The Irish Times view on US influence: A snapshot of eroding power

Weakening of Washington’s ability to shape world events did not begin on Trump’s watch

Instead of sending signals of support to the pro-democracy activists who have taken to the city’s streets in defiance of the Beijing-backed leadership,  Donald Trump has dismissed the demonstrations as ‘riots’ while sticking closely to Communist Party talking points by stating that the issue was one ‘between Hong Kong and China’. Photograph:  Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Instead of sending signals of support to the pro-democracy activists who have taken to the city’s streets in defiance of the Beijing-backed leadership, Donald Trump has dismissed the demonstrations as ‘riots’ while sticking closely to Communist Party talking points by stating that the issue was one ‘between Hong Kong and China’. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

 

After a tumultuous few weeks, Asia seems to be on the brink of multiple crises at once. India’s suspension of Kashmir’s autonomous status, continuing protests in Hong Kong, a new round of missile tests by North Korea and simmering tensions between Japan and South Korea have raised the risk of regional powers being drawn into conflict and set off frantic diplomatic efforts aimed at averting escalation on several fronts.

Amidst all this activity, there has been one striking absence. The United States has not been silent, but its involvement has been limited, its pronouncements timid and its leadership non-existent.

While the Indian move in Kashmir was years in the planning, the timing may well have been linked to Trump’s recent offer to mediate in the long dispute between India and Pakistan. That offer was welcomed by Pakistan, but India has always opposed outside involvement – and it will have been gratified by the relative silence from the White House since its provocative act.

A series of new missile tests by North Korea has been greeted not with condemnation or even mild rebuke by Washington but with tepid statements by Trump in which he spoke fondly of a “very beautiful letter” he had recently received from Kim Jong-un.

His only criticism has been aimed at his own government, whose joint military exercises with South Korea – a focus of Pyongyang’s anger – he described as “ridiculous”. Meanwhile, two of the US’s most important regional allies – Japan and South Korea – are locked in an increasingly bitter feud and have ignored US appeals to tone down their rhetoric.

This week, Seoul announced it was removing Japan from a list of preferred trading partners following a similar move by Tokyo earlier this month.

Nowhere has the absence of US leadership, or its diminishing influence, been more apparent than in Hong Kong. Instead of sending signals of support to the pro-democracy activists who have taken to the city’s streets in defiance of the Beijing-backed leadership, the so-called leader of the free world has dismissed the demonstrations as “riots” while sticking closely to Communist Party talking points by stating that the issue was one “between Hong Kong and China”.

To Chinese ears, that surely sounds like carte blanche for tougher measures to quell the unrest.

The weakening of Washington’s ability to shape world events did not begin on Trump’s watch. The rise of China, Russia’s expanding influence and the loss of credibility it suffered with the Iraq war all served to corrode American power.

But under the Trump presidency – marked by its coddling of dictators and strongmen, its transactional approach to bilateral relationships and its repudiation of liberal values and long-established alliances – the US has been actively contributing to the erosion of its own power.

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