Donald Trump, the front runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, has indicated he would use trade as a weapon against China in the stand-off over the territorial claims in the South China Sea and even refused to rule out going to war.
During a lengthy phone interview with The New York Times, Trump laid out his views on foreign policy in greater detail than he has previously during the campaign, discussing issues ranging from East Asian security to Syria, Islamic State and relations with allies.
Trump insisted he would block China’s access to American markets to discourage Beijing from establishing military airfields and anti-aircraft batteries on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea.
“We have tremendous economic power over China,” he said. “And that’s the power of trade. Because they use us as their bank, as their piggy bank – they take but they don’t have to pay us back. It’s better than a bank because they take money out but then they don’t have to pay us back.”
Trump has regularly used bombastic language during his campaign and has often emphasised the need for “unpredictability” when it comes to specific strategies.
[China] use us as their bank, as their piggy bank – they take but they don’t have to pay us back
“A politician would say: ‘Oh I would never go to war’ – or they’d say: ‘Oh I would go to war’,” Trump said when asked how far he would be willing to go to confront China over the South China Sea.
“I don’t want to say what I’d do because, again, we need unpredictability. I wouldn’t want them to know what my real thinking is ... I would use trade, absolutely, as a bargaining chip.”
Trump also argued Japan and South Korea should be allowed to have nuclear weapons to protect themselves from North Korea.
“Would I rather have North Korea have [nuclear weapons] with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case,” he said.
“It’s a position that at some point is something that we have to talk about, and if the United States keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway with or without me discussing it, because I don’t think they feel very secure in what’s going on with our country.”
Trump also said he would withdraw US troops from Japan and South Korea unless the two Asian countries significantly increased their contributions to Washington for the military presence.
“I would not do so happily, but I would be willing to do it,” he said. “We cannot afford to be losing vast amounts of billions of dollars on all of this ... And I have a feeling that they’d up the ante very much. I think they would, and if they wouldn’t I would really have to say yes [to withdrawing].”
Donald Trump described his foreign policy as an “America first” approach that will stop the US from being systematically “ripped off”.
Trump said he was not an isolationist but described the United States as a poor debtor nation that disproportionately funds international alliances such as Nato and the United Nations.
“We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher,” he told the Times.
We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years
“So America first, yes, we will not be ripped off anymore. We’re going to be friendly with everybody, but we’re not going to be taken advantage of by anybody.”
He also slammed President Barack Obama’s administration for seeking a political exit for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while simultaneously fighting IS as “madness and idiocy”.
“I’m not saying Assad is a good man, ‘cause he’s not, but our far greater problem is not Assad, it’s ISIS,” he said.
The real estate developer said he would instead target the oil that provides a significant portion of the extremist group’s funding, cracking down on underground banking channels to cut off the flow of money.
Trump, who has repeatedly called for Middle Eastern allies to contribute boots on the ground in the fight against IS, said he would “probably” stop buying oil from countries like Saudi Arabia unless they did so or reimbursed the United States for its role in the fight.
Trump added that he got most of his foreign policy information by reading various newspapers including The New York Times, which released a full transcript of the interview.