Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Background Briefing: United States: Trump Administration and Asia-Pacific

Background Briefing:
United States: Trump
Administration and Asia-Pacific
Carlyle A. Thayer
February 19, 2017
Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, Washington Bureau:
We request an assessment of POTUS' [President of the United States] first month in
office from the foreign policy perspective, and especially from the Asia/Asia-Pacific
Specifically, has anything actually changed after the weekend with Shinzo Abe and the
conversation with Xi Jinping? While the US-Japan alliance has received a ringing
endorsement (also in the face of the North Korean missile test), there remains scope
for friction with Beijing, possibly very soon over trade.
ASSESSMENT: The Trump Administration's foreign and national security policies are a
work in progress. The firing of Michael Flynn has made policy coherence within the
National Security Council all the more difficult. The fact that senior staff to the
Departments of Defense and State have not been nominated, let alone approved,
means that policy coherence is also lacking in line ministries.
What seems to be happening is that Donald Trump is walking back on some of his
more provocative campaign statements. Prime Minister Abe has been adept at getting
in the door first, first to call the president elect and first to be received in The White
House. Both the President and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have reconfirmed
the U.S. commitment to the mutual security treaty with Japan. But economic issues -
such as Japanese investment in infrastructure development in America - are still up in
the air. The bottom line is that the Trump Administration has provided much needed
reassurance to Japan and South Korea. But no outline of a U.S. policy for East Asia in
general or Southeast Asia is discernable.
Trump's telephone call with Xi Jinping would not have taken place without Trump
walking back on his earlier comments that the One China policy was negotiable. The
fact that the two leaders spoke is also a ppositive tentative step forward. But, as with
Japan, key economic issues, which are a real irritant in relations, remain unresolved.
The Trump Administration has not held one Cabinet meeting because several
nominees have yet to be approved. Michael Flynn's successor probably will be
announced this week. Whoever is appointed will have to use his/her elbows to
establish a workable pecking order for the Office of the National Security Council. But
Thayer Consultancy
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more disruption and delay can be anticipated when President Trump begins to
overhaul the national intelligence agency community.
Under the terms of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act of
1986, the President must submit a report on the national security strategy of the
United States to Congress each year.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “United States: Trump Administration and Asia-
Pacific,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, February 19, 2017. All background
briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

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