The View From Asia

Trepidation as Trump is sworn in

The region's trade, jobs and security could be at stake, say commentators in the Asia News Network newspapers. Below are excerpts.

Who will benefit from a trade war?

Editorial
China Daily, China

Some hawkish members of the Donald Trump team have adopted war-like rhetoric about the new administration's trade relations with China.

They seem to want to send the message that other countries need the United States more than the other way round. But they may not see the whole picture.

The trade warriors' first miscalculation is not recognising that the world is now vastly different from the 1980s, when Mr Ronald Reagan, their role model, was US president.

Since then, according to the World Bank, the global total of merchandise exports has climbed more than eight times, to almost US$16.5 trillion (S$23.6 trillion) in 2015.

Of this amount, the US accounts for a little more than 9 per cent. So its ability to mobilise enough war efforts against the world's largest exporter, which accounts for 13.8 per cent, cannot but be limited.


This US Navy surveillance image from 2015 purports to show Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef, in the South China Sea's disputed Spratly Islands. If the new US administration weakens its engagement in the South China Sea, Beijing may strengthen its control there. PHOTO: REUTERS

Secondly, according to the World Trade Organisation, although China is dependent on the US for 18 per cent of its total exports - more than the US is on China, at 7.7 per cent - China's global reach is more extensive.

Thirdly, China is increasingly less dependent on the making of small daily commodities. It is now producing some of the best machinery in the world.

More recently, China has also grown into a worldwide investor.

So trying to shut out China is unwise.

Trump's unpredictability poses risk

Editorial
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

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.

It is worrying to note that Mr Donald 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 were 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.

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

If the new US 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.

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 anti-aircraft arsenal deployed on seven man-made islands.

If such movements are left as they are, then "freedom of navigation", a common interest to the international community, will be threatened. The new Trump administration should not forget the obligations of checking China from making unilateral maritime advances, while avoiding a military clash with China.

North Korea's Mr 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. The Trump administration will be required to make continuous efforts to reinforce the US' deterrent force.

Prepare to change

Editorial
The China Post,

Taiwan What's been done cannot be undone, and it is time to act with great will and determination to anticipate the changes in store as a result of Mr Donald Trump's election last year.

The issue here is not whether to agree with Mr Trump's economic programme, the so-called Trumponomics, but rather to understand that the new US President is a pragmatic conservative who knows that there are a lot of voters, politicians and business people around the world who are like him in their pragmatism, not ideology.

And there is no shortage of pragmatism in Taiwan, as is outlined in the open letter that Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou sent Mr Trump in December. In it, Mr Gou explains how his company, also known as Foxconn, made iPhones in Brazil to get around import tariffs. In his own words, he "got the job done" by keeping Apple's and Brazil's leaders happy. Brazilian workers were the only ones who didn't benefit from this approach, which didn't create much employment and which passed the extra-assembly costs for the high-end phones on to the public.

That's the point Mr Gou was also trying to make: If the new USPresident wants iPhones, cars, clothes and more to be made in America, business leaders like himself can make that happen, but the costs will be higher.

However, if business leaders are encouraged to invest in a new supply base in the US through tax breaks, subsidies to hire workers, cheap electricity and free land - and as long as somebody else is going to pay the extra costs - some such return of business to the US could occur.

Taiwan is the ninth-largest trading partner of the United States, directly or indirectly supporting more than 320,000 jobs in this country. The US is also Taiwan's third-largest export market, providing products ranging from electronics, plastics and metal-base components to machinery and equipment and accounting for 10.3 per cent of Taiwan's total exports last year.

Considering that the US economy is recovering and domestic consumption is increasing, demand for manufacturing and raw materials is poised to jump-start this year.

If, as promised, the new President withdraws his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, it is essential for Taiwan businesses to re-balance their position in the region and consider new options.

The danger of an unrestrained US leader

Editorial
The Nation, Thailand

It is Inauguration Day in the United States, and the phrase "God save America" is suddenly in vogue, there and elsewhere, a worrying development for a country that was for so long universally admired.

The new utterance is not being spoken to evoke domestic pride and patriotism or foreign support. Rather it is being used in stark contrast to the familiar phrase "God bless America", a sentiment that for generations most citizens of other countries found little to quibble with, given the acknowledged greatness of the United States.

For the better part of two centuries, America did indeed seem divinely blessed. Recent history has altered that perception overseas, though, and the new President, Mr Donald Trump, appears to have a far different concept of what it will take to "make America great again".

Mr Trump has an unnerving tendency to behave like a supreme being, his podium an altar, his pronouncements the gospel that cannot be challenged.

It is understandable that he overflows with confidence, having achieved such a pinnacle, but his brashness and his messiah-like boasts of being America's saviour have to be reined in.

The greatest concern overseas is that America's constitutional checks and balances, now under assault from despotic forces, will be unable to temper Mr Trump's hasty recklessness. Mr Trump's tweets about corporations already affect their stock listings significantly, for better or worse.

Could a foolish Twitter post about North Korea trigger a nuclear attack? Might his abrasive attitude towards China inadvertently bolster Beijing's global influence? Will his avowed protectionism leave US citizens poorer?

The reality show has become reality. We are about to discover whether America can become great again - and whether the word "great" takes on unexpected meanings.


  • 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 21, 2017, with the headline 'Trepidation as Trump is sworn in'. Print Edition | Subscribe