Asia sees changed US ties, who­ever wins ‘With or with­out Trump, this marks end of US lead­er­ship’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Win or lose, Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign has changed the way coun­tries in Asia view their re­la­tion­ships with Wash­ing­ton. Fi­nal polling sug­gests the most likely out­come is a vic­tory for Hil­lary Clin­ton. But even Clin­ton, an ar­chi­tect of the US strate­gic pivot to Asia, has some work ahead of her in re­build­ing trust, an­a­lysts and former of­fi­cials in Asia said.

“With or with­out Trump, this marks the end of US lead­er­ship, in par­tic­u­lar, moral lead­er­ship,” said a former Ja­panese diplo­mat, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the topic. “I don’t think it’s a ques­tion of Trump as an in­di­vid­ual, but a ques­tion of the US so­ci­ety that pro­duced this man as the Repub­li­can can­di­date.” Trump up­ended US demo­cratic tra­di­tions dur­ing his White House cam­paign, draw­ing en­thu­si­as­tic crowds where peo­ple cheered his of­ten provoca­tive and out­ra­geous re­marks. Crit­ics la­beled him ig­no­rant, un­couth, a racist, hyp­ocrite, dem­a­gogue and a sex­ual predator, all ac­cu­sa­tions he de­nied.

He de­scribed a dark Amer­ica, knocked to its knees by China, Mex­ico and the Is­lamic state. Trump’s har­ness­ing of a pop­ulist back­lash against im­mi­gra­tion and global trade has chal­lenged the ideal of benev­o­lent Amer­i­can power that helped shape the global econ­omy - and the forces of glob­al­iza­tion - since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Now the United States faces a ris­ing China, long an eco­nomic force and now be­com­ing more as­sertive in geopol­i­tics - build­ing its mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity and ig­nor­ing an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal’s rul­ing against its claims to most of the South China Sea.

Asia is most wor­ried about trade pro­tec­tion­ism - ex­ports make up a quarter of Asia’s GDP and a fifth of them go to the United States. The Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) trade deal, cham­pi­oned by Barack Obama in part to in­crease US in­flu­ence in Asia, was to be an es­sen­tial fea­ture of Wash­ing­ton’s strate­gic pivot to Asia - an “eco­nomic NATO”. It now looks dead in the water. Both Clin­ton and Trump op­pose the deal, which would set up a free trade zone among 12 coun­tries that ex­cludes China. Former In­done­sian fi­nance min­is­ter Chatib Basri told Reuters the TPP “is an im­por­tant in­stru­ment for the US pivot to Asia”. “There is some kind of a ri­valry be­tween Amer­ica and China, and the way Amer­ica can get into Asia is with TPP,” said Basri, now a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity.

With US al­lies such as Ja­pan, South Korea, Tai­wan and Sin­ga­pore among the big­gest win­ners of an open trade regime, a more iso­la­tion­ist and pro­tec­tion­ist stance will cost Wash­ing­ton in­flu­ence in Asia. Iron­i­cally, it would be China, the sub­ject of many of Trump’s tirades, that could emerge the big win­ner as un­cer­tainty over Wash­ing­ton’s fu­ture com­mit­ment to Asia pushes coun­tries into deal­ing more closely with Bei­jing. “If the US pulls out of TPP, that will cer­tainly in­crease China’s in­flu­ence in Asia,” said Kanti Ba­j­pai, Pro­fes­sor of Asian Stud­ies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Pub­lic Pol­icy in Sin­ga­pore.

“Al­ready, US crit­i­cism of do­mes­tic is­sues in Thailand, the Philip­pines, and Malaysia has alien­ated those coun­tries and caused them to lean to­wards Bei­jing. Pulling out of the TPP will help China geopo­lit­i­cally.” Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has been par­tic­u­larly hostile to­wards Wash­ing­ton over its crit­i­cism of his lethal anti-drugs cam­paign, an­nounc­ing a “sep­a­ra­tion” from the United States dur­ing last month’s visit to China. Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak came back from a visit to China last week with $34 bil­lion worth of deals and an agree­ment to buy four Chinese naval ves­sels.

China has long been in Trump’s sights, with prom­ises to de­clare it a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor and im­pose puni­tive tar­iffs on im­ports. But any such moves could also hurt Asian ex­porters who ship com­po­nents there for assem­bly and ex­port to the United States, at a time when global trade is al­ready weak­en­ing. Gareth Leather, se­nior Asia econ­o­mist at Cap­i­tal Eco­nom­ics, said the Philip­pines, Tai­wan and South Korea were the emerg­ing Asia economies most vul­ner­a­ble to a Trump pres­i­dency.

“Per­haps the big­gest risk to the re­gion’s economies, how­ever, stems not from Trump’s trade poli­cies, but from his for­eign pol­icy,” Leather said.

Trump has cre­ated doubts over his com­mit­ment to security al­liances, sug­gest­ing Ja­pan and South Korea need to pay more for a US mil­i­tary pres­ence and that they should even de­velop their own nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity to counter China and North Korea. Clin­ton, who was sec­re­tary of state when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion launched its Asia pivot, is ex­pected to main­tain Obama’s for­eign pol­icy, with some see­ing her as be­ing more hawk­ish. The di­vi­sive US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has al­ready done a lot of dam­age to the rep­u­ta­tion of the United States in Asia, re­gard­less of the elec­tion out­come, ac­cord­ing to some an­a­lysts.

“The broader ques­tion is whether the United States can as­sert global lead­er­ship,” said Jes­per Koll, CEO at fund man­ager Wis­domTree Ja­pan. “All my Chinese friends say, ‘We thought we would run the world in 20 years. Now it’s go­ing to be in Jan­uary’. This is not a joke. It’s the nat­u­ral state of devel­op­ment,” Koll said. — Reuters

MANCH­ESTER: Peo­ple wait in line to vote at the Bishop Leo E O’Neil Youth Cen­ter said in Manch­ester, New Hamp­shire. Vot­ers will choose be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump for pres­i­dent, as well as im­por­tant races for Congress and Sen­ate. — AFP

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