China-Russia relations were quite uneventful in the first four months of 2015. Instead, Moscow and Beijing seemed on divergent paths as the former continued to be plagued by geopolitics (Ukraine, Iran, etc.), while the latter was busy with geoeconomics (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Belt and Road Initiative, etc.).
At the end of 2014, there were both stern warnings but also cautious optimism for what 2015 held in store for Japan and South Korea in anticipation of the 50th anniversary in June of the restoration of diplomatic relations and the upcoming 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Despite ongoing discussions of history and present-day issues related to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, there was a general sense in both Tokyo and Beijing that relations were slowly moving in the right direction. Meetings took place between senior diplomats and political leaders.
A perennial theme of South Korean opinion leaders in recent years has been the desire to avoid choosing between Beijing and Washington, but this strategy became more difficult in early 2015, as Seoul had to decide how to deal with issues such as AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank) and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) where Beijing and Washington are on opposing sides.
The first four months of 2015 were neither active nor positive for relations between South and North Korea. Initial hints on both sides of potential readiness for a summit came to naught, being dissipated in recriminations over a drearily familiar list of obstacles. So we shall focus on the main events, such as they were, and try to be forward-looking.
Taipei’s relations with Beijing have been adrift with the Ma administration in a reactive mode. The main interactions have been on unexpected issues – China’s M503 air route and Taiwan’s effort to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – and results were mixed. Meanwhile all players are preparing for a different future.
Several senior US officials visited Southeast Asia, all emphasizing ASEAN’s importance for the US rebalance policy. The US is building a rotational force deployment capacity in the region along with military assistance to allies and partners, especially for increasing their maritime security capabilities.
The early months of 2015 saw little change in US-DPRK relations while there were several positive developments in US-ROK relations. There were new US sanctions on North Korea over the Sony Pictures cyber-hacking incident and increased concern about North Korean advances in nuclear and missile technology as the US and others continued to criticize the DPRK’s human rights record.
Benefiting from a window of political stability, the Abe government continued to focus on the twin pillars of economic strategy and defense policy reform. Bilateral engagement on security, trade, and regional and global issues informed the agenda for the prime minister’s official visit to Washington in late April, the first by a Japanese leader in nine years.
President Obama initiated his long-awaited (and long overdue) quest for “fast track” or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the US Congress, understanding that final negotiations and eventual passage (or not) of his Asian “rebalance” economic centerpiece, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, rests upon achieving TPA.