Regional Perspectives on America’s Evolving Asia Policy

Regional Perspectives on America's Evolving Asia Policy

by Moeed Yusuf, Michael Wesley, Noboru Yamaguchi, Ming Lee, Rajesh Rajagopalan, Joseph Chinyong Liow, Dmitri Trenin, Kang Choi, Jessica Keough, and Xie Tao
July 20, 2017

This Asia Policy roundtable offers perspectives on U.S.-Asia relations from leading scholars and policy practitioners in select Asia-Pacific states.

This Asia Policy roundtable offers perspectives on U.S.-Asia relations from leading scholars and policy practitioners in select Asia-Pacific states.

Jessica Keough

China-U.S. Relations during the Trump Administration: Mixed Signals, Increased Risks
Xie Tao

Reaffirming U.S. Alliances in the Asia-Pacific: A Japanese Perspective
Noboru Yamaguchi

Prospects for the U.S.-ROK Alliance: Returning to the Old Days or Marching to the Future?
Kang Choi

Taiwan in Trump’s Perspective: A Bargaining Chip?
Ming Lee

Collision Rather Than Collusion: Issues in Russian-U.S. Relations
Dmitri Trenin

U.S.-India Relations under President Trump: Promise and Peril
Rajesh Rajagopalan

A Marriage Estranged: The Strategic Disconnect between Pakistan and the United States
Moeed Yusuf

U.S.–Southeast Asia Relations under the Trump Administration
Joseph Chinyong Liow

Steering between Primacies: Challenges to the Australia-U.S. Alliance
Michael Wesley


Considerable uncertainty has surrounded the Trump administration’s priorities in Asia. While U.S. cabinet officials have at times sought to reassure the region that the United States intends to preserve its commitment to the post–World War II international system, other comments and actions by the administration have indicated an inward turn that suggests less active U.S. engagement. These mixed signals have left regional allies, partners, and other states wondering what the future holds for their relationships with the United States.

A roundtable discussion in the January 2017 issue of Asia Policy, “Assessing U.S.-Asia Relations in a Time of Transition,” presented mainly American perspectives on the major issues facing the United States in its bilateral relations with leading powers in the Asia-Pacific at the outset of the Trump administration. This Asia Policy roundtable offers perspectives on U.S.-Asia relations from leading scholars and policy practitioners in select Asia-Pacific states. In their essays, these experts identify the most salient current and over-the-horizon issues in their countries’ evolving relationships with the United States and evaluate how bilateral relations have progressed so far under the Trump administration.

For China, Xie Tao examines four major issues confronting the U.S.-China relationship that both raise the possibility of conflict and offer prospects for cooperation: North Korea, the South China Sea, democratization in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and the sharing of global major-power responsibilities. The United States and China will likely find themselves working with each other in these areas, whether they want to or not, and will need to treat each other respectfully to avoid escalating risks.

In Japan and South Korea, the U.S. alliance continues to form the bedrock of bilateral relations. Noboru Yamaguchi finds that, to Japan’s relief, the U.S. commitment to the alliance and to Northeast Asian security seems unchanged, despite indications during Trump’s presidential campaign that he might shift the burden for Northeast Asia’s defense to the region. Kang Choi also addresses the importance of the United States’ role as Northeast Asia’s security guarantor in his essay on South Korea. Although Japan and South Korea are concerned about China’s rise and regional dominance, both identify North Korea as their most urgent security threat. According to Choi, the new administrations in Washington and Seoul will need to closely coordinate their policies toward the North and establish trust in each other. In light of North Korea’s alarming acceleration of its nuclear weapons and missile programs, the allies face critical challenges ahead.

While U.S. allies in Northeast Asia worry about abandonment, similar fears are very high in Taiwan. Ming Lee argues that, given its unofficial relations with most countries (including the United States) but also its unique security commitments from Washington, Taiwan struggles to make its voice heard internationally and fears becoming a bargaining chip in U.S. relations with China.

The Kremlin is watching with interest the domestic upheaval in U.S. politics over allegations about the Trump campaign’s possible links to Russia. Dmitri Trenin characterizes Russia’s relationship with the United States under Trump as “confrontational with islands of cooperation.” Issues such as NATO, European security, Afghanistan, and sanctions over Ukraine continue to generate friction, while reaching an agreement on sensitive issues such as Syria and the renegotiation of strategic arms control treaties will require a cautious, patient approach to overcome obstacles along the path of cooperation.

China’s rise is the defining structural characteristic shaping U.S.-India relations. Balancing China will likely bring Washington and New Delhi closer together over the long term, Rajesh Rajagopalan argues, however, that a number of roadblocks—the Trump administration’s transactional approach to bilateral relationships, U.S. relations with Pakistan, economic nationalism, and domestic chaos in U.S. politics—could hinder this progress in the short term. Pakistan and the United States, by contrast, remain bound together over Afghanistan and the war on terrorism, but the long-term prospects for this strained relationship are uncertain. Moeed Yusuf details how Islamabad’s and Washington’s views of each other and their strategic priorities in South Asia increasingly diverge, resulting in a dangerous situation where neither country’s needs are met and Afghanistan remains in perpetual conflict.

Southeast Asia, which received greater U.S. attention during the Obama administration, has viewed the Trump administration’s policies so far with a mix of consternation and complacency. Joseph Chinyong Liow notes that initial alarm over the United States withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and unsettling U.S.-China relations has given way to some sense of reassurance that U.S. policies on trade and security have so far remained largely unchanged in deed, if not in word. However, the outlook for U.S.–Southeast Asian relations is characterized by greater uncertainty than in the recent past. Farther south, Michael Wesley examines the U.S.-Australia alliance under the changing conditions created by China’s rise and the relative decline of U.S. power. He argues that Australia’s biggest strategic question is how to prevent Chinese primacy and maintain a balance of power in Asia. The alliance with the United States will be part of the answer but will not suffice: Australia, the United States, and their partners will need to articulate a vision for a stable multipolar order, as well as convince other states to share this vision and work together to balance China.

As this roundtable demonstrates, both the short-term and long-term stakes are high for the United States in Asia. Many serious challenges, including the accelerating nuclear threat from North Korea, the increasing assertiveness of China, adversarial tensions with Russia, and ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan, loom large in the United States’ relationships with regional allies, partners, and rivals. Strengthening U.S. engagement with Asia will continue to be of paramount importance if these challenges are to be successfully met.

Jessica Keough is Managing Editor of Asia Policy at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

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Asia Policy is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal presenting policy-relevant academic research on the Asia-Pacific that draws clear and concise conclusions useful to today’s policymakers. Asia Policy is published quarterly in January, April, July, and October and accepts submissions on a rolling basis. Learn more