How Asia Sees the Trump Presidency
By Shlomo Maital
Here is how my friend Bilahari Kausikan, former First Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sees the Asian reaction to the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President. This is from the Nikkei Asian Review:
Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Whatever they may say in public, few East Asian governments will greet the news with much enthusiasm — and all will harbour a degree of unease. Only the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made their preference for him known. But they are hardly typical and the latter, for once, did not follow China’s lead.
- Beijing is usually scrupulous about avoiding comment on the domestic politics of other countries, but still felt it necessary to publicly criticize Trump’s stance on climate change. A South China Morning Post poll published on Nov. 5 showed that 61% of Chinese preferred Trump’s Democrat rival Hillary Clinton, higher than her final share of the U.S. popular vote. Only 39% of the Chinese preferred Trump, lower than his share of the U.S. popular vote. A study by the U.S. journal Foreign Policy of Chinese elite attitudes, published on Nov. 7, concluded that while they viewed Clinton as unfriendly, most felt that Trump would be a disaster for the U.S. and hence for global stability.
- China’s leaders may not admit it, but they know that the U.S. is vital for the maintenance of regional stability. Beijing values stability above everything else, particularly with the Chinese Communist Party’s crucial 19th congress only a year away and internal labour and social unrest endemic. President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has generated a great sense of insecurity among cadres across all sectors of the state. In October, about 1,000 military veterans in uniform protested outside the ministry of defense in Beijing. It is impossible for such a large and conspicuous group to have gathered near such a sensitive area without at least the tacit connivance of some senior cadres.
- Like most of East Asia, China hates surprises. Clinton was a known quantity and would have stood for continuity in American policy toward the region. But East Asia is also pragmatic, not wont to just wring its hands in despair over new realities. Governments of the region will work with whoever is in power in the U.S.