The Asian Voice

Trump's 'Asia pivot' a well-timed move: Jakarta Post contributor

US President Donald Trump speaking at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on Jan 17, 2019.
US President Donald Trump speaking at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on Jan 17, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

In his commentary, the writer says the signing of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act signals the Trump administration's commitment to the Asia-Pacific.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - United States President Donald Trump's Dec 31, 2018 signing of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) is a robust statement of America's commitment to the Indo-Pacific and should be applauded.

It is also well-timed amid the various challenges and opportunities that Asia provides to the US.

Detractors of the new law may think it is alarmist, antagonistic towards China, ill-conceived, unnecessary or simply too little, too late.

As an earnest follow up to former president Barack Obama's "Asia pivot", ARIA provides a solid platform for America's renewed commitment to Asia.

Thus, America's engagement of the Indo-Pacific has more focus and resources.

The new legislation also makes for a long overdue commitment to strategic thinking about the region.

The law is a principled diplomatic and security plan that opposes Chinese domination of the Asia-Pacific, a region referred to as the "Indo-Pacific" by policymakers in Washington.

ARIA mandates the President "to develop a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region [...]".

Building upon US security strategies, ARIA puts in place a needed strategy to advance American values and interests in the Indo-Pacific by working with area partners on addressing the challenges associated with China's rise.

Beijing has demonstrated efforts to supplant the US as the world's preeminent power and offer other countries a Chinese solution to politics - authoritarian capitalism - that provides an alternative model and undermines the values of the US and its allies.

Other China-related challenges include the militarisation of the South China Sea, the 21st century space race, the "Belt and Road Initiative" infrastructure development strategy, the "Made in China 2025" manufacturing blueprint and Beijing's race to become the undisputed leader in science, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and military prowess.

While ARIA addresses potential threats emanating from China's rise, it also strikes a balance by allowing for further discussion and cooperation between Beijing and Washington.

Additionally, ARIA also focuses its sights on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, regional maritime domain awareness and counterterrorism in Southeast Asia.

The act also promotes non-security imperatives such as human rights, democracy, transparency as well as reciprocal and free trade.

Annually the law appropriates US$1.5 billion (S$2.04 billion) to address cyber security issues, people-to-people exchanges, engagement with Asean, intellectual property protection and development of integrated energy strategies among partners.

ARIA is also a response to the reality that Asia is where the action is in the 21st century.

 
 

The region offers expanding markets for US companies to grow and invest, its local institutions of higher learning increasingly educate American youth, and its emerging tech and science sectors provide new start up ecosystems and opportunities for collaboration.

Skeptics may think Asia is too distant and different from American society.

Yet, the US is a Pacific power inextricably linked to Asia via common interests spanning commercial, environmental, geopolitical and security realms.

America's geography alone compels the US to be an involved member of the Indo-Pacific during this pivotal time in history.

Given the challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific, ARIA will likely need to be upgraded.

Yet, the new law is a good start.

Asia's dynamism brings tests, trials and opportunities for the US.

The signing of the ARIA is a well-timed commitment of American power and prestige to protect its partners and interests in the Indo-Pacific, making good on US responsibility to the region.

This is a worthy endeavour amid the Trump administration's stated aspiration to reassert US prominence in the 21st century.

Long term, it will help Washington engage the Pacific community where it will continue to have vital interests for generations to come.

The author writes on foreign policy and is the director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news member organisations.