One week out from President Donald Trump's first official trip to Asia, the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has released a new report by Ambassador David B. Shear, the former US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, who oversaw the strategic aspects of President Barack Obama’s “rebalance to Asia”.

In an era of rising Chinese power and ambition, Ambassador Shear writes that America’s position in Indo-Pacific Asia is at risk of decline not through war but due to inattention. He argues that Washington’s “strategic distraction” and political dysfunction at home is leading to a “crisis of credibility” abroad that will imperil its regional leadership.

While these problems run deeper than the current administration, President Trump’s failure to replace the “rebalance to Asia” with a new regional strategy will accelerate this process of “peaceful erosion”. Shear concludes that US allies, like Australia and Japan, will need to invest more in their own defence and regional security cooperation.

Trump's 12 day, five-nation trip to Asia in early November will see him visit China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.

Key points

  • US Asia policy is in the midst of two crises. Washington is distracted by the Middle East and domestic political dysfunction; while Trump is undermining regional confidence in US staying power in Asia.
  • If the White House does not replace the “rebalance to Asia” with a new strategy to sustain US leadership, America’s regional position could peacefully erode in the face of growing Chinese power and influence.
  • Partners like Australia, Japan and India should not wait for the Trump administration to develop a strategy. They should take the initiative to strengthen defence cooperation and capacity-building among themselves, slowing the potential for peaceful erosion.

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