Asia’s American Foreign Policy Menace–Donald J. Trump

May 1, 2017

Asia’s American Foreign Policy Menace--Donald J. Trump

by Brahma Challaney*

*Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

It is conceivable that Trump could flip again on China (or North Korea). Indeed, Trump’s policy reversals may well turn out to be more dangerous than his actual policies. The need for constant adjustment will only stoke greater anxiety among America’s allies and partners, who now run the risk that their core interests will be used as bargaining chips. If those anxieties prompt some countries to build up their militaries, Asia’s strategic landscape will be fundamentally altered.–Brahma Challaney.

Image result for Donald Trump's Flip flop foreign policy

US President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy – based on tactics and transactions, rather than strategic vision – has produced a series of dazzling flip-flops. Lacking any guiding convictions, much less clear priorities, Trump has confounded America’s allies and strategic partners, particularly in Asia – jeopardizing regional security in the process.

To be sure, some of Trump’s reversals have brought him closer to traditional US positions. In particular, he has declared that NATO is “no longer obsolete,” as it supposedly was during his campaign. That change has eased some of the strain on the US relationship with Europe.

But in Asia – which faces serious security, political, and economic challenges – Trump’s reversals have only exacerbated regional volatility. With so many political flashpoints threatening to trigger violent conflict, the last thing Asia’s leaders need is another strategic wild card.

Yet, in Trump, that is precisely what they have. The US President has shown himself to be more mercurial than the foul-mouthed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte or the autocratic Chinese President Xi Jinping. Even the famously impulsive North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un seems almost predictable, by comparison.

Perhaps the most consistent feature of Trump’s foreign policy is his obsession with gaining short-term advantage. In one recent tweet, he asked why he should label China a currency manipulator, when the Chinese are working with the US to rein in North Korea. Just days earlier, Trump had called the Chinese the “world champions” of currency manipulation.

That tweet may offer additional insight into Trump’s Asia policy. For starters, it highlights North Korea’s sudden emergence as Trump’s main foreign-policy challenge, suggesting that the strategic patience pursued by former President Barack Obama could well be replaced by a more accident-prone policy of strategic tetchiness.

This reading is reinforced by Vice President Mike Pence’s claims that the recent low-risk, low-reward US military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan demonstrate American “strength” and “resolve” against North Korea. Such claims reflect a lack of understanding that, when it comes to North Korea, the US has no credible military option, because any US attack would result in the immediate devastation of South Korea’s main population centers.

Image result for kim jong un bravado

North Korea is ready for war, but it may be prepared to make a direct deal with President Trump if conditions are right. Right now, it is a war of nerves–Din Merican

The Trump administration’s current strategy – counting on China to address the North Korea challenge – won’t work, either. After all, North Korea has lately been seeking to escape China’s clutches and pursue direct engagement with the US.

Given the bad blood between Xi and Kim, it seems that Trump’s best bet might be some version of what he proposed during the campaign: meeting with Kim over a hamburger. With the North Korean nuclear genie already out of the bottle, denuclearization may no longer be a plausible option. But a nuclear freeze could still be negotiated.

Trump’s reliance on China to manage North Korea won’t just be ineffective; it could actually prove even more destabilizing for Asia. Trump, who initially seemed eager to challenge China’s hegemonic ambitions, now seems poised to cede more ground to the country, compounding a major foreign-policy mistake on the part of the Obama administration.

Image result for kim jong un  and China's Xi

Of all of Trump’s reversals, this one has the greatest geostrategic significance, because China will undoubtedly take full advantage of it to advance its own objectives. From its growing repression of political dissidents and ethnic minorities to its efforts to upend the territorial status quo in Asia, China constantly tests how far it can go. Under Obama, it got away with a lot. Under Trump, it could get away with even more.

Trump now calls China a friend and partner of his administration – and seems to have developed a fondness for Xi himself. “We have a great chemistry together,” he says. “We like each other. I like him a lot.”

That fondness extends beyond words: Trump’s actions have already strengthened Xi’s position – and undercut his own – though Trump probably didn’t realize it. First, Trump backed down from his threat not to honor the “one China” policy. More recently, Trump hosted Xi at his Florida resort, without requiring that China dismantle any of the unfair trade and investment practices that he railed against during the campaign.

The summit with Trump boosted Xi’s image at home ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress later this year, where Xi may manage to break free from institutionalized collective rule to wield power more autocratically than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. It also indicated the Trump administration’s tacit acceptance of China’s territorial grabs in the South China Sea. This will embolden China not just to militarize fully its seven manmade islands there, but also to pursue territorial revisionism in other regions, from the East China Sea to the western Himalayas.

Trump believes that “lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” owing to his relationship with the “terrific” Xi. In fact, his promise to “Make America Great Again” is antithetical to Xi’s “Chinese dream” of “rejuvenating the Chinese nation.”

Xi’s idea, which Trump is unwittingly endorsing, is that their countries should band together in a “new model of great power relations.” But it is hard to imagine how two countries with such opposing worldviews – not to mention what Harvard University’s Graham Allison has called “extreme superiority complexes” – can oversee world affairs effectively.

It is conceivable that Trump could flip again on China (or North Korea). Indeed, Trump’s policy reversals may well turn out to be more dangerous than his actual policies. The need for constant adjustment will only stoke greater anxiety among America’s allies and partners, who now run the risk that their core interests will be used as bargaining chips. If those anxieties prompt some countries to build up their militaries, Asia’s strategic landscape will be fundamentally altered.

8 thoughts on “Asia’s American Foreign Policy Menace–Donald J. Trump

  1. Trump baffles me with his hiphops and flip flops so that I have to rely on my friend LaMoy in Palo Alto to interpret his conduct. And CLF and Conrad can help as well. DJT cannot be stupid. Otherwise he won’t be the 45th POTUS.–Din Merican

  2. Martin L. King Jr once said: ‘Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’

    MLK had the prescience of describing that idiot – Drumpf, who won by sticking to his feigned script of being a smart and sassy businessman who actually has the heart of a narcissistic callous conman – and who has serious unresolved Oedipal issues. That is why his childish tantrums, insecurity when faced with true adversity and ‘pretend’ bully tactics. I have met many ‘successful’ businessmen like him – who run their businesses with a god-complex, but won’t last when faced with reality and Darwinian competition.

    So i’m sorry to disagree with you about the ‘intellectual’ serendipity viz Drumpf – i.e he is stupid – as truly stupid can be. He is the antithesis of a mentally challenged but good hearted Forrest Gump. The election was lost by the over-confident business-as-usual DNC and Hillary – but not won by the RNC, who lost their cojones to that shyster. There is no contradiction in this.

    It is easy to deal with any Fool On The Hill – just show them your middle finger and growl.. Just don’t corner ‘it’. All moral cowards back down due their sheer ignorance and fear of looking as stupid as what their Twittering reveals. Nah.., he won’t touch KimJongunLand – but his generals might.

    Here’s to all fools on the hill:

  3. One major characteristic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the belief that oneself is special, a genius etc. and that it is not necessary to spend time learning a topic in depth before making sweeping proclamations on it.

    So, Trump reveals his ignorance of the complications of foreign policy by flip flops after meeting with Xi Jinping, NATO officials, other foreign leaders etc.

  4. Trump’s change of heart in dealing with Beijing – from China bashing to singing the praises of Xi Jinping – has truly aggravated Brahma Chellaney. I’m not surprised at all when coming from an Indian scholar. I’ve read too many articles from Eurasia Review, which has become quite an outlet for China and Pakistan bashing from Indian scholars, advocating America confrontation with China. Great majority of the articles are myopic, shallow and narrow minded. Obviously, India is looking at China as an enemy and I’m afraid this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, I’ve yet to hear a Chinese scholar who has bad-mouthed India. To me, this is a reflection of China’s confidence and the insecurity of India.

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