The United States “Pivot” or “Rebalance” to Asia is widely considered to have begun with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s October 2011 article in Foreign Policy magazine, titled “America’s Pacific Century.” The article set forth one of the most comprehensive blueprints for the future of US foreign policy. The beginning of the Pivot, however, dates back to the early days of the Barack Obama administration during which the US signaled its renewed commitment to multilateralism and economic engagement with Asia. The Obama administration’s signing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 2009 and its joining of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2010 were both concrete steps taken by the US under the banner of the Pivot to Asia. Since then, the Pivot was the defining theme of the Obama administration’s policy towards Asia.

The election of Donald Trump in November 2016 signaled a major change in America’s approach to the region. Trump’s calling into question the efficacy of traditional alliances with South Korea and Japan, his landmark phone call with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, and his withdrawal from the TPP have all signaled that he intends to transform America’s relations the region. The Trump administration’s approach to Asia may have taken a different tone, but the region’s significance to US foreign policy will not diminish.

After a year, there are mixed signals from the Trump administration to Asian countries. On the one hand, the administration has emphasized the primacy of US interests under its “America First” banner. Rather than engaging Asian countries widely, the administration has been heavily concerned with China and North Korea while references to liberalism, democracy, or human rights have been noticeably absent in its Asia policy. On the other hand, there have been moves to re-engage with some Asian countries which were initially overlooked by the Trump administration in the first half of 2017. Leaders of some Southeast Asian countries were invited by President Trump to hold summits. Although not entirely successful, President Trump participated in the annual US-ASEAN summit and East Asia Summit at the end of 2017. There have also been increasing references by the president and his top officials regarding the Indo-Pacific as a US strategy towards the wider Asian region.

This project is designed to provide policy recommendations for current and future US administrations to pursue in Asia. Several studies have already been put forth for what the new administration should do in Asia, yet these are primarily focused on what the US wants from an American perspective. This research project is unique in that it reflects the perspectives and recommendations of Asian experts from across the region. It provides a frank review of the Pivot over the past eight years and surveys the perceptions and interests of different Asian countries towards the US; in short, it is about what Asia wants.

Table of Contents

■ Preface
■ Acknowledgements
■ Executive Summary
■ Introduction
■ Overall Assessments of the Pivot to Asia
■ The Military Pivot
■ The Economic Pivot
■ The Diplomatic Pivot
■ The Pivot and China
■ Understanding Asia
■ Policy Recommendations
■ Conclusion

* The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

About Experts

Choi Kang
Choi Kang


Dr. CHOI Kang is the President at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Previously, he was the dean of Planning and Assessment at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy. In 2012, Dr. Choi served as the president at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS). He was also a professor and director general for American Studies at IFANS, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, and senior director for Policy Planning and Coordination on the National Security Council Secretariat. He holds several advisory board memberships including: the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Unification of the National Assembly; Ministry of National Defense; Ministry of Unification; Air Force Development Committee; and the National Unification Advisory Council. Dr. Choi was also a South Korean delegate to the Four-Party Talks. He writes extensively on the ROK-US alliance, North Korean military affairs, inter-Korean relations, crisis management, and multilateral security cooperation. Dr. Choi received his B.A. from Kyunghee University, M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his Ph.D. in political science from Ohio State University.

Lee Jaehyon
Lee Jaehyon

Center for Regional Studies ; Publication and Communications Department

Dr. LEE Jaehyon is a Principal Fellow of the Center for ASEAN and Oceanian Studies at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Previously, Dr. Lee was a research fellow at the Korean Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (KISEAS) and a visiting professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS), Korean National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA). Dr. Lee’s research focuses on Southeast Asian politics and international relations, East Asian regional cooperation, and non-traditional and human security issues. His recent publications include “Transnational Natural Disasters and Environmental Issues in East Asia,” IFANS Review (2011), “Political Crises after Democratization in South Korea and Thailand: Comparative Perspectives of Democratic Consolidation,” Korea Observer (2008), “A 2+2 for the Future: The First Korea-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting,” (2013), “Identifying South Korea’s Regional Partners: On the Environment, Family Values, Politics and Society,” (2015). Dr. Lee received a B.A. and M.A. from Yonsei University and his Ph.D. in politics from Murdoch University, Australia.