Mohamad Radytio Nugrahanto-South Korea
From macro management’s point of view, Trump had departed from emphasizing the Obama administration’s pretentious concerns on human rights, democracy, and freedom of speech and stability issues. These issues have been talked over and over both during the previous administrations of Barack Obama and George Bush junior while echoed by many policy makers and newsroom experts. Instead, Trump put more emphasis on the state of United States economy and trade balance with Asian economic power houses China, Japan and South Korea. These two issues happened to be his favourite since it become his central campaign theme. His China tour bringing more emphasis on favourable trade deals rather than executing the botched scheme of containment of China. Letter of intents worth 300 Billion Dollars signed by both the countries with the purpose of substantial job creations in the United States. As for human rights and democracy, which were Obama’s favourite topics? Now with Trump it weighs an equivalent of zero cent. This is even more striking since in Asia, the issues of North Korean nuclear programme and the continuing persecution of Rohingya minority in Myanmar are still hot, with China as main interlocutor of both the regimes.
While Trump did mention about North Korean belligerence, he emphasised more on nuclear dangers and economic sanctions, believing that weapons and wallets would be more successful in pressing the North than talks and treats. This may bring dismay to some circles from the past. But in another standpoint, this kind of emphasize is welcomed because of two things. First, many people, fed up with unfruitful talks so far, prefer tough approach to get results they want. It may not be of so much concern if some issues being left behind, as long as the intended results can be achieved. Second, from foreigners point of view, especially those sensitive with human rights and democracy, this new approach bring the much needed relief from what they view as United States’ “unnecessary meddling” in the internal issues of many countries. During Obama era, the likes of China, the Philippines and Cambodia used to get much criticism. Yet with Trump’s arrival, it may be ceased, as long as these countries fell into toe with Trump administration’s narratives. Their domestic governing affairs would be left to their own, or at least so in public. This departure may not be so much as indifferent from other countries’ affairs than Trump’s intention to advance his own “America First” narrative, a result-based administration.
This narrative may be considered relieving not just for the sensitive countries but also for all other countries. Yet, from his trip it is known that this come with a price: a more pragmatic and inward looking United States, when it comes to its own economic interest.
In Japan, against the backdrop of Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement’s advancement by eleven Pacific countries, an agreement that he claimed as unfair, Trump still insists he can give better deal. In a meeting with Japanese CEOs he said “ We will have much more trade, that I can tell you” while making it clear that the aforementioned trade must benefiting both his own people and his counterparts in order for no one “be taken advantage of”. While in China he had yet to get concessions regarding trade deficit, but he made it sure that he won’t back down either, tying his bilateral trade concern with China’s attitude towards North Korea. As for North Korea issue, he may have toned down his rhetoric. Yet, Even in face of increasing war risk, Trump made it clear during his speech at Gukhoe (South Korean equivalent of Congress) that the Obama’s strategic patience is over, chiefly highlighted during his visit to South Korea, Trump still wishes for a “better deal for better trade”, in reference to U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement who he hoped to rescind. And last, while in ASEAN Summit meeting, he signaled that he would leave the Syrian war planning to Putin, despite opposition from some circles.
All of this shows that Trump, as the new leader of the United States Administration, would advance his “America First” agenda even when it seems in confrontation with some of its close allies. United States would prefer strength over compromise, as seen in North Korea and the trade issues. And while technically this means a less accelerative U.S. interference in the internal affairs of other countries, as the new Sheriff in the town is looking for more favourable business deals than the lousy strategic partnerships.
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