Trump’s Asia tour more style than sub­stance: an­a­lysts

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Jerome Car­tillier

DON­ALD Trump’s marathon Asian trip passed off with­out any ma­jor in­ci­dent, but for all the pomp and cer­e­mony thrown his way, an­a­lysts say the tour ended with lit­tle to show in the way of con­crete achieve­ments.

Re­gional lead­ers vied with each other dur­ing the five-na­tion sweep to fete a pres­i­dent known for his par­tial­ity to grand ges­tures of hon­our and re­spect. And it clearly worked.

“It was red car­pet like no­body, I think, has prob­a­bly ever re­ceived,” Trump said.

In Tokyo, a golf­ing date with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe was fol­lowed by a gala din­ner and in Bei­jing he toured the For­bid­den City as part of an ex­trav­a­gant “state visit-plus” which also in­cluded a per­for­mance of Pek­ing Opera.

In Seoul, South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-In gave a pres­i­den­tial toast in hon­our of a man who “is al­ready mak­ing Amer­ica great again”.

The gaffe-prone Trump – who has lit­tle love for long for­eign trips – nav­i­gated the tricky vis­its with­out in­ci­dent, ap­pear­ing re­laxed and com­fort­able.

‘Noth­ing has re­ally changed’

From Tokyo to Manila, via Seoul, Bei­jing, Danang and Hanoi, the 71-yearold pres­i­dent ham­mered out two pri­or­i­ties: in­creas­ing pres­sure on North Korea over its nu­clear weapons pro­gramme and push­ing for bet­ter ac­cess to Asian mar­kets for US com­pa­nies.

But be­yond the rhetoric and smil­ing photo op­por­tu­ni­ties, ques­tions re­main as to what progress he ac­tu­ally made on ei­ther is­sue.

“If you com­pare the be­fore and af­ter of Trump’s Asia tour, noth­ing has re­ally changed [on the is­sue of North Korea],” Go My­ong-Hyun, an an­a­lyst at the Asan In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Stud­ies – a Seoul­based think tank – said.

Trump pushed Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to ex­ert more pres­sure on North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear am­bi­tions, but Bei­jing, Pyongyang’s main trad­ing part­ner,“is stick­ing to its ex­ist­ing stance” of lim­ited sanc­tions, Go said.

Some ex­perts note, how­ever, that the meet­ing be­tween the pres­i­dents of the top two world pow­ers could bear fruit in the medium term.

“Xi Jin­ping gave Trump a huge wel­come . . . so China and US re­la­tion­ship is rel­a­tively sta­ble at the mo­ment. Un­der such an at­mos­phere, Xi Jin­ping won’t com­pletely re­ject Trump’ de­mands,” said Cheng Xiaohe, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Ren­min Univer­sity in Bei­jing.

On the is­sue of trade, it was also un­clear whether Trump – who has ac­cused his Demo­crat and Repub­li­can pre­de­ces­sors of hav­ing failed for decades on in­ter­na­tional deals – man­aged to bag any ma­jor wins.

Bei­jing an­nounced that it would be eas­ing lim­its on for­eign own­er­ship in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor, but nu­mer­ous ob­sta­cles re­main. The US pres­i­dent an­nounced some $250 bil­lion worth of con­tracts with China, but many were non-bind­ing mem­o­ran­dums of un­der­stand­ing which will take years to bear fruit, if they ever do.

“These con­tracts are just a painkiller; mo­men­tary re­lief for China-US trade dis­putes,” said Cheng.

Be­fore leav­ing, Trump said he would de­liver his own ver­dict on the trip when he re­turns to Wash­ing­ton.

“We’ve made some very big steps with re­spect to trade, far big­ger than any­thing you know,” he said.

The visit also pro­vided dis­ap­point­ment on the long-term aim of a change in geo-strate­gic re­la­tions in the re­gion.

Trump’s speech at the APEC re­gional fo­rum in Danang, praised in ad­vance by the White House, was at times rem­i­nis­cent of his elec­tion cam­paign ral­lies on the theme of “Amer­ica First”.

Draw­ing a pic­ture of the United States as a vic­tim of “chronic trade abuses”, he slammed mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ments that “bind the hands” of his coun­try.

Back in 2011, the US pro­posed the con­cept of a free and open “Indo-pa- cific re­gion” but Trump has yet to spell out what that might mean, said Yoshi­nobu Ya­mamoto, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of Ni­igata pre­fec­ture.

“We’ll have to see what kind of sub­stance will be achieved through the con­cept,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to Ryan Hass, for­mer Asia ad­viser to Barack Obama, the pres­i­den­tial trip re­in­forced the im­pres­sion that “the re­gion is ac­cel­er­at­ing for­ward while the United States is look­ing back­ward”.

The de­ci­sion of min­is­ters from 11 Asia-Pa­cific coun­tries to press ahead with a ma­jor trade pact with­out the United States was par­tic­u­larly strik­ing, he said.

Trump with­drew from the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) just days af­ter tak­ing of­fice.

Hass also high­lighted the com­par­i­son be­tween Xi Jin­ping’s calls for the re­gion to “come aboard the fast train of Chi­nese de­vel­op­ment” and the eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism of his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part.

On the per­sonal side, