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April 24, 2017

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Trump in Asia: Region poised for change as new era dawns

BEIJING (AP) — People across Asia are poised for a potentially dramatic change in relations with Washington under President Donald Trump after decades with the United States as a major military and economic presence.

The clues Trump has given about his foreign policy are a break with former President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia," which re-emphasized American engagement in the region.

In one of his first actions in office, Trump withdrew the United States from the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and 11 Pacific Rim countries. He has talked about requiring allies Japan and South Korea to pay more for U.S. troops stationed on their soil.

Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese goods to 45 percent and upended four decades of diplomatic protocol by taking a phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen of self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.

"From this moment on, it's going to be America first," Trump said at his inauguration Friday. Here's how people across the Asia-Pacific region think his presidency could affect their lives:

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TAIWAN

Given Trump's business background, some Taiwanese foresee a friendly relationship based on longstanding U.S. sales of military equipment to Taiwan and an upgrade in the self-governing island's military defense.

"He will consider things with a business mindset," said Manhua Chen, 37, from Taipei. "For example, the phone call with President Tsai was just because there is a great amount of trade between us in military weapons."

Yet Chen, a former Pfizer employee turned Spanish-language tour guide, said she was worried Trump would refuse to discuss "universal values, such as human rights, or climate change."

"If he does not care enough about these universal values, I really don't know what will define the United States as a great country," said Chen. "Then each country could also close their doors and do their own thing."

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CHINA

"Once he won the election, he tried to use Taiwan to suppress China. That was really despicable," said Ma Rui, a retired teacher in Beijing.

"The key is how China will treat him. He is a double-dealer and he tries to boost the economy" by using "Taiwan as a tool to bargain with China," said Ma, 82. "I don't think he will succeed in this regard and China has its own ways to deal with him."

Ma doesn't foresee any big changes in Sino-U.S. relations. "China will be able to handle him. The relationship won't go bad, because that is not good for the U.S., either," said Ma.

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JAPAN

Nurse Hitoshi Shiraishi worries about what Trump's "America first" policy will mean for cooperation and agreements with Japan and other countries.

With Trump abandoning the TPP, "the relations and other things that were built over time with (President Barack) Obama have all at once reversed course," he said in Tokyo.

Add long-simmering opposition to the stationing of U.S. troops on the Japanese island of Okinawa, and "I'm worried things could get worse," said Shiraishi, 30. "It feels like what has been built over time until now could come crumbling down, so I'm afraid."

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SOUTH KOREA

"Trump wants to keep China in check and that would escalate conflict, which can also affect our country," said student Kim Eun-sol, 19.

A demand for South Korea to pay more for U.S. forces in the country, or pressure to renegotiate a free-trade agreement "would cause a crack in the South Korea-U.S.

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