One day, I hope America again will have a president who is not a sucker for flattery, not an ignorant ideologue who rips up treaties he hasn’t even read, not a made-for-television negotiator who throws his best leverage out the window.
HONG KONG — Having just traveled to New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that more than a few Asia-Pacific business and political leaders have taken President Donald Trump’s measure and concluded that — far from being a savvy negotiator — he’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in this region and helping make China great again.
These investors, trade experts and government officials are still stunned by an event that got next to no attention in the U.S. but was an earthquake out here — and a gift that will keep on giving America’s allies pain and China gain for years to come. That was Trump’s decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal in his first week in office — clearly without having read it or understanding its vast geoeconomic implications.
Trump simply threw away the single most valuable tool America had for shaping the geoeconomic future of the region our way and for pressuring China to open its markets. Trump is now trying to negotiate trade openings with China alone — as opposed to negotiating with China as the head of a 12-nation TPP trading bloc that was based on U.S. values and interests and that controlled 40 percent of the global economy.
It is hard to think of anything more stupid. And China’s trade hard-liners are surely laughing in their sleeves.
“When Trump did away with TPP, all your allies’ confidence in the U.S. collapsed,” a senior Hong Kong official told me.
Beijing is now quietly encouraging everyone in the neighborhood to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, China’s free-trade competitor to TPP,…