where Obama arrived Wednesday at the start of a four-nation, eight-day tour.

China is not on Obama’s itinerary, but concerns about the Asian powerhouse are trailing the president nonetheless. Beijing is watching closely for signs that U.S. is seeking to limit China’s rise, while smaller nations are looking to Obama for affirmations that his vaunted push to increase U.S. influence in Asia hasn’t petered out.

Obama’s advisers insist that the trip — and the White House’s broader Asia policy — is not designed to counter China’s growing power, and they say the president is not asking Asian nations to choose between allegiance to Washington or Beijing.

“We want to continue to encourage the peaceful rise of China,” Obama said.

Seeking to inject fresh urgency into trade talks, Obama said the time is now to resolve issues hindering completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The U.S. has been leading the 12-nation negotiations, but an end-of-2013 deadline was missed and there are few signs of progress toward resolving conflicts with Japan over tariffs and access to Japan’s auto market.

At the same time, as Obama pressed his case in Tokyo, he was unable to convey the full backing of Congress, which would have to ratify any such pact. Lawmakers, including many of Obama’s Democratic allies, have thus far refused to give Obama the fast-track authority needed to ensure an up-or-down vote on the final agreement.

“Abe’s got to deal with his politics, I’ve got to deal with mine,” Obama said.

On the island dispute, Obama encouraged the parties to work through the issue “through dialogue” and urged both sides to “keep the rhetoric low.” He said the U.S. commitment to come to Japan’s defense if necessary is nothing new.

“The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth, so obviously this isn’t the red line that I’m drawing,” the president said.

China’s government has said China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and that “the so-called Japan-U.S. alliance” should not harm China’s territorial rights.

Abe said he and Obama agreed to cooperate on engagement with China, along with other topics, including the impact of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. “The Japan-US alliance is more robust than ever before,” Abe said through a translator.

Addressing another source of tension in the region, Obama said he’s not optimistic North Korea will change its behavior in the near future. But he said he’s confident that by working with Japan, South Korea and others — especially China — the U.S. can apply more pressure so that “at some juncture they end up taking a different course.”

Underscoring his concerns about Pyongyang’s behavior, Obama met Thursday with relatives of Japanese citizens that the White House said were abducted by North Korea. Obama recommitted to working with Japan to address the North’s “deplorable treatment of its own people,” the White House said.

Later Thursday, Obama planned to return to the Imperial Palace for a state dinner. He also planned to visit the Meiji Shrine, which honors the emperor whose reign saw Japan emerge from over two centuries of isolation to become a world power.

Obama’s Asia swing is aimed at reaffirming his commitment to the region even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. The ominous standoff between Ukraine and Russia threated to overshadow the trip as the president weighs whether to levy new economic sanctions on Moscow.

The president’s stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines serve as something of a do-over after he canceled a visit to Asia last fall because of the U.S. government shutdown. The cancellation provided fresh fodder for those in the region who worry that the White House’s much-hyped pivot to Asia is continually taking a backseat to other foreign and domestic priorities.

Obama began his day with a call on Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace, a lush, park-like complex surrounded by modern skyscrapers where he was greeted by a military honor guard and children holding U.S. and Japanese flags. After taking in the scene, the president, emperor and empress walked along a maze of red carpet into the palace for a private meeting, with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and other aides trailing behind.

The president pointed out that the last time he and the emperor met, Obama did not have any gray hairs. “You have a very hard job,” the emperor replied.


Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, and Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.


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Obama seeks to ease Asian allies’ doubts during visit to Japan

April 23, 2014


President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe depart Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Tokyo, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Opening a four-country swing through the Asia-Pacific region, Obama is aiming to promote the U.S. as a committed economic, military and political partner, but the West’s dispute with Russia over Ukraine threatens to cast a shadow over the president’s sales mission. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By Linda Sieg and Matt Spetalnick

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama will use a state visit to Japan on Thursday to try to reassure Tokyo and other Asian allies of his commitment to ramping up U.S. engagement in the region, despite Chinese complaints that Washington’s real aim is to contain Beijing’s rise.

