Trump flunks his first foreign policy test

Devising a wise strategy for challenging China’s ascendancy in Asia is arguably the top foreign policy task for a new president. But if Trump planned to take a tougher stance, this was a haphazard way to do it. The president-elect instead stumbled into a pre-inaugural foreign flap, insulting Beijing and causing it to lose face, without having a clear, well-articulated plan for what he seeks to accomplish.

Worse, Trump’s fulminations about China come just as his plan to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is undermining the United States’ standing with allies in Asia. Trump, in effect, is ceding economic ground to China at the very moment he claims to be taking a harder line. Is this a cool, calculating strategy from the dealmaker? It looks to me more like a hot mess…

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the United States’ most important Asian ally, said last month that TPP members would consider joining a rival, Chinese-led trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. “There’s no doubt that there would be a pivot to the RCEP if the TPP doesn’t go forward,” Abe said. Peru and Australia, two other TPP signatories, also indicated they might join the RCEP.

“If you want to stand up to China, the last thing you should do is walk away from TPP,” said Michael Froman in an interview. He’s the U.S. trade representative Trump blasted during the campaign as an incompetent negotiator.