By Satoshi Ogawa, General Bureau for America chief
After her first meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington last March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly revealed that “President Trump thinks that the U.S. is a victim,” expressing her shock. The ASEAN leaders probably feel the same way about Trump’s first trip to Asia.
It can hardly be said that Trump was successful in presenting a strategy to counteract the “great power” strategy of China, which is wielding increasing influence in Asia, and win over the ASEAN states to the U.S.’s side. This was the other major focus of this tour, along with the North Korea issue.
What he emphasized during the second half of the trip was “America First” economic nationalism — that the U.S. will not tolerate being “taken advantage of” by the Asian countries in trade and that it will reduce its deficits through “fair” bilateral trade. He said nothing about how the U.S. will exercise leadership in the regional economy without the TPP.
Of course Trump did make known to some extent his administration’s Asian strategy with China in mind. He presented a vision for maintaining a stable regional order to serve as the foundation of prosperity by strengthening the U.S. alliances with Japan and the ROK and enhancing cooperation with the major democratic powers in the region — Japan, Australia, and India.
This vision was put forward for the first time in a speech by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 18. National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster also talked about the U.S.’s determination to maintain and strengthen the “security, economic, political, and diplomatic systems based on rules” in an interview with Yomiuri Shimbun and other media outlets shortly before Trump’s Asian tour.
Diplomats of Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India met in Manila on Nov. 12 to discuss “securing a free and open international order based on the rule of law.” Trump also held a trilateral summit with Japan and Australia and a summit with the Indian prime minister on Nov. 13. Diplomatic efforts for this vision have already begun.
However, Trump did not talk about this vision explicitly in his policy speech delivered in Vietnam on Nov. 10. The idea of cooperation between Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India is said to have been influenced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s English article on strategy toward China in December 2012, “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” and it is believed that China is wary of this vision. If Trump had expounded on the vision, China would have reacted strongly, so it is possible that he decided not to do so at a time when he needs China’s cooperation in strengthening pressure on North Korea.
We would like to closely watch the Trump administration’s efforts from now on to promote cooperation between Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India. However, judging from its rejection of international cooperation in trade policy, the effectiveness of its efforts is bound to be limited.