Asia ties after the US Elections

Mrs Clinton (above) is familiar with, and to, Asia, having served as Secretary of State, but Mr Trump has no foreign policy experience.
Mrs Clinton (above) is familiar with, and to, Asia, having served as Secretary of State, but Mr Trump has no foreign policy experience.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mrs Clinton is familiar with, and to, Asia, having served as Secretary of State, but Mr Trump (above) has no foreign policy experience.
Mrs Clinton is familiar with, and to, Asia, having served as Secretary of State, but Mr Trump (above) has no foreign policy experience.PHOTO: REUTERS

Asia has figured prominently in United States President Barack Obama's foreign policy since 2011.

Ahead of the US presidential election on Nov 8, the question being asked is: Will the pivot, or rebalance, to Asia continue under the next president?

Controversial businessman Donald Trump, who is the presumptive Republican nominee but has no foreign policy experience, has already said it will be "America First" if he is elected.

In comparison, Mrs Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front runner and former First Lady who served as her country's top diplomat for four years, is familiar with, and to, Asia. The Sunday Times looks at what a Trump or Clinton presidency will mean for Asia.

PHILIPPINES: Seeking ‘balance’ on US, China ties

He may have been called the "Donald Trump of the Philippines", but the equally brash-talking President- elect Rodrigo Duterte will likely hit it off better with Mrs Hillary Clinton, analysts say.

Mr Jose Antonio Custodio, a defence analyst and former consultant of the US military, said the two men would create "excitement" because there would be "a lot of theatrics". But their relationship would also be unpredictable.

"Trump is theatrical. If there's an incident, Trump may respond in kind," he said.

Mr Custodio said Mr Duterte, by being unpredictable with his foreign policy, especially on China, is seeking to balance US and Chinese influence on Philippine affairs.

"The US has been patronising, condescending. By being unpredictable, Duterte will be a source of concern, and so they will have to treat him with a little more respect," said Mr Custodio.

"It's more equi-balancing vis-a- vis Beijing and America," said political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian, of De La Salle University.

He said a softer policy towards China is unlikely to drive a wedge into the US-Philippine alliance, no matter who is elected president.

"The US pivot is comprehensive and is not anchored by a single ally. The real regional vortex is Singapore, Japan and Australia, not the Philippines," he said.

Mr Luis Limlingan, an analyst with Regina Capital Development, said with the two men having very similar personalities, "they will likely clash on different issues".

"Clinton can probably handle Duterte better. She has more policy experience, and it will be easy for them to reach agreements," he said.

MALAYSIA: Issue is whether pivot to Asia continues

Politically insular, Muslim-majority Malaysia has not shown overwhelming interest in the US presidential campaign.

But like elsewhere, the chattering classes have adopted a mocking stance towards billionaire Donald Trump, without necessarily supporting any other candidate.

Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, who is chairman of CIMB, one of the region's top banks, and Prime Minister Najib Razak's younger brother, has called the Republican candidate "the most dangerous man on earth".

But in the lower reaches of society, Mr Trump's anti-Muslim remarks have not created much hype, even though the Islamic community here is the second-largest in South-east Asia.

Instead, President Barack Obama, generally a popular figure here, was the subject of protests during anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership rallies.

Mr Trump and his Democratic rival, Mrs Hillary Clinton, have opposed the trade pact, but Malaysia's expectation is that whoever becomes president will still push for its ratification.

The key issue then is whether the new US leader would carry on Mr Obama's pivot to Asia, especially with China becoming increasingly assertive in its relations with Malaysia.

"Ultimately, the US has been quite consistent in not wanting other superpowers to be dominant in South- east Asia. This will likely continue under either candidate, but Clinton would of course have the track record, having been Secretary of State for Obama," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of policy think-tank Ideas.


INDONESIA: No harm to trade or relations seen

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's disrespectful remarks about Muslims may have angered many in Indonesia, but a Trump presidency will not harm trade or political relations between the two countries.

Mr Gusmardi Bustami, who heads independent local research institution Trade Policy Forum, said Mr Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric was only a ploy to garner more votes but would not translate into protectionist measures by the United States.

"The US is always open to markets abroad while creating employment in its own country," he said, adding that Asean countries are very important to the United States for trade and political purposes. "Since Indonesia is the biggest in Asean, the US will not disturb or hurt us," he added.

Officials noted that President Joko Widodo's visit to Washington last October showed a "positive, comprehensive partnership" between the two countries and offered many investment opportunities.

"I don't think Trump, being a businessman, will close the door on us," said Ms Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, vice-chair for international relations at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

But many Indonesians hope US voters will support the "more friendly" Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton. They believe she understands Indonesia better and will continue President Barack Obama's work.

Mr Hikmahanto Juwana, University of Indonesia's international law professor, said: "We all leave it to the Americans, but we want to tell them that in exercising their voting rights, they must look outwardly as the US has a global influence."

JAPAN: Goal is to further ties with whoever is elected

Some of the campaign rhetoric may have troubled the United States’ long-time ally Japan, but Tokyo’s response is that it will work with whoever is the new US president.

The goal is to “further strengthen Japan-US relations going forward”, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier this month.
Regional Revitalisation Minister Shigeru Ishiba told a forum in Washington recently that while the comments of a presidential candidate caused “a lot of concern”, he was sure “the proper policies will be formulated with an understanding of the nature of the alliance and the international environment”.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has been touting an “America First” foreign policy, wants Japan and South Korea to pay more for defence arrangements. He also suggested they develop their own nuclear weapons – an unthinkable idea to the only country to be attacked by atomic bombs.

Such views are “a betrayal of trust (and) antithetical to the foundations of bilateral relations”, Professor Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Japan’s Temple University, told The Sunday Times.