Obama will be treated to a display of pomp and ceremony meant to show that the U.S.-Japan alliance, the main pillar of America’s security strategy in Asia, remains solid at a time of rising tensions over growing Chinese assertiveness and North Korean nuclear threats.

It was unclear, however, whether a last-ditch round of talks between U.S. and Japanese negotiators would yield a breakthrough on a two-way trade pact seen as crucial to a broader trans-Pacific agreement that Obama has championed.

The challenge for Obama during his week-long, four-nation tour will be to convince Asian partners that Washington is serious about its promised strategic “pivot” towards the region, while at the same time not harming U.S. ties with China, the world’s second-biggest economy.

The difficulty of Obama’s balancing act was underscored hours before he arrived on Wednesday night when Chinese state media criticized U.S. policy in the region as “a carefully calculated scheme to cage the rapidly developing Asian giant”.

Obama told Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper that while Washington welcomed China’s peaceful rise, “our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.”

Leaders who will meet Obama on his Asia trip – which will also include stops in South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines – are also keeping a wary eye on the crisis in Ukraine through the prism of their own territorial disputes with Beijing.

Some of China’s neighbors worry that Obama’s apparent inability to rein in Russia, which annexed Crimea last month, could send a message of weakness to China.


The eve of Obama’s arrival in Japan was marked by a final push by U.S. and Japanese negotiators for a trade deal to support the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would connect a dozen Asia-Pacific economies.

Even if a U.S.-Japan pact cannot be finalized before Obama leaves Tokyo on Friday, Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are likely to try to project a sense of progress on key issues. Gaps remained over Japan’s agriculture and both sides’ auto markets.

The Japanese government lobbied hard to get the White House to agree to an official state visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Thousands of ordinary Japanese lined the street in downtown Tokyo on Wednesday evening, hoping to glimpse Obama as he headed for dinner with Abe at a sushi restaurant after his arrival.

Obama lauded the fare after his meal with Abe. “That’s some good sushi right there,” he said as he and the Japanese leader left Sukiyabashi Jiro, a venerable establishment in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza shopping district run by an octogenarian chef.

Topping Obama’s schedule on Thursday will be an audience with Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace and a summit with Abe followed by a joint news conference. He will also visit the Meiji Shrine, which honors a Japanese emperor who died in 1912, and attend a state banquet in the president’s honor.

Abe will be trying to soothe U.S. concerns that his conservative push to recast Japan’s war record with a less apologetic tone is overshadowing his pragmatic policies on the economy and security.

Obama and Abe are expected to send a message of solidarity after strains following Abe’s December visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

In his remarks to the Japanese newspaper, Obama assured Japan that tiny isles in the East China Sea at the heart of a territorial row with China are covered by a bilateral security treaty that obligates America to come to Japan’s defense.

That is long-stated U.S. policy, but the confirmation by the president will be welcome in Japan.

A joint statement to be issued at the summit will state the two allies will not tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force – a phrase that implicitly targets China – but likely not mention the islands by name, Japanese media reported.

Calling Washington’s policy “myopic”, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said: “The United States should reappraise its anachronistic hegemonic alliance system and stop pampering its chums like Japan and the Philippines that have been igniting regional tensions with provocative moves.”

Previewing Obama’s Asia tour, his national security adviser, Susan Rice, rejected the notion that China was being targeted.

“With respect to the trip and whether it ought to be viewed as a containment of China, I would say this trip has a very positive, affirmative agenda,” she told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Antoni Slodkowski and Chris Meyers; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Obama Arrives in Japan On A Mission to Reassure Asian Allies

April 23, 2014


U.S. President Barack Obama (R) greets U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy (C), her husband Edwin Schlossberg (3rd R) and other officials upon his arrival at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo April 23, 2014. REUTERS-Toru Hanai

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) greets U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy (C), her husband Edwin Schlossberg (3rd R) and other officials upon his arrival at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo April 23, 2014.
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

(CNN) — Looking to turn a few degrees in his long-awaited “pivot to Asia,” President Barack Obama embarks on Tuesday on a four-country tour of the region in the hopes of convincing Pacific allies the United States remains focused on them.

