Exit TPP, enter high-speed rail China, meanwhile, keeps accumulating "facts on the sea" -- with a lot of action, in the form of sea patrolling, originating from Sansha, a prefecture-level city set up in 2012 to administer the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank (which the Chinese call Zongsha Islands). These "facts on the sea" are irreversible, as Sansha has made sure islands, atolls, reefs, rocks, shoals -- whatever the terminology -- all across the South China Sea are regarded as a matter of national security, politically and strategically, for Beijing.
As far as in-flux ASEAN is concerned, Thailand may retain the status of strategic pivot for US interests. But now Washington must factor the delicate political equation before the looming -- and extremely complex -- royal succession, with the power of the Thai army solidified by a new constitution as it expands trade and political relations with both Russia and China.
Still, the only discourse emanating from Washington boils down to Pentagon obsession with confrontation in the South China Sea and White House obsession with TPP, the trade arm of the pivot.
Kishore Mahbubani, dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, has been clever enough to propose a way out. What if Washington accepted a Chinese contribution in terms of high-speed rail technology -- as a means to jump-start the US economy from the Pacific to the Atlantic. This China-US partnership in infrastructure would be, according to Mahbubani, a "match made in heaven."
The American Society of Civil Engineers has projected a $1.44 trillion investment funding gap in the US between 2016 and 2025 -- generating a huge drag on business, exports and incomes. China would have the financial and institutional capacity to build that much-needed infrastructure. TPP is a dead end. Perhaps Mahbubani should send his proposal to Donald Trump.
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