MOSCOW (Sputnik), Natalia Portyakova — While Russian media suggests that China might replace Russia as the United States' main enemy under US President-elect Donald Trump, the majority of US newspapers presume that Trump's presidency, in contrast, is likely to bring unexpected economic and political benefits to Beijing.
Comments by most experts Sputnik spoke to convey a message of great uncertainty over how US Asian policies will be dealt with under the incoming Trump administration, except for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), outgoing President Barack Obama’s pet project, being buried under Trump.
One of the aspects where all experts agree is the unenviable fate of the TPP, a major free trade deal that seeks to deregulate trade among the United States and 11 other major Asia-Pacific nations, notably excluding China.
"TPP is dead," Fraser Cameron, the director of the Brussels EU-Asia Centre, told Sputnik.
Much to the relief of China, expectations of the TPP's eventual demise are now paving the way for Beijing's own trade expansion with a similar mega-deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is widely viewed as a rival to the TPP as it would unite the economies of 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and six regional states, with which ASEAN already has free trade agreements (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea).
"Chinese are very clever in stepping into vacuums on the global stage. And there is no question they will move. And now a lot of countries in Asia will also move to try to improve their economic relations and specifically trade relationships with the Chinese," Tom Nagorski, the executive vice-president at Asia Society, based in New York, indicated.
On Tuesday, state-run English-language newspaper China Daily published an opinion piece that stated Beijing was "understandably relieved that the exclusive, economically inefficient, politically antagonizing TPP is looking ever less likely to materialize," suggesting in the headline that "both the US and China deserve better than the TPP."
Latest statements by several regional politicians went as additional proof China, and not the United States, being likely to play the first fiddle in writing the rules of trade for the region.
On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that in case the impasse over the TPP deal was not resolved, Tokyo would shift its attention to a regional trade agreement with China.
In a further blow to the US-spearheaded trade deal, Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has said that Pacific Rim countries can forge a new trade deal to include China and Russia but not the United States.
Last but not least, anti-TPP sentiments were fully shared by Australia. This week, Australia’s Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Financial Times that Canberra would work to conclude a new agreement among 16 Asian and Pacific countries that excludes the United States and would also support a separate proposal, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which Beijing hopes to advance at this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Peru.
During Trump’s election campaign, China seemed to be the main focus of his vocal criticism. The Republican candidate lambasted China for currency manipulations, blamed the country for the large US-China trade deficit and even promised to impose a 45-percent tariff on Chinese goods.
"What Trump was saying during the campaign and what he would do are two different things. He knows how inter-related Chinese and American economies are," Frazer Cameron suggested, adding that "China is not going to be enemy number one" and there are "zero chances" that the new US leader would implement all of threats that he generously gave before the victory.
"Forty-five percent tariff on Chinese goods… Here we are in the territory where I have no idea whether this was a serious position – that he will then act on, or it was a kind of opening a debate to work out other sorts of deals with the Chinese," Nagorski admitted, adding that never the United States had such a situation when "really nobody seems to know whether these positions [of Trump] may become policies."
"Targeting Chinese enterprises that can be proven to benefit from the theft of intellectual property, for instance, might make more sense," Kamphausen told Sputnik, adding that some ideas "would punish American constituencies, and so that ought to be avoided."
In the past, Washington already imposed 25-35 percent tariffs on some goods from China, like the 35-percent tariffs on Chinese tires in 2009, but that did not benefit US producers as the niche vacated by Chinese was immediately occupied by exporters from South Korea and others Asian nations.
Besides, in case the United States is to start trade war, China will never stand still.
"Retaliation would be expected, but it might not necessarily be in the trade sector. If not, it could be either in tougher treatment of American companies in China, or in an unrelated field, like more pressure on Taiwan [which China sees as its breakaway province]," Kamphausen warned.
The concluding Obama era has been one of the most difficult period for China. The Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton at the helm of the State Department, made its famous "pivot to Asia," in fact aimed at containing Beijing by strengthening and enlarging the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region and increasing the US military presence in the region.
Against this backdrop and given what Trump said while campaigning, his presidency has been bearing promises of less assertive US interference in Asia, a region where China regards itself as an informal leader. At the same, time Donald Trump's suggestions that traditional US allies in Asia, namely Japan and South Korea, must pay more for a US military presence, created serious concerns in Tokyo and Seoul over the future of security alliances with the US.
"It seems the Chinese are anticipating that Mr. Trump may 'do deals' with them, and there are some signals that they look forward to this process. Moreover, if a Trump Administration is not strongly supportive of America’s allies in Asia (Korea, Japan, etc), China would be very happy. Thankfully, it is already looking like, especially in light of the Trump-Abe meeting in New-York on 17 November that some of those ideas are already being rolled back," Kamphausen said.
Evidently, Trump's post-election message was perceived in a similar manner in South Korea. On November 10, the Yonhap news agency said that the new White House chief in a 10-minute telephone conversation with South Korean President Park Geun-hye assured her that a strong US military readiness to help guard against any aggression from North Korea would be maintained.
IT IS THE RETINUE THAT MAKES THE KING
"We must see who will be a Secretary of State," Nagorski said, indicating that real policies on the world stage and in regard to China would not depend solely on Trump's vision.
Trump already has a lengthy list of potential candidates for the US top diplomat job, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, US Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who met Trump on Thursday, with the latest name emerging on the list being Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and fierce Trump critic.
"John Bolton is a hawk, he is an extremely assertive branded US diplomat. No matter what Donald Trump is doing that is not a guy who is going to have easy-come relations with Chinese," Nagorski asserted.
Giuliani seems to be the lesser of the evils in the eyes of the Chinese leadership. He has no real strong foreign policy record, with his foreign affairs background being one of his biggest weaknesses during an attempt to get the Republican Party's 2008 presidential nomination. Neither has he a clear view on China. However, he once angered China's leadership by inviting then-leader of Taiwan Chen Shui-bian to New-York in 2001 and referring to the island's nation of 22 million as a "remarkable country."