Monday, January 23, 2017

Trump affirms harder stance on South China Sea

Blocking China's access to disputed South China Sea islands may really be on the table with President Donald Trump's administration.

To recap, this is what Rex Tillerson, recently told a Senate committee about the South China Sea: "We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” 

Did Rex Tillerson really mean that the U.S. would be willing to block access to the disputed areas in the South China Sea? Was Tillerson was taking an outlier position? But it turns out this may not be the case.

Consider what Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said at a press briefing today: "I think the U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there. So it's a question of if those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we're gonna make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country."  (Source, Washington Post transcript.)

It doesn't seem like there's much daylight between the two statements.

Reuters view: Trump White House vows to stop China taking South China Sea islands.

One worrying thing about the Trump administration is this: It seems inclined to blunt-edged policy decisions, such as imposing a federal hiring freeze even if such a action may end up costing the government money, creating headaches for the people it directly serves, such as veterans and Social Security beneficiaries.  Making the IRS that less capable of recovering tax dollars doesn't seem to make too much sense. But that's another issue (and one that hits Guam as well.) Another example of blunt force policy making is its recent action to pullback enforcement of Obamacare absent any replacement plan.

The Diplomat seemed a little nervous in its report about this emerging China policy, but it also optimistically suggest that Spicer and the administration really haven't figured it out. Read: The Trump Administration Needs a Clear South China Sea Policy.

Trump Monday also met with CEOs of a number of major corporations, some of whom source their products from China, such as Dell. I can't imagine these business leaders urging Trump to follow a path with China that could destabilize global markets and trade routes.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Putting Guam in harm’s way

"We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

-- Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Senate confirmation hearing.

Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon chief and President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, doesn’t seemed prepared for this job.
For sure, China’s claims to the South China Sea are audacious and worrisome. It appears to be turning its artificial islands into military bases, a clear threat to the region. But how do you resolve it?

Tillerson is suggesting confrontation. To underscore a key point: “your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed," he said.
How do you stop China’s access to the islands? Through a blockade of U.S. warships? And how might China respond?

The consequences of such a policy are unimaginable. An armed conflict over China’s South China Sea policy is not the way to resolve this matter.

A China policy built on escalating tensions will end badly for all sides. And let’s not forget the other impacts. The global economy will crash. There will be supply shortages in the U.S. because of trade disruptions with China. The scenarios are too painful to think about.

Guam will feel this tension. If the U.S. starts escalating tensions, it seems probable that Guam will see increases in the military presence and economic disruption as well, especially if it impacts tourism.

The oversize military's presence on the island has, at least since the Vietnam-era, been relatively benign. Guam has never had a direct threat since World War II. All that changes if the Trump administration starts searching for confrontation.
This is not a healthy development for Guam. If the U.S. starts increasing the military presence on the island as part of a saber-rattling strategy with China, island residents will face stress and worry. And for what?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sad news about a Washington link to Guam

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bordallo can broaden inquiry into Agent Orange use on Guam

The U.S. Defense Dept. denies that Agent Orange was used on Guam to control vegetation, despite contrary evidence. There are witnesses’ stories, photographs and testimony. There is a Web site that has aggregated some of this material.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) does appear to support claims that Agent Orange was used on Guam. The VA “concluded that herbicides, particularly Agent Orange, were used on Guam from 1968 to 1970,” according to a National Institute of Health (NIH) paper published in 2015, titled “Disparities in Infant Mortality Due to Congenital Anomalies on Guam.”

This NIH study claims to be the first to identify associations between Agent Orange use and infant mortality in civilian populations outside of Southeast Asia. It concluded that “the results suggest that infants born to mothers who resided in AO (Agent Orange) spray areas were at an increased risk of infant mortality due to congenital anomalies.”

A new witness has emerged. An Air Force veteran told the Pacific Daily News that during his time at Andersen Air Force Base, Agent Orange was used.

The news report prompted Guam’s U.S. Rep., Madeleine Bordallo to ask the Air Force about it.

She wrote:

“I am deeply disturbed with the recent claims that Agent Orange was actively used at Andersen Air Force Base during the 1960s and 1970s. While the DoD has acknowledged that Agent Orange did transit through Andersen Air Force Base, it has consistently denied that the chemical was used for any purpose on island. However, I have heard these claims from constituents and from other service members that have served on island. As such, I have asked for the Air Force to provide me with additional information regarding the handling of Agent Orange on Guam as well as any reports of any use of the chemical on island. It is important that DoD provides very clear information regarding this matter to the public. This recent news claims is troubling, and I will work to ensure that our community is fully informed of the facts on this issue.”

There are a few more things that Bordallo can probably do.  She could contact the researchers who wrote the 2015 NIH study and find out if there has been any follow-up research to answer the questions raised by their study. Their report made a strong case for follow-up studies.

Bordallo ought to as, as well, find out whether Agent Orange was used at the Naval bases, and whether its toxins entered in the water supply and Guam's environment generally. People need clarity about the risks. The impact from the use of Agent Orange appears to be, potentially, island wide, based on what the NIH study found.

It would be interesting to know whether veterans who served on Guam during the period the spraying took place, and in the immediate years after, reported unusual medical conditions or conditions linked to Agent Orange.

The Guam government can weigh in as well and provide support for Bordallo.

Bordallo can press a case for a congressional hearing on this issue. The NIH findings alone make the argument for one. The more attention on this issue, the greater the odds others who know something will step forward.