Donald Trump gets a thumbs up from US consumers
Donald Trump gets a thumbs up from US consumers

Intelligence services around the world jumped into high gear last week in a bid to better understand what to expect under the new American administration following Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory in the US presidential election.

Trump, a real estate mogul and New York businessman, has little foreign policy or national security experience. And his views on Asia are limited to business dealings, mainly in Japan and South Korea where he has purchased large amounts of electronic goods for his properties.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Trump’s views on Asia were influenced by American trade nationalists who criticized US dealings with Japan as leading to loss of technology and unfair competitive advantage.

Statements made during the presidential campaign that ended November 8 and interviews with advisers indicate Trump is an economic nationalist who will adopt muscular foreign and defense policies he has dubbed “America First” — emphasizing US economic benefits and power as a key driver in American engagement around the world.

On China, Trump regards the communist government in Beijing as the United States’ major rival. In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump said: “Our biggest long-term challenge will be China.”

In a speech in July, Trump outlined his foreign policies as “Peace through strength,” taken from the administration of US President Ronald Reagan, with the goal of creating a more stable and peaceful world with less conflict.

The Trump transition website states that terrorism will be a primary short-term focus of American defense

Trump vowed in the speech to task US military leaders with drawing up a new strategy to defeat the Islamic State terror group using tools that go beyond traditional military force. They will include cyber warfare capabilities and financial and ideological warfare methods.

His only remarks in the major foreign policy speech noted that China had grown more aggressive in recent years.

To bolster US military forces, Trump plans to add an initial US$500 billion to defense spending and work with Congress to eliminate the cuts imposed under the Budget Control Act. He plans to offset the added defense spending cutting government waste.

The Trump transition website states that terrorism will be a primary short-term focus of American defense and national security.
Over the longer term, the transition website identifies as security priorities the need to modernize the US nuclear forces, and secure critical US infrastructures — the electric grid, financial and other key systems — against the increasing threat of cyber attacks.

During the campaign, Trump announced he would end the practice of US President Barack Obama apologizing for the United States. In 2009, Obama traveled to Egypt and criticized what he termed past US arrogance. Critics called the speech part of a global Obama apology tour.

“Instead of an apology tour, I will proudly promote our system of government and our way of life as the best in the world — just like we did in our campaign against communism during the Cold War,” Trump said during the campaign. “We will show the whole world how proud we are to be American.”

A better sense of future Trump defense and foreign affairs policies will be revealed after the key players are selected for senior power positions: White House national security advisor, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and CIA director and director of national intelligence.

Military buildup

Trump transition team sources say conservative former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is a candidate for secretary of state, along with former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A candidate for the powerful post of secretary of defense is said to be Sen. Jeff Sessions, an early Trump supporter and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Former George W. Bush administration White House National Security advisor Stephen Hadley also has been looked at for the Pentagon post.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who quit in protest during the Obama administration, is in line to become White House national security advisor, a key policy coordinator.

Transition team sources say outgoing Rep. Randy Forbes, a hawk on China, will be tapped as Navy secretary and will pursue hard line policies toward China from that position. Trump has said he plans to increase US Navy warships and other forces under his military buildup.

China so far has reacted cautiously to the surprise Trump election. After what appeared to be an initial hesitation, Chinese leader Xi Jinping called Trump to offer congratulations Sunday night.

The four-day delay in Xi contacting the president-elect fueled immediate speculation of a Chinese leadership snub. Others said the delay reflected Chinese caution in reacting to the surprise election of the new US leader.

“President-elect Trump stated that he believes the two leaders will have one of the strongest relationships for both countries moving forward,” the transition team said of the Trump-Xi exchange.

A transition team source said Trump plans to declare China a currency manipulator early in his presidency, a move likely to set off tensions between the United States and China over trade relations.

China watchers expect Beijing to test the new president early in his administration with some type of provocation, either in the South China Sea or East China Sea.

In the South China Sea, the United States has told China not to build up facilities and military forces on the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the Spratlys Islands.

Another provocative step

Several months ago, China appeared to be ignoring US statements that it should not expand Scarborough Shoal, which is close to area of the Philippines where the US military had planned to deploy additional forces.

Another provocative step could be the establishment by China of an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea, something that would be opposed by the United States and other states in the region.

In the East China Sea, China and Japan remain at loggerheads over the disputed Senkaku Islands. China has been sending naval and air forces close to the islands that Japan nationalized several years ago.

The United States has invoked the US-Japan defense treaty in stating it would back Japan in any conflict over the islands China calls the Diayou.

Two Trump Asia advisors, Alex Gray and Peter Navarro in a recent article criticized the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia as anemic.

The Obama administration’s economic element of the pivot to Asia was promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a free trade deal Trump has said he rejects as unfair to the United States.

The US-China competition will be front and center in the coming months and tensions are likely to heat up.

“American allies and partners in the region have been disheartened by a foreign policy that has veered from feckless to mendacious,” Gray and Navarro stated.

“Donald Trump has been clear and concise on his approach to US foreign policy. It begins with a clear-eyed appraisal of US national interests and a willingness to work with any country that shares our goals of stability, prosperity, and security,” they said.

US economic nationalism, combined with a military buildup, will be the driving factors for the Trump administration in the months ahead.

China no doubt will closely monitor the new American leader and the officials he appoints to senior positions.

Trump’s plan to “make America great again,” runs counter to many senior officials within the Chinese leadership who regard the United States as a spent force whose decline China needs to carefully manage.

The US-China competition will be front and center in the coming months and tensions are likely to heat up.