Trump’s Asia Policy: What Might We Expect and Not Expect?
By John F. Copper

Trump’s Asia Policy: What Might We Expect and Not Expect?

Nov. 14, 2016  |     |  0 comments

In the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton (the Western media’s favorite) in the recent US presidential election, an overwhelming majority of reporters, news analysts, and pundits — somewhere around 90 percent — are doing their utmost to vilify Trump and predict the worst in terms of his domestic and foreign policies.

In fact, what has appeared in the press and on television suggests they are nothing less than obsessed in purveying a bad Trump presidency forecast.

This goes especially for deconstructing what Trump may think of Asia and anticipating what kind of nefarious and dangerous policies might follow his inauguration.

Some of the criticism of Trump is taken from what he said or intimated before the election — campaign rhetoric. He wants Japan and South Korea to pay more for their defense — which, it is charged, will endanger Washington’s security and other ties with these two countries. The two might even acquire nuclear weapons and destabilize all of East Asia.

Trump suggested placing a punitive tariff on Chinese imports into the United States. This, the media declares, will start a trade war. Or a currency war: Trump also said the Chinese Yuan is undervalued.

Further, Trump, being an alleged isolationist, he will ruin US commercial relations with Asia overall.

Media critics even say China will become the world’s preeminent power as a product of the Trump presidency. The United States will fall to second place.

Yet most experts agree Japan and South Korea should pay more for their defense given America’s huge debt and its heavy responsibilities in other parts of Asia. Both Japan and South Korea apparently already have nuclear weapons, American, on their soil or they arrive and leave on U.S. ships and aircraft. Anyway, suggesting they get their own is not serious in view of the fact there is little or no chance they will do so.

Chinese leaders know that the trade surplus with the United States is not sustainable (more than USD 365 billion last year and running higher this year and more by far than America’s deficit with any other country); they doubtless prefer the US do something about it rather than appearing to bow to Washington’s pressure to act (which would make them appear weak to their citizens). Trump’s accusation that the Chinese currency is undervalued has been voiced loud and often by US politicians (including President Obama), especially during elections campaigns. Then it fades as an important issue.

Is Trump hostile toward China? If so, Chinese leaders don’t take it seriously. They have made it plain they preferred Donald to Hillary.

Then the media need to explain this: A top Trump advisor, James Woolsey, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, recently recommended that the Trump administration work with China on its One Belt, one Road project — the largest infrastructure project in history — and also embrace the work of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

In contrast, President Obama has rejected US involvement in both and has sought to keep US friends from participating in either — prompting some observers to opine that Obama is hostile toward China and has little concern for helping developing countries grow economically.

The idea that China will become the world’s foremost power during Trump’s presidency is belied by the fact Pew Foundation polls taken not long ago (during the Obama presidency) show that a majority of people in most of the countries polled believes China already has or will very soon surpass the United States as the global power. The survey included Americans.

Western reporters have even written that November 8 was an election victory for China. How so? Trump is supposedly like other businessmen who succumb to Chinese entertainment and Chinese food. One is reminded of the quip Henry Kissinger made in jest at one time, that after a Chinese meal he would say anything his host wanted.

Donald Trump is doing business globally. And he is doing business in China. But he is not heavily invested in China and his businesses are not dependent on the Chinese market. Trump’s main business is real estate.

The other reasons for saying the election was a “Chinese victory” is that Trump is unpredictable and would create chaos in Washington thereby discrediting American democracy. Also, he is said to have an “authoritarian personality” and that would give credence to China’s political system. Lastly, he is not concerned much about human rights.

Trump has long been praised in the business community and the media as someone extremely talented with great instincts for finding very able people to work with or for him.

As if being unpredictable (or inscrutable) is never a good thing. Good negotiators often use both as effective tactics. Chaos? There seems to be a lot of that around already. Opinion polls currently indicate American voters have never been more dissatisfied with the three branches of the American government. Authoritarian? What does that mean? Anyway, there is a broad consensus in the US that American democracy is no longer respected and Americans, especially the youth, will readily consider another system. Trump did not cause this.

