SINGAPORE — For America’s allies in Asia, the outcome of President Trump’s summit meeting with Kim Jong-un has been decidedly mixed.
On the good side, they no longer have to be on alert for the imminent outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula.
But the widely anticipated Trump-Kim meeting on Tuesday left them with new anxieties. Mr. Trump’s concessions to North Korea exacerbated their fears about the United States’ long-term commitment to safeguarding the region.
Mr. Trump’s surprise declaration during a news conference after the summit that he would suspend military drills between the United States and South Korea — and that he hoped eventually to pull some 28,000 American troops off the peninsula — blindsided American allies, including South Korea itself.
It also raised questions about whether Mr. Trump’s outreach to the North actually signaled a broader American retreat from the region.
Since World War II, the United States has been a leader in East Asia, providing security assurances to allies in Japan and South Korea. But even before engaging in talks with North Korea, Mr. Trump had questioned the merits of stationing troops in the region, and made it clear he thought the United States was paying too much to support them.
Suspending military drills would be a significant concession to North Korea, particularly as Mr. Trump echoed the North’s previous characterization of the exercises as “war games” and “provocative.” The fact that he appeared to make this decision without informing the Pentagon, never mind officials in Seoul or Tokyo, troubled leaders in both capitals at a time when Mr. Trump has increasingly shown his disregard for traditional American allies.
“It suggests that when he’s in the mood, the president will cut deals with our adversaries involving the interests of our allies” without consulting them, said Michael J. Green, a former Asia adviser to President George W. Bush who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
To some extent, officials in Tokyo and Seoul have grown accustomed to Mr. Trump’s seat-of-the-pants decision making, and they also know that not everything he says ends up as official policy.
But at a time when Mr. Trump is also going after allies on trade issues, the longer-term worry is that the bonds that have long secured America’s role as a leader in the region are steadily weakening.
The biggest beneficiary of an American withdrawal would be China.
Already, Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with North Korea has diverted attention