But like Obama’s last attempts to renew diplomatic and economic attention on Asia, this trip comes amid distractions: unrest in Ukraine, recent transportation disasters at two of his stops, and wary lawmakers back home who aren’t on board with Obama’s plan to expand trade.

The trip itself — with stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines — is a rain-check from last October, when the White House nixed a visit to Asia at the last minute amid the government shutdown.

The cancellation only prompted more questions about the administration’s capacity for a foreign policy realignment that sought to counterbalance China’s growing influence in Asia.

 U.S. President Barack Obama steps out from Air Force One as he arrives at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo April 23, 2014. REUTERS-Toru Hanai

U.S. President Barack Obama steps out from Air Force One as he arrives at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo April 23, 2014.
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

That repositioning first came about during Obama’s first term, when the President and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a point of referencing a “pivot” toward relations in the Asia Pacific — and implicitly, away from traditional foreign policy hotspots in the Middle East and Europe.

But in the intervening years, heightened diplomacy with Iran, and more recently unrest in Ukraine, have grabbed far more headlines than the United States’ increased efforts in Asia. And a vow to allocate more military resources in the region coincided with a plan to reduce Pentagon spending substantially.

“The region does, I think, feel like there’s a bit of distraction here in the United States,” said Victor Cha, a former director of Asian affairs in the George W. Bush White House who is now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“In polite company, people won’t say it, but behind closed doors, I think they’ll openly ask where the pivot is — they don’t know where it is — or the rebalance in the second term,” Cha said at a briefing with reporters last week. “Strong messaging on the U.S. commitment to the region I think is an important way to try to compensate or try to fill that gap.”

Administration officials say U.S. alliances in Asia have remained strong despite several years of flashpoints in other parts of the world. And they bristle at the notion the White House and its diplomats can focus only on one region at a time.

“There are often questions raised about whether or not we get distracted with Ukraine or the Middle East, and this trip is yet one more example that we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Evan Medeiros, Obama’s senior director for Asian affairs. “There are huge parts of the government — I’m part of them — that are devoted to advancing U.S. interests in the Asia Pacific.”

While there aren’t any major announcements expected on this week’s trip, Obama officials hope the visits will yield progress toward showing America’s commitment to each country, and the region as a whole.

In Japan, the President will look to further progress on a trade deal, though Democrats on Capitol Hill have proven wary of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, at least until November’s midterm elections.

And in the Philippines, a new military cooperation agreement is being negotiated that could boost U.S. troop presence in a region where China has pushed for greater control.

Elsewhere, Obama’s schedule is dotted with social and cultural events to highlight the region’s dynamic growth — including an innovation center in Kuala Lumpur and a science exhibit in Tokyo.

“I think we go to the region at a time when our allies in the region are very much appreciative of and committed to our alliance relationships,” said National Security Adviser Susan Rice during a briefing Friday. “These alliances are only strengthening in the context of a more uncertain security environment.”

Fueling that uncertainty is the situation in Ukraine, where pro-Russian forces effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula and have moved into the eastern part of the country.

The White House has announced several rounds of sanctions against Russian officials and businesses, but Obama has been explicit that any military intervention is out of the question for the United States.

That’s a cause for concern among some Asian allies — including Japan — who have their own territorial disputes with China, though some experts say that worry is overblown since security pacts in place would compel more robust U.S. response in a conflict between Asian nations.

“The notion that Japanese or Taiwan or American allies in the region are nervous about the U.S. reaction to the Ukraine and that means something for them I think is fundamentally false,” said Jeffrey Bader, who until 2011 served as senior director for East Asian Affairs on the National Security Council.

“The U.S. has a mutual security treaty with Japan for over 50 years which is NATO-like in its firmness,” said Bader, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Obama’s trip also comes as two of his stops contend with major transportation disasters. Both the sinking of a ferry full of high schoolers in South Korea and the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 have occupied those countries’ leaders in recent weeks.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said Monday it was likely Obama would express his support for the ferry victims’ families during his visit to Seoul. Last week, Obama said the tragedy was “heartbreaking.”

