Trump's Asia-Pacific Policy Driven by Trade, Security

Global Times | 作者: Zhang Tengjun | 时间: 2017-07-18 | 责编:
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Donald Trump didn't deliver an ideal performance in the diplomatic field during the first half year of his administration. The US president governed the country as if he were running a political campaign, failing to transform the aggressive words on his Twitter feed into real action. Instead, he cast a shadow on America and created deeper misgivings in other countries. Besides uncertainty, another prominent feature of his diplomacy is fragmentation.


Trump seemed unwilling to put forward a clear global view. He tends to dismantle his policy into small parts, treating his regional policy as the guiding framework of the whole. Confronted with the urgency of Middle East conflicts, Trump stopped paying attention to the Asia-Pacific region, which his predecessor Barack Obama placed a high value on. Trump hasn't visited the region yet, but his Asia-Pacific policy is starting to take form.


Under the motto of "America first," the Trump administration reshaped America's traditional understanding of the Asian-Pacific economic order. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal. He decided to treat bilateral deals as a cornerstone of America's economic policy. He threatened to label his trade partners such as China and South Korea as currency manipulators or to impose tariffs, as a way to reduce America's trade deficit. Perhaps he thought deterrence couldn't solve everything, so he also focused on practical dialogue with his trade partners and enhancing economic interactions with Asia-Pacific countries, a method that has made some preliminary achievements.


The Trump administration has increased US military investment into the Asia-Pacific region, launching the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative. In the next five years, it will invest $7.5 billion in order to upgrade military infrastructure, conduct more military exercises and deploy more troops and battleships. In America's 2018 fiscal budget, $54 billion will be added to the defense budget, a majority of which will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific region.


The huge increase in military investment vividly shows Trump's intention to dominate Asia-Pacific security through force. What's more, America has strengthened its presence in this region through joint military exercises, arms sales, freedom of navigation operations, carrier fleets' cruises and air force overflights. These actions can be read as escalating the military part of Obama's rebalancing strategy.


A prominent feature of Trump's Asia-Pacific policy is that it has a result-oriented tendency. Trump has grasped the policies of Asia-Pacific countries by exerting pressure on these countries.


He first treated the "One-China policy" as a bargaining chip. After finding out the firm stance of China on this issue, he immediately turned back to his predecessor's position. With the North Korean nuclear issue heating up, he sent ambiguous signals but had no practical solution, drawing global attention to China instead.


In recent days, America has enhanced activities in the South China Sea, through which the Trump administration wants to find out whether it has leverage on the South China Sea issue. As the situation in the Korean Peninsula continues to deteriorate, Trump will focus more on Northeast Asia, compelling his allies Japan and South Korea to spend more on defense, and making more demands on China.


From this, we can see Trump's Asia-Pacific policy is taking form. He will use military force as a means and use economics as a lever. He will use specific issues as driving forces to maintain America's dominant position in the region. For now, more observation is needed, because his policy depends not only on the responses from regional countries, but also on whether the US has enough resources and capacity to invest in this region.


Confronted with an unfavorable internal situation, his Asia-Pacific policy team hasn't been completely established. Constrained by domestic affairs, his diplomatic policy consequentially lacks consistency and uniformity. The crisis over alleged Russian ties may undermine his political authority. In this sense, many elements in his Asia-Pacific policy may change.


The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.

Source: Global Times, July 17, 2017.