Reflecting on Trump's first 100 days, experts say unclear East Asia policy remains huge concern

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Reflecting on U.S. President Donald Trump’s first 100 days, his policy toward East Asia and what lies ahead, foreign affairs experts said Saturday that his unpredictability has left many Asian leaders troubled, a trend likely to continue so long as his overall Asia policy remains unclear and focused on bilateral issues.

On the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting in Yokohama, The Japan Times, a media partner for the ADB conference, held a seminar entitled “Trump Diplomacy — The View from Asia” moderated by Eric Johnston, deputy manager of the daily’s domestic news division.

Because of Trump’s tendency to flip-flop, his policy has been hard to predict and this “may be causing uncertainties among U.S. allies in Asia,” such as how Washington will deal with North Korea and China, Hirotsugu Aida, professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, said at the event.

Aida said that as Trump came face to face with the harsh reality of foreign affairs, he was forced to tone down or scale back a number of promises made on the campaign trail — including his vow to make Japan pay more to keep U.S. bases in the country.

Robert Orr, a former U.S. Ambassador to the ADB, also said Trump’s unpredictability could damage his credibility with the international community, which could in turn affect his foreign policy goals.

“I think that one of the challenges that the Trump administration faces in not only Asia but globally is that of trust,” he said.

Orr also noted that Trump has yet to appoint many officials to key positions in his administration, including ambassadors.

According to The Washington Post, there were no nominees for 464 of 556 top posts as of Friday. Of those top slots, the report said, a mere 26 have been confirmed.

Without just a handful of critical staffers, Orr said, the new administration simply cannot craft an effective foreign policy.

Tetsuo Kotani, a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said that although the Trump administration and the Japanese government appear to have thus far built a solid bilateral relationship, it remains unknown precisely how Washington’s overall Asia policy could affect Tokyo.

“Look at the North Korea situation and his policy to (the) East China Sea, South China Sea. (It) is so far unclear,” Kotani said, indicating that Japan could be put in a precarious situation if Trump continues shifts gears on these issues.