Trump: Uncertainties and conflicts of interest abound in SE Asia

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States on January 20 brings with it a number of uncertainties and conflicts of interest in Southeast Asia.

First of all, it will likely bring a hegemonial power shift towards China as Trump is prepared to redesign Barack Obama’s “pivot” and “rebalance” strategy towards East Asia as a whole by deploying a more isolationist policy that could also dampen trade flows. Traditional US partners such as the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand will have to look for a new political and economic back-up and this is when China will fully capitalise on the US’s lack of wherewithal.

Furthermore, with the US about to abandon its leading global trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, some leaders even more doubt the credibility of Washington’s ability to walk the talk.

Many Southeast and East Asian countries are also not convinced any more that the US will come to their aid in case of a confrontation with China, which almost certainly will bring more intensifying confrontation between Washington and Beijing.

Countries with strong economic dependence on China, namely Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, already more or less turned their backs to the US. Cambodia, for example, just ended joint military exercises with the US and is cosying up to Beijing. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are also interested in keeping substantial investment inflows from China running.

Indonesia, for example, needs closer ties with China for foreign investment to fund its ambitious infrastructure plans as it seeks to finance a third of the estimated $5.6 million cost of developing its ports and maritime highways through loans from the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB.

Thailand, also a recipient of infrastructure investments from Beijing, has said it will take a “neutral” stance between the US and China, a policy the country has followed in most conflict scenarios in history, trying to keep benefiting from both established trade ties with the US and infrastructure investment from China.

In the Philippines, the situation is a bit more complex. With President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial approach in the war on drugs, the US is obliged to criticise his policies that go against democratic norms and values which has gravely strained relations between the two countries. Moreover, Duterte has moved closer to China in the months since his own inauguration, denouncing what he called “new US imperialism.”

There are many more issues, but most of all it is Trump’s unpredictability that makes it impossible to say with any certainty in which direction he will take US relations with Southeast Asia.

Business conflicts of interests

Trump’s conflicts of interests are similarly noteworthy. In Indonesia, Trump is a business partner of tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo, the billionaire CEO of MNC Group, a Jakarta-based investment company that is currently developing a luxury resort in West Java that will be managed by the Trump Hotel Collection, a subsidiary of the Trump Organisation, and comprise of prime condominiums, villas, a hotel resort and a golf course.

In 2015, Hary declared his own political party called “Partai Perindo” , saying he felt inspired by Donald Trump and will run for president in Indonesia.

In the Philippines, Trump has licensed his brand to Century Property Group, builder of a soon-to-be finished Trump Tower in Manila. Century chairman Jose Antonio, among the richest tycoons in the country,  has recently been appointed the Philippines’ envoy for trade, investment and economic affairs to the US. For Trump to have business contacts with a member of President Duterte’s government certainly creates ethical quandaries.

 

 

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The inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States on January 20 brings with it a number of uncertainties and conflicts of interest in Southeast Asia. First of all, it will likely bring a hegemonial power shift towards China as Trump is prepared to redesign Barack Obama's "pivot" and "rebalance" strategy towards East Asia as a whole by deploying a more isolationist policy that could also dampen trade flows. Traditional US partners such as the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand will have to look for a new political and economic back-up and this is when China...

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States on January 20 brings with it a number of uncertainties and conflicts of interest in Southeast Asia.

First of all, it will likely bring a hegemonial power shift towards China as Trump is prepared to redesign Barack Obama’s “pivot” and “rebalance” strategy towards East Asia as a whole by deploying a more isolationist policy that could also dampen trade flows. Traditional US partners such as the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand will have to look for a new political and economic back-up and this is when China will fully capitalise on the US’s lack of wherewithal.

Furthermore, with the US about to abandon its leading global trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, some leaders even more doubt the credibility of Washington’s ability to walk the talk.

Many Southeast and East Asian countries are also not convinced any more that the US will come to their aid in case of a confrontation with China, which almost certainly will bring more intensifying confrontation between Washington and Beijing.

Countries with strong economic dependence on China, namely Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, already more or less turned their backs to the US. Cambodia, for example, just ended joint military exercises with the US and is cosying up to Beijing. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are also interested in keeping substantial investment inflows from China running.

Indonesia, for example, needs closer ties with China for foreign investment to fund its ambitious infrastructure plans as it seeks to finance a third of the estimated $5.6 million cost of developing its ports and maritime highways through loans from the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB.

Thailand, also a recipient of infrastructure investments from Beijing, has said it will take a “neutral” stance between the US and China, a policy the country has followed in most conflict scenarios in history, trying to keep benefiting from both established trade ties with the US and infrastructure investment from China.

In the Philippines, the situation is a bit more complex. With President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial approach in the war on drugs, the US is obliged to criticise his policies that go against democratic norms and values which has gravely strained relations between the two countries. Moreover, Duterte has moved closer to China in the months since his own inauguration, denouncing what he called “new US imperialism.”

There are many more issues, but most of all it is Trump’s unpredictability that makes it impossible to say with any certainty in which direction he will take US relations with Southeast Asia.

Business conflicts of interests

Trump’s conflicts of interests are similarly noteworthy. In Indonesia, Trump is a business partner of tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo, the billionaire CEO of MNC Group, a Jakarta-based investment company that is currently developing a luxury resort in West Java that will be managed by the Trump Hotel Collection, a subsidiary of the Trump Organisation, and comprise of prime condominiums, villas, a hotel resort and a golf course.

In 2015, Hary declared his own political party called “Partai Perindo” , saying he felt inspired by Donald Trump and will run for president in Indonesia.

In the Philippines, Trump has licensed his brand to Century Property Group, builder of a soon-to-be finished Trump Tower in Manila. Century chairman Jose Antonio, among the richest tycoons in the country,  has recently been appointed the Philippines’ envoy for trade, investment and economic affairs to the US. For Trump to have business contacts with a member of President Duterte’s government certainly creates ethical quandaries.

 

 

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