The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has released a new research report examining US Asia policy, coinciding with the inaugural visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the region.

The Trump administration looks to be adopting a more muscular and self-interested security policy in the Asia-Pacific which will likely produce more volatile relations with China, as well as US allies and partners.

"There is a risk Trump’s confrontational China policy and 'America first' stance on allies and the rebalance will disrupt the cohesion of the alliance network," says the report's author, research fellow Ashley Townshend.

Australia will need to adopt a more active regional security policy to weather these destabilising shifts, according to Townshend.

"This will require careful input into US-China relations, collaboration with like-minded Asian allies and partners, and greater Australian leadership in Southeast Asia."

As well as addressing the risks for the Asia-Pacific region during a Trump presidency, Townshend outlines six policy recommendations for Canberra to guide Australia through these potentially troubling times. These include: assisting the United States in articulating policy priorities on China; working multilaterally with Asian allies and partners to communicate shared interests, opportunities, and redlines to President Trump’s cabinet; and building greater resilience into the US Asian alliance network by establishing new trilateral partnerships with Southeast Asia.

Key points

  • Trump and his advisers have outlined a hard line towards China on most bilateral issues, and view Beijing as an aggressive strategic competitor that needs to be deterred with US strength. 
  • Trump’s “America first” approach to Asia is at odds with the policy preferences and public opinions of most regional allies, creating potential constraints on coordination between Washington and its Asian alliance network. 
  • Australia should assume a more active leadership role in Southeast Asia by independently contributing to a stable and liberal regional order.

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