Donald Trump’s First Congressional Address Draws Mixed Reviews from Rising Powers
President Trump’s much anticipated speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28 received positive reviews from nearly 7-in-10 American viewers according to a CNN/ORC poll of speech watchers. Reactions from rising powers were far more ambivalent.
In his address to the Congress, the President said, “we’ve lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.” On March 1, Geng Shuang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, responded, “Since joining the WTO, China has actively carried out cooperation that not only promotes the growth of its foreign trade, but also promotes the growth of world trade, making important contributions to global economic development.” Shuang continued, “Win-win and mutual benefits define China-U.S. economic relations. A report by the United States-China Business Council shows that bilateral trade and investment created about 2.6 million jobs for the U.S in 2015. We would like to work together with the U.S to keep deepening and expanding China-U.S. economic cooperation. This will benefit the two peoples and the world.” The mention of China as a source of the loss of U.S. manufacturing job in the President’s speech became the focal point for several commentators.
- People’s Daily, the official state run newspaper, reacted with a commentary titled “Why China Won’t Accuse America of ‘Stealing Jobs.’” The commentator stated that China has also been experience factory losses and that “one of the hottest economic topics in China is the loss of jobs to the United States.” “However, China is not in the habit of finger-pointing for ‘steading jobs.’” The commentator continued, “We are not jealous of others’ success; and we will not complain about others who have benefited so much from the great opportunities presented by China’s development.” The commentator concluded by channeling a classic American line, “We will open our arms to the people of other countries and welcome them aboard the express train of China’s development.”
- South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong paper, quoted several experts’ views. Wang Huiyao, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation and an adviser to the State Council, thought that “China’s contribution to the creation of new US jobs and to maintaining low consumer prices for years has been ignored” in the speech. Huo Jianguo, vice-chairman of the Ministry of Commerce’s China Society for WTO Studies, said “Beijing should be mentally and practically prepared for the coming trade friction with the US, which was only a matter of time and scale.”
Another aspect of the President’s address that caught attention in China was his proposal for a 10 percent increase in the country’s military spending.
- Shanghai Daily, along with several other newspapers, reported that Fu Ying, spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, pointed out the President’s proposition for military spending to explain that China’s defense budget would expand by about 7 percent.
The shooting of two Indian engineers in Kansas framed much of the Indian commentary, eliciting a diverse range of view.
- A Hindustan Times column thought that Trump “began the hour-long oration with a reference to ‘last week’s shooting in Kansas’ in part because “his administration has been listening to the anguish expressed by New Delhi.”
- An editorial in The Pioneer, the pro-BJP Party newspaper, opined that “the President hit the right notes” his address to the Congress. The President appeared “calm, comforting, peaceful and mature.” The commentator especially appreciated the President’s acknowledgement of the racially-motivated Kansas killing of an Indian engineer and noted “there was a sense of genuineness in his condemnation.” Thus, the commentator thought the President also “struck a chord with Indians.”
- Business Standard said of the address, “Just a speech, however good, can’t make America great.”
- A column in Hindustan Times said of the killing of an Indian engineer in Kansas, “Once again the price of hate in America has been paid with the blood of an Indian worker.” The columnist thought that “Trump should share the blame for hate crimes in US.”
For many commentators the inaccuracies in the speech stood out.
- An op-ed in The Indian Express, a pro-Congress Party newspaper, said, “The joint address to Congress by Trump was filled with inaccuracies, rhetoric and exaggerations and after a fact-check, it seems clear that he may have just read a half-researched speech off the teleprompter.”
- An editorial in the left-leaning The Hindu, found President Trump’s address to the Congress to be “unusual” due to its “less combative” tone. The commentator also noted the President “refrained from his melodramatic oratorical strategy of painting America as a nation facing a dark future in a dangerous world.” The commentator was dismayed by the President’s “apparent lack of interest in factual accuracy and specificity on details.”
- For The Economic Times, the President’s address sent mixed signals regarding immigration and immigrants. It states, “Many are now drawing comfort from the US President’s seeming willingness to adopt a merit-based immigration policy” but the President still emphasizes his “hire Americans” vision. Furthermore, the President “does not quite assuage concerns over immigration” because of “his continuing demonisation of immigrants as criminals and terrorists.”
