What is Trump’s East Asian foreign policy? Will he rearrange old alliances for new ones in South East Asia? How will he interact with East Asian institutions like ASEAN and EAS and does his election signal the end of the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership?
By Rasa Sarwari
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. elections has come at a surprise, as most polls forecasted Hillary Clinton to win the ticket. Trump’s views and opinions on most topics are considered radical by some and revolutionary by others. Accordingly, Trump’s foreign policy is set to change the post-World War II world order, as the President elect seeks to rearrange most of the U.S.’ current policy in East Asia, however the extent to which he will change them is unclear.
But what is known, is that Trump’s rhetoric has pushed for the dismantling and rearranging of some key pillars in the United States’ East Asian policy including; its alliances, regional institutions, and trade.
How will Trump effect America’s alliances in East Asia?
In regards to the U.S.’ alliances in East Asia, Trump has indicated that he’d like America’s allies in the region to share a greater burden of its security, instead of relying heavily on America’s nascent military presence.
Trump has stated that America is “a debtor nation and one of the reasons [America is] a debtor nation is [because it] spends so much on the military, but the military isn’t for [Americans]. The military is to be policeman for other countries”.
Subsequently, in order to relieve the debt America’s incurred due to its “policing” of other countries, Trump has called for U.S. allies to pay for American military assistance. He has explicitly called out the U.S.’ East Asian allies, such as Japan and the Philippines to pay their “fair share”, for the protection their military forces offer.
Not surprisingly Trump’s remarks have caused uproar among many of America’s allies in Asia, and his recent electoral victory has come as a shock for East Asia nations, who are now re-evaluating their strategic partnership with the U.S.
What does Trump have to say about ASEAN and EAS?
In addition, since Trump staunchly believes America’s allies must share the burden and not receive free handouts, he is expected to have little to no patience in up keeping America’s costly multilateral partnerships, with institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Unlike President Obama, who devoted endless amounts of resources, attention and time into ASEAN, Trump see’s America’s partnership with ASEAN as more of an expense than an investment, which may led to increased Chinese influence in the region, as the US won’t act as a counter balance to Chinese presence in ASEAN. Accordingly, hopes of furthering U.S.-ASEAN initiatives, like the Connect initiative have been put into dismay, as Trump seems reluctant to support such “expenses”.
Moreover, it’s not known if the President elect will even attend important engagements such as the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders meeting and East Asia Summit (EAS), which Obama regularly attended. Nonetheless, it would be beneficial for Trump to attend the latter engagements, as ASEAN countries are integral actors in tackling the issue of maritime security and the rise of Islamic terror groups; some of Trump’s main campaign policy objectives.
Trump may still continue to interact closely with South East Asian allies; however he might do so bilaterally instead of multilaterally, since inclusive institutions often take longer to act than bilateral partnerships. Subsequently, Trump is not likely to entirely back out of ASEAN and EAS engagements, but instead his administration would probably send lower-ranking US officials to these meetings, reducing but not diminishing their presence entirely.
How will Trump affect the TPP?
Trump’s economic agenda is perhaps the most outspoken part of his campaign, as he’s promised to “make America great again”, through his fiscal aptitude and awareness. In light of Trump’s self-proclaimed astute economic understanding, he’s been in constant opposition of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Trump’s attitude on opposing the TPP is not likely to change with his electoral victory, thus many analysts see the chances of the TPP passing in congress after the election, as abysmal. Even President Obama has given up on passing the trade deal after news of Trump’s victory on Nov 9.
However, this doesn’t mean Trump is against all trade deals with East Asia, rather he is interested in trade deals which offer greater benefit to the United States. Trump’s even stated that free trade could be beneficial, but only through bilateral deals, since they were better than multilateral blocs “because we have opportunity to cut [a] better deal”.
If the latter statement is true, then Trump would focus on creating profitable bilateral trade deals rather than large multilateral ones, allowing for portions of the TPP to be salvaged, since it’s essential a collection of bilateral trade deals, which can be renegotiated with individual countries. Consequently, the dismissing of the TPP is still a big loss for many East Asian countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, which lack a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States.