U.S. President Barack Obama’s term will end in January 2017 and a new administration led by Donald Trump is expected to take office, so: what does this mean for U.S. policy toward Asia?
“This election was contentious, divisive, and at many times, surprising. There were different opinions about the results, but in general, people expressed a lot of concern throughout Asia,” Stanford professor Gi-Wook Shin said in his introductory remarks.
Shin, who is also the director of Shorenstein APARC, moderated the event, which included remarks from Michael Armacost, a Shorenstein APARC fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Japan and the Philippines; Kathleen Stephens, the William J. Perry Distinguished Fellow and former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea; and Takeo Hoshi, an FSI senior fellow and director of Shorenstein APARC’s Japan Program.
Trump, who has never before held a political role, has unique credentials compared to his predecessors and his views break from the Republican Party establishment, traditionally pro-free trade and active in foreign policy.
“It’s difficult to guess what Trump’s foreign policy reflexes will be,” said Armacost, a former National Security Council official, who emphasized that international relations are often prompted by unplanned occurrences.
Trump has said, for example, that he would withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, rescind its membership in the World Trade Organization, and scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal brokered by the Obama administration.
The president-elect, however, has amended some views communicated during the campaign, and is likely to rely on his national security advisors for guidance on foreign policy issues.
“Trump may well be a skillful bargainer, but I suspect that striking a real estate deal is a lot simpler than negotiating with foreign sovereign governments on issues that carry a lot of cultural and historical baggage,” said Armacost, who served as U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1984-89.
“Still his pragmatism, I think, is a virtue. Trump seems a smart fellow, and he sure has a steep learning curve ahead. We can only hope he will manage it well,” he added.
Uncertain path, opportunity
Echoing Armacost, Hoshi said Trump’s changed positions over the past few weeks have made it difficult to predict what’s ahead for U.S. economic and trade policy.
Trump, who campaigned with a message of restoring lost jobs in America, urged that the U.S. government reform several areas of economic policy and governance, such as its interaction with the Federal Reserve and implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act, a set of regulatory reform measures enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Hoshi, an economist, suggested Trump faces an uphill battle in his attempts to reconcile campaign rhetoric and political reality, especially in the midst of the president-elect’s break from the Republican Party establishment and promises made to voters.
The view of the election from Japan, Hoshi added, is that the United States is receding from its leadership role in the world, particularly in the area of trade.
Trump promised early on to nix the TPP and has remained steadfast, releasing a video message shortly after the election confirming his position. That decision is interpreted in Japan as a symbol of America’s withdrawal, said Hoshi, noting that a similar sentiment on trade would have been expected if Hillary Clinton were elected since she too promised to rollback the deal.
“The United States was the leader behind the TPP, but now it’s saying ‘we are out.’ For Asian people, this represents a really drastic change and a loss of credibility,” Hoshi said.
Asian countries, however, could use a void left by an American departure in trade policy to step in. “Maybe some countries will see it as an opportunity,” he said.
Unease over democratic processes
Stephens, who was in Seoul when the U.S. election results were called, said Koreans shared “a sense of unease about our [mutual] democratic processes.”
South Korea, like the United States, has a democratic system of government – a republic. The Asian country is currently embroiled in its own political upheaval as calls for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye continue following accusations of corruption.
Stephens, who served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 35 years before coming to Stanford, also noted that there was some trepidation about a Trump-led administration in Korean policy circles. It’s a known ambition of policy advisors to forge connections in anticipation of the new administration, but the Trump/Pence win was so unexpected that now there’s a “scramble to make those relations,” she said.
The president-elect’s phone calls and meetings with foreign leaders provided some reassurance though, particularly with South Korea and Japan, two countries with formal U.S. alliances that Trump had initially questioned over their nuclear policy and cost of local U.S. military presence, she said.
“The priority for the Trump administration should be to affirm the importance of U.S. alliances and to make very clear the commitment to securing them,” Stephens said.
A new U.S. administration also provides an opportunity to undertake a policy evaluation, which could carry implications for South Korea, in trade policy and its attempt to reengage North Korea, she said.
Read the full article here: http://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/news/us-elections-shorenstein-aparc-experts-respond