THE rise of populist leaders Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, who were roundly slammed for their brash personalities, will bring about significant changes as they promised during their presidential campaigns, according to a global economic and policy analyst.
Trump’s rhetoric during the election campaign, including those found by critics to be troubling, will be translated into policy once he officially takes over the White House, said Dan Steinbock, an internationally recognized expert on the “multipolar world,” in a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times editorial team.
Trump will be sworn in as the United States’ 45th president at the US Capitol grounds in Washington on Friday (Saturday in Manila), before an estimated 800,000 people.
Steinbock warned that Trump could begin a rollback on trade deals and go tough on American companies shipping jobs overseas, a move that could affect the Philippines’ outsourcing industry.
“He will walk the talk. And he will deliver. And if he doesn’t do that, he will ‘betray’ his constituents. And I think that, in this regard, he may be trusted more than Mr. [Barack] Obama or Mr. George W. Bush,” said Steinbock, referring to the 43rd and 44th US presidents.
The Philippine economy depends heavily on the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and overseas Filipino workers.
BPO companies, many of which are American-owned, brought in $22 billion in revenues and employed over a million workers in the Philippines in 2015. Overseas workers, meanwhile, sent home money worth nearly $26 billion that year. The US accounted for more than $8 billion of the total.
The early evidence of Trump’s resolve, according to Steinbock, were recent high-level appointments.
Trump picked Peter Navarro – the author of “The Coming China Wars” (2005), “Death by China” (2011) and “What China’s Militarism Means for the World” (2015) – to head the new National Trade Council, which will oversee industrial policy in the White House.
Navarro’s friend Dan DiMicco, former CEO of America’s largest steel company Nucor, is Trump’s trade advisor, while former Reagan administration official and vocal China critic Robert Lighthizer will be the new US trade representative.
“He is less of a politician. He is a businessman, but he is a curious businessman. So he might walk the talk at least initially,” Steinbock said of Trump.
Trump’s Republican administration is gearing toward the withdrawal of 70 years of US-led free trade regimes, including those in Asia, the analyst said.
“The role of the US is very important in the world economy, maybe 20 to 25 percent in total. In the military, it’s much more, twice actually. But now, especially with the incoming Trump administration…there’s going to be economic uncertainty, market volatility and strategic doubt,” he said.
Given the developments in Washington, Duterte is doing the right move in terms of a foreign policy shift away from the US and toward China and even Russia, Steinbock said.
He said Duterte’s controversial rhetoric was strategic and needed.
“Mr. Duterte took a very strong stance against the US initially because I think he wanted to communicate to the people of the Philippines and to the region that there will be a clear shift, he wants independence,” he said.
Steinbock however said Duterte was really aiming for a balance between the US and China in the long run, to allow the Philippines to benefit from the two economic powers.
“Duterte in a way is predictable in a sense that he has objective, he has a goal and he is careful in not defining it,” he said.