US-North Korea summit sets stage for new structure of relations in North-east Asia: Expert

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet for their summit at the Capella Singapore hotel in Sentosa on June 12, 2018.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet for their summit at the Capella Singapore hotel in Sentosa on June 12, 2018.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The historic summit between the United States and North Korea has set the stage not just for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but also the rise of a new structure of international relations in North East Asia, said a prominent foreign policy expert on Tuesday (June 26).

The possibility of reconciliation between North and South Korea means that China must deal with its waning influence over the North, while Japan has to come to terms with Korean nationalism, said Institute of South Asian Studies director C Raja Mohan.


The two giants will have to figure out what their new roles in the region should be.

"There needs to be a local balance of power," said Professor Mohan on the second day of the East-West Centre's International Media Conference, What is News Now?.

“America is not going to sit in the middle and try and do everything."

The changing world order came under scrutiny during a panel discussion on Asian geopolitics, as speakers delved into how issues, such as the US threats of a trade war and the rise of Chinese capitalism, will impact the region.

US President Donald Trump has steered his country away from globalisation, turned his nose up at the idea of open borders, and baulked at "paying for allies who are rich and can do it themselves", noted Prof Mohan.

The challenge for Asian countries is to live with this new reality in Washington and find ways of adapting to the structural change Mr Trump is demanding, he added.

"We had the luxury of expecting the Americans to do the heavy lifting, and the luxury of criticising them for doing exactly that," said Prof Mohan. "In some senses Trump has given us a wake-up call. We can't just leave our fortunes to America to deal with. We've got to do more to pitch in for our own regions, for our own security. We've got to pick up the slack."

Mr Zakir Hussain, foreign editor of The Straits Times, noted that the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact gave a new impetus to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Conceived in 2012 , the RCEP aims to harmonise trade rules across the 10 Asean nations and six of their trading partners: China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Leaders of the RCEP have resolved to wrap up the pact this year.

"If that goes ahead, it will send a strong signal that trade wars really shouldn't have a place in the region," noted Mr Hussain .

As America looks inwards, China has ventured out into the world.

Professor Wu Minsu of the Communication University of China hopes the world will also be more open to learning about China and getting information on it from the Chinese - not Western - media.

Dr Satu Limaye, director of the East-West Centre, said that Asean centrality remains a core US policy objective, noting how Mr Trump met the leaders of four South-east Asian nations in Washington within his first year in office.

Mr Hussain added that none of the Asean countries want to be put in a position of choosing between the US and China.

"I think the next few years could see some space for Asean to be a platform where not only China and the US, but also India, Japan and Australia come together and settle their differences, and try to create a slightly different regional order. Even though the US is somewhat pulling back from the involvement in the region, there's space for greater cooperation and partnership on other issues," he said.

At another panel session titled "New Indo-Pacific Policy", US State Department official Walter Douglas pointed out that America has a large presence in Asia, ranging from embassies to Peace Corps and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) branches, and is here to stay.

"There's a large American presence out here, it's not going away. In fact it's probably growing, and we're going to be here for a long time," said the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.