Waning of American Power? Trump Struggles With an Asia in Crisis


WASHINGTON — For two and a half years, President Trump has stated he’s lastly doing in Asia what he asserts his predecessor, Barack Obama, failed to realize with a strategic pivot: strengthen American affect and rally companions to push again towards China.

But as violence escalates and previous animosities are rekindled throughout Asia, Washington has chosen inaction, and governments are ignoring the Trump administration’s delicate admonitions and requires calm. Whether it’s the inside battles in India and Hong Kong or the rivalry between two American allies, Japan and South Korea, Mr. Trump and his advisers are staying on the sidelines.

The lack of ability or unwillingness of Washington to assist defuse the flash factors is one of the clearest indicators but of the erosion of American energy and international affect below Mr. Trump, who has caught to his “America First” thought of disengagement, analysts say.

“Without the steady centripetal force of American diplomacy, disorder in Asia is spinning in all sorts of dangerous directions,” stated William J. Burns, a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The net result is not only increased risk of regional turbulence, but also long-term corrosion of American influence.”

They have pledged to spend money on regional programs as part of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy, increased the rate of freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea and started a campaign to try to persuade nations to ban the use of communications technology from Huawei, the Chinese company.

But critics say Mr. Trump weakens the American position through continual acts of self-sabotage, including abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement that Mr. Obama had forged to create a united front against China.

Mr. Trump also lavishes praise on East Asia’s authoritarian leaders — he said that he and Kim Jong-un of North Korea “fell in love,” and that he and Xi Jinping of China “will always be friends.”

So far, he and his top officials have failed to send any strong signals on the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. On Aug. 1, Mr. Trump employed the language used by Communist Party officials when he said Hong Kong has had “riots for a long period of time.”

“Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that,” he added. “But that’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.”

Analysts said those comments would be interpreted by Chinese officials as a green light to take whatever action necessary to quell the protests.

Mr. Trump said in June that the United States and China were “strategic partners,” and the administration has held back from taking certain actions that would upset Beijing — notably, imposing sanctions on Chinese officials for the mass detentions of Muslims and approving the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

Mr. Trump’s main goal with China has been to reach a trade deal to end the costly tariff war, though the two sides have escalated the dispute after failed talks, leading to stock market turmoil.

Mr. Trump has also stood back during the intensifying feud between South Korea and Japan. On Friday, Mr. Trump said, “South Korea and Japan have to sit down and get along with each other.”

Administration officials say they do not want to be a mediator in the dispute, even though American security interests in the region could suffer — especially if Seoul and Tokyo end an intelligence-sharing agreement supported by Washington that is intended to help with North Korea containment. In late July, John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, called both sides to ask them to freeze their hostilities, and Mr. Pompeo made the same request of their foreign ministers at a summit in Bangkok.

South Korean and Japanese officials are ignoring the Americans. On Monday, Seoul said that not only was it ending a preferential trading partnership with Tokyo, but it was also naming Japan as the first nation on a new list of countries deemed to have bad export practices. Earlier this month, Japan announced that South Korea was no longer a preferred trading partner.

“By failing to act and assume leadership in the region, Trump is allowing nations with long, complicated histories to fall back into traditional rivalries,” said Jean H. Lee, a Korea expert at the Wilson Center.

“The more these nations feel the United States is an unreliable partner,” she added, “the more they will feel compelled to defend themselves. I’m already starting to hear growing calls in South Korea for their own nuclear weapons.”

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pushed ahead with what appears to be a yearslong plan by Hindu nationalist politicians to control Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region.



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