POLICY ALERT: What Rising Powers Saw at the Democratic National Convention  

hrc-dncFrom July 25-28 in Philadelphia, the Democratic National Committee held its convention to nominate Hillary Clinton as their party’s candidate for president. One week after the Republican Convention, rising powers tuned in to watch how the other major U.S. political party responded and outlined its policy platform. China remained largely skeptical of Clinton’s campaign. Observers in Brazil, India, Japan, and South Korea applauded her nomination, but worried about her recent shift toward free trade protectionism. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the DNC Convention and the prospects of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Our previous Policy Alert covered the Republican Convention.


As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia” strategy incensed China as a means to contain the country. Her prioritization on human rights – especially gender equality – and her more hawkish views on the South China Sea have left Chinese leaders uneasy about her candidacy. Tao Xie, professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, suspected “many Chinese have a very unfavorable view of her.” One online poll conducted in March 2016 by Global Times showed a preference for Trump over Clinton with 54 percent in support of the GOP candidate.

Given this view of Clinton, several China media voices and commentators explored her candidacy and the prospects for her campaign in the general election.

  • The hacking of thousands of emails from the servers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – showing the preferences of ostensibly neutral staffers for Clinton as the nominee – and their leak just before the convention “ruins U.S. democracy myths,” according to Global Times. The paper also said the “scandal is devastating enough to bury Clinton’s presidential dream and political career,” though it expected less than severe actual consequences.
  • In a 2013 report, Global Times declared Hillary Clinton the “most hated” American political figure in China dating back to her 1995 speech on women’s rights as human rights at the World Conference on Women in Beijing.
  • In contrast, Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University and adviser to the Chinese cabinet, insisted Chinese leaders would still prefer Clinton in the White House to a “volatile” Trump. “The worst situation is instability,” he argued, especially as China’s economy – heavily linked to the United States – continues its slow growth rates.
  • Xinhua writer Zhu Lei saw the imprint of the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders — the runner-up in the primary — on the Democratic Party’s policy platform, which was described by party officials as “the most progressive” in history.
  • Chen Weilhua, reporter for China Daily, highlighted thousands of Sanders and Green Party supporters who protested at the Democratic Convention against Clinton’s nomination. Likewise, Qiu Zhibo, consultant at the UN and Global Times columnist, questioned whether “disappointed Bernie supporters” will vote for either Clinton or Trump.


Many media outlets in India noted the historical significance of a major U.S. political party nominating a woman, but they also focused on whether the convention unified Democrats for the general election.

  • Left leaning The Hindu newspaper praised Clinton’s campaign as representing “a more inclusive, democratic and efficient America.” In addition to celebrating the nomination of a woman at the top of the ticket, the paper predicted her campaign would win as long as “the message of unity” is “true and sustainable.”
  • On the other hand, The Pioneer, a BJP leaning news outlet, said the historical nature of Clinton’s victory might be lost on South Asia as they’ve already seen scores of women heads of Government in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. The Pioneer also criticized Clinton for “her controversial record as Secretary of State, her penchant for secrecy and unaccountability, and being the unofficial establishment candidate.”
  • Hindustan Times thought a convention with an “uplifting tone” would benefit Clinton and draw stark contrasts to the GOP event.
  • Believing that elections in “powerful nations do matter to the rest of the world” due to globalization, Economic Times endorsed Hillary Clinton because of her support for international economic, trade, and environmental systems India uses to its benefit.
  • The Times of India pointed out Clinton’s sole mention of India in her convention speech – part of a line attacking anti-trade Trump for making his branded picture frames in India – and was left wondering who American would tell “You’re fired” in November on election day.
  • Varghese K. George, Washington-based journalist for The Hindu, wondered if the DNC email leak would prevent the party from bringing Sanders supporters into the Clinton tent.

Others commentators warned that the election would come down to the wire.

  • C. Raja Mohan, columnist for The Indian Express, thought the U.S. election will be a close one. After Senator Bernie Sanders pushed the Clinton campaign to the limit, Mohan remarked that the Democratic nominee will need to find a way to unite the party, address Trump’s broad cross-cutting support, and respond to the Republican’s criticism of her trade policy and national security strategies.
  • The Pioneer was disappointed with both parties’ candidates and sensed Clinton and Trump had the “feeling of being one-term candidates” that will win in 2016 based on people’s dislike of the other side, not the love of their own nominee. The close race is “not an election one would want to predict.”


Most Brazilian media outlets focused on the historic nature of Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. Many featured comparisons between Clinton and Trump, but also noted the fierce dispute between Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the nomination. Most recognize that while Ms. Clinton does not inspire, she also does not pose a threat to constructive regional relations around the Western hemisphere.

Most of the reporting focused on the domestic electoral dynamics of Ms. Clinton’s nomination, her campaign strategy, and the duel between her and Trump as expressed in the public opinion polls.

  • Folha de São Paulo warned that Trump would be bad for the world and Veja noted that Latin Americans were largely opposed to Trump’s candidacy.
  • Globo celebrating the historic moment, but it also reported on the protests of her nomination by Bernie Sanders supporters and questioned whether voters would favorably associate her candidacy with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
  • Globo’s Gazetaweb outlet reported on the Latino edge to the Democratic Party’s nominating convention. The story placed emphasis on the Spanish fluency of her selection for Vice President, Senator Tim Kaine, and the number of Latino elected officials who actively support Clinton’s candidacy such as rising Democratic star Joaquín Castro.
  • Terra followed up on the DNC email scandal by reporting Hillary Clinton and DNC officials claimed that Russian hackers were behind the leaks. Terra also quoted the Russian president who claimed that Trump “was a brilliant person.”
  • Veja conducted a comparison of Clinton and Trump on issues concerning Latin America with the most notable difference found on immigration. The paper concluded that while Clinton promised only minor modifications in her foreign policy toward the hemisphere, Trump’s anti-immigrant pronunciations and disparaging remarks have earned him visceral opposition among a majority of Latin American citizens.
  • Folha de São Paulo printed an unprecedented editorial on July 30 questioning the high negative ratings of both Clinton and Trump, mentioning that United States voters were not excited about the “mechanical” candidacy of Clinton. However, the Folha’s editorial board stated Trump represents an international risk based on his lack of preparation and provocative xenophobia.
  • Carta Capital explored an entirely different dimension of Clinton’s nomination by focusing on the candidate’s relationship with the traditional press corps. According to Carta Capital, Clinton blames the traditional media on her loss to Barack Obama in 2008, and thus the campaign’s strategy is to minimize any risks to Clinton by relying on media that campaign managers can control, especially social media


Japan’s leaders have been closely following the U.S. election as the island nation is often raised in debates about the future of traditional U.S. security alliances. For example, Donald Trump has said the relationship is too one-sided and costly to maintain indefinitely without major changes. In contrast, Clinton has made the continuance of the U.S. alliance a regular talking point in the foreign policy sections of her stump speech.

While the Democratic convention received less attention in Japan than the Republican edition, a couple of outlets debated what a President Clinton would mean for the U.S.-Japan relationship.

  • Yomiuri Shimbun saw a clear contrast in the election between the GOP candidate’s “America First” policy and the Democrat’s “commitment to reinforce alliances” like with Japan. The newspaper noted Secretary Clinton’s belief that the Senkaku Islands “are covered by Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty,” obligating Washington to come to Tokyo’s defense.
  • Yomiuri Shimbun also acknowledged her foreign policy team – specifically Kurt Campbell – for having knowledge of Japan’s security needs and urged the Japanese Diet to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in order to make it easier for Washington to ratify the accord under the next president.
  • Japan Times worried about the implications of Russian backed hackers trying to influence the U.S. presidential election and disrupt Clinton’s campaign momentum. The paper warned Democrats to “prepare for more embarrassment” with similar hacking and email leaks in the future.


Another traditional security ally of the United States, South Korea, is waiting to see how the presidential election shakes out as the new president could reshape the next stage of relations between Seoul and Washington. Although Clinton supported the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KOR-US FTA) as Secretary of State, she opposed the deal in her 2008 presidential campaign.

While some commentators have welcomed Clinton’s nomination, many debate whether she has changed her trade policy in ways that might hurt South Korea.

