At economic summit, Obama seeks to shore up US focus on the Asia-Pacific – Washington Post
Several months ago, administration officials envisioned the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting as a possible capstone to years of painstaking efforts to deepen trade, defense and diplomatic ties between the U.S. and in East and Southeast Asia, the world’s most populous and fastest-growing region.
But Trump’s sharp criticism of trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade accord, which still lacks congressional ratification, and his suggestion that long-standing U.S. military base agreements in Japan and South Korea might be too expensive to maintain, threatens to reverse the Obama administration’s agenda and upend decades of American leadership in the region.
“The governments in Asia are all very anxious,” said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for International and Strategic Studies and George W. Bush’s former senior Asia director at the National Security Council.
While most of the president’s diplomacy took place behind closed doors here, he tackled these concerns directly Saturday as he spoke to an audience of 1,000 young people who had gathered in Peru to celebrate the administration’s new Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative. After a young woman asked whether concerns about Trump’s presidency were “for real,” Obama said he had the same message for her that he had been delivering to world leaders in Greece, Germany and Peru during his last foreign trip as president.
“My main message to you, though, is don’t just assume the worst,” he said, standing in shirtsleeves on a wide stage erected at the center of the Pontifical Catholic University’s gym. “Wait until the administration’s in place, it’s actually putting its policies together, and then you can make your judgments.”
But the president acknowledged that while the next administration may maintain several of his policies regarding Latin America, for example, “There are going to be tensions, most likely around trade more than anything else.”
The uncertainty and anxiety over Trump’s administration in Tokyo, Seoul and beyond come at a time of rising challenges and complexities. China has accelerated its expansionist aims with maritime claims throughout the South China Sea, angering its neighbors, and has touted its own multilateral trade deal in Asia that does not include the United States. North Korea’s belligerent leader Kim Jong-Un has defied international rules and condemnation by testing nuclear and ballistic missiles. South Korean President Park Geun-hye is embroiled in a massive corruption scandal that has threatened her rule. And new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercely anti-U.S. rhetoric has alarmed Washington over whether a longtime U.S. ally could draw closer to Beijing.
During the campaign, the New York businessman said Japan and South Korea are not paying “their fair share” to support the U.S. troop presence there. And he repeatedly attacked China as a currency manipulator and powerful global operator that had taken advantage of the United States under Obama’s tenure. He has threatened to slap high tariffs on China, and to withdraw the United States from a global climate agreement the Obama administration helped broker by courting cooperation with Chinese and Indian officials.
Trump has already begun to reach out to Asian leaders since his election, meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York and talking by phone to the South Korean president. After meeting with Trump on Thursday, Abe said the two had a “very candid discussion” and said that he is “convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have confidence.”
Trump’s team has taken a sharply critical view of the Obama administration’s effort to “rebalance” or “pivot” U.S. foreign policy attention to Asia. In an article published Nov. 7 in Foreign Policy, two of Trump’s policy advisers, Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro, criticized both Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for failing to exercise enough military muscle in Asia.
“This pivot has also turned out to be an imprudent case of talking loudly but carrying a small stick, one that has led to more, not less, aggression and instability in the region,” they wrote. “American allies and partners in the region have been disheartened by a foreign policy that has veered from feckless to mendacious.”