Yves here. This is an intriguing exchange among Michael Hudson, John Weeks, professor emeritus of development economics at the University of Long and Colin Bradford of Brookings. The points of difference between Hudson and Bradford are sharp, with Bradford admitting to giving a Washington point of view that Obama scored important gains at the APEC summit, with Hudson contending that both confabs exposed America’s declining role and lack of foreign buy-in for its neoliberal economic policies.
While some readers might think that Hudson’s take on how Russia fared is a tad too positive, he isn’t overegging the pudding as far as how America fared at APEC and at the G20. Our Japan-watcher Clive pointed out that Obama got as much (meaning as little) coverage as Putin did in the Japanese press at APEC, which is shocking given the much greater size of the US economy and its much stronger economic and political importance to Japan. A BusinessWeek article today similarly describes the APEC summit as exposing how weak America’s hand in East Asia has become. Key sections:
The breakthroughs won in Asia will be impossible for Obama to implement. And the administration’s attempts to turn U.S. policy toward Asia, a strategy known as “the pivot,” or the “rebalance to Asia,” has actually made the economic and political situation in East Asia worse.
Each supposed success of the president’s trip is likely to unravel. The TPP is far from concluded, with serious gaps remaining in negotiations between the U.S. and Japan, primarily on issues related to agriculture. Even if the U.S. and Japan manage to agree, it will be almost impossible for Obama to pass the agreement through Congress. The president has spent little time trying to convince members of his own party to stand behind the accord. Many prominent Democrats have openly said they will not vote for it. And though the Republicans have historically been more supportive of trade, the Tea Party wing of the GOP is highly suspicious of trade agreements.
The climate deal and the other U.S.-China accords will also turn out to be mostly hot air. Although Obama used executive action to conclude the climate agreement, the incoming Congress, dominated by skeptics of global warming, is likely to do everything it can to water down the accord. The military agreement will not prevent either nation from continuing to build up forces in the region, while the proposed IT tariff reductions, though important, do not change the overall chill that has come over foreign investment in China….
Four goals of the pivot to Asia were to foster a regional free trade agreement, to promote democracy in the most populous region of the globe, to reassure partners throughout Asia that the U.S. would remain committed to the region, and—though this goal was left unsaid— to contain China’s growing assertiveness.
These promises have not been kept, and the visit to Asia only underscored the distance between Obama’s rhetoric and his results. If the TPP does not pass, the White House has no backup trade agenda in the region. (China has a regional trade pact it is pushing in place of the TPP.) Meanwhile, in Northeast Asia, South Korean and Japanese leaders and top officials wonder why, if Obama has made Asia a priority, they have seen so little of the president and senior U.S. cabinet members.
As for containing China’s assertiveness, the policy failed here, too. Several senior Asian officials say that the administration appears focused on other parts of the world, leaving them unclear about America’s position on disputes in Asian waters. The People’s Republic has interpreted Obama’s position as weakness.
This talk gives more color on what the stakes were in this set of talks, and spin versus reality on what came out of them.