But he noted that Mr Trump’s views on security “dovetail with the wish list of hawkish conservatives” who are eager to see Japan expand its security posture and take more responsibility for national security. This is because the comments show that “in a time of need, the US may be an unreliable ally”.

In comparison, Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton is “admired and represents the responsible adult in the room”, Prof Kingston added, given her previous job as secretary of state.  

CHINA: Experts split over impact on bilateral ties

Despite his China-bashing rhetoric, Mr Donald Trump has many fans among Chinese netizens.

His entrepreneurial prowess aside, the presumptive Republican nominee’s political incorrectness holds appeal in a society where few dare to step out of line.

A Global Times poll of 3,300 people in late March found 54 per cent support for Mr Trump, who also benefited from Chinese wariness of Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, who adopted a tough stance on issues such as cybersecurity and human rights when she was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.

But Chinese foreign policy experts are split over the impact the two have on bilateral ties.

Renmin University analyst Shi Yinhong said economic ties could suffer under a Trump presidency. He had pledged to impose a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports.

“We could see a significant negative impact at least for the first two years,” he told The Sunday Times.

Most analysts expect Mr Trump, whose China-bashing is related to trade, to be more flexible on bilateral issues. It will also be to China’s benefit if the new leader focuses on the US economy rather than on maintaining US influence overseas.

As for a Clinton presidency, China remains cautious as she was instrumental in implementing the US’ pivot to Asia, which is seen as an attempt to contain China’s rise.

Yet, a Democratic win means the US’ stance towards China will be more predictable due to continuity of policies and personnel in the White House, analysts told Global Times in a recent interview.

“China is more familiar with Clinton. As for who (exactly) Trump is, no one knows,” said Professor Shi.

AUSTRALIA: How region may be affected a concern 

Australian leaders have insisted the rise of Mr Donald Trump will not affect Canberra’s close alliance with Washington, but they have publicly opposed his platforms and all but confirmed a preference for Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

Outwardly, Australian politicians have said they can work with Mr Trump, but their language has demonstrated concerns about the unpredictable consequences he could have for Australia and the region.

“He doesn’t scare me,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last Tuesday. “Should he be elected, we’ll work with him.” 

Australia’s ruling conservative Coalition has tended to align with the Republicans but this has not held under Mr Trump.

This is not only because Australian leaders oppose  his proposed ban on Muslim immigration and proposal to arm Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons, but also because Mrs Clinton is well-known and trusted among senior MPs.

Commentators believe that Mr Trump’s threat to reduce the US military footprint in Asia could destabilise the region.

They have also warned he could disrupt Canberra’s and Washington’s relations with China and derail the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Most believe Mrs Clinton will continue to rebalance Washington’s focus towards the Asia-Pacific. 

“Australian policymakers would be most comfortable with a President Clinton – likely to do as she did as Secretary of State: maintain the pivot, be visible in South- east Asia, engage with China,” Ms Elena Collinson, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney’s Australia-China Relations Institute, wrote in Fairfax Media last month.

SOUTH KOREA: Worries about trade and security

Some analysts have warned that Seoul’s security alliance with Washington might crumble if the next US president were Mr Donald Trump, who has said he might withdraw the 28,000 US forces stationed in South Korea to keep North Korea at bay.

The presumptive Republican nominee has also demanded that Seoul pay the full cost of keeping US troops here, instead of about half the bill or 920 billion won (S$1 billion).

Sogang University’s political science professor Kim Jae Chun said “no US President can single-handedly scrap the alliance”, but ties would be “adversely affected” under a Trump presidency.

There are also worries that Mr Trump may implement protectionist trade policies that will hurt South Korea’s exports to the US, and that he might push for South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons against nuclear-armed North Korea, which could lead to a nuclear arms race in East Asia.

In contrast, South Koreans view Mr Trump’s key rival, Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, more favourably as they are more familiar with her work as US Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. Mrs Clinton visited Seoul five times during her tenure, including in 2010 to pay tribute to 46 sailors killed in a warship sinking blamed on the North.

Prof Kim said Mrs Clinton is well versed in foreign policy and more likely to “stay committed to the US-Korea alliance”. However, there is also concern that her hawkish stance on North Korea could rock stability in the Korean peninsula.

“If Trump is an earthquake, Clinton is a storm. Either way, Korea is faced with a serious challenge,” said an editorial in the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

INDIA: Analysts predict continuity in US policy

He has made fun of the accents of Indian call centre workers, accused Indians of taking jobs away from Americans and pledged to curb the number of Indians entering the United States to work.

But Mr Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has also called India a “great place” and the only country that can act as a check on “dangerous” Pakistan.

The remarks leave Indians confused and unsure about Mr Trump.

In contrast, many regard his likely presidential rival Hillary Clinton as a friend of India.

“With Hillary Clinton, we have experience and something to go by, while Trump is an unknown quality... If there is a need for protectionist measures, one would expect Clinton to be more moderate than Trump. Trump would be more aggressive in dealing with Pakistan,” said Mr Naresh Chandra, a former Indian ambassador to the US.

“Most Indians would like to see Hillary Clinton in the White House.”

India and the US have drawn closer in recent years, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to visit the US next month, his fourth trip to the US in two years.

While the rhetoric against the Indian outsourcing industry remains a worry, with Mrs Clinton also saying she would punish US companies that sent jobs out of the country, foreign policy analysts predict a continuity in US policy towards India.

“Whoever comes to power will see the advantage of maintaining a strategic partnership with India,” said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

Still, Mr Trump is not without supporters. Members of Hindu Sena, a right-wing Hindu group, are praying for his victory on Nov 8.


Next U.S. President’s Asian agenda

What a Clinton or Trump presidency means for Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'Asia ties after the U.S. Elections'. Subscribe