Dealt a surprise Trump card, the world tries to figure out a changed game

The businessman's unexpected presidential win has left US allies concerned and antagonists upbeat.

Bobby Yip/Reuters
A street performer dressed as the Statue of Liberty hold photos of US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the financial Central district in Hong Kong Wednesday, after Trump won the presidency.
Ng Han Guan/AP
A Chinese man reacts near a board showing the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index at a brokerage in Beijing, China, Wednesday. The rising prospect of a Trump presidency shook financial markets around the world, sending Dow futures and Asian stock prices sharply lower.

Suddenly, the world is flying blind.

Donald Trump’s election victory, after a campaign that offered only vague and often contradictory clues about his foreign policy, has left leaders around the globe in the dark about his intentions.

Much about them is indeed unclear. But enough of Mr. Trump’s priorities have emerged to spark sharply differing international reactions.

Among America’s friends, neighbors, and global allies, the mood is one of gloom and alarm. In Washington’s rivals and enemies, from China to Russia to Al Qaeda, there is remarkable jubilation.

“We have always worked with the United States as a partner,” says a senior government official in Jordan, a key Mideast ally which relies on more than $1 billion a year in US aid. “Now we no longer know who we are working with, and all our plans are on stand-by.”

From Beijing, the view is different. “If Hillary had won, China would have faced a tougher situation,” commented one user of the Weibo social media site, echoing a widely held opinion among Chinese nationalists. “Trump is better. The US will decline faster under his leadership. China will dominate the world.”

At stake is nothing less than the liberal international order that the United States has underpinned since World War II. Trump’s campaign threats to stop paying to defend allies such as European NATO partners; his promises to renege on international trade deals; and his “America First” approach to the world risk turning international diplomacy on its head.

Worried allies

There is “an existential threat to trans-Atlantic relations,” warns Jana Puglierin, an analyst at the German Council of Foreign Relations. “The world order is already under threat by Russia and China, and now we feel we’ve lost an ally.”

“Trump’s rhetoric on NATO … will provide serious impetus for countries such as Germany and France … to start to believe they cannot count on the US anymore,” adds Brian Klaas, who teaches politics at the London School of Economics. “Europeans are probably thinking about the US as a much less reliable partner today than they were yesterday.”

On the other side of the world, the Japanese government has grounds to wonder, too, about the future of its security alliance with Washington, long the cornerstone of US policy in Asia. Trump complains that Tokyo does not pay enough for its US security umbrella, and has suggested the Japanese should go it alone against their Chinese rivals.

Trump “is a businessman and looks at security issues from a business perspective,” says Tetsuo Kotani, senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. “He has said that the US is not reimbursed for its investment in the alliance. But the alliance is insurance, not an investment, and it brings huge benefits to both sides.”

Many ordinary Japanese are fearful of a Trump presidency at a time when China has been asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, and making repeated military incursions around Japanese-controlled disputed islands.

"Japan has been protected by the US for decades; if that comes to an end, then [Premier Shinzo] Abe will have no choice but to turn the Japan Self Defense Forces into a real army and change the pacifist Constitution," worries university student Teppe Machida.

Chinese observers also expect the future President Trump to care less than his predecessor, or than Hillary Clinton, about the way China is expanding its sphere of influence in its backyard.

Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, says Trump is likely to make trade the focus of his China policy, rather than strategic issues such as the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing has been building tiny reefs into military airstrips.

“There will be more trade pressure but less strategic pressure,” he says. “But China can handle those trade disputes.”

Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, says Trump’s unpredictability makes it hard to gauge how far he will take his tough talk on China, especially when it comes to trade.

“As a businessman, Trump may be more pragmatic in dealing with China,” he suggests.

Shaking up North America

Closer to home, US neighbors Canada and Mexico stand to suffer heavily if the future US president follows through on his threat to rewrite the NAFTA free trade deal.

“Mexico is the target, but we are collateral damage,” says Ian Lee, a business professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. As America’s top trading partner, Canada is especially vulnerable to any new trade restrictions, he points out, and if Trump means what he says, “it’s going to be chaotic.”

(Not that such a prospect deterred panicked US voters. As Trump’s victory loomed, around 11:00 pm Tuesday night EST, the Canadian immigration department website crashed, overloaded by visitors.)

The Mexican peso slumped to historic lows on Wednesday, freighted by fears for the Mexican economy, but there was a sentimental side to people's reactions to the US vote, too.

“It’s almost incomprehensible,” says Mexico City resident Pablo Collada. “Mexico looks to the US as a constant reference … but all of a sudden they vote for a person whose response to you is to build a wall. It hurts. It’s like your big brother turned his back on you.”

Up in the air, meanwhile, is Washington’s recent agreement to re-establish diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. Trump pledged during the campaign to cancel President Obama’s deal unless the Cuban government restores political freedoms and frees political prisoners.

Withdrawal from the Mideast?

Human rights violations are expected to pose less of an obstacle to Trump’s relationship with Egyptian strongman Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi, who hit it off with the president-elect during a visit to New York last September. President Sisi was the first Arab leader to congratulate Trump on his victory, predicting he would breathe “new life” into US-Egyptian relations.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, reactions to Trump’s victory were mixed.

Hardline Islamic jihadists took to social media to celebrate the event: “It may be that Trump’s reign is the beginning of the break-up of America and its disintegration,” crowed Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, a leading Al Qaeda theologian and former mentor to the founder of the self-declared Islamic State.

His delight at Trump’s success may have something to do with the fact that the incoming president has shown much less appetite for military involvement in the Middle East than his rival, Mrs. Clinton.

That approach is welcome in much broader circles than just jihadists, says Hayder al-Khoei, an Iraqi analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations in London.

“There may be a sigh of relief in many quarters of the Middle East precisely because Trump is more of an isolationist,” he says. “Close allies of the US will be worried if Trump follows through with not extending the US defense umbrella to protect them, but many people in the Middle East would welcome a less interventionist US.”

At the same time, there is concern in Iran about the future of a landmark nuclear deal agreed to after years of negotiations between Iran and six world powers in July 2015.

Trump has said he would tear up the “disastrous” nuclear deal, which has seen Iran dismantle key parts of its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for easing of economic sanctions.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said this morning that “every US president has to understand the realities of today’s world.” Iran’s US-educated nuclear chief said Iran would keep to its commitments under the deal.

A new Russian reset?

Trump appears readier than President Obama to give Russia greater leeway in its brutal bombing campaign to shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

He has also hinted that he might acquiesce in Russia’s military annexation of Ukraine’s territory in Crimea, in a bid for better relations with Moscow.

Trump’s perceived tilt toward Moscow, or at least the way he has distanced himself from the current US administration’s strict policy towards Russia, has earned him friends in high places.

In the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, members rose in a spontaneous standing ovation when pro-Kremlin deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov rushed into the hall early Wednesday morning shouting, "a second ago, Donald Trump began his acceptance speech as the elected president of the United States."

President Vladimir Putin, accused by the Clinton campaign of trying to engineer Trump's victory, sent a much more measured note of congratulations, hoping that under a Trump presidency, "Moscow and Washington can establish a constructive dialogue based on the principles of equality, mutual respect, and genuine consideration for each other’s positions."

What Africa might hope for from a Trump presidency is shrouded in mystery. During a flagship foreign policy speech last April, Trump did not mention the continent once, and his disinterest seems reflected in the attitudes of many Africans: compared with the excitement surrounding the election of Obama eight years ago, Trump’s victory provoked little interest.

A boost to populism

Europeans, on the other hand, followed the US campaign closely, and many of them see Trump’s surprise victory as an augury. Extreme right-wing nationalist populists are on the rise in many European countries, and Trump’s success is widely thought likely to give them added impetus.

“It could serve as an example for the AfD [Alternative for Germany, a right-wing populist movement] who can now say ‘See? This can be done,’” worries Jacqueline Levinski, who runs a newspaper shop in a leafy residential district of Berlin.

AfD leader Frauke Petry certainly seemed to see it like that. “This election is also encouraging for Germany and Europe,” she said in a statement on Wednesday. “It was about time that the voice of those abandoned by the establishment should be heard again, also in the US.”

In France, even before Trump made his acceptance speech, the leader of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, had tweeted her message of support. “Congratulations to the new President of the United States, Donald Trump, and to the free American people,” she wrote.

Ms. Le Pen’s rising popularity, hitting on many of the same themes that won Trump broad support, worries Florent Brunetti, a French student who stayed up all night at an election-watch party in Paris. But he is also frustrated that the establishment has failed to respond to people's desire for change.

“We need a deep rethink of the system,” he says. “But we are not doing it, we are just watching people vote against the system.”

It is up to Donald Trump, he says, to come up with a new sort of global order, now that he has disrupted the old one. “I am anxious to see what he has to offer,” Mr. Brunetti says.

He is not the only one.

Sara Miller Llana in Paris; Fred Weir in Moscow; Scott Peterson in Baghdad; Michael Holtz in Beijing; Daniel Mosseri in Berlin; Ryan Brown in Johannesburg, South Africa; Taylor Luck in Amman, Jordan; Rebecca Conan in Mexico City; Gavin Blair in Tokyo; and Dylan Robertson in Ottawa contributed to this article.

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