Japan risks isolation in the Asia-Pacific


Jean-Pierre Lehmann

May 16, 2017, 5:00 am SGT

Tokyo needs to make peace with its neighbours, especially those that were its former victims.

I spent March and April at Hong Kong University teaching my course on globalisation and Asia. This coincided with a number of events and developments in this fast-moving and “Vuca” – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – world, including the Mar-a-Lago summit that was much discussed in class. As I pointed out to the students (roughly half of whom are from China), the good news is that Mr Donald Trump does not seem to be keeping his campaign promises!

The contrast between the Sinophobic offensive campaign rhetoric and recent developments in the evolution of the China-US relationship – “the most important bilateral relationship, bar none”, as we are often reminded – border on the hallucinatory.

The atmosphere in Mar-a-Lago was more than just cordial, sweetened by Ms Ivanka Trump’s children Arabella and Joseph reciting poetry and singing a traditional folk song in Mandarin for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan. This was an unexpected scenario!

That was on April 9. Last Thursday, hardly a month later, media headlines reported the White House hailing a concluded US-China trade deal, according to which the Chinese will open their market in a dozen areas, including credit cards, natural gas and beef. In this spirit of cooperation, Washington sent a senior delegation to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit that ended yesterday, which until then it had been intent on boycotting. There are noises about China engaging in the Trump Rebuild America Infrastructure Plan, while in turn the US may become a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Thus, far from engaging in trade war, as many (including this author) had predicted, the US and China appear to be making trade love! Of course, in a Vuca world, everything is possible and this could be the proverbial calm before the storm. For now, things are certainly interesting and encouraging.

The sunshine extends beyond trade. In campaign rhetoric, in his inaugural speech, and in a number of caustic remarks (and tweets!) since then, Mr Trump had intoned that his most poisonous bone of contention with China was North Korea. To that end, he had sought to engage his Asia-Pacific allies South Korea and Japan and impose on the former the US Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-ballistic missile system. This was bitterly opposed by Beijing, which saw it as a means to spy on China. In the meantime, another twist in the Asia-Pacific narrative occurred with the impeachment of the hawkish former South Korean president Park Geun Hye and the election of the far more dovish Moon Jae In who has announced he is sending a senior delegation to Beijing to seek a peaceful resolution of the Thaad dispute.

WHERE IS JAPAN?

It is too early to down the cup of Baijiu and shout “Ganbei”, as things could still go terribly wrong, but the tale does illustrate once again a point I have been frequently stressing, including in this column: Japan is out of sync with what is happening in the world generally and in its Asia-Pacific neighbourhood especially.

The Japanese narrative of the period from roughly 1895 to 1995 is one of outstanding success. From feudal Asian backward isolation, Japan, alone among non-Western nations, became both a major industrial and military imperial power. It lost World War II, but this seemed to be a temporary hiatus in its rise. Less than two decades after its devastating defeat, it astonished the world with its “economic miracle” – marking the first time, to my knowledge, that the terms “economic” and “miracle” were made contiguous!

Throughout this century of brilliant – even if at times extremely bloody – ascent, Japan never had any Asian allies: only Asian colonies! It had three successive Western allies: Imperial Britain from 1902 to 1922 (during which it colonised Korea); Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1945 (during which it waged implacable war on China and most of South-east Asia, with tens of millions of deaths, including civilians); the US since 1952, during which it has been able to perform the economic miracle while riding on American security coat-tails.

Its defeat in World War II notwithstanding, it was able to retain its leadership position in Asia by virtue of having been transformed from the US’ most hated enemy to its most pampered protege. Japanese “foreign” policy, especially vis-a-vis Asia, was decided in Washington, not in Tokyo. Though denied an active military role by virtue of its US-imposed “peace Constitution”, it supported the US in the Korean and Indo-Chinese (Vietnam and Laos) wars by providing logistic support, as well as R&R (rest and recuperation) facilities for American soldiers, and repair and maintenance facilities for combat ships and planes.

