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Opinion

Business will boost US ties with ASEAN even under Trump

American president's bilateral deals partly compensate for his retreat from multilateralism

| Vietnam
U.S. President Donald Trump has held bilateral meetings with the leaders of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, receiving multibillion dollar pledges to buy from and invest in America.   © Reuters

It has become a cliche to note the ongoing power shifts in geopolitics and geoeconomics. China is on the rise with such launch pads as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Meanwhile, the U.S. appears to be in relative decline as it withdraws from landmarks of international cooperation such as the trade-liberalizing Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Agreement. The extent of these shifts is disputed but undeniable against the backdrop of a broad unraveling of the 70-year-old liberal international order.

Nowhere will these fluid power dynamics be more on display than during the upcoming summit season among Asia-Pacific leaders, anchored around the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In his first official trip to Southeast Asia, after key stops in Japan, South Korea and China, U.S. President Donald Trump will be descending into the most consequential global axis of security and prosperity. He must learn to engage and navigate with caution and nuance in an effort to balance Southeast Asia's geopolitical interests with America's geostrategic aims. North Korea certainly poses an existential threat to the U.S. and Northeast Asia but Trump will likely find in the long term that there is much more to Asia than North Korea.

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