  • Describing Clinton’s nomination as a “story of resilience and perseverance,” The Korea Times said she “has the character to lead” the United States. However, the paper couldn’t deny the “uphill battle against Trump’s energetic campaign” that will face Clinton in the coming months, particularly after what it dubbed a “dull” DNC convention.
  • Dong-A Ilbo praised the speech by first lady Michelle Obama and Sanders and hoped to “see such moving scenes in Korean politics, too.” The paper thoughts Sanders’ endorsement would be enough to bring his supporters onboard the Clinton campaign.
  • In another editorial, however, Dong-A Ilbo observed that “whoever wins, the next U.S. president will bring about a major change in policies on Korea,” whether on North Korea, the KOR-US FTA, or the security alliances. This trade deal uncertainty and Clinton’s new protectionist tendencies were echoed by The Korea Herald and Joong-A Ilbo.
  • Joong-A Ilbo called both conventions a “pitiful portrait of U.S. politics” and dreaded the United States being turned into a “narrow-minded and self-centered” country. The paper concluded that South Korean President Park Geun-hye “must have a contingency plan at hand” should the U.S.-Korea security alliance “abruptly end” in the next administration.
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POLICY ALERT: What Rising Powers Saw at the Republican Convention

GOP Nominee Donald Trump at RNC Convention (Source: AP)

From July 18-21 in Cleveland, the Republican National Committee held its convention to nominate Donald Trump as their party’s candidate for president. With the U.S election season now in full swing, rising powers are closely watching to see how the Trump campaign’s foreign and economic policies might shape the future direction of the United States. While some in China have welcomed his willingness to disengage America from the Indo-Pacific, others in India, Japan, Brazil, and South Korea are anxious to reevaluate the fundamentals of their relationships with Washington. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the RNC Convention and the prospects of a Trump presidency. In the next Policy Alert, we will cover reactions to the Democratic Party’ convention in Philadelphia.

Trump’s nomination has surprised Chinese government officials. Just last September, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying dismissed Trump’s harsh views of Beijing since China only concerns itslef with policies held by “the mainstream opinion of the U.S. people.” Nonetheless, many in China have grown into Trump supporters over the course of the campaign, especially when compared to Hillary Clinton whose “pivot to Asia” strategy as Secretary of State incensed China as a means to contain the country. An online poll conducted in March 2016 by Global Times showed a preference for Trump over Clinton with 54 percent in support of the GOP candidate, citing the nominee’s image as a successful businessman, his foreign policy views, and the popularity of The Apprentice and the Trump family brand in China.


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Want to support Myanmar? Don’t forget about Mae Sot.

myanmar riverAnyone who follows politics in Myanmar knows that Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), Nobel laureate and daughter of the liberator Aung San, is now the de facto leader of Myanmar. Things are on the up and up. SIM cards no longer cost hundreds of dollars, the banking system is taking shape, and foreign investment is on the rise.

So what is becoming of the border city Mae Sot in Thailand? Should donors and international NGOs (INGO) pack up and move inside Myanmar? Not so fast. In fact, if donors and INGOs really want to support Myanmar, they should continue supporting community-based organizations and initiatives in Mae Sot.

Along the Thai-Myanmar border, Mae Sot has served as the hub city for thousands of refugees who fled Myanmar after violent crackdowns in the late-1990s. Over the years, Mae Sot has been a focal area for INGOs, community-based organizations, and development workers – to support the over 120,000 Myanmar refugees and over two million migrant workers in Thailand with everything from healthcare, educational support, job training, and legal help.

Now that ASSK’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has won the elections, the public perception is that Myanmar is generally on a quick path to reform, making the work of community-based organizations along the border less and less relevant. (more…)

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NSG Rejection Derails India’s Potential Commitment to Paris Agreement

Smog in New Delhi, India (Source: Mark Danielson, Flickr)

Smog in New Delhi, India (Source: Mark Danielson, Flickr)

