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A Trump Presidency: Disaster or Boon for U.S.-China Relations?

Donald Trump at campaign rally in Reno, Nevada (Source: Darron Birgenheier, Flickr)

Donald Trump at campaign rally in Reno, Nevada (Source: Darron Birgenheier, Flickr)

The 2016 American presidential race has been a source of much discussion and debate. It has been an interesting year so far with an unconventional candidate, business tycoon Donald Trump, officially securing the Republican Party nomination. It is not only Americans, however, who are thinking about what a Trump presidency might mean for the world.

The Chinese are pondering this question as well. A brief survey of various views and concerns demonstrates that China watchers in the United States are concerned about how Mr. Trump will approach China. With regard to the Chinese side, however, the views seem to be more mixed. Is the prospect of a Trump presidency really all that dire?

What China Watchers in the United States Think

On July 20, 2016, ChinaFile asked a number of China analysts and thinkers how the Republican Party should approach China in the wake of Mr. Trump’s nomination. The analysis begins with Peter Navarro, one of Mr. Trump’s policy advisers. In his view, Mr. Trump should not support free trade with China that is not also fair. By “fair,” he means that China must stop using what he terms “weapons of job destruction” such as currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, and pollution havens. Mr. Trump has not started a trade war, as some have contended, but should rather be fighting back in the war China and the United States are already in. Mr. Trump, in Navarro’s view, will be a strong leader that China will respect. As one of his top advisers, this positive assessment is not surprising. (more…)

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POLICY ALERT: What Rising Powers Saw at the Democratic National Convention  

hrc-dncFrom July 25-28 in Philadelphia, the Democratic National Committee held its convention to nominate Hillary Clinton as their party’s candidate for president. One week after the Republican Convention, rising powers tuned in to watch how the other major U.S. political party responded and outlined its policy platform. China remained largely skeptical of Clinton’s campaign. Observers in Brazil, India, Japan, and South Korea applauded her nomination, but worried about her recent shift toward free trade protectionism. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the DNC Convention and the prospects of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Our previous Policy Alert covered the Republican Convention.

CHINA

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia” strategy incensed China as a means to contain the country. Her prioritization on human rights – especially gender equality – and her more hawkish views on the South China Sea have left Chinese leaders uneasy about her candidacy. Tao Xie, professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, suspected “many Chinese have a very unfavorable view of her.” One online poll conducted in March 2016 by Global Times showed a preference for Trump over Clinton with 54 percent in support of the GOP candidate.

Given this view of Clinton, several China media voices and commentators explored her candidacy and the prospects for her campaign in the general election.

  • The hacking of thousands of emails from the servers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – showing the preferences of ostensibly neutral staffers for Clinton as the nominee – and their leak just before the convention “ruins U.S. democracy myths,” according to Global Times. The paper also said the “scandal is devastating enough to bury Clinton’s presidential dream and political career,” though it expected less than severe actual consequences.
  • In a 2013 report, Global Times declared Hillary Clinton the “most hated” American political figure in China dating back to her 1995 speech on women’s rights as human rights at the World Conference on Women in Beijing.
  • In contrast, Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University and adviser to the Chinese cabinet, insisted Chinese leaders would still prefer Clinton in the White House to a “volatile” Trump. “The worst situation is instability,” he argued, especially as China’s economy – heavily linked to the United States – continues its slow growth rates.
  • Xinhua writer Zhu Lei saw the imprint of the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders — the runner-up in the primary — on the Democratic Party’s policy platform, which was described by party officials as “the most progressive” in history.
  • Chen Weilhua, reporter for China Daily, highlighted thousands of Sanders and Green Party supporters who protested at the Democratic Convention against Clinton’s nomination. Likewise, Qiu Zhibo, consultant at the UN and Global Times columnist, questioned whether “disappointed Bernie supporters” will vote for either Clinton or Trump.

(more…)

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POLICY ALERT: What Rising Powers Saw at the Republican Convention

GOP Nominee Donald Trump at RNC Convention (Source: AP)

From July 18-21 in Cleveland, the Republican National Committee held its convention to nominate Donald Trump as their party’s candidate for president. With the U.S election season now in full swing, rising powers are closely watching to see how the Trump campaign’s foreign and economic policies might shape the future direction of the United States. While some in China have welcomed his willingness to disengage America from the Indo-Pacific, others in India, Japan, Brazil, and South Korea are anxious to reevaluate the fundamentals of their relationships with Washington. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the RNC Convention and the prospects of a Trump presidency. In the next Policy Alert, we will cover reactions to the Democratic Party’ convention in Philadelphia.

