US Presidential Debate Stirs Worries in Asia

The outcome of the US presidential election could shift global fortunes, and the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump revealed sharp contrasts. “Mr. Trump has drawn attention for challenges to the Asia security and trade architecture that has girded U.S. alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines for decades and more recently acted as a hedge against China’s rising power,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Mrs. Clinton was viewed as largely supporting the status quo.” Trump argues that he would convince allies like Japan, South Korea as well as NATO members to pay a larger share of defense spending: “I want to help all of our allies, but we are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policemen of the world.” Clinton spoke directly to US allies: “ I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America's word be good.” Neither candidate supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both emphasized plans to revive US job growth. – YaleGlobal

US Presidential Debate Stirs Worries in Asia

Trump criticisms over China, Japan and South Korea during first US presidential debate raise fresh concerns in region while Clinton offers allies reassurances
Tuesday, September 27, 2016

People across Asia watched the U.S. presidential debate for signs of which candidate would gain an edge in an election that risks upturning longstanding trade and security arrangements in the region.

In their highly anticipated encounter, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump focused mainly on U.S. domestic issues but also delved into foreign policy, where they sparred over nuclear proliferation, cybersecurity and trade.

From Australia to Indonesia to Thailand, the debate was broadcast live on local TV and radio stations Tuesday morning local time. A live-stream on China’s Weibo microblogging platform attracted more than 10,000 comments. In Vietnam, some online newspapers translated the debate into the local language. In Japan, public broadcaster NHK live translated the event, which dominated the country’s evening newspapers.

“Everyone had one eye on the television set and one eye on their terminals,” said Alex Furber of derivatives trader CMC Markets in Singapore.

Interest appeared lower elsewhere. In Malaysia, local media didn’t follow the debate live and few politicians tweeted about it. Only one person reached by phone, the manager of a local real-estate company who had supported Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, said he watched it on YouTube.

Mr. Trump has drawn attention for challenges to the Asia security and trade architecture that has girded U.S. alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines for decades and more recently acted as a hedge against China’s rising power. Mrs. Clinton was viewed as largely supporting the status quo in several interviews around the region after the debate.

Touching a raw nerve in some Asian capitals, Mr. Trump repeated assertions that American allies weren’t paying their fair share of shared security costs. That, said James Kim, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think-tank, would increase concerns in South Korea and Japan about a weakening of the alliance with the U.S.

“He’s made his position firm that he wants the U.S.’s allies to pony up. It sends all the wrong signals to China and North Korea,” Mr. Kim said.

In contrast, Mr. Kim said Mrs. Clinton’s message was “unequivocal” about maintaining the existing alliances.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman on Tuesday responded that Seoul “has played a role in maintaining and strengthening Korea-U.S. combined defense and in providing stable conditions for U.S. forces in Korea.”

Mr. Trump’s threat to pull American forces out of Japan if Tokyo doesn’t pay more to support the alliance has raised concerns in that country. Some feared his negotiating skills.

“Japan’s second-generation politicians would be no match for hard-driving Mr. Trump,” one Japanese Twitter user posted.

Le Van Bang, former Vietnamese ambassador to the U.S., admired Mr. Trump’s argument about trade and creating jobs for the U.S. but said his policies “might create tensions” with Japan and China.

“Frankly I am scared of a Trump presidency,” Apolinario Lozada, a former Philippine diplomat who now advises Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, told a local TV station.

What’s Left Unsaid

Mr. Trump said Mrs. Clinton has supported trade deals and policies that have led to companies and jobs leaving the U.S. to countries including Mexico and China. He said those deals must be scrapped or renegotiated. And he accused Mrs. Clinton of working to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which she once supported but has backed off from.

“If Trump wins, the TPP is dead,” said James Chin, a Malaysian academic who heads the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

Mr. Trump repeated earlier allegations that China is devaluing its currency, accusing it of taking American jobs and using the U.S. “as a piggy bank.” He said China is the “best ever” at driving its currency lower to boost the country’s exports. China, which keeps tight control on its currency, has recently tried to prop it up rather than devalue it.But his tough words drew harsh reactions in China.

“The level of deceit, of bigotry and racism, of indecency in Mr. Trump is just unprecedented,” said Victor Gao, a prominent international relations expert who worked as an interpreter for late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. China is used to being vilified by presidential candidates but it should be anxious over the global instability Trump presidency could create, he said.

“As far as China’s concerned, it might create conditions for countries like Japan to arm themselves, which would of course be a major cause for anxiety,” he said.

Elsewhere, Mr. Trump drew favorable reviews. “I like Trump because he’s straightforward and he speaks his mind,” said Kang Chee, a 49-year-old purchaser at Singaporean marine services firm CH Offshore Ltd.

Others felt the election of either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton won’t make much a difference to their countries. “The next president will focus more on the local economy and the country’s employment,” said Amonthep Chawla, head of research at CIMB Thai Bank in Bangkok. “Both seem to look at trade as a secondary matter.”

Read the annotated debate transcript from the Washington Post.

Josh Chin in Beijing, Saurabh Chaturvedi in Singapore, Khanh Vu in Hanoi, Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol in Bangkok, Alastair Gale in Seoul, Sara Schonhardt in Jakarta, Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur, Trefor Moss in Manila and Mitsuru Obe in Tokyo contributed to this article.

Copyright ©2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved