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Asia, Trump and Trade

What are the repercussions of Donald Trump’s election for the Asia region?  As the United States draws inward and reshapes its foreign policy objectives, a definite shift is on the horizon, argued T.J. Pempel, Jack M. Forcey Professor of Political Science at U.C. Berkeley. As part of the China Program’s Winter Colloquia series on  “China: Going Global,” Pempel delivered his talk on March 1, 2017. Titled, “Asia, Trump and Trade,” Pempel’s remarks offered insights into Trump’s victory, outlined the worries of Asian states, and theorized on what economic and political impacts the Trump election would have on China and the region as a whole.

Following the surprise election of Donald Trump, Asian leaders had reason for concern, not only for the new President’s policy positions, but also for his character. Pempel argued that Trump’s skepticism of “win-win situations” in business or politics, his transactional worldview, limited adherence to precedent in foreign relations, and rhetoric emphasizing economic nationalism and trade protectionism makes his election a key turning point for Asia. Furthermore, Pempel sees Trump’s dropping of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and general pull away from integration and economic partnership in Asia as a reflection of his ignorance regarding the interconnected nature of foreign policy. While the Untied States has traditionally employed many tools in its foreign policy toolbox, including military force, economic power, public diplomacy, and cultural appeal, there is a legitimate concern that “Trump’s notion of foreign policy will only be using the hammer, and as the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” said Pempel.

Yet, amid these concerns, Pempel does highlight a possible opportunity that Trump’s election may provide Asia. Citing similarities to the Asian Financial Crisis, when perceived hostility from the United States and IMF drove Asian nations to create new institutions and foster greater intra-Asian connections, Pempel theorized, “a bit less United States may not be bad for Asian countries deciding on their own best approaches to intra-regional economic, financial, and even security cooperation.” However, these opportunities are not without the risk of accepting a more substantial economic role for China as, absent a surprise resurrection of Japan’s prior economic dynamism, is likely bound for economic dominance in the region. Citing these concerns, amongst others, Pempel suggested that overall Asia will be more peaceful and prosperous with the United States, rather than without it.

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