In the case of Malaysia, officials’ response to the crash has drawn wide criticism, though not from the White House — and that’s expected to remain the case through next week.

“This trip has a very positive, affirmative agenda and that’s how we are looking at it — as an opportunity to solidify and modernize our alliances and partnerships,” Susan Rice said Friday.

Keystone Uncensored: Labor Leaders Says Obama Administration is “Gutless” — Where is the economic recovery and the where are the jobs?

April 23, 2014


Twice American labor leaders endorsed  Barack Obama for president calling him a leader “who will fight to create jobs.”

Now a labor leader calls the Obama Administration ‘gutless,’ ‘dirty’ and more.

The wall Street Journal

Republicans are denouncing President Obama’s latest delay on the Keystone XL pipeline, six long years after it was proposed. But for cold political fury they have nothing on Terry O’Sullivan, who runs the Laborers’ International Union that represents a half-million construction workers.

“This is once again politics at its worst,” Mr. O’Sullivan said in a public statement that deserves to be quoted at length. “In another gutless move, the Administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process—and which has nothing to with the national interest. They waited until Good Friday, believing no one would be paying attention. The only surprise is they didn’t wait to do it in the dark of night.

Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Bloomberg

“It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics. Once again, the Administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country. This certainly is no example of profiles in courage. It’s clear the Administration needs to grow a set of antlers, or perhaps take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach.

“This is another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security.”

The pipeline is expected to create some 2,000 new jobs from construction and thousands more related to the project. Many of those jobs would go to Mr. O’Sullivan’s union members, who do not live on San Francisco’s Pacific Heights like billionaire donor Tom Steyer who opposes Keystone.

Mr. O’Sullivan may feel especially bitter because he and the Laborers twice endorsed Mr. Obama for President, calling him a leader “who will fight to create jobs.” But he shouldn’t be surprised now given that Mr. Obama was doing the Keystone delay and dodge routine throughout 2012. Union leaders whose members work in the private economy, not the government, should know by now that if they want Keystone approved they will need a Republican Senate.


Putin Ally Talks of Hitler’s “Uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland” — Is This Putin’s Plan For The New Russia and Eastern Europe?

April 23, 2014


The Russia of Gorbachev and Yeltsin is gone. Putin’s “New Russia” has started to emerge.

By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post

IsAndranikMigranyan right?
The head of a think tank associated with Vladimir Putin wrote the following in response to critics who liken the Russian president to Adolf Hitler and what he did so long ago: “One must distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939. The thing is that Hitler collected [German] lands. If he had become famous only for uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland and Memel, in fact completing what Bismarck failed to do, and if he had stopped there, then he would have remained a politician of the highest class.”
Migranyan’s comment, published in a Russian newspaper, has received quite a bit of attention, both because of his position and for its chilling content. There is no doubt that Hitler crossed a line in September 1939 when he invaded Poland, finally forcing Britain and France to go to war. (Maybe Migranyan remembers that the Soviet Union also invaded Poland.) Up to then, Hitler had mostly satisfied himself with collecting the lands of German-speakingpeoples — Austria, the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, etc. — although Poland also had a substantial German minority.
If something like this is what Putin has in mind — gathering Russian-speaking people under his rule — then Migranyan seems to be saying: What’s the big deal? What he does not mention, though, is that by 1939 Hitler was already engaged in killing Jews, dissidents, communists, homosexuals and, that year, the mentally and physically feeble. Kristallnacht, a government-sanctioned pogrom, occurred in 1938; the Nuremberg laws, depriving Jews of their civil rights, were promulgated in 1935; and Germany was rapidly re-arming, in violation of its treaty obligations. It was, way before 1939, an outlaw state vigorously engaged in murder.For anyone, least of all a think-tank director, to overlook this record is frightening. Maybe, though, Migranyan did not overlook it. Maybe he was simply reciting a fact: What Hitler did to his own people disturbed the West but did not stir it to action. Indeed, many argued that Hitler had a point: Germans belonged in Germany. As for the Jews, they were often blamed for their own plight.

