Foreign Policy Experts Analyze Future of U.S. Policies toward Asia In Event of Trump Reelection, Biden Win
Asia Society at Home
HOUSTON, September 25, 2020 — Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) welcomed senior advisor and inaugural Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Dr. Victor Cha, as well as the Chair of Asia Studies in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former top advisor for the Asia Pacific under the Obama administration, Dr. Evan S. Medeiros, for a conversation with Dr. Edward R. Allen, co-founder and Senior Partner of Eagle Global Advisors and ASTC board member. The three discussed the impact that the upcoming U.S. election could have on the relations between the United States and Asia, including differences in policy if there is — or is not — a change in office.
The U.S. relationship with North Korea
Dr. Allen started the discussion by highlighting the Trump administration’s hands-on approach toward North Korea, and asked what we might expect to see in the coming years as a result of the election, whether Trump wins or if Joe Biden takes office. Dr. Cha replied that Trump’s approach to North Korea has been quite unorthodox compared to previous presidents, choosing to recognize Kim Jong Un’s leadership and give him the attention that Kim felt he deserved. Dr. Cha said he believed the first thing Trump would do if reelected would be to seek another meeting with Kim Jong Un. On the other hand, Dr. Cha said if Biden were to take office, while a meeting with Kim Jong Un would not be completely off the table, it would likely be something to consider much further down the line. According to Dr. Cha, a meeting between Biden and North Korea would be more about substance, occurring only if North Korea responded to certain conditions, as opposed to a meeting just to put on a show.
Dr. Allen then asked what the goals of a Biden administration would be when it comes to relations with North Korea. Dr. Medeiros replied that their goals at the outset would be focused around North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, and particularly to “freeze the program, to contain its growth, and to deter North Korean provocations.” He added that the question is whether the administration would take a diplomatic track or a pressure track to implement these goals. He also mentioned that strategy would be more complex than in the past because China’s approach toward North Korea has changed in recent years; with China now fully embracing North Korea, Kim Jong Un now has much more room to negotiate than he would have previously.
When asked whether or not these goals are possible, Dr. Cha said that North Korea would likely be looking to create a deal that did not involve denuclearization, as they place high importance in being recognized as a nuclear weapon state.
How U.S.–China relations will impact the region
The conversation then shifted to the relationship between the United States and China. Elaborating on his earlier comment about China fully embracing North Korea in recent years despite a history of tension, Dr. Medeiros explained this was largely due to the meetings between Trump and North Korea. “For China, the only thing worse than North Korea getting nuclear weapons and destabilizing the neighborhood is North Korea, with or without nuclear weapons, tilting toward the United States,” Dr. Medeiros noted.
Dr. Allen raised the question about President Trump’s intention of potentially removing U.S. troops from South Korea and the effect that would have on the region. Dr. Medeiros responded that China would welcome the move, as China has long seen U.S. presence in the Korean peninsula, as well as the U.S. alliance with South Korea, as a threat that interferes with China’s ability to fully influence what happens in the region. As for Biden, Dr. Medeiros noted his campaign has already made the point that one of Biden’s priorities if elected would be to reembrace, update, and modernize alliances in Asia, including those between the U.S. and Japan and the U.S. and South Korea.
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An economic approach to U.S.–Asia relations
Acknowledging the importance of relations between the U.S. and China from an economic standpoint, the speakers then addressed how policies might differ under a second Trump term or a Biden administration to ensure American economic wellbeing. Dr. Medeiros said he believed that, under Biden, the U.S. would invest in domestic business to ensure that we can keep up with and compete with China, as well as sign multilateral trade agreements to create higher standards for different regions, forcing China to uphold these standards in order to be allowed within these trade agreements.
Dr. Cha expanded on this by saying he expects a Biden administration to be much more multilateral than a Trump administration, as Trump has shown his aversion to multilateral cooperation – as demonstrated by his approach toward developing a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Cha also mentioned how Trump has made it very clear that he prefers the U.S. to take a “self-help” approach wherever it can. Dr. Cha continued by saying that although there are attempts from the U.S. to limit dependence on China for essential goods, the data does not support decoupling from China or moving manufacturing back to the U.S. due to costs. Overall, both speakers noted that China is now seen as a strategic competitor by both Trump and Biden, though the two men are likely to pursue different strategies.
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, and United Airlines, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau, Presenting Sponsors of Performing Arts and Culture; Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsor of Education & Outreach; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Vinson & Elkins LLP, and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
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