Underpinning the complex international relations of East Asia today is a crude reality: for each of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, China is the largest trading partner, but the United States is the guarantor of security. As a result, in a region increasingly marked by competition between the two superpowers, economic interests often conflict with values, and pragmatism must sometimes trump principles.
On principles – including a commitment to the international order – the president of the United States was once a constant. Donald Trump’s disavowal of international norms by withdrawing from a number of multilateral initiatives, including the World Health Organisation, has complicated such considerations for East Asian publics. But an expansionist China and volatile North Korea, means that amongst administrations at least, support for the incumbent US president remains robust.
The challenges facing the region are numerous. In June, the same month that Beijing enacted its controversial National Security Law in Hong Kong, North Korea blew up a joint liaison office with South Korea in Kaesong, near its border. More recently, encroachments on Taiwanese airspace by Chinese military aircraft have increased; meanwhile, a trade war between South Korea and Japan rumbles on.