WASHINGTON, DC – Judging by US President Donald Trump’s behavior since his election, and by the explicitly isolationist message of his inaugural address, it seems safe to assume that his administration’s foreign policy will upend many long-held assumptions about America’s role in the world. This may be particularly distressing to America’s Asian allies.
It is far too soon to say what, exactly, Trump’s presidency will mean for Asia. The spectrum of possibilities is broad. Trump may reverse President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” toward Asia, leaving the region in chaos. He may maintain a focus on Asia, but with a more militarized approach. Or he may join with China to create a kind of G2 of the world’s largest powers.
In any case, it seems clear that after decades of broad continuity – since President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, made their surprise trip to China in 1972 – America’s policy toward China is open to question. Countries that depend on US security guarantees for their defense – such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia – are highly concerned.
Many Asian countries, through deep and predictable political engagement with the US, have grown accustomed to America’s commitment to their security. And, in contrast to multilateral security arrangements like NATO, America’s Asian alliances are founded on individual bilateral pacts. As a result, these countries are particularly vulnerable to Trump’s vicissitudes.