Editorial Notes

China poised to bridge the gulf Trump created: The Nation

US President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida on April 6, 2017.
US President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida on April 6, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on 8 June, the paper highlights how China is in a prime position to take advantage of the power vacuum left behind by the United States.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK)- With United States President Donald Trump issuing an endless stream of abusive, negative and nonsensical tweets between bouts of baseless bragging, a chasm has opened in world leadership. Who will offer the brotherhood of nations sound guidance in an era of unprecedented economic and political challenges and the immense threat to mankind's survival posed by climate change?

It appears there is no one in American government willing to provide the world with the assurances it needs.

Most recently, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson warned China against using its vast wealth to win friends and influence nations. The smirk with which China and Russia respond to such advisories is largely hidden behind diplomacy, but it's palpable enough. All they need to do in the age of Trump is devise policies to fill the void he is foolishly creating.

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We are witnessing a different world order in the making. Whatever emerges will be the direct outcome of the US dropping off the radar of global influence.

In Asia, it is inevitable that China will come out on top of Russia in terms of affecting events. Moscow, with its military power, might be increasingly influential in the Middle East, but it wields comparatively little clout in our region, the result in part of maintaining a dogmatic attitude towards Asia.

During the Cold War the former Soviet Union had extensive influence over Southeast Asia, with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam its allies in communism. None of those developing countries retain closed ties with Moscow any longer, but all have close cooperation with Beijing, netting generous financial assistance and significant investment.

China has since the 1990s been carefully scrutinised for clues about its real intentions regarding the international order so long dominated by the West.

Trump's isolationist stance leaves the world's second-largest economy in a far better position to use its money and strategic skills to pursue far-reaching goals. The American president can be counted on to give his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, a free piggyback ride on trade, globalisation and, yes, climate change.

Even before Trump, China had already laid a strong foundation for spreading its influence abroad. Its Belt and Road Initiative has been in the works for four years, and lately Beijing has shown its readiness to spend billions of dollars to make it a reality.

Last month's Belt and Road summit that drew hundreds of global leaders to the Chinese capital marked a major step for China. Its leadership role is becoming more secure all the time.

Another Chinese initiative, the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, has been of incalculable benefit internationally. There are now 57 nation-members of the bank, in both the East and West, indicating widespread acceptance of a China-led financial order in the areas of infrastructure and governance.

It remains to be seen how China might fully capitalise on the esteem it has earned, and meanwhile it has problems of its own involving security-related issues that affect relations with Southeast Asia.

Perhaps, over time, it can learn to adjust its attitude towards smaller powers. It will probably have to. Becoming a global power would require mindfulness of smaller nations' needs and limitations. In this regard, China's ties with Southeast Asia will determine its level of success as a global role.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.