By: Alyse Samoray
Earlier this month President Donald Trump embarked on a twelve-day trip to East Asia where he visited Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and the Philippines and pushed his “America first” agenda. Moving his isolationist rhetoric overseas, President Trump emphasized that America will no longer be part of trade deals that are deemed unfair to the United States. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam, President Trump stated, “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.” This “America first” ideology jeopardizes not only American power in the economic and political sphere of East Asia, but also within the American economy.
President Trump’s isolationist approach contradicts former President Obama’s strategy in Asia, which sought to contain Chinese influence through extending American power over the Pacific. The Trump Administration’s protectionist, anti-globalization rhetoric leaves many questioning America’s role in the region and opens the door for expanding Chinese power. While President Trump touts his protectionist approach, China reasserts their commitment to globalization and engagement with the international community.
For over seventy years, the United States has led the global order “organized around alliances, an open global economy, and multilateralism.” America’s “strength was rooted in its predictability,” and as President Trump continues to make speeches aimed at protecting America first, countries are questioning America’s future role in the world and trying to figure out how to fill the void left by the decline of American leadership. China has stepped in by proclaiming its commitment to globalization and an interconnected world. Thomas Wright, director and senior fellow at Brookings, argues that China is signaling to Asia that it is a perfect alternative to dwindling American power due to its political reliability. If China becomes the major player in negotiating trade agreements and institutions, it will be able to assert its self-interests and become more influential in foreign policy.
Dwindling American influence is demonstrated through the American withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Within his first few days in office, President Trump pulled out of the TPP, an Obama-era trade deal that bolstered American economic growth and strengthened American influence in East Asia. The deal gave American companies additional access to foreign markets while containing Chinese power in the region. The United States was a major player in negotiating the TPP. It was able to work its self-interests into the deal, including enforcing social and environmental standards on all member countries and strengthening its soft power in the region. According to economist Jayan Menon, by pulling out of the deal, “the U.S. has lost its leadership role and China is quickly replacing it”.
However, President Trump believes that through withdrawal from trade agreements such as the TPP, he is It is true that American workers lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and about 1 million (accounting for 25 percent of manufacturing jobs) from 1990 to 2007 to Chinese workers; however, President Trump will not be able to bring those jobs back. Automation has contributed to a significant lose of jobs. The jobs that President Trump states he will return are, according to Gordon Hanson, professor of economics at University of California-San Diego, “the jobs that left were 20th century jobs”. Of the factories that are moving back to the United States, the jobs are automated, only needing a limited number of physical employees. By insisting that America can fix its problems by turning inwards, President Trump ignores the fact that manufacturing jobs aren’t returning and in order to cope American workers will need to be trained in a different set of skills. Although the trade deficit is a problem, cutting America off from global trade will not help the average worker or consumer. International trade provides cheaper goods and services to consumers and has raised living standards. The Trump administration’s protectionist policies could ignite a trade war and off-balance comparative advantage (the idea that countries produce what they are the most efficient at compared to other countries) leaving producers and consumers worse off and America at a competitive disadvantage.
Moreover, through withdrawing from trade agreements, President Trump is jeopardizing American leadership in the international arena and losing bargaining power in the many international agreements and institutions that it helped shape, such as the TPP and the World Trade Organization. According to Doctor Hanson, by leaving the TPP the United States “gave China carte blanche to dictate the way in which trade rules will be written in Asia for the next decade”. The US will have to abide by rules set by China in newly created agreements or institutions.
While President Trump was on his twelve-day Asia trip, the other eleven TPP countries were renegotiating the deal without the United States. By not being at the table, America will not be able to push for certain stipulations in its self-interest, such as copyright protection and human right laws. The world is moving on without America as a leader, and if/when America eventually wants to be included in agreements such as the TPP, it will have to meet and abide by the conditions set up by foreign governments, which may not be congruent with American conditions. Although President Trump ran on protectionist policies, he should recognize that the world is going on without America and growing influence from countries such as China will continue to strengthen. America will lose influence and be unable to shape world politics in the way it previously had. Additionally, by turning inwards, America will hurt its domestic economy. This does not offer stability and prosperity to the United States, but rather jeopardizes peace and weakens American might.