Trump and Asia: Resources from CFR and Foreign Affairs

Trump and Asia: Resources from CFR and Foreign Affairs

Last updated November 2, 2017 8:00 am (EST)

Expert Roundup
CFR fellows and outside experts weigh in to provide a variety of perspectives on a foreign policy topic in the news.

On Friday, President Donald J. Trump will start a two week trip that includes visits to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Recent resources from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Foreign Affairs offer background and analysis on Trump’s first visit to Asia as president. 


Asia Trip

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CFR Senior Fellows Elizabeth EconomySheila A. Smith, and Scott A. Snyder discuss the implications and possible outcomes of President Trump’s tour of Asia on a conference call. 

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United States


Trump in Asia


North Korea

The Trump administration’s policy toward Asia “will be reactive rather than prescriptive,” CFR’s Sheila A. Smith contends, and will be “framed by Trump’s transactional ambitions on trade and counterbalanced by the United States’ longstanding security alliances.”

“President Trump should use his inaugural trip to Asia this month to begin exploring a grand bargain with the major powers of the region—China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia,” suggests CFR’s Patricia M. Kim, one that “can serve as the basis for extended diplomatic coordination between the five parties.”

The president should take the opportunity afforded by this trip to create “a strategy for dealing with Chinese maritime assertiveness, the regional rollback of democracy, and the advancement of free trade,” advises CFR’s Elizabeth Economy.

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The Trump administration should supplement diplomacy with deterrence by warning China that if its aggression in the South China Sea continues, “the United States will abandon its neutrality and help countries in the region defend their claims,” recommends CFR’s Ely Ratner in Foreign Affairs.

“China is likely to squeeze but not cut off North Korea’s access to the umbilical supply chain that keeps Kim Jong-un afloat,” writes CFR’s Scott A. Snyder.

China is “filling some of the strategic space left vacant by a United States that is increasingly disinterested in trade pacts and global leadership,” writes CFR’s Richard N. Haass in Time, but “economic growth has slowed” and  “Chinese foreign policy also faces hurdles.”

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Trump in Asia


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CFR’s Brad W. Setser urges the Trump administration to take a closer look at a number of Asian economies that “were clearly intervening to keep their currencies from rising against the dollar.” He argues that “these countries, not China, are at the epicenter of the recent return of foreign exchange intervention in Asia.”


North Korea

Washington and Pyongyang have no diplomatic relations, but “high-level emissaries of both sides need to meet out of the spotlight as soon as possible to discuss how tensions can be cooled in a face-saving manner” writes CFR’s Paul B. Stares in the Hill.

World powers are actively using economic sanctions to punish North Korea and to pressure it back into denuclearization talks. This CFR Backgrounder explains why problems persist with their enforcement.

“If the U.S. Treasury applies its authorities aggressively and in concert with other financial authorities in Europe, Japan, and South Korea,” asserts Scott A. Snyder, “the isolating effect on flows to North Korea should be sufficient to impose serious economic hardship inside the country.”

At a CFR event, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) encourages a collaborative effort in dealing with the North Korean threat because “one of the dangers with the North Koreans is not only that they have these weapons but they will sell anything that they can get out of the country.” 


South Korea

Author Katharine H.S. Moon declares that the North Korean threat is ultimately Seoul's problem, not Washington’s, in a Foreign Affairs essay.



“Trump has made a point of telling U.S. allies that they must do more for their own defenses,” but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “cabinet may have difficulty managing U.S. expectations,” explains Sheila A. Smith.

The broader shift in U.S. foreign policy has forced Tokyo to reconsider “both how Japan can strengthen its own defense capabilities and how it can expand its policy portfolio and thereby help bolster international institutions,” explains Columbia University’s Takako Hikotani in Foreign Affairs.


Asia Pacific

“[Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte keeps courting China and Russia in ways that should make U.S. policymakers question his reliability in the event of a major crisis in Southeast Asia,” warns CFR’s Joshua Kurlantzick in World Politics Review.

The Philippines is one of the United States’ oldest allies in Asia-Pacific, explains this CFR Backgrounder, but Duterte’s harsh rhetoric against the United States has injected doubt into the resilience of U.S.-Philippine ties.

President Trump’s administration appears little troubled by the sharp democratic decline in Southeast Asia. Kurlantzick cautions that the administration should be, for economic and security reasons.

“By showing its tolerance for risk and taking a firm stance on the South China Sea,” writes Hunter Marston in Foreign Affairs, “Vietnam is sticking its neck out and managing to garner support from an international coalition to oppose Beijing.”


CFR Experts On Asia

Karen B. Brooks, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia

Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, @LizEconomy

Yanzhong Huang, Senior Fellow for Global Health, @YanzhongHuang

Miles Kahler, Senior Fellow for Global Governance, @MilesKahler

Patricia M. Kim, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow

Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, @JoshKurlantzick

Ely Ratner, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow in China Studies, @ElyRatner

Brad W. Setser, Senior Fellow and Acting Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, @Brad_Setser

Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, @SheilaSmithCFR

Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies, @snydersas 

Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action

Visit for additional resources. Follow CFR’s Asia program on Twitter @CFR_Asia and at the Asia Unbound blog.  

To learn more or to request an interview, please contact the Communications team at [email protected] or 212.434.9888.

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