BEIJING, SEOUL —
The election of Donald Trump as the United States' next president not only raises huge questions about America’s relations with the world’s second largest economy, China, but traditional allies in the region as well, analysts say.
On the campaign trail, Trump routinely attacked China over its trade policies and practices, pledged to designate Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office and levy punishing import tariffs on Chinese goods. Trump was also very critical of the United States’ military allies in the region.
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Good, bad news
Trump’s election is both good news and bad news for China, said Ethan Cramer-Flood, an associate director for The Conference Board's China Center and Asia Programs in Beijing.
"The good news for China is that a Trump presidency will most likely mean the end of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade grouping that Beijing was excluded from and has yet to be finalized," he said. "China sees the grouping as a threat to its own regional trade ambitions."
“The bad news on Trump’s rhetoric and trade globalization is that it was directed at China,” he added.
Trump argues that international trade deals have hurt U.S. workers and the country’s competitiveness. He also says that he will renegotiate or scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1994 free-trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
One of president-elect Trump’s toughest pledges regarding China was to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.
Cramer-Flood says that while the pledge could be used as a bargaining chip with China to renegociate a new trade relationship with Beijing, it’s implementation raises the risk of a possible trade war and driving both economies into a recession.
Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the TPP would please China, it would be a serious blow to the other 11 regional signatories of the trade pact, analysts say.
"There's a whole range of relatively outlandish statements that Trump said during his campaign that if they were to come to pass could create some pretty dramatic business and economic consequences for the region," Cramer-Flood said.
China’s Foreign Ministry says it looks forward to working together with the new U.S. administration to, as it puts it, “push forward a consistent, healthy and stable China-U.S. relations.”
Chinese analysts on state media, however, were less certain about where the direction of the relationship was heading. They say the United States' withdrawal from the TPP would be an opportunity for China’s “One Belt, One Road” project, which seeks to grow sea and land trade links from China, but noted the uncertainty of a Trump presidency would last much longer than it usually does.
Trump is not a typical Republican, they say.
Shi Yinhong, a political scientist at Beijing’s Renmin University, said Trump’s election will have a very negative impact on both the world’s political and economic situation and that even harder economic times could be on the horizon.
“In this context, China will face very severe financial and economic difficulties,” Shi said.
Pay for friendship
During the U.S. presidential campaign Trump was very critical of America’s military allies South Korea and Japan, accusing them of not bearing enough of the financial burden for forces stationed in their countries.
Trump suggested he would pull troops and allow allies in the region to develop their own nuclear weapons if they did not agree to pay the U.S. more for protection.
He also denounced the U.S./South Korea free trade agreement as unfair to American companies and workers.
There was not a pro-Trump supporter to be found among Koreans attending a U.S. Embassy election watch party in Seoul.
Many of the of the 400 Korean college students and professors who attended the U.S. Embassy watch party in Seoul described themselves as opposing Trump’s disruptive positions on the close U.S. / South Korea alliance, rather than favoring Clinton who promised to maintain the status quo.
Trump’s surprising election victory shocked and concerned many Koreans who were following the results.
“This result is not what I expected [and not] what I want. I don’t want my country to be affected by American politics, by any changes of American politics. That’s why I am against Donald Trump,” said Han Seung-hee.
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert tried to reassure Koreans that the 60-year-old alliance will remain strong.
“It's been through ups and downs,” he said, but “it will always get stronger. I am confident that that trajectory will continue.”
The South Korean presidential office at the Blue House also called a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the potential impact of the U.S. presidential election, according to officials in Seoul.
While meeting with members of Parliament, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said on Wednesday that he believed Donald Trump would maintain the current U.S. policy of pressuring North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests.
"Trump has indicated that the greatest problem facing the world is the nuclear threat and members of his national security team hold the position that favors applying strong pressure against the North," Yun said.
Asia re-pivot pivot
In China, analysts note that many of the hawks and nationalists are excited about a Trump presidency because of what they see as isolationist global view. They also see Trump’s “pay for friendship” approach to relations with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines as benefiting Beijing’s own ambitions in the region.
“Some in China feel that they will have an opportunity to come and fill in those spaces as the Trump team sort of withdraws or creates new tension points,” said Cramer-Flood.
But he believes that view is a bit speculative of a view at this point.
"I wouldn't expect that Donald Trump on day one is going to sort of disengage America from Asia or just withdraw geopolitically, but you might see less,” he said. “You know, you might see a semi-disengagement. Less interest in the South China Sea for instance."
Renmin University’s Shi Yinhong said that while some believe Trump could alienate U.S. allies in the region, benefiting China, he thinks that is likely to only be temporary.
“Japan perceives that it faces a China threat and South Korea faces the North Korean threat. They have no other way, they have to pay money,” Shi said. “After their payment, Trump will be very pleased to further strengthen military alliances with South Korea and especially Japan.”