Real-time analysis of the utterances of President Trump – and their global implications – has become a preoccupation for many around the world. This week the Alliance 21 team goes deeper to examine the people who will implement Trump's foreign and defence policy, particularly when it comes to Asia. Our new Alliance Briefs are designed to provide sharp and timely analysis of the issues and people shaping the alliance between Australia and the United States – particularly as it evolves rapidly under President Trump.
Research fellow Ashley Townshend tackles the emerging Trump Asia policy team, noting it remains far from clear who will be appointed to the key positions with responsibility for Asia policy in the new administration. He writes that so far the Trump Administration has shown some consistency on its Asia policy, signaling it will "take a hard-line on China’s island-building in the South China Sea, vowed to prevent North Korea from acquiring a functional nuclear missile, condemned Beijing over its unfair trade practices, and raised the prospect of deeper US-Taiwan relations". Townshend highlights the outsized importance trade officials will have for US foreign policy in the Asia Pacific and the role that Robert Lighthizer and Peter Navarro are likely to play as US Trade Representative and head of the newly formed National Trade Council. Townshend sees three potential internal friction points in Trump's Asia policy team: protectionists vs free traders, dissenting views on how to frame Taiwan policy, and differing views over the importance of a values-based foreign policy.
In Brendan Thomas-Noone's assessment of General Mattis and Dougal Robinson's profile of Rex Tillerson, further divergences from Trump's 'America First' foreign policy are examined. Thomas-Noone highlights the support General Mattis has voiced for alliances, a rules-based international order, and American global leadership. Robinson sees Rex Tillerson's emerging foreign policy views as grounded in the establishment internationalist Republican view: "Unlike Trump, Tillerson believes NATO is indispensable, champions the benefits of US alliances, wants the United States to push back against Russian expansionism in Crimea, and does not oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)."
He concludes that Tillerson is likely a secretary of state that Australia can work with, though the extent of his ability to shape the views of President Trump is as yet untested. Thomas-Noone foreshadows what approach Secretary of Defense Mattis might take to a invigorated US rebalance to Asia, highlighting his preference for readiness of forces over investment in technological superiority. This budgetary priority would be a marked change from Secretary Carter's Pentagon, and its emphasis on third offset technologies.
The policy challenges for Australia in navigating this new administration, and its foreign and defence policy priorities, are serious. These three alliance briefs point to the Trump Administration as the most anti-Chinese in recent memory and strategic competition between the US and China looks likely to rise.