16 Nov Trump in Asia: The Road to Decline
“America first, but others too.” This was the convoluted message the president of the United States just sent from Vietnam at the APEC meeting. Donald Trump keeps mentioning the slogan that helped him win the elections while, on the other hand, he is now trying to offer a rational explanation to world leaders about why his nationalistic vision is compatible with growing international collaboration. This is the basis of his proposal for trade: we do not want multilateral agreements because they imply common rules and these would damage noncompetitive national economic industries; We do seek to negotiate bilateral agreements to protect our weakest industries as much as possible, but you can also do the same.
What Trump intends with this strategy is to enjoy the advantages of international trade without suffering any of its drawbacks. But the problem of such proposal lies in the difficulty of its implementation, which would require the acceptance of numerous exceptions on both sides of the negotiating table, which in turn would end up limiting the scope and depth of the new agreements: “America first, but you can be first too, so sell us only what we do not produce at home, and vice versa.” This way Trump would be able to protect some local industries, yes, but at the cost of hurting US consumers and also some producers. And while he is promoting this protectionist agenda, eleven countries advance negotiations on the TPP multilateral trade agreement, which will boost trade and growth in the Pacific region without the participation of the United States.
Trump insists on saying that American trade deficits with China and other countries hurt America and are always due to the “poorly negotiated” current legal framework. They are, according to him, unfair agreements because they allow US partners to sell in the United States more than what Americans are able to sell abroad. However, Trump has never clarified exactly what part of the complex legal texts or WTO rules is so unacceptable that should be modified, nor he has uttered a word about the trade surpluses enjoyed by the United States with countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, or the United Arab Emirates. He has not talked about how some US exports damage less competitive local industries in other countries either. Nor has he explained how importing certain foreign goods does harm some local producers in the short term, but also benefits America as a whole. However, in this trip, he has decided to exonerate China and other nations from possible responsibilities over these alleged asymmetric relations. This time he has placed all the blame exclusively on America’s former presidents, for “having negotiated” those deals or not having renegotiated afterwards.
Meanwhile, China is leading the project to recuperate the ancient Silk Road and revitalize transport and trade between 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. And although the Chinese economy still “only” represents 60% of the nominal GDP of the United States, the growing importance of the Eurasian pivot confirms the gradual displacement of the world’s economic enjine further to the east. Trump’s goal in this trip was to seal contracts and memoranda of intentions with Chinese companies for 250,000 million dollars, which implies future revenues for the sale of American material, but which also include the purchase of Chinese production and future Asian direct investment in North America. Therefore, the figure is far from offsetting the 347,000 million dollars of US trade deficit with China in 2016 that still obsesses Donald Trump.
In the area of security, Trump wanted to warn North Korea again for its military nuclear and long range missiles program. Trump is logically seeking China and Russia’s support for his position. In this occasion he has even now spoken of the longing for “a free peninsula”, which has combined with insinuations about the imminent use of force against Pyongyang. But the meeting with the Russian leader has been limited to a brief talk before posing for a group photo, perhaps due to the discomfort generated in the United States by the growing traces of collusion between Trump’s electoral campaign and Russia in 2016. Not the ideal scenario for achieving cooperation with anyone.
The United States is still the global superpower and the indispensable nation. But now that Syria has decided to adhere to the Paris Treaty against climate change, and there is not a single state left on Earth to accompany Trump in his denialist position, the world seems increasingly startled by the growing weakness of the American president. A president who gradually loses moral credit and authority abroad in a slope that also drags his country along, but which hopefully will only be a temporary slump and not the definitive decline of America’s global primacy.
Manuel López-Linares is the author of Pax Americana.
SOURCE: Expansión -print edition-. Spain leading business newspaper. On November, 16, 2017.