Rising Powers React Vigorously to Donald Trump’s Inauguration
Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th U.S. president on January 20 evoked strong and even fiery reactions in rising powers. Much of the commentary was critical, fearing threats to the global liberal economic order and the existing security architecture in Asia. There was also some concern about a possible reversal of democratic values in the U.S. under the new administration and implications abroad. In this Policy Alert, we offer views from Japan, Russia, China, India, South Korea and Brazil on Trump’s ascendancy to power.
“America first” rhetoric in Trump’s inaugural address was a point of focus and concern for Japanese commentators.
- In response to Trump’s “America first” and isolationist policies, an editorial in The Asahi Shimbum, a liberal leaning paper, contended that “America’s allies and friends now need to enhance their engagement with the United States in order to prevent Trump from leading the country into a cocoon of isolationism. As a champion of the values of democracy and freedom, Japan has a major role to play in such efforts.”
- An editorial in The Japan News, a more conservative paper, said of Trump’s inaugural address, “There was almost no mention of freedom, democracy, or rule of law. It is inevitable that the values of the United States will be shaken.”
There was a thorough coverage of not just Trump’s inauguration but also of the first few days of Trump’s presidency, including the Women’s March, in the Russian newspapers. Although not all the Russian newspapers presented a positive view of Trump’s inauguration, most nevertheless praised and defended Trump.
- According to a Sputnik op-ed, “Trump’s speech has become a shining example of US presidential rhetoric.” Press secretary of the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, said “It must be the biggest mistake by western analysts, by some of our political analysts to consider him [Trump] being our man.”
- A Pravda column said, “those boycotting Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration come across as childish spoilsports who are going to exclude themselves from the fun. To date, Donald Trump has made a lot of sense, has shown himself to be a shrewd communicator and has called a spade, a spade.
- An RT op-ed likened Trump’s presidency to a circus, “Cirque du Trump.” The author claims that “like the tightrope walker, he [Trump] will leave everyone one the edge of their seats with his death-defying (hopefully) foreign, military and economic policy. Like the clown, he will amuse and offend millions with his defensive midnight tweet storms. Like the acrobat, he will astound and amaze with his ability to politically contort and contradict himself, sometimes even in the span of a single sentence.”
Even before assuming the office of President, Trump and his team have already managed to provoke China over its core interests and sensitive issues such as the Taiwan question and the South China Sea disputes. There was overall a negative impression of Trump’s inaugural address and a grave concern that China and the U.S. may have an agitated relationship, and possibly a trade war, under Trump.
- A China Daily editorial said of Trump’s inaugural address, “aspiring to unite a politically divided nation with an essentially divisive rallying call — an inaugural speech that was anti-tradition, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, anti-free-trade and virtually anti-everything pre-Trump.” South China Morning Post also noted that the speech was at odds with reality and that “not before has a US president given an inauguration address as filled with nationalism, isolationism and protectionism as did Donald Trump.”
- Global Times published several editorials on uncertainty, dramatic changes, and lingering fears regarding the Trump era. One in particular noted that Trump’s inaugural address “launched a sweeping criticism of US domestic and foreign policies over the past decades” and that “Trump seemed less than gracious to ignore how his predecessors and political dignitaries might feel insulted by his criticism.”
- Regarding Trump’s presidency, Wu Zhenglong, a Research Fellow at China Foundation, contended that “after Trump takes office, China and the US will see more trade frictions between them. The new president is likely to take harsher moves against China on such issues as tariffs and exchange rates. Bilateral relations may get rocky to a certain degree.” This outlook was also shared by Zha Daojiong, a Peking University professor, who said, “Active conflict between China and the United States over Taiwan seems less distant a prospect.”
Many commentators expressed overwhelmingly negative views of Trump’s inauguration speech.
- An editorial in the left leaning The Hindu, opined that Trump’s inauguration speech was “resonant of campaign rhetoric rather than one that should have been a vision statement for a united future under his leadership.” It also said the speech had remarkable omissions such as “the humility that American Presidents usually embrace in their first address,” “the historical emphasis on American values” and “word of thanks for the work of his predecessor.” In a similar manner, an editorial in Business Standard thought Trump’s speech “dissed the four former presidents with whom he shared the podium and painted a grossly inaccurate picture of America.”
