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Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia is set to be a predictable failure

It starts with a “greeting” from North Korea and will end with Trump coming face to face with Asian countries that need and want less and less from the United States.

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Donald Trump is set to begin a trip to several East and South East Asian countries beginning at the weekend. His trip includes stops in Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Vietnam.

In many ways, Trump’s trip can already be consigned to the realm of useless predictability, simply because the countries of Asia are moving in such a way, that regional events are now far more impactful than any statements or actions, short of a war, that any US leader is capable of instigating.

1. Philippines 

The biggest disappointment for Trump will most likely be Philippines. In a short year, due to the epoch shifting leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines has shaken its tunnel-vision style relationship with the US and has opened up to new relations with countries across Asia and Eurasia, including China and Russia.

Russia is expanding security ties with the former US colony which saw Russia deliver thousands of free arms to Philippines as well as multiple military vehicles. The recent visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu to Manila as part of a Russian Naval flotilla, is a further sign of Philippines’ historically good relations with Moscow.

Duterte welcomes Russian Naval ships to Philippines as military cooperation pact is signed

During Duterte’s first presidential visit to China, President Xi Jinping hailed Duterte’s rapprochement with Beijing as something that would usher in a “golden era” of good relations between China and Philippines. Already, Chinese firms are preparing to build new modern districts in Manila and China looks to play a vital role in the re-development of Marawi, the southern Philippine city that was recently liberated from the ISIS-Maute group after a five month long siege.

Against this backdrop, there is little the US can do to build new ties with Philippines. While the US still maintains a prominent presence in the country, President Duterte has frequently stated that he remains intent on breaking free of the colonial mentality, in spite of any offers the US might bring.

While Duterte personally loathed Barack Obama, once famously calling him a “son of a whore”, he has frequently said that he respects Donald Trump’s more straightforward rhetoric.

Because of this, it is likely that Duterte and Trump will have a good personal relationship. Leaked transcripts of a phone call between the two already indicates that they enjoy speaking to one another.

However, this will not likely translate into any new meaningful agreements between Washington and Manila, not least because the US Congress has steadfastly worked to undermine Duterte because of his anti-colonial and anti-drug policies.

Trump will end up leaving a country that the US once took for granted, with ultimately nothing to show.

2. South Korea 

If his speech to the UN is anything to go by, Trump’s brief one day visit to South Korea may well become eventful in terms of Trump’s threatening rhetoric against the DPRK (North Korea). However, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is doing everything he can to turn down the tensions prior to Trump’s visit.

Seoul recently agreed not to install any more US made THAAD missile systems, after complaints from China. This indicates China’s rapidly expanding influence in East Asia, including over countries with deeply intertwined relations with the US.

Furthermore, President Moon stated that his country will never seek to develop its own nuclear arsenal, in a move that appears to be a sign that South Korea does not seek to waste its resources buying expensive US made military technology. Protests against Trump are already being planned by peace activists throughout the country.

Amid Trump’s threats to cancel a US-South Korea free trade deal, Seoul continues to move economically closer to Russia, while consolidating new economic partnerships throughout the world. During his speech at the UN, Moon even acknowledged his willingness to participate in economic cooperation schemes with the DPRK, something first touted by President Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia. President Moon and a delegation from Pyongyang both attended the forum in Vladivostok.

Two Koreas–One Road: The future of cooperation between North Korea, South Korea and Russia

Beyond standard fraternal greetings and expressions of bi-national friendship, Donald Trump will be hosted by a South Korean leader, who unlike his imprisoned predecessor Park Geun-hye, is not sympathetic to militarism and a threatening stance towards the North.

Trump’s visit to South Korea will be largely symbolic of a relationship that South Koreans feel is one sided and increasingly detrimental to the long term interests of East Asian peace.

3. Japan 

Right-wing (by Japanese standards) Prime Minister Shinzō Abe just won a snap election which many say he will try to use to abandon Japan’s constitutionally mandated pacifism. Although the US insisted on a pacific Japanese state after 1945, today, many in the US would like Japan to expand its military position in East Asia in order to present a rival force to China and also the much smaller North Korean military.

However, Japan’s legislative system and constitution makes it incredibly difficult for Abe to enact de-pacification. Additionally, there is little popular support for such a measure. Furthermore, while Abe’s victory is being hailed by many as a landslide, his party actually won six fewer seats than in the previous 2014 elections.

In this sense, while Trump and Abe may be speaking in similar tones, it is difficult to see what will come of the visit, especially since Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a would-be free trade agreement whose aim was to rival One Belt–One Road in the Pacific. Ultimately, Trump withdrew citing domestic concerns about offshoring industrial jobs.

In this sense, friendly stagnation may well be the atmosphere surrounding Trump’s time in Tokyo.

4. Vietnam 

It’s something of an ironic fact that a US President may find himself more welcome in a Communist Vietnamese state that was the location of multiple US war crimes during the 1960s and 1970s, than in traditionally pro-US nations in Asia.

In spite of the past, Vietnam has largely embraced trade with the US as part of its post-Cold War economic liberalisation. Moreover, Vietnam is the country whose regional disputes with China continue to be felt most strongly and in this sense Washington and Hanoi have found common cause.

Even though China is Vietnam’s number one trading partner, the ancient and modern rivalry between the two states still factors heavily for the leadership in Hanoi.

In this sense, it will be interesting to see how much Donald Trump indulges the leadership of Vietnam in anti-Chinese rhetoric. As Trump continues to vacillate between patronising and insulting China, Beijing will be keenly listening to what he says when in Vietnam. If he takes things too far in respect of anti-Chinese rhetoric, China will be deeply displeased, especially if Trump comes out swinging in respect of Vietnam’s dispute with China over South China Sea territorial and maritime rights.

Thus, the only country on his visit where anything even slightly positive might transpire, is one where Trump ought to be more diplomatic and less excitable than in any of the others.

CONCLUSION: 

The foregone conclusion of failure which is all but implicit in Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, is not entirely his fault. Barack Obama’s once touted ‘pivot to Asia’ ended up with Asian countries moving further away from the US. By the end of Obama’s term, China was not only the uncontested king of the region, with many strengthened alliances as well as new partnerships, but Obama threw away a great deal of good will that had existed with China, even under the George W. Bush administration.

With China and Russia working to make Asia and Eurasia less and less dependant on the US Dollar, Washington not only has less to receive but less to give Asia. The gradual decline of America’s presence in Asia is already underway.

Russia and China actively collude to bring down the only thing America cares about

To cap things off, North Korea has published the following statement ahead of Donald Trump’s visit. It serves as a kind of ‘greeting card’ ahead of a trip that will bear few fruits for anyone:

“The mouth of Trump, master of invective ill-famed for spouting bellicose and irresponsible rhetoric, caused trouble again.

At a recent interview with Fox News, he said the U.S. is incredibly well prepared to cope with the “north’s provocation” and anyone will be “greatly shocked” to know about it.

It is nothing surprising as he reeled off the rhetoric calling for “totally destroying” a sovereign state at a UN arena, obliged to discuss peace issue, only to throw the world into consternation.

But what is worthy taking note of is his sordid wordplay before his Asian junket.

Maybe, he wanted to threaten the DPRK, embolden his stooges like Japan and south Korea and show off his “might”.

But this only proves that he has a serious headache and is pushed into the corner because of the DPRK.

Now he is introducing nuclear carrier task force and other massive strategic hardware into waters off the Korean peninsula while spreading such ambiguous phrases as “calm before storm” and “only one effective way”. He is, at the same time, making all desperate efforts to make the whole world join it in putting sanctions and pressure on the DPRK, only to see it proving ineffective.

Instead, he disclosed his true nature as a nuclear war maniac before the world and was diagnosed as “incurably mentally deranged”.

The CNN recently carried out an opinion poll and 63 percent of respondents denounced Trump’s DPRK policy as “imprudent one which escalates tension”.

There are strong assertions within the U.S. political circle calling on Trump to take his hands off Korea, and experts on the Korean issue are denouncing Trump for trying to settle the “nuclear issue of the north”, whose solution has been failed despite scores of years of endeavors, with a few improvised words. They comment that Trump is too incompetent to play the role of standing in confrontation with the DPRK as it becomes a hard challenge even to president possessed of abilities and judgment.

Yet, Trump behaves as if he will do something big, while bluffing about “full preparedness” and “big shock”. He absolutely needs medicine for curing his psychical disorder.

He even affirmatively estimated and encouraged “China’s participation in sanctions on the DPRK”, and said that “China is truly helping the U.S. over the north Korea issue”. These brownnosing words are utterly sickening and disgusting.

Trump’s wild outbursts are just the hysteric spasmodic symptom of his discomfort and fear after finding that his strategy does not work on the DPRK and the DPRK is getting stronger, instead.

Incompetent ones are apt to make a false show of power.

Now is high time that the U.S. pondered over the might of the DPRK’s state nuclear force”.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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