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The Straits Times says

Trump's topsy-turvy foreign policy

With the world's most powerful military and biggest economy, United States foreign policy has not shrunk from projecting power overseas for more than 70 years. Consequently, any change of administration in Washington brings with it a certain level of uncertainty for the world, especially when a two-term president with Harvard credentials is replaced by another with a maverick streak. Mr Donald Trump, however, has not just brought uncertainty, but instability as well. His determination to deliver on his campaign promises and to rush them through in his first month in office have caused global concern.

Added to the startling loss of his national security adviser over irregular contacts with the Russians have been other unsettling developments. Mr Trump has presided over attempted entry bans on citizens of seven Muslim majority nations, threats to take a hard look at the deal his predecessor cut with Iran on the nuclear issue, and his unexpected outreach to Taiwan before he was installed in office. Hence, the fading hope in world capitals that over time, Mr Trump might ease into the presidency and make the transition from running a rabble-rousing campaign to actually governing the country, as others before him have done.

More recent events have offered some favourable signs: the extended contacts with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, where he apparently reiterated America's commitment to a one-China policy. These suggest that some sense of normalcy might yet return in major power relations. That said, more needs to be done, and it begins with the President reining in the flintier elements in his inner circle. It is too late for former security adviser Mike Flynn, but chief strategist Steve Bannon bears watching. His views on a "global existential war" involving Western civilisations and the Muslim world are just the sort of rhetoric that America, and the world, could do without. Likewise is talk of too many Asians running Silicon Valley companies - they amount, apparently, to no more than one in eight. Mr Trump needs to know that these multinationals gain profitable access to big emerging markets precisely because top executives have an international outlook.

Essentially, the world needs assurance that US foreign policy will evolve in a stable manner. The testy conversation Mr Trump is said to have conducted with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull betrays a certain imperious streak that will not win America friends. Defence Secretary James Mattis did better in his swing through South Korea and Japan when he reaffirmed US security commitments to the region. Like longstanding contracts with partners, undertakings in pacts with allies ought to be honoured if Mr Trump hopes to do more business with them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's topsy-turvy foreign policy'. Print Edition | Subscribe