Related Articles Commentary Paper SIIS Report
Apr 28 2017
President Trump’s First 100 Days and the Asian Responses in Regional Security Order
By Yang Jiemian

Given the context of President Donald Trump’s election and his unconventional policies, it is meaningful to make an assessment of his first 100 days in power and beyond. At least, we can discuss the following four dimensions to assess the Trump administration:

First, it is the fundamental approaches. While commenting on the past U.S. campaigning, the former Sectary of State John Kerry once criticized that the candidates attacked each other instead of debating the issues. In my opinion, Mr. Kerry was both right and wrong. He was right because he gave a true description. He was wrong because he did not tell the essence.

The truth of the matter is that the American voters preferred some new determiners at the massive political participation in this new era. The Americans cared more about the broad picture of the world than the specific issues, more about the fundamental changes of U.S. policies than partial patches, and more about a strong and straight-forward leader than a sophisticated politician. In face of the great changes and challenges both at home and abroad, the majority of the Americans would rather have someone with unconventional ideas but unpredictable than the one who belongs to the conventional and predictable establishments.

Second, it is about predictabilities and non-predictabilities. While many people repeated the saying that the only certainty of the Trump administration is uncertainty, I myself did not drift with the group thinking and held that we could still draw an outline although we could not predict what exactly the policies would be.

First of all, Candidate Trump and President-elect Trump had already put forward his general ideas and the directions, on which we could judge what he will do and can do. For instance, it already looked relatively easier for him to withdraw from TPP which the United States had not fully participated.

Besides, we could analyze the internal and external conditions that would enable or unable him to do so. The United States would have more complicated relations with its allies. Burden sharing among the Trans-Atlantic allies is a perennial issue and there are both ceilings and floors for their disputes.

Furthermore, its intended warming up relations with Russia and punishing China turned out to one’s own wishful thinking. These two pairs of bilateral relations have different bases and emphases. However, this trilateral relationship has caught world’s greater attention and exerted new impacts on the current international relations.

Finally, there are really unpredictability and uncertainties. In the past three months and more, the Trump administration did surprise the world. But the most are related to his formerly held positions such as the TIPP and the NATO. Now more and more believe that President Trump is swinging back to the Republican mainstream.

Third, it is about the campaign rhetoric and actual policies. While no Americans would be naive enough to believe that the elected president would deliver the campaign promises wholly and entirely, yet it is also the rule that the elected president should keep to his words as much as possible. Once I asked one of the interviewees for potential secretary of state to describe his meeting with the President-elect Trump in one simple sentence. He replied that Trump was most concerned about how to translate his campaign slogans into policies. So far it is safe to say that President Trump does want to deliver most of his campaign promises but he just could not.

In terms of domestic policies, President Trump is confronting with strong resistances on such matters as travel bans, taxes and medical cares. In terms of foreign policies, President Trump failed in improving the U.S.-Russia relations and in re-directing relations with allies.

Fourth, it is about President Trump’s China policy. Trump’s policy towards China is still evolving but its general direction could be outlined. President Trump has basically turned to the more positive side of the Sino-U.S. relations and repeatedly stressed the importance of this bilateral relationship.

He has also looked into and worked at institutional communication and coordination. The two countries have regularized summits as well as exchanges of calls and letters, set up high-level visits and dialogues and result-oriented action plans. Few people would imagine that the two countries could set in motion all these major mechanisms in such short a period.

Last but not least, there is already a personal chemistry between President Trump and President Xi. Just compare his casual attitudes at his joint press with the Japanese Prime Minister Abe, his blasting at the Australian Prime Minister Turnbull during a phone call, and his no-hand shaking with German Chancellor Merkel, we can see how far President Trump has gone for a good U.S.-China relationship.

Now let us come to the theme of “Asian Response to the Regional Security Order Innovation”. As the Trump administration is still in the process of teaming up its apparatus and firming up its policies, we Asians should not sit and wait idly. In my humble opinion, we Asians should respond in a positive, proactive and creative way. In the meantime, we should also let our American colleagues know what we are thinking and doing so as to have a better matching-up once the Americans have made up their minds.

In terms of being positive, we should not only look at the negative aspect of the Asian security affairs, but also the positive one. We should see there is less possibility of a China-U.S. head-on collision, more rapprochements between China and some claimers over the South China Sea, and more consulted policies towards North Korea’s nuclear and missile crisis. On the Chinese side, for example, President Xi and President Trump have already had two phone calls in the wake of their meetings at Mar-a-Largo. The senior Chinese officials have also had close contacts with their Russian counterparts on the North Korean nuclear issue. Besides, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi used every opportunity to express China’s position in this regard. More importantly, on regional security matters and architectures, many Asian countries have learnt to rely more on the Asians per se while having experienced a big turn of the Trump administration.

In terms of being proactive, the most prominent is that many relevant parties have realized the importance of their own initiatives while waiting the U.S. to finalize its policies and strategies.

First, all the major players such as the United States, China, the ASEAN countries should consult more on the security matters bilaterally, trilaterally and multilaterally. They should fully utilize the existing mechanisms to discuss the security issues and improve their functions and efficiencies. For instance, they should coordinate more at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Second, all the major players should speed up building security cooperation frameworks to maintain regional peace and stability. They should also consult and coordinate more on specific fields and issues so as to prevent some issues from being explosive and uncontrollable. In this respect, the think tanks could play a big role by more focused researches, better second track dialogues and more media publicities.

Third, they should actively use other means to promote their cooperation in both traditional and non-traditional areas. Now that Obama’s Rebalancing Strategy is over and Trump’s strategy is to be formulated, all the major players should work harder at their own ones. They should enhance their awareness of common security by cooperating more on economic, trade, financial, cultural, educational and healthy matters.

In terms of being creative and innovative, most importantly, the Asians should adapt themselves to the new changes both internally and externally.

First, creativity comes from the hybrid of ideas. The Asians initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence in the 1950s. The ASEAN countries put forward the Comprehensive Security in the 1980s. The Brookings coined the term of the Cooperative Security in the early 1990s. China’s Security Concept experienced a twenty-year of evolution from its New Security Concept at the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1995 to its present form of Sustainable Security at the CICA Shanghai Summit in 2014.

Second, innovations base upon but transcend the existent mechanisms. Speaking of security order, China has repeatedly stressed that it has neither intention nor ability to squeeze the United States out of the Asian Pacific region. The multi-layered security order is the regional reality. Therefore, any innovation should be based upon these realities. However, there is a sea change in security matters and all the parties concerned should adapt to the changes in an adept way. The new security order, like new economic order, should give fuller consideration to the participation and representation of all the parties concerned.

Third, innovation is the catalyzer and driver for new security order in Asia. ARF was a new platform for the ASEAN centrality. China’s dual track idea proves useful in easing the tensions in the South China Sea. Unfortunately, there are not many successful examples in this regard. Therefore, the Asians need to invest more capitals in the innovation of security affairs in the region.

Source of documents:SIIS