Trump keeps spoiling US Asia policy

US President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, 9 November 2017 (Photo:Reuters/Damir Sagolj/File Photo).

Author: Hunter Marston, ANU

Recent brinkmanship between the United States and Iran is the latest signal of Washington’s distraction from great power competition with China. The crisis in the Middle East and impeachment proceedings in Washington have distracted the Trump administration from its stated emphasis on the Indo-Pacific as its priority theatre.

In many official statements and documents, including the 2017 National Security Strategy and Vice President Mike Pence’s China speech at the Hudson Institute in October 2018, the administration has articulated a strategy of great power competition with China in a bid to promote US values and contain China’s rise. The Trump administration’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy offers a broad vision for US Asia policy across economic, security and diplomatic dimensions.

On the economic front, the Trump administration passed the BUILD Act in October 2018. This is a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and aims to compete with the BRI by creating a new finance corporation with a significantly expanded lending capacity of US$60 billion to mobilise US private investment in developing countries.

In the South China Sea, the Trump administration has regularised US freedom of navigation operations to counter China’s expansive maritime claims and signal US resolve in the region. In August 2019, the administration elevated US diplomatic efforts in the Pacific with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Micronesia — the first by a US Secretary of State.

US officials have worked hard to address regional misgivings — from wariness of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States, to grumblings from ASEAN. But US President Donald Trump’s erratic cost impositions, such as demanding Japan and South Korea pay up to five times current levels to continue …continue reading