Indo-Pacific endeavor

U.S. President Donald Trump is being carefully watched by the world as he pays his official visits in Asia. As he gives speeches in the region named Asia-Pacific, his purposefully emphasizing “Indo-Pacific” is arousing curiosity and interest. As a matter of fact, this concept, which the U.S. highlights more and more referring to a mega-region connecting two seas, has not been invented recently. However, as Trump and his administration are using this concept, it comes to people’s mind that they are addressing a dominating pressure regarding China and referring to India’s rising power (and the support that they provide to it) in this context. 

In this regard, the term is not being adopted by just the U.S. In fact, neighboring countries worrying about China’s rising power are in search for cooperation in this super region. The cooperation I am implying are not just economic. Especially the concerns about security can produce this sort of wide and strategic approaches. To give a simple but big example, the pressure on the South China Sea is creating the dynamic of this picture. 

In this frame, we see that Japan and Abe in particular have added the expression “Indo-Pacific” to their dictionaries. Pointing out that the Indo-Pacific, which comprises of the Asia-Pacific extending beyond the Indian Ocean till the Middle East and Africa, contains half of the world’s population, Abe puts an emphasis on its significance serving the peace of seas and states and that their cooperation with the U.S. will be strengthened for this purpose. Thus, the strategy of “free and open” Indo-Pacific, which has been Japan’s books for a while now, is gaining further prominence.

Five  Countries

After coming to office, Trump started his relations with Asia by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Obama cared about and made great efforts for. And this development was not a surprise because he gave signals of this during his campaign period flew into a rage saying that the trade between certain countries and the U.S. was not fair.

Together with this, it is clear that Trump, who is observed to have embarked on an Asian trip for a duration that a U.S. president has not ventured on for a long time, has to pay attention to his country’s role and relations in Asia. In this context, we talk about a program comprising of five countries. The trip which started with Japan last Sunday has already been completed in South Korea too. As I write this article, the negotiations going on in China will be followed by Vietnam and the Philippines.

Military trade

If we focus on the economic side of this trip, the fair trade aspect, which Trump talks about all the time, is the first thing that comes to mind. And Trump does not like the fact that the U.S.  has a trade deficit in the markets of the aforementioned countries. Thus, we are hearing and continue to hear messages regarding this problem in the economic aspect of the visit.

For example, the first stop Japan is among the countries in which the U.S. has its largest trade deficit. We also heard that Trump was complaining about this issue during his Tokyo visit. Looking for a definition of “fair and free” trade relations, the leader wants the chronic imbalance, which has been going on with Japan, to be solved urgently. Within this framework, we know that the U.S. is leaning toward a trade agreement with Japan. An agreement within Trump’s perspective of “not regional but bilateral”… 

The issue of whether this is possible or not is ominous. It can be said that the first reason here is Japan’s hesitations regarding the content, and the second is the other plans that it is devising. As a matter of fact, Japan, which is the leading defender of the TTP in Asia, is in search in the region regarding this after Trump’s withdrawal.

Specifically, it is understood that the visit to Japan focused on military and energy. The meeting where hands were shaken on the sale of military equipment in considerable amounts seems to have prioritized the issues of security, and, particularly North Korea.

Similarly, in the second stop South Korea, Trump is seen to have convinced the host for the sale of billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment. As the threat of Pyongyang is especially presented as a threshold matter here too, Trump estimates that this deal will fix the bilateral trade balance. In fact, South Korea is one of the partners that he has been complaining about for a long time… Attributing the trade deficit to the 5-year trade agreement signed by the two countries, Trump has started the initiatives to improve this agreement which he describes as terrible.

In short, Trump’s long visit to Asia proves that he has to place importance on the region, one way or another. The other stops of the visit will be addressed in my next article.