Thursday, November 17, 2016

Righting US wrongs ought to be Trump's Asia-Pacific policy

The world is still wondering what will be the impact of Donald Trump's election as US president on different countries and regions. But going by Trump's remarks during the presidential campaign, he may handle some of the world's key security issues differently from the Barack Obama administration. Under Trump, the United States may focus more on domestic issues and pay less attention to foreign policy.
If that were to happen, the US would have to make major adjustments to its global resource allocation, both on the economic and military fronts.
To honor his promise to improve domestic infrastructure, create 25 million jobs in the US and fight terrorism in a more radical way, Trump may choose to spend less on projecting US power in the Asia-Pacific region and use the funds and resources so saved to fight terrorism in the Middle East and address domestic woes. That will mean a major departure from the Obama administration that has painstakingly pushed its "pivot to Asia" strategy by focusing 60 percent of its military strength on the Asia-Pacific while phasing out its military presence in the Middle East.

For Asia-Pacific countries, especially Japan and the Republic of Korea, they still don't know what to expect from the next US administration as Trump has said during the presidential campaign that Washington's allies in the region must do more to defend themselves and contribute more to maintain US military presence in their territories.
Yet the US' strategic contraction globally will not be as bad as some fear. On the contrary, it could help right the wrongs the US has done in recent years in its "war on terror" and military maneuverings in the Asia-Pacific.
The Obama administration's reluctance to actively fight terrorists and extremists, especially the Islamic State terrorist group in the Middle East, has been widely criticized. And the US' interference policy in the region, coupled with the covert arming of rebel forces to orchestrate a regime change in countries like Libya and Syria, is largely to blame for the rise in terrorism and extremism in the region. Hence, the incoming Trump administration should adopt a harder line on terrorism and clean up the mess the US has helped create in the Middle East.
In the Asia-Pacific, Obama's "pivot to Asia" strategy, a move widely seen as intended to contain China's rise, has not only soured relations with China but also heightened tensions in the South China Sea, as Washington has used the maritime disputes between China and some Southeast Asian countries to beef up its military presence in the region.
The US is not a party to any of the South China Sea disputes, and its interference has harmed regional cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China and other regional partners.
Worse, countries in the region were forced to take sides in the disputes and thus be distracted from far more important issues of regional development and integration. Had the South China Sea and East China Sea remained peaceful, countries in the region could have devoted more energy into translating the regional development blueprint into action and thus contributing more to global economic recovery.
The tensions created by the Obama administration over the South China Sea disputes have served nobody's interests. And the developments of the past years show the "pivot to Asia" strategy has been counterproductive, even in serving US interests.
The Philippines, a close Washington ally and used by the US to provoke China over maritime disputes, has made a U-turn by choosing to improve ties with China and distancing itself from the US.
As China and the US both have high stakes in the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific, they ought to cooperate with, rather than confront, each other to build peace and stability in the region. The incoming Trump administration should make the right choice.
The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific.

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