February 19, 2018
Donald Trump’s America first policy may protect US interests but it has the added effect of increasing Asian dialogue and promoting Chinese prestige.
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.
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.