The largely unexpected election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has overturned many assumptions and expectations about the future of Australia’s regional relationships. Even before Trump’s election, however, the history of regional evolution in East Asia presented a number of striking paradoxes and raised important questions about the forces that encourage or obstruct integration and cooperation at the regional level. For a region that has frequently been associated with comparatively limited cross-border political institutionalization and development, East Asia has recently been the centre of a large number of initiatives and proposals that are intended to give expression to particular visions of the region. We argue that the outcome of such regional processes is profoundly influenced by both geo-economic and geopolitical forces. We illustrate this claim by looking at the history of institutional development in the ‘Asia-Pacific’, before considering the attempt to create a new ‘Indo-Pacific region’, which, we suggest, has more to do with contemporary geopolitical concerns rather than any underlying ‘natural’ coherence. The Australian policy-making community needs to think carefully about the implications of the Trump presidency for such initiatives.