USA Pivots to and fro

Professor of Political Science Jeanne Wilson examines the US pivot to Asia. Launched during the Obama administration (although some would argue that it began earlier during the presidency of George W. Bush), the pivot sought to increase the US presence in Asia by making use of economic, diplomatic, and military means.

The Obama presidency expanded its military linkages in Asia, and attempted to solidify long standing treaty agreements. It also improved relations with a group of states—chiefly Vietnam and Myanmar—that has previously been the object of considerable US criticism. The centerpiece of the pivot, however, was the Transpacific Trade Partnership, a multilateral free trade agreement, which would have positioned the United States as a central economic actor in the region. These developments were set against the rise of China, and in fact, it is arguable that all three of these strategies were aimed to contain Chinese influence in the region.

The US pivot, however, has been undercut by the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in 2017. One of Trump’s first moves was to remove the United States from the TPP. In fact, Trump has not indicated to date a great deal of interest in the Asian-Pacific Region.

The initial beneficiary of these actions in a geopolitical sense has been China, which has moved assertively to promote another regional trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The Chinese leadership was not actually opposed to the TPP as much as insulted that they had not been offered the opportunity for membership. They have moved to expand, primarily through the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, its presence in the region.

The article can be found in “The US Pivot to Asia: Implications for China and East Asia,” in David Lane and Guichang Zhu, Eds. Changing Regional Alliances for China and the West, New York: Lexington Books, 265-289.