Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The Barack Obama administration's effort in the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is officially dead, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton was quoted as saying by the media last week. "This [Donald Trump's] administration will have its own formulation," Thornton claimed.
The rebalancing strategy was put forward at a time when the US was witnessing decreasing clout in the Asia-Pacific region. Although the strategy has attracted a great deal of attention, it also contributed to a number of regional problems. While the US claims to provide security to its allies in the region, such as South Korea and Japan, the country, with ebbing influence, has fewer economic investments in the region. Despite the fact that the Obama administration attempted to attach great importance to the Asia-Pacific, the country has been struggling to allocate adequate budgets to the region given its domestic woes in healthcare, the job market and the financial sector.
The rebalancing strategy has intensified tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. The South China Sea, calm waters in the past, has become an area of conflict after the Philippines was instigated by the US to launch an arbitration case against China last year. The Sino-Japanese tensions over the Diaoyu Islands have also been ramping up. Then US defense chief Ash Carter reaffirmed with his Japanese counterpart Tomomi Inada in December that the bilateral security treaty between the US and Japan covers the defense of the Diaoyu Islands. Washington has also exploited the Taiwan question to gain more bargaining chips with Beijing.
It is still hard to predict Trump's Asia-Pacific policy at the current stage. Trump began his effort to dismantle Obama's legacy and withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership right after he took office. But at the same time, Trump may inherit his predecessor's strategic security policies. For instance, Trump will continue to attach great importance to North Korea's nuclear issue. Although he argued earlier on his campaign trail that Japan and South Korea should pay a greater share of the cost of US deployment, he later pledged his commitments to defending US allies in the region. The US will always be with South Korea "100 percent," Trump promised Seoul on Pyongyang's nuclear issue in January.
But there may be a change in the significance of the security issues under Trump. The new administration is expected to focus more on North Korea's nuclear crisis than the South China Sea disputes, and more on Northeast Asia than Southeast Asia. Trump also proposed to improve ties with Moscow, and major power game may carry more weight in Trump's Asia policy.
The Sino-US relationship after Trump abolished the strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, which is widely believed as a tool to counter Beijing, is another focus point. Trump provoked Beijing's one-China policy earlier, but the bilateral relationship has seen an upward trend after the first phone conversation between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in February. Fluctuations in the Sino-US relationship are normal, especially during the first two months of Trump's term, and time is needed for the two countries to strengthen coordination for the new type of great-power relations. The Trump administration is expected to focus more on trade and economic issues in the Sino-US relations.
Some Western scholars worry that as Trump has not nominated anyone to fill the Asia-Pacific policy jobs at the Pentagon or the White House, the "policy vacuum" may be seized by China as an opportunity to take the initiative in the Asia-Pacific affairs. These concerns are not necessary. China has no intention to dominate the region, and it is hoped that the two countries can have more frequent and extensive cooperation in the region with mutual benefits under the Trump administration.
The author is deputy director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. email@example.com Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion