Trump and the demise of the Asian pivot

On 26th October 2017, The French Cultural Institute – L’Espace and the École française d’Extrême-Orient organised a discussion on the impact on Trump’s « America first policy » on the pivot towards Asia with Professor David Camroux – Honorary Senior Associate and Senior Lecturer at Sciences Po Paris.

From 3rd to 14th November 2017 Donald Trump will travel to Asia for the first time since his inauguration last January. He will attend both the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Danang and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines. If, as Hillary Clinton famously put it, “half of diplomacy is being there” then, on the surface, there would appear to be continuity with the policies towards Asia pursued by his predecessor and, in particular, the pivot towards Asia initiated under President Barack Obama. However appearances are deceptive. One of Trump’s first initiatives as president was to abandon US participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Preferential Trade Agreement negotiations which were only concluded at the start of 2016. Vietnam, as proportionately the greatest potential beneficiary of the TPP, is the most affected by what many regard as a rash and counter-productive decision.

For both practitioners and scholars of international relations in the Asia-Pacific the TPP was the economic pillar of Obama’s Asian pivot, complementing the security pillar (symbolized by the shifting 60% of US naval resources to the Pacific) and the third pillar, the soft power of US public diplomacy with its desire to promote democracy and the protection of human rights. Trump’s abandoning of the TPP, coupled with a calling into question of US security alliances and also the down-playing of human rights concerns would, thus, seem to challenge not only the Asian pivot, but also certain fundamentals of US foreign relations. This lecture will seek to examine whether this is in fact the case.

It will be suggested that these recent developments need to be examined in the light of the most important development on the international stage of the last twenty years or so : China’s rise and the challenge to ostensible American hegemony in the Asia-Pacific. In the last few years a host of somewhat alarmist publications have invoked the Thucydides Trap, the conventional wisdom that the rise of a new Great Power must, ipso facto, be at the expense of an existing power indicating the latter’s decline. In the course of the lecture we shall look at the contours of this continuing debate and its implications for the Middle Powers of Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam.

The speaker : 
Professor David Camroux is an Honorary Senior Associate and Senior Lecturer at Sciences Po, Paris and a Professorial Fellow at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (VNU) in Hanoi where he teaches on EU-ASEAN relations. He is hosted in Hanoi by the École française d’Extrême Orient.

The moderator : 
Professor Andrew Hardy is professor of Vietnamese history at the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO). His research focuses on the Long Wall of Quảng Ngãi, the history of Champa and ethnic relations in Southeast Asia.