President Donald Trump has now made his first substantive move in foreign policy with broad repercussions for Northeast Asia, including both Korea and Japan. The consequences may be far-reaching.
By signing an executive order formally withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trump has signaled that he may actually carry out some of his bold campaign promises. He means to return jobs to American workers, to keep U.S. companies from going overseas in search of cheap labor, and to protect the American economy from neighbors near and far. That's reason for dozens of governments to review their ties with the U.S., to consider what Trump might do next and to anticipate the impact on their own economies.
Initially, of course, Trump's signing the order was strictly theater. It won't have any immediate effect. TPP had not become a reality. The concept of a dozen nations banded together engaging in tariff-free trade sounded great as advocated by President Obama, but members of both parties in the U.S. Congress saw too many flaws. Trump may be a Republican billionaire, but Democrats, including the leftist Bernie Sanders, assailed TPP as a device that might enrich business leaders but would leave too many workers in the cold.
Congress was not about to approve TPP. Nothing has happened, nothing has changed ― TPP was dead in the water, and no one's life is altered by "withdrawal" since the U.S. had yet to join. Obama had proudly signed on as one of his signal achievements along with the Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," also axed by Trump. These lightning strikes threaten to destroy whatever's left of the Obama "legacy."
Now, looking ahead, the U.S. faces deepening concerns in Asia. China has launched a far-reaching "economic partnership" that covers most of the region. China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank should provide resources for hard-pressed countries to build up economically in China's suffocating embrace. At the same time, China is asserting its sovereignty militarily over the South China Sea and challenging Japan's hold over the Senkakus in the East China Sea.
Trump may wait before imposing protective tariffs ― or penalties ― on Chinese exports to the U.S., but the mere mention of protectionism deepens fears. Consider also that both Japan and South Korea enjoy........