Donald Trump Needs a Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region

Donald Trump Needs a Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region

The Trump administration needs to conduct a Southeast Asia policy review that explores a strategy in the South China Sea.

The contest for influence in Southeast Asia needn’t necessarily be a zero-sum game, but it is still a game that the United States can lose. A Southeast Asia policy review, to include an exploration of U.S. strategy in the South China Sea, should be a priority for the Trump administration during its first six months. To ignore the region is not to invite a modern-day conquest of Singapore by a neo-imperial Chinese army, but it could very well lead to a tipping of the regional balance of power in China’s favor.

In the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, the United States under-resourced its defensive position in the Pacific, making the Philippines a juicy target for the Japanese empire. The United States lost not only men and materiel—and suffered a national embarrassment—but it also lost its forward operating base in Asia, which severely complicated its ability to shape events in the region, to project power and to defend the sea lines of communication. MacArthur, simply put, had to return. On October 20, 1944, he landed on Leyte. Between then and the war’s end, the U.S. Army and Navy incurred some eighty thousand casualties in their campaign to retake the Philippines.

As MacArthur’s getaway, the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin demonstrate—events in Southeast Asia can have broader regional and even global consequences. The United States ignores them at its peril.

Michael Mazza is a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he analyzes U.S. defense policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese military modernization, cross–Taiwan Strait relations and Korean Peninsula security.

Image: An SH-60B Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of USS Cowpens. Flickr/U.S. Seventh Fleet