Assessing Trump’s Emerging Asia Policy
President-elect Donald Trump’s comments and actions since winning the U.S. presidential election in November offer new insights into the kind of Asia policy his administration may pursue after taking office in January. After the Barack Obama years, some course corrections on China policy in particular would be welcome. But uncertainty in other areas could compound allies’ anxieties and undercut U.S. economic interests.
On one hand, Trump threatens a break from longstanding U.S. commitments to alliances, free trade, and diplomacy with China. This risks producing strategic instabilities in an Asia riven by great-power rivalries and the insecurities of lesser states. On the other hand, some of the president-elect’s proposed policies may actually put him in sync with Asian powers that take a more nationalistic line on the uses of military power and economic statecraft.
Perhaps the most significant potential shift in U.S. policy concerns China. Trump takes a more hawkish line than Obama does on China’s militarization of the South China Sea, military buildup, and unfair trade practices. Indeed, Trump may be compensating for Obama’s unduly passive response to China’s aggressive behavior in maritime Asia — reflected in China’s brazen seizure on Dec. 15 of a U.S. underwater surveillance drone — by adopting a tougher stance that pushes back against Beijing’s efforts to enforce an Asian Monroe Doctrine.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore