Uncertainty in Asia over what Donald Trump's Presidency means for the region

TOKYO, Japan - As Donald Trump gears up for the White House, there is uncertainty across Asia over what the next U.S. president has in store for the region. Many countries in Northeast and ...


• Report warns of Asia arms race if Trump withdraws U.S. forces

• Mixed outlook in China over Trump administration

• South Korean lawmakers in talks with Trump transition team

TOKYO, Japan - As Donald Trump gears up for the White House, there is uncertainty across Asia over what the next U.S. president has in store for the region.

Many countries in Northeast and Southeast Asia are trying to get to grips with what his position and commitment to the region will be and how they will affect the delicate economic engagement and security hedging strategies of countries in the region.

From China and Japan to the smaller nations of Southeast Asia, the region's leaders want to know whether Trump will make good on his campaign promises and potshots, which have the potential to shake up alliances, upend the geopolitical map and risk all-out conflict.

The region is rife with major geopolitical hot spots - China's rise, maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas, instability on the Korean peninsula and a recent trend of tensions between South-east Asia's strongmen leaders and Washington. Were America to withdraw, it would destabilise the region and cause a split between Asia and the Pacific.

Among likely policy changes, Trump is likely to abolish Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia policy and stop encouraging Asian Pacific nations to aggravate tensions in the South China Sea.

Trump's election could also see the United States breaking the ice with China and ASEAN nations. 

Killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) project will be Trump’s first step in this direction. Trump's victory has erased chances of early U.S. ratification of the 12-nation trade pact.

In the midst of this escalating tension, a new report warns of a leadership vacuum and even a nuclear arms race if the U.S. withdraws from the region threatened by a provocative North Korea.

The Asia Foundation report, based on consultations among academics and former officials from 20 Asian nations, warns that withdrawing U.S. forces could compel Tokyo and Seoul to seek their own nuclear deterrents — rather than rely on America's — which in turn would "trigger massive destabilisation of the regional order."

But authors of the report also say in some parts of the region there's hope that a shift from President Barack Obama's signature foreign policy could be for the good.

Trump has taken some early steps to allay those fears. 

He quickly reassured the leaders of Australia, Japan and South Korea of his commitment to U.S. alliances. 

On Thursday, Trump will meet in New York with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is traveling to a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Peru.

The Japanese prime minister will be seeking reassurance from the president-elect, who on the campaign trail suggested that unless Tokyo paid more for its defense, it should go it alone and perhaps build a nuclear weapon to protect itself.

Impact on China

The most obvious blow a Trump presidency can deal to Beijing’s interest is his opposition to the forces of globalisation that propelled China’s economic rise.

Trump made China a frequent target in the run-up to the election, promising to slap a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.

But by the same token, China could benefit greatly if he does carry out his promise to kill President Obama’s two main diplomatic legacies – the U.S. “pivot to Asia”, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade pact involving the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. 

Beijing sees both policies as part of a larger plan to “contain” China’s rise.

It is for this reason, therefore, that despite the anti-China rhetoric, the average Chinese person on the street appears to be pleased with the election result.

According to a property portal's survey, respondents said they respect Trump as a dealmaker and businessman. 

That meshes with the thinking of many Chinese people. 

As a strong negotiator, Trump will likely lead to a better U.S. economy, the survey suggests, and gains in the U.S. property that would accompany that, which would, in turn, benefit Chinese investors tapping into the U.S. real estate market.

Relationship with South Korea "intact"

A group of South Korean legislators visiting the U.S. has received assurance that the Seoul-Washington alliance under a Donald Trump presidency will remain firmly intact. 

During talks in New York and Washington earlier in the week, South Korean lawmakers and Trump's close aides specifically agreed to continue tackling the North Korean nuclear issue.

On the campaign trail, Trump had threatened to pull American forces out of South Korea unless Seoul pays more for their upkeep. 

Under a deal reached two years ago, the South Korean government contributes about 40 percent of U.S. military costs in the country.

But when Trump talked to South Korean President Park Geun-hye on the phone last Thursday, South Korean officials reported, he said he agreed “100 percent” with Seoul on the need to maintain the security alliance.

The United States should impose "secondary boycott" sanctions on Chinese financial institutions for doing business with North Korea, a senior member of the transition team of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was also quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Along with the U.S., the defense forces of South Korea and Japan are on high alert following a recent finding through satellite imagery which exposed potential preparations being carried out at a North Korean facility for a new missile launch.

North Korea going rogue with nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs could soon turn into an international crisis that might come even earlier than expected, according to reports.

Pyongyang carried out two nuclear weapon tests earlier this year, including dozens of missile tests, which failed to adhere to UN sanctions.

The latest missile launch preparations have been reported to be active at North Korea’s Sohae launch facility.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan signed a provisional military intelligence-sharing accord, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced on Monday.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency also reported on Tuesday that the South would provide Japan with human intelligence (HUMINT), gathered by high-profile North Korean defectors and human networks on the border between the DPRK and China.

 

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