Tokyo also followed to the letter US instructions in refusing to recognise Beijing as the legitimate government of China, opting instead for the renegade government of Chiang Kai Shek in Taipei. It was only after Richard Nixon’s historic visit to Mao Zedong in 1972 – taking Tokyo totally by surprise – that then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka sheepishly hastened to Beijing in his footsteps.

In the 1980s, as the Japanese economy soared and the American economy plummeted and the relationship was marked by quite acute “trade friction” (boeki masatsu), when the Japanese economy was seen as overtaking the US economy, there was a certain xenophobic resentment of the US, illustrated by publications such as The Japan That Can Say “No” by the late co-founder of Sony Akio Morita and former governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara, and by the coinage of the term “kenbei” – contempt for America.

ABE-TRUMP ROMANCE

Since 1995 – the year of the Great Hanshin earthquake – things have been going downhill for Japan: The economy has stagnated in a deflationary spiral, there was the Fukushima nuclear disaster (2011), and China’s gross domestic product surpassed Japan’s in 2010.

For the previous 100 years – 1895 was the year Japan defeated China in the first Sino-Japanese war – Japan had dominated China, a country for which many Japanese felt contempt. It is for that reason, among others, that Japan never felt compelled to acknowledge, let alone apologise for, all the crimes against humanity it perpetrated in China. Former Tokyo governor Ishihara, to cite only one example among many, stated the Nanjing massacre never occurred!

Since coming to office in 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, notwithstanding his nationalism, has been fawning vis-a-vis Washington and used that as a rampart to constrain China. He enthusiastically supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership in what was seen in Tokyo as fundamentally a US-Japan-led bilateral deal to ostracise China.

He followed the American lead in being the only major Western or Asian economy not to become a member of the Beijing-led AIIB. He paid an official visit to Pearl Harbour – nice, but not necessary as Pearl Harbour was not a crime against humanity – while still refusing to visit Nanjing. Japan was not represented at the BRI summit.

When Mr Trump was elected, Mr Abe was the first head of state to go to pay tribute – in the form of a gold putter – and bask in the balmy breeze of Mar-a-Lago. Mr Trump’s bombastically cacophonic anti-Chinese tirades were undoubtedly sweet music to his ears.

Now, suddenly, unexpectedly, but strongly, the winds have changed. As the Xi-Trump romance seems to blossom, including through bilateral trade deals, participation in the BRI summit, probable membership of AIIB, Tokyo stands out pathetically as the jilted lover left holding the empty can.

It’s an interesting spectacle to watch, but also quite distressing and in many ways alarming. The winds may change again and blow in Tokyo’s direction. But in whatever direction it blows, it is an ill wind that bodes potential danger.

As a Frenchman born in 1945, my generation – in contrast to my father’s (World War II) and to my grandfather’s (World War I) – has lived in serene peace. There are a variety of factors that have determined this situation, but only one really matters: Germany has made peace with and unconditionally expressed apologies to its former victims.

There will be no solid durable peace in the Asia-Pacific until and unless Japan makes peace and unconditionally apologises to its former victims, China and Korea especially. It would be splendid if the current winds could make Tokyo wake up and face this reality. The peace and prosperity of future Asian generations depend on it.

•The writer is emeritus professor of international political economy at IMD business school, with campuses in Lausanne and Singapore, and visiting professor at Hong Kong University.

Source: Straits Times “Japan risks isolation in the Asia-Pacific”

Note: This is Straits Times’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


U.S., China agree to first trade steps under 100-day plan


U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sits for an interview in his office in Washington, U.S. May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Ayesha Rascoe and Michael Martina | WASHINGTON/BEIJING Fri May 12, 2017 | 6:16pm EDT

The United States and China have agreed to take action by mid-July to increase access for U.S. financial firms and expand trade in beef and chicken among other steps as part of Washington’s drive to cut its trade deficit with Beijing.

The deals are the first results of 100 days of trade talks that began last month, when a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping proved far more friendly than had been expected after last year’s U.S. presidential campaign, but the immediate impact was unclear.

“This will help us to bring down the deficit for sure,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at media briefing in Washington. “You watch and you’ll see.”

The United States ran a trade deficit of $347 billion with China last year, U.S. Treasury figures show.

By July 16, the 100th day after the leaders’ meeting, China agreed to issue guidelines that would allow U.S.-owned card payment services “to begin the licensing process” in a sector where China’s UnionPay system has had a near monopoly.

China will also allow U.S. imports of beef no later than July 16, and the United States will issue a proposed rule to allow Chinese cooked poultry to enter U.S. markets.

Foreign-owned firms will also be able to provide credit rating services in China.

“We believe that Sino-U.S. economic cooperation is the trend of the times… We will continue to move forward,” Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told a Beijing media briefing.

Trump had pledged during his presidential campaign that he would stop trade practices by China and other countries that he deemed unfair to the United States. His tough talk toward Beijing had fueled early fears of a trade war.

But Trump’s rhetoric toward China has softened in the past month, expressing admiration for Xi and saying he wanted Beijing to help deal with the North Korean nuclear threat.

Shortly after their meeting, Trump said he had told Xi that China would get a better trade deal if it worked to rein in North Korea. China is neighboring North Korea’s lone major ally.

On Friday, when asked whether the trade talks with the United States were related to North Korea, Zhu said economic issues should not be politicized.

UNCERTAIN BENEFITS

But while the world’s two biggest economies agreed to take a number of steps by July 16, it was not clear how much these new deals would increase trade in the near term.

Ker Gibbs, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said the measures were a good beginning but not a breakthrough.

“Past foot-dragging means we won’t celebrate until these promises are executed,” Gibbs said, calling the opening in the electronic payments market “mainly symbolic”.

“This should have been done years ago when it would have made a difference. At this point, the domestic players are well entrenched so foreign companies will have a hard time entering the China market.”

China is the top export market for U.S. agriculture products, with the total value of exports rising by more than 1,100 percent since 2000 to $21.412 billion in 2016, so beef sales are potentially lucrative for U.S. exporters.

China had conditionally lifted its longstanding import ban on American beef last year, but few purchases have been made. The ban was imposed in 2003 due to a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in Washington state.

And U.S. credit card operators Visa Inc (V.N) and MasterCard Inc (MA.N) have yet to be independently licensed to clear transactions in China, despite a 2012 WTO ruling mandating that Beijing open the sector and rules issued by the central bank to let foreign firms enter the market.

Visa said in an emailed statement it looked forward to submitting an application for a bank-card clearing institution license, which, “once granted”, would allow it to support economic development in China.

MasterCard welcomed the announcement, saying it looked forward “to having full and prompt market access in China”.

The United States also signaled that it was eager to export more liquefied natural gas, saying China could negotiate any type of contract, including long-term contracts, with U.S. suppliers.

For U.S. gas drillers, China provides a potential customer base beyond countries such as Japan and South Korea, where the long-term demand outlook is bleak due to mature economies, rising energy efficiency and falling populations.

Potential cooperation between the United States and China on LNG would not have any immediate impact on supplies, as China currently does not need new gas supplies and the United States is not yet able to deliver more.

Randal Phillips, Mintz Group’s Beijing-based managing partner for Asia, said that Washington was too focused on selling more to China and should instead seek to address structural imbalances created by Chinese industrial policies and barriers to investment.

“That’s going to be the challenge, and hopefully the Trump administration doesn’t start declaring victory,” he said.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Michael Martina, Kevin Yao and Matthew Miller in Beijing; and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

Source: “U.S., China agree to first trade steps under 100-day plan”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Is Trump Wrong Not Keeping on Obama’s Hurting US to Hurt China?


The shadow of a participant is seen on a map illustrating the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong in January 2016. Photo: Reuters

In its article “How Trump gave China’s ‘Belt and Road’ scheme a boost”, SCMP quotes US economist Prof. Shanjun Li of Cornell University as saying that Trump’s protectionism could help the belt and road scheme gain legitimacy as a countervailing force promoting international trade in the region.

Prof. Li seemed to mean that the scheme lacks legitimacy and Trump is going to give it legitimacy with his protectionism.

Then why is China’s belt and road scheme illegitimate in the first place? Has it broken any international law or norms?

It is a scheme benefiting China in expanding China’s market and providing trade security and outlet for China’s excessive capacity, but China conducts the scheme by providing loans to boost other countries’ economic growth. Quite a few of those loans are quite risky as they are lent to poor countries usually with political instability.

What China is doing aims at benefiting itself through benefiting others. Whatever Trump does, the scheme is certainly a countervailing force promoting international trade in the region. If successful, it will naturally expand China’s influence among those countries benefited by the scheme.

However, SCMP seems unhappy with that. That is why it says that the scheme “has been given a boost by American counterpart Donald Trump’s protectionist trade agenda and isolationist diplomacy”, hinting that Trump shall instead continue Obama’s policy to contain China. But can the US indeed contain China?

Militarily, the US retreated when China responded with its will to fight a war at US interference in China’s disputes in the South China Sea.

Obama’s transfer of 60% US military to area near China was most stupid as US military will easily be annihilated by China there due to China’s geographic advantages. What China fears is having its trade lifelines through oceans been cut by powerful US navy. If China can annihilate 60% of US navy near its coast, it will have no such fear!

Economically TPP cannot hurt China but both Clinton and Trump hold that it will certainly hurt the US.

In fact neither pivot to Asia nor TPP can hinder China’s belt and road scheme. Nor can the US boost it as US influence in the countries involved in the scheme is quite limited especially after US failure to achieve its strategic goals in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the US is so hard up as to reduce its aids to poor countries, which will further reduce its influence in the world.

It is time to wake up from the dream that the US is strong enough to stop China’s rise.

Trump is sober to conduct win-win cooperation with China in order to make the US strong, but lots of US politicians, analysts, media, etc. seem to remain soundly in their dreams.

Being a Chinese US weakness seems good for me, but I instead hope that Trump will be able to recover US greatness. It will make American people happy and provide balance of strength in the world. I am amazed that lots of Americans oppose Trump and do not want him to achieve that.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s article, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2093060/how-trump-gave-chinas-belt-and-road-scheme-boost.


US Navy Unable to Provoke China in South China Sea


The Chancellorsville, a United States guided missile cruiser, in the Luzon Strait after a patrol of the South China Sea last year. Credit: Bryan Denton for The New York Times

New York Times says in its report “Trump’s Turn Toward China Curtails Navy Patrols in Disputed Zones” that US military wants to conduct freedom of navigation operation within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial island but is not allowed by Trump administration.

In my previous posts, I described such freedom of navigation operation as stupid as the navy of a continuously rising China will grow much stronger than that of a continuously declining United States in the future. There may be a day in the future when China retaliates by sending its navy to conduct freedom of navigation operations within 12 nautical miles of US coast and threatens US national security.

New York Times says, “But Defense Department officials also said that Mr. Mattis and the Pentagon leadership wanted to look carefully at the strategic implications of such excursions on overall national security policy. While Mr. Mattis is far from opposed to the freedom of navigation trips, he is reviewing the American security posture around the world, Defense Department officials said.” Mattis is wiser than those US navy officers who want to conduct such operations near Chinese islands without consideration of the consequence.

China’s former navy chief Adm. Wu Shengli warned the US that there might be disasterous consequence of such operations. What the US navy will do if China sends a ship to crash on and sink the US warship when it conducts the operation. Is the US prepared to fight a war? China is prepared by building the artificial islands to ambush US navy with the fighter jets and missiles on them. Has the US enough aircraft carriers to fight China in the South China Sea where China has geographical advantage.

Such operations not only put US warships carrying the operations in danger but US homeland in danger in the future. Stupid US navy officers!

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on New York Times’ report, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/world/asia/navy-south-china-sea.html?_r=0


US Has Lost Southeast Asia, but Trump Is Not to Blame


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte returns the salute of a Chinese Navy officer as he tours a Chinese Naval ship during a visit to Davao city, southern Philippines, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Former US president Obama was stupid in pushing Russia and China together to form a firm alliance, which has made them bold to challenge the US.

