FOLLOWING a long and tense election night which saw Donald Trump defy the polls with a convincing win over Hillary Clinton, the Republican nominee is now on his way to the Oval Office, a result that has shocked much of Asia.
U.S. presidential races draw huge interest across the Asia Pacific region, and this year’s campaign, with its bitter personal attacks and outrageous snippets, featuring a former reality TV celebrity, gave regional news networks plenty of headlines.
But the U.S. elections are far more serious than this year’s campaigns would suggest. The incoming U.S. president’s decisions, policies and influence will have far reaching repercussions in terms of trade and geopolitics across Asia.
Trump’s comfortable victory was an outcome that few in Asia had expected.
His campaign had been turbulent, and his controversies had attracted far more coverage than any of his actual policies. The scale of Asia’s surprise could be measured on the region’s major stock markets, with markets in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo all dropping considerably.
Shortly after trading began on Wednesday morning, Asian markets reacted negatively to Trump’s early lead over Clinton and by the time the regions’ markets had closed, the Nikkei Average was down 5.4 percent, the Hang Seng was down 3.7 percent, and the Korea Stock Exchange had dropped 2.9 percent.
Most regional leaders had been expecting Hillary Clinton to win the White House, an outcome which would have been viewed as a general continuation of recent policies – cultivating relationships with Asian leaders in the way President Barack Obama had.
During Obama’s two-term presidency, he had reestablished U.S. ties with Myanmar, normalised ties with Vietnam and became the first sitting president to visit Laos.
As former Secretary of State, Clinton had also made a positive impression across ASEAN, and had frequently reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to its “pivot to Asia”, to balance the growing influence of China, which under President Xi Jinping’s leadership has enhanced its influence, projecting power beyond its borders. China’s growing confidence has been a serious concern for the country’s East Asian neighbours, Japan and South Korea.
Many Asian governments are concerned about the implications of a Trump presidency, especially in the wake of his confrontational campaign rhetoric in which he had suggested charging countries, such as Japan, for military protection, scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and raising trade barriers against the regions more competitive producers.
ASEAN Leaders will now fear that the TPP trade deal established by Obama is worthless. Furthermore, removing the TPP trade deal will undermine the U.S.’s own influence in the region.
Japan, South Korea and a number of ASEAN countries will also be concerned about Trump’s lack of commitment to regional security, NATO and the “pivot to Asia” which the Democrats had been so keen to cultivate.
Earlier this year, Trump told the New York Times that he didn’t believe in NATO’s core principal of protecting a member state that had been attacked.
Trump’s nationalistic campaign rhetoric and his ill-defined foreign policy agenda make him an unpredictable entity and this subsequent lack of stability is something leaders, and financial markets, fear.
In the long term, Southeast Asian nations may begin to follow the example set by Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte who is turning his back on the U.S. and embracing China. It may not be long before Malaysia and Thailand follow suit.
Unlike Southeast Asia, Beijing is likely to be pleased with Trump’s victory. In China, Clinton was considered a hardliner on human rights who would probably have adopted a hawkish foreign policy.
However, Trump’s foreign policies indicate he has little interest in human rights or China’s territorial disputes.
This may enable China to extend influence across the South China Sea undeterred.
Trump’s presidential win will also support China’s anti-democracy rhetoric, with his victory an example of how only a failed system could enable a brash, inexperienced and unqualified TV personality to become the leader of such a powerful country.
Beijing will be sure to use this argument to reconfirm the need for China to retain it’s rigid political structures.
The full implications of Trump’s election victory will take time to determine, but one thing is for certain – the Asia Pacific region is set to experience significant change.