President Trump has taken keen notice of North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, as well as his “chief underwriter,” China. The dictator’s belligerent and provocative behavior, particularly his development of nuclear weapons, has caused Mr. Trump to develop an international strategy that has largely gone under the radar of the mainstream media. Nevertheless, the strategy is clearly apparent if one chooses to look at the evidence. President Trump has chosen to surround North Korea and China with a ring of nations that over time is likely to develop into a new emerging alliance.
For example, if most Americans were asked which international leader has President Trump met the most times during his administration, most would guess a European or North American leader. However, the answer is actually the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington D.C.-based foreign affairs and public policy think tank, “no foreign leader has ties with Trump than Abe.” In fact, they visited twenty times, had thirty-two phone calls and played five rounds of golf. This is a huge pivot from past decades, when the American commander in chief directed the most attention toward its allies in Europe and North America.
To be sure, Japan’s alarm over Kim Jong-un’s bellicose missile launches have caused the United States and Japan to enhance the closeness of their relationship. Recently, North Korea’s blowing up of the South Korean liaison office effectively ended peace talks with South Korea. Moreover, Kim Yo-Jong’s (Kim Jong-un’s sister) reference to South Korea as an “enemy” only made Japan more aware of the volatility of the Korean peninsula. China’s clandestine behavior along several dimensions that has greatly facilitated its economic rise, has only added a sense of urgency to the United States and Japan seeking greater ties.
During the last few years, President Trump has made similar moves toward establishing a better relationship with India. Granted, there has been a gradual trend toward better relations between the United States and India for roughly fifteen years. However, President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have taken note of China’s penetration of the policy-making decisions of various to South Pacific islands, Hong Kong crack downs, and its ongoing border disputes with India.
Therefore, President Trump and Prime Minister Modi have reached what many are calling a “strategic convergence.” President Trump’s visit to India in February, 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic became such an overriding issue, should be understood in this context. It was indubitably symbolic of the enriched bilateral relationship that has emerged, because the two leaders view the threat of a more aggressive China, radical Islam, and rogue North Korea in similar ways. With this scenario in mind, an increased level of defense cooperation and intelligence sharing seems reasonable. President Trump’s attempt to develop closer strategic ties with India has paid off well. India’s foreign ministry describes the relationship between Trump and Modi as one of “friendship,” “mutual esteem,” and “exceptional warmth.” Those are very strong words that are a tribute to President Trump’s pivot toward surrounding China and the rogue state of North Korea.
The third part of the emerging triad of new emerging alliance are the moderate Arab states including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Although Saudi Arabia and Oman, other Arab moderate states, have not yet formally normalized their relations with Israel, Israel and Saudi Arabia have shared some degree of military intelligence on their common enemy, Iran. Once again, there is a growing cognizance of the threat posed by the capricious nations of North Korea and Iran and that China is their chief “underwriter.”
The Trump policy of “surrounding North Korea and China” appears all the wiser, because of what the Washington Post perceives as South Korea’s “quiet leaning toward Beijing.” The above trends in building stronger Asian and Middle Eastern alliances will likely remain in place no matter who wins the U.S. presidential election. As a result, ultimately, a trend may emerge in which President Trump may well be heralded for his international accomplishments, as much as his domestic ones.
William Jeynes is a Professor at California State University at Long Beach and a Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton.