What Donald Trump Means for Asia

A staggering restructuring of power is coming to this volatile region.
From the January 2017 Trumpet Print Edition

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is convulsing America, but it is also sending shock waves overseas, rocking America’s allies and enemies abroad. In Asia, the existing balance of power has already been shaken by two of Trump’s campaign promises: his pledge to scale back America’s policing of the world, and his threats to reduce support for America’s allies and require them to pay for more of their own defense.

Japan1

The Japanese displayed fanaticism before and during World War ii. After the war ended in 1945, the United States introduced Article 9 into the Japanese Constitution. This clause outlawed war as a means for Japan to settle international disputes. Seven years later, the U.S. and Japan signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which obliged America to defend Japan by stationing troops near potential conflict zones in the region.

Following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Japan proved to be a strategic buffer for America. From Japan, America could work to limit Communist expansion. In the years since, though America has slowly allowed and even encouraged Japan to militarize, it has always recognized the strategic importance of an alliance with Japan in enabling it to project American power within the region. With Mr. Trump, that could change.

During the first presidential debate, Mr. Trump singled out Japan as a nation the U.S. may stop defending if it didn’t pay up: “Just to go down the list, we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service, and we’re losing a fortune. … We can’t defend Japan, a behemoth, selling us cars by the million.”

Without American backing, Tokyo knows it would be unable to defend itself against China. So comments like these, especially as China’s expansionistic behavior near Japanese territory becomes more aggressive, are making some Japanese leaders nervous.

More troubling is Trump’s proposed solution to the situation. Rather than leaving Japan high and dry, he suggested making up for America’s withdrawal by allowing Tokyo to build nuclear weapons. In a town hall meeting, he said, “You have so many countries already—China, Pakistan, … Russia— … right now that have [nuclear weapons]. Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

Though the Japanese government followed up Mr. Trump’s remarks by affirming its commitment to never own or build nuclear weapons, these are startling statements. If America does withdraw and Tokyo reverses its position on nuclear weapons, the region could plunge into a nuclear arms race.

South Korea2

South Korea also relies heavily on American power in maintaining its security and independence. Having suffered a Communist-empowered invasion that conquered the northern half of the peninsula, South Korea is all too aware of what could happen if Trump decides it is too expensive to invest America’s military there.

In 2014, South Korea paid $850 million for U.S. base maintenance. But according to Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy adviser Pete Hoesktra, this may not be enough: “The threats that they face—if they’re not willing to pay for it or if they just go into it saying, ‘We don’t have to worry about it, the United States is going to pay for it,’ that is not a healthy relationship.”

Following his election, Mr. Trump called South Korean President Park Geun-hye to affirm his commitment to protect the nation. However, this reassurance did not stop her from calling an emergency meeting with her national security council to plan for what the future may be without American protection.

If America pulled out of South Korea, Seoul would likely feel compelled to obtain its own nuclear weapons. Reuters said on November 10 that already, “some members of the South Korean parliament have suggested that the country has little choice but to consider nuclear armament if U.S. forces are withdrawn.”

Another troubling implication of a U.S. retreat from the nation is the security concern to America itself. Currently America and South Korea have an agreement to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system in the nation to counter missile threats from North Korea. When deployed, it would provide an added layer of defense against possible North Korean missile launches against the United States. However, if the United States pulls out of South Korea, it could lose the antimissile system.

Philippines3

Since the election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year, relations between the U.S. and the Philippines have suffered. Duterte has repeatedly railed against America, and openly cursed and insulted President Barack Obama.

Duterte has threatened to end dependence on American power, announcing that the joint military exercise between the Philippines and the U.S. in October was the last one under his watch, canceling a small-arms deal with the U.S., and saying he wants all U.S. troops out of the Philippines in two years. Though he backtracked on his threat to sever ties with Washington, Duterte’s distrust of America remains clear. Duterte has also expressed a desire to strengthen relations with China and Russia.

After Mr. Trump’s election victory, Duterte was quick to congratulate him. Duterte seems to respect the president-elect more than President Obama. But that may not be enough to stop Duterte’s shift to China. Bloomberg reported last week that “at an early morning briefing in Davao, Duterte said that while the U.S. would remain a friend and ally, the Philippines’ foreign policy was now geared toward China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.”

Russia4

Trump’s election elated Russia’s parliament and President Vladimir Putin. When the election results were broadcast, the State Duma broke out into applause, and Putin sent Mr. Trump a congratulatory telegram.

The Kremlin announced shortly after the election victory that Mr. Putin hoped “to work together for removing Russian-American relations from their crisis state.” Why is a country that is viewed as a major threat to the United States celebrating the election of Mr. Trump? Simply examine what the president-elect has openly said. While campaigning for the presidency, Mr. Trump made numerous statements supporting Russian actions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. On multiple occasions, he expressed his desire to reduce U.S. commitment to nato. The nato alliance is a check against Russian power. If Trump decides to reduce U.S. support of the organization, it will represent a major victory for Moscow, apparently requiring little or no political or economic cost. Trump also stated that he will consider lifting sanctions imposed on Russia in connection to its annexation of Crimea and that he will officially recognize it as Russian territory. This would make him the first Western leader to legitimize the Kremlin’s conquest of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

All these moves would embolden and empower Russia, tipping the balance of power in Moscow’s favor in Europe and the Middle East.

China5

Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first to congratulate Mr. Trump on his election. The Chinese leadership rejoiced at the prospect of an America eager to further retreat from its historic role as policeman of Asia and the world.

But the Chinese are also concerned about Mr. Trump’s “Seven-Point Plan to Rebuild the American Economy.” In this plan, Mr. Trump has promised to “use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes if China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets.” Trump has also said he might impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports in order to bolster the U.S. economy. Some commentators warn that implementing such trade policies toward China could lead to an all-out trade war.

China’s state-run Global Times said if Trump imposes tariffs on China, there would be consequences: “When the time comes, large orders for Boeing planes would switch to Europe, U.S. auto sales in China would face setbacks, Apple phones would essentially be crowded out, and U.S. soybeans and corn would be eradicated from China.”

While it remains to be seen what Mr. Trump will do when he takes office, a clash between the world’s two largest economies would disrupt the entire global economy.

What’s Next?

Right now, the world is waiting to see how much of Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric will become reality. Any number of policies could change the balance of power in Asia and the world.

America’s Asian allies face the possibility of abandonment that could put them at China’s mercy. The nations that wish to bring an end to the stability that America has long maintained could be empowered.

While we can’t yet know all that Mr. Trump will do, the Trumpet has long forecast that a major reshaping of power in Asia is coming. Bible prophecy forecasts the emergence of an enormous Asian power bloc, referred to as the kings of the east. At the head of this alliance will be Russia and China, and many smaller Asian nations will be compelled to join as well. Could Donald Trump’s policies of disengagement from the region hasten the formation of this bloc? As Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in our July issue, “China is intimidating the nations of Southeast Asia into submission to its will. It is forcing these countries to do what it wants. Everything is headed in the direction of war.”