Asia Foundation: Top 10 Recommendations for Trump Administration on Asia Foreign Policy

November 18, 2016

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Leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections, The Asia Foundation—a non-partisan, non-governmental organization—convened high-level, closed-door working groups of Northeast, Southeast, and South Asian policy specialists led by Dr. Yoon Young-kwan, Professor of International Relations at Seoul National University and former Foreign Minister of South Korea; Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Executive Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand; and Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Founding Director of the India Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Asia will only grow in strategic importance for the United States,” said project Co-Chairs of the American Task Force Dr. Harry Harding, University Professor at the University of Virginia, and Ellen Laipson, President Emeritus of The Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., who together provided the U.S. response to the Asian views. “Of greatest concern to Asians today is the extent to which the American role in the region has been questioned during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. Early signs from the new administration that it will devote high-level attention to the vital region are gravely important.”

Asia Foundation: Top 10 Recommendations for Trump Administration on Asia Foreign Policy

San Francisco, November 14, 2016 — The U.S. must not shrink from its leadership role in the international order, according to a new Asia Foundation report released today. Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia: The Future of the Rebalance is the Foundation’s signature foreign policy initiative bringing together diverse, distinct perspectives from influential Asian foreign policy specialists and thought leaders. The report arrives on the eve of possibly the greatest change in American foreign policy in Asia since the end of World War II. One of the principal conclusions of the report is that most Asians believe that a robust, sustained, and consistent U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security presence in the region is essential.

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By John J. Brandon

avarabannerpicfinalAfter a grueling election season, on November 8, Americans elected their 45th president of the United States in a stunning victory for Donald Trump. As in much of the world, policymakers in Asia have been transfixed by the twists and turns of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, raising questions over where U.S. foreign policy toward Asia will stand under new leadership.

With 60 percent of the world’s population and some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and thorniest security challenges, Asia’s rising strategic importance cannot be overstated. The 2016 campaign revealed mounting skepticism on how the U.S. will to continue its role in global leadership, and concern over what the China strategy would be in a new administration.

Now President-elect Donald Trump will find a complex set of issues to address in the dynamic and divergent region, including security, trade, pressing inter-Asian tensions, expectations of Asian leaders and the broader public about America’s role, as well as rising powers eager to set their own agendas.

Yesterday, The Asia Foundation released “Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia: The Future of the Rebalance“—a set of strategic recommendations for the incoming president on foreign policy toward Asia, including concise top 10 crucial actions. The Asia Foundation’s quadrennial project convenes a series of closed-door, high-level working groups of Asian and American thought leaders across the Asia Pacific leading up to the election.

In contrast to the majority of Asia policy studies in the United States which limit their inquiry to American views, this project emphasizes a diverse set of Asian perspectives. This year’s Asian participants comprise both established foreign policy luminaries and a younger generation of rising stars from civil society and policy institutes. In addition to the chapters written by the project’s three Asia chairs, three emerging Asian leaders who participated in the workshops contributed a forward-looking snapshot entitled “The Future of Asia,” in which they envision Asia’s future and the optimal role of the United States in it. A response from two prominent American foreign policy specialists examines the political appetite within the U.S. for such recommendations.

Here are the top 10 recommendations for the new president:

1.Maintain a robust, sustained, and consistent American presence in the Asia-Pacific. A precipitous reduction of engagement in Asia would be detrimental to the interests of most Asian countries as well as the United States. Any diminution of U.S. credibility will push the Asian states toward self-help in the security realm and trigger massive destabilization of the regional order.

2. Support Asian regional architecture and institutions. While bilateral relations are important, multilateral mechanisms and diplomacy that promote greater cohesion among Asian countries are essential to America’s continued engagement in the region. America should support the mandate of the China-led AIIB, while partnering with Japan and India in infrastructure development in Asia.

3. President-elect Trump should re-examine his position on the campaign trail and ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), finding a way to move forward productively on this comprehensive trade agreement, which most Asians see as a mutually beneficial pillar of America’s role in the region.

4. President-elect Trump should rethink U.S. strategy on the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are an evermore imminent threat. In a matter of just a few years, the DPRK will have the ability to attack U.S. territory with a nuclear-armed ICBM. U.S. “strategic patience” has failed. After toughening international sanctions, the United States must eventually begin talks with North Korea to find a permanent solution on the Korean peninsula. At the same time, the U.S. government must be prepared for sudden political instability in the DPRK, and continue consultations with key stakeholders, including South Korea and China.

5. President-elect Trump should pursue a balanced approach toward China. As China continues to rise as an economic, political, and military power, the 45th president must resist the temptation of polarizing rhetoric or policies. Asian nations value America’s economic and security presence, but they do not want to be forced to choose between the world’s two largest powers. A strategic mix of engagement and hedging is a better U.S. policy toward China than either confrontation or appeasement.

6. The new president should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although the United States follows UNCLOS as a matter of customary international law, the failure of Congress to ratify UNCLOS weakens the U.S. position on the South China Sea and on international law more broadly. The U.S. should continue its freedom-of-navigation operations and encourage other countries such as Japan and Australia to undertake their own FONOPS to make such activity more multilateral.

7. President-elect Trump should work with India to address South Asian security. As it draws India into a larger role in Asian security, Washington should work with Delhi to develop a coordinated approach to countering terrorism, nudge Pakistan toward political moderation, and promote regional economic integration in the South Asian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region.

8. President-elect Trump should not abandon Afghanistan. It would be unwise for the U.S. to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. Poor governance is often the cradle of terrorism and instability, and to counter such instability, the U.S. must continue to promote the rule of law, build civil society, and support economic and development measures that increase Afghanistan’s national capacity to effectively govern and to provide for its own security.

9. The Trump administration should continue to play a leading role in nontraditional security. Broadly speaking, Asian nations have been slower than the United States to address security challenges such as climate change, disaster relief, terrorism, and food security. Most Asian countries welcome American expertise in humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and mitigating the effects of climate change, and they want the United States to continue to lead and to facilitate cooperation in these nontraditional security areas.

10. Finally, President-elect Trump needs to continue to project American “soft power.” No country in the world can match the resonance of American “soft power” in Asia. The United States can strengthen liberal and modernizing forces in Asia by exercising its unique influence in partnership with local initiatives rather than imposing an agenda on the region and interfering in the internal affairs of states. Political modernization owned by Asians themselves will enhance America’s political standing and advance her foreign-policy objectives over the long-term. The U.S. should continue to cultivate educational and cultural ties with Asia, support civil society organizations and technological innovation, and serve as a role model for good governance by building capacity and sharing best practices.

It’s clear from our many long discussions across the region that Asia wants the U.S. to exercise global leadership in this complex era, and not succumb to the temptation of isolationist sentiments. If the U.S., rich with experience in global leadership, retreats in this situation, there will be a leadership vacuum. This will not only damage the long-term interests of the United States, but will create a chaotic situation in Asia and throughout the world. For this reason, Asia and Asians expect continued leadership from the United States. It must not falter.

Read the full report

John J. Brandon is senior director for The Asia Foundation’s International Relations programs in Washington, D.C. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

15 thoughts on “Asia Foundation: Top 10 Recommendations for Trump Administration on Asia Foreign Policy

  1. No. It is clear that America should stay out of politics in Asia. Leaving Asians alone, Asians could better manage themselves. Please leave South East Asia alone, Mr President Trump. There are times to help out Asians, but it is not now.

  2. Dr. Phua:
    We’re keeping a very close eye on every move that Trump is making. There’s nothing we can do about him making Bannon his Chief of Staff, it does not require the approval from the Congress. Yea, I agree he is a real s.o.b., a very dangerous mother f**ker. The good thing is that his position is only advisory and has no actual power. The final decision is on Trump. We’re aware that he has advised Trump to limit the number of Asian immigrants in the Silicon Valley, but Trump shot him down that we need intelligent and successful talents in the Silicon Valley. At the moment we can only petition Trump not to appoint him. But I doubt there will do any good.

  3. As far as Asia is concerned it will be a positive step forward if America and China will get their acts right and sort out their differences themselves and not resort to using their client states as proxies.
    America has no business getting involved in the territorial disputes among the nations in SCS. If the respective countries are allowed to settle their disputes peacefully, there is no reason why the vast resources cannot be shared by all concerned liked in the North Sea.

  4. Me Asian – culturally, genetically and mentally.

    Me urge Trump to Trumpet the preamble of the US Declaration of Independence – or at least the Preamble to all of Asia. Viz:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

    Anything less, would be an abrogation of what USofA and Disneyland stands for. Cultural hegemony is inadequate without the Principles of Freedom, Justice and Pursuit of Livelihood.

    Katasayang, are you actually a cryptid Commie Despot, perchance? Blindness is not necessarily visual, but mental. That’s what the Lord said.

  5. Reminds me of the lines of a song “The Last Waltz”….”I wonder should I go or should I stay; the band had only one more song to play….through the good and bad we get along…….”

