Editor's corner/ Over a cup of tea
Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the
Year for the State of
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On Trump’s early Asia-Pacific engagement
By Heidi M. Pascual
Personal engagement: Pass
So far the Trump administration has taken the time to prioritize the Asia-Pacific. Trump hosted Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzō Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping for summits at Mar-a-Lago; Vice President Mike Pence,
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have all made trips to the region; and
Secretary Tillerson hosted the 10 foreign ministers of the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations, or ASEAN, in early May in Washington. The impulse to engage early and often is essential to a successful
regional strategy over the long run.
My take: I have yet to see and understand Trump’s foreign policy on the region, especially n the areas of regional
security, and economic and military partnerships.
Regional security: Fail
The Trump administration has talked about getting tough on the two main security challenges facing the United States
in Asia—North Korea and the South China Sea—but has nothing to show for its bluster after 100 days. In recent weeks,
President Trump and his team have escalated the rhetoric about North Korea—even implicitly threatening unilateral U.
S. military strikes. But with little apparent strategy backing it up, playing chicken with a nuclear-armed state is a recipe
My take: I have yet to see and understand what Trump’s moves would be on North Korea’s aggressive actions. I truly
want to know what Trump’s response is on South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea), as China continues to build a
military post on the islands despite the International Arbitration Court’s favorable ruling for the Philippines.
Economic engagement: Fail
One of President Trump’s main campaign themes was trade. Then-candidate Trump insisted that the United States
was negotiating terrible trade deals and that China was “raping” the United States economically. Trump’s voters were
rightly frustrated that globalization and insufficient economic recovery had left them a raw deal, and they demanded
major changes to the way the United States handled trade relations with Asia. But Trump has failed to deliver on all
My take: Trump’s actions, including the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade deal in Asia,
simply showed his misguided protectionist color. Who is he protecting, anyway? I have yet to see American workers
being “protected” at home.
Despite President Trump’s brash statements during the campaign challenging the basic wisdom of alliances, the
Trump administration appears to have come around to the importance of maintaining strong ties with Tokyo and Seoul.
With Japan, gone are calls for the United States to be paid to defend it in some sort of protection racket, and talk of the
U.S. trade deficit has been notably mute. In their place, Trump has declared that he is “100 percent with Japan” and
has ushered in one of the most intense periods of U.S.-Japan high-level diplomacy in history. And despite the fact that
South Korea currently does not have an elected president in place, Mattis, Tillerson, and Pence also each visited Seoul.
Southeast Asia: Satisfactory
In Southeast Asia, the Trump administration has sent strong signals about the importance of the region as a whole,
including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as an organization. In a first for a secretary of state, soon after
assuming his position, Tillerson hosted the 10 ASEAN ambassadors for a meeting at State Department headquarters
and has invited the 10 ASEAN foreign ministers to Washington for a meeting in early May. Vice President Pence
followed suit, visiting Jakarta, Indonesia, on his trip to Asia and including a stop at the ASEAN Secretariat, and he
announced that President Trump would travel to the Philippines and Vietnam in the fall for the East Asia Summit, the U.
S.-ASEAN summit, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
My take: What would Trump talk about security and economic engagements or partnerships? He has withdrawn from
the TPP; he hates our Muslim brothers; he doesn’t seem to have a vision for South China Sea’s military posturing;
The White House needs to address problematic Chinese behavior, ranging from trade and investment relations to the
situation with North Korea and China’s new restrictions on U.S. think tanks and other nongovernmental organizations.
Instead of focusing on these high-priority issues, President Trump squandered substantial political capital by
challenging the One China policy, which has been a pillar of U.S. policy toward China since the Nixon administration.
First, when Secretary Tillerson visited Beijing in March, he parroted one of President Xi’s favorite talking points,
describing the U.S.-China relationship as a “very positive relationship built on non-confrontation, no conflict, mutual
respect, and always searching for win-win solutions.” President Xi first made that statement at a time when China was
ramping up its military activity in the South China Sea, and many American experts on China view the statement as a
call for the United States to sit back and let China do what it wants, regardless of how China’s actions affect U.S.
interests. Second, in April, shortly after the first Trump-Xi presidential summit, Trump stated that he was willing to give
trade concessions to China in exchange for positive Chinese action on North Korea. This suggests that he is willing to
trade one core U.S. interest for another instead of pressing Beijing to make concessions on both fronts.
My take: Amen to all of the above.
Despite being the world’s second-largest country and a top 10 global economy, President Trump has not appeared to
focus much on India in his first 100 days. The highlight so far was a trip by national security adviser H.R. McMaster to
India as part of a trip to South Asia, where McMaster appeared to sound all the right notes about the importance of the
in the region.
My take: There are also Indian Americans who are Muslims. Trump is anti-Muslim, go figure the dynamics.
On climate change, the Trump administration has already ceded global leadership to the Chinese. Regardless of how
There are lots of negatives that we hear and read about President Trump in almost every move
he makes, but I am particularly interested in what he has done so far in dealing with the Asia-
Pacific region during his fist 100 days in office. I am thankful I got to read the issue brief by
Michael Fuchs, Brian Harding, and Melanie Hart in the Center for American Progress which
discusses in detail Trump’s actions on the matter and the grades they assigned on the same.
The grading system used was: PASS- a job well done; SATISFACTORY- acceptable, but real
concerns exist; and FAIL- they must stop what they do. The authors assessed personal
engagement, regional security, economic engagement, alliances, Southeast Asia, China, India,
Firstly, I agree that Trump is actually continuing President Obama’s policy of an intense high-
level diplomatic engagement with the region. However, some policy moves and tactless
comments by the Trump administration also cancel out any positive engagement, resulting in
an overall GPA of Satisfactory/Fail. Below is an abbreviated and updated result and my take on
some of them:
the administration frames its approach to the
Paris Agreement, the fact that the Trump
administration is ignoring scientific facts and
rolling back Obama administration clean
energy and climate policies makes it nearly
impossible for the United States to play a
leadership role on this issue.
In concluding the issue brief, the authors
wrote that Trump’s approaches to North
Korea, China, regional economics, and
beyond are damaging U.S. interests in the
Asia-Pacific region. The Trump administration
quickly needs to realize that showing up is not
a substitute for effective policies. It must begin
crafting effective strategies for the key
challenges and opportunities in the region.
My take: There is still time to recover from all
these stumbles. Trump must realize that the
challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region are
also the same challenges facing the United
States today and tomorrow. In order to
maintain U.S. strength in the region, it must
refrain from being a paper tiger or a fighter
carrying a white flag in the face of a new giant