The DailyBrief

Friday October 6, 2017

Japan-US strategic partnership: Amid ongoing tensions with North Korea, questions are being asked in Tokyo about a possible “de-coupling” of the Japan-US defense relationship if the northeastern Asian country seeks an independent nuclear capability, Grant Newsham writes. Although the 65-year-old alliance is still sound enough, it’s not unbreakable – especially now that threats to Japan are no longer academic as they mostly were until a decade ago. All it would take to unravel the Japan-US alliance is a significant incident in which Washington fails to protect its ally, prompting Tokyo to build its own nukes. One former Japanese official commented privately to the effect: 15 years ago it was a secret that we were even thinking about thinking about nuclear weapons. About seven years ago it was a secret we were talking about it. Now we don’t care if people know.

Malaysia’s upcoming vote: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government must legally hold new elections by August 2018, a date many analysts earlier speculated the long-ruling premier would move up via a snap poll for strategic purposes, David Hutt writes. But that assessment has shifted yet again in light of the opposition coalition’s mounting internal ructions. Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization party’s information chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa told media last week “patience” is needed before calling the next poll because the opposition is still in disarray, a situation independent analysts suspect will worsen before it gets better in the months ahead. The government’s near-incessant attacks on the main opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition are par for the course in Malaysia’s mud-slinging politics. But the government’s anti-Harapan criticisms, many independent observers say, are not far off the mark.

Asean diplomatic opportunity: The Southeast Asian bloc is renowned for failing to adopt a unified stance on crucial regional challenges, undermining the grouping’s raison d’etre and relevance in shaping the region’s strategic architecture, Richard Javad Heydarian writes. However, the brewing crisis on the Korean Peninsula presents a unique opportunity for the 10-member association’s strategic redemption. Asean has recently shown unusual unity on the agreed need to rein in North Korea’s burgeoning ballistic missile and nuclear threat to the region, while at the same time avoiding an openly confrontational stance. The grouping has managed to maintain functional channels of communication with all relevant players, from Seoul and Pyongyang to Beijing, Tokyo and Washington. This puts Asean in a unique position to steer the protagonists towards dialogue and peaceful management of the rising crisis.

‘America First’ policy: US President Donald Trump is doing what every leader is or should be doing: putting their national interests first, maximizing their country’s economic, political and social well-being and keeping the population safe, Ken Moak writes. But putting “America First” is not a zero-sum game, as Trump’s creation of conflicts with other countries seems to imply. Trump’s “executive orders” with respect to putting “America First” are provocative and divisive. The nixing of former US president Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, threatening to cancel the Iran nuclear deal, refusing to negotiate with North Korea and threatening to “wipe it off of the map,” and investigating China’s trade practices could turn the world into a more dangerous place and further exacerbate global economic woes, including those of the US itself.

Iraqi Kurdistan referendum: Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara are all reasonably aligned, not only in Syria but also in Iraq, Pepe Escobar writes. The web may yet become twisted but there seems no imminent risk of rough play. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just visited Tehran and met with President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. That’s a major geopolitical move by any standards. Iran and Turkey are both part of the Astana negotiations aimed at effecting closure in Syria. Both are regarded by Beijing as key nodes in its Belt and Road Initiative. Both are observers – and future full members – of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Both may soon be incorporated into the BRICS-Plus concept. Both are key nodes in Eurasian integration. Inevitably, though, the meeting was eclipsed by the September 25 referendum called by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play