Mexico, Russia And China Anticipate Changed U.S. Relations Under Trump

Jan 20, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Donald Trump's inauguration is being closely watched all over the world. We're going to hear now from three countries whose relationships with the United States could change dramatically under President Trump - China, Mexico and Russia. We brought together three NPR correspondents to talk about perceptions of the new president and expectations going forward.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: I'm Rob Schmitz, one of NPR's China correspondents. Prior to the election, China's government seemed to be rooting for Trump. But now they're worried because Trump has questioned the One China policy - the idea that Taiwan is part of China.

The Chinese have lodged complaints with the U.S. over this, but Trump appears to believe that the One China policy is something that's up for negotiation. He also believes a lot is negotiable when it comes to U.S.-Mexico relations, too, right, Carrie?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Definitely, Rob. I'm Carrie Kahn. I'm NPR's Mexico correspondent. And renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement was a big part of President Trump's campaign. What exactly is on that negotiating table is unknown.

What is known, though, is that since Trump's victory in November, the economy here has been hit hard. The peso has plunged by more than 15 percent and continues to drop with every tweet Trump dispatches, whether he's either threatened to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it or slap on that so-called border tax on Mexican auto exports into the U.S.

And Mexico's leaders have been left pretty much flat-footed and not with a lot of good options. Mexico is very tied to the U.S. Around 80 percent of exports head there. So an all-out trade war with its big neighbor to the north doesn't look so good for Mexico.

SCHMITZ: And China is also worried about a trade war. It has a lot to lose in that scenario, but so does the U.S. And China's government said just this week that it hopes it can solve these trade issues through dialogue with the Trump team. But obviously this is a very different picture where you are, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Oh, yeah, definitely. Hi, this is Lucian Kim, NPR's Moscow correspondent. Nobody here is talking about (laughter) a trade war. It's actually quite the opposite. There's the hope that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. over Russia's intervention in Ukraine will finally be lifted or at least eased. That is the No. 1 priority for the government here. So, in that sense, the Russian government hasn't really hidden its preference for Trump.

All the national TV channels are controlled by the Kremlin, and he's received a lot of positive coverage. I think it's fair to say that people here welcome Trump, especially since they've been hearing that Hillary Clinton just would have continued the same policies of Obama.

KAHN: Right. For Mexicans, Trump's policies or threatened policies have been very scary. Just during the transition period, as I said, the peso has plunged. And also foreign investment has fallen, too. Ford canceled the $1.6 billion investment here earlier this month, and that's really sent a harsh message here.

Mexican leaders have been sort of tepid in their response. They don't really know how to respond to Trump. They - you hear from a lot of them that they hope that he'll moderate his position and see how interdependent the two countries are and their economies are and how such taxes or a trade war will hurt the U.S., too.

KIM: Well, out here in Moscow, when you listen to Russian leaders, you really hear an impatience in their voice to get down to business. They're ready to turn over a new leaf in relations.

But what's interesting that if - is if you talk to officials off the record, you can actually hear some trepidation about what the Trump administration will really mean for Russia, especially in light of some of his more hawkish cabinet picks.

SCHMITZ: So it sounds like sort of a mixed bag where you are, Lucian. You know, Russia is not sure about Trump because he's been so unpredictable. And speaking of unpredictable, China is very worried about secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson's comments on the South China Sea. And China's government has vowed to militarily defend the islands that Tillerson says China should have no access to. So a conflict over that region seems more possible than ever.

That said, one silver lining for the Chinese is that China's government considers Trump's presidency as a symbol of a deeply divided United States, a superpower whose global dominance is fading. And China's leaders believe that if they play their cards right, they might have a chance to use this moment to reshape the global order to their liking.

KIM: Well, I think in Russia, there's also this hope for a new global order. But (laughter) still, it might seem a bit weird that Russians are quite so enthusiastic about Donald Trump. And I think in that sense, it's important not to look just through an American filter. Russians actually have very little information on Trump. And if they hear someone who's saying the U.S. should just get along with Russia, what's not to like about that?

KAHN: Unfortunately, in Mexico, there's a lot not to like, and President Trump is not very well-liked here. Mexico is not the global power player like China and still very interdependent and dependent on the U.S. in many ways. And I hate to end on a down note, but it looks - especially economically, 2017 is going to be a tough year for Mexico.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City, Lucian Kim in Moscow and Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEA AND CAKE SONG, "JACKING THE BALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.