Asia Foundation Releases Top 10 Recommendations for Trump Administration on Asia Foreign Policy

San Francisco, November 14, 2016 — The U.S. must not shrink from its leadership role in the international order, according to a new Asia Foundation report released today. Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia: The Future of the Rebalance is the Foundation’s signature foreign policy initiative bringing together diverse, distinct perspectives from influential Asian foreign policy specialists and thought leaders. The report arrives on the eve of possibly the greatest change in American foreign policy in Asia since the end of World War II. One of the principal conclusions of the report is that most Asians believe that a robust, sustained, and consistent U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security presence in the region is essential.

President-elect Donald Trump will find a complex set of issues to address in the dynamic and divergent region, including pressing inter-Asian tensions, expectations of Asian leaders and the broader public about America’s role, as well as rising powers eager to set their own agendas.

In contrast to the majority of Asia policy projects in the U.S. which limit the inquiry to American views, the report emphasizes the views of Asians, not only foreign policy luminaries, but also an emerging younger generation of leaders, including from civil society and policy institutes. The Asia Foundation report is formulated as a set of strategic recommendations—including a concise top 10—for the new administration on U.S. foreign policy priorities in Asia. These are:

  1. Maintain a strong American presence in the Asia Pacific;
  2. Support Asian regional architecture;
  3. Revive TPP;
  4. Rethink U.S. strategy on the Korean peninsula;
  5. Pursue a balanced approach towards China;
  6. Ratify UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
  7. Work with India to address South Asian security;
  8. Do not abandon Afghanistan;
  9. Play a leading role in nontraditional security; and
  10. Continue to project American “soft power.”

Leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections, The Asia Foundation—a non-partisan, non-governmental organization—convened high-level, closed-door working groups of Northeast, Southeast, and South Asian policy specialists led by Dr. Yoon Young-kwan, Professor of International Relations at Seoul National University and former Foreign Minister of South Korea; Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Executive Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand; and Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Founding Director of the India Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Asia will only grow in strategic importance for the United States,” said project Co-Chairs of the American Task Force Dr. Harry Harding, University Professor at the University of Virginia, and Ellen Laipson, President Emeritus of The Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., who together provided the U.S. response to the Asian views. “Of greatest concern to Asians today is the extent to which the American role in the region has been questioned during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. Early signs from the new administration that it will devote high-level attention to the vital region are gravely important.”  Among the notable recommendations in the new report:

Recommendations on security and diplomacy

  • Northeast Asian states do not want confrontation between the U.S. and China; many Asians hope to avoid having to choose between the two. A wise U.S. strategy would include accommodating friendly Asian countries that wish to expand ties with China, and deepening military exchanges and cooperation in areas of shared concern. One of the first shared challenges will be how to address the North Korean nuclear program.
  • The presence of U.S. forces, particularly maritime, has long been seen as a critical component of America’s Asia strategy. Continuity is urged in the U.S. role as guarantors of freedom of navigation, which would be enhanced if the U.S. ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS).
  • The U.S. should work with India and Pakistan to avoid any new tensions over terrorism or other geopolitical issues. In Afghanistan, there is the need for a more achievable set of objectives and to move U.S. policy towards realistic, long-term development goals.

Recommendations on economic cooperation and connectivity

  • The Trump administration should revisit the TPP and find a way to move forward on this comprehensive trade agreement, which most Asians see as a mutually beneficial pillar of the American role in the region.
  • The U.S. needs to support Asian regional architecture and institutions, ASEAN cohesion, ASEAN centrality, and ASEAN-based institutions (APEC, ARF, EAS, ADMM+, and AEC). America should support a positive approach to the growth of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and find a way to engage the bank, perhaps as an observer with the goal of eventually becoming a member.
  • The U.S. should reenergize the “Silk Road” concept to expand trade routes and economic interactions and improve Afghanistan’s infrastructure. Identifying projects that would show new U.S. enthusiasm for a more robust economic network in South and Southwest Asia would be a worthy policy initiative of mutual economic benefit.

Recommendations on addressing the critical issues facing Asia

  • Asians are calling on the U.S. to not neglect its long-standing role in promoting good governance, rule of law, and human rights in the region.
  • Most Asian countries welcome American expertise in humanitarian assistance, disaster response, addressing terrorism and food insecurity, and they want the U.S. to continue to lead and facilitate cooperation in these nontraditional security areas.
  • The U.S. should continue to cultivate educational and cultural ties with Asia and support technological innovation. There are exciting opportunities to reach out to young Asians through creative use of information technologies and social media. American diplomats and educational institutions have found ways to engage young, tech-savvy Asians. These activities will benefit from some early endorsements by the new president.

The Asia Foundation’s comprehensive development programs provide unparalleled access to a wide range of Asian and U.S. leaders inside and outside of government who offered a depth of perspective and vision for this report.

For the first time in the quadrennial series, the views of emerging, next generation Asian leaders are included, on how they envision Asia’s future and what role the U.S. might play in assisting its development. These rising stars offer new and innovative approaches for President-elect Trump’s consideration on urbanization, migration, trade, connectivity, threats to the environment, and economic integration.

Learn more on our microsite, and read In Asia for essays from the authors and analysis from Asia Foundation experts.

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