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Trump confirms status quo in Asia

15 February 2017

By confirming that the US would follow the ‘One China’ policy and simultaneously reassuring PM Abe that the US-Japan alliance would remain ‘the cornerstone of security in Asia’, Trump has essentially confirmed the status quo in Asia.

There had been much speculation after Trump, as President-elect, received a phone call from President Tsai of Taiwan that he might use the “One China’ policy as a bargaining chip. But his top advisers convinced him this was a bad idea and in a phone call with President Xi he reiterated the long-standing China policy. In an exchange of letters Xi and Trump also shared wishes to continue a close and productive relationship.

These moves will be welcomed by most countries in Asia that were worried about some of the statements during Trump’s campaign when he called on Japan and S Korea to do more for their own defence and even said they might develop their own nuclear weapons.

The recent visit of Pentagon chief, General Mattis, to S Korea and Japan was also a sign of reassurance that Washington did not intend to change course in East Asia. Secretary of State Tillerson also rowed back from his tough remarks during his Senate confirmation hearing on the South China Sea. He now considers that there need be no increased military action beyond existing freedom of navigation operations.

There are still many issues unresolved including how to deal with the threat from the DPRK and the future of TPP. Like his predecessors Trump has stated that the DPRK will not be allowed to develop a serious nuclear capability and any move to launch a weapon would be met by instant obliteration. Trump advisors have urged China to take a tougher line with the DPRK but this is unlikely to be heeded in Beijing.

Abe discussed trade with Trump during his visit to the US last week but no details emerged about a possible bilateral deal or even whether the TPP could be saved. Some have suggested that one way to save TPP might be to rename it as the ‘Trump Pacific Partnership.’