    In spite of Trump’s isolationist blaster and other nonsense, America, whether during his presidency or those coming after, cannot leave any part of the World alone. It is just not possible, from the point of view of America’s geopolitical interests or those of its “enemies”

    Nothing to worry. Reality trumps fantasy every time.

  6. I may be wrong, from what he said during campaign and what he is saying after election, I have arrived at the conclusion that President-elect Donald Trump is not an ideologue in the neocon sense of the term; he’s a pragmatist. But I must confess I still have no clue about his protectionist Trumponomics.

  7. Doggie,
    Hahahahaha! You are asking a misogynist to trumpet that stupid declaration when he doesn’t believe a single thing. You really suck up to anything western. I would suggest that Drumpf should just leave us alone and let China take over the Taikor role.
    This is a very funny video!

    Lee Kuan Yew is right about stopping duds into the parliament

  8. Historically, the US has always tented to be more isolationist than globalist. For more than 150 years after its founding, the US was primarily isolationist in its foreign policy. As a large geopolitical island with no significant enemies along its borders, it could intervene freely in the Western Hemisphere, but stay aloof from the major conflicts gripping Eurasia. That was how America became great.

    This changed after WWII. The US became the indispensable power internationally. The political landscape of the US has transformed and adhered to an internationalist. The US dominated the world militarily and economically. It became the world policeman and got into everybody’s business. This is how it got itself into today’s big mess.

    The global picture today has changed fundamentally with a military resurgent Russia and China reemergence as one of the world’s central economic powers. Countries incurring economic and political sanctions from the US and/or EU now have choices. Sanctions or even the threat of sanctions can backfire geopolitically, pushing countries closer to China, Russia, or other emerging regional powers. A long list of very recent examples attests to this, including the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iran, Turkey and, most significantly, Russia itself. The new emerging powers are not American allies, but geopolitical competitors. Development in US-China relations reflect this monumental shift.

    Some countries may like the US to continue as global hegemon and the world policeman, but popular sentiments in the US are going in the opposite direction. An American disposition for global engagement, especially foreign military adventures, has evaporated among large segments of the populace. During his presidential campaign President-elect Trump had taken pains to stress his avoidance of American “boots on the ground.” I may not have voted for him but I hold him to his campaign promises.

    Dr. C. Raja Mohan, you can take care of your own problems with Pakistan.

  9. //Katasayang, are you actually a cryptid Commie Despot, perchance?

    @CLF: Not at all. I believe in the exact words that you have typed. I believe in it so much that I am a triumphalist that I think it should be extended to all. To pivot to Asia and to interfere in Asia today is to do exactly what @ocho said .. we should find our proxies somewhere else.

    If neither China nor America want to get their own heartland touched, let’s respect the sovereign rights for the pursuit of happiness for all of these other nations in Asia.

    I don’t believe in Xi-Core.
    I am a center-left. I love Bill Moyer’s work. Is Bill Moyer a cryptid Commie Despot, @CLF? You have definitely come to read his work much longer.

  10. Heh heh.., got you guys tied up in knots, ya? Geopolitics aren’t my cup of tea, but anyways..

    Many moons ago, in here blog – i had predicted that good ole USA will withdraw back into a version of the Monroe Doctrine – without surrendering it’s dominant Cultural, Technological and Ideological hegemony. Obviously, not many of the original commentators remain, who understood what i foresaw.

    With the FUBAR in MENA and the Shia-Sunni ruckus, i guess there’ll be a shift in alliances, where Syria becomes divided permanently, Lebanon and Egypt becoming more dependent on an increasingly assertive Israel; a stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement. Kurdistan resurgent to the angst of Turkey and a hardening of Iranian sanctions. At the same time, a distancing from the House of Wahabism, with the Saudis scrambling like headless chickens and Qatar being held for account for supporting the ‘Islamists’.

    Afghanistan-Pakistan and the Central Asian -Tans will have to increasingly depend on the Russkies and PRC for dole. US-India alliance will evolve further and Taj Mahal will become Trump Mahal..

    The US initial focus will shift to Latin America and Caribbean, where it will foment, meddle and torment those wannabe Socialists and Commies.

    As for SEA-SCS, PRC will find her expansionist ambitions hemmed in by Vietnam and Indonesia. The other competing states are just useless. The OBOR will be Sabored, not so much by USA, but by increasing Nationalism among the Littoral states, although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization remains intact.

    ANZUS, Taiwan and NE Asia remain as staunch allies under the THAAD-nuclear umbrella.

