See More on Facebook

Analysis, Economics

America first has Asia looking inwards

Donald Trump’s America first policy may protect US interests but it has the added effect of increasing Asian dialogue and promoting Chinese prestige.


Written by

Updated: February 19, 2018

Donald Trump is not the first American president to proclaim ‘America first’ as a campaign slogan or a policy platform.

When running for election in 1916, Woodrow Wilson promised that he would put ‘America first’ and keep the United States out of World War 1.

After he was elected, however, he promptly reneged on his promise and sent troops and supplies to aid the British and French. Wilson would go on to be a key cog in the founding of the League of Nations and is remembered as an internationalist and globalist president.

But where Wilson reneged on his message that brought him electoral success, Trump looks set to keep his word.

Americas Retreat

One of the first decisions made by Trump after becoming president was to pull the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade deal that the Obama administration and various other governments had spent the better part of a decade negotiating.

He followed that decision by calling for both Japan and South Korea, evergreen US allies, to pay their ‘fair share’ in the defense of the region – a situation made more daunting by Trump’s heated rhetoric with Kim Jong-Un and the North Korean regime.

Trump’s trade policies have also favored protectionism with the US choosing to place heavy tariffs on South Korean washing machines and solar panels. The move was decried by the South Korean government who filed a WTO complaint.

“The US decision to impose tariffs on South Korean washers and solar panels is excessive and apparently constitutes a violation of WTO provisions,” Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong said in a meeting with industry officials. “The US government took actions in consideration of its domestic political situation, rather than abiding by international regulations.”

Trump’s commerce department further recommended that the president impose heavy tariffs or quotas on steel imports from South Korea, China and other countries.

The department suggested three options: a global tariff of 24 percent on all steel imports; 53 percent or higher tariffs on 12 countries including South Korea and China; and a quota on steel imports from all countries up to 63 percent of what those countries imported in 2017. Trump must decide whether to adopt any of the recommendations by April 11.

An editorial in the Korea Herald comments:

“Trump’s remarks cannot be dismissed as a bluff. They are becoming a reality…The US has been escalating its demands over the free trade deal with South Korea, which is currently being renegotiated. The number of trade investigations surged 81 percent to 94 for the past year.

Last year, China had $375.2 billion trade surplus with the US, more than 16 times South Korea’s. It is unreasonable to treat South Korea and China equally as countries threatening jobs in America. When it comes to reducing trade deficit, the US should take equitable import curbs based on fact.”

Asia looks inwards

In response to Trump’s increasing isolationism, Asia has started looking inwards and towards China for investment, trade and partnerships. Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative has provided a steady platform for increased cooperation between traditional rivals and countries are coming around to the Yuan.

For example, Trump’s public criticism against Pakistan (and its harboring of terrorism) has made Islamabad look towards China for investment and military purchases. According to Dawn newspaper A 2017 Pentagon report singled out Pakistan as a possible location for a future Chinese military base.

Even Japan, a longtime rival of Beijing, has sent overtures to China about possibly joining the Belt and Road Initiative.

While Trump’s policies may be designed to protect US interests, it may have the added effect of uniting countries across Asia and increasing Chinese prestige.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Cod Satrusayang
About the Author: Cod Satrusayang is the Managing Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Economics

South Korea PM’s Japan visit a chance to mend ties

The two countries have not seen eye to eye after a trade dispute. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon kicked off a three-day visit to Japan in the hope that a meeting with his Japanese counterpart will pave the way for improvements in the two countries’ strained relations. Before heading to Tokyo, Lee said he hoped South Korea and Japan would foster harmonious and mature relations despite difficulties, speaking with Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, who saw Lee off at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. “I don’t expect that this visit will resolve everything but it will become an opportunity to take a step forward,” Lee said. Lee described Japanese Emperor Naruhito as a “warm and friendly” person, recalling their encounter at the World Water Forum in Brazil in March last year. On Tuesday, Lee attended Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace, which was followed


By The Korea Herald
October 23, 2019

Analysis, Economics

Mahathir warns of possible trade sanctions on Malaysia amid US-China trade war

From a Reuters report in Straits Times. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday (Oct 21) that his exports-reliant country could be hit with trade sanctions amid rising protectionism highlighted by the United States-China tariff war. Tun Dr Mahathir did not mention the source of possible sanctions on the South-east Asian country, but said he was disappointed that proponents of free trade were now indulging in restrictive trade practices on a “grand scale”. “Unfortunately, we are caught in the middle,” he told a conference in the capital Kuala Lumpur, referring to the US-China trade war. “Economically, we are linked to both markets and physically, we are also caught in between for geographical reasons. There are even suggestions that we ourselves would be a target for sanctions.” The US and China were two of the three biggest export dest


By The Straits Times
October 23, 2019

Analysis, Economics

Nepal needs development, but not by coercion

Reimagining Nepal and developing it warrants a broad outlook that listens to its people and shows regard for their displeasure. The country’s obsession with bulldozers and excavators as a symbol of development reached an eerie new high yesterday as a viral video sent a chill down people’s spines. In the name of building a road in Dashrath Chand Municipality in Baitadi (roads are synonymous with development in Nepal), an excavator was seen gouging into the land even as locals protested and pelted it with stones. Read: Excavator operator and three others detained for investigation in Baitadi As the excavator operator pressed forward using brute force in a disoriented manner, the massive machine’s toothed bucket knocked down a woman to the


By The Kathmandu Post
October 23, 2019

Analysis, Economics

S. Korea grapples with gender discrimination in workplace

Despite it’s high economic developments, critics say that South Korea has to improve workplace equality. South Korea has seen its female employment index improve steadily over the past 10 years, but continues to struggle with gender equality when it comes to parental leave and consequent career breaks, data showed Monday. Unlike in most developed economies which tend to see the employment rate of women in their 40s peak and start declining in the 50s, Korea has seen women in their late 30s and early 40s — the prime age for childbirth and childcare — being pushed out of the labor market. All seven of the so-called 30-50 club count


By The Korea Herald
October 22, 2019

Analysis, Economics

President Joko Widodo sworn in for second term

Joko exhorts Indonesians to develop ‘new ways and values’. A few hours before he was sworn in for a second and final term in office on Sunday (Oct 20), Indonesian President Joko Widodo uploaded a new profile picture on Facebook with the caption “Let’s work together towards progress for Indonesia”. The post has since garnered more than 224,000 likes and over 19,000 comments from well-wishers congratulating him on his re-election and cheering him on to steer the country to success. At around 4pm Jakarta time (5pm Singapore time), millions of Indonesians tuned in to a live television broadcast as Mr Joko, more popularly known as Jokowi, recited his oath of office before lawmakers and regional senators that make up the People’s Consultative Assembly, or MPR, at the Parliament building. The new Vice-President, cleric Ma’ruf Amin, who replaced outgoing Mr Jusuf Kalla, also took h


By The Straits Times
October 21, 2019

Analysis, Economics

More changes friendly to foreign investors on way in China

China is courting more FDI as their cash reserves run lower. China will roll out more measures friendly to foreign investors, including further removing business restrictions and leveling the playing field for foreign businesses, to foster a more enabling business environment and attract overseas investment. The decision was made on Wednesday at a State Council executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. Meeting participants decided to open up more areas. Restrictive measures outside the national and FTZ negative lists on foreign investors’ market access will be consolidated. Restrictions will be lifted on the business scope for those foreign-invested banks, securities companies and fund management firms that are already operating in China. Policies on foreign investment in the automobile industry will be refined, including giving equal treatment in market access to domestic and foreig


By China Daily
October 18, 2019