Open Forum

The election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States in 2016 sparked intense anxiety about the future of American leadership in Asia and the world. The new president’s attacks on alliances, trade, and global institutions; his praise of erstwhile adversaries such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; his adoption of the pre-war isolationist “America First” label; his disregard for human rights and democracy; his understaffing of foreign affairs and defense positions in government; his transactional approach to summitry; and his impetuous surprise tweets on foreign policy have all dominated the headlines about American foreign policy and unnerved internationalists at home and abroad. Diplomats—especially those representing close US allies—are barely able to conceal their exasperation at the disruptive, unpredictable, and often insulting style of the president. Yet no close US ally or partner in Asia has de-aligned from the United States. If anything, security cooperation with major allies and partners has increased since 2016, and some allies like Japan have welcomed a more forceful US security policy after growing concerns about the Obama administration’s comparative passivity in the face of Chinese coercion. Two years into the Trump administration, there is evidence of both disruption and continuity in US strategy in Asia. An objective assessment of Trump’s Asia policy requires careful consideration of both dimensions.

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