Scholars at Stanford's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies assess the strategic situation in East Asia to be unsettled, unstable, and drifting in ways unfavorable for American interests. These developments are worrisome to countries in the region, most of which want the United States to reduce uncertainty about American intentions by taking early and effective steps to clarify and solidify U.S. engagement. In the absence of such steps, they will seek to reduce uncertainty and protect their own interests in ways that reduce U.S. influence and ability to shape regional institutions. The recommendations summarized below, and elaborated in a 23-page report entitled “President Trump’s Asia Inbox,” suggest specific steps to achieve American economic and security interests.
Trade and Economic Relations
The dynamic economies of East Asian countries are increasingly integrated and interdependent. The United States is an important market and source of investment and technology, but this is no longer sufficient to ensure that future arrangements and rules will protect American interests. The region is moving toward more formal, rule-based arrangements and the United States must be an active shaper of those institutions.
Most in the region want the United States to play a leading role in the establishment and enforcement of free and fair international economic transactions, and want the rules and mechanisms governing trade to be multilateral ones. If we do not play such a role, China, and possibly others, will seek arrangements that disadvantage American firms.
Defense and Security
China’s military buildup and North Korea’s growing arsenal of missiles and nuclear weapons have fueled concerns about U.S. will and ability to honor its security commitments in the region. No one wants a regional arms race or tit-for-tat moves that increase the danger of accidental conflict or escalation, but many believe concrete steps are needed to check perceptions that the United States is becoming less willing to maintain the peace and stability that undergirds regional prosperity.
People in the region worry about China’s actions and intentions but they worry more about the prospect of confrontation and conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic. They look to the United States as a counterbalance to China but fear that Washington will overreact or underreact to actions by Beijing, or take provocative actions that jeopardize their own interests. The U.S. should:
North Korea is threatening an ICBM test in 2017, possibly in the next few weeks or months. There is a political vacuum in South Korea, and Seoul is being pressured and punished by Beijing to reverse its decision to accept the deployment of a U.S. THAAD missile defense in South Korea. Under these circumstances, these are our priority recommendations for the administration
The Abe administration is the most stable government Japan has had for many years. The prime minister wants to work with Washington, is prepared to deepen defense cooperation with the United States and others in the region, and is eager to lock in the commitments and arrangements negotiated in the TPP. There is a real opportunity to secure access for U.S. firms greater than achieved by any previous administration.
Southeast Asia and the South China Sea
Southeast Asia is most vulnerable to and concerned about China’s actions and intentions. Countries in the region want the United States to counterbalance and constrain China but worry equally that the United States is unreliable and unequal to the challenge of protecting their interests while preserving American interests vis-à-vis China. Unless given a better option, they will lean toward China for economic and security reasons.
The U.S. should remain engaged with the process of regional and trans-Pacific institution building, including but not limited to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual meetings, the East Asian Summit, and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which will be hosted by Vietnam in 2017.
Full Report with Preface from Gi-Wook Shin and Introduction by Amb. Michael H. Armacost.
The policy recommendations published above are a summary included in the beginning of a 23-page report entitled “President Trump’s Asia Inbox.” You may view the full report here.
About the Contributors.
Michael H. Armacost is a Shorenstein APARC Fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Japan and the Philippines.
Karl Eikenberry is the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at Shorenstein APARC; director of the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative; former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Lieutenant General (Ret.), U.S. Army.
Donald K. Emmerson is a senior fellow emeritus at FSI; director of the Southeast Asia Program at Shorenstein APARC; and affiliated with FSI’s Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.
Thomas Fingar is a Shorenstein APARC Fellow and has served as former first deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council, among other positions.
Takeo Hoshi is the Henri H. and Tomoye Takahashi Senior Fellow in Japanese Studies and director of the Japan Program.
Gi-Wook Shin is the director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center; senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; director of the Korea Program; and the Tong Yang, Korea Foundation, and Korea Stanford Alumni Chair of Korean Studies, all at Stanford.
Daniel C. Sneider is the associate director for research at Shorenstein APARC, co-director of the Divided Memories and Reconciliation project and a former foreign correspondent.
Kathleen Stephens is the William J. Perry Fellow in the Korea Program at Shorenstein APARC and former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea.
Information for Press.
The contributors are open to comment, interview and provide background information on the contents of the report, “President Trump’s Asia Inbox.” To inquire about availability, please contact Lisa Griswold, Shorenstein APARC Communications and Outreach Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 736-0656.
Related Press Coverage
Stanford report offers policy insights for the Trump administration, Caixin Media (in Chinese), Feb. 13, 2017
"Trump, do not bring up KORUS FTA and US forces cost-sharing until S. Korea's next presidential election," Yonhap News and various other outlets (in Korean), Feb. 13, 2017
China looks to US to resolve N. Korea nuclear issue, The Straits Times (in English), Feb. 15, 2017
Stanford experts offer policy proposals, insights on US-Asia relations, Stanford News Service (in English), Feb. 15, 2017
Unsettled, unstable and drifting: Today's US-East Asia relationship, Medium (in English), Feb. 16, 2017
Why Japan will also be "convenient" for the Trump administration, Tokyo Business Today (in Japanese), Feb. 18, 2017
Study: Managing China relationship most consequential to US, China Daily USA (in English), Feb. 21, 2017
How the Trump administration should address China, Tokyo Business Today (in Japanese), Feb. 23, 2017
Fears of Trump giving China free reign in Asia misplaced, Asia Times (in English), Feb. 24, 2017