by Ellen Laipson
November 22, 2016

from WPR Website

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A man reads a newspaper

announcing Donald Trump's election victory,

Beijing, China, Nov. 10, 2016

(AP photo by Andy Wong).


European and Asian political analysts are reacting quite differently to Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election.


Many European public policy intellectuals are deeply worried about the new team in power in Washington and they see the election outcome as a sign of the decline of the liberal international order.


Some distinguished Asian thought leaders, in contrast, see an opportunity to build a new order - one in which Asian powers will be more prominent in setting the rules.


In any event, the consensus seems to be that the Trump win will result in the further redistribution of power to regional players.

Conversations with a range of Europeans who see themselves as part of the vital trans-Atlantic community that created the postwar order in the late 1940s show that the Trump victory has badly shaken their sense of security, both national and personal.


They see the election outcome as accelerating the decline of the liberal international order, which could affect the world economy and the increasingly multicultural societies in which they live.


They worry about Trump's disdain for the postwar alliance system and fear that his approach to Russia creates grave risks to their national security.

At the same time, there is no sign that they see Europe as being able to generate new big ideas about the international system. For them, a less engaged America is a threat because they are not confident that any single European state can fill the vacuum.


Germany is the most likely candidate, with a 'steady' and 'sober leader' and a natural dominant role in the regional economy.


But the European project of the past half-century would mitigate against any one country, and Germany in particular, being assigned an outsized role. The European Union prefers collective leadership, with all its flaws and inefficiencies.

Absent the 'moral lodestar' that American leadership has represented for many years, reinforced for some by the grace and integrity of the Obama years, the pressures on liberal values caused by terrorism, refugees, Brexit and the rise of the political right in many EU countries will only increase.


Even if European public policy intellectuals fretted about specific policies advanced by the Obama administration or worried about the White House's rebalance to Asia, no one really imagined global security without the NATO alliance as its center of gravity - that is, until the Trump era.


Now many fear an America that is either less engaged in world affairs, or that returns to an approach of dominance through strong-arm policies and military buildup.

The despair among Europeans stands in contrast to the attitude of some influential Asian policy intellectuals, who see Trump's victory as an opportunity, even an acceleration of a trend already underway.


This past week, the Asia Foundation released its quadrennial report, Asian Views of America's Role in Asia, with accompanying events in,

  • Washington

  • New York

  • San Francisco

At the events, the experts chairing the report's chapters on each of the three sub-regions of Asia,

  • C. Raja Mohan for South Asia

  • Yoon Young-Kwan for Northeast Asia

  • Thitinan Pongsudhirak for Southeast Asia,

... tried to explain to American audiences that they are working through the surprise of the election with less emotion and more reasoned analysis than many Americans.

Some influential Asian policy intellectuals see Trump's victory as an opportunity, even an acceleration of a trend already underway.

There are at least three dimensions to their analysis.

  1. First is their disappointment with the rebalance to Asia that the Obama administration heralded in its first term as a major geopolitical shift.


    Asian publics have not seen any significant change in the American posture and presence, and they see U.S. officials still absorbed by the crisis environment of the Middle East rather than the strategic terrain of Asia.


    They worry that the U.S. response to Chinese maritime provocations has been insufficient, and that Washington cannot match in money or leadership Beijing's plans for new regional institutions and funding for large infrastructure and development projects.


    The net result is that they are open to hear the ideas of a new team that is not bound by the conventions of current and past policies.


  2. Second is their belief, perhaps naive, that Trump's administration will have to make the transition from dramatic campaign promises to the realities of governing.


    They are not as worried about the most alarmist scenarios raised by his campaign rhetoric - more nuclear states in Asia, a total withdrawal of American forces, and the appeasement of Russia and China - because they assume that the general inertia of large bureaucracies will prevent any radical swings in policy, and that the new team will moderate its positions once it is in office.


  3. The third dimension is most important:

Many in Asia believe it is time for them to take more responsibility for their regional agenda, and therefore they are less worried about a possible retrenchment of America from Asia.

The three chairs of the Asia Foundation's report, for instance, are not entirely pessimistic about Asia managing the rise of China.


They already see more capacity and more confidence in India and Japan to balance China, and to engage effectively with the smaller and more vulnerable Asian states. And they confess to some relief that the U.S. will not be preaching democratic values and human rights.


They want their own societies to progress, but the rising generation of Asians does not want to be scolded for its shortcomings.

Barack Obama's last trip this past week, to Europe and to the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit in Peru, was his chance to shore up those fundamental pillars of American leadership and global security.


His messages about the enduring values of trans-Atlantic 'cooperation' and 'global trade' (TPP for the Pacific Area and TTIP for the EU) as an engine of economic 'growth' are what European and Asian elites want to hear, but they realize things may change quite a bit.

  • For Europe, the past model is still valid and worth preserving.


  • For Asians, new models are possible, and though they prefer to face the future with a capable American partner, they will prepare for other contingencies.