Donald Trump Vs. Asia: Isolation, War Or Cooperation?

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With Donald Trump being the new President of the United States, Asia is expected to change dramatically, at least that’s what his comments about the region indicate.

Trump has never been shy in his comments about Asia, whether it’s confronting the alleged “currency manipulator” China, challenging North Korea’s nuclear program, questioning the Japan-South Korea alliance or balancing between the two nuclear rivals, Pakistan and India.

Trump’s comments indicate that U.S. relations with Asia will change dramatically, while he is expected to alter some of the longstanding U.S. policies in the region.

Pakistan, India and Kashmir

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump’s opinion aboutSouth Asia has been ambiguous, to say the least. To make things more confusing, he has been largely positive toward both India and Pakistan without favoring either of the two nations’ position on the Kashmir issue. But it’s not just Trump’s South Asia position that is confusing; it’s the entire situation in the region.

While Pakistan has been America’s traditional ally in the region since the Cold War era, relations between the two nations took a turn for the worse after the U.S. started accusing Islamabad of sheltering terrorists. Meanwhile, U.S.-India relations have been tense for decades, but in recent years, the U.S. has focused on improving ties with India to potentially use it as a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region.

Although many predicted that Trump would go forward with plans to seek closer ties with India, Trump made headlines when he allegedly promised Pakistan’s prime minister during a phone call days after his election victory that he would play “any role that you want me to play,” suggesting that Trump could be even willing to abandon India for Pakistan.

Since then, Trump has made very few comments about Pakistan. He did, however, express his hope for improved U.S.-Pakistan relations on the day of his inauguration. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Jalil Abbas Jillani, told Radio Pakistan that during at a dinner hosted for foreign ambassadors, Trump “pleasantly” referred to his December phone conversation with the country’s PM.

So does Trump favor India over Pakistan?

Not really. Trump’s comments about India have been just as ambiguous as they were about Pakistan. There is no telling yet if Trump could be willing to sacrifice the Barack Obama administration’s pro-Indian policies for improved relations with Pakistan. It’s also unknown which of the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors – Pakistan or India – Trump will back in their Kashmir dispute.

However, given that Trump is such a big fan of bringing down China’s regional dominance, it could mean good news for New Delhi and bad news for Islamabad. Pakistan has been a close ally of China for decades, while India-China relations have remained tense, in part due to Beijing’s support of Islamabad on the diplomatic sphere.

Obama laid the groundwork for countering China’s influence in Asia with the help of India. And since Trump is an even bigger fan of anti-China policies than Obama and shares the Obama administration’s aspiration to bring down China’s influence, he could go forward with improving relations with India, which could stand up to China’s push for regional dominance.

How likely is a U.S.-China war over the South China Sea?

During his presidential campaign, Trump slammed China in almost all of his speeches. The new U.S. President is no stranger to accusing Beijing of ripping the U.S. off in trade and threatening to slap the Asian nation with huge tariffs on imported goods. To prove that his intentions about China are real, Trump even took a congratulatory phone call from the President of Taiwan, disregarding the decades-old protocol prohibiting direct contact between the self-governing Taiwan and high-ranking U.S. officials.

Since the controversial phone call, the Chinese have accused Trump of having no respect for the One China policy, which is often called the foundation of U.S.-China relations. Trump later responded to the accusations, wondering why his country should be bound by the One China policy without economic incentives.

To make matters worse, in his recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump spoke about the future of U.S.-China relations and said, “Everything is under negotiation, including ‘one China.’”

The remark prompted a furious response from the Chinese media, with the China Daily newspaper saying the new U.S. President is “playing with fire.”

But the One China policy is not the only matter of national importance for China that Trump seems to be challenging. The new U.S. President has also criticized China’s actions in the South China Sea. On Monday, Trump even vowed that the U.S. will prevent China from seizing territories in international waters in the South China Sea. The Chinese state media has previously warned that such actions would be deemed an act of war.

Will Trump put an end to alliances with Japan and South Korea?

During his presidential campaign, Trump also made comments that indicate his willingness to put an end to the longstanding U.S. military alliances with Japan and South Korea.

Trump believes Japan and South Korea, which are seen as counterweights against China’s regional dominance and North Korea’s military threats, respectively, are not worthy of U.S. security and financial commitments. The new U.S. President has previously said Japan and South Korea are the countries he would be “respectfully asking to pay more for the tremendous security we provide them.”

Trump also suggested Tokyo and Seoul should obtain their own nuclear weapons so that the U.S. would no longer have to defend them against potential nuclear threats from their Asian neighbors. Like with India, Japan could prove itself a valuable ally in Trump’s plans to wipe out China’s regional dominance.

Trump and North Korea’s nuclear threat

While Trump’s policies regarding North Korea are not expected to differ from those of previous administrations, there’s no telling how far the new U.S. President is willing to go to prevent possible nuclear threats coming from North Korea. Earlier this month, he took it to Twitter to respond to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s announcement that his country had reached the “final stages” of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S.

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

While it’s yet unclear how Trump might be planning to not let that happen, the U.S. President wrote in his presidential campaign paper that the U.S. needs more “modern destroyers to counter the ballistic missile threat from Iran and North Korea.” That probably means Trump is willing to support the deployment of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea, a move that both China and Russia strongly oppose.

Lots of drama and chess games are coming for Asia with Trump’s presidency. Only time will tell how serious Trump is in his intentions to change Asia drastically and make America great again.

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