The course of global politics, wrote then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, “will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.” Building up on underpinnings laid by the last Bush administration, President Obama made a cornerstone of his tenure a foreign policy elevating American involvement in the Asia Pacific.
In Burma, the 2012 conduct of independent elections ensuing decades of military rule marked the beginning of American-Burmese rapprochement. Concluding long-standing economic pressure from the United States, reforms toward democracy were accompanied by the gradual easing of sanctions – the last of which was lifted via executive order in October.
Ties between the United States and Vietnam – once ostensibly beyond repair, saw in its advancement reciprocal visits by the countries’ presidents to Washington and Hanoi. Not long before, the 92-million strong nation joined the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching deal initiated in 2005 by the Bush administration and negotiated by Obama’s.
Involving twelve signatories, the Partnership would have changed the tune of two-fifths of global gross domestic product. Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, already enjoying resilient links with the United States’, forged closer American ties by becoming party to the deal.
Beyond the fiscal advantages surfacing when free trade is balanced by active governance, its long-term merits are perhaps more significant. The interdependence produced between countries sharing a trade deal may assure a more constructive approach in reconciling two-pronged disagreements.
Inclinations toward forceful resolutions, then, are undermined. This is enhanced with a multilateral collaboration like the Trans-Pacific Partnership; a large trading community comprising autonomous countries drives for every member nation an analogous economic stake in the immovability of its partners.
Yet, the partnership – lacking at the conclusion of the Obama presidency the congressional ratification that would have assured American partaking – was rescinded in the wake of a new administration. In nullifying the cornerstone of a foreign policy interweaving the United States and Asia, is President Trump at the threshold of a shifting trajectory in the international balance of power?
When Secretary of Defence James Mattis visited the Republic of Korea and Japan – both United States treaty allies – earlier this month, he assured the primacy of the region to leaders in Seoul and Tokyo. The on-going nuclear programme in neighbouring North Korea – disquieting in its equivocality both of scale and success, underscores an imperative necessitating sustained American ties in Asia.
In highlighting the looming deployment of a nuclear defence system to the Republic of Korea while maintaining the validity of treaty guarantees ensuring mutual defence, then, Secretary Mattis was prudent in reinforcing the solidity of the present defence architecture. Military reassurance absenting economic ties, however, render the new mode of American involvement brittle. Without the tangible reciprocity produced by free trade, the United States provides a disparate hand in its relationship with Asia.
The Trump administration, then, should look toward sustaining the more ample involvement hitherto anticipated. The naïveté inherent in the United States’ present approach is, worryingly, averse to its longstanding efforts in the region.
This piece was printed in the Courier, a student newspaper, today.