GIVEN the confusion and chaos which has marked the first three weeks of the Trump administration, Washington will take time to craft a lucid, well-thought-out policy for Asia.
Conflicting statements on the region by key American policymakers point to continuing unpredictability in US-Asia relations. More worryingly, the start of the Trump presidency has been marked by a rise in tensions among some Asian states.
As America reviews its future ties with some of the worldís fastest growing economies, Europe can and should step up efforts to redefine its own relations with Asia in order to ensure continuing peace, stability and prosperity.
Most importantly, Americaís pause to reflect on Asia offers Europe a golden opportunity to step out of the US shadow and forge an autonomous Asia policy, which looks at changed and changing realities across the region.
Donald Trumpís election rhetoric and some actions since he became president have sent chills down many Asiansí spines. China has got the worst of the insults. Even before becoming president, Trump and his team lambasted Beijingís trade practices and policies in the South China Sea.
Trump also stepped on Chinese sensitivities by speaking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on the telephone. A call has finally been placed to Chinese President Xi Jinping and almost three weeks after the inauguration, the US president did write to his Chinese counterpart with a wish to ďdevelop a constructive relationship which benefits both the United States and ChinaĒ.
One of the American presidentís first moves was to throw out the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact with 11 other Asia-Pacific countries.
True, Washington has engaged in some fence mending since then. During his recent tour of Korea and Japan, General James Mattis, the new Defence Secretary, managed to calm some of the regionís concerns as regards life under the unpredictable president. But as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads to the US, Tokyo and Seoul are still nervous about Trumpís campaign statements questioning the value of the alliances and speculating that they might need their own nuclear weapons.
The problem for many in Asia is lack of clarity on who actually calls the shots in the Trump era. Should they listen to the soothing words of General Mattis or to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who has been much more belligerent towards China? And how much influence will Trump wield on foreign policy? In addition, Chief Strategist (and National Security Council member) Steve Bannon also has a much more aggressive global outlook.
It may seem opportunistic but as Asians fret over Americaís future policy towards the region, Europe should get its act together and weave stronger ties with key players in the region. Mixing its soft and hard power tools, the EU should take a close look at ways of stepping up its game in a region where despite Americaís dominance, many still look to Europe for trade, investments, technology and security support.
As Europe has expanded its influence in Asia, America has been both a rival and a vital ally. This is the time for a stand-alone European policy on Asia, with EU policymakers focusing on their own interests and Asiaís concerns.
Here are three ways in which Europe and Asia can work together in the Trump era.
First, while America is undoubtedly going to remain Asiaís military ally and chief security provider, Trumpís disdain and disregard for issues like climate change, hostility towards the Iranian nuclear deal and questioning of the existing multilateral institutions including the United Nations places a special responsibility on the EU to ensure these achievements are not undermined.
In addition to its soft power credentials in areas such as peace building, preventive diplomacy and conflict management, the EU is also a valuable partner in traditional security sectors such as maritime security, including anti-piracy operations, counterterrorism and tackling cybercrime. A more visible European security profile in Asia will be good for helping to resolve the regionís many unresolved conflicts but will also help the EUís long-standing desire to join the East Asia Summit.
Second, trade. Trumpís withdrawal from the TPP and disinterest in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) does not necessarily mean the death of mega-regional trade deals. Australia has already said it intends to pursue the agreement with China instead of the US at its core. The EU should also step up efforts to finally clinch pending agreements with Japan, India and individual South East Asian countries and get serious about negotiating a free trade pact with the 10 member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean). Negotiations with Australia and New Zealand should be started without too much delay. The EU and Asians should join forces to inject new life into the World Trade Organisation.
Third, the EU should make a serious effort to upgrade its bilateral relations with Asiaís key players and regional organisations. Brussels has worked hard over the years to engage in a sustained manner with China, Japan, Korea, India and Asean states. These links are significant and often impressive but get muddied by small irritants. They must be given more resilience, strategic substance and direction. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which brings together over 50 European and Asian countries, is needed even more than before in todayís uncertain and volatile world.
Certainly, Brexit and the EUís many other crisis and economic woes have tarnished some of Europeís lustre. But Europeís history and experience makes it imperative that it uses its influence to ensure that the Trump era does not become one of unwise nationalisms, conflict and confrontation either with Asia or among Asian states.
óThe writer is Dawnís correspondent in Brussels