Trump and Foreign Policy

The Khmer Times, 23 November 2016

Having neither a portfolio in the government nor military, and against all the odds, Donald Trump was elected into the White House. Foreign policy reorientation is one of the priorities of President-elect Trump.

As a list of new cabinet members is being sorted out and set up, a new foreign policy team will play a critical role in positioning the US’s place in the world.
Guided by the political dictum of “Make America Great Again” and “Putting America First,” Mr. Trump seems to have the intention of reversing the US’s foreign policy from outward looking to inward looking, from globalism to nationalism, and is expected to pursue American interests narrowly and unilaterally.
Across the world, there are many doubts, anxiety and criticism of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy reorientation.
Thomas Wright, a Brookings Institution scholar, argues that Mr. Trump’s world views are oriented towards “opposition to America’s alliance relationships; opposition to free trade; and support for authoritarianism.”
From Europe to Asia, leaders and observers alike are cautious of the future global role of the US. The American core values and ideals of liberalism, human rights and democracy are under unprecedented scrutiny.
EU president Jean Claude Juncker warned that Mr. Trump’s election has placed America’s relationship with Europe at risk. “The election of Trump poses the risk of upsetting intercontinental relations in their foundation and in their structure,” he said.
Preliminary assumptions on Mr. Trump’s foreign policy orientation have been made. First, economic nationalism or mercantilism will be the guiding principle of Mr. Trump’s external economic policy, which aims to augment US economic power at the expense of national economic rivals.
Multilateral free trade arrangements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the newly concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be disrupted under Mr. Trump’s administration.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly called NAFTA the “worst trade deal in history” and promised not to ratify a gold standard TPP, which is a signature foreign trade policy of President Barack Obama in the US’ rebalance strategy towards Asia.
The economic tensions between the US and China are likely going to rise. Mr. Trump has coined China as “a currency manipulator” and “the greatest theft in the history of the world” and accused China of “raping” America.
In such an interconnected and interdependent world, economic protectionism and isolationism will generate a lose-lose scenario. The US economy will be critically hurt if it shuts its door and reverses its currently open and liberal economic system.
A US-China confrontation would be a disaster for the world.
“Turning his trade-bashing campaign talks into actual policies could dash any hope that the Asia-Pacific will finally have its much-wanted free trade deal,” said a commentary in China’s official Xinhua news agency on Friday.
Second, the alliance system, which was established after World War II with the aim of building a post-war international order under the leadership of the US as a hegemonic power, may wither under Mr. Trump’s rule.
It will be a long-term security and strategic cost for the US if it opts for destroying the alliance system.
Mr. Trump has called for the US treaty allies to pay more for the security umbrella provided by the US, otherwise he would consider withdrawing US troops.
If such a policy is translated into action, US allies from Europe to Asia will be forced to invest more in their defense modernization, which in turn may lead to a new arms race. Unnerved by Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe managed to make a trip to New York to meet Mr. Trump to seek clarification and assurance. After the meeting, Mr. Abe told reporters that the dialogue was “candid” and he hoped that “the relationship of trust” between the two countries will be maintained.
Third, the US will be focusing on bilateralism rather than multilateralism, less actively engaging in promoting and strengthening multilateral institutions, including upholding rules-based international order.
Bilahari Kausikan, Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, said: “The emphasis of a Trump administration’s Southeast Asia diplomacy will be more bilateral than regional.”
Global collective efforts in dealing with climate change will significantly slow down without strong support from the US. Mr. Trump has said that he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement reached last year.
The wishful thinking on Mr. Trump’s foreign policy is that he would opt for a pragmatist and globalist foreign agenda.
“It is to be hoped that Mr. Trump’s election rhetoric will be substantially discounted with a more pragmatic policy agenda, including US engagement with Asean,” wrote Moe Thuzar, the lead researcher at the Asean Studies Center at the ISEAS-YusofIshak Institute.

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