Nations look to Trump to clarify Asia policy

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/5 23:18:39

Unlikely Trump will return to Obama’s ‘pivot’ strategy

US President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upon his arrival in Kawagoe, near Tokyo on Sunday. Trump touched down in Japan, kicking off the first leg of a high-stakes Asia tour set to be dominated by trade and the North Korean nuclear issue. Photo: AFP

US President Donald Trump's 12-day Asia trip should bring clarification to his approach to Asia, but that strategy will unlikely target China as an archrival, analysts said.

Trump arrived in Japan on Sunday on the first leg of his five-nation tour, which will also bring him to South Korea and China before he flies to Vietnam for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, where he will speak in support of a "free and open Indo-Pacific." He will then fly to the Philippines for the summit between the US and Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila.

"The highlight of Trump's Asian trip is for regional countries to figure out what his approach to Asia is," Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University's Center for American Studies in Shanghai, told the Global Times.

Since taking office, Trump has pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and changed tack from Barack Obama's Pivot to Asia strategy.

"So far, Trump's foreign policies are based on an 'America First' vision. His polices are usually problem-oriented and come down to two issues - trade and North Korea. This differs greatly from his predecessor, Obama, whose 'rebalance' strategy was aimed at maintaining US leadership in the region by containing China's rising influence," Wu said.

Analysts say they believe that the establishment in the US is trying to draw Trump's Asia policy back onto Obama's track. Trump's speech in support of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" reinforces that, since the word "Indo-Pacific" suggests closer ties with India to curb China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

"However, it is unlikely that Trump will fully return to the Pivot to Asia. After all, progress in his two important agendas - trade and North Korea - depends on China's cooperation," Wu said.

Trump is expected to reaffirm the US commitment to allies in Japan and South Korea and build a united front against North Korea. He may try to pressure Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

While at APEC, Trump may want to address what he deems unfair trade practices and try to persuade Asian allies to agree to policies more favorable to the US. His speech in the Philippines could focus on US security and foreign policies, including an articulation of the "Indo-Pacific," analysts said.

Heightened tension

Trump ramped up his tough rhetoric on North Korea on Sunday after landing in Japan, with, "No dictator, no regime, no nation should ever underestimate American resolve," in his address to US and Japanese troops in camouflage uniforms, at Yokota Air Base, soon after his arrival.

Recent North Korean actions, including missiles fired over part of Japan and its sixth and largest nuclear test, raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump's short time in office.

Recent drills with South Korea by two US strategic bombers further heightened the tensions.

"We will never yield, never waver and never falter in defense of our freedom," Trump said.

He has also singled out trade, which he said has been "badly handled."

"One of the things we're going to be very focused on is trade because trade has not been done well for 25 years by the US with this part of the world, with any part of the world," he said on Air Force One.

"The US wants to continue to lead the Asia-Pacific without more financial input. To do that, it has to rely on its allies," said professor Zhang Jiadong, also at Fudan University's Center for American Studies.

"China needs to persuade the US to support a free and open economic order, and further regional integration and to oppose the spread of populism and protectionism. China needs to foresee the danger of small coalitions, especially in an economic crisis, which led to two world wars," Zhang told the Global Times on Sunday.

Newspaper headline: Asia trip to clarify US policy


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