United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 11, 2016
Executive Summary: Wild Man Trump has been elected president of the United States. He has sent ripples across the pond, both domestically and internationally. He has upset the world's power structure and value framework. Take Asia, where we are situated. Most nervous of all are Japan and South Korea, traditional allies of the US in Asia. They have requested early visits to Washington to get a handle on Trump's foreign policy. Now take the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. What if Trump abandons the Obama regime's TPP and "Asian rebalancing" policies? What if the United States ceases to contain Mainland China? How will Taiwan deal with the situation? That too must be addressed, as early as possible.
Wild Man Trump has been elected president of the United States. He has sent ripples across the pond, both domestically and internationally. He has upset the world's power structure and value framework. Take Asia, where we are situated. Most nervous of all are Japan and South Korea, traditional allies of the US in Asia. They have requested early visits to Washington to get a handle on Trump's foreign policy. Now take the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. What if Trump abandons the Obama regime's TPP and "Asian rebalancing" policies? What if the United States ceases to contain Mainland China? How will Taiwan deal with the situation? That too must be addressed, as early as possible.
Trump is an entrepreneur. He has no political experience. He has no diplomatic experience. This means his foreign policy will depart from the traditional political power and balance of power framework. US interests will be his point of reference. If he does not change significantly after taking office, the United States under his administration will no longer sacrifice its own economic interests to win over allies. Nor will it spend huge sums of money to play the role of world policeman. Its overseas military tentacles will be dramatically shrunk. The US will no longer be as internationally active as it used to be.
From past experience, a US president's remarks during an election may not represent his position after taking office. Trump is unfamiliar with foreign affairs. The bureaucracy will play an even more important role during a Trump administration. In any case, Trump's individualist colors are bright. The possibility of compromise is extremely low. When applied to international affairs, US foreign policy during his regime may yield three qualitative changes.
First, it will change from aggressive expansionism to "new isolationism". Trump has long believed that United States intervention after 2001, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and in the South China Sea, has squandered United States military power and resources. The nation has not benefited. Instead its people have become victims. Following this logic, the United States will focus more on domestic economic development in the future, rather than remain actively involved in global affairs. This new isolationist approach will ease the confrontation between the United States and China in the South China Sea. But it may lead to changes in the Asian-Pacific region. The United States' abstention may allow Mainland China to further realize its "Rise of a Great Power" dream.
Second, it will change US priorities, from “The global order first”, to “US prosperity first”. To counter the Mainland China led RCEP, the US has sacrificed its domestic market in order to lead the TPP. Trump thinks this has allowed cheap goods into the US and caused the US economy to suffer. He wants the United States to abandon TPP regional alignment. He favors giving priority to the US economy, and punishing nations that engage in unfair trade practices with high tariffs. This new trade protectionism may lead to economic conflicts between the United States and other nations.
Third, it will change unequal relationships to “peer ally” relationships. The United States is helping Japan and South Korea contain the threat of China and North Korea. It has stationed large numbers of troops in the Asian-Pacific region. The cost of this military assistance is exorbitant. Trump will emphasize a more equal alliance, and demand that Japan and South Korea cover more of the costs. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement regarding the economic burden, the military alliances between the United States and Japan, and between the United States and South Korea will be shaken. As for North Korea, Trump will dispense with Obama's "strategic patience", and advocate dialogue between the US and North Korea over the nuclear issue. This too will affect the strategic situation in Northeast Asia.
Trump's new isolationism may impact the Asian-Pacific order in two ways. First it may affect the relationship between Mainland China and the US. Trump will discontinue the "Asian Rebalancing" policy. This will reduce Sino US confrontation in the South China Sea and help the Mainland promote the RCEP and One Belt, One Road (OBOR). Once Sino US relations ease, Taiwan's past role as a counterweight to the Mainland will be weakened, changing the cross-Strait power balance. Once Taiwan loses US backing, how can it continue to engage in “cold confrontation” with the Mainland? Second, it may affect US-Japan relations. When the United States announced its "Return to Asia" move in 2009, Japan took the lead in joining the ranks of those containing the Mainland in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. If United States forces gradually withdraw from the Asian-Pacific, Japan will lose its backing. This is Abe's nightmare.
Once the DPP assumed power, its changed government strategy from “close to the US, at peace with the Mainland, and friendly with Japan”, to cozying up to the United States and Japan in order to confront the Mainland. Meanwhile the DPP chose to join the TPP and abandon the RCEP. Now however, changes brought about by Trump mania have tossed a monkey wrench into Tsai government plans. If the United States does not play an active role in Asia, the DPP's policy of cozying up to the United States in order to resist Mainland China will have no support. If the TPP is aborted, the Tsai government's economic and trade policies will also fall short.
Confronted with these important variables, the Tsai government cannot simply wait to see what Trump does. It must take positive measures to protect Taiwan's interests.