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Asia After Trump

The rise of China and the election of President Donald Trump have led many to believe that the American century is effectively over. But the United States still has important power advantages – both globally and in the Asia-Pacific region – that will last well beyond the next four or even eight years.

SINGAPORE – When the Trilateral Commission – a group of political and business leaders, journalists, and academics – met here recently, many expressed concern about the decline of American leadership in Asia. Every Asian country now trades more with China than with the United States, often by a margin of two to one. That concern has been exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s recent imposition of tariffs and expressions of contempt for multilateral institutions. A frequently heard question in Singapore: Will US leadership in Asia survive the Trump years?

History provides some perspective. In 1972, President Richard Nixon unilaterally imposed tariffs on America’s allies without warning, violated the framework of the International Monetary Fund, and pursued an unpopular war in Vietnam. Fear of terrorism was widespread, and experts expressed concern about the future of democracy.

The following year, David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski created the Trilateral Commission, which meets once a year to discuss such problems. Contrary to conspiracy theories, the Commission has little power; but, like other informal channels of “track two” diplomacy, it allows private citizens to explore ways to manage thorny issues. The results can be found in its publications and on its website.