Asia worries about US rule-bending

Font Size

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis (R) attends a trilateral meeting with South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sideline of the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 3, 2018. / AFP

Asia’s main security conference this weekend established at least this: That while America’s allies like Defense Secretary James Mattis, that’s no longer enough.

Mattis sought to rally Asia’s security establishment, gathered in Singapore for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, behind a rules-based international order that’s existed in some fashion since World War II. That system, according to the U.S. and others, is under threat from China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

Mattis’s call for maintaining open seas and a rules-based system that creates a level playing field for large and small countries got widespread support at the event. But the U.S. was also criticized for undermining that order, the result of trade tariffs it has slapped on U.S. allies as well as China.

Those tariffs were “just one manifestation” of the Trump administration’s new America First stance, said the host, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. He put the U.S. on a par with China as a threat to rules that have delivered peace and prosperity to Asia.

The U.S. has been the most benign of hegemons, said Ng. But for all Mattis’s reassurances, the U.S. was this year presented as part of the problem, not just the solution.

Want to receive this post in your inbox every morning? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more. — Bloomberg