NOW that Donald Trump has officially been sworn in as the 45th U.S. president, Asian nations are being told to prepare for the worst.
During his inauguration speech on Friday, he vowed to put “America First”, blaming foreign industries for the outflow of jobs overseas.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,” he said.
More than any other country, China is likely to be feeling the heat, as Trump criticised the Asian giant the most during his election campaign.
After he won the election in November, relations between the two countries soured when Trump took a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and refused to back the one-China policy.
As such, international relations experts and media outlets in China are warning Beijing to prepare for “dramatic changes”.
In an editorial, pro-government tabloid newspaper the Global Times predicted: “Frictions between the U.S. and its allies, and trade tensions between the U.S. and China, seem inevitable within the four years ahead.”
Pang Zhongying, a U.S. affairs expert at Renmin University, told the South China Morning Post that “a trade war between China and the U.S. seems inevitable”.
“Trump will do everything he can to push China to give concessions,” he said.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, also warned that Trump’s unpredictability was “his biggest weapon”.
“What China needs to do is to keep calm and hold on to our own position, while on the other hand demonstrating our position,” he advised.
However, the Chinese government remains optimistic.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was reported by the Independent saying that Sino-American ties “have had their ups and downs, but they have continued to move forward”, maintaining that both nations will “push forward from this new starting point to make greater progress”.
State news agency Xinhua is confident that Trump’s business savvy will win over his populist rhetoric.
“He will soon realise that leaders of the two countries must use more mature and effective ways to communicate than trading barbs via Twitter,” it said in an editorial.
“Cooperation requires respect for each other’s bottom line and prudence not to violate it.
“Among all his alternatives, the least desirable for Trump is to act on his previous threats to slap punitive tariffs on his country’s largest trading partner and label China a ‘currency manipulator’, as protectionism only stirs up retaliation,” it added.
Meanwhile, newspapers around the Asia Pacific region have also voiced their concerns.
Should relations between the U.S. and China break down, an editorial by the Sydney Morning Herald said that Australia should be worried about its effect on the global economy and trade.
“As an exporting nation reliant on both China and the U.S., we would suffer from greater U.S. protectionism and any trade war,” it said.
“We may have to negotiate our way through a new world order not just regarding trade and China but also climate, Russia, and regional security, given Trump’s lack of interest in the U.S. playing the role of sheriff.”
Policy analyst C. Raja Mohan wrote in the Indian Express that a less globally-involved U.S. may have its upside, though: “India must not only prepare for a more protectionist America, but also prepare of a United States that does not plan to mess around with other people’s affairs or squander blood and treasure in the name of promoting democratic values.”
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun pointed out, however, that “Trump’s refusal to pay serious attention to criticisms leveled against him and his intolerance to dissenting voices could have dire consequences as they are threatening to destroy the foundation of democracy, which is built on the presence of diverse views and opinions”.
But perhaps Thailand’s the Nation summed it up best: “Under Trump, the United States is apt to be as edgy and unpredictable as his former television reality show.”
“The reality show has become reality. We are about to discover whether America can become great again – and whether the word ‘great’ takes on unexpected meanings.”
Additional reporting by Reuters.