You hear similar arguments now about Putin and Russian-speaking peoples: Crimea is Russian. Eastern Ukraine is Russian. Maybe some of the Baltic states are Russian, too. Who knows?

I would never compare anyone to Hitler. He remains in a category of one. And I would not, either, get too carried away about Russian rhetoric at the moment. The denunciation of dissidents as “traitors” may just be the Russian version of Fox News excess of the type we heard in the run-up to the war in Iraq. (Check YouTube to see what I mean.) At the same time, there are contrary signs — the election of Putin critics to this or that office and the distinct lack of Nazi-style rhetoric regarding minorities. Specifically, Putin seems free of anti-Semitism.

Still, what are we to make of Migranyan? He did not write in a vacuum. The Kremlin is stifling dissent. The Russian foreign minister is either lying with abandon or blithely passing lies on — or both. So-called green men, troops with their faces shielded and their identifying insignias missing, have circulated through eastern Ukraine, as they did in Crimea. Ukrainian and some Western intelligence agencies identify them as Russian, even down to providing the names of certain individuals. These are similar to the techniques Hitler used to provoke intervention in neighboring countries. He was forever coming to the rescue of embattled German minorities.

Migranyan and presumably Putin live in a different era. They think the line they must not cross is one that will provoke a truly punishing Western reaction — such as seizing parts of the Baltic states. But they have already crossed a line. The West, including Barack Obama, knows that Putin cannot be trusted. He is a liar — and not a very good one. (He once said no Russian troops went into Crimea but later admitted they had.) He is at heart an autocrat who wants to re-create as much of the old Soviet empire as he can.

The consequences of all this are not yet clear. It is clear, though, that the Russia of Gorbachev and Yeltsin is gone and something new and yet familiar has taken its place. The Obama administration recognizes the new reality and is appropriately dusting off Cold War playbooks. Russia, it seems, may be turning its back on Europe — but not, ominously, on some of its ugly 20th-century history.


Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.

Photo: Armed pro-Russia protesters prepare for the battle with Ukrainian police special team on the outskirts the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 13, 2014 (AFP Photo / Anatoly Stepanov)

Can Japan’s Abe and President Obama Save the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

April 23, 2014



TOKYO/WASHINGTON —A meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week in Tokyo may not seal one of the world’s biggest trade pacts, but it could give it a much-needed boost.

A central element of Obama’s strategic shift towards Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would connect a dozen Asia-Pacific economies by eliminating trade barriers and harmonizing regulations in a pact covering two-fifths of the world economy and a third of all global trade.

After four years of talks and missed deadlines, negotiators from several TPP countries say they hope Thursday’s summit will lay the groundwork for tough concessions, including a possible easing in Japan’s protectionist stance on beef, sugar, dairy and wheat – a step that could breath life into the struggling TPP.

“Hopefully this will provide some clarity about the level of ambition we can expect in a hopefully successful TPP,” New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said.

The White House had hoped to complete the deal last year but has faced disagreements over barriers such as Japanese import duties on agricultural products. Tokyo is fighting to maintain import tariffs in five agricultural categories: rice, wheat, dairy, sugar, and beef and pork products.

Washington, meanwhile, has sought ways to protect U.S. carmakers from their Japanese rivals.

Experts are looking for signs of concessions, especially from Japan given its staunch protection of its beef, sugar, dairy and wheat industries. Under one optimistic scenario, the leaders could announce they expect concrete outcomes soon, perhaps next month, when TPP negotiators meet in Vietnam.

A senior U.S. official said the summit would likely produce a statement giving a nudge for the negotiations to move to the next stage, a view shared by some industry groups.

“I think it will be something artfully worded to say we have made significant progress and our negotiators continue to work on this with a goal of concluding,” said James Fatheree, senior director for Japan and Korea at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington and president of the U.S.-Japan Business Council.

The stakes are high for both Obama and Abe.

Failure to unveil a significant advance could stall the ambitious pact, undermining the trade-policy arm of Obama’s so-called “pivot” of U.S. military, diplomatic and trade resources to the Asia-Pacific region.

