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Trump’s Asia Trip: Assuring Allies, Tempering Tensions

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Trans-Pacific View

Trump’s Asia Trip: Assuring Allies, Tempering Tensions

Insights from Nien Su.

Trump’s Asia Trip: Assuring Allies, Tempering Tensions
Credit: Official White House photo by Andrea Hanks

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Nien Su, chief economic advisor on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. Congress, is the 116th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

How did President Trump project U.S. strength and leadership in Asia? 

The president’s visit offered an important opportunity to strengthen America’s critical role in the Asia-Pacific region. This region of the world is vital to the economic well-being of the United States and a significant part of the world as well. Three generations of American strength and leadership in Asia have fostered the tremendous economic growth that helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The president’s visit to Asia — which was the longest visit by an American leader in a generation — was by itself a clear projection of American engagement in the region.

As a longtime Asia observer, I know that our allies and security partners notice when we’re present in the region. That is why Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce has made it a priority to lead bipartisan delegations to Asia on a regular basis to reaffirm U.S. commitment and support. Therefore, it was good for the president to spend the amount of time that he did in Japan, South Korea, China, the Philippines, and at APEC.

In what ways did the POTUS Asia trip advance U.S. trade interests in the Asia Pacific?  

The president has made American trade interests a vital part of his overall economic agenda. The Department of Commerce announced 37 major deals worth more than $250 billion as a result of the president’s visit to China. Deals such as these will help boost American exports to China; however, a more substantial agreement on issues such as intellectual property, market access, or subsidies would go further in leveling the playing field for American businesses. American companies are some of the world’s most competitive enterprises. Ensuring that major trading partners fully implement existing agreements will help strengthen our ability to win customers and thrive in foreign markets.

When it comes to advancing American trade interests overseas, the best approach in my opinion is to push for high-standard, rules-based systems that hold trading partners accountable for providing real market access, equal treatment for all investors, and elimination of other barriers to doing business. In that regard, large multilateral agreements are better than bilateral agreements.

One important aspect of advancing U.S. trade interests in Asia is to communicate clearly that we are open for business and that the U.S. welcomes inbound investment that contributes positively to our economy. As an immigrant and a Southern Californian, I see the positive impact of the free flow of goods and services across borders on our regional economy every day.

Chairman Royce is a leader in advancing our trade interests overseas and has worked for years on rules-based agreements that contribute to our economic prosperity. In fact, his most recent work helping to bring direct flights from Taipei to Ontario [California] International Airport exemplifies this effort. Increasing mobility across the Pacific enables more business travel and promotes tourism, both of which are important contributors to the economy. The Chairman’s work on strengthening key sectors vital to California — technology, food, and autos — and his establishment of the Southern California Competitiveness Council reinforces the message that we’re open for business.

What critical strategic messaging, if any, did President Trump convey to regional allies?

North Korea was, of course, the most important part of the president’s visit to Asia given the significant advances that nation has made on ballistic missile technology and nuclear weapons. The president’s public appearances with the leaders of Japan and South Korea are significant in this context as it sends a clear message to Pyongyang that American support for its democratic allies and security partners remain as strong as ever. It shows the Kim regime that despite all the saber rattling, the U.S. resolve is strong. That’s important.

With regard to China, only time will tell whether the president’s message to Beijing will translate into further action. Cutting off the North Korean regime’s access to hard currency through sanctions and other means is vital to stopping that country’s nuclear program. We know that when effectively implemented, such as the Banco Delta Asia sanctions, the pressure on North Korea is significant. China plays an important role in this.

Chairman Royce has taken a leadership role on North Korea. Earlier this year, important sanctions legislation that the Chairman authored was signed into law to make it more difficult for North Korea to access hard currency whether through illicit trade, forced labor, or access to the international banking system.

The administration’s decision to designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism following the Asia visit is a welcomed move.

Compare and contrast the statesmanship of U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping during their meetings in China.

Both leaders have their own distinct styles as we’re all familiar with by now. The timing of the visit — just after the conclusion of China’s 19th Party Congress — showed a confident Xi Jinping as he hosted President Trump. China’s pageantry and statecraft were on full display for the “state visit plus,” and by all accounts it was well received by the president.

Explain the relevance of Trump’s Asia trip for U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy.

The Asia-Pacific region is vital to America’s long-term economic well-being. Peace and security are fundamental ingredients to economic prosperity on both sides of the Pacific. The president’s extended visit to Asia helps reinforce America’s commitment to the region, and it reassures our allies that we will stand by them in case of aggression by North Korea. Furthermore, by emphasizing the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the president continues to push back against China’s expansion. This is also very important.

The bottom line is that we need more, not less engagement in Asia. If the U.S. is successful in enlarging the sphere of engagement in Asia by bringing in India, and thus making it the Indo-Pacific region, then that will be significant success. The next step will be to deepen American engagement through strategic trade and security initiatives now that the initial visit has occurred.