25 January 2017
It is no secret that the competition for power and influence between the United States and China in Asia has been growing in recent years, and is now thought of by most analysts as the principal geostrategic factor in the region. The Obama administration did much to enhance American power and standing in the region, leaving their successors with perhaps the strongest position the US has ever held in the region. But the Trump administration is potentially on the verge of squandering – if not wrecking – it.
Should the Trump administration become more internally preoccupied – as it is giving every sign of being – or even if it is distracted from Asia for six months or more, it will have the net effect of significantly enhancing China’s position. If mishandled by Washington, history may look back on this period as the turning point similar to when Britain retreated from the western hemisphere at the dawn of the 20th century, paving the way for America’s “manifest destiny” to prevail.
While inattention to Asia would be very deleterious for America and the region, Donald Trump’s likely confrontational policies towards China will place even more strain on various countries throughout the Indo-Asian region. Most Asian states have sought – and struggled to maintain – balanced relations between Washington and Beijing in recent years; they do not wish to “choose” between Washington and Beijing and, above all, they seek a stable and functional US-China relationship. At a minimum, Trump’s likely confrontational China posture will make them extremely nervous and, at a maximum, may entice some to gravitate closer to China.
… David Shambaugh is distinguished visiting professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, on leave from George Washington University
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 27/01/2017