Ok, I’ll start by just saying that Trump is a very clear rejection of Americanization equaling globalization. I mean, America First, if you are an ally of the United States, it’s very clear that America’s willingness to play the role that it has historically, either in terms of being the global policeman, the global architect of free trade, or the global cheerleader on values, is not what it was.
I think of those three, values is the one that will take the biggest hit. That’s the one where American exceptionalism is just done for. Around the world, people look at the US and say: those values are no longer ones we are willing to follow America’s lead on, but also this is something Trump has really no interest in. His view of relationships and alliances is very transactional. The Russians, he’s going to be much closer to, the Germans are going to have a much bigger problem with him, and on and on and on.
On trade, I think Trump’s bark is probably a little worse than his bite. I don’t see a trade war between China, Japan, Mexico, and so on, I don’t see tariffs being suddenly set 45% across the board, but I do believe that Trump’s willingness to go after US based multinationals that had been lining their own pockets and those of their shareholders, but have done so at the expense of American workers, some of that’s rhetoric, some of that’s real, but the reality is he’s planning on definitely taking them on. Of course, TPP is dead and the TTIP is not going anywhere, and you cannot talk about the US as leading global trade. It’s very clear from APEC that if anyone is doing that right now it’s Xi Jinping, and he’s relishing that role, frankly.
Frankly, it’s America’s defense role that I think is going to change the least under Trump, where the US still sees terrorism and proliferation under Trump as a massive concern. They’re less educated on cyber, and it’s not clear what their position will be, vis-a-vis Russia and some of the other issues when they start making the hires and getting the briefings, which they haven’t gotten yet. But leaving that aside, in term of defense policy not only is the US the biggest game in town, by far, in terms of global defense, but also it takes a very long time to change the strategy, to change the interoperability weapon systems, to change basic agreements. These are elements that do not move that quickly. So even though I think NATO will eventually erode under Trump and certainly some of America’s traditional allies in Asia will erode as well, I don’t expect that’s going to be as significant.
And all the structural aspects of Trump’s policy that Ian talked about will have a profound impact on the US – China relationship. I haven’t seen this degree of uncertainty in the US-China relationship in 15-20 years, and the potential for volatility in the relationship is very substantial. At its most basic level, the US political cycle and Chinese political cycle are out of sync in very dangerous ways, cause you have a new president coming in in January, with some very strongly articulated views, like labeling China a currency manipulator and wanting to protect American workers and businesses and possibly with tariffs, and you have a Chinese leadership that is interested in three things leading up to the transition: stability, stability, and more stability. So they’re not going to be in any mood to tolerate what is likely coming down the pipe. There’s well over 50% probability that China will get named a currency manipulator.
The question is, will Trump’s initial moves on China, based on what he said not only during the campaign, but what’s in his 100 day plan, are they tactical moves for symbolic purposes in the effort to reset the terms of the relationship, or do they reflect a fundamental shift in approach. Because Trump hasn’t chosen his final advisors, we simply don’t know the answer to that, but the fact that there’s that level of uncertainty, the probability of volatility in the relationship is high concerns me.
Combined with the fact that we have high security challenges like North korea. I think Ian is absolutely right that US alliances will not change much: there’s broad support, especially within the Republican party or establishment for US alliances. Abe did us all a big favor by beginning that relationship by springing to NY to meet trump, but how is Trump going to respond to a North Korean provocation? Which is likely in the first 6 months. That will have a very defining impact.
The question is, will Trump pick up the mantle of the very institutionalized architecture of the US -China relationship that the Obama administration built? Because there’s nothing more important in the US- China relationship than broad and deep levels of communication, regardless if they agree, both sides need to be talking at multiple levels constantly. And the question is, will that be preserved? If not, then the structural features of uncertainty, mistrust and competition that are at the heart of the US-China relationship will only make things get worse.
I would also encourage the business community to reach out to the new Trump administration and explain to them the profound opportunities that the Bilateral Investment Treaty represents. It’s ironic because the bilateral investment treaty is far more to America’s advantage than to China’s advantage, yet the Chinese have been pushing it more than the United States is. And I understand that to date, Trump has not articulated an openness to more trade and investment with China but the BIT has the possibility of liberalizing sectors, especially service sectors like financial services, in ways that haven’t to date, and the Chinese want to do that. That’s an opportunity that the US shouldn’t lose out on. And then after a really good deal has been negotiated (Trump says he’s a good negotiator, let’s see what he can get from China), put it to a Republican congress, and gain greater market access for American companies.
One point is that Trump’s rhetoric is very much about the fact that America’s been taken advantage of by all these other countries, and as a consequence we need to level the playing field, we need to get better deals. But it’s hard to get better deals when your international negotiating position is actually deteriorating. It’s clearly true- America’s allies are weaker and more fragmented, and more willing to hedge, America’s adversaries are either stronger as countries or as individual leaders. And all of those things are going to make it harder for a new Trump administration to come to the table and say “let me tell you how it’s going to be”.
Especially when soft power has eroded as much as it has, when America’s ability to follow through on commitments, whether it’s security commitments to places like Ukraine, or Syria, the international community on those things, whether it’s the wars that have failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether it’s on economic commitments like the TPP.
All of these things make it harder, and Trump in other words comes with quite a poisoned chalice, from his own rhetoric but also from the trajectory that the US and the globe has had towards this geopolitical structure that I call the G- Zero. I think Trump’s going to have a really hard time dealing with that. Obama was someone who was keenly aware of the limits of American power and the importance of multilateralism in trying to get what you want, and still he had some successes and some failures, as a consequence of that. Trump has none of that, and thus far his allies don’t either.
On sectors it’s very early to say. There’s reason to be more optimistic on things like the finance sector and some areas of energy in the United States where the people who have been advising him have been pretty pro-industry, pro-corporate. The sector I would be most concerned about would be IT. Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly pro-Hillary, with the singular exception of Peter Thiel. Never mind the fact that California has a very liberal orientation on social issues and the rest, the fact that social media, Google and the rest, were leveraged very heavily by Trump unwittingly to those organizations, and they’re now going to fight it.
Trump is going to be at war with those guys. You’re going to see that. He’s already talked about anti-trust with Amazon, Jeff Bezel ‘s of course onto the Washington Post. You’ll see that with the expansion of Breitbart and the alt-right, and the fact that Facebook and Google and Twitter are going to be actively against him. The fact that those companies have been driving so much of US markets globally, and have been completely aligned with the US administration, now they’re going to be completely oppositional is extremely important.
It’s also extremely important because China’s view on these organizations is “You see? I told you.” Like on Facebook, the idea that Obama had a problem and Hillary Clinton had a problem with Facebook, getting squeezed and used politically by the alt-right, the Chinese figured this one out years ago, and they’re in a different place than where the Americans are now, but they may not be in a very different place to where America’s going to go under the Trump administration.