The Asian Pivot is a Hot Mess

Ideas and Issues International

            Marble Falls   Greg Brown, a Iowa-based folk singer, who came under my radar for some reason, had a great song called simply, “China”, which for some reason was an ear-worm for me, maybe because of the constant repetition every other line of “China, chi-nay, far away.”  I’ll give you a taste,

Baby still looks like you’re on your way to china
China, chi-nay, far away
Baby said how long you gonna stay in china
China, chi-nay, far away

I said I’ll be back as soon as I can from china
China, chi-nay, far away
I said babe I hope you understand about china
China, chi-nay, far away

My point is not just that China is far away, but all of Asia and southeast Asia is so far away that in our national myopia, we have problems keeping our attention span on the state next door, much less these countries on the other side of the world.

Recently, the headlines seem to say that somebody, somewhere, better be paying attention in class, because it’s a bit out of control over there, and China, rather than the USA, might be the only one that can sort it out, if they’re willing, which doesn’t seem the case so far.

Take Myanmar, where the military junta continues to hold sway.  The famous, though tarnished, former civilian leader and Nobel Prize winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, at 77 years old just had another six years tacked on to the earlier eleven years that a military tribunal saddled her where she rots in a small cell in prison.

Or Thailand, where even the court finally got a heartbeat and suspended the Prime Minister who had taken charge during the military coup in 2014 to order to investigate whether he could run for another term.  Sadly, the court is a paper tiger, so this may be just a head fake.

Or Malaysia, where top court there did grow a set and finally put an end to endless appeals by their former Prime Minister who was sentenced to a dozen years in 2020 and fined $50 million for a billion-dollar rip-offof .

This doesn’t count South Korea recording a world record low birthrate a less than 1 new birth per family, guaranteeing population loss, not to mention the ongoing issues with North Korea.  Who wants to bring up Taiwan with ships circulating and bullets whizzing in an uproar over Speaker Pelosi’s visit.  We shouldn’t take our eyes off of the Philippines either with the return of the rightwing Marcos family to power.  Although extra-juridical drug killings may no longer be the rule, political arrests for something called “cyber-libel” indicate a wide net against opposition is being casted now.  Japan might be having something of an economic recovery, but the assassination of a former conservative leader for not reigning in the Unification Church gives pause as well.  India continues to move toward communalism, and Pakistan is rife with political conflict, having just declared an ousted Prime Minister a terrorist.

Vietnam and Cambodia continue to be lessons for the US on the limits of our global reach and the American peoples’ commitment to bleed at the margins.  Obama’s old notion of a “pivot to Asia” seems quaint when we start making the list of hot messes in the region.  Talk and shaming don’t work well, and keeping our powder dry is the right thing to do, but impunity and China seem to rule, far, far away in Asia now.   We may have to get used to it, since there doesn’t seem to be much we are doing or can do about it.