Trump's unpredictability might allow Russia, China to force change: The Yomiuri Shimbun

US President-elect Donald Trump has been avoiding criticism of Russia's annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in Syria.
US President-elect Donald Trump has been avoiding criticism of Russia's annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in Syria. PHOTO: NYTIMES

In its editorial on Jan 16, the paper expresses concern over the diplomatic strategy President-elect Donald Trump might choose to adopt in dealing with Russia and China after he is sworn in as US president on Jan 20.

The global order based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law is being shaken. Caution must be exercised against attempts by China and Russia to exploit a change of administration in the United States to increase acts of hegemony and change the order.

The peace and prosperity enjoyed since the end of World War II have been supported by the alliance forged with the US as its pivot, as well as international cooperation and free trade. Donald Trump, who will be sworn in as US president on Friday, lacks this basic understanding. His isolationist and unpredictable speech and behaviour will pose the greatest risk factor this year.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Trump denounced China, saying, "(China) has taken total advantage of us economically, totally advantage of us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress." To have China restrain its self-justified conduct, it is indispensable for him not only to sternly admonish that country, but also to closely work with Japan and other US allies, thereby becoming involved in this respect.

It is worrying to note that Trump is exclusively concerned with trade interests and does not bother to put stability-related issues facing the Asia-Pacific region into perspective. There is growing anxiety that he may become involved in making deals with China, as though he was doing business.

His cabinet nominees include a conspicuous number of figures who previously served in the military and those from business circles. The number of foreign policy experts is close to nil. The secretary of state nominee is the former chief executive of a major oil company, who maintains highly friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obviously, this appointment is aimed at improving US relations with Russia.

It cannot be overlooked that Trump is avoiding criticism of Russia's annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in Syria. If he places priority on cooperation with Russia and connives at that country's actions to change the status quo by force, it would greatly lower the strength of the US and its alliances.

At the press conference, Trump did not offer a satisfactory explanation about a reported Russia-implicated scandal involving him and about the legitimacy of becoming closer to that country. Solely interrupting questions about the scandal and railing at reports on the matter as "all fake news" will not earn him the trust of the people or international society.

What kind of diplomatic strategy and guiding principle will Trump adopt in dealing with China and Russia? He must quickly show his ideas in this respect.

Putin has his sights set on seeking to win re-election in next year's presidential race. He is emphasising "equal relations with the United States," thereby seeking to promote vigorous foreign policy aimed at appealing to the patriotic sentiment held by his people and, at the same time, to rebuild his country's economy.

In the civil war between Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and rebel forces, pro-government Russia mediated a ceasefire agreement toward the end of last year. Turkey, which has influence on the rebel forces, cooperated in that arrangement while the Obama administration failed to become involved.

Russia may well try to take the initiative in peace talks as well by taking advantage of the change in the U.S. administration.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group, which holds positions in Syria and Iraq, is proliferating the threat of terrorism. Russia may approach the Trump administration with a proposal for the survival of the Assad regime, in exchange for cooperating with the US in wiping out ISIL.

The distribution of power in the Middle East, which centred around the alliances between the US and countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, has been changing. With a foothold gained in Syria, it is inevitable Russia will enhance its presence in the Middle East by deepening its cooperation with Iran and Turkey.

The Chinese administration under Xi Jinping will try to carefully judge how Trump will put into action his hard-line stance on aspects of both the economy and security.

If the new administration weakens its engagement in the South China Sea, for instance, with regard to warship patrols, Beijing may strengthen its control over the sea, backing it up with its military power.

Early this month, the Chinese military had its aircraft carrier conduct drills in the South China Sea with its carrier-based aircraft.

It is also conceivable that China may establish an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea, using as a foothold the radar facilities and antiaircraft arsenal deployed on seven man-made islands.

If such movements are left as they are, "freedom of navigation," a common interest to the international community, will be threatened.

The incoming Trump administration should not forget the obligations of checking China from making unilateral maritime advances, while avoiding a military clash with China.

At the National People's Congress of the Communist Party of China, which takes place every five years and is slated to be held this autumn, Xi's administration will enter its second term. Xi is poised to have power further concentrated in his hands. There is a possibility that he will openly display a sense of rivalry with the US, fanning nationalism.

In response to Trump having raised doubts in regard to the principle of "one China," the Xi administration is intensifying its pressure on the administration led by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. It is also expected that tensions between Beijing and Taipei may intensify.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un, the chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, declared the country is in the "final stage" of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile. There mustn't be change in Kim's policy of speeding up his country's development of a nuclear missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

There is also a possibility of Pyongyang venturing to conduct another nuclear test or engaging in isolated military provocations by taking advantage of the current political confusion in South Korea. The Trump administration will be required to make continuous efforts to reinforce the United States' deterrent force.

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