What will happen to East Asia if Donald Trump wins?

Mr Donald Trump officially became the Republican presidential nominee at the party's National Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mr Trump has caused alarm all over the world by repeatedly making outrageous statements. No one knows if he will be elected as the president of the United States; even if he does win, it is still unclear whether he will put his words from the campaign trail into action. It is very difficult to predict what will happen should a Trump administration take power because there are too many uncertainties.

Still, we should not allow ourselves to be at the mercy of Mr Trump.

It is extremely important for the people in Asia to raise their voices and communicate their concerns and viewpoints to the voters in the US while this presidential election is under way. It is surely possible for us in Asia to communicate our opinions to the US voters.

Accordingly, as a citizen of an East Asian country, the author would like to share the following with voters in the US.

If Mr Trump is able to put his words into practice, the influence of the US in this region will diminish considerably and the positive trajectory of peace and prosperity of East Asia will be derailed, which of course will adversely affect the US as well. Far from the image of the US as a great nation, this will mean the emergence of a weak US and an unstable East Asia. The combination of these two things will pose a great risk to the rest of the world.


Mr Trump's supporters waiting to hear him during a rally in Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday. The Republican presidential nominee has caused alarm all around the world by repeatedly making outrageous statements. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Judging from his past speeches and comments made in interviews, Mr Trump seems to have the following ideas.

The US has become a country with huge debts because other countries have exploited it. The US must negotiate with the countries that have benefited from their ties with it and renew their relationships to enable the US to profit from them, preventing it from being further exploited. Mr Trump's remarks have created a stir as they suggest that the US means to gain the leverage necessary for building with those respective countries relationships that are advantageous to itself.

Mr Trump has denounced allies, saying that they are not paying enough in exchange for the security guaranteed by the US armed forces stationed in their countries. He has demanded that allies pay in full for these costs and more. If they fail to do so, he has said he will pull the US armed forces out of Japan and South Korea. Based on these remarks, he seems convinced that allies will pay these fees if the US takes an arm-twisting approach.

We should view Mr Trump's statements that indicate approval for nuclear armament in Japan and South Korea as a cheap trick aimed at giving credibility to his threat of withdrawal. Mr Trump might try to threaten US abandonment to pressure allies, but North Korea and China would see this as a clear message that the US is no longer interested in defending its allies. This would no doubt bring about more risks to US interests in Asia.

Regarding China, Mr Trump is said to believe that he should put pressure on the country to correct its unfair economic practices amongst other things, because it is a global power that is depriving the US of huge profits through those practices. For that reason, he has blustered that he will designate China as a currency manipulator on the day he is inaugurated.

Mr Trump has also said that he will duly deploy the US armed forces in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. He has positioned their deployment as a means of strengthening the US position in its trade negotiations with China. Is Mr Trump thinking about scaling down the US military presence in the East China Sea and the South China Sea once Sino-US trade negotiations advance and a satisfactory deal is reached? His manner of understanding US-China relations is a risk in itself if he views China as merely a business partner.

As everyone knows, Mr Trump has said he would scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and try to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). He seems to have made those assertions based on the simplistic assumption that he can curb the overseas expansion of US companies, particularly those in manufacturing, and reverse the decreasing employment rate in the US manufacturing sector by rejecting free trade. However, where does he think US manufacturers can sell their products? Does he think that all products manufactured in the US can be consumed at home and there is no need for them to be shipped overseas?

East Asia will become destabilised if Mr Trump is inaugurated in 2017 and those questionable plans are put into practice. Under pressure from the US, allies could increasingly distrust a Trump administration. Observing cracks emerging between the US, Japan and South Korea, North Korea could escalate its military provocations to an unprecedented degree to perhaps seek the removal of sanctions. Japan and South Korea could experience economic blows because foreign capital will flee from them over the course of these developments. These negative effects would also reach the US.

Furthermore, China could offer an incentive of some kind to satisfy Mr Trump, obtain a concession for non-intervention in East Asian security affairs, and steadily advance steps for controlling the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

On the economic front, China would be able to more easily advance into other countries unless a high standard trade order supported by advanced rules like the TPP is established. These developments would increase China's leverage over the US, not the other way around.

In sum, the region could become increasingly filled with uncertainty and instability, and business supply chains would be exposed to this undesirable environment. East Asian states could be put into a difficult situation, and the problems that emerge in this region will spread to the US and other parts of the world in various ways.

Not a shred of US influence will remain if the perception spreads that the US has abandoned its role as a stabilising force in East Asia. Most countries in the world wish for the US economy to revitalise. However, the road indicated by Mr Trump looks like a treacherous path that will bring a grim outlook to not only the US but also to East Asia and the entire world.

•The writer is professor at Hosei University, Japan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'What will happen to East Asia if Trump wins?'. Print Edition | Subscribe