President-elect Trump’s victory has raised questions about the future of the United States’ relationship with the global community, importantly China, the Middle East, the Gulf States and Syria.
President-elect Trump’s victory has raised important questions about the future of the United States’ relationship with China, arguably one of the most important bilateral ties in the world. The Trump campaign’s stark anti-China, protectionist rhetoric—particularly concerning trade—suggests that the complex, increasingly fraught Sino-American relationship is about to get even trickier.
On the campaign trail, Trump frequently mentioned China as a drain on American jobs, and his campaign website includes a pledge to “use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes if China does not stop its illegal activities.” Peter Navarro, an economist focused on China and a Trump policy advisor, has argued that trade imbalances, mainly caused by currency manipulation, are the world’s foremost economic issue and has called China “a poster child for this problem.” The president-elect has promised to implement sweeping punitive tariffs on Chinese goods and to instruct his choice for U.S. trade representative to bring cases against China in U.S. courts and in the WTO over subsidies.
With the Trans-Pacific Partnership all but dead and the extent to which President-elect Trump will turn the U.S. inward unclear, it is all but assured that China will expand its sphere of economic influence in the South China Sea. Every U.S. President over the last 25 years has found that it’s much easier to talk tough about China on the campaign trial than it is to push Beijing around—potentially all the more so now, given Xi Jinping’s increasingly assertive regime.
Our guess is that Trump’s stance will be moderated once the reality of governing begins to set in, but time will tell.
The Middle East
The Middle East has been a key issue of this presidential campaign and will be one of President-elect Trump’s major foreign policy challenges. Trump’s inconsistent rhetoric about the region throughout the campaign doesn’t offer much in the way of policy certainty, but, as with any new president, his choice of advisors will be crucial in shaping his agenda for the region.
Trump has railed against the Iran nuclear deal, which he described as "the worst deal ever negotiated," and has said that one of his first priorities as president would be to dismantle it. The terms of the deal, however, are already in motion, as sanctions have been eased, Iran has increased its oil exports, and European and Asian companies have inked new business agreements with Iranian companies. Rather than try to nix a deal that is already in full force, Trump has indicated that he may instead try to renegotiate it. Companies already operating in Iran or looking to enter the market have new concerns as Trump takes office. A slowdown in new business deals with Tehran could follow.
The Gulf States are firmly opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement and would welcome its dismantling, which could offer an opportunity for Trump to improve ties with these monarchies. However, Trump’s stance towards the GCC remains unclear. He has expressed concern that bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia are too one-sided, with the U.S. providing security support to the Kingdom but gaining little in return. Though Trump has voiced support for continuing American alliances in the Gulf, he has also said these countries should provide more for their own defense and help stabilize the region by accepting more refugees.
Syria and ISIS
Trump has favorably remarked on Russia’s role in Syria, which closely aligns with Iran’s interests in the Middle East. The conflict in Syria and the rise of ISIS have been at the center of foreign policy discussions in the U.S. and Europe, and will continue to perplex policymakers. Trump has spoken out against regime change in the Middle East, which he believes fuels more instability. He has vowed to work with allies to defeat ISIS, but has yet to provide concrete plans for doing so. Domestically, Trump has promised to enact more stringent regulations on Muslim refugees trying to enter the country, which may place added pressure on Europe to bolster their immigration quotas as the crisis continues. Trump has also pledged to increase defense spending by up to 5 percent of current levels in a bid to continue to combat terrorism effectively and counter ISIS.