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What you should watch for In President Trump's 18 months

Bill Overholt, Harvard Asia Center

Bill Overholt’s Key Takeaways

New Presidents Have Crazy Ideas That Change In The 1st 18 Months

Almost all new presidents, Bush 41 was the only exception, have come in with ideas about Asia that have subsequently been acknowledged to be a little bit crazy, not terribly reality based, and they've gradually evolved in the first 18 month into more sensible policies.

Trump is no different…’China is a currency manipulator’; ‘Japan & Korea are not paying their fair share—maybe they should go nuclear’; ‘The U.S. needs a 350 ship navy’; and so on. But even without advice form a team of Asia experts or the business community, Trump’s ‘crazy ideas’ seem to be evolving toward more realistic policies ahead of the usual 18-month schedule.

Focus on Three Things

1. Unlike His Predecessors, Trump Is Starting To Think Strategically: Trump and his people really are starting to think strategically in a way that the recent predecessors had not. Trump says you can't fight everybody at the same time. So, he's going to make a deal with Russia and put his hostile focus on China and Iran.

2. Trump Might Enhance China’s Global Leadership: Commitment to trade is the core of American leadership in the world. Now, Trump seems to be repudiating the whole set of underlying ideals. The consequence: China will become the world leader in both the trade liberalization as well environmental/climate change.

3. Key Test: If North Korean Nukes Can Reach the U.S.: The big test for Trump is when North Korea is able to marry a nuclear explosive to a missile that could reach the United States. The Chinese don't want a nuclear war on their boarders. They hate the North Koreans, but they're afraid of destabilizing them. Trump will have to work out a deal with the Chinese where we are able to protect our interests but don't go to war with China.

What to Watch for in Trump’s First 18 Months

1. Whether Trump Walks Away from the Climate Change Agreement: Whether we walk away from the Climate Change Agreement is going to set much of the tone of our relationship with the rest of the world, especially our allies.

2. Whether Trump Repudiates Major Trade & Investment Agreements: Whether we repudiate major trade and investment agreements. If we do repudiate major trade agreements. If we start a trade war with China over the misconception that it’s a currency manipulator. Then the world is going to walk away from us. Right into China’s arms.

3. Whether Trump Cuts a Deal with Russia that Separates It From China & Iran: Whether Trump can make the case that the best strategy for the United States is to cut a deal with Russia and try to separate it from China and is going to be absolutely decisive for our role in the world.