Trump’s Engagement with Asia on America’s Terms

March28, 2017

Trump’s Engagement with Asia on America’s Terms–creating new opportunities for US businesses 

by Mieczysław P Boduszyński and Tom Le

Former US President Barack Obama sought to move the United States away from what he saw as costly, distracting and unwinnable entanglements in the Middle East. Instead, he pivoted his foreign policy efforts towards Asia where he believed that US military, political and economic engagement could reap much greater rewards for the country.

Obama championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as part of his signature ‘pivot to Asia’. Obama’s pivot served as a security reassurance for US allies in the region and fortified linkages among those allies, encouraging, for instance, reconciliation between Japan and South Korea. Most importantly, the pivot signalled to Asian allies that they would never be just an afterthought or a region only important when it was useful for US grand strategy. The future lay in Asia and the United States would be a part of that future.

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Today, many of the pivot’s achievements are at risk under President Donald Trump’s brand of isolationism and a transactional ‘America First’ approach to foreign policy. The TPP is dead and alliances may be next. Trump has repeatedly stated that the United States is ‘losing’ and has suggested plans to re-evaluate Washington’s security guarantees in Asia. Despite more recent backpedalling, Trump’s apparent affection for Russia and his early willingness to barter Taiwan’s sovereignty for a good trade deal with China has signalled to longstanding US allies that the security reassurances of the Obama era are a thing of the past.

While the ‘liberal internationalist’ tenor of Obama’s pivot may have passed, a Trumpian worldview can and should still build on Obama’s momentum in Asia. If Trump can enhance, repair and deepen alliances without committing to a US-led regional order in the mould of the Obama administration, he could stay true to his worldview by creating new opportunities for US businesses while encouraging Asian allies to play a more active role in their security. The pivot need not be reversed and there are steps Trump should take to ensure it remains.

In lieu of the TPP, Trump could work to build new bilateral free trade agreements in East Asia, modelled on the existing US–South Korea and US–Australia Free Trade Agreements.  The region’s support for the TPP, and its potential replacement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), suggests that Asian countries are willing to negotiate new trade deals. But the Trump administration must be ready to make some concessions. Trump can also capitalise on the positive personal relationships he has with Asian leaders.

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Obama had a very poor relationship with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who flung insults, threatened to kick out US troops and sought closer relations with China. While Obama was highly critical of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign, Trump’s focus on US business interests presents an opportunity to repair the US–Philippines alliance. Duterte expressed a very positive view of Trump after a brief phone call. The Philippines have longstanding historical ties to the United States and it is a crucial alliance to preserve.

Trump’s budding relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could also serve as his basis for diplomatic success. Although the Obama–Abe relationship improved over time, it was always marred by Obama’s criticisms of Abe’s revisionist tendencies. Yet thanks in part to Obama’s pivot, Japan passed new security laws increasing its ability to defend US forces during times of war directly related to Japan’s security.

Once South Korea chooses a new president, Trump could continue to support the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system and build upon the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between Japan and South Korea. Both are critical to counter the North Korean nuclear threat. But such actions are likely to draw the ire of China as the United States makes it clear that it is fully committed to its allies and the region.

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Vietnam’s Blossoming Relations with Xi’s China

Along with maintaining existing alliances, Trump could work towards forging new relations in East and Southeast Asia. Vietnam has been receptive to a US role in the region as it tries to prevent further Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea. The US–Vietnam relationship is exceptionally pragmatic and there are ample opportunities to build on an already solid foundation. Besides a free trade deal, moving forward with military linkages such as the base-sharing agreement that was announced, and cooperating in areas such as higher education and scholarships should be on Trump’s agenda.

The pivot to Asia was by no means a resounding success. Unfinished business in Obama’s pivot gives Trump the chance to craft his unique brand of foreign policy in East Asia — a willingness to work and trade with almost anyone. This way, the United States can maintain its pre-eminence in East Asia without pursuing a comprehensive security community. Unlike highly politically charged issues such as Russia and immigration, policy in Asia need not be divisive in domestic US politics.

By leading with direction without directing, the United States can influence its East Asian allies to take more responsibility for maintaining regional stability. As the country has long advocated a rules-based order in East Asia regarding freedom of navigation and trade, the Trump administration must be present to help write those rules.

