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Book Review

Asia Maior 2017

Asia in the waning shadow of American hegemony

Wednesday 18 July 2018, by Catherine BISSON-SERIAN

Asia maior (2017)
Directed by M. Torri, , E. Basile, N. Mocci
Viella
ISBN-10: 8833130444
ISBN-13: 978-8833130446

In previous years, the authors of Asia Maior volumes have been arguing that the dominant leitmotiv in the present evolution of Asia was the conflict between a declining world hegemon, the US, and a rising challenger, China. At this time, the US long-term decline was a stark reality that was evident “not only for the Chinese ruling elite, but for whoever analysed the present historical phase without the blinkers of Eurocentric conceit”.

The fact that the Roman Empire was on a steeply declining trend had clearly been perceived by the members of its intellectual elites well before the final fall. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was a long-drawn affair, not without important and partially successful attempts at reversing it.

For the authors, Trump’s new foreign economic policy in Asia was badly conceived, designed to either hurt or alarm even long-term or potential US allies, difficult to apply and, ultimately, self-defeating. According to them, more or less the same features were visible in Trump’s more strictly political dealings with Asia.

Here, we presents four chapters of this collective work dedicated to: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Iran.

Afghanistan 2017: Trump’s “New Strategy”, the Af-Pak conundrum, and the crisis of the National Unity Government

By Diego Abenante — University of Trieste

The political evolution in Afghanistan in 2017 was dominated by the release of the US president’s new policy towards the region. Although the strategy was characterised by a substantial continuity with the Obama policy, there were some important changes. The most relevant was the revision of US-Pakistan relations, and the redefinition of the role of Islamabad as a key US ally in the region.

This essay discusses in detail the possible implications of this change and analyses its historical-political context. The factors behind the complex relationship between Islamabad and Kabul are also discussed, in connection with the political balance in South Asia. The latter part of the essay analyses the domestic political situation, which was characterised by a further deterioration of security, vis-à-vis an increasing offensive by the Taliban and Daesh, and by the political crisis of the National Unity Government (NUG). Despite the reforms carried out in 2016, the Ghani-Abdullah government seemed unable to stabilise the Afghan political system, or to guarantee the normal functioning of the electoral calendar.

Kazakhstan 2017: Institutional stabilisation, nation-building, international engagement

By Adele Del Sordi — Graduate School for East and South-East European Studies, LMU Munich

In continuity with previous years, in 2017 Kazakhstan pursued the stabilisation of its political system while still embracing global trends. Domestically, the leadership attempted to consolidate its institutions, possibly in preparation for President Nursultan Nazarbayev´s retirement. A reform of the constitution made over some of the presidential powers to the government and parliament, while leaving the president as the supreme arbiter of the political system. The leadership took significant steps in nation-building, issuing an ambitious plan of “Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity” and announcing the adoption of a Latin alphabet for the Kazakh language. The latter might be a step towards more openly ethnic-based nation-building, although previous policies and Nazarbayev’s track record of caution indicate a slow and limited progress in that direction. At the same time, these proactive measures demonstrate how the political leadership is trying to adapt to the developments present in Kazakh society, preventing possible challenges to its own power.

Internationally, Kazakhstan further consolidated its international position as a reliable, proactive partner for its neighbours and the west. In particular, Kazakhstan´s capital Astana hosted the universal exposition (EXPO 2017), whose theme was «Future Energy». It not only showcased the country’s support for innovation and green technologies, but also attempted to “brand” Kazakhstan as a developed country.

While this entailed a certain feeling of superiority towards its Central Asian neighbours, a spat with Kyrgyzstan in the autumn of 2017 demonstrated that Kazakhstan is still some steps from taking the coveted position as the economic heart of Eurasia.

Pakistan 2017: Vulnerabilities of the emerging market

By Marco Corsi — Asia Maior – An Italian think tank on Asia

In July 2017, following his family’s involvement in the Panama Papers scandal, Nawaz Sharif was disqualified and ousted from the prime ministership by a Supreme Court decision. The ruling party, the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz), appointed the Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, as premier to serve until the elections in 2018.

In the year under review, marking 70 years of independence of Pakistan, national economic growth was recorded at 5.3% of GDP. This marked the highest rate in a decade, confirming the positive trend since 2013. Pakistan’s economic performance received plaudits from the international financial organisations and influential rating agencies. However, the International Monetary Fund warned about the re-emersion of macroeconomic vulnerabilities. Also several analysts pointed out that the expected dividends from the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) will accrue less to Pakistan than to China.

Bilateral relations of Pakistan with neighbouring Afghanistan deteriorated over reciprocal accusations of state support to infiltrating militants, which triggered a border dispute in April 2017.

The fall of Sharif came as the USA was finalising its strategy on Afghanistan which was then presented in August 2017. It marked a new approach on how Washington intends to deal with Pakistan, characterised by zero tolerance for safe havens for militant organisations.

Pakistan became a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with beneficial prospects in terms of enhanced access to natural resources and trade opportunities.

Iran 2017: From Rouhani’s Re-election to the December Protests

By Luciano Zaccara — Qatar University

The 2017 was a challenging year for the President Hassan Rouhani despite his re-election. The Presidential and Municipal elections in May represented a clear and strong support for his administration and the nuclear deal or famously the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement. However, lack of visible improvements at economic levels ended the year with widespread protests in several Iranian cities with 25 deaths and thousands detained. Despite new contracts in infrastructure and transportation sectors signed, anticipated reforms in banking system, the creation of jobs and attracting greater foreign investments are still pending issues at the economic level. At the international level, the new approach coming from the Trump administration has challenged the Iranian commitment with the JCPOA and created frictions within the establishment regarding the US policies.

Nonetheless, there has been no change in the Iranian stance in the nuclear deal. Moreover, the GCC crisis that erupted in May seemed to have benefited Iran leverage itself at the regional level.

While its participation in the regional arena has been neglected by mainly the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the year 2017 has proved to be the year in which Iranian position on regional issues such as Syrian conflict, Kurdistan and intra-GCC relations was counted.

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