Devising a wise strategy for challenging China’s ascendancy in Asia is arguably the top foreign policy task for a new president. But if Trump planned to take a tougher stance, this was a haphazard way to do it. The president-elect instead stumbled into a pre-inaugural foreign flap, insulting Beijing and causing it to lose face, without having a clear, well-articulated plan for what he seeks to accomplish.
Let's see. What's worse, his economic policy or his foreign policy. In this case, they are of a piece.
Trump’s fulminations about China come just as his plan to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is undermining the United States’ standing with allies in Asia. Trump, in effect, is ceding economic ground to China at the very moment he claims to be taking a harder line. Is this a cool, calculating strategy from the dealmaker? It looks to me more like a hot mess.
How much more damage can he do before he even takes office?
This jousting over Taiwan wouldn’t be so worrisome if other aspects of the U.S.-Asia policy were intact. But Trump’s pledge to tear up the TPP in his first days in office has sent the other 11 nations that signed the pact scrambling for cover — with some talking of making new deals with a Beijing that is eager to fill the void.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the United States’ most important Asian ally, said last month that TPP members would consider joining a rival, Chinese-led trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. “There’s no doubt that there would be a pivot to the RCEP if the TPP doesn’t go forward,” Abe said. Peru and Australia, two other TPP signatories, also indicated they might join the RCEP.
“If you want to stand up to China, the last thing you should do is walk away from TPP,” said Michael Froman in an interview. He’s the U.S. trade representative Trump blasted during the campaign as an incompetent negotiator.
Yes, he's standing up to China. Whatever the hell that means.