of international affairs
by Axel Hellman
President Trump’s Asia tour was intended to signal U.S resolve and his own rapport with regional leaders. But the continued investigation into his campaign’s collusion with Russia, paired with pushback against his seeming defense of Vladimir Putin, threatened to overshadow the president’s agenda.
Dominating that agenda was North Korea. In a speech to the South Korean assembly, Trump called for Pyongyang’s “complete, verifiable, and total denuclearization”. Notably, he toned down his rhetoric, noting in Hanoi that he sought “progress not provocation…stability not chaos, and peace, not war”. Yet the prospects for a diplomatic solution are slim. Trump’s earlier fiery remarks, ranging from personal insults of Kim Jong-un to threats to “totally destroy” North Korea, has narrowed the political space for diplomacy. A sudden change in rhetoric is unlikely to alter that.
In China, Trump derided “one-sided” and “unfair” trade practices, but made clear that he did not blame the Chinese leadership for this – instead, he insisted that his predecessors were at fault for his countries economic woes. Meanwhile, the remaining eleven members of the TPP announced that they had reached a framework to move forward with the agreement without the United States. This reinforced the notion of an increasingly isolated America.
Whereas his predecessor pursued a comprehensive strategic rebalance towards the Asia Pacific under the so-called ‘pivot’, Trump’s policy towards the region seems likely to be marked by ad hoc diplomatic initiatives undergirded by a transactional view of international affairs. Trump made several references to the “Indo-Pacific” – a nascent initiative for closer cooperation between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India as a bulwark of sorts against China’s expansion. For now, however, the United States has yet to reassure allies of its commitment to the region – one of many uncertainties generated by “America First.”