    As for Malusia, we remain malu – as the high value/tech FDIs from USA will dwindle to the manufacturing of webbing for processed poultry. Our computer chips will be swallowed up by Lenovo and Huawei etc. Any questions?

    Katasayang, do not put politico-ideologue labels on yourself. It changes with time, and the very act of existence.

  11. //Katasayang, do not put politico-ideologue labels on yourself. It changes with time, and the very act of existence.
    @CLF: of course. I am center-left today simply because life has gotten difficult for the have-nots. I am liberal in the sense that the society should help out the necessary, and not in the camp of entitlement. But, I guess that itself is even too left an idea for the nation we live in.

  12. One issue has been left out. The Aviation Industry. Just pause for a moment and count the number of flights in and out of The US by non US registered Airlines and you will get the line for the day. While many of the Airlines around the world enjoy Sovereign Funding the US Airlines have to depend on market forces. Hmm Hmm.

  13. Doggie,
    See la! Never read history! How the F did Monroe Doctrine is implemented? Was Great Britain doing the enforcement? Yankees then were having problems with Red Indians. Come to think of it, Yankees planned invasion of Canada during 1812. Hahahahaha the Mounties kicked them back to USA kaw kaw.
    Hemmed in by Vietnam and Indonesia. How the F Vietnam won the Vietnam War by playing big powers backsides. With Putin and Xi Jinping are so buddy buddy, China can just makan Vietnam like kacang putih.
    As for Indonesia…….hahahahaha

    Trump’s ascendancy to Presidency will see the Rise of Mighty China. Lest you wanna bank on Japan. Again, what goes up must always come down. Just accept and embrace it la.
    I love Paul Keating taks about this

    Nah! Keating’s transcript la

    “Mr KEATING —In the past week we have had one of those rare philosophic outbursts from the Opposition. We had some remarks from the Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Bennelong at a philosophical level which could not have made the differences between the Government and the Opposition clearer than they did. They started off with the Leader of the Opposition, with his back turned as usual, talking about, ‘I never learned respect at school’. You see, I should never have said in front of Her Majesty the Queen of Australia that Australia was now trading with the Asia-Pacific area. I should never have said that we have independence from Britain and Europe, as Britain joined the Common Market and as Australia trades now 70 to 80 per cent of its imports and exports with the Asia-Pacific area. I should never have made that remark about independence to the Queen of this continent. I should have had more respect. How dare I even reflect modestly on the old links with Britain, on the British bootstraps stuff? Of course we then had a flurry of comment by the honourable member for Bennelong about the 1950s and what a very good period that was—he said it was a very, very good period, a golden age. That was the period when gross domestic product per head was half what it is now; when commodities occupied 85 per cent of our exports; when telephones were half what they are now; when there were half as many cars per thousand people of population; when pensions were half their real value of today and when 10 children per 1,000 went to university instead of 30 per 1,000. That was the golden age when Australia stagnated. That was the golden age when Australia was injected with a near-lethal dose of fogeyism by the conservative parties opposite, when they put the country into neutral and where we very gently ground to a halt in the nowhere land of the early 1980s, with a dependency on commodities that would not pay for our imports.
    That was the golden age when vast numbers of Australians never got a look in; when women did not get a look in and had no equal rights and no equal pay; when migrants were factory fodder; when Aborigines were excluded from the system; when we had these xenophobes running around about Britain and bootstraps; and that awful cultural cringe under Menzies which held us back for nearly a generation.
    I said today at the Press Club that one of my colleagues, the Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Bolkus, has always been at the Cabinet about the future development of the old Parliament House and about whether it ought to be a constitutional museum or museum of Australian cultural history. We thought we could basically make the changes and put some of the cultural icons of the 1950s down there.
    Mr Costello interjecting—
    Mr SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Higgins.
    Mr KEATING —The Morphy Richards toaster, the Qualcast mower, a pair of heavily protected slippers, the Astor TV, the AWA radiogram. And, of course, the honourable member for Wentworth and the honourable member for Bennelong could go there as well. When the kids come and look at them they will say, ‘Gee, mum, is that what it was like then?’. And the two Johns can say, ‘No, kids. This is the future’. Back down the time tunnel to the future—there they are. I was told that I did not learn respect at school. I learned one thing: I learned about self-respect and self-regard for Australia—not about some cultural cringe to a country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination. This was the country that you people wedded yourself to, and even as it walked out on you and joined the Common Market, you were still looking for your MBEs and your knighthoods, and all the rest of the regalia that comes with it. You would take Australia right back down the time tunnel to the cultural cringe where you have always come from. That is why your Fightback! document—

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