US President Donald Trump has expressed his willingness to strengthen engagement with the Asia-Pacific region in cooperation with Japan’s strategy and contribute to the region’s stability.
Japan and the United States are urged to take the initiative to put his intention into practice quickly.
Trump delivered a speech on his country’s Asia policy in Vietnam. Praising Asian countries’ efforts at democratisation, rule of law and economic development, he expressed a willingness to “work together to strengthen the bonds of friendship and commerce between all of the nations of the Indo-Pacific ... to promote our prosperity and security”.
Last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”. It is significant that Trump has come into line with this vision and taken the first step toward value-oriented diplomacy.
The strategy targets a far-flung region connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans, from Asia to Africa. Based on cooperation among four countries – Japan, the United States, India and Australia – it seeks the region’s stability and prosperity with the involvement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Under the strategy, participating countries share universal values such as freedom, democracy, rule of law and the market economy. The strategy undoubtedly takes aim at putting the brakes on China, which has taken a self-righteous stance as a “major power”.
China has posed a threat to “freedom of navigation” by building military strongholds in the South China Sea in defiance of international law. Beijing apparently intends to create an international environment that will serve its interests by providing financial aid and support for developing ports to countries in the region through its “One Belt, One Road” economic mega initiative.
Concern over such a situation has apparently led Trump, who touts “America first” and views multinational cooperation negatively, to go along with Abe’s strategy. Washington’s intention to reduce its burden by sharing the responsibility for ensuring Asia’s stability with countries in the region can be also seen.
A point of concern is that Trump reiterated his stance to adhere to bilateral trade agreements.
His position contrasts sharply with that of the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, which pushed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership under the policy of a “rebalance” to Asia.
The rebalance was aimed at urging China to act based on rules by using a two-pronged approach of reinforcing US alliances with Japan, South Korea and other countries in the security field, and launching the TPP trade pact in the economic field. Bilateral trade deals offer little hope of being effective at pressuring China.
The TPP framework is intended to lead regional free trade, and it also can benefit US consumers. Trump must understand that.
It is alarming that assistant secretaries for Asian and Pacific affairs in the US State Department and Defence Department remain vacant. In order to share the Japan-US strategy with India and Australia and produce results from it, it is essential to fill these posts as early as possible.