Expect Trump’s Asia Team To Be Tough On China

Michael Turton , November 21, 2016 10:53am (updated)

The Nelson Report has some good observations. The good news is that the Asia team is composed of China warriors, not China accommodationists, and it is likely that whatever the final mix, tough on China types will predominate, at least as far as I can see. The bad news is Trump himself….

….but at present, it’s all speculation. NaCl, etc.

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SUMMARY: we’ll leave interpretation of the Senior Gods to others, except to note that it’s a measure of all the uncertainties the world now faces that it’s seen as good news that Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, a dedicated deal-maker and ally of Speaker Ryan, will be Chief of Staff…and that the Freedom Caucus campaign to oust Ryan apparently has been called off in lieu of Trump’s victory.

And unalloyed bad news that the “chief messenger” will be Campaign Manager Steve Bannon, who certainly gives the impression that 400 years ago, he’d be standing next to the stake laughing, while you shrieked your life away in the flames.

Trump Transition Asia foreign policy and defense players (and we assume other regional staff) officially start work today, and are making appointments around town in a concerted “reassurance tour”…some embassies have already confirmed the outreach.

So…that’s both necessary and good, obviously, since the Donald Trump who “presented” during the campaign, and especially the debates, was often contradictory and thus confusing, a situation which contributed to the several “stop Trump” campaigns which may deprive the next Administration of a lot of otherwise logical, solid Asia staffing choices.

So….”names”…”inside word” today is that while Newt Gingrich is saying he doesn’t want State, “you can’t count him out”, and that for Defense, we should think Steve Hadley and Sen. Jim Talent, “in that order”. Not sure where Sen. Corker or Sen. Sessions fit into that speculation…stay tuned.

The irrepressible Loyal Reader and long-time China hand Mike Pillsbury is telling whomever asks that he is now leading the Asia policy transition team. Earlier in the year Mike said that the principal Asia advisors to the Campaign, channeling through Sen. Sessions, were, in order, Peter Navarro, UC Irvine, Bill Triplett, former Jesse Helms staff, and Mike himself.

You may recall we reported this a couple of months ago…

Naming names at this point can be the kiss of death, experiences teaches, so we will forbear mentioning non-principal names just in case, but from what we do know so far…it’s encouraging, so stiff upper lip please.

Same reaction seems justified by Trump’s personal outreach to S. Korean Pres. Park, as the president-elect wants to walk-back interpretations of his earlier statements questioning Asia regional alliances, and Trump has also tried to say he never actually said that nukes for Seoul and Tokyo might be OK as part of a “do your part to support the alliance”.

Hummm….well…maybe reading back a transcript of what he did say and what he’s saying now isn’t important except for one critical factor, noted in an email this morning by Loyal Reader DM:

I guess we really have to view every statement from DJT as the opening gambit in a negotiation and never take anything literally, as we learned from the 60 Minutes interview last evening. Of course [the risk is] what happens to declaratory policy and other times when we need real strategic reassurance and strategic resolve in international affairs? Not everything can be a negotiation – especially if the other side is going to make moves based on interpretation of the Commander In Chief’s intent by what he says. Seems like a recipe for misunderstanding and miscalculation.

Michael Turton

A long time expat in Taiwan.