In many respects, US diplomacy toward Asia has gone as well as its allies could have hoped for. US President Donald Trump’s administration has reaffirmed several bedrock principles of its Asian strategy, reassured its close allies of its security commitments and demonstrated its resolve to deter North Korea’s nuclear threat.
On the campaign trail, candidate Trump frequently criticized Japan and South Korea on trade issues and accused these two allies of not paying enough for their military defense. He even suggested that indigenous nuclear capabilities might be the answer to their North Korea and China problems.
In the wake of his inauguration, Trump’s policy statements and his dispatch of US Defense Secretary James Mattis to South Korea and Japan indicate that he has walked back some of his campaign rhetoric.
On Jan. 30, for instance, Trump pledged to South Korean Prime Minister and Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn his “ironclad” commitment to the defense of South Korea within the full range of US capabilities.
In his visit to Seoul early last month, Mattis sought to reassure South Koreans of the US’ security commitment and remind them of its past sacrifices for their country. He reaffirmed the US policy to deploy an anti-missile system to intercept North Korea’s medium-range missiles. He also sternly warned Pyongyang that its use of nuclear weapons would be met with an “overwhelming” response.
In Japan, Mattis reiterated US defense commitments to Japanese and officials who had been unnerved by candidate Trump’s remarks that he might reduce US military commitments to Japan.
Mattis proclaimed that the US stood by the US-Japan mutual defense pact and its defense obligations include the disputed Senkaku Islands — known as the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) in Taiwan — in the East China Sea, in response to which an irritated Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the statements expressed a Cold War mentality and put regional stability at risk.
Moreover, in a meeting with Japanese officials, Mattis described Japan as “a model of cost sharing” and praised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for increasing defense spending, belying candidate Trump’s criticism.
Trump had a cordial meeting with Abe at the White House on Feb. 10 and during a joint press conference, he thanked the Japanese people for hosting US troops.
The two leaders, accompanied by their spouses, vacationed together in Florida over that weekend, highly indicative of the special US-Japan relationship.
This is both surprising and remarkable; Trump showed the US public and the world that he is pragmatic, willing to learn and listen to his advisers and capable of adjusting and changing his positions on major policy issues.
How much has Trump’s position on Taiwan and China shifted? He once saw Taiwan as a bargaining chip in a broader negotiation with China on trade, security and other issues, but at US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s advice, he abandoned the idea. In fact, Tillerson played an important role in shaping the phone call between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and the connotations of the US’ “one China” policy.
Whereas Chinese propagandists and some international media outlets played up the Feb. 9 Trump-Xi call and misrepresented Trump’s adherence to the “one China” policy as a huge concession, their story was far from the truth.
Trump’s “one China” policy is quite different from Xi’s “one China” principle: Trump, like his predecessors, does not recognize China’s claim over Taiwan — he even referred to Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as president of Taiwan. Tillerson has on many occasions pledged to uphold the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances” to help safeguard Taiwan’s security against external threats.
Last week, China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪), was in Washington to promote Sino-US ties and meet Trump, Tillerson and other key members of the US national security team.
His primary objective was to set up a Trump-Xi summit, but he was unable to set a date, as the White House was most concerned with North Korea’s nuclear threat and pushed China to exert greater pressure on its ally’s denuclearization.
Beijing has recently sanctioned imports of coal from North Korea, but the US wants China to do more and cut its supply of oil to North Korea.
Trump is a smart and adroit deal-maker — at Xi’s request, he agreed to honor the US’ “one China” policy, and is now asking his Chinese counterpart to do things he cares about, such as urge North Korea’s denuclearization and open the Chinese market.
Trump and his team have also spoken against China’s militarization of the South China Sea. The US will use diplomacy at the outset, to be followed by a show of force. As a matter of fact, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its battle group have been patrolling the South China Sea since the middle of last month to assert freedom of navigation and to challenge China’s sovereignty claim over its artificial islands.
Beijing will find out to its chagrin that Trump is tough and it cannot lord over him.
Parris Chang is professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University and president of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.
During the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum’s third leadership summit on Aug. 31, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US wants to partner with the other members of the Quadrilaterial Security Dialogue — Australia, India and Japan — to establish an organization similar to NATO, to “respond to ... any potential challenge from China.” He said that the US’ purpose is to work with these nations and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region to “create a critical mass around the shared values and interest of those parties,” and possibly attract more countries to establish an alliance comparable to
On August 24, 2020, the US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, made an important statement: “The Pentagon is Prepared for China.” Going forward, how might the Department of Defense team up with Taiwan to make itself even more prepared? No American wants to deter the next war by a paper-thin margin, and no one appreciates the value of strategic overmatch more than the war planners at the Pentagon. When the stakes are this high, you can bet they want to be super ready. In recent months, we have witnessed a veritable flood of high-level statements from US government leaders on
China has long sought shortcuts to developing semiconductor technologies and local supply chains by poaching engineers and experts from Taiwan and other nations. It is also suspected of stealing trade secrets from Taiwanese and US firms to fulfill its ambition of becoming a major player in the global semiconductor industry in the next decade. However, it takes more than just money and talent to build a semiconductor supply chain like the one which Taiwan and the US started to cultivate more than 30 years ago. Amid rising trade and technology tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing has become
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new