Foreign policy thinkers from several Asian countries are trying to focus on the positive elements of U.S. President Donald Trump’s worldview. They see a chance to expand Asian ownership of the regional agenda, and anticipate a break from American preaching about democracy and human rights. The downsides are Trump’s views on trade and the possibility of being left alone to deal with a more assertive China.
During recent travels in three Asian capitals—New Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok—the evolving views of Asian elites on the Trump administration and its implications for Asia were on display. There’s a fascination with Trump and what he represents for U.S. politics and America’s role in the world. At the same time, many are able to take a detached, even bemused view of the abrupt shift from former President Barack Obama’s approach to that of Trump. Asians see that American politics is in great turmoil. But they are eager to prove that this need not affect all of their own interests and are looking for the upside to a world where America is more inwardly focused.
Back in November, I wrote about participating in panels around the U.S. along with three distinguished Asian thinkers from India, Thailand and Korea. Those panels, like last week’s trip, were part of the launch of the quadrennial Asia Foundation report, Asian Views of America’s Role in the World. Last week, in conversations with large audiences in Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok, I was able to observe how views on the new American administration are evolving. In general, the emphasis is more on opportunity than danger or risk to major Asian concerns.