The Upcoming Trump Administration and East Asia
Donald Trump expressed himself on a number of Asia-Pacific issues during his campaign. Whether on economic policy with China, the future of the American military in Japan and South Korea, or North Korea and its nuclear weapons program, he offered strong views. If he pursues them as president, some will have long-lasting implications for the region, the United States and the world.
On China, Trump apparently plans to label it a currency manipulator and bring a trade law case against it on the basis that its unfair subsidy behavior is prohibited by the terms of its accession to the World Trade Organization. if China does not cease this illegal practice, the United States will add a tariff on all its exports to America based on its best estimate as to the amount of the currency manipulation.
An estimated 54,000 manufacturing facilities and 20 million related jobs were lost across the U.S. during the past several decades, creating a merchandise trade deficit last year alone with China of a staggering $367 billion.
The Trump administration should listen to Dan DiMicco, who headed Nucor, the largest American steel company and steel recycler in North America. None of Nucor’s 22,000 employees was laid off in 40 years even when many other U.S. steel companies were under bankruptcy protection.
Like many Americans, DiMicco wants manufacturing restored to its former important role in the American economy. He stresses that the No.1 job killer in manufacturing is currency manipulation, providing massive cost advantages to unfair competitors like China.
James Mann, author of “China Fantasy” and former Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, said, “The Chinese regime is not going to open up because of our trade with it…The next president will need to start out afresh.”
On the South China Sea imbroglio, Trump’s approach to Asia’s most expansive sovereignty disagreement is less clear.
Charles Burton of Brock University and formerly a counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, notes that under Chairman Xi Jinping, China “has assertively expanded its area of control by occupying disputed uninhabited islands strategically situated in surrounding seas…close to the borders of Japan and the Southeast Asian nations that have traditionally claimed them.”
These initiatives, he adds, fall just short of the threshold that would provoke the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific to engage in military action to stop it.
China’s expansionist ambitions, Burton concludes, have led East Asian nations to “strengthen their defensive alliance with the United States…. as China’s economy continues to falter, … there will be more emphasis placed on pursuing China’s interests through cyber-espionage and by security agencies seeking to influence critical foreign decision makers to speak for China’s interests in Western nations and throughout the world.”
For decades, the United States has maintained a substantial military presence in Asia. Trump, however, wants to end America’s role as the world’s policeman.
“We cannot protect countries all over the world… where they’re not paying us what we need,” Trump said.
For the bases stationed in Japan and South Korea, he gave the impression that he would negotiate for more favorable deals or dismantle them. Nor has he offered a plan to strengthen the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance to offset the threat of China and North Korea. This could lead to a decrease in the number of military personnel stationed in both Japan and South Korea.
Recently, North Korea tried unsuccessfully to launch its second missile. As it grows more belligerent, South Korea and Japan have taken steps to build their own Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) capabilities.
This use of a powerful American anti-ballistic missile system has prompted more threats from North Korea; Beijing has also reacted negatively. President Obama promised unwavering support for Japan and South Korea, but many analysts now question how committed Washington under President Trump will remain to its East Asian partners.
Trump advisers Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro offer a vision for his Asia policy in the current Foreign Policy magazine. They hold that President Obama’s inaction when China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012 led to President Rodrigo Duterte’s courtship of Beijing.
They say that President Trump will push back against China’s efforts to bully its neighbors. Most critically, he will defend the right of free navigation through the South China Sea, which China claims as its historical waters contrary to the recent law of the sea decision of the International Tribunal in the Hague.
To back up its Asian alliances, Gray and Navarro say, the United States should return to the Reagan-era mantra of “peace through strength.” That requires in part a larger defense budget. To be sure, Pax Americana must also promote continued Asian prosperity.
The world will be watching anxiously.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.