Russia is now active in Ukraine’s and Syria’s civil wars in Europe and the Middle East, China challenged the US to fight a war in order to resist US interference in the South China Sea.

However, those are problems left behind by Obama instead of trouble caused by Trump, who simply finds that the US lacks strength to deal with Russia-China alliance that has rallied lots of countries around it.

A clear indication is that India and Pakistan have applied for membership of Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and will soon be accepted by SCO.

Reuters wails over US loss of Southeast Asia to China in its report “Asian nations pulled into China’s orbit as Trump puts America first” today, but fails to see its cause: The US is declining and unable to bully a rising China in the South China Sea.

What can the US do to bring ASEAN back to its side? Can it fight a war with China?

Obama’s pivot to Asia is bankrupt due to its failure to use military strength to force China to accept the arbitration award that deprives China of all its rights and interests there.

The US lacks not only financial and military resources but also wisdom in challenging China in Asia. Obama must be clearly aware that it is impossible to entirely deprive China’s rights and interests there but has tried to do so and failed. By do doing, he betrayed US weakness and caused Southeastern countries to lose confidence in the US.

What Trump shall do is but to recover US economic strength so as to be strong enough to deal with China and Russia.

Driving a wedge between China and Russia is certainly a wise diplomacy. Trump has failed to draw Russia to his side in order to achieve that. His only wise choice now is to draw China to his side to drive such a wedge. Whether he will be able to break China-Russia alliance that constitutes the greatest threat to US world leadership remains a question, but it will test Chinese and Russian leaders’ wisdom. For China the best choice is to keep the alliance while conducting win-win cooperation with the US. For that, Xi Jinping shall be very clever in applying balancing art.

Trump is realistic in his America-first policy, but lots of people including Reuters’ are still dreaming that the US can still maintain its world hegemony with declining strength in the face of strong Russia-China alliance.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ report, full text of which is reblogged below:

Asian nations pulled into China’s orbit as Trump puts America first

By Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato | MANILA Mon May 1, 2017 | 8:13am EDT

Across Asia, more and more countries are being pulled into Beijing’s orbit, with the timid stance adopted by Southeast Asian nations on the South China Sea at a weekend summit a clear sign this fundamental geostrategic shift is gathering momentum.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s flurry of calls at the weekend to the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore might cheer those who fear his predecessor Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has been abandoned in favor of an “America First” agenda.

But White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the conversations were aimed at lining up Asian partners in case tensions over North Korea lead to “nuclear and massive destruction in Asia”, and mentioned no broader strategic goal.

Southeast Asian nations will need more than that to convince them the United States still has their backs.

In the meantime, some are leaning closer to China, soft-pedalling quarrels over the disputed South China Sea and angling for a slice of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure investment program to compensate for the U.S. abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

The unexpected bonhomie that has emerged between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping could give Asian countries further confidence to continue their swing toward Beijing.

“Before, most Southeast Asian states wanted to benefit from Chinese regional economic initiatives and from American pushback against China,” said Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“The second part of this balance is now in question. Hence, the pressure to acquiesce to China diplomatically and on security issues is stronger.”

“IT’S POINTLESS PRESSURING BEIJING”

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, piqued by the Obama administration’s criticism of his human rights record, last year announced his “separation” from longtime ally the United States while on a visit to Beijing.

The White House described Trump’s conversation with the firebrand Philippines leader as “very friendly” and – prompting criticism from Human Rights Watch for “effectively endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs” – invited him to Washington.

But, underlining his new-found friendship with Beijing, Duterte on Monday inspected a Chinese naval ships docked at his hometown, the first visit of its kind to the Philippines in years.

Duterte, who last year put aside a legal challenge to Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea to start negotiating billions of dollars worth of loans and infrastructure investments, chaired the latest summit of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila.

Several ASEAN diplomats said China sent officials to lobby the Philippines ahead of the summit, and before the leaders had even gathered Duterte said it was pointless pressuring Beijing over its maritime activities.