The President’s address to Congress was widely covered in the Japanese newspapers. The commentators reflected on several facets of the address. A point of convergence for several commentators was the apparent vagueness and lack of substance in the address.
- The Japan Times, conservative leaning with the largest circulation, published an editorial titled “Trump gets presidentia” Still, the commentator noted that “there was little indication of how Trump will structure the many priorities he identified in his remarks.”
- A commentator in the Japan Times also thought that although the President “refrained from extreme assertions and appealed for the reinforcement of measures to fight terrorism and vitalize the economy, … crucial, concrete paths toward realizing such pledges have been left undefined.” This individual suggested “Trump should quickly show a road map for how he will translate this series of policies into reality.”
- According to an editorial in the Asahi Shimbun, the second largest daily circulation in Japan, “U.S. President Donald Trump again wasted a great opportunity to lay out a clear vision of the role the United States will play in the world under his leadership.” It continued, “Trump offered no definitive answers to such vital questions as how America will relate to the rest of the world and how it will work to secure a stable international order under his presidency.”
Another theme the commentators picked up from the President’s address was its degree of accuracy.
- An editorial in the Japan Times commented that “He [the President] again played fast and loose with facts”
A few also commented on some worrisome aspects of the address.
- The emphasis on defense budget did not go unnoticed in the Japanese papers. An editorial in The Mainichi said, “Trump appears to believe it necessary to boost U.S. military capabilities to counter threats posed by North Korea and the growth of Chinese military power. However, the Trump government attaches excessive importance to building up the U.S. military.” The commentator thought “Trump should prioritize diplomatic power over military build up and believes “the latest address is highly unlikely to lead to reconciliation between the Trump administration and media outlets.”
- A writer in The Japan Times opined that President Trump has a “strikingly narrow conception of leadership.” The commentator expected that foreign audiences will be most concerned by Trump’s assertion that “my job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
Several Russian papers reported that “the Kremlin [was] not surprised by the fact that Trump did not mention Russia in his address to Congress.” The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reportedly said “He (Trump) is president of the United States of America, so it is natural that he tackles the American issues” just as “Putin tackles the Russian issues” in Russia. Surprisingly, hardly any of the newspapers that normally publish opinion pieces commented on the President’s address to the Congress. Some coverage came from the nationalistic government backed Sputnik and RT.
- A Sputnik article gave a rundown of an analysis of the President’s speech by Vzglyad, a Russian language online newspaper. One main point it saw was the idea of “Make his home country stronger and bring business to the US military industrial complex.” Another key point it made was that some of the higher military expenditure will be for developing the US Navy with the aim of “containment of China.”
- The President’s address is described as “‘knock it outta the park’ speech” in RT. The op-ed gave glowing reviews from several commentators who were “impressed” by the speech. One in particular thought Trump was “magnificent.”
President Trump’s address enjoyed some favorable reviews in Brazilian media. Discussing aspects from Trump’s tone, to the ‘revival’ of the suffragette movement, media outlets deviated their focus from Trump’s effect on foreign policy and mostly focused on fact-checking the President and analyzing the content and rhetoric of his speech.
- The Deutsche Welle for Carta Capital reported on President Trump’s ‘optimistic’ and ‘decisive’ tone, a far cry from his ‘dark’ inauguration speech on January 20th. Furthermore, the news outlet discussed the danger of Trump’s ‘America first’ attitude, which is ‘very different from what the United States has done so far’. Carta Capital also reported that sixty six Democrat Congresswomen wore white during Trump’s address as a form of silent protest and as a reminder of the suffragette movement in the United States.
- Columnist Nelson de Sa wrote an opinion piece for Folha de Sao Paulo discussing the two versions of President Trump: ‘Teleprompter Trump’ and ‘Twitter Trump’. While ‘Teleprompter Trump’ is far more ‘collected’ and contained than his ‘Twitter Trump’ version, his ‘Twitter Trump’ is still an inherent part of who President Trump is, and most importantly, what he thinks and acts upon.
O Globo reported that, although Trump maintains a very clear ‘nationalist agenda’, his tone was surprisingly ‘conciliatory’, calling on all Americans to work together for the country’s ‘aspirations’. O Globo also published a fact-check on President Trump’s claims on immigration statistics, poverty, and Obamacare.