As the United States collectively reflects on President Obama’s legacy, many are left watching the ever-growing specter of a Donald Trump presidency. That specter looms ever larger, especially in the realm of foreign policy and U.S.-Asia relations.
Possibly the one “good” and worthwhile thing President Obama accomplished, foreign-policy-wise, was his decision to “pivot” U.S. foreign policy to the Asia-Pacific region; he recognizes that the future of the United States, economically and geopolitically, lies in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and post-election actions are a cause of concern, especially when it comes to U.S.’ future role in Asia.
The Pivot To Asia: Trump Style
There are a couple issues, to say the least, with Donald Trump’s potential Asia-Pacific foreign policy. One issue stems from the campaign rhetoric President-elect Trump.
His isolationist, “America First” policy, is predicated on renewed, untimely demands for our Asian allies amidst a North Korea hellbent on disrupting regional stability through nuclear tests and China flexing its nascent military might in the South China Sea.
First, he has publicly demanded in the past that the United States’ Asian allies, namely South Korea and Japan, contribute more for U.S. forces stationed in their respective countries. Should they fail to contribute more, Trump has suggested a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, which would be a geo-political boon for both China and North Korea.
Furthermore, in a bewildering and possibly foolish move, he has encouraged the creation and development of nuclear weapons programs for both South Korea and Japan for the sake of their “security.” Unfortunately, Trump is either ignorant of or chooses to discard the United States’ long-standing commitment to nuclear arms control, especially on the Korean peninsula and on the Japanese homeland. President-elect Trump threatens to unravel not only decades of U.S. diplomatic precedents, but also positive, realistic relationships with our Asian allies to contain China and North Korea.
So far we’ve seen Trump flip on many of his campaign promises, so the geo-political future of Japan and South Korea is murky, for the time being.
And then there’s the Chinese question, the most pressing question of them all:
How will President Trump deal with the People’s Republic of China, economically and politically?
The second glaring issue stems from Trump’s lack of depth on the issue of China. All campaign-long, whenever Trump addressed the issue of China on front of his rallies, it was almost always in an trade or economic context.
“Absent from Trump’s economic tirades… are discussions of China in a political or ideological context.”It’s entirely true that China is manipulating its currency – devaluing the yuan in order to make its exports cheaper, which is attractive to foreign importers – it’s also entirely true that China engages in unfair trade practices, such as the “dumping” of cheap steel. But absent from Trump’s economic tirades, albeit justified, are discussions of China in a political or ideological context. He has rarely discussed the vast abuses of human rights; he has never addressed the suppression of religious liberty, especially for Christians and Uighurs (an ethnic minority in western China that is predominantly Muslim), the forced abortions, the censored press, and the lack of due process for Chinese citizens, especially those on death row. He hasn’t really talked about the future of Tibet, nor has he spoken constructively about confronting China’s illegal geo-political maneuvers and actions in the South China Sea as evidenced by his famous tweets:
We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2016
Not that he should have discussed these things, of course, considering his rants about underhanded Chinese trade practices likely made him a hero among the northern blue-collar voters who backed him during the election. Considering that he’s about to become the 45th President of the United States, it’s imperative that Donald Trump move out of “campaign mode,” especially when it comes to U.S. foreign policy in Asia.
Not only does America’s economic future lie in Asia, many future “hot-spots” will emanate from Asia. Many are concerned, this writer included, that President-elect Trump has bungled the security issues associated with Japan and South Korea and not adequately addressed the political issues related to the People’s Republic of China. The Asia-Pacific region requires the projection of U.S. power in order to maintain the balance of power in the region.