Open Forum

In May and June, challenges mounted for observers of foreign relations in the Asia-Pacific region. Donald Trump kept throwing US policy into question. Clashing views of the Belt and Road forum left some anticipating Chinese leadership in regionalism and globalism, while others saw the forum as making little concrete progress. If the options for Japan and Russia appeared to narrow, each remained insistent on its rising role. The Korean Peninsula appeared as at a crossroads, as Kim Jong-un accelerated missile testing and newly-elected Moon Jae-in aimed to assert Seoul’s centrality amid increasing Sino-US competition. The discussions in DC and elsewhere tried to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving changes. The mood was different from previous years: while distrust of Trump and the urgency of the North Korean issue augmented, government officials spoke rarely to DC audiences to inform them about policy changes and options. Nevertheless, exchanges among foreign academics eager to gauge US policy and point bilateral relations on a desired track were similar to prior exchanges, even though those outside Trump’s inner circle were no longer seen as having genuine insight into how policy was being debated and what steps would likely be taken.

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