When “The Donald” trumped Hillary to clinch the American Presidency, the vast majority of us here in Falmouth were horrified. We put down our tofu and our MacBooks, and leapt onto social media to scream at our friends across the pond about the foolish decision they had just made. But we here have no say in the matter, and must now watch as his “terrific” policies are put into motion. This did not take long, with his first action being one of incredible magnitude—on January 23rd, Trump pulled America out of the TPP. While the agreement may have many flaws, the TPP trade deal was arguably the crowning achievement of America’s ‘Pivot to Asia’; the switching of attention from Europe to the rapidly advancing economies of the East. By ripping up the TPP America is surrendering its leadership in Southeast Asia, the rising economic powerhouse of the world. The new President thus risks losing his Pacific allies to China’s sphere of influence.
The symbolism behind such a sensational withdrawal from the TPP by Trump in his first few days in office truly is “yuge”; it is sure to make American allies in Asia think twice about letting the US call the shots in the region. They have just spent nearly a decade on a deal which would have beneficially tied their economies together—an effort which was now ultimately in vain. The US has thus become an unreliable partner; to a nation picking a side in the American-Sino rivalry, the calm and steadfast assurances of Beijing will have ever-greater attraction. Australian Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull, recently held a quickly aborted phone call with the President, reporting it to be ‘the worst’. But what is there for Australia to do when faced with such an ally as the modern US? Not only did it lose a highly-coveted trade deal, its PM was also publicly humiliated—so why not seek closer cooperation with the more reliable China instead? If you take that view and spread it across the entire region, the impact on US ‘pull’ in the world’s gold plated tinderbox of Southeast Asia is enormous. Having already seemingly lost the Philippines to the firebrand Duterte, the US is at serious risk of losing a great deal of its real power. The result for China’s newly emboldened leadership could be truly “tremendous”.