The Yomiuri ShimbunThe unpredictable politics of U.S. President Donald Trump, who advocates an “America First” policy, continue.
Postwar universal values, such as freedom, democracy and human rights, have been put on the back burner.
Taking advantage of this development, China and Russia are attempting to expand their influence. How should the world order based on laws and rules be maintained? This year will be a crucial one in this regard.
Trump risks continue
Trump is entering his second year in office. There seems to be no change in his posture of putting his highest priority on short-term U.S. economic interests and jobs for its people — with no concern for becoming isolated from the international community — and thus appealing to his supporters.
He has already announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact, and from the Paris Agreement, an international framework for addressing global warming. He has thus turned his back on the free trade system and international cooperation that brought about the postwar prosperity.
Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He thereby solidified support among evangelical Christians and Jewish organizations in the United States, but lost his footing as the mediator in the Middle East peace process. Trump went so far as to threaten cutting off financial aid to countries that back a U.N. General Assembly resolution rejecting his decision.
Such self-serving words and deeds by Trump can only lead to him losing the trust of other countries and to seeing U.S. leadership decline. Also worrisome is such a scenario as Trump “making a deal” with his Chinese and Russian counterparts — Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin — and sharing gains among them.
In security policy, Trump has thrashed out a vision of reinforcing U.S. military power, under a slogan of “peace through strength.”
The strategy of applying “maximum pressure” on North Korea is appropriate for a country that continues its nuclear and missile development programs. It is also indispensable for the United States to make efforts, while cooperating with other countries that include Japan, to induce North Korea to go into dialogue geared toward the country’s denuclearization.
His stance of leaving the settlement of the North Korea issue to China is insufficient. This could be a factor behind Xi’s presenting a proposition to Trump that the United States and China divide and rule in the Pacific Ocean.
Midterm elections for the U.S. Congress are slated to be held in November. Undoubtedly, the inward-looking stance of the U.S. administration will intensify. The fate of the probe into possible cozy ties between the Trump administration and Russia is also unclear. This year, too, Trump politics will continue to be big risk factors.
Intl order at stake
Xi’s administration has entered its second term. He aims to build China up to be a “powerful nation” on par with the United States both militarily and economically. China’s massive “One Belt, One Road” economic zone initiative and its militarization of manmade islands in the South China Sea will likely become footholds for achieving this objective.
Putin appears to be a shoo-in for reelection in March’s presidential election.
Putin has railed at sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States since Russia annexed Crimea in Ukraine, and he inspired patriotism among citizens by speaking grandly of Russia’s “recovery as a major power.”
Xi and Putin have many things in common. They catch the United States off guard and seek to change the status quo through force and expand their sphere of influence. They have eliminated political enemies and concentrated authority in their own hands. They have restricted the media and have not tolerated criticism.
Hegemonism and ruling politics with an iron fist is incompatible with the values held by Japan, the United States and Europe. They cannot become global norms or standards. If they are left unaddressed, the free and open international order could be on the verge of a crisis.
Japan and Europe should lean on the United States to rein in the heavy-handed approach taken by Russia and China, and make efforts to foster trust between each country.
The Middle East has a long list of problems including civil wars, terrorism and a refugee humanitarian crisis.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is leading a hard-line foreign policy. The intensifying struggle for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have cut diplomatic ties, is a source of concern. Proxy wars fought by forces supported by Saudi Arabia or Iran are ongoing in Yemen and elsewhere.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group has been almost wiped out in Iraq and Syria.
However, this does not mean the ISIL threat has disappeared. Messages fanning the flames of terrorism are disseminated over the internet. There also are concerns that ISIL fighters born in Europe could launch operations in their home nations.
The international community must thoroughly implement steps to manage borders and share information to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring. It also will be important to provide reconstruction assistance to nations devastated by war.
In 2017, national elections in the European countries of the Netherlands, France and Germany saw victories for pro-EU political parties and candidates. To a degree, the brakes have been put on the xenophobia and populism that surged following the influx of massive numbers of refugees and a string of terrorist attacks.
EU unity essential
The Italian general election set for March could be a destabilizing factor. It is possible the rising Five Star Movement populist party could become the largest party in Italy’s Parliament. High-handed political moves by Poland’s right-wing administration to take control of the nation’s judiciary and deepen rifts with the European Union also cannot be ignored.
Britain is moving ahead with negotiations for its exit from the European Union. Strong leadership by France and Germany will be essential for maintaining the EU’s centripetal force and unity.
French President Emmanuel Macron has advocated ambitious EU reforms, such as promoting further integration of the eurozone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel must get through the confusion surrounding the formation of a coalition government after last year’s election and quickly launch her fourth-term administration.