US realigns interests in Asia as Trump skips two summits

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/2 21:28:39

The prominence that the US used to give Asia is beyond doubt. The US has long seen itself a Pacific power and its interests are closely linked with the region's economy, security and politics. But US President Donald Trump will reportedly skip two major summits in Asia in November: the US-ASEAN and East Asia summits in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Papua New Guinea. Does this mean that the US is lowering the status of Asia in its overall foreign policy? Not necessarily. The US is not leaving Asia, nor will it ever do that.

Recent efforts by US officials in the region can make up for Trump's absence. For instance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced $300 million on August 4 in security funding for Southeast Asia on the sidelines of a meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers. The US military is now participating in the 17th annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training exercise with eight other partner nations.

In essence, Trump's Asia policy has not deviated from his established modus operandi. What he is doing is engaging in a restructuring plan. Perhaps because much has been said about Trump's Asia agenda, the president feels that he does not need to repeat it by attending the two Asia summits in November. Currently he is busy grappling with other issues: For instance, he just threatened to pull the US out of the WTO, claiming it treats his country unfairly. He also has to prepare for the midterm elections.

The US will remain committed to Asia. One of the main objectives of US Asia policy is to contain China's rise and secure its dominance in the region. There will also be efforts by regional countries to keep the US present. For one thing, some regional countries demand security protection from Washington. They hope that the US can play a balancing role.

The Pentagon has already considered plans to send heavily armed, versatile marine corps expeditionary units to East Asia.

Meanwhile, the US bases in the region will not be withdrawn, but are expected to expand.

For another, the US is the largest export market for Asian economies and the region needs investment by American companies. This drives Trump's flexible presence in Asia.

The future trajectory of Asia is in flux. The US Asia policy and its interest-oriented restructuring, which will see the US use its traditional advantages to contain and balance China, will pose a severe challenge to China. But China's development cannot be stopped. From a longer perspective, the relationship between China and the US centers on their game in Asia.

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