An agreement between the United States and Japan is crucial for setting the tone for other countries engaged in the TPP: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

An official from a developing country involved in the negotiations said failure to move talks forward during Obama’s trip would make it difficult to clinch a TPP deal.

“We all want to be optimistic about reaching a deal, but the reality is on the basis of the declarations made by officials from one country or the other, there are still important differences to be resolved.”

Some countries such as Malaysia are still a long way from signing up to a TPP pact. “We are not ready and I think some of the other countries are also not ready,” Paul Low, a minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department, was quoted as saying by The Edge financial daily.

Failure would also hurt Abe’s ‘Third Arrow’ plan to kick-start Japanese economic growth through structural reforms.

“It would probably be worse for Obama because he would be seen as not able to deliver, whereas Abe would be seen as defending national interests,” said Aurelia George Mulgan, Japanese politics professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales. “However, internationally, failure could be bad because the ‘Third Arrow’ looks even floppier.”

TPP partners have no official deadline for completing the talks or making progress on key areas. Experts say an open-ended time frame is unlikely to motivate Japan.

“My experience is that they are often intractable until the last minute,” said one former U.S. negotiator who has dealt with Japan in previous trade rounds. “What motivates negotiators, particularly Japanese trade officials, to resolve seemingly intractable disputes is a credible deadline.”

U.S.-Japan talks have intensified in the run-up to the summit and are likely to continue through Wednesday. Japanese media have floated one possible outcome: Japan will be allowed to maintain tariffs on rice and wheat in exchange for a larger import quota for U.S. producers. Tariffs on beef would be cut over time, likely to around 9 percent, reports said.

Officials on both sides refuse to confirm details and warn against focusing too much on individual parts of what will be a delicately balanced final agreement between the 12 countries.

“Any agreement will be very complicated and it will involve a complex and holistic agreement,” Japanese cabinet councillor Kazuhisa Shibuya told reporters on Monday.

The senior U.S. official, who declined to be identified, cautioned that it would take some months to translate a final TPP agreement into a proposal for lawmakers. But judging from the Japanese leaks, progress seems likely at least on beef.

Yukio Okamoto, a former diplomat and adviser to two Japanese prime ministers, said farmers could receive subsidies to make up for lower tariff protection.

“Of course there is opposition in the Diet (parliament) but the Japanese government should not make that a pretext not to advance, because what awaits is our being excluded from this free, prosperous market in the Pacific,” he said in Washington.

U.S. beef and pork lobby groups are urging the White House to insist on complete tariff elimination, warning they may oppose the TPP if it does not go far enough.

“The U.S. needs to stick to its principles and work out something that both countries can support, but something that’s not going to jeopardize our future,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association senior official Kent Bacus said.

The United States should publicly question Japan’s membership of the TPP if the country does not open up, said Nick Giordano, vice president of the National Pork Producers Council.

“The only area for compromise is the duration of time in which tariffs are eliminated, that’s it,” he said.


McCain: Obama Doesn’t Appreciate ‘American Leadership’ Role

April 23, 2014

By Wanda Carruthers

As Russian troops continue to mass along Ukraine’s border, President Barack Obama hesitates in stepping up assistance for the embattled country because he doesn’t appreciate America’s leadership in the world, Sen. John McCain said.

President Obama “does not appreciate, in my view, the importance of American leadership. That we are an exceptional nation,” the Arizona Republican told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

Leadership does not mean that Americans “fight every war,” McCain said. It does mean “peace through strength” to assist “people who were struggling for freedom.”

Arizona Republican John McCain on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday

See video:

McCain said it is time for the United States to act to stave off further aggression from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He indicated there were a number of options available to assist Ukraine, short of sending in American troops.

“There are some sanctions that we can impose, which would give the Europeans a choice. If we sanction some of their financial institutions, they might have to decide whether they’re going to do business with Russia or do business with us. There’s a lot of things we can do,” he said.

In addition, McCain suggested providing Ukrainians with the defensive weapons they have been “begging for,” assisting them with integration into the European Union, and helping them secure loans from the International Monetary Fund.

