The Pivot to Asia in the era of Donald Trump

Nicos Panayiotides February 4, 2017 1:50 AM (UTC+8)
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The history of International Relations is characterized by the rise and fall of the great powers, Paul Kennedy argued in his famous book.(1) According to his argument, a great power status is undermined by various factors economical, strategic and technological that favor the ascendancy of other states in the international system. In its effort to retain its supremacy the dominant state seeks to contain the rising state in the international system.

The so-called “pivot to Asia” that articulated under Barack Obama’s administration at the start of 2012 was regarded by many political analysts as a new dogma targeting on China the rising state in Asia. Although the American president tried to calm down these concerns and reassure that his effort was the general stability in Asia and not China, Beijing received with suspicion the American intentions.

In the view of China, the US goal is to intercept by all means China’s rise in Asia.(2) According to this point of view, the US government acts in this way in order to retain is global political dominance but especially its regional hegemony in North America.

China is the great-power rival of the US in Northeast Asia. Ιn that regard, as the theory of International Relations dictates US should prevent China to become the dominant power in Northeast Asia because such an eventuality may threaten US regional dominance in Western Hemisphere.(3)

After many years of involvement in costly wars in the Middle East and shattered by the 2008 fiscal crisis the US under Barack Obama decided to pay attention to Asia and confront not only China’s rise but also what many in the American political establishment regard as Chinese aggressiveness in South China Sea.

The Obama administration, though, is history and will be judged by history. Now we live in the era of Donald Trump. How will the Trump administration behave regarding its regional policy in Asia? What form the so called pivot to Asia will take in the era of the newly elected president?

What is straightforward is that the rhetoric of Trump on the issue is very different than his predecessor. The American president stated that his is not necessarily bounded by “One China” policy, a statement that infuriated the Chinese government.

At the same time, John R. Bolton one of top Trump’s advisers on foreign policy issues criticized Barack Obama’s policy regarding China and advocated that the new American government “play the Taiwan card.” (4) Moreover, Donald Trump advocates a 45 percent tariff on goods imported from China, a measure if adopted it will hurt the Chinese economy.

All these intentions accompanied with tough rhetoric are not good signs for the US-China bilateral relations. We do not argue that China and US will go to war. What we maintain is that China-US relations enter in a more confrontational phase that it will deepen the security dilemma and security competition in Asia.

In conclusion, we live in multipolar world where the status-quo is the dependent variable. At the same time, the profound changes in the might of the great powers is the independent variable that may generate regional instability. Although the US remains a state with a superpower status in military terms, it is appearing to lose strategic influence and economic might. On the other hand China, the second largest economy in the world, has been growing steadily for many years at a rate of nearly 10 percent per year. There are fears that, if this pattern continues, that before 2050 China will surpass the US and become the largest economy in the word.(5)

Great Powers fear each other and the American-Chinese relation is not an exception to this. As we mentioned above the US wants by all means to prevent China from establishing hegemonic position in Asia. This international process though is not an easy and smooth situation.

1. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers,  New York, Vintage Books, 1989

2. The Paul Ameican Pivot to Asia, Why President Obama’s turn to the East is easier said than done, Kenneth Lieberthal, available frohttp://foreignpolicy.com/2011/12/21/the-american-pivot-to-asia/

 3.John.J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, W.W. Norton & Company, New York 2003,373-375.

4.Tracy Wilkinson and Barbara Demick, Lowa governor, who has long ties to Beijing, is selected as Trump’s ambassador to China, December 7 2016, Los Angeles Times

5 Nicos Panayiotides, International Journal on World Peace Vol. XXXII NO. 3 SEPTEMBER 2015, available from http://www.ijwp.org/index.php/conquest-or-coexistence-the-future-of-a-post-colonial-world/

Nicos Panayiotides
Dr. Nicos Panayiotides is a journalist, and is a former Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Studies at American College in Nicosia. His academic interests focus on the Cyprus Problem, the Middle East Politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is author of several scientific publications in academic journals and 4 books on the Cyprus and Palestinian Problem.
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