CHINA
Trump’s nomination has surprised Chinese government officials. Just last September, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying dismissed Trump’s harsh views of Beijing since China only concerns itslef with policies held by “the mainstream opinion of the U.S. people.” Nonetheless, many in China have grown into Trump supporters over the course of the campaign, especially when compared to Hillary Clinton whose “pivot to Asia” strategy as Secretary of State incensed China as a means to contain the country. An online poll conducted in March 2016 by Global Times showed a preference for Trump over Clinton with 54 percent in support of the GOP candidate, citing the nominee’s image as a successful businessman, his foreign policy views, and the popularity of The Apprentice and the Trump family brand in China.

(more…)

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Want to support Myanmar? Don’t forget about Mae Sot.

myanmar riverAnyone who follows politics in Myanmar knows that Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), Nobel laureate and daughter of the liberator Aung San, is now the de facto leader of Myanmar. Things are on the up and up. SIM cards no longer cost hundreds of dollars, the banking system is taking shape, and foreign investment is on the rise.

So what is becoming of the border city Mae Sot in Thailand? Should donors and international NGOs (INGO) pack up and move inside Myanmar? Not so fast. In fact, if donors and INGOs really want to support Myanmar, they should continue supporting community-based organizations and initiatives in Mae Sot.

Along the Thai-Myanmar border, Mae Sot has served as the hub city for thousands of refugees who fled Myanmar after violent crackdowns in the late-1990s. Over the years, Mae Sot has been a focal area for INGOs, community-based organizations, and development workers – to support the over 120,000 Myanmar refugees and over two million migrant workers in Thailand with everything from healthcare, educational support, job training, and legal help.

Now that ASSK’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has won the elections, the public perception is that Myanmar is generally on a quick path to reform, making the work of community-based organizations along the border less and less relevant. (more…)

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NSG Rejection Derails India’s Potential Commitment to Paris Agreement

Smog in New Delhi, India (Source: Mark Danielson, Flickr)

Smog in New Delhi, India (Source: Mark Danielson, Flickr)

What does the trade of nuclear materials have to do with reducing greenhouse gas emissions? The connection between the two may be more complex than you might think. India’s recent failed candidacy to earn membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has discouraged New Delhi’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement was drawn up at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last year and sought, among other things, to reduce global greenhouse emissions around the world in an effort to protect the environment and stop global warming. On April 22, 2016, India and 177 other countries signed the treaty with an understanding that the accord would take effect once 55 countries that account for 55 percent of the world’s emissions ratified it. Prior to India’s rejection from the NSG, 18 countries had already ratified it and a ratification by India would have meant that countries accounting for 55.49 percent of the emissions would have been committed to the agreement. This would have meant that only the remaining countries accounting for a meager .51 percent would have needed to ratify the agreement to finally make it binding on all signatories. (more…)

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Indo-Afghan Partnership Adds Fuel to Afghan-Pakistani Hostility

Torkham crossing along Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Source: USAID)

Torkham crossing along Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (Source: USAID)

Indo-Afghan relations grew stronger as India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, traveled to Afghanistan on June 3rd to inaugurate the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam. The 42 megawatt hydroelectric dam is the result of a $273 million investment by the Indian Government to promote agriculture in Afghanistan’s Herat province. It is estimated that the dam will be able to soon irrigate 75,000 hectares of farmland.

Construction of the dam, originally named Salma Dam, had actually begun in 1976, but was halted when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1979. The rebellion against Soviet occupation and the subsequent civil war greatly damaged the dam’s infrastructure. However, after the overthrow of the Taliban, India renewed its commitment to building the dam. Thus, although forty years after initially starting, construction of the dam is now complete.

The inauguration of the dam is only one of many recent steps towards stronger Indo-Afghan economic and political relations. Recently, the two powers – along with Iran – signed a regional corridor trade agreement. The key feature of the agreement is India’s pledge to finance the development of the Chabahar port, Iran’s only port with direct access to the ocean. In return, Iran agrees to a sea-land trade route to India via Afghanistan’s road networks. (more…)

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Policy Alert: After Brexit – Rising Powers React to Surprise British Vote to Leave EU

brexit 3

On June 23, the United Kingdom voted in favor of a referendum for the country to leave the European Union (EU). The 52-48 split vote in support of “Leave” panicked global financial markets and prompted a wave of largely negative reactions from world leaders who had previously urged British voters to “Remain.” Once the British Parliament ratifies the referendum, the country would exit the EU in two years. With U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron resigning in October after leading the effort to stay in the EU, the world watches how these events unfold and whether others, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, now pursue their own independence from Britain.

In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from India, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia (who reveled in the vote’s outcome) examining what the vote means for the future of Britain and the EU.

INDIA

Given the historical linkages between India and the United Kingdom, the “Brexit” – or British Exit – referendum vote was closely followed by leaders in New Delhi and the Indian public. There are 800 Indian companies across multiple sectors like pharmaceuticals, financial services, and IT operating in the U.K. and employing over a million people. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Rousseff Under Siege – Rising Powers Debate Brazil’s Future

dilmaBrazil’s Senate voted earlier this month to suspend President Dilma Rousseff while she awaits a trial to determine if corruption charges will result in her impeachment. Rousseff called the move a “coup” and vowed to fight the charges. Interim President Michel Temer now has to weather this political turmoil amid the on-going Zika virus outbreak, an economic recession, and preparations for the Summer Olympics just months away. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Brazil, India, China, Russia, and Japan on the South America powerhouse’s future.

BRAZIL

On May 12, the Brazilian Senate voted 55-22 in favor of trying President Dilma Rousseff for impeachment for using accounting tricks to improve the 2014 budget outlook (pedaladas, in Portuguese) in violation of budgetary laws. This followed a 367-137 vote in the Chamber of Deputies on April 17. As a result, Rousseff is suspended from office for 180 days while she is tried in the Senate. An interim government will take her place either until she returns to office in the unlikely event she is not convicted in the Senate, or until the end of her term in 2018.

(more…)

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Policy Alert: Asia Rethinks South China Sea Disputes in Wake of Presidential Election in The Philippines

rodrigoduterteIn a landslide victory on May 9, Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected to be the next president of the Philippines. The 71-year-old Duterte – who has been called the “Donald Trump of the Philippines” for his propensity to spark controversy – pledged to reverse the current government’s foreign policy by engaging China in talks to resolve escalating maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines claim ownership over parts of the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.

Duterte also promised to ride a jet ski to China-administrated islands and personally stake his country’s claims should negotiations fail to produce a resolution, so the world is closely watching to see how this potential flashpoint develops. In this Policy Alert, which is part of a series under the Sigur Center’s Energy and Maritime Security project, we explore the reactions of China, the Philippines, Japan, India, and Vietnam to Duterte’s electoral victory and its implications for U.S. policy toward Asia.

CHINA

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang hoped the new government would “meet China halfway, taking concrete measures to properly deal with [maritime] disputes so as to put the ties of the two countries back on the track of sound development.” Lu touted a historical friendship between Beijing and Manila that has been “hit by major setbacks in recent years, due to reasons known to all,” an indirect reference to U.S. support for the Philippines challenge to China’s maritime claims.

During the campaign, Duterte advocated multilateral talks with China to settle these claims. Lu said China continued to reject this approach in favor of bilateral negotiations with the relevant parties. Should those multilateral talks fail to produce an outcome within two years, Duterte promised he would consider bilateral talks directly with Beijing. He also signaled he was open to joint oil and gas exploration with China if Beijing agrees to treat the disputed waters as a “mutual corridor.”

Several commentators traced today’s strained relations between the Philippines and China to the U.S. foreign policy and the outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino III. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to Potential U.K. “Brexit” from European Union

brexit2With Britain’s June 23 referendum on whether to remain in the European Union (EU) fast approaching, debates about the future of the United Kingdom and Europe have gained attention across the world. Many observers worry about the potential economic and political consequences of Britain’s decision to exit – or “Brexit” – the EU. With polls showing the public split nearly 50-50 on the referendum, President Barack Obama traveled to Britain and urged British voters to stay in the EU. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Russia, and Japan on the U.K. referendum.

CHINA

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the British public to vote in favor of a strong and united European Union. With over $61 billion in trade deals announced during Xi’s recent visit to the United Kingdom, he hoped “Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties.” At risk is a deal between Beijing and London in October 2015 where China would build a nuclear energy plant at Hinkley Point, the “largest inward investment in” U.K. history.

Commentators debated whether the Brexit decision could have a negative impact on growing economic ties between the United Kingdom and China. (more…)

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