What does the trade of nuclear materials have to do with reducing greenhouse gas emissions? The connection between the two may be more complex than you might think. India’s recent failed candidacy to earn membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has discouraged New Delhi’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement was drawn up at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last year and sought, among other things, to reduce global greenhouse emissions around the world in an effort to protect the environment and stop global warming. On April 22, 2016, India and 177 other countries signed the treaty with an understanding that the accord would take effect once 55 countries that account for 55 percent of the world’s emissions ratified it. Prior to India’s rejection from the NSG, 18 countries had already ratified it and a ratification by India would have meant that countries accounting for 55.49 percent of the emissions would have been committed to the agreement. This would have meant that only the remaining countries accounting for a meager .51 percent would have needed to ratify the agreement to finally make it binding on all signatories. (more…)

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Indo-Afghan Partnership Adds Fuel to Afghan-Pakistani Hostility

Torkham crossing along Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Source: USAID)

Torkham crossing along Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Source: USAID)

Indo-Afghan relations grew stronger as India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, traveled to Afghanistan on June 3rd to inaugurate the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam. The 42 megawatt hydroelectric dam is the result of a $273 million investment by the Indian Government to promote agriculture in Afghanistan’s Herat province. It is estimated that the dam will be able to soon irrigate 75,000 hectares of farmland.

Construction of the dam, originally named Salma Dam, had actually begun in 1976, but was halted when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1979. The rebellion against Soviet occupation and the subsequent civil war greatly damaged the dam’s infrastructure. However, after the overthrow of the Taliban, India renewed its commitment to building the dam. Thus, although forty years after initially starting, construction of the dam is now complete.

The inauguration of the dam is only one of many recent steps towards stronger Indo-Afghan economic and political relations. Recently, the two powers – along with Iran – signed a regional corridor trade agreement. The key feature of the agreement is India’s pledge to finance the development of the Chabahar port, Iran’s only port with direct access to the ocean. In return, Iran agrees to a sea-land trade route to India via Afghanistan’s road networks. (more…)

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Policy Alert: After Brexit – Rising Powers React to Surprise British Vote to Leave EU

brexit 3

On June 23, the United Kingdom voted in favor of a referendum for the country to leave the European Union (EU). The 52-48 split vote in support of “Leave” panicked global financial markets and prompted a wave of largely negative reactions from world leaders who had previously urged British voters to “Remain.” Once the British Parliament ratifies the referendum, the country would exit the EU in two years. With U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron resigning in October after leading the effort to stay in the EU, the world watches how these events unfold and whether others, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, now pursue their own independence from Britain.

In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from India, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia (who reveled in the vote’s outcome) examining what the vote means for the future of Britain and the EU.


Given the historical linkages between India and the United Kingdom, the “Brexit” – or British Exit – referendum vote was closely followed by leaders in New Delhi and the Indian public. There are 800 Indian companies across multiple sectors like pharmaceuticals, financial services, and IT operating in the U.K. and employing over a million people. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Rousseff Under Siege – Rising Powers Debate Brazil’s Future

dilmaBrazil’s Senate voted earlier this month to suspend President Dilma Rousseff while she awaits a trial to determine if corruption charges will result in her impeachment. Rousseff called the move a “coup” and vowed to fight the charges. Interim President Michel Temer now has to weather this political turmoil amid the on-going Zika virus outbreak, an economic recession, and preparations for the Summer Olympics just months away. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Brazil, India, China, Russia, and Japan on the South America powerhouse’s future.


On May 12, the Brazilian Senate voted 55-22 in favor of trying President Dilma Rousseff for impeachment for using accounting tricks to improve the 2014 budget outlook (pedaladas, in Portuguese) in violation of budgetary laws. This followed a 367-137 vote in the Chamber of Deputies on April 17. As a result, Rousseff is suspended from office for 180 days while she is tried in the Senate. An interim government will take her place either until she returns to office in the unlikely event she is not convicted in the Senate, or until the end of her term in 2018.


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Policy Alert: Asia Rethinks South China Sea Disputes in Wake of Presidential Election in The Philippines

rodrigoduterteIn a landslide victory on May 9, Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected to be the next president of the Philippines. The 71-year-old Duterte – who has been called the “Donald Trump of the Philippines” for his propensity to spark controversy – pledged to reverse the current government’s foreign policy by engaging China in talks to resolve escalating maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines claim ownership over parts of the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

Duterte also promised to ride a jet ski to China-administrated islands and personally stake his country’s claims should negotiations fail to produce a resolution, so the world is closely watching to see how this potential flashpoint develops. In this Policy Alert, which is part of a series under the Sigur Center’s Energy and Maritime Security project, we explore the reactions of China, the Philippines, Japan, India, and Vietnam to Duterte’s electoral victory and its implications for U.S. policy toward Asia.


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang hoped the new government would “meet China halfway, taking concrete measures to properly deal with [maritime] disputes so as to put the ties of the two countries back on the track of sound development.” Lu touted a historical friendship between Beijing and Manila that has been “hit by major setbacks in recent years, due to reasons known to all,” an indirect reference to U.S. support for the Philippines challenge to China’s maritime claims.

During the campaign, Duterte advocated multilateral talks with China to settle these claims. Lu said China continued to reject this approach in favor of bilateral negotiations with the relevant parties. Should those multilateral talks fail to produce an outcome within two years, Duterte promised he would consider bilateral talks directly with Beijing. He also signaled he was open to joint oil and gas exploration with China if Beijing agrees to treat the disputed waters as a “mutual corridor.”

Several commentators traced today’s strained relations between the Philippines and China to the U.S. foreign policy and the outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino III. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to Potential U.K. “Brexit” from European Union

brexit2With Britain’s June 23 referendum on whether to remain in the European Union (EU) fast approaching, debates about the future of the United Kingdom and Europe have gained attention across the world. Many observers worry about the potential economic and political consequences of Britain’s decision to exit – or “Brexit” – the EU. With polls showing the public split nearly 50-50 on the referendum, President Barack Obama traveled to Britain and urged British voters to stay in the EU. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Russia, and Japan on the U.K. referendum.


Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the British public to vote in favor of a strong and united European Union. With over $61 billion in trade deals announced during Xi’s recent visit to the United Kingdom, he hoped “Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties.” At risk is a deal between Beijing and London in October 2015 where China would build a nuclear energy plant at Hinkley Point, the “largest inward investment in” U.K. history.

Commentators debated whether the Brexit decision could have a negative impact on growing economic ties between the United Kingdom and China. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Panama Papers Leak Proves Taxing for Rising Powers


On April 3, an international coalition of journalists released information on thousands of tax shelters created by the Panama-based firm Mossack Fonseca. Global reactions to the leak of over 11 million documents, also known as the Panama Papers, have been swift with condemnations directed at individuals named as shareholders and directors of the shell companies, including politicians, business leaders, athletes, and celebrities in more than 200 countries. Among them are 12 national leaders, such as the prime ministers of Iceland, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan, the presidents of Argentina and Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia. The list also links to individuals with connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While the use of these offshore companies to avoid taxes at home is not illegal, they remain controversial to many who consider the practice as cheating taxpayers and creating opportunities for fraud, money laundering, and drug trafficking. Several countries in Eurasia were identified as hubs for this type of financial activity or saw their political leadership included in the allegations. This Policy Alert highlights reactions in China, India, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to the emerging global shell game.


After the Panama Papers cited at least eight current and former Chinese top-ranking officials of having links to Mossack Fonseca, the Communist party ordered the country’s media outlets to censor all references to the story. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei refused to comment on “groundless accusations” when pressed by journalists. Chinese law does not prohibit its citizens from creating overseas entities, but according to Chun Han Wong in the Wall Street Journal, party leaders are sensitive to allegations, including some directed at relatives of President Xi Jingping, that may “add fuel to perceptions of double standards in Beijing’s efforts to fight graft.”

Hong Kong was said to be home to the most active and highest number – over 2,000 – of the shell corporations set up through Mossack Fonseca. Zhang Xiaodong, named as the firm’s primary contact on the island, pushed his clients to set up offshore accounts to purchase stocks abroad due to “overseas countries’ hostility to the rising Chinese economic power.” When a media outlet did cover the leaks, its criticism was directed at foreign powers. The Global Times questioned the real motives behind the leak, which the paper said has “basic political targets,” and how the information is being spun by “the Western media” to minimize information negative to the United States and give “extra spin” to the “exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin.” (more…)

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