An early draft of the summit statement seen by Reuters made references to land reclamation and militarization in the disputed waterway, but they were subsequently dropped, as were references to “tensions” and “escalation of activities”.

Cook said it was clear that, with the Philippines steering the summit to this conclusion, “it is no longer just Cambodia that is acting as an agent of Chinese influence in ASEAN over the South China Sea dispute”.

ASEAN RISKS LOSING LEVERAGE

Thailand and Malaysia have also moved closer to China. Thailand’s relations with Washington came under strain during the Obama administration because of concerns about freedoms under its military-dominated government.

Trump invited Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to visit Washington during their call on Sunday, but the former general’s government has its eyes elsewhere: last week it approved the first of three submarine purchases from China worth more than $1 billion.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says Washington’s new posture has shifted Asia’s political and economic balance.

Lee, whose country, like Vietnam, has shown no signs of moving closer to Beijing, stressed to his ASEAN counterparts on Saturday that, despite Trump’s “radically different approach”, they should balance their ties between the United States and China.

Trump has said he will attend two summits in the region in November.

But Southeast Asian nations are trying to gauge how far they can still rely on Washington as a shield against Chinese assertiveness. ASEAN foreign ministers will be seeking answers at a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington this Thursday.

Uncertainty over Washington’s commitment, analysts say, will only draw ASEAN countries further toward China, which can lure them with cheap loans, infrastructure investments and tariff cuts, but with a risk of diminished bargaining power.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said it was imperative for ASEAN to regain leverage by bringing Washington back into the equation and expanding the influence of Japan.

“ASEAN is in a precarious position now with the concessions, accommodation and even appeasement with China,” Thitinan said. “If China continues to be shrewd and takes ASEAN on another ride, then ASEAN will be much worse off.”

(Writing by Martin Petty and John Chalmers; Editing by Alex Richardson)


Asia weighs risk and reward in Trump ‘bromance’ with China’s Xi


FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen | BEIJING Fri Apr 28, 2017 | 12:44pm EDT

U.S. President Donald Trump’s warm words for Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as a “good man” will reassure Beijing that he finally understands the importance of good ties, but risks leaving America’s regional allies puzzling over where they fit into the new order.

The budding relationship between the two leaders appeared highly unlikely when Trump was lambasting China on the campaign trail for stealing U.S. jobs with unfair trade polices.

In December, after winning office, he upended protocol by taking a call from the president of self-ruled Taiwan, which China regards as its own territory.

A few months on, after meeting Xi at his Florida residence earlier in April, Trump appears to have done a complete volte-face, praising Xi for trying hard to rein in nuclear-armed North Korea and rebuffing Taiwan’s president’s suggestion of another call.

But the big question is whether the rapprochement will last. Trump also expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign, but that relationship has since chilled.

Chinese officials will no doubt be pleased by Trump’s overtures, said Jia Qingguo, a leading academic who has advised the government on foreign policy.

“People will say that the only thing we know for sure about Donald Trump’s administration is uncertainty and unpredictability,” said Jia, dean of the School of International Studies at the elite Peking University.

“But judging from what he has been saying and doing, it’s quite reassuring as far as China is concerned. Certainly I think people have developed more positive views about the Donald Trump administration here and we have a lot of expectations that we can work together constructively.”

For China’s neighbors, it is a little more complicated.

On one level, a healthy relationship between the world’s two biggest economies suits everyone.

“It’s hugely positive that there’s been a reasonably constructive start to the bilateral dialogue between those two countries,” Tom Lembong, Indonesia’s investment chief and close aide to President Joko Widodo, told Reuters.

But long-time allies may also be wondering just how far Washington still has their back.

Shashank Joshi, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said countries such as Japan and South Korea could lose influence if Trump’s focus on enlisting Xi’s help over North Korea creates a “sort of U.S.-China G2”.

“There are competing instincts within Trump pushing him in opposite directions,” said Joshi.

“His nationalism pushes him towards competition with China, but his deal-making instinct, his openness to personal influence, and his affinity for strongmen pushes him towards Xi, especially if he can show results on North Korea.”

