Memos to Donald Trump, From the Asia Society Family


President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the USA Thank You Tour 2016 at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center December 13, 2016 in West Allis, Wisconsin. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

We asked Asia Society staff, and others in the organization's extended family, to share their short thoughts and recommendations for President-elect Donald Trump as he prepares to take office next month. Below are the responses:


Dr. Avinesh Bhar, Asia 21 Young Leader

In the spirit of being president to all Americans, I urge you from the front lines of poor health in the U.S. to broaden our definition of health — beyond the limited scope of the healthcare industry. In our fervor to minimize government involvement in healthcare, we have consigned the health of our population to players with little or no obligation to our nation's long term needs.

Our embarrassingly poor return on healthcare dollars is largely driven by the misguided idea of treating diseases and not people. It is estimated that healthcare (comprising hospitals, medical practitioners, insurers) is only able to treat 20 percent of the diseases, with the majority of ailments driven by where we are born, how we live, and the environment — collectively known as the social determinants of health (SDoH). Our genes only make up another 20 percent of disease causes.

In order to move the needle on health, we have to embrace and address the SDoH. By funneling healthcare dollars into the pockets of insurers (private and public) we now have profitable private insurers, large hospitals, and well paid (yet somewhat decent) medical practitioners, while the health of our nation trails most other OECD nations. Mr. President-elect, with all due respect, we are getting screwed.

This is not a veiled attempt at increasing government spending on the politically divisive issue of social safety nets, but a plea to focus on the root cause of poor health — and the answer is definitely not more healthcare!

Please help get us on the path to a healthier future.



Jackson Ewing, Asia Society Policy Institute

I implore you to invest in clean energy infrastructure.

President Obama made addressing climate change and expanding clean energy cornerstones of his second term in office. His administration forged a promising climate change partnership with China, helped bring the landmark Paris Agreement into force, and deployed regulations as tools for addressing pollution at home. Secretary Clinton was poised to carry this platform forward; you have declared your intention to reverse it.

You have promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement — which legally won’t be possible for four years — though you could begin ignoring its pronouncements on day one. You have also committed to bringing coal mining jobs back and to doubling down on fossil fuels as the engine of U.S. growth.

There is a middle ground to be found here.

I acknowledge that it may be too much to ask that you become a productive voice on facing the global climate challenge. But you can still support clean energy growth at home as part of your laudable interest in overhauling America’s flagging infrastructure. By investing in clean energy production, efficient buildings, and modern transportation, the Trump administration could create jobs, wealth, and improve the quality of life for countless Americans.

Transitions from the energy sources of the past to those of the future is disruptive, but also ripe with opportunity. You, President-elect Trump, should capitalize on this moment.



Yoshie Ito, Asia Society Global Initiatives Group

I am writing to remind you of the Japanese Americans incarcerated after Pearl Harbor who lost everything — rights, property, and dignity. And I urge you to remember the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the World War II fighting unit composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans, who fought bravely as their relatives were treated like prisoners back home in the United States. The unit — men once hated, considered spies and saboteurs — was awarded 21 Medals of Honor.

Some of your supporters suggest that a Muslim registry has constitutional precedent because of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called the court’s decision in favor of the camps one of the most shameful in its history. One way to dispel the anxiety felt by many Asian Americans toward the incoming Trump administration is to nominate an assistant attorney general for civil rights, a person who feels that Justice Scalia was right about the unconstitutional internment of Japanese Americans and who rejects the idea of a Muslim registry.

Please remember this shameful passage from U.S. history and don’t treat Muslim Americans the way Japanese Americans were treated seven decades ago. America is great thanks to its diversity, which should be protected and celebrated. It takes a long time and much work to heal wounds of injustice and racism. I beg you to prevent, not incite, racial and religious profiling.



Jessica Kehayes, Center for Global Education at Asia Society

I ask you to invest in and prioritize education as the cornerstone of a citizenry prepared for work and life in a global world.

We are more interconnected than ever before and we cannot change that. Our task — your task — is to make everyone feel included in our continually globalizing world. Education is the core of this solution.

During your election campaign, you spoke passionately about how Americans are not getting ahead in the world — jobs have left the country for elsewhere, and many Americans feel as though they have been left behind as the world leaps into the 21st century.

The challenges we face cannot be met without investment in what our youth know and are able to do as they become young adults and enter the workforce. Most critically this is the role of parents, teachers, and community leaders, but the federal government has a special job in ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education.

Make quality, equitable public education for all students a national priority.

Ensure that all localities have the support and resources they need to educate students and the capacity to ensure high quality teachers for all.

Hold up and champion quality models that give our students the competencies to adapt to our quickly changing reality: to think critically and investigate the world, weigh perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action.

Learn from the best-performing education systems in the world to bring all our citizens opportunity and success in this great, diverse nation.

Listen to young people. From all parts of this country, from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Embrace their differences. Ultimately you are building a country for them, so give them a voice.

One of the principles that unlocked America’s economic advances post-WWII was free, quality public education for all. Many countries have followed suit, made education a national priority, and rapidly improved their own education systems — with the economic impact to match. America can learn from this as we continue our journey. Invest in and educate young people for success in our global world.



Yvonne Kim, Asia Society Korea

Mr. President-elect, let me remind you that U.S.-South Korea relations have been strong, some might even say airtight, since 1950. That is 66 years of marriage, and generally a happy marriage at that. We, like all couples, have had our ups and downs — the 2008 protests against U.S. beef was a particularly rocky period — but we came out of it closer than ever.

What has kept us united for so long is the understanding and respect we have for each other, not to mention the mutual benefits (this memo would turn into an essay if I were to list all of these benefits). We have a lot to offer each other economically, politically, and culturally. At the 2009 G-20 London Summit, your predecessor called South Korea "one of America's closest allies and greatest friends.”

That being said, I was alarmed during the presidential campaign when you said, “We are better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start protecting itself. ... They have to protect themselves or they have to pay us." What has brought about this sudden U-turn? I hope you haven’t had your head turned by our neighbor in the north; we in the south are certainly not going to enter into a love triangle with Kim Jong Un. Is the president really going to meet with the man who builds nuclear weapons and has threatened to turn Seoul and Washington into a "sea of fire"?

If I were to act as your marriage counselor, I would give you this simple advice: Make the relationship stronger so that both parties will thrive and prosper. U.S. troops have been based in South Korea for 66 years. Removing them would shake up the entire region. Is this what you really want? Over $60 billion of trade moves between our two countries. Let’s make this significant economic interdependence even greater and aim for $100 billion.

Mr. Trump, South Korea is one of the most pro-American nations in the world — let’s keep it that way!



Tommy Koh, Asia Society Global Council Member, Former Singapore Ambassador to the United Nations

The country in Asia that needs your reassurance the most is Japan. The Japanese are nervous about your attitude towards the U.S.-Japan security alliance. They are worried about the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The trust of the Japanese government and people in the U.S. is at stake.

This is happening at a time of rising nationalism in Japan. A new generation of Japanese leaders are beginning to express the view that the time has come for Japan to transcend the U.S.-inspired peace constitution and to amend Article 9 of the constitution.

This process will be accelerated if the trust of the Japanese people in the reliability of the U.S. security guarantee is undermined. If Japan becomes a "normal" country and decides to acquire nuclear weapons, this will set in train developments in Northeast Asia, which could destabilize the whole region.

It is therefore important for you to reassure your Japanese ally of your commitment to the U.S.-Japan security alliance. This alliance is important not only to the two contracting parties, but also to the peace and security of the entire Asia-Pacific region.



Maria Lukyanova, Asia 21 Young Leader

Today, a billion people on Earth — one person out of seven — woke up wondering how and if they might be able to find a meal to eat. For all their efforts, many of them will also go to bed with a burning sensation in their stomach: the feeling of hunger.

Beyond the moral responsibility of helping those who, by the accident of birth, were born in a less privileged situation, I ask you to consider the following.

When people are hungry they only have three choices:

1. Revolt, as the world has seen recently during the Arab Spring.

2. Migrate, as the world has seen in the recent period on a large scale.

3. Die, as the world has seen too many times in too many places.

It is therefore critical that the United States continues to demonstrate leadership in the attainment of “zero hunger” by supporting:

1. Programs aimed at emergency response, such as response to natural and manmade disasters.

2. Programs aimed at building food and nutrition security as well as the resilience of countries and people to ensure they break the intergenerational cycles of hunger.

3. Programs that enrich the capacities of countries, institutions, and people to allow for creation of long-term hunger solutions.



Tom Nagorski, Executive Vice President, Asia Society

Here’s a fact: No bilateral relationship matters more than the U.S.-China relationship. Here’s another: Both sides benefit when there is one high-level individual managing the relationship. Not the ambassador to China — who is unlikely to have the president’s ear often; not the secretary of state, who must watch all corners of the globe, and manage the crisis of the day. You need a China Person. Henry Kissinger had the role when he was Richard Nixon’s national security advisor. Hank Paulson fit the bill for a president (George W. Bush) with limited China experience.

You should choose a high-profile, seasoned, globally savvy person to be your special representative for all things China. It’s that important. You must have confidence in the individual, of course, but this should not be a “yes person”; you need to know you are getting unvarnished information and guidance. You must accord him or her a regular avenue for feedback and communication, even if it means some interagency bickering (the latter hurt one of President Obama’s “special envoys,” Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who held that status for Afghanistan and Pakistan).

Why go through the trouble? Because the appointment will send a clear message to Beijing: I respect and value the relationship like no other; I am willing to listen; and when you have a message for the United States, we’ll have an unambiguous channel for its delivery. That channel will not guarantee harmony, but it will avoid dangerous misunderstandings, or miscalculation, on issues from trade to the global economy, cybersecurity to maritime security, climate change to the perils of a nuclear North Korea.

Who to choose? Up to you of course. Not long ago a colleague suggested that, were Hillary Clinton to win, she should make Bill Clinton her special envoy to China. (You could really send a signal by doing the same!) David Petraeus is another suggestion. Or you might ask Hank Paulson to return to the fray; he is in China often as it is.

You can see that I am thinking of very high-level people. It’s that important.




President-elect Donald Trump waves to the crowd while being introduced to speak to supporters at the Giant Center, December 15, 2016 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)


Paul Pass, Asia Society Texas

We must engage Myanmar in meaningful dialogue which advances both the Burmese national agenda and U.S. interests in the region. Why should the U.S. care about Myanmar? I see two primary reasons: 1) democratic stability, and 2) energy infrastructure.

Although a relatively new and fragile democracy, Myanmar is an important partner for the U.S. It has strategic significance in cradling three regions (east, south, southeast) and will play a role in offshore oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal. It is also a symbol for countries transitioning into electoral representation and its stability can promote Western-style democracy on a global scale. The U.S. must engage Myanmar, helping to grow its economy, while also respecting the country’s status as a nascent democracy.

Myanmar is the only country that borders China, India, and Southeast Asia. Therefore instability in this state can have repercussions far beyond its confines. Along its border with China, refugees escape drug violence and flee to Yunnan province, where authorities are unsure how to deal with the influx of Burmese citizens. Myanmar can either be a symbol for democratic transition, signaling an example for the rest of the world, or it can become a failed state, adding to uncertainty in the area and plaguing Chinese and Indian concerns along their borders.

Myanmar is also becoming an energy destination, with Chinese pipelines crossing the country and ongoing exploration into the Bay of Bengal’s offshore resources. Myanmar’s future is not purely an Asian issue; this is a regional issue with consequences across the Pacific. It will either strengthen the ability for American economic and security interests to operate in Asia, or destabilize the country and create another global conflict hot-spot. It is in our best interests to be a partner of Myanmar for the foreseeable future. We must begin with a bilateral meeting including President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.



Bruce Pickering, Asia Society Northern California

If there is one over-riding element to American success since World War II, it is that we have created a brand. A brand that emphasizes openness, honors laws and treaties, trust, and respect, even for countries with different economic and political systems. It is a slow and frequently tedious process, but one with almost incalculable benefits for the people of the United States.

You are right when you note that the United States must look to its own self-interests in the international system. But we created this system — it is in our own best interests to make sure that our allies and potential adversaries know that we will defend our allies, support an open trading system, and maintain the international institutions that uphold this order.

Without the security of knowing that America remains committed to the international order that we have created, the entire system that has benefited the United States could well collapse. And the last time that happened, in 1914, it led to two world wars, more than 100 million deaths, and the end of more than 100 years of peace.



Matt Schiavenza, Senior Content Manager, Asia Society

Back in April, when your successful quest for the presidency was in its infancy, you suggested that the United States would be “better off” if Japan and South Korea, our two strongest allies in East Asia, obtained their own nuclear weapons. This was, I hope, merely a statement meant to be provocative for its own sake and not an indication of what you’ll do as president.

Since the Second World War, nuclear nonproliferation has been a bedrock principle of American diplomacy. This isn’t because we’ve somehow been suckered by our friends in East Asia into guaranteeing their security. It’s because the potential damage inflicted by a nuclear war with today’s technology is so terrible that the world’s existing nuclear powers have, quite reasonably, worked to limit the possibility of it happening. It isn’t a coincidence that our rivals in Russia and China also share our belief in non-proliferation.

When you take the oath of office on January 20, one of your first moves should be to reassure our allies in Tokyo and Seoul that our support for their defense is unconditional. Then, you should ignore the cries of the more hawkish elements of the Republican Party and leave the Iran nuclear deal intact. Withdrawing from the deal wouldn’t just ensure that Tehran would resume building a weapon at an accelerated pace. It would also send a signal to both our allies and our foes that non-proliferation is no longer a priority for the United States.

Now that the campaign is over, you will soon have the opportunity to make changes that will shape international affairs for years to come. But one policy that you should not change is this: America’s honorable commitment to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.



Sanjeev Sherchan, Executive Director, Asia Society Global Initiatives Group

Your penchant for “speaking your mind” and “telling it like it is” frequently landed you in awkward situations during the hard-fought campaign, but it did not deter you a bit. Unlike you, career politicians would almost never partake in such a politically suicidal approach and would, first and foremost, consult with a bevy of political pundits and advisors before addressing anything that is remotely controversial. I applaud your gumption to stay authentic, irrespective of the potential fallout from your gaffes.

Last June at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority Conference” in Washington, you emphatically pronounced, “We want to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life.” While I am diametrically opposed to your policies — both domestic and global — I applaud your stance on the sanctity and dignity of life. I am from a small developing country that is among the poorest in terms of material wealth, but rich in moral and spiritual wealth. Now, why do I bring this up? I bring this up because if you believe in the sanctity and dignity of life, I implore you to speak for those poor souls who are taking untold risks to escape violence at home, gambling their lives for a better future in distant lands and alien cultures, and pursuing their own dreams for a better future.

I also bring this up because if you believe in the sanctity and dignity of life, all lives should matter, including the desperate Rohingya Muslim minority community who continue to languish as stateless people for decades, the more than 50 percent of Syrians who are currently displaced, thousands of refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict zones. To me, the sanctity and dignity of life means one’s race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, and financial standing will have no bearing on the value of human life. I believe that a poor parent in rural Nepal, or a refugee camp in a Bangladesh-Myanmar border town, or the Moria Camp in Lesbos, Greece, will shower their children with the same unconditional love as would a parent in New York, Tokyo, London, or Paris.

I humbly request you to kindly champion the cause of all lives because as the 45th president of this great nation, you are uniquely positioned to take bold, game-changing actions.



Karishma Talwar, Asia Society India

There are numerous reasons why bridging the gender divide is of utmost importance to the world today. When more women work, economies grow. An increase in female labor force participation or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labor force participation results in faster economic growth. Evidence from a range of countries shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children. Increasing women and girls’ education contributes to higher economic growth and promotes education and wellbeing in the household. Focusing on gender economy will not only hold the world economy in a good stead but also unlock human potential on a metamorphic scale.

McKinsey Global Institute research has found that the U.S. would increase its GDP by $2.1 trillion if it raised its female employment ratio from 64 to 74 percent. In India, the GDP could increase by about 70 percent if the country increased female labor force participation by 10 percent, from 31 to 41 percent, by 2025. These numbers highlight immense potential for growth but it is contingent on the adoption of strong policies advocating gender equality. Your administration could set the stage for this progressive policy change by making provisions for more opportunities and greater equality and empowerment for women. This will set a precedent for emerging economies like India where the issue of gender equality is intrinsic and deep rooted.

You should appoint deserving, astute, globally aware and, preferably, multicultural women for key positions in your cabinet. You should also work on compensation policies that favor higher pay for women across industries. This would send a very positive message to leaders and governments across the world.



Jeff Wang, Center for Global Education at Asia Society

As you embark on the monumental task of addressing the imbalances facing America, I want to bring to your attention another deficit — one that dwarfs any tariff or exchange rate, and is far more consequential for the long-term prosperity and security of the American people.

Let's first look at two sets of numbers:

First, 300,000,000 vs. 300,000. These are, roughly, the number of children in China learning English compared to the number of American kids learning Chinese.

Second, 300,000 vs. 13,000. These are, respectively, the number of Chinese students studying abroad in the U.S. annually, compared to the number of Americans studying in China.

As someone steeped in the world of business, negotiation and deal-making, you can appreciate the critical importance of acquiring information and understanding the essential strengths and weaknesses of your counterpart.

These numbers should be of grave concern, because they represent an overwhelming advantage for one side and disadvantage for the other.

Imagine, you are negotiating an important deal in different languages, and your team first scrambles to find a competent interpreter, and when they did, your opponent has double the time than you do to plot every response, because they don’t have to go through a translator.

This would be a terrible enough, but they also, thanks to decades of studying, know a thousand times more about you than your team can tell you about them.

You wouldn’t be very comfortable or confident in this situation, and would want to do something about it. Yet, in the global marketplace of business, ideas, and talents, this is the unfair situation American kids will face if we don’t get them on the right track.

The solution to this issue is dead simple. It requires zero diplomacy. It is entirely in our own hands. Presidents before you have invested in equipping American students with the language and culture skills they need to compete and succeed in the world, and you should double down on those efforts.

Finally, I’m sure you are aware, since your election, videos of your granddaughter showing off her Mandarin skills has gone viral online. It may be bold, but I believe it’s fair to suggest that every child in America deserves what is good for your grandchild. Give them that chance by investing in them.



Dan Washburn, Chief Content Officer, Asia Society

My wife is Asian American. My 10-month-old daughter is Asian American. Both were born in the United States — although that really shouldn’t matter. They are American through and through. And so are my in-laws, who were born in Myanmar. My request to you is simple: Don’t govern in a manner that makes the Asian Americans in my family feel as though they are somehow less American than you or I.

You of all people should understand that ethnic and cultural diversity are among the things that, to borrow your phrasing, make America great. You are the son and grandson of immigrants. Two of your three wives were born in foreign countries. Surely you would agree that our Slovene American future first lady should be considered every bit as American as the women who preceded her in the role.

As you prepare to take office next month, please remember that you will be president for all Americans, not just the demographics that helped you to your narrow Electoral College victory. It’s up to you, and the people with whom you surround yourself, to make sure that America remains the great nation it is, for everybody.