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Trump’s Asia visit: End of uncertainties?

US President Donald Trump’s Asia visit is being looked at with lot of expectations and as a policy formulation for the future. The first few months of Donald Trump’s presidency were marked by reversal of decisions of the previous administration. It also led to uncertainties and speculations about the course that US would take in world politics.

This 12-day visit to five countries – Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and Philippines – is the longest visit by any US President to Asia in the past 25 years. This may be an indication to setting a precedent in the time to come. Of the five countries, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam have close ties with the US while China is the rival. Philippines which was earlier a friend of US has now shifted its loyalty to China. So this visit seeks to strengthen the existing ties as well as negotiate with the rivals so as to ease the tensions in their relations.

Upon assuming the office, Trump pulled US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). There were also enough indications of US policy gaining inward orientation and being less willing to participate in world affairs especially those related to provision of security. This policy was particularly visible in the Asia Pacific region.

Uncertain US policies only led to China gaining ground easily in the Asia Pacific. China’s expansion plan in the Asia Pacific and South China Sea was supported by the instability created in the region (by China) through North Korea. It poses direct threat to US allies Japan and South Korea. This situation has resulted in challenging the dominant position of the US in the Asia Pacific region.

Inward orientation of US’ foreign policy and concentration on domestic economic situation may not yield the desired results. Since US withdrawal directly implies gains for China, US would stand to lose much of its ground in coming years. US would benefit if it can formulate clear policies. Unwillingness on its part to participate directly in any region can be or should be balanced by forming alliances and delegating the responsibilities to the allies. This would lead to multilateral order in Asia Pacific, Southeast Asia and even in South Asia.

Trump’s Asia visit might just be a start of unfolding a new US policy in the Asia Pacific. This visit is also important from India’s point of view. Past few months have seen India prominently feature in US diplomatic schedule. First Trump emphasized on India’s important role in South Asia. It was followed by two high profile visits to India in two months – Defence Secretary James Mattis visited India in September while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October.

Trump’s visit could be considered as a follow up of these developments. Recently US had countered China’s One Belt One Road project by stating that there are many belts and many roads. Clearly US’ stand indicates a challenge to China from becoming a regional hegemon. However, the regional actors too need to step up and take responsibility in their own region. Any bid to control China must not result in the battlefield between China and the US.

The concept of many belts and many roads must be backed by quick action. India, along with countries like Japan, Vietnam and South Korea, need to come together and present an alternative to China’s plan. For Asia, the coming days are full of diplomatic action with a number of forthcoming attractions. Trump’s visit will be followed by East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Summit and ASEAN Summit.

Clarity in US’ policies and consensus among the Asian regional actors would go a long way in responding to economic and strategic challenges. Opportunities that are available through all the forums must be utilised for the same.

(The author is an Independent Researcher based in Vadodara and can be reached at – niranjanmarjani@gmail.com)

Niranjan Marjani

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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