09/26/2016, 18.05
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US presidential election is an "unavoidable challenge" for East Asia

Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo will follow very carefully the first US presidential debate. Clinton and Trump have different positions that find different echoes in various Asian countries. Given trade ties, the US-China relationship is not questioned, but how that might evolve raises questions. Islam and Islamic terrorism remain an unknown factor.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Asian leaders will carefully follow tonight’s US presidential debate. In Beijing, leaders will be especially interested since both the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and her Republican rival, Donald Trump, raise diplomatic, economic and financial question marks that will probably involve China.

For Asians, America’s global position depends on at least three issues, namely its relations with China, the most important bilateral relationship for both powers; the role of the US in furthering global trade; and the degree to which the US can be a credible security partner for Asia.

For long-standing US allies like Japan and South Korea, the choice is quite simple. Analysts and diplomats say that Seoul is clearly on Clinton’s side given Trump’s hard-line position on North Korea.

A tough America against the Kim regime is a guarantee against North Korea’s nuclear programme, but one that is “too tough", as the Republican candidate might be, could lead to a disastrous war. In such a case, South Korea and its people would in all likelihood be the first to suffer the consequences.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another important issue. The agreement involves free trade among 12 mostly Asian nations, and includes United States, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

Signed by the US president, it has not yet been ratified by the Congress, and given the few days that remain before the presidential election on the first Tuesday of November, the next president will be in charge of delivering it.

South Korea is in favour of the trade deal, with a few caveats. Clinton is in favour of it but wants to review its terms. Trump supports protectionism, and is more inclined towards autarchy. He could renege on his predecessor’s signature before it is vetted by Congress. After fighting hard to get the deal approved, this would seriously harm South Korea’s image.

Japan shares the same concerns as its neighbour – relations with North Korea and trade balance – but it is still too closely tied to the United States to oppose the next occupant of the White House.

Whoever wins will get Tokyo’s support, said Mainichi Shimbun in an editorial last week even though Shinzo Abe’s government appears to be leaning slightly towards Trump because he is seen as a strong man.

Surprisingly, this could convince the Chinese too. In a commentary published in the South China Morning Post, political analyst Derwin Pereira writes that Beijing sees him “a law-and-order tsar, and in that capacity, [he] lauded the ‘strength’ of the Chinese crackdown on the Tiananmen protests of 1989. The Chinese love those who love power, particularly when they are businessmen as well, as Trump is.”

For Beijing, “A key issue in this regard would be the South China Sea. Both candidates have hawkish positions on it, but how far they would go to employ American power to constrain China’s maritime ambitions remains to be seen.”

“China will be looking carefully at how these two Americans reiterate their positions in Monday’s debate. It is a platitude that Washington and Beijing need each other.”

The last issue that matters in the East is the candidates’ position on Islam and Islamic terrorism. Clinton comes out ahead. She has clearly refused to equate Islam with Islamic fundamentalism, and has long-standing relations with US Muslims. Trump instead has gone so far as to call for their expulsion.

For Pereira, "Trump’s one-dimensional view of Islam is unlikely to appeal even to countries with restive Muslim minorities, such as China, India, the Philippines and Thailand. Unless he comes up with credible policies, he would find Muslim-majority countries shutting their doors on him."

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