The View From Asia

Asia prepares to deal with Trump, his people and policies

With the 45th president of the United States sworn in, commentators in Asia discuss the changing nature of ties between their countries and the world's reigning superpower and suggest pragmatic ways to further the relationships. Here are excerpts from papers in Asia News Network:

No reason Thailand, Asean can't have strong ties with US, China

Editorial
The Nation

Every incoming US president since World War II has talked about the burden of leadership in the international arena and asked citizens to accept America's place in it.

Mr Ronald Reagan talked about the fight for freedom abroad, while Mr John F. Kennedy stressed foreign policy.

Mr Bill Clinton came into office with little experience of foreign affairs but left behind a legacy that centred on international relations.

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, tells Americans that the whole world - except Russia - is out to take advantage of the US.

He said it during the campaign and he said it again in his inaugural address. Indeed, this is a big turnaround in terms of outlook for any president in the recent past.

The world still recalls Mr Kennedy's willingness to "pay any price" for freedom. But the Vietnam War marred that.

Mr George W. Bush talked about freedom repeatedly in his 2005 speech but his administration ended up tarnished by the Iraq War, which Mr Trump wasted no time in making reference to when challenging recent findings by the intelligence community linking Russian interference in the US presidential election.

In short, Mr Trump thinks it would be wise to do a complete U-turn. America, according to the new President, is being conned by the rest of the world. American workers are paying the price.


The future of global trade and the possibility of a Sino-US trade war are concerns in Asia in the light of a new "America first" US administration. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

"We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs," he declared. "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength." This was the first inaugural address - a call for protectionism.

But the "America first" theme doesn't have to be dark and gloomy. It remains to be seen if this isolationist rhetoric translates into a national agenda.

For Thailand and the rest of South-east Asia, Mr Trump and his billionaire Cabinet will learn quickly that realpolitik will force the American establishment to think twice before retreating from its traditional role around the world.

The rationale behind putting a number of business executives at work for this administration, including the former chief executive officer of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson as the secretary of state, suggests that Mr Trump will run his government like a company.

But he and these billionaire friends of his will soon learn that security, diplomacy and the economy are inseparable.

Moscow and Beijing are licking their chops, waiting to welcome South-east Asian countries with open arms. One can argue that a Trump administration can't be that stupid to walk away from any sphere of influence and let China and Russia assert themselves. But then again, Mr Trump has surprised a lot of people with this victory and the things he has said and done.

Eventually, all stakeholders will come to an understanding that China-US relations are not a zero-sum game. Nevertheless, Asean countries will have to balance their ties. There will be some calibration in the light of Mr Trump's foreign policy, whatever that may be. But there is no reason why Thailand and Asean members cannot have good and strong ties with both countries.

Future of FTA with America a concern for South Korea

Editorial
The Korea Herald

The renegotiation of the South Korea-US free trade deal is becoming a matter of "when" rather than "if".

US President Donald Trump pledged on Sunday to begin to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. He signed an executive order on Monday to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact. During his campaign, he blasted the five-year-old trade deal with South Korea as a destroyer of American jobs .

The Trump government is expected to demand the opening of additional markets, mostly in the service sector. Trade experts here predict US negotiators will make an issue of non-tariff barriers rather than tariff ones.

South Korean officials need to heed experts' advice that Seoul should convince Washington that the trade pact has been and will be beneficial to the US as well as to South Korea. They should highlight that the deal has expanded bilateral trade and increased jobs in the US. The agreement improved bilateral merchandise trade balances by US$15.8 billion (S$22.5 billion) in 2015, according to a report by the US International Trade Commission.

US-South Korea trade volume expanded 15 per cent from US$100.7 billion in 2011 to US$113.8 billion in 2015, according to a report by the US Trade Representative. The top 12 South Korean companies which invested in the US created about 35,000 jobs in 2015, according to the Heritage Foundation. The number of job gains is more than three times larger than when the trade deal took effect. Exports of US cars to South Korea nearly doubled from the pre-deal days. Exports of US agricultural products to South Korea increased 31 per cent from 2011 to 2015.

Trade experts also note that South Korea may well utilise the renegotiation as a chance to increase the bilateral economic cooperation towards the fourth industrial revolution.

South Korea and the US should remember that trade is a two-way street. Protectionism will lead to destruction and will cost jobs.

Most mainstream economists agree that free trade is good for an economy in the long run, while trade-restrictive measures hurt consumers. Essentially, free trade enables lower prices for consumers, increased exports and a greater choice of goods.

What concerns South Korea more than the renegotiation of its trade pact with the US is the possibility of a trade war between the US and China. China accounts for about half of the US trade deficits, and the country is pointed out as the main culprit for massive job losses in the US. China also pursues global economic hegemony. The Trump administration considers imposing a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods to be sold in the US and also designating China a currency manipulator.

China, for its part, could counter such US moves by restricting US business investment in China, limiting imports of US goods, imposing retaliatory tariffs and undercutting the US.

If the Sino-US trade war escalates, the South Korean economy will be caught in the crossfire.

Japan needs to convince Washington of value of free trade

Editorial
The Yomiuri Shimbun

While the new US administration led by President Donald Trump has a lot of problems on its plate, Japan and the United States should cooperate and explore ways for both countries to benefit.

Representatives of the ruling and opposition parties in the House of Representatives have started questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about his key policy speech.

Mr Yoshihiko Noda, secretary-general of the major opposition Democratic Party, asked Mr Abe how he planned to face up to Mr Trump's "America first" policy. Mr Noda also asked how Mr Abe would respond to the official announcement by Mr Trump of the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

Mr Abe said: "I hope that Japan and the United States can further strengthen the bonds of an unwavering alliance. I will assert what I should assert (to him)." He added: "I believe President Trump as well understands the importance of free trade, so I'd like to resolutely pursue his understanding on the significance of the TPP trade pact."

Mr Trump's trade policy ignores the benefits of the global economy and is shortsighted. High-handed methods such as criticising private companies via Twitter and having them accede to his requests are unacceptable.

It would be difficult to have the self-centred Mr Trump retract the announced US withdrawal from the TPP accord. Still, it is important for Japan, in cooperation with countries such as Canada and Australia, to convince the US of the significance of free trade and tenaciously persuade Washington to compromise.

Mr Abe is arranging his schedule to make a visit to the US some time in the first half of next month. The important thing is not to let the differences in the standpoints of both countries look too obvious.

While trying to have the two countries share a perception of the political and economic situations in Asia, a cooperative alliance should be stubbornly pursued.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see www.asianews.network

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Asia prepares to deal with Trump, his people and policies'. Print Edition | Subscribe