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2017-11-06 16:45
By Lakhvinder Singh



Since the inauguration of the Trump administration earlier this year, the president has made many decisions that impact East Asia adversely. As he is currently visiting our region, it is important to remind the president and ourselves of some of these.

Let’s begin with Mr. Trump‘s decision to withdraw from the TPP and the serious implications it has on America’s economic stake in the region. The TPP was the main tool of America’s “pivot to Asia,” providing a checkmate to China’s growing economic dominance. With the TPP gone there is nothing left to stop China’s growing economic influence over the region. Regionally China is already the largest trading partner foremost and is planning to invest almost $1 trillion in infrastructure development projects. For the sake of peace and stability it is very important the U.S. remains the dominant economic power in the region. Trump’s decision to dump the TPP has inducted a major element of uncertainty about the future of the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe has Trump’s full support in his attempt to dump the peace Constitution, adopted at the end of WWII. The Japanese pacifist Constitution was a hallmark of the postwar peace settlement, playing a major role in keeping the peace and stability in the region. There is no end to the chain reaction once Japan is allowed to rearm itself. Most countries will not take this move lightly. It can also seriously affect the U.S. security alliance with South Korea and the Philippines among others. It is high time the U.S. fully thinks through what it is doing in Japan. Once steps are taken they can never be undone.

During his election campaign, Trump vowed to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un while eating hamburgers; however since becoming president he has completely changed his tune. Now he is talking about “fire and furry” and complete destruction. This U-turn is doing more harm than good. War on the Korean Peninsula will not only destroy the peninsula, but also seriously threaten the American mainland. It is time Mr. Trump comes out with a consistent policy regarding North Korea. He must come to understand how much damage his daily rhetoric against North Korea is doing.

A stronger U.S.-South Korea economic partnership is the cornerstone of a strong alliance. The Korea-U.S. FTA was the main tool strengthening that partnership, yet Mr. Trump often talks about eliminating it. He needs to understand the implications of weaker South Korea-U.S. economic ties. The South Korean economy is already being integrated with China, with trade reaching nearly 20 percent of South Korea’s total trade with the rest of the world. China is already using its economic leverage to influence South Korea’s foreign and security policies. The need of the hour is to strengthen the FTA, not dump it.

Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on climate change is also having an adverse effect on the region. With the U.S. out of the picture, there is no one to tell China, one of biggest polluters in the world, to keep to its commitment to reduce pollution. Further the U.S. withdrawal from its leadership role in the climate accord will affect its standing in the region. China is already filling the vacuum.

Since President Trump is visiting the region, now is the right time for him to reevaluate recent decisions and how they affect East Asia. With the rise of China, America’s leadership position is being challenged. The need of the hour is how to make the U.S. relevant again in this fast-changing paradigm.


The writer is the director of the Peace Program at the Asia Institute.


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