The View From Asia

Trump's recent moves ruffle Asia

Asia News Network commentators say the United States President's recent remarks against Asian countries should be given some serious thought, to gauge the future of ties between the region and Washington. Here are excerpts:

Shifting relations between allies

Kim Hoo Ran

The Korea Herald, South Korea

For nearly 70 years, the South Korea-United States alliance has stood strong. More than 30,000 US military personnel are stationed in South Korea to deter the North. The two countries have fought together on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the decades since the Korean War ended in an armistice signed by the United Nations Command, North Korea and China, South Korea has made great economic developments and achieved stable democracy. South Korea is one of the best proteges of the US, it could be said. In recent weeks, South Korea and the US demonstrated their "ironclad" alliance through the annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military exercise and the dispatch of US B1-B bombers and aircraft carriers to the Korean Peninsula, all aimed at deterring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from further provocations.

On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test. Pyongyang claims that it now has a hydrogen bomb that could be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US mainland.

US President Donald Trump reacted to the test by tweeting: "South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!"

While President Moon Jae In had been looking for dialogue with the North, dialogue does not constitute appeasement.

Adding salt to the wound, Mr Trump was on the phone with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after the North Korean nuclear test, not his South Korean counterpart. It was the next day before Mr Moon was able to get on the phone with Mr Trump. The two leaders are said to have agreed to "maximise pressure on North Korea using all means at their disposal".

After the phone conversation, Mr Trump tweeted: "I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States."

The White House confirmed the statement in a read-out of the phone conversation between Mr Moon and Mr Trump. Curiously, this line was missing from the Blue House's statement following the call. In fact, this was not the first time such an omission was made. Adding fuel to South Koreans' resentment is Mr Trump's call for the US to withdraw from its free trade agreement with South Korea.

Things are not as they used to be between the two allies.

US Navy patrols will compromise regional peace

Wang Hui

China Daily, China

United States media reports say the Pentagon is mulling over more regular patrols in the South China Sea, perhaps two to three a month as proposed by the US Pacific Command, to emphasise the importance of "freedom of navigation" in the waters claimed by China.

After President Donald Trump took office, the US has conducted three such operations. China has condemned the operations as blatant provocation. Considering that Mr Trump is yet to explicitly explain his Asia-Pacific policy, by continuing the patrols, he will also continue the confrontational policy of former US president Barack Obama. So before he does so, he should be advised to rethink the US practice. The US military manoeuvrings seem to be at odds with the trend of US global strategic contraction, which is deemed as a natural outcome of Mr Trump's "America first" policy. It should also be mentioned that, thanks to efforts of China and some South-east Asian countries, the South China Sea disputes have markedly de-escalated, which means the US will lose its high moral ground if it continues to act as a self-appointed referee in the region.

Last month, the foreign ministers of China and the Asean endorsed the framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea in Manila, marking a significant step forward in building peace and stabilising the region.

The document should make the US realise that the time for it to use the maritime disputes to interfere in regional affairs is over.

Pakistan now in US cross hairs

Harsha Kakar

The Statesman, India

United States President Donald Trump's latest tirade against Pakistan, holding it solely responsible for the failure in Afghanistan, has rattled the country. The past fortnight has witnessed statements emanating from the Pakistan army chief, the national security council and even the senate criticising the US. Pakistan has been in a state of denial, using every forum and media, but to no avail.

A new irritant were comments made by General John Nicholson, the commander of the Resolute Support Mission of Nato in Afghanistan, where he stated that the US was aware of the Taleban and Haqqani leaderships being safely ensconced in Peshawar and Quetta. Pakistan jumped again into denial mode, but half-heartedly. Adding insult to injury was the US' request to India to play a greater role in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Senate can only scream, as it has no control on foreign policy towards India, Afghanistan and the US, which are solely the army's prerogative. This was evident when the US ambassador to Pakistan met the army chief and not the foreign minister or foreign secretary in the government following Mr Trump's announcement. Members of the senate criticised this meeting, but could do nothing.

Pakistan can approach only China and Russia for support as, due to geopolitical compulsions, they remain Pakistan's only support base. However, when push comes to shove, Pakistan may find itself alone in this diplomatic battle.


  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's recent moves ruffle Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe