On Monday, the Republican party kicked off its national convention in Cleveland, Ohio. While there’s certainly a lot to be said about the theatrics involved and the domestic political aspects of what’s turning out to be a remarkable year in U.S. political history, speakers had relatively little to say about threats to U.S. security outside of the Islamic State, despite the fact that the first day’s theme was “Make America Safe Again.” The convention is still ongoing, and we’ll likely learn more at the week goes on. A look at the new 2016 Republic Party platform offers some insight into how one of the United States’ two big parties sees the world—specifically, the platform (PDF) includes a section on the Grand Old Party’s view of the Asia-Pacific region (read starting on page 48).
To no one’s surprise, the platform devotes more attention to China than any other single country in the region and the language is… harsh. Compared to the 2012 platform (PDF), the GOP’s language is considerably more confrontational toward Beijing. “China’s behavior has negated the optimistic language of our last platform concerning our future relations with China,” the 2016 platform notes, going on to outline Chinese behavior both domestically and abroad that merits the harsh rhetorical turn.
Though Xi Jinping isn’t singled out for criticism, the platform cites a “return to Maoism by China’s current rulers,” and notes that “liberalizing policies of recent decades have been abruptly reversed, dissent brutally crushed, religious persecution heightened, the internet crippled, a barbaric population control two-child policy of forced abortions and forced sterilizations continued, and the cult of Mao revived.” The platform additionally acknowledges developments since 2012 in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the region—China’s advanced “Guam Killer” missiles even get a mention.
The negative turn toward China is tempered with openness to continued economic, cultural, and people-to-people ties. “We welcome students, tourists, and investors, who can see for themselves our vibrant American democracy and how real democracy works,” the platform notes, going to caution “against academic or cultural operations under the control of the Chinese government.”
Like in its previous platforms, the GOP includes a lengthy paragraph on U.S. support for Taiwan, beginning by emphasizing its common values with the United States. Critically, the platform includes language opposing unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan strait “by either side,” suggesting that the Republicans aren’t interested in seeing President Tsai Ing-wen pursue the cause of Taiwanese independence. As expected, the platform includes full-throated support for the Taiwan Relations Act and continued U.S. military assistance to Taiwan.
Though China takes up the bulk of the Asia-Pacific portion of the platform, the GOP reasserts U.S. support to regional allies, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand (in that non-alphabetical order, which may be telling). Interestingly, before acknowledging any competitive aspects of the relationship with China, the platform notes the party’s desire to see “the establishment of human rights for the people of North Korea.” (North Korea also gets a reference later in the platform, cautioning against electromagnetic pulse attacks—I’ll leave that issue for a follow-up post.)
The GOP also turn their attention to Southeast Asia, with a brief paragraph welcoming Myanmar’s democratic transition. The platform celebrates improved U.S.-Vietnam ties, as captured by Washington’s decision to fully lift the arms embargo. The GOP underlines the need to “advance efforts to obtain an accounting for, and repatriation of the remains of, Americans who gave their lives in the cause of Vietnamese freedom,” referring to the still-lingering wounds of the Vietnam War.
The turn to South Asia in this year’s platform is also notable. Importantly, the GOP describes India as a “geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner.” The paragraph goes on to iterate the party’s support for the center-right economic reform program championed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Modi, like Xi, is not singled out). The platform, however, cautions against religious intolerance in India: “For all of India’s religious communities, we urge protection against violence and discrimination.” Finally, the platform acknowledges the contributions of the Indian diaspora and Indian-Americans in the United States. (The only acknowledgment of its kind in the platform, by my reading.)
The platform’s Asia-Pacific section concludes with a discussion of the lingering challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the United States. The platform, acknowledges Washington’s “sometimes difficult” relationship with Pakistan and notes the importance of “ridding the region of the Taliban and securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.” Compared to the 2012 platform, the 2016 iteration walks back language on expecting the “Pakistan government to sever any connection between its security and intelligence forces and the insurgents.” It’s unclear why this change was made in this year’s platform.
A final, unsurprising point that may be of interest to readers: the words “pivot” and “rebalance” appear exactly zero times in the GOP platform. The Trans-Pacific Partnership also doesn’t get a mention by name, but several parts of the platform refer to promoting trade. The party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, has been an outspoken opponent of free trade and criticized the TPP, making its omission less surprising.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have had a draft platform leak, with several interesting statements on the Asia-Pacific, but I’ll wait for the convention to offer impressions on that.