Mieczysław P Boduszyński and Tom Le are Assistant Professors of Politics at Pomona College, California.

14 thoughts on “Trump’s Engagement with Asia on America’s Terms

  1. If you were to follow Mr. Phua’s links to, you would have thought the United States is more racist than most nations on earth. Is America a racist nation? Here is a counter-argument:

    There are a few governing ideas that claim to overcome racism and tribalism. People like Dr. Phua and LaMoy give socialism and its idealized Utopian state as the objective, and then compare every nation including the United States to the idealized state, and then judge those nations with a sense of righteousness that is grounded on non-existent Utopian state. Not only the Utopian state not achieved, every single nation implementing the idea of socialism fails miserably. Can a failed state overcome racism? Yes, failed state is already failed, and cannot be hold accountable for solving secondary problems such as racism.

    Then there is political Islam (not Islam per se) claiming its ability to transient tribalism, if only everyone believes in the notion of Quran as a direct literal revelation of God and Mohammad possess the best model of human behavior ever and in the future. Of course achieving the idealized state requires, at some point, eliminating those oppose to the ideas contained in the Quran and practiced by Mohammad as recorded in the Sira. However, the result as can be seen now is that 8 out of 10 poorest nations are Muslim-majority while top-10 most Islamic-compliance nations have very small percentage of Muslims in their composition.

    Then there is American idea as contained in their Constitution for overcoming the racism. The American idea is rooted in personal liberty, In god/truth we trust, and nationalism as in E Pluribus Unum. Even President Trump, who is accused as racist and fascist by Dr. Phua and LaMoy, found a way to overcome racism in his inauguration speech when he said out of the blood of patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. In American ideas, a nation improves within the framework of its constitution, which is the best its founders could come out with.

    Which idea you think will tackle racism most effectively?

    • 1. First of all, Mr LaMoy is a moderate Republican (and a decent human being) and not a socialist.

      2. I did not say or try to imply that America is more racist than most nations on earth. The fact that at least half of Americans are demonstrating against Trump’s scapegoating of Mexicans and Muslims show the basic decency of many Americans.

      3. Has moderate socialism a.k.a. Social Democracy, failed in
      northern Europe? Their socio-economic indicators are consistently top of the league. Malaysia would do much better if we try to emulate them.

      4. Just because Trump managed to stick to the teleprompter message for his one speech, this proves he is not a racist and a fascist ?

      5. Modern day racism (i.e. classifying people into distinct “races” and then discriminating against specific ones) is a by-product of European colonial ideology, which we in developing countries have borrowed and which we should totally reject. There is only one human species, albeit with differing gene frequencies. What makes us “different” are simply the ideas we carry in our heads.

      For a quick look at racism, this BBC production is highly recommended:

    • “Even President Trump, who is accused as racist and fascist … found a way to overcome racism in his inauguration speech when he said out of the blood of patriotism, there is no room for prejudice …. ”

      Is this the best you can defend Trump not a racist and fascist? Like they say, even the devil knows how to quote the Bible. The words racist and fascist against Trump came from the mouths of fellow influential GOP members. I’m a proud Republican whose membership is longer than Trump and Bannon, and I agree:

      When I criticize America that is because I love America and I want it to be better. I know Utopia is no where to be found but that does not mean we should not strive to be better, especially when we are the one nation that goes around lecturing the world about democracy and equality.

      As a fourth-generation Chinese-American, all my adult life I have been involved with public services trying to make America a better society. As one of the leaders with Chinese For Affirmative Actions and the 100 Committee, I know first hand what racism Asian-Americans have to go through every day. We are finding ways to tackle the problems with the mainstream community leaders.

      What have you done for America? As an immigrant who is fully satisfied with your life here, I rather you say ‘thank you’ and crawl back to your hole.


    W.I. Thomas’ theorem :

    The Thomas theorem is a sociological theorem which was formulated in 1928 by W. I. Thomas and D. S. Thomas (1899–1977):

    “ If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. ”

    In other words, what people perceive to be real (including concepts such as human beings can be divided into “Race” and that this has a biological basis) will have real impact and real consequences.

    Also, Stephen Jay Gould’s book “The Mismeasure of Man” on
    scientific racism. Check up the history of things like “craniometry”, for instance.
    Where scientists attempt to prove that the cranial capacity of whites is greater than that of blacks.

