Tom Daschle op-ed: Report from the anxiety filled Asian Pacific
© Getty Images

Having just returned from Asia on a trip immediately following the American presidential election, I am struck by the level of anxiety and concern among those with whom I spoke at every stop.

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE’s opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) trade agreement and his public statements regarding the need to reduce American support for regional security has been a bone-shaking experience to Asian leadership and citizenry alike.


Almost immediately following the election, China moved to take full advantage of the anticipated new vacuum. As they gather in Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the Chinese government is now in high gear as they sell their Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to the despondent participants of the TPP. The RCEP includes sixteen nations and nearly thirty percent of our current global GDP.

But while it would lower tariffs among participating nations, it includes none of the historic reforms required of those nations participating in the TPP. 

The successful recruitment of former TPP participants in addition to those nations who are original members of the RCEP would put China-not the United States — in the dominant position to lead arguably the most powerful and influential economic region in the world.

The president-elect’s campaign promise not only to withdraw from TPP but to enact a 45% tariff on imported Chinese products would be devastating economically for American business and consumers alike. But it would have an equally destructive impact on our relationship with every other country in the region.

The unfortunate reality is that the TPP is dead. However, it is imperative that the new administration begin discussions immediately to salvage our relationships with the participating countries and to counter the efforts by the Chinese to fill the gaping void.

In the minds of every Asian leader with whom I talked, the economic and security relationships between the United States and our partners in the Pacific are inextricably linked.

Tensions in the region have increased dramatically in recent years with China’s territorial claims and aggressive military posture in the South China sea. China’s decision to build their first aircraft carrier and to aggressively increase their military presence in the Pacific, with aircraft sometimes flying merely yards apart from their Japanese counterparts, has created the highest level of anxiety and strain in recent memory.

Simultaneously in the Korean peninsula, North Korea has initiated a threatening new round of nuclear and missile tests with alarming rhetoric regarding its intentions, while the new President of the Philippines has renounced our long-standing relationship and indicated his determination to build a new alliance with China.

For the past seventy years, it has been the combination of our military and commercial presence that has created the economic engines in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines. Their stability and growth has been as great a success story as the world has witnessed. It has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of people in the Asian Pacific in addition to creating enormous new markets for the United States.

A little reported fact is that Japan and Korea currently commit nearly two and a half billion dollars to the cost of the American presence in the region. Given the increased tensions, Japan has taken further, domestically unpopular steps to enhance its military capabilities and presence in the region. 

Prime Minister Abe’s recent meeting with President-elect Trump was both propitious and timely. Judging from reports of the meeting, the two leaders began to build the kind of personal relationship that will be essential to maintaining the long-standing and vital partnership between the two countries.

But one meeting between two leaders is not nearly enough.

The president-elect should make reaching out to our allies in the region to reassure them that our continued economic and security partnership is one of his highest priorities. He ought to consider an immediate regional summit to discuss both the newfound Chinese economic competition as well as the growing security tensions in both the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea.

President Obama’s policy of engaging in a “pivot” to Asia enhanced the confidence of our Asian allies. They were assured that the United States would continue to be a reliable security and trade partner in an increasingly complicated part of the world.

Renouncing free trade and openly discussing a possible abandonment of our historical security commitments to the region will have a negative impact on U.S. security and our economy. 

The unanimous and absolutely clear message I heard from Asian leaders last month is that now, perhaps as much as at any time in the past seven decades, the United States cannot disengage from its leadership role. The stakes are too high and the repercussions too severe.

Global interdependence and integration will continue with or without an American presence. But in large measure, the degree to which it is both peaceful and stable depends upon us.

Daschle is the former Senate Majority Leader and is the founder and CEO of The Daschle Group.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill