In my article The World Is Not Waiting For Trump (January 30, 2017) I predicted that the inward looking, ‘my-job-is-not-to-represent-the-world’ Donald Trump will not make America great again, but will hasten the passing of the superpower relay baton from the U.S. to other nations eager to fill the vacuum left behind. This thursday Mr. Trump announced that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on Climate. One thing is certain, you cannot accuse him of reneging on his campaign pledges. This is the same person who in November, 2012 tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” And talking about the Chinese, picking up the slack after the U.S.’ departure from Paris is China that promised to work with other countries to achieve the objectives of the Climate Agreement.
In 2005 the U.S. with Japan, Australia and (later) India and South Korea – all of them very suspicious of China’s increased assertiveness on the world stage – started the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement to compete with China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) a proposed free trade agreement that will account for 3.4 billion people (about 47% of the total world population) and a combined gross production of USD 21.4 trillion (about 30% of the world’s GDP). Skillfully the Obama Administration kept the RCEP playing second fiddle to the TPP. That is until Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP. Under China’s leadership and without any U.S. participation, the RCEP is bound to now become the quintessential free trade agreement of the 21st century, a title previously held by the TPP. Mr. Trump’s action has also revived the interest in a China-led Free Trade Area for the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) which includes Russia. As a third pole, China’s One Belt One Road initiative consisting of a maze of road, rail and port projects to connect Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe is picking up momentum. China is on track to reviving an ancient network of land and ocean silk trade routes of centuries past. And China found an unlikely partner to make it great again: the President of the United States. Next week the Shangri-La Dialogue on Asia’s new strategic order will be held in Singapore. Traditionally these annual talks promote policies to strengthen US regional leadership. The signs so far suggest that Mr. Trump has no policy and most importantly no appetite to contest China’s growing global power.