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America's 'East of Guam' moment?

TPP pullout signals possible return to spheres of influence

| North America

It marked the end of an era when British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced in 1968 that British forces east of Suez would be withdrawn in 1971. The U.K. was no longer willing and able to sustain its overseas role. It is still too early to draw such a conclusion, but U.S. President Donald Trump's rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Jan. 23, his first full day in office, seemed to have a whiff of that to it. Not by design, as in Britain's case, but by default.

Defense Secretary James Mattis's reassurances about U.S. security commitments to South Korea and Japan were an important step toward assuaging alarm and skepticism about the trajectory of U.S. Asia policy in his initial meetings last week in Seoul and Tokyo. TPP had been portrayed by the administration of former President Barack Obama as a foundation of its "rebalance" to Asia. It was to be the underpinning of a deepened U.S. economic role in the Asia-Pacific region and a renewed U.S. commitment to it. Complemented by an enhanced U.S. military presence and more active partnerships and alliances, it sent a strong message that the U.S. role was durable. Obama's Defense Secretary Ash Carter called TPP "as important to me as another aircraft carrier."

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