The Trump administration looks to be adopting a more muscular and self-interested security policy in the Asia-Pacific which will likely produce more volatile relations with China, as well as U.S. allies and partners, according to a new report written by research fellow Ashley Townshend of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia.
The report examines the Administration’s Asia policy saying that Trump and his advisers have outlined a hard line towards China on most bilateral issues, and view Beijing as an aggressive strategic competitor that needs to be deterred with U.S. strength.
Supportive but transactional on allies, the administration will uphold Asian security guarantees at the same time as more strictly scrutinizing the U.S. interests at stake. The U.S. will seek greater burden-sharing and “wins” from allies, including initiatives to create new U.S. jobs.
Trump’s “America first” approach to Asia is at odds with the policy preferences and public opinions of most regional allies, creating potential constraints on coordination between Washington and its Asian alliance network.
A military-first rebalance is likely as the administration advances the security elements of President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” while attaching little importance to engagement with Southeast Asia or the rebalance’s original liberal internationalist goals.
Trump’s abrasive policies, particularly on Taiwan, are likely to deepen friction with China and increase the risk of mixed signals and communication breakdowns, states the report.
Japan’s anxiety about being abandoned by the U.S. may see it rush to embrace Trump’s Asia policy, while Australia’s concern about being entrapped in potential U.S. military endeavors could see it keep some distance from Washington. This may produce opposing dynamics that could weaken bilateral ties and trilateral cooperation.
Townshend calls for greater Australian leadership in Southeast Asia in the face of the risk presented by Trump’s confrontational China policy and “America First” stance. He recommends that Australia:
- Assist the United States in articulating policy priorities on China.
- Actively work to reduce possible misperceptions between the U.S. and China.
- Work multilaterally with Asian allies and partners to communicate shared interests, opportunities, and redlines to President Trump’s cabinet.
- Coordinate U.S. alliance management strategies with Japan.
- Build greater resilience into the U.S. Asian alliance network by establishing new trilateral partnerships with Southeast Asia, starting with an Australia-Indonesia-Japan grouping.
- Assume a more active leadership role in Southeast Asia by independently contributing to a stable and liberal regional order.
The report is available here.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.