  3. In Africa they were made to iunderstand that, ” all are precious in His sight”, and told to sit in the back rows of the church. Racism showed its ugly head when the locals demanded that they too should be allowed to sit in the front rows. This neatly ties up with the famous saying in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yogaslavia-Bogdanovic died here because he insited on his right of way.
    PS Relatins with the US will depend on give and take. The position will revolve around who gives and who takes.

  4. For many older people, socialism is a dirty word associated with communism and the Soviet Union and the Cold War. Today, the overwhelming support among America’s youth for the 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is the latest example of a historical turning trend that socialism is no longer a dirty word, or a shunned label but a benign economic system that is more equitable and fair than capitalism. Many ultra right wingers are either ignorant, poorly educated, or blatantly refused to accept the omnipresent of socialism in our society, in every which ways or forms. Our public schools, fire and police department, highways, healthcare for kids and Medicare for the seniors, Employment Development Department, social security, welfare, minimum wage … almost everything we termed “public goods” in economics are socialism. In fact, almost our entire bureaucracy is socialism.

    I idolized Abraham Lincoln since a little boy. And Abraham Lincoln was a socialist who liberated slavery. If idolizing Abraham Lincoln makes me a socialist, then I’m a socialist. I know this is the fallacious logic of the simpleton ultra right wingers. Many of the ultra right wingers are either ignorant, poorly educated, or simply refused to accept historical facts that the Republican Party was a liberal party when founded, and many of the founders in many shapes and forms influenced by socialism. In fact, the Fabian Society of the London School of Economics and Political Science had played a very important role in our past governments in history, and they still do. The term ‘New Deal’ was coined by Roosevelt’s adviser Stuart Chase, a Fabian Socialist. Except in the United States the Fabian Socialists drop the word ‘socialist’ and simply called themselves Fabians.

    Simpletons thought capitalism makes America great. Hell, no, it is the fusion of various isms that made America great, and socialism has played a large part. Below is an article on how socialists built America:

    There are many reputable studies done in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada on right wingers and left wingers, and they consistently found left wingers to be more intelligent, better educated, make more money, less racist and less bigoted. I’ll be 70 year young soon. Through my own empirical experience dealing with politicians from both political divide for half a century, I found this to be true. I do find the left wingers more intelligent, better educated, easy to reason to, less racist and less bigoted. In general, the liberals are more rational and less partisan while the conservatives are more emotional and more partisan. That’s why, despite our many differences and political affiliations, Tom Hayden and I became such good friends. May he rest in peace.

    • Read somewhere that studying neoclassical economics (notice that it is the dominant NEOCLASSICAL ECONOMICS of the Anglo-American world, not other schools of economic thought such as heterodox ones, except for “Austrian economics”) makes people less generous in donating money for social causes.

      This too :

    • Interesting. I never thought of that. Thanks, Phua. It led me to think of Gandhiji who said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” I like the part when Vedantam said: “Or ask your mother.” I do find the world’s mothers are the best economists. I once followed a social case to visit a poor Mexican family and found how the mother made hamburgers for the whole family with the little ground beef she had. She mixed the ground beef with a lot of old bread and made them into patties. More than 45 million people, or 14.5 percent of all Americans, lived below the poverty line, go to bed hungry every night. And these are the people Trump’s proposed budget is prepared to sacrifice. Shame.

  5. No. What ever system you want to have the basic principle of economics remains. You cannot improve the position of the wage earner by exploiting the wage payer and likewise the wage payer cannot improve his position in the long term by exploiting the wage earner. This delcate balance between the wage payer and the wage eaerner has become distorted by mass migration. Today in many countries the minimum wage has become the maximum wage because there are always workers all around the world who will be willing to work for less. Socialism is good and I am all for it. But the problem is how are you going to pay for all the schools and other free services provided by the government.

  6. The allure of socialism is hard to desist, but historical record and careful examination reveal the ill of such economic system. Socialism is benign only if the socialists are of small minority serving as a beacon of the society; socialism is a monster once the socialists are in political power – the control freaks in socialist societies are responsible for the deaths of 30-40 millions Chinese in agonizing starvation and 20 millions death in Ukraine under USSR. Here is a careful portrayal of the effect of socialism in Brazil:

    Ecuador, the nation Dr, Phua praised as model socialist nation, will soon be another casualty of socialism.

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