Trump and Asia
Jan. 19, 2017
Donald Trump will be sworn in as US president on Friday, and Asia is waiting to see what he has in store for the region.
Questions linger over the possibility of a more protectionist trade policy, and the end of America's role as "the world's policeman." Changes made in Washington are likely to affect Asia.
Tokyo is focusing on how he'll handle the alliance and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. Only 8 days after the US election, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Trump Tower, becoming the first foreign leader to meet with him.
"I am convinced that the President-elect, Mr. Trump, is a leader whom I can trust," Abe said.
Trump emphasized on Twitter that meeting with Abe was the beginning of a great friendship. But several days later, he released a video message, in which he said: "I am issuing a notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country."
US-China relations have also been shaken by the President-elect. On December 2, Trump had a phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The communication was the first between leaders of the US and Taiwan since 1979, when Washington normalized relations with Beijing.
During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said the long-standing American policy of "One China" could be a subject of negotiation.
Beijing responded quickly.
"Any attempt to undermine the One China principle or use it as a bargaining chip by anyone for any purpose shall be met with firm opposition from the Chinese government and people and the international community and suffer severe consequences," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.
Trump has also criticized China on broader issues, saying, for instance, that the country "has taken total advantage of us economically, totally advantage of us in the South China Sea by building massive fortress."
Chinese officials rejected Trump's claims on trade and maritime activities.
Trump has also been urging manufacturers to keep jobs within the US. He condemned Toyota for its plans to build a factory in Mexico.
Toyota leaders had to make a case on the firm's contributions to the US. Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda said that the company has "136,000 team members here in US" and that it "will be investing another 10 billion dollars in the US over the next 5 years."
Meanwhile, Trump has been warmly greeting business tycoons from Asia who are investing in the US.
"He's just agreed to invest 50 billion dollars in the United Atates, and 500,000 jobs," Trump said after meeting with Softbank Group chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son.
"We had great meeting, and great, great entrepreneur, the best in the world," the president-elect said after a meeting with Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group.
As the beginning of the Trump presidency nears, speculation over his Asia policies is growing in the region.
Yasuhiro Izumikawa, a professor at Chuo University, joins anchor Aki Shibuya in the studio.
Shibuya: What is your overall impression of Trump's remarks and actions over the last 2 months?
Izumikawa: I think one of the most interesting features of this incoming administration is the ambiguity regarding the policies that they are going to pursue. Usually we're going to get a better picture about what their policies will look like as we approach the inauguration. This time it's kind of the opposite. This is because many contradictions remain regarding the prospective members of his cabinet. There are contradictions between Mr. Trump and some of his nominees, and there are contradictions among the nominees themselves. And this applies to both economic and security issues. So that's very remarkable.
Shibuya: So now let's talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnershp free trade agreement. Japan and many other Asian countries have a high interest in the TPP. Trump has said that on the first day of his presidency, he will formally announce America's withdrawal from the TPP deal. You predicted back in November that Trump is likely to act on his promise. Has your position changed since then?
Izumikawa: I stick to my position. I don't know whether it's going to happen on the first day or not but I assume that it's going to happen sooner or later, unfortunately. That's because anti-trade and anti-globalization is one of his core messages, and TPP is such a symbolic aspect of that issue, so it's very difficult for him to backtrack on that."
Shibuya: On the other hand, Trump's been meeting with Japanese and Chinese tycoons in the last few months. It's obvious that he wants to attract more foreign investment to the US. How do you think he plans to expand trade with Asia?
Izumikawa: In a way he's consistent in saying that he would like to promote exports and restrict imports, so of course inviting foreign investment to the United States is one issue that he can pursue. But more controversial and problematic aspect is whether he's going to impose tariffs on imports. If he's going to do so, that's going to create turmoil in US politics and also of course it will have severe reverberations in Asian economies.
Shibuya: Trump's stance on national security also remains unclear. He said that the US can no longer be the policeman of the world, yet he criticized China's increasing maritime activities in the South China Sea. How involved do you think the country will be in East Asia's security issues, including North Korea's nuclear ambitions?
Izumikawa: Regarding North Korea, I think it's very difficult to predict what he's going to do. But if he actually acts on his gut and his instinctive approaches, that might be combined with domestic turmoil in South Korea and that could be a very, very serious situation.
Regarding the Trump administration's Asia policy in general, I think the one thing we need to pay attention to is the balance between economic and security issues will be handled within the Trump administration. As I said, there are contradictions, and the contradictions between the security and economic staff of the incoming administration is remarkable. If the security staff actually prevails then we expect the policy will be relatively smooth, and something that we have been observing in recent years and decades. But if the economic side prevails, then that could be a very, very difficult situation for Asia.
Shibuya: Moving on to US-China relations, Trump has questioned the "One China" policy. How do you think he really feels about China?
Izumikawa: As you know, he has taken very stern positions on China. He even said that the One China policy is on the negotiation table. Yet I'm not entirely convinced that's something that he will stick to for the next 4 years or even 8 years. I think he expressed that he is considering the kind of deal that he is pursuing vis-a-vis China. That means that if he gets a good deal from China, then the One China policy is something that he will compromise on. And still, it's very unclear what kind of security strategy the incoming administration is going to take.
Shibuya: Finally on US-Japan relations. What kind of approach will Japan pursue towards Trump and his administration?
Izumikawa: I think there are 2 elements that are important. One is caution, and patience. As we have seen, Mr. Trump has, and will make a lot of comments, some of which -- or many of which, even -- could be contradictory. So it's very difficult to go up and down every time he says something. So that's something that we should not do.
The other thing that's important is that Japan does what it can. Recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Australia and other Southeast Asian countries and tried to create a network through which we can maximize the possibility of continuing with engagement in the region. And I don't know if that's going to be sufficient, but that's a very important thing to do.