But Trump, who has long touted his deal-making ability as a real estate developer, has also made clear his approach to China is transactional. He is so focused on securing cooperation against North Korea, his top national security priority, that he has even publicly promised to go easier on Beijing over critical trade issues in return.

Some of Trump’s aides doubt, however, that China will do enough to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmers. Some experts believe the thaw between the economic rivals could be fleeting if Xi fails to come through on the North Korean issue.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Singapore-based security expert Ian Store said he believed Trump’s remarks would be closely scrutinized by Southeast Asian leaders looking for signs of an emerging Asia strategy.

“Most would welcome a calm, co-operative relationship between China and the U.S., but they will be deeply concerned at anything that looks like Trump will give Xi a free hand over the South China Sea dispute, or elsewhere,” said Storey, who is based at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

The administration has so far sent out mixed rhetorical signals over the hotly disputed South China Sea. China’s extensive claims to the vital global trade route are challenged by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.

The U.S. has increased naval deployments in the South China Sea in recent years amid roiling tensions and extensive island-building by China but, under Trump, its warships have yet to challenge China with a so-called freedom of navigation patrol close to disputed islets and reefs.

A Trump administration official has told Reuters the United States wants to avoid antagonizing China on sensitive issues like the South China Sea for now while waiting to see how far Beijing will go tightening the screws on North Korea. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this did not mean abandoning efforts to counter China’s growing military and economic might in the Asia-Pacific region.

Admiral Harry Harris, the chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the U.S. Congress this week that he expected to be carrying out such patrols in the South China Sea soon, and repeated earlier concerns at China’s continued militarization of the area.

“Given Trump’s newfound friendship with Xi Jinping, it might make it significantly harder for the Pacific Command to get its plans approved for the next freedom of navigation patrols,” Storey said.

UNPREDICTABLE

In Japan, often at odds with China over what Beijing views as Tokyo’s failure to properly atone for World War Two, a Japanese government source sought to downplay any impact the burgeoning Trump-Xi friendship might have on Japan-U.S. ties.

“Trump’s softened approach to Xi may seem to be some kind of shift in the balance of power but security cooperation between Japan and the United States is extremely stable and has been confirmed in the face of the current crisis situation in North Korea,” the source told Reuters.

The tricky issue of Taiwan has not gone away either, and is one of several that could upset relations.

Democratic Taiwan has many friends in Washington who will not want to allow autocratic China to get its way with the island, and the United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Wang Dong, associate professor of international studies at Peking University, said China would remain on alert for another change of direction by Trump.

“There are reasons for optimism, but we are still being realistic. There are still issues out there, from Taiwan to the South China Sea,” he said.

One Beijing-based Western diplomat told Reuters that, while China might be pleased to see Trump hang ally South Korea out to dry with his criticism of their free trade deal and demand Seoul pay $1 billion to host a U.S. anti-missile system China has strongly opposed, China should not have any illusions.

“He’s so unpredictable who knows what he’ll say next week or next month?” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “His mood turns on a pin.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Linda Sieg in Toyko; Kanupriya Kapoor and Karen Lema in Manila; Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

Source: Reuters “Asia weighs risk and reward in Trump ‘bromance’ with China’s Xi”

Note: This is Reuters’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


How We Chinese Assess US New President Trump


There has been quite a lot of negative assessment of Trump in US media as they did not even want him elected during his election campaign. However, Trump has been elected in spite of their opposition. The lots of negative comments certainly reflect the anger of quite some vested interests hurt and will be hurt by Trump’s populist policies.

However, we Chinese do not want to interfere with US politics but are very much concerned whether Trump’s policies may hurt China’s interests. For us China’s interests are most important in assessing Trump. From that point of view, we see that Trump has withdrawn from TPP that Obama initiated for containing China and Trump has not carried on Obama’s policy in creating trouble for China in the South China Sea.

China has been benefited by Trump’s China policies; therefore, there is no reason whatever for us Chinese to join US media in denouncing Trump.

On the contrary, we shall praise Trump for his efforts to conduct win-win cooperation with China.

Article by Chan Kai Yee.