What Next? Trump and Asia

Listen again to the podcast recording of this first event in a new public lecture series on the Asia-Pacific during Trump’s presidency.

On Monday, December 5, 2016, Harvard University’s Asia-related Centers convened the first event in a new public lecture series on the Asia-Pacific during Trump’s presidency. The panelists were:

  • Joseph Nye, University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University
  • Ezra Vogel, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus, Harvard University
  • Lynn Kuok, Visiting Scholar, East Asian Legal Studies, Harvard Law School; Nonresident Fellow at Brookings Institution
  • Sung-Yoon Lee, Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Moderated by Susan Pharr, Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics, Harvard University

Listen to the event on Harvard’s podcast, and see below for pull quotes.

PODCAST RECORDING: What Next? Trump and Asia

Joseph Nye

10:28 “What will be Donald Trump’s approach to Asia? The answer is we really do not know.” — Joseph Nye
Prime Minister Abe meets President-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower. Image credit: AFP

11:07 “I thought one of the best pieces of wisdom came from Bob Zellick, former President of the World Bank, in which he said, ‘Take Trump at his word. He was totally unpredictable in the way he campaigned, he’s been totally unpredictable in the way he’s been a President-elect, why don’t you think he will be unpredictable as a leader of foreign policy, as President?’” — Joseph Nye

12:09 “The basic structure of the alliances that are sometimes called the liberal international order has not been questioned. Trump questioned it in the campaign.” — Joseph Nye

12:40 “Tearing up that fundamental framework is unlikely, and I thought the meeting with Prime Minister Abe was an indication of that. Abe was smart to get in their quickly, to get in their in an informal way…the U.S. alliance with Japan is probably going to be OK.” — Joseph Nye

15:56 “If Trump just does the U.S.-Japan treaty and doesn’t continue to integrate China, then you really have a radical departure in our policy towards China.” — Joseph Nye

16:31 “The underlying premise that we used, that China is not a revisionist power that wants to overthrow the international system, but wants to make changes within it…I think that still stands.” — Joseph Nye

17:40 “Four years ago, if you were in Washington and you said ‘what are the problems with China,’ you would have said there are four big issues…currency manipulation, cyber espionage for commercial purposes, climate change issues, and the South China Sea. What’s most remarkable today is…three of those four issues have been managed.” — Joseph Nye

18:22 “China is not a currency manipulator [for trade purposes], Trump is way out of date on this.” — Joseph Nye
Joseph Nye and Ezra Vogel speak at the “What Next? Trump and Asia” panel, December 5, 2016

Ezra Vogel

22:26 “What I want to do today is draw together three possible scenarios for thinking what may happen as a guideline to channel our thinking about this very uncertain future.” — Ezra Vogel

23:45 “The Taiwan phone call is not a fluke. It’s not something that she suddenly decided and he suddenly decided to accept it.” — Ezra Vogel

24:03 “We do know that the Taiwan papers announced that she was planning to make the call, so that was clearly understood. And we do know that some people, who want to change U.S.-China and Taiwan relations have been active in trying to arrange that.” — Ezra Vogel

24:24 “The reason that some of us worry about [the Taiwan phone call] is it shows that Trump did not go to professionals and was not cautious in checking out with a lot of other people before he made that phone call.” — Ezra Vogel

24:43 “So far Mainland China has responded in quite a moderate, sensible way.” — Ezra Vogel
President Tsai Ing-wen speaks with President-elect Donald Trump via phone. Image credit: South China Morning Post

25:00 “What worries me and lot of others about that phone call, is it may turn out to be more difficult for Taiwan…It may not have been wise for Tsai Ing-wen to do that because that may mean a lot more Mainland pressure on Taiwan.” — Ezra Vogel

27:29 “The first scenario [for U.S. relations with Asia] I’m going to call ‘muddling through’…the second would be China playing a very positive role in international affairs, somewhat replacing the United States. And the third will be China pushing, either with Taiwan or some other areas that may lead to some tension.” — Ezra Vogel

28:03 “Trump has been able to change his opinion without any big deal…he’s shown that he’s capable of changing and adapting.” — Ezra Vogel

28:27 “We have a very large bureaucracy, we have a large, well-developed legal system. A lot of the things that Trump casually says he’s going to do may turn out to be harder than he thinks.” — Ezra Vogel

30:33 “There’s a pretty good chance we can muddle through” — Ezra Vogel

31:45 “A lot of countries in Asia…now feel there are two big powers that they have to power about: the United States and China, and they will have to adjust to both.” — Ezra Vogel

35:16 “Part of the reason I worry about Trump — this unpredictable person who doesn’t necessarily listen to professional advice — is that it’s quite possible that he would respond in a tough way and be more provocative to China.” — Ezra Vogel

Lynn Kuok

37:35 “I do not think that Trump’s policy on Asia is set in stone, and I think that this is a very important time to shape our understanding of U.S. priorities in the region” — Lynn Kuok

38:47 “Given the rivalry between intra and extra-regional powers, [ASEAN] stands at the heart of any viable security architecture in the region.” — Lynn Kuok
Secretary Kerry Stands With Southeast Asia and East Asia Regional Leaders at East Asia Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, 2013. Image credit: State Department/Public Domain

39:37 “President-elect Trump’s intention to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement…is clearly a set-back. The rejection of the deal will bring about the very things that the United States fears: a chilling effect on foreign investment in the United States; bad terms for American goods and services; and a more empowered China.” — Lynn Kuok

41:45 “Another concern for the region is where East Asia, and within that Southeast Asia, stands in the next administration’s list of priorities.” — Lynn Kuok

42:46 “The next administration might also have less tolerance for the simultaneous balancing and hedging that almost all countries in Southeast Asia, even claimants in the South China Sea, engage in.” — Lynn Kuok

43:59 “One important litmus test, if not the most important litmus test, for U.S. commitment to the region is the South China Sea.” — Lynn Kuok

45:30 “Trump’s statement about China [already building] in the South China Sea is unfortunate because it appears to too readily concede the strategic landscape to China.” — Lynn Kuok

47:04 “While Trump’s words might suggest U.S. retrenchment from the region, a piece by his foreign policy advisors that appeared in Foreign Policy magazine the day before the election might suggest the opposite.” — Lynn Kuok

48:50 “A Trump administration faces not only dangers of commission, such as if the United States withdraws from the TPP, but the United States also faces dangers of omission, insofar as it could potentially neglect an important region and fail to defend principles such as the rule of law. This would have irrevocable consequences.” — Lynn Kuok

Susan Pharr, Lynn Kuok, and Sung-Yoon Lee at the “What Next? Trump and Asia” discussion, December 5, 2016

Sung-Yoon Lee

50:00 “The Park Geun-hye scandal that has engulfed South Korea, the crux of the matter is the following: the lack of plausible deniability.” — Sung-Yoon Lee

52:05 “My dog ate my paper has greater credibility than Park Geun-hye’s three — to date — apologies. And this problem has serious foreign policy implications. The one big variable…is the upcoming South Korean election.” — Sung-Yoon Lee

52:40 “If a more left-leaning leader were to be elected President [of South Korea], we could conceivably return to the old days of virtually unconditioned engagement with North Korea.” — Sung-Yoon Lee

55:18 “If Mr. Trump were to try to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea, that could conceivably be a catalyst for South Korea to cross the nuclear Rubicon.” — Sung-Yoon Lee
President Park Geun-hye. Image credit: Reuters
56:03 “The U.S. is not likely to break off the diplomatic relationship with South Korea over South Korea’s nuclearlization. This…would be a radical departure from post-1945 norms of international relations in Northeast Asia.” — Sung-Yoon Lee

1:00:33 “The Obama administration has yet to enforce, fully, North Korea sanctions — financial targeted sanctions — that it is obliged to implement in the after math of President Obama signing into law…very tough sanctions legislation. The political will is not there.” — Sung-Yoon Lee

1:01:43 “Sanctions are not a magic bullet, they are not a panacea like diplomacy or conventional deterrence. It takes time, it takes a lot of concerted effort, and whether Mr. Trump realizes this or not remains to be seen.” — Sung-Yoon Lee


1:03:30 “If you look at the value of the U.S.-Japan alliance to Trump, if he does want to be tough with China, and you look at the fact that what Trump complained about was the lack of allies spending for themselves, you realize that Japan’s host nation support is the highest of any country. Then you have a reality of a common interest.” — Joseph Nye

1:05:35 “I don’t see it as a deterrence failure, where the Chinese think ‘we can grab the Senkakus now.’ I think of it more as if there’s an accident, do we have someone in place at the top who can manage a crisis. And that worries me more.” — Joseph Nye

This event was sponsored by Harvard University’s Asia Center; Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies; Kim Koo Forum at the Korea Institute; South Asia Institute; Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School; and the East Asia Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.