Finally, Trump is labeled an isolationist by the Western media and that, of course, is bad for almost every country in Asia. Indeed, Trump has said he wants to fix America’s trade deficit and the serious loss of jobs that has spawned.

But calling for fair and balanced trade does not translate into isolationism. Further, high taxes and onerous regulations on business currently have made protectionism and its cousin isolationism inevitable. Trump, in fact, says he wants to reverse these trends. Anyway, isolationist tendencies predate Trump and are not something he engendered.

Also, not comporting with the charge Trump is withdrawing from Asia, he has made “peace through strength” and positive involvement his calling card. He has pledged a larger US Navy (350 ships) and generally a more robust military presence in Asia, which he says is needed. US military experts agree. So do US friends and allies in Asia.

Already Trump has promised the South Korean government the US will be a reliable defense partner. He has contacted Japanese Prime Minister Abe to reassure him of US support under a Trump administration.

It is also not reasonable to conclude, as some in the Western media do, that Trump is likely to start a war. The Obama administration is currently engaged in bombing raids in seven countries — dropping more than twenty thousand bombs last year. Trump opposed the recent administrations’ wars in the Middle East (where Obama is bombing). It hardly seems likely he will follow Obama’s lead or might increase his bombing.

Trump’s opponents, including Secretary Clinton, claim, backed and repeated by the Western media, that he should not have his finger on the nuclear trigger. But this does not make sense. The nuclear button, according to those who know how strategic decisions are made in the US, must be pushed by a number of people — some of them outside of government, some who don’t reside in Washington, DC and a few whose names are not recognized by the public and have no ties to any administration. Otherwise a kidnapping or drugging a top US leader or two could cause a nuclear holocaust.

America’s nuclear arsenal is under a very secure and stable regime. It is likely to stay that way.

Conveniently, Trump’s hyper critics fail to mention that US relations with China and Russia, the two countries that Americans need to fret about going to war with, are worse now — under President Obama — than at any time in recent history. No president since before Nixon has overseen such a strained relationship with China during this time in his tenure as president. Something similar obtains in US relations with Russia.

Looking beyond relations with these two powers, the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia (originated by Secretary of State Clinton) is in tatters. The US has not been able to support the pivot either economically or militarily. Asians view it as anti-China, unduly provocative, and a zero-sum strategy. They favor an economic based policy. Meanwhile loss of confidence in the US throughout the region has plagued Obama’s other Asia policy initiatives. Seriously souring US relations with the Philippines and Malaysia have recently underscored this.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the “economic leg” of the Obama administration’s Asia policy has become hopelessly stuck in US politics mainly by Democratic Party opposition (coming from unions and environmentalists) and more broadly due to its complexity (more than five thousand pages long) and lack of transparency. President Obama, in fact, has pronounced it dead. It will have to be overhauled and renegotiated or, more likely, scrapped and replaced by another hopefully simple agreement that is not anti-China.

Trumps critics also attribute future strained relations with Asia to Trump’s lack of experience. They ignore the fact that Trump has very talented and experienced appointees in the wings: Newt Gingrich or Senator Bob Corker (currently head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) for Secretary of State. Senator Jeff Sessions or General Michael Flynn (former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency) for Secretary of Defense. There are many more.

As a matter of record, Donald Trump has long been praised in the business community and the media as someone extremely talented with great instincts for finding very able people to work with or for him. Many historians view this as the most important quality of a leader — including the president of the United States.

Finally, as president, Trump will be faced by a long list of serious matters, both domestic and foreign, to fix or deal with. He will have to rely on his advisors, especially in foreign affairs. He has said this.

The unbalanced and poisonous negativity toward the about-to-be president unmasks an irrational bias and in large part explains why the public perception about the US media is the lowest on record. To the point that it is not helpful to the US maintaining good relations with Asia or constructing an effective foreign policy vis-à-vis the most dynamic region of the world and the part of the planet of greatest importance to the United States. This needs to be recognized and corrected.

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