Expert discusses U.S. approach to Asia.
What is the importance of President Donald Trump’s recent swing through Asia? Why does Asia matter to Americans? How does the U.S. approach to Asia affect Washington’s position on the world stage? To answer these questions, the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consulted a former member, the University of Central Florida’s John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Sentinel for 2000. Bersia, who has been the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at UCF since 2001, is involved with various programs related to Asia and teaches courses on that subject. For a full transcript, go to Orlando
Q: What is the United States’ top priority in Asia under President Donald Trump? A: While in Asia, Trump addressed a wide range of topics, but his focus kept returning to security. Issues ranged from the paramount concern of North Korea and its nuclear-weapons and missile-development efforts to tensions in the South China Sea. The president even offered to lend his personal mediation-andarbitration ability to the latter. Without security and the stability it encourages, the other aspects of U.S. foreign policy in Asia would be more difficult to achieve.
Q: Has President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the TransPacific Partnership weakened U.S. influence in Asia? A: A popular perception is that the United States is an inevitably diminishing player in Asia — especially since the remaining TPP partners last week found a way forward without Washington. Meanwhile, Beijing is eager to take the lead economically and in other areas in Asia. But the United States, despite its need to contend with rising nations such as China, remains the sole superpower. Thus, the United States will be consequential — economically, politically and militarily — in Asia and elsewhere for the foreseeable future. It is also useful to note that the Trump administration has been more active in Asia than many people might think. Opinions may differ as to its effectiveness, but the Trump administration engaged in Asia early and often, notably in Japan. Further, Dhurva Jaishanka, a fellow in foreign-policy studies at Brookings India, recently opined that while things got off on the wrong foot — such as the TPP withdrawal — Trump and his team have “started to get some things right, especially when it comes to Asia policy.” That said, the U.S. role in Asia and the rest of the world must evolve. If this country wishes to maintain its relative influence and not face the precipitous decline that can befall weakening empires, it has to make some critical choices in terms of strategy, partners and commitments in Asia. It cannot afford to become or be seen as a paper tiger. That means shouldering the responsibility of helping to shape the agenda in Asia and developing a closer relationship with that region.
Q: What does the United States stand to gain from a closer relationship with Asia? A: The reasons why Asia is important to the United States are too long to list, from the region’s growing centrality in the global economy to the peace-and-security challenges originating there that can reach America’s shores. Whether the United States is seeking opportunity or keeping track of strategic competitors and adversaries, it has a vested interest in holding Asia close. For more information on this complex relationship, visit http://asiamattersforamerica.org/.
Q: Do U.S. efforts to strengthen relationships with other Asian nations, such as Vietnam, Japan and South Korea, work against U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with China? A: No, the United States needs to pursue both, just as China is doing. And let’s be clear about China’s overall goal, which is to advance its own interests. Beijing does so with language that sounds inclusive and appeals to the common good, thus avoiding the off-putting effect of frank statements such as Trump’s “America First” position.
The United States has bilateral and collective interests with all of the countries of Asia, but in some cases the compelling connection is stronger. One is the special relationship with Japan, the linchpin of U.S. security interests in Asia and a key to the region’s stability and success. Another is the U.S.-South Korea partnership. There is also the need to build stronger relations with certain countries such as India, the world’s largest democracy and, like China, a rising power. The United States would benefit from explicitly recognizing India as the linchpin U.S. relationship in South Asia. After all, Washington and New Delhi share multiple interests — for example, security, stability and economic prosperity — as well as values. The Trump administration recently reaffirmed its support for India’s bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Such a reform is long overdue.
Beijing is eager to take the lead economically and in other areas in Asia. But the United States, despite its need to contend with rising nations such as China, remains the sole superpower.
President Trump chats with China’s Xi Jinping.