Since assuming office in January, US President Donald Trump has stirred up much controversy with his provocative rhetoric and heavy-handed executive orders, not to mention his ongoing war with the US mainstream media.
But in his first speech before Congress on Feb. 28, he came across, rather surprisingly, as a refined and cool-headed leader.
The Republican president outlined his policy agenda orderly and gently, rather than appealing to emotion or lashing out at anybody like he always did during his campaign.
He showed a considerable degree of restraint both in the words he used and the way he spoke.
All in all, the Donald Trump that appeared before Congress and on national TV on that day struck Americans as a decent and serious leader that is finally coming of age.
No wonder some political analysts in the US said afterwards that the biggest surprise with Trump’s speech was that there was no surprise at all.
American TV viewers seemed quite pleased with the way their new president behaved.
According to a CNN poll, 57 percent of the respondents gave a positive feedback on his speech, while almost 70 percent believed his policy initiatives would put the US back on the right track again.
About 70 percent said the speech made them feel more optimistic about America’s future.
Intriguingly, CNN was one of those “fake media” and “enemies of the people” that Trump himself had labelled, and was banned from attending a recent White House press briefing.
Now if he learns about the highly favorable poll results he got from CNN, would he change his attitude towards the news channel and go easy on the network?
Trump may have succeed in presenting himself as a rational and reliable leader, but it would still be unrealistic for anyone to expect that everything he says and every figure he cites in his statements from now on could stand the most rigorous fact-checking.
Why? Because he is still Donald Trump, and exaggeration has always been his trademark.
In his address to Congress, for example, he said the current US immigration system is costing American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year, citing a report published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
The truth is that he was quoting the report completely out of context. In fact, the NAS report concludes that immigrants are contributing positively to US public finances in the long run.
In his speech, the president pledged to raise the national defense budget by 10 percent, referring to it as “one of the most significant defense spending increases in American history”.
Again, the truth is that over the past decade or so, the US has witnessed at least three major defense spending increases that exceeded 10 percent – under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Even so, no one would probably question Trump’s determination to boost military spending and strengthen his country’s arsenal, because like he said giving the military a shot in the arm is a key part of his aspirations to “make America great again”.
Under Trump’s proposal, the federal government is going to divert an extra US$54 billion to the Pentagon in the 2018 fiscal year, thereby driving total military expenditures up to US$603 billion, almost twice as much as China’s budget for the purpose.
Interestingly, however, while Trump is boosting the US military capability, he seems to be sounding a strategic retreat worldwide.
He said that although the US would remain a staunch supporter of NATO, he urged European allies as well as friends in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region to bear their fair share of defense spending.
He stressed that he only represents the US, not the rest of the world.
That Trump, the leader of the free world and the commander-in-chief of the “world’s policeman”, suddenly announced he no longer represented the entire world could signify a fundamental change to US foreign policy and global strategies.
This begs the question: Is President Trump ditching the “return to Asia” strategy laid down by his predecessor?
Will the US that no longer represents the rest of the world continue to be a key player in the South China Sea dispute?
With bated breath the international community is waiting for a more definite answer from the White House.
As far as China is concerned, it would definitely be good news if the US under Trump was really pulling out of the Asia-Pacific region, because that would give Beijing a free hand in assuming regional leadership and fulfilling the so-called “China Dream” pitched by President Xi Jinping, who is likely to remain in power for 15 more years.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 2
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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