The Trump Administration & US-Asia Pacific Relations

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Coordinator: Sarah Wang. For methodology, click here.

This resource will track statements, developments, visits and other interactions in US-Asia Pacific relations under the President Trump administration. Special focus will be given to the comments and activities of President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. To view the positions of members of the administration on key Asia Pacific issues, scroll down or use the links below.

President Donald J. Trump Vice President Mike Pence
Secretary of Defense James Mattis Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

President Donald J. Trump

To view quotations, statements, and interactions with Asia-Pacific leaders by President Trump, click here.

Official Portrait of President Donald J. Trump. Image: The White House

Asia Pacific Countries Visited:

Has not yet traveled.

Positions on Key Asia Issues:

Asia Pacific Allies & Partners

Since his inauguration, President Trump has had numerous phone calls and discussions with leaders and business people from the Asia Pacific. He has pledged to renegotiate trade and refugee agreements to make such bilateral agreements more favorable for the United States. Upon meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on February 10, President Trump stated that the United States is behind Japan "100 percent" and reaffirmed security commitments to Japan. Both he and Prime Minister Abe also confirmed that they will work together to maintain a strong economic relationship following the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and the United States' withdrawal. 

China/Taiwan

President Trump has condemned the ongoing efforts by China to continue its military expansion in the South China Sea, as well as its taking of a United States Navy research drone in international waters. While recognizing the importance of maintaining good relations with China, President Trump has advocated for stronger measures to be taken to curb China's harmful trade practices and to get it to follow through on its promises to bring North Korea to heel. In a recent phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Trump stated that the United States would continue to uphold the "One China" policy.

Following a phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, President Trump questioned why there was so much concern that such a phone call took place, especially considering the amount of military trade that the United States engages in with Taiwan.

Human Rights & Democracy

President Trump is working to renegotiate a refugee agreement with Australia to make the terms more favorable for the United States. 

North Korea

President Trump has condemned North Korea's ongoing efforts to build up its inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) program. He also criticized China's reluctance to follow through on commitments to punish North Korea for its hostile behavior.

South China Sea

President Trump has condemned the ongoing efforts by China to continue its military expansion in the South China Sea.

Southeast Asia/ASEAN

President Trump has engaged in phone conversations with Southeast Asian allies including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, which prompted discussion that the two leaders plan to meet in the near future.

Summits-APEC, East Asia (EAS), & US-ASEAN

 

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Vice President Mike Pence

To view quotations, statements, interactions with Asia Pacific leaders by Vice President Pence, click here.

Official Portrait of Vice President Mike Pence. Image: The White House.

Asia Pacific Countries Visited:

Has not yet traveled.

Positions on Key Asia Pacific Issues:

Asia Pacific Allies & Partners

Vice President Pence recently met with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to emphasize the importance of the United States' relationship with Australia. While meeting with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on February 10, Vice President Pence affirmed that the United States wishes to maintain strong economic and security ties with Japan. 

China/Taiwan

 

Human Rights & Democracy

 

North Korea

 

South China Sea

 

Southeast Asia/ASEAN

 

Summits-APEC, East Asia (EAS), & US-ASEAN

 

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Secretary of Defense James Mattis

To view quotations, statements, and interactions with Asia Pacific leaders by Secretary Mattis, click here.

Official Portrait of Secretary of Defense Gen. (ret.) James Mattis. Image: Flickr account of the Secretary of Defense

Asia Pacific Countries Traveled to:

  •   Japan and South Korea in February 2017

Positions on Key Asia Issues:

Asia Pacific Allies & Partners

Secretary Mattis described the Asia Pacific region as a priority for the Trump administration to maintain the US commitment to the region. During his first trip abroad as Secretary of Defense in February 2017, Gen. Mattis reaffirmed the United States' commitments to its allies Japan and South Korea. The United States would act swiftly to preserve the security of its allies against outside threats, including but not limited to hostile acts by North Korea and China. Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the US commitment to Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty, which includes security of the Senkaku Islands, and advocated for both the United States and its allies to continue to grow and streamline their defense capabilities.

China/Taiwan

Secretary Mattis advocated for an inter-governmental approach combined with allies to maintain stability in the South China Sea and counter China's expansion.

Human Rights & Democracy

 

North Korea

While stopping short of declaring President Trump's recent comments concerning North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program a red line, Secretary Mattis stated that it is imperative to prevent North Korea from conducting more tests and that no options, including the use of force, should be taken off the table when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the United States' commitment to its allies' defense should North Korea attack.

South China Sea

Secretary Mattis advocated for an inter-governmental approach to work with allies in the region in order to maintain stability in the South China Sea and counter China's expansion.

Southeast Asia/ASEAN

Secretary Mattis agreed that there needs to be a concerted effort to combat ISIS and other terrorist groups not just in the Middle East but also in Southeast Asia so these groups are not allowed to move from one region to the other.

Summits-APEC, East Asia (EAS), & US-ASEAN

 

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

To view quotations, statements and  interactions with Asia Pacific leaders by Secretary Tillerson, click here.

Official Portrait of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Image: Office of the President-Elect

Asia Pacific Countries Visited:

Has not yet traveled.

Positions on Key Asia Issues:

Asia Pacific Allies & Partners

Secretary Tillerson departed from President Trump's statement concerning the utility of Japan and South Korea acquiring their own nuclear weapons and committed to combat nuclear proliferation.

Secretary Tillerson stated that due to commitments under the US-Japan Security Treaty the United States should be prepared to act if Japan is threatened by other countries in the region.

When questioned during his confirmation about the extrajudicial killings being conducted in the Philippines under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Secretary Tillerson expressed hesitance to call such actions human rights violations until he was privy to more information from sources on the ground.

Secretary Tillerson has pledged to work with US ally Australia on areas of mutual concern such as the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the threat posed by ISIS.

China/Taiwan

Secretary Tillerson emphasized the need for the United States to take an "all China approach." While stating that China is an important economic partner and has worked with the United States on areas of mutual interest such as combating terrorism, Secretary Tillerson stated it is important to remember that China often acts for its own interests in ways that can draw it into competition/conflict with the United States. China's trade practices do not always follow global rules and norms, it is engaging in illegal activities in the South China Sea, and it is not pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear program despite having great economic clout over North Korea. Secretary Tillerson advocated for using sanctions and other means to further pressure China to follow through on its commitments to in turn pressure North Korea to end its hostile behavior.

Secretary Tillerson emphasized the need to reaffirm US commitments to Taiwan under existing agreements but did not expect there to be an alteration to the "One China" policy under the Trump administration despite concerns arising from President Trump's phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Human Rights & Democracy

When questioned during his confirmation about the extrajudicial killings being conducted in the Philippines under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Secretary Tillerson expressed his hesitance to call such actions human rights violations until he was privy to more information from sources on the ground.

Similarly, while acknowledging that China is a violator of human rights, Secretary Tillerson did not wish to compare China's human rights violations to those of other countries without more information.

North Korea

Secretary Tillerson acknowledged that the sanctions that are currently in place against North Korea, including those through the UN, have been poorly enforced and therefore there is a need to work with allies and partners in the region to close gaps in existing sanctions and the possible need for more sanctions. Such sanctions might also need to be directed at China and its trade with North Korea, given that China supplies 90% of North Korea's needs and has thus far poorly enforced existing sanctions against North Korea despite its economic clout.

South China Sea

Secretary Tillerson condemned China's island building and other military activities in the South China Sea as illegal and akin to Russia's invasion of Crimea in terms of violating respected rules and norms. While acknowledging concerns surrounding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Secretary Tillerson expressed his openness to discussing eventual US ratification of the convention with President Trump.

Southeast Asia/ASEAN

When questioned during his confirmation about the extrajudicial killings being conducted in the Philippines under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Secretary Tillerson expressed his hesitance to call such actions human rights violations until he was privy to more information from sources on the ground.

Summits-APEC, East Asia (EAS), & US-ASEAN

 

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Methodology: Policy materials and quotations from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are limited to after November 9, 2016 when they were formally elected as the 45th President and 48th Vice President of the United States, respectively. Policy materials and quotations from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been collated since their Senate confirmation hearings on January 12, 2017 and January 11, 2017, respectively. Should any quotations before the period be deemed relevant they will be indicated by an asterisk (*) after the date. In all cases, these additional quotations were made within the year prior to the start of the Trump Administration.  Flag icons that indicate which countries members of the Trump administration have traveled to are provided by Freepik, accessed through www.flaticon.com.