asean summit us china ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

From Pivot to Stumble in Asia

Among the Trump administration's many foreign-policy blunders, its mismanagement of Sino-American relations will be remembered as the most consequential. At a time when Chinese trade practices and territorial ambitions must be addressed at the international level, the US is botching the job.

DENVER – US President Donald Trump blew off two multilateral summits in Asia this month. Given his soggy and sulking performance that week in Paris, during the international commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War I, it was probably for the best that Vice President Mike Pence attended instead. Pence was able to spread the gospel of American unilateralism at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, and again at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea.

But regardless of who’s delivering the message, it is clear that America is losing its way. The Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy has yielded little fruit and left the United States isolated and increasingly discredited on the world stage. The international initiatives of past administrations have been replaced by empty slogans, hollow gestures, and, of course, “alternative facts.” With Trump scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina this week, the US may have one last chance to turn things around.

When future generations of historians sift through the wreckage left behind by the Trump administration, they will probably pay special attention to the breakdown of longstanding US policy toward China. For decades, successive US presidents have understood that the careful management of the bilateral relationship with China is vital to America’s national interests.