The problems in Ukraine are spilling over into nearby countries, including Moldova and the Baltic states, McCain said. He said he just returned from a trip there and described the atmosphere as one of uncertainty.

“I’m not using the word afraid. But I will use the word extremely nervous about what Putin’s going to do. And, more than that, what we’re going to do,” he said.

Obama Reaffirms that U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty Applies To East China Sea Islands in Dispute With China

April 23, 2014



Associated Press

TOKYO —President Barack Obama confirmed Wednesday that America’s mutual security treaty with Japan applies to the islands at the center of a territorial dispute between China and Japan.

“The policy of the United States is clear,” he said in a written response to questions published in Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper before his arrival in Tokyo at the start of a four-country Asia tour.

“The Senkaku islands are administered by Japan” and therefore fall under the U.S.-Japan treaty, he wrote. “And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.”

His statement seems aimed at reassuring Japan that the U.S. would come to its defense if China were to seize the islands, known as the Diayou in China. Russia’s annexation of Crimea has sparked concern about America’s political will to protect Asian allies, notably in Japan and the Philippines.

Obama said the United States is deepening its ties with China, but “our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.”

He told the Yomiuri that the U.S. will continue to take steps to reduce the impact of its military presence in Okinawa, but added “it’s important to remember that the U.S. Marine Corps presence on Okinawa is absolutely critical to our mutual security. It plays a key role in the defense of Japan.”


The disputed islands. Japan calls them the Senkakus. China calls them the Diaoyus.

This is the center of the ocean area in dispute between China and Japan.

South China Sea: Renato Reyes says “The best way to stand up against China or any foreign aggressor is for the Philippines to be truly independent.”

April 23, 2014


Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea (Photo by Xinhua)

Leftist leader Renato Reyes holds protest rally held in front of Chinese Embassy

By Barbara Mae Dacanay, Bureau Chief, Gulf News

Manila: The Philippines is now caught between two contending forces, China and the United States, because of the South China Sea territorial dispute, a leftist leader said during a protest rally held in front of the Chinese Embassy in Makati City.

“We are holding this rally to clarify that the Philippines should be careful. We have allowed our country to be in the middle of two contending threats [China and the US] — because of the overlapping claims in the South China Sea,” Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bayan, told Gulf News on Tuesday.

“First, we are against China, which does not recognise the sovereignty of the Philippines and its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea — the West Philippine Sea,” Reyes said, adding, “The best way to stand up against China or any foreign aggressor is for the Philippines to be truly independent, engage in a programme of national industrialisation, and to build its own economic capacity and security.”

Although Bayan is leftist, it has espoused an issue that is “not about ideology but about Philippine sovereignty,” explained Reyes.

He criticised China’s takeover of several shoals near the country’s western seaboard — the Mischief Shoal near Palawan in 1995 and the Scarborough Shoal near northern Luzon in 2012.

China has been trying to evict a Philippine Navy contingent deployed in a rusty ship that ran aground near the Second Thomas Shoal, which has served as an outpost of the Philippine government — to protect the eight-island chain claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly Archipelago off the South China Sea.

As a result, the Philippine government is pressured to forge an enhanced defence agreement with the US ahead of the visit of US President Barack Obama, said Reyes.

“The proposed agreement would benefit the US government. It would also take away the country’s sovereignty with the agreement’s proposed basing of US troops inside Philippine facilities,” said Reyes.

The Philippine Senate rejected in 1990 a US-proposed extension of the now defunct US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement (MBA), the basis of US presence in the Philippines which ended in 1991.

It resulted in the dismantling of the former US Subic Naval Base in Olongapo, Zambales  and the US Clark Air Base in Angeles, Pampanga. They were two of US’s largest overseas war facilities.

Citing Bayan’s choice on the difficult issue being faced by the Philippines today, Reyes said, “My group supports the government’s move to elevate the case against China before the United Nations.”

“Bayan condemns China’s militarisation of the South China Sea,” Reyes added.

China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea based on their historical rights.

Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago based on the United Convention on the law of the Sea that grants countries 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones starting from their shores.


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