Asia-Pacific Leaders Seek Obama’s Reassurance After Trump Win
President Barack Obama is on the final leg of his final foreign trip, to Lima, Peru’s capital, where he will seek to reassure U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region following the election of Donald Trump.
Obama had made a focus on Asia and the Pacific — called a pivot, or an “Asia Rebalance” — the cornerstone of his foreign policy, but that could change substantially after he leaves office in nine weeks.
The president and his free-trade allies have pushed hard for years to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, or TPP, into action. But on the campaign trail, the Republican nominee and now president-elect has proposed a sharply divergent course. Trump suggested he would disengage from Asia, was highly critical of some U.S. allies and called the TPP a “rape” of American interests.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, however, told delegates at the summit, “… for anyone who wants to promote protection, I suggest they read an economic history of the 1930s,” in a reference to the Great Depression, which many argue was aggravated by protectionist policies.
Kuczynski, a U.S.-trained economist, said, “It is fundamental that world trade grow again and that protectionism be defeated.”
Will campaign vows become reality?
Asia expert Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center told VOA the world is now waiting to see to what extent Trump will translate his campaign promises into foreign-policy decisions.
“He certainly scared quite a few key capitals in Asia when he suggested that U.S. alliance partners aren’t doing enough to hold up their end of the bargain to maintain long-standing defense partnerships with Washington,” Kugelman said. “And yet, do we really think that Trump would try to scale back critical relationships with Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea? To me, it seems hard to believe.”
Kugelman said Asia-Pacific leaders are anxious about what impact Trump’s election might have on U.S. leadership in the region. He said there is only so much Obama can say or do to reassure them. In fact, Obama has had to concede that Congress will not take up the TPP trade agreement now that Trump has been elected.
Japan’s Abe: ‘Trump is trustworthy’
“I think the best advice he can offer to U.S. allies in Asia is for them to reach out to Trump as soon as possible and make a direct pitch for continued engagement,” he said. “We’ve already seen Japan’s prime minister do this, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting with Trump to impress upon him the continued importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
Abe met with Trump at Trump Tower in New York Thursday, saying afterward he is a “trustworthy leader.”
Trump posted on his Facebook page, “It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop by my home and begin a great friendship.”
Trade experts are watching to see if China will seek to position itself as the new world leader on free trade at the Asia Pacific Economic Summit in Lima.
Some analysts say talks are underway for a new Asia-Pacific trade group that would exclude the U.S. but include China and possibly Russia.
Meeting with Chinese president
Obama, only the third American president ever to travel to Peru, is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Lima Saturday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and another meeting with Kuczynski, Peru’s president.
The president flew to the South American capital directly from Europe, where he bade farewell to European allies, reassured them of America’s enduring support and called on everyone to stand up to Russia and push back if they see the Kremlin intruding on European concerns and policies.
This has been the final overseas trip of the Obama presidency, barring any unexpected or unscheduled trips abroad during the next two months. He traveled first to Greece, then on to Germany to meet with an array of European leaders.
The U.S. leader left Berlin Friday after a four-day European visit that began in Greece, the cradle of Western-style democracy, where Obama reflected on the importance of fighting for democratic values.
In Germany, Europe’s top economy, he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, generally regarded as Europe’s most influential leader, and other longtime allies.
The top item on the president’s agenda was reassuring nervous European allies about the future of trans-Atlantic relations. President-elect Trump’s campaign remarks raised uncertainty in foreign capitals about the U.S. commitment to NATO, the EU and other multilateral institutions.
Obama arrives back at the White House early Monday.
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