The growing importance of the possible results of the US presidential election is being understood by an increasing number of international players. The election campaign is being closely followed in Eastern Asia, which has become the new center of the great game.
At the same time the two leading Asian powers (China and Japan) are showing the same amount of cautiousness in commenting on the speeches delivered by Donald Trump, the main phenomenon of this presidential race. At first glance this may seem rather strange, if one is to take into account the growing polarizations of the positions occupied by Tokyo and Beijing.
And since Trump is a shark in the business world, by definition he must sense the shift of the public’s mood, which would give him insight into the demands of the near future . And the public wants someone to prevent behind-the-scenes international elites from abusing the power of the American state. It’s time to address the most pressing social issues in the US, and Trump is fully aware of that fact.
No matter how extravagant Trump’s speeches could be, they always focus on the anti-national domestic and foreign policy of the sitting US administration and the ways that those policies can be adjusted to serve America, not Wall Street.
The main idea behind the campaign that Donald Trump launched can be described as neo-isolationism and it’s the direct answer to demands of US society. It can be summed up in the following message to US allies: “It’s high time for you to take care of your own security or at the very least not to be as greedy in paying for the stationing of US troops overseas.”
It is important to note that different US allies react differently to this notion. Europe is responding rather calmly to the possible (hypothetical) US military withdrawal, since it has seen no real threat to its own safety for some time now.
In Japan, Donald Trump’s remarks that US troops may leave the island and that it should acquire its own nuclear weapons provoked what the Japanese press described as “silent confusion.” Commenting on those “remarks”, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed hope that whoever becomes the next US president, the cooperation in the field of security will still remain the cornerstone of bilateral relations between the old allies. In addition, he confirmed the intention of the Government of Japan to stick to the well-known principle of “three nos” to nuclear weapons.
Donald Trump was quick to specify his position on the extremely sensitive issue of the strategic stability in the region, by noting that he was not referring to the militarization of Japan, instead he expected much more generous financial support for American troops in Japan, which didn’t bring positive results as well. In response, the respected newspaper Japan Times published a note that Japan has been allocating 1.7 billion dollars from the budget annually to pay for the arrangment.
However, Trump didn’t stop arguing with the main American ally in Asia, noting that while he himself is a big supporter of US relations with Japan, he is nevertheless convinced that America shouldn’t subsidize the Japanese economic behemoth through its car trade, and all the rest. It’s clear that he brought up a painful aspect of bilateral relations, since the US has been enjoying a negative trade balance with Japan for a while now, which remains the main obstacle to the successful conclusion of the negotiations on the formation of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP).
It should be noted that yet another presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, is a rampant opponent of the TTP. It should be noted that Donald Trump has always treated Sanders with respect, which represents a sharp contrast to his assessment of yet another Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, who represents the interests of the Neocon crowd.
While economic matters remains a major component of Trump’s anti-Chinese criticism, his speeches are being taken pretty cautiously in Beijing. However, Chinese sources would also note that the US trade deficit with China is not 500 billion dollars, as Trump claims, but “only” 366 billion dollars.
It should be noted that there’s no general line towards the effect of Donald Trump in China yet, since Beijing is pretty skeptical about his chances to take the office in Washington. It is possible, however, that such moods are affected by the anti-Chinese rhetoric of Donald Trump.
It is important to note, however, it is noted that China has shown no clear position on the US role in regional affairs as well. On the one hand, Washington’s actions indicate that it aims at deterring China, but at the same time Beijing is well aware of the fact that should US troops leave the region, their positions would soon be occupied by Japan, which has made a claim to be the one of the leading players in the East Asian region and amid international politics.
The extreme complexity of the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, where the factor of the Japan-China face-off is only just gaining steam is the main reason why Trump’s ideas about neo-isolationism are taken so painfully.
It should be noted that the apparent populism and “childish mistakes” in public statements are fairly common for beginners in “big politics”. However, those statements represent the fundamental moods of US society, therefore they should not be taken lightly.
Should Trump become president one day, with some amount of effort from experienced advisers, he would put those notions into diplomatically accepted forms and put them into practice, which may have the most dramatic impact on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and on the situation in the world.
Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on the issues of Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”