After Half Year In Office, Trump Stumbles On This 5-Point Asia Policy – Forbes

US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping (R) hold a meeting with their delegations on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The second half of the year is bringing Asia its usual barrage of government leadership summits with heady acronyms such as APEC and ASEAN. U.S. President Donald Trump is due to show for some of them by year’s end, giving Asian leaders access to him in a friendly environment for talks. Trump himself, however, may lead the controversy because a lot of people here don’t know what his Asia policy is. He lacks, for example, U.S. ex-president Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” christened in 2011 to mesh American diplomatic, economic and military interests into the region with at least a hint of trying to contain the expansion of China.

But you can see trends shaping up six months into Trump’s term. They might not point to a policy in hard-fast dictionary terms, but at least they signal keenness to be involved in Asia. Here is a five-point sum of Trump’s approach to the region of some 4.4 billion people:

1. Talk about bilateral trade: Trump made few friends in Asia by backing out of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal in his first week in office. Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam had signed it and were looking forward to lower tariffs on exports to the United States. Trump says he’s open only to one-on-one trade deals, if they help U.S. workers and business. The United States and Japan started talking about a deal in April, and two months later Trump said his government would renegotiate a deal with South Korea in view of a $17 billion trade surplus favoring Seoul.

2. Chase North Korea. Regular North Korean missile tests have touched off the Trump Administration more than any other defense-related trend in Asia. Trump’s people sent naval vessels near the Korean peninsula in April, warned Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong-un against the consequences of too many more tests and asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose country helps North Korea, to join the United States in curbing the oddball totalitarian state’s military expansion. Little evidence suggests Trump’s suite of deterrents will do any good, but he’s tried almost everything out there (short of negotiations).

3. Gingerly keep China in check. China and the Trump government learned to get along even after the U.S. president took a call from the leader of Beijing’s nemesis Taiwan and his eventual Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States should block China from islands it had landfilled in a disputed sea. But the U.S. navy has passed vessels through that sea twice since May to dispute Chinese claims to the whole thing. It agreed last month to sell Taiwan $1.42 billion in arms despite a protest from Beijing. China and the United States sides show signs of cooperating here and arguing there with no real up or down slide over Trump’s term.

4. Meet a lot of people. Trump has met senior leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. He has spoken by phone to those of the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, inviting all three to the White House. North Korea was on his mind. Other U.S. presidents meet their share of other world leaders, so while Trump is no outlier you can tell he’s paying attention to Asia. He’s due to attend a U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) event and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November.

5. Mimic past U.S. presidents. Signs of emulation of past presidents might reassure leaders in Asia as Trump’s people sometimes make conflicting statements. Trump and White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster said different things about paying for the joint U.S.-South Korean development of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), for example, while Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis differed on how eager Washington was to block Chinese access to the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands. But like past administrations Trump has tried to keep North Korea in check, stop Beijing from tightening control over the South China Sea and be nice to historic U.S. allies such as Japan. “My view is that the Trump administration has not given any serious thought to an overarching Asian strategy and the activity that you have seen is being implemented at the operational level based on broad principles carried over from past administrations,” says Carl Baker, director of programs at the think tank Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. 

After Half Year In Office, Trump Stumbles On This 5-Point Asia Policy – Forbes}