The Third US Presidential Debate What About Asia?, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, October 20, 2016.

An edited extract of the original briefing is reproduced below.

…The third debate skipped over major foreign policy issues and focused solely on the fighting in Iraq and Syria and Russia’s role in backing the Assad regime.

The only time Asia featured was during the debate over free trade agreements and getting U.S. allies to pay more for their defense. For people in the eleven nations in Asia and the Pacific that took part in the negotiation for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) the debate was deeply disappointing. If Donald Trump were elected president he would either re-negotiate existing free trade agreements or scarp them altogether. If Hillary Clinton were elected president she would oppose ratification of the TPP in its existing form. The only time Vietnam came up in the debate was when Donald Trump briefly mentioned it as gaining access to the U.S. market.

Donald Trump accused two Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, of not contributing enough to their defense. He promised that as president he would press them to contribute more financially. Neither candidate mentioned the Philippines and its new president Rodrigo Duterte who has taken an anti-American and pro-China stance. Duterte’s off the cuff criticism of President Obama and the U.S. alliance risks creating not only strategic uncertainty in the region but undermining regional stability as well.

More significantly, there were no detailed discussion of the strategic implications of China’s rise regionally and globally and what Trump and Clinton would do as U.S. president to curb Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Specialists on American politics argue that presidential debates have never been a major turning point in U.S. national elections. In the third debate Trump started off showing restraint but as time went on he continually interjected when Clinton was speaking. He often went off on a tangent and did not directly address the issues under discussion. Clinton was calm and self-assured. She did not rise to Trump’s jibes and interjections.

The third U.S. presidential debate revealed that the United States is deeply divided and primarily focused on domestic issues. Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians can be forgiven for asking “What about Asia?”

Carlyle A. Thayer, “The Third U.S. Presidential Debate: What AboutAsia?,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, October 20, 2016. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer).