S.E.A.View

Some S-E Asian states' views of Trump, US

'Arrogant, dangerous' US President scores badly in Indonesia, but it is a different story in the Philippines and Vietnam

A survey of global public opinion by the respected Pew Research Centre last month found that US President Donald Trump's policies and personality are widely unpopular. Accordingly, America's image around the world has taken a hit.

Of the 40,000 people surveyed in 37 countries, only 22 per cent expressed confidence in Mr Trump's ability to handle international affairs, down from 64 per cent for his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama. Favourable views of the United States have dropped from 64 per cent in the final years of the Obama administration to 49 per cent this year.

But how is Mr Trump perceived in South-east Asia? Although not all South-east Asian nations were included in the survey, the three most populous countries were: Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Their views reveal a mixed picture of Mr Trump's America that has both negative and positive implications for the US in the region.

In Indonesia, America's image has taken a severe hit since Mr Trump took office. Favourable views of the US have fallen from 62 per cent in 2015 to 48 per cent this year, with 43 per cent of Indonesians holding an unfavourable view of America. Only 23 per cent of Indonesians had a favourable view of Mr Trump compared with 64 per cent for Mr Obama.

JUST HOW UNPOPULAR IS TRUMP?

An American president has not been this unpopular in Indonesia since Mr George W. Bush. Indonesians see Mr Trump as arrogant (70 per cent), intolerant (64 per cent) and dangerous (64 per cent) - close to the global median of 75 per cent, 65 per cent and 62 per cent respectively.

Only 22 per cent of Indonesians think that Mr Trump is qualified to occupy the White House (close to the global median of 26 per cent) and 38 per cent think that US-Indonesia relations will get worse during his time in office. And while 40 per cent of Indonesians have generally favourable views of Americans, 78 per cent believe that the spread of US ideals and culture is harmful.


President Donald Trump at the presidential inauguration parade in Washington on Jan 20. Favourable views of the United States have dropped from 64 per cent in the final years of the Obama administration to 49 per cent this year. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

It is not hard to discern why Mr Trump scores so badly in Indonesia. Mr Obama was popular because he had spent part of his childhood there and was seen to respect the country's culture and religious values.

In sharp contrast, Mr Trump has only conducted business deals in the country and his anti-Islamic rhetoric during the presidential campaign went down badly with Indonesians; 67 per cent of Indonesians disapprove of his proposed travel ban on people entering the US from certain Muslim-majority countries (though Indonesia is not one of them).

THUMBS-UP FROM FILIPINOS, VIETNAMESE

Filipinos, on the other hand, seem to like Mr Trump: 67 per cent think that he is well qualified to be president and 69 per cent have confidence in his ability to manage international affairs - the highest among the 37 countries surveyed. Filipinos are also optimistic about the development of ties between the two countries under Mr Trump - 26 per cent think that relations will improve while 55 per cent think they will stay the same.

A former US colony which has maintained close links with the US since independence in 1946, unsurprisingly public opinion remains highly favourable towards Americans (85 per cent), US ideals and customs (62 per cent) and popular culture (73 per cent).

But has President Rodrigo Duterte's attempt to move the country's foreign policy away from the US in favour of better ties with China and Russia had any impact on Filipino public perceptions of the major powers? Apparently it has. While favourability ratings of the US are a respectable 70 per cent this year, this is down from 92 per cent in 2015.

And despite the Philippines' unresolved territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, 53 per cent think that Chinese President Xi Jinping will do the right thing in international affairs; 54 per cent think that Russian President Vladimir Putin will do the same.

Of the 40,000 people surveyed in 37 countries, only 22 per cent expressed confidence in Mr Donald Trump's ability to handle international affairs, down from 64 per cent for his predecessor Barack Obama.

A recent survey by the Philippines leading survey institute, the Social Weather Stations, shows that while 38 per cent of Filipinos still have little trust in China, this is significantly down from 62 per cent in 2015.

Vietnam presents one of the most interesting sets of results in the Pew Survey. It is one of only six countries where positive views of the US have actually increased since Mr Trump took office.

And as with Filipinos, Vietnamese seem to like Mr Trump too: 72 per cent see him as a strong leader and 71 per cent believe he is well qualified to be president (the global median is 55 per cent and 26 per cent respectively).

Vietnamese, and especially younger Vietnamese, also have a very positive view of their future relationship with America: 35 per cent think ties will improve under Mr Trump, while only 11 per cent think things will get worse.

This is despite the fact that 61 per cent of Vietnamese disapprove of his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal from which Vietnam was expected to benefit the most among the 12 participating countries.

APPROVAL FOR WALL FROM VIETNAM

International affairs in general seem to have been much on the minds of the Vietnamese who are locked in a long-running territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea and have looked to the US for support and to Russia for advanced weapons systems to defend their claims. While only 18 per cent have trust in President Xi's role in world affairs, 58 per cent have faith in Mr Trump's and a massive 79 per cent in President Putin's.

Negative views of China may also have influenced Vietnamese views of one of Mr Trump's signature policies: 35 per cent approve of his plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico, the highest among the three South-east Asian countries. Clearly for some Vietnamese, strong fences make good neighbours.


  • The writer is a senior fellow at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute. S.E.A. View is a weekly column on South-east Asian affairs.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Some S-E Asian states' views of Trump, US'. Print Edition | Subscribe