Michael Auslin: Trump’s Success or Failure Lies Partly with Asia

 trump-japan

In order to be successful in Asia, Trump will have to reassure allies, create common ground with potential partners, and not cede any ground to our main challengers. Doing so does not necessarily mean dramatically changing U.S. policy or suddenly forcing a crisis with China. It does, however, require having a clear policy and placing the maintenance of Asian stability at the top of U.S. policy goals.

The following is an expanded version of an essay that first appeared in the Nikkei Asian Review.

 writes: The shock from Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory will eventually wear off, but the world will continue to obsess over his planned policies as he begins to lay out his governing agenda. For the nations of the Asia-Pacific, perhaps the biggest news was Trump’s reiteration of his vow to quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office next January. Given the expectations that TPP would help create a new strategic architecture for America in Asia, fears once again abound that Trump will reduce America’s position in the broader Indo-Pacific region.

“Despite the longevity of these relationships, Trump will inherit an alliance system that is under strain. First, his campaign rhetoric singled out both Japan and South Korea, our two main Asian allies, for not paying enough to support the U.S. forces that are based in their countries.” 

Yet how well President-elect Trump deals with Asia will be a major factor in determining whether his presidency is a success or not. If he chooses to try and isolate America from half the world, then he may well find himself dealing with serious and unexpected crises that will shake the global economy and change the balance of power.

“He suggested that he might “walk away” from the alliances, if they do not increase their contributions. Moreover, Trump mused openly about letting both Japan and South Korea develop a nuclear weapons capability, thereby ending the decades-long U.S. policy of extended deterrence that prevented a nuclear arms race.”

Despite the attention paid by the Obama Administration to the Asia-Pacific, the regional geopolitical environment has deteriorated since 2009. China has become bolder, and has changed the balance of power in the South China Sea, at the same time that it is facing growing economic and political risk at home. North Korea continues to develop its nuclear and missile capabilities. America’s allies have become less convinced of the credibility of U.S. commitments, while other Asian nations have sought to avoid being drawn into a competition between America and China.

“Yet surprising some of his critics, just a week after winning the election, Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in New York. The meeting came at Abe’s request, and after an equally important phone call with besieged South Korean president Park Geun-hye, seemed to indicate that Trump recognized the importance of close ties with America’s Asian allies. “

[Read the full story here, at AEI]

In order to be successful in Asia, Trump will have to reassure allies, create common ground with potential partners, and not cede any ground to our main challengers. Doing so does not necessarily mean dramatically changing U.S. policy or suddenly forcing a crisis with China. It does, however, require having a clear policy and placing the maintenance of Asian stability at the top of U.S. policy goals.

china-female-soldiers

Trump and US Allies

America’s postwar policy in Asia has had the overriding goal of preventing any one power from dominating the region. It has pursued this goal by maintaining an open, rules-based system that encourages trade and exchange, and creates norms of behavior that lead to greater cooperation. The primary means of ensuring the stability of that system has been the six decade-old U.S. alliance structure, often referred to as the “hub-and-spokes.” Centered on Japan (whose treaty was signed in 1960), along with South Korea (1953), Australia (1951), the Philippines (1951), and Thailand (1954), the alliance system is not merely about U.S. commitments to protect its treaty allies; rather, it has evolved over time into a way to facilitate a permanent, forward-based U.S. presence in Asia. This, in turn, has made the U.S. commitment to maintaining stability more credible than it would be otherwise.

Despite the longevity of these relationships, Trump will inherit an alliance system that is under strain. First, his campaign rhetoric singled out both Japan and South Korea, our two main Asian allies, for not paying enough to support the U.S. forces that are based in their countries. He suggested that he might “walk away” from the alliances, if they do not increase their contributions. Moreover, Trump mused openly about letting both Japan and South Korea develop a nuclear weapons capability, thereby ending the decades-long U.S. policy of extended deterrence that prevented a nuclear arms race….(read more)

Source: AEI



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