GCN Weekly Security Bulletin: US trade treaties and Asian security, and the Myanmar’s migration crisis
This week Donald Trump announced that he would withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on his first day in office. The TPP is a complex deal joining the U.S. and eleven other countries including Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia into the world’s largest free-trade agreement (FTA). This deal, if completed, would create one large open market where goods and services flow freely.
The deal initiated by President George W. Bush, and negotiated by President Obama, as a major feature of his presidency, would follow the laws of economics where goods and services would be produced in areas where cost of labour is low to keep the price as low as possible.
The TPP excludes China from its list of members. This is because it was conceived as a way for the US to curb China’s rise. The TPP was a part of the U.S. foreign policy of ‘rebalancing’ towards Asia. You will see in the image that the region of influence of member countries could pose a serious threat to China’s economic interest and power.
By withdrawing from the TPP, the deal will fade into oblivion. As such it deals a defeat to an essential aspect of US strategy towards a rising China. However, it is not fair to blame President-elect Trump in this. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were against TPP. President Obama had hoped he would be able to either re-convince or at least renegotiate aspects of the TPP with a democratic president.
Meanwhile countries in the region are already feeling insecure about the potential for a deeper US withdrawal from the region which acts as a check on aggressive Chinese actions. The greater fear is that countries will be drawn into a Chinese-led trade agreement which would destroy US economic involvement in the region.
The TPP is not favoured in the US as it may take jobs away from the US. However, by keeping these particular jobs in the US, goods and services may become more expensive. More importantly, a serious security vacuum will now be created in America’s Asia strategy addressed towards China.
Migration Crisis in Myanmar
As the world continues to watch Europe’s migration crisis there is another unfolding crisis occurring in Myanmar. This week UNHCR representative John McKissick reported that around 30,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their homes in Rakhine State in fear of an ‘ethnic cleansing’ being carried out by the Myanmar military. Most of these individuals are fleeing towards Bangladesh causing a large-scale migration crisis.
The UNHCR estimates that since 2012, more than 110,000 people, mostly Rohingya have fled from the region on unsafe makeshift boats (earning them the unfortunate label “boat people”) to countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. The most recent intensification of persecution has them moving to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh continues to defy international pleas to open its border to the Rohingya community who are facing gang rape, murder and torture. However, the fear is if Bangladesh opens its borders, it would intensify the persecution. Bangladesh has increased its security forces along the border to prevent an influx of refugees. There are protests taking place in Dhaka urging the government to open the borders to these refugees.
The Rohingya community numbers around one million people – a stateless ethnic minority with zero rights. The Myanmar government does not recognize their status as citizens even though their presence in the region can be traced back several centuries.
The area remains closed off to the media. This week Human Rights Watch released NASA satellite images showing that burnings of houses in the region are worse than originally thought.
Myanmar’s president Thein Sein has rubbished the most recent claims made by the UNHCR, dismissing them as the military carrying out “clearance operations” targeting violent attacks which killed nine border guards on October 9th, state media reported.