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Expert 'worried’ about what President Trump means for Asia.
The election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America may mean major changes to U.S. policy in Asia, according to one foreign policy expert.
Bill Sharp is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Taiwan History at Academia Sinica in Taipei.
He suggests Trump’s stance on trade issues, a promise to be “tough” on China and his potential to soften foreign military spending may destabilize the U.S. economic and security structures in Asia.
“As an Asia specialist I am pretty worried about what a Trump presidency would mean for U.S. policy in Asia,” Sharp told The News Lens International as the election result was unfolding earlier today. “As far as the American strategic position in Asia, I think Trump would probably be a negative.”
Trump’s threat to walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) puts at risk a key soft-power initiative, which is part of the U.S. broader “rebalance to Asia” policy.
“The TPP is the economic complement to the American rebalance to Asia,” Sharp says. “I think the U.S. rebalance will be in serious jeopardy without that TPP piece.”
In terms of U.S.-China relations, Sharp suggests it is difficult to predict exactly how Trump will act.
While Trump has stated he would be “tough on China” he also “seems to ‘speak out of both sides of his mouth,’” Sharp says.
Sharp has sympathy for Trump’s criticism of China’s alleged manipulation of its currency to help maintain low export prices.
“He talks about unfair currency manipulation; to some degree, I agree with him on that,” he says.
But he also notes that some Trump-owned companies manufacture products in China and the U.S. has major business interests in the country, too.
“Sooner or later he is going to have to answer to the American business community, which has big interests in China. How’s he going to respond then?”
Asked how the China leadership may approach Trump, given the widely-held view that Hillary Clinton, had she been elected, may have been “tougher” on China, Sharp suggests that the Chinese leadership will be cautious.
“Like a lot of leaders of other countries they will be very wary, and on the edge of the seat,” he says.
Clinton, he says, would have been a much “better-known quantity.”
“Even though they might not like her, they would have a better idea of what to expect, and from their perspective, how to deal with her,” Sharp says.
Impact on Taiwan
For Taiwan, there may be an upside in Trump, Sharp suggests.
“If Trump takes this 'hard line' on China, perhaps he will be friendly to Taiwan.”
But Trump's position on the TPP could hit Taiwan, in particular as the Taiwanese government looks to grow the island’s struggling economy while concurrently shifting its reliance on China.
“Taiwan certainly needs to be in the TPP, other trade agreements or even other bilateral investment agreements to reduce its dependence on China,” Sharp says.
Many countries in Asia, as in other continents, are dependent on the U.S. to maintain regional security.
Sharp has some sympathy for Trump’s position that the U.S. has contributed beyond its fair share of finances to ensure global security in recent decades – he notes, under The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European countries enjoy substantial social welfare states while the U.S. has picked up the slack of their small defense budgets.
However, in June, Sharp told TNLI that he was also wary of the potential consequences for security in Asia if Trump’s isolationist policies were put into action.
“This part of the world has been able to prosper, based on the security and stability that American foreign policy has given to it,” Sharp said at the time. “When you go into a cocoon of isolationism you invite security challenges that you otherwise might not see. I am not sure Mr. Trump quite sees that.”
Today, Sharp added that while some countries like Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have been supportive of the U.S.’s continued presence, many countries also want to benefit from closer economic ties to China.
“Different countries in Asia buy into the American rebalance to Asia to different degrees. Some are very wholeheartedly supportive of it, like Japan, and others are very wavering.”
Editor: Olivia Yang