President-elect Trump’s campaign rhetoric regarding a reset in US-Russia relations is taking form in his pick of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ExxonMobil. Mr. Tillerson is an appointment that aligns with the President-elect’s geopolitical beliefs and tendencies. Mr. Trump has spoken of an “America First” foreign policy, but that does not mean he is and will govern as an isolationist. This is far from reality and can be seen in his desire to disrupt US-China relations in his seemingly off-the-cuff call with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen. Trump will govern in a transactional and apparently unilateralist fashion; this will be a period of very “Kissingeresque” realpolitik. There will be little room for American idealism and morality. President Vladimir Putin sees this as a tremendous opportunity to finally have a US President who views foreign policy and international affairs as cold and calculated transactions. With that being said, it may be an excellent opportunity for President Trump to prevent Russia from taking on a more dominant role in Asian security and economics.
Russia’s ties to China, Japan, and other East Asian powers have been intensifying over the past several years as Russia continues its “pivot to the east” economic policy. These discussions are naturally based in the energy sector and are geared toward sending more Russian resources to Japan, a rising Russian trade partner. Russia has also continued growing its economic relationship with China as they hope to integrate President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” economic strategy with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
The Trump administration would be wise to break its campaign promise of destroying multilateralism for bilateral relations as it pertains to trade policy in East Asia. Countries like Russia and China will and are already filling the economic vacuum in this region. As the Asian economies continue to grow in global importance, the United States should continue to “write the rules” and create the multilateral frameworks necessary for continued growth in the region. Destroying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will do much to harm to the US as well as to its allies in the area; axing TPP, opposed to popular belief, will actually do little to strengthen American industry.
East Asia is the future in this globalized economy, and though withdrawing from the Middle East and from Europe may seem foreign to the US, it is the path to continued prosperity. President Putin would be ecstatic to see the Americans withdraw their interest in these regions and this geopolitical trade off could prove very lucrative for the US in the economic and security realms. If history shows us anything, it is that Russia is predisposed to advancing west. President Putin is no exception as he has stated many times his desire to recreate the Soviet Union under the guise of a 21st-century economic union. Let the Europeans engage with Putin in the battle for the continent’s heartland. The global financial future is in the east. The US should be there and fully engaged nonetheless.