Is Trump accepting reality in East Asia?

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/7 23:43:39

Following US Defense Secretary James Mattis' visit to South Korea and Japan last week, newly appointed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly had a phone conversation with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan Tuesday. Washington seems to be reinforcing its alliance with the two East Asian countries.

According to Seoul, the phone call reiterated the scheduled THAAD deployment and agreed to enhance the alliance to the highest level. For its part, Tokyo said the two sides reaffirmed Article 5 of the US-Japan security treaty covering the Diaoyu Islands. Both Mattis and Tillerson have repeated Washington's past commitments, without much new input.

Mattis' statement in Tokyo that South China Sea disputes should not be resolved militarily has attracted wide attention. Washington, while appeasing its allies, hasn't immediately confronted China as many had anticipated. China has been left intact as the White House opens battlefronts everywhere.

It's not a myth. Before officially taking office, US President Donald Trump had sounded out China. His harsh stance received a strong reaction from China. He has probably realized that real tough action against China would result in a complex chain reaction, even beyond his control.

Trump hasn't formed a clear China policy nor a clear East Asia policy. The engagements of Mattis and Tillerson with South Korea and Japan should be seen as instinctive reactions of the new administration, an extension of policies of the previous US administrations.

A strong alliance with East Asian countries won't solve the US' puzzle on how to face a rising China. Trump cannot confront China the way it used to with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, for Americans and the international community won't accept it.

Trump might be hesitating over the issue and accepting the reality in East Asia rather than revamping the system in the region. He will find out that he has no alternative other than maintaining complicated interactions with China, just like the choice of strengthening its alliances in East Asia.

The previous remarks from Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon over China and Islam as the two biggest threats to the US and "We're going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years" have left a strong impression. We believe that there is no lack of hostile understanding about China among high-level US officials. But enormous conditions are needed to turn those perspectives into actual policies. In the past years, realistic US interests have held back hostility. National interests will play an increasingly significant role in the 21st century.

The Chinese hope to see a peaceful relationship between Beijing and Washington and most Americans should hope for the same. A divergence in interests cannot be resolved by creating greater damage to both sides' interests. It is believed that Trump's team is also convinced of this.

As for Seoul and Tokyo, it would be naïve for them to wish that enhancing their alliance with the US could help solve their own problems in Asia.

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