How Trump Can Work with World Leaders
Photo Credit: AP
By Tai Wei Lim

How Trump Can Work with World Leaders

Feb. 03, 2017  |     |  0 comments

US President Donald Trump has a chance to be a great conciliator and work with all major powers, including China and Japan. Already, Trump has spoken with leaders from Canada and Mexico by phone and is slated to welcome the leaders of the UK and Japan to Washington. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has also publicly spoken about working with the new administration in the US.


Trump can turn to the fact that he has people from outside the mainstream of Washington and the Republican Party to put in place innovative policies. His experienced old hands in the Asia-Pacific can help him with the engagement. Others in his circle are Washington veterans, retired generals, former chief executives of global companies, as well as billionaires. In other words, the new administration is a potentially dynamic team.


Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Republicans like Marco Rubio are perceived as having a slightly hawkish stand on Russia while National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are perceived as being slightly dovish towards Russia. Tillerson, who is pro-free trade, has experience as the former chief of ExxonMobil of working with Asia-Pacific leaders.


In other words, there are individuals from different political orientations in Trump’s cabinet. This may facilitate different factions and interest groups to express their ideas and orientations to the presidential group of policy-makers. Trump is also counseled by another group of highly qualified advisors within the White House.


There is potential for Trump to work with China on public goods such as the global environment and many other issues of non-detrimental common interests. Trump has already reached out to Chinese entrepreneurs like Jack Ma to create jobs. The latter promised to create 1 million jobs in the US. This could be the start of a “billionaire” diplomacy. Both stakeholders in the US and China are striving for a non-confrontational bilateral relationship. Businesses’ interest in job creation may be an important link between the first and second largest economies in the world. 


Trump has also appointed an old China hand, Iowa governor Terry Branstad, to be the US ambassador to China. Branstad has decades of experience interacting with China and he also has a personal connection with President Xi Jinping and China’s political elites. President Xi had spent time in Iowa as a young leader immersing in American society. The channel of communication between the two countries are now assured and placed in the safe hands of individuals who are acquainted with each other.


Trump needs to work with Northeast Asian countries like South Korea, Japan and China to tackle the pressing issue of North Korean nuclear proliferation. North Korea has self-declared intentions of testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, perhaps as early as this year. Thus, Northeast Asian countries are prepared to work with the US as well as Russia to stop nuclear weapons proliferation in the Korean Peninsula. Trump appears to signal a tough stance on Pyongyang at this early stage of his administration. He may need the help of his Chinese, South Korean, and Japanese partners to mitigate the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula.


The US and India have similar worldviews and political systems as leading democracies in the Asia-Pacific. India also has a large diaspora working in the US tech sector. There are opportunities for the US and India to work with each other. India is a rising economy with promises of growth and can work with the US on harnessing its growth potential.

Trump is keen on pursuing bilateral trade agreements with ASEAN countries like Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam; and Japan and New Zealand.

Trump has met in November 2016 with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who was the first major world leader to call on Trump. Abe is quite likely to meet up with Trump again in February 2017. Trump reiterated that the US alliance with Japan is the lynchpin of Japanese external relations and has kept the region peaceful for economic development.


The US and Japan also have a strong and deep working relationship in many fields. Toyota’s chief has mentioned that the company will invest USD 10 billion in the US over the next five years. This is on top of over USD 20 billion the company has invested in the US over the last half century or so. These investments reassure the American public that Japan is committed to the long term economic interests and development of the US. 


Trump has a personal admirer in President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The Trump administration has a chance to strive for predictable policies with the Russians, which represents the greatest potential for reconciliation with Russia. Putin looks forward to working with Trump and this outlook appears to resonate with the Kremlin elites as well. Much has been written, especially in the international media, of the personal rapport between the two leaders.


In the case of the Philippines, Trump seems to have struck up a symbolic rapport with President Rodrigo Duterte even before taking office. The Philippines is traditionally and historically closely engaged with the US. The Filipino leader is concentrating his energy on cleaning up illegal narcotics activities in the country.


Trump has, on January 23, 2017, signed an executive order to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In light of this, the Australian government declared that it will to continue to pursue free trade agreements and new opportunities in Asian markets. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo insisted Australia can still salvage a trade deal with the 11 remaining TPP signatories — including Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.


After bowing out of the TPP, Trump would next rework the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. He would be meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the coming weeks to discuss a renegotiation. Canada has started to reach out to Asian countries like China, Japan, and India about options for new trade deals.


Trump is keen on pursuing bilateral trade agreements with countries in East Asia, including potentially Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam in ASEAN (7th largest economy in the world), Japan, and New Zealand. Outside East Asia, the British have also expressed interest in having bilateral free trade agreements with the US. There are the major events like the East Asia Summit and APEC 2017 which give Trump the opportunity to build rapport with Asian powers and economies. There is potential for Trump to build meaningful friendships with all.

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