The Democratic Party Platform: the Asia Dimension



Last week, I looked at the Republican Party platform document, significant not for its substantive effect if Mr. Trump prevails but for the splits it reveals in the Republican Party. I also noted research showing that Trump supporters are more suspicious of US engagement and globalization than non-Trump Republicans.

The Democratic Party Platform has equally little bite, but also raises a number of issues of interest to US policy toward Asia, particularly with respect to trade. As with our consideration of the Republican party platform, we also look at some new polling on trade policy preferences. The headline: Democrats are not as anti-globalization as might be thought. There are differences between Sanders and Clinton supporters on the TPP and trade agreements, which is exactly the way Mr. Trump has framed the trade debate. But views of globalization and trade more generally are overwhelmingly positive and don't even differentiate supporters of the two Democratic contenders.

The Foreign Policy Platform

The Democratic platform reflects a “lean in” version of internationalism that is at odds with Mr. Trump’s greater skepticism about foreign entanglement: “Democrats believe that America must lead in the world to grow our economy, protect our interests and values, and make our country safer and more prosperous.” (On Hillary Clinton as a hawk, see Mark Landler at the New York Times and Micha Zenko at Foreign Policy; in fact, the evidence is mixed). As in the Republican Party platform, the foreign policy section begins with a discussion of the need to increase defense spending in the wake of sequestration cuts and to support troops and veterans. But among the contrasts are long discussions of leadership on climate change (45), strong support for development assistance (48) and international institutions (51) and an entire section on “protecting our values,” which is devoted to a group-by-group consideration of global human rights issues: women and girls, the LGBT community, trafficking, religious minorities, refugees, and civil society more generally (in that order, 45-49).

The Asia and Korea Dimensions

With respect to Asia, three issues are germane for this blog: the general approach to the Asia-Pacific; the Korean peninsula, and trade. The brief sketch on the Asia-Pacific leads with the need to focus on the alliances—Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand, with New Zealand thrown in—as well as forming a “long-term strategic partnership with India.” China is portrayed as much as a problem as a partner, with standard Democratic concerns on trade and human rights:

“We will stand up to Beijing on unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, censorship of the internet, piracy, and cyberattacks. And we will look for areas of cooperation, including on combatting climate change and nuclear proliferation. We will promote greater respect for human rights, including the rights of Tibetans. We are committed to a “One China” policy and the Taiwan Relations Act and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of Cross-Strait issues that is consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.”

On Korea, the language focuses on human rights as much as the nuclear issue, only falling just short of the Republicans’ “slave state” moniker. But there is little new on how to approach the nuclear issue, suggesting a continuation of strategic patience and the continued use of sanctions in an effort to change the equation:

“North Korea is perhaps the most repressive regime on the planet, run by a sadistic dictator. It has conducted several nuclear tests and is attempting to develop the capability to put a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile that could directly threaten the United States. The regime is also responsible for grave human rights abuses against the North Korean people. Yet Donald Trump praises North Korea’s dictator; threatens to abandon our treaty allies, Japan and South Korea; and encourages the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. This approach is incoherent and rather than solving a global crisis, would create a new one. Democrats will protect America and our allies, press China to restrain North Korea, and sharpen the choices for Pyongyang to compel it to abandon its illegal nuclear and missile programs.”

Trade and Globalization

On trade, the conflicts within the Democratic Party are as well-known as those in the Republican party, with Secretary Clinton’s well-known pivot away from the TPP. It is a reflection of the political dilemmas surrounding the issue that the discussion of trade comes not in the foreign policy portion of the platform, but in the section entitled “Fight for Economic Fairness and Against Inequality,” which leads with a brief description of the deterioration in the distribution of income.

The Democrats are becoming the internationalist party, even on trade.

The platform denigrates existing trade agreements, saying that existing ones must be “reviewed” and “updated.” It then goes on to list the desiderata for such an updating and the negotiation of any new ones:

“We believe any new trade agreements must include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards in their core text with streamlined and effective enforcement mechanisms. Trade agreements should crack down on the unfair and illegal subsidies other countries grant their businesses at the expense of ours. It should promote innovation of and access to lifesaving medicines. And it should protect a free and open internet. We should never enter into a trade agreement that prevents our government, or other governments, from putting in place rules that protect the environment, food safety, or the health of American citizens or others around the world.”

The TPP is then singled out, noting that “these are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

What is really going on here? One hypothesis is that Clinton is playing a necessary political game associated with crucial fights in battleground states; for insight into exactly how this fight plays out down at the district level and how trade is implicated, see excellent reporting on how Ohio and Pennsylvania will be won at Politico. It could be argued that the TPP already meets these standards, or could be made to do so; for example, the main concerns—labor and the environment—are already part of the core text. Clinton could be laying the groundwork for pivoting back to the TPP, using tougher enforcement actions as political cover; Trump has leveled just such a charge.

On the other hand, it could be that Hillary has turned on trade and that the soft language is simply in deference to President Obama’s efforts, avoiding the embarrassment of a more full-throated rejection of his signature trade effort.

But outside of pivotal counties in the Midwest, what do Democrats really think on these issues? We are indebted once again to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for some interesting polling. Clinton and Sanders do appeal to somewhat different bases within the party, but the cleavages are somewhat different than commonly thought. Sanders supporters are hostile to the American exceptionalism—and associated interventionism—embraced by the party platform; for example, only 39% agree with the claim that “the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world,” compared to 61% of Clinton supporters. In line with a “come home” foreign policy, Sanders supporters are less inclined to think that the US must maintain superior military (29% vs. 54%) or economic (34% vs. 56%) power.

But trade is less divisive than might be thought. Clinton supporters are somewhat more inclined than Sanders supporters to think that international trade is good for creating jobs, but the differences are not as large as on the broader foreign policy questions (51% vs. 41%). In a particular surprise, the Chicago Council poll finds fully 74% of Clinton supporters in the survey supported the TPP, as well as a majority (56%) of Sanders supporters. On a variety of other trade questions, the Democrats show both majorities for free trade and globalization and little differences between Clinton and Sanders supporters: international trade is good for the US economy (71% vs. 67%); international trade is good for your own standard of living (75% to 70%) and globalization is mostly good for the US (76% to 75%). This convergence may have to do with differences among Sanders supporters between younger voters who are globalized by instinct and older voters who are more cautious. Nonetheless, I am again struck by the reversal of roles: how the Democrats appear to be more firmly internationalist than the Republicans, and even among Sanders supporters. If true, Secretary Clinton’s pivot on trade may indeed be short-lived. 

Election Watch: Witness to Transformation and Peterson Posts on the Contest for the Presidency:

More From

Related Topics