- Unlike most editorials and op-eds which expressed critical views of Trump’s “America first” emphasis in his inaugural address, a column in the conservative nationalist minded The Pioneer was more sympathetic than not. The columnist states that “the new President has every reason to ensure primacy to his nation’s citizens in job opportunities.” But the columnist also recognized that “the new US President cannot afford to take his country into a shell because that will leave the space open for China to occupy.”
Some commentators spoke about expectations regarding Trump’s presidency itself.
- According to an editorial in The Economic Times, the Trump presidency promises “changeability and uncertainty.” Not only has Trump taken contrary and contradictory stands on the same issue time and again, but “his nominees to key posts in his administration have contradicted their chief ’s stand on a number of key subjects.”
- Another editorial in The Economic Times pondered, “Can Donald Trump become a catalyst for Asia’s century?” That is because as the author contended, “If the US does indeed go ahead and disengage partially in Asia, the result would be for China to move in to occupy the strategic space vacated by the US. If Japan and South Korea are egged on to acquire military capability to compensate for a smaller American defence umbrella, India’s own strategic capability would have to be scaled up much faster.”
Given the recent presidential impeachment in South Korea, the coverage of Trump’s inauguration by the country’s newspaper was a mixed of commentary on Trump and his policies and a recognition of an urgent need for a stable political leadership in Korea.
- Regarding the inaugural address, an editorial in DONG-A-ILBO noted Trump’s excessive use of “dystopian words.”
- Another editorial in DONG-A-ILBO argued that “the absence of a leader [in South Korea] should not continue for a long time” because Korea needs “a stable leadership so as not to lag behind in the midst of changes in the international community that is trying to find its own ways to survive in the Trump era.”
- Given Trump’s presidency, an editorial in The Hankyoreh, a liberal leaning paper, contended that “there is now a greater imperative [for South Korea] to step up its own balanced diplomacy efforts.” The author continued, “We would also be better off taking action ourselves on alliance and trade issues… rather than letting ourselves get caught in a climate where the US takes the helm.”
Most articles in the Brazilian press focused on how Trump’s protectionist policy tendency was a potential threat to economic recovery in Brazil. Some commentators also warned about rising nationalism and illiberal democracy.
- Folha de São Paulo reported that the incoming government’s protectionism could pose a threat to Brazil and trade liberalization. The report quoted several Brazilian trade specialists, such as Josino Mierelles of the Brazilian Industries Coalition headquartered in Washington, who asserted that while the new U.S. administration has not offered a concrete trade agenda, the Brazilian government should engage the White House and Congress with its own national interests in mind.
- O Globo made an inventory of the economic achievements of the former President Obama, but continued with a focus on Trump’s proposals to increase tariffs on China and disrupt the international trading system. It noted that such a new U.S. trade policy could undermine Brazilian exports to China and around the world. Also, the report deduced that such a policy could lead to higher U.S. interest rates that could lessen foreign investment in Brazil and trigger increases in Brazilian interest rates.
- The weekly Veja interviewed Monica Baumgarten de Bolle, professor of economics at Pontefical Catholic University, in which she cautioned that Trump government’s trade policies could increase U.S. interest rates and thereby pressure the Brazilian Central Bank to raise interest rates, undermining the conditions of economic recovery. She also warned that Trump and the Republican dominated Congress could lower business taxes and impose a “Border Adjustment Tax (BAT)” which would serve as a new tariff on imports.
- The Estadão led its reporting with an article detailing a “new era of nationalism” in the United States and compared Trump to Russia’s Putin, India’s Modi, and Turkey’s Erdogan among other populists around the world.
- The weekly, Carta Capital, published several stories on Trump and the threats he represents to democracy in the United States and around the world. One of the articles asserted that Trump was able to reveal and effectively denounce these defects of liberal democracy to offer up an alternative to the political system’s “fraud and deceit,” and the liberals and the political left were unable to match Trump’s rise with a convincing vision and policy platform.