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Trump Upends Trade

Inside our June 2018 issue: Cover Package, Features, In Focus and Book Reviews

  • Letter from the Editors

    The bull has entered the China shop. While US President Donald Trump’s preoccupation with what he sees as unfair trade agreements and practices was a staple of his campaign for office, few expected him to pursue those concerns with the vigor and vitriol now on display. After the recent G-7 summit, where Trump found himself roundly isolated by US allies for his tough stance on steel and aluminum tariffs, as well as other trade issues, the very future of the rules-based trade order that the US was instrumental in creating after the Second World War seems in question.


    In our cover package, we examine how Northeast Asia’s major nations are grappling with challenges posed by Trump’s unorthodox approach to trade. China figures prominently, as it runs by far the largest trade surplus with the US. As predicted in these pages last year, Trump is proving a “transactional president,” seeking with Beijing to cobble together a package of concessions not aimed at adhering to any broad, multilateral framework, but rather to extract benefits that will hasten a narrowing of the US trade deficit. Beijing is thus faced with unwelcome pressure to address US concerns without appearing to surrender China’s growing influence on the debate about global rules and norms, including those involving trade.


    Japan is also grappling with Trump’s new bilateral approach, fending off calls to negotiate a US-Japan free-trade agreement and US threats of steep tariffs on Japanese auto imports. For many in Tokyo, the struggle with Trump’s demands harks back to the 1980s and early 1990s, when the US sought voluntary import restraints that, in effect, violated the prevailing global trade rules. But Tokyo is also pushing ahead in its new leadership role in the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership(TTP) trade accord, from which Trump withdrew the US in his first week in office, and hoping eventually to persuade the US to rejoin. 


    South Korea, for its part, has already succeeded in cutting a deal with the US after Washington demanded a renegotiation of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). Seoul’s example could prove instructive in how to handle Trump’s transactional and bilateral approach to trade.


    Elsewhere in this issue, our Features section looks at the historic North Korea-South Korea summit in April and Trump-Kim summit in Singapore in June; why the argument that China presents a new, alternative authoritarian model for the world is a myth; what Malaysia needs to do, now that it has ousted the party that ruled it for 60 years; the challenges of regulating cryptocurrencies in Asia; the importance of Australia-South Korea relations; and what fiction-writing in North Korea reveals about Kim Jong Un and his rule.


    Our In Focus section takes an in-depth look at the renewed role for Europe in Asian security in the face of the growing US -China rivalry for influence in the region. Europe’s relevance to security issues in Asia receded after the end of the Cold War, but new opportunities for European engagement are now emerging.


    In addition, we feature an expanded book review section in this issue, focusing as always on some of the most engaging works on Asia.


    Sincerely yours,


    Chung-in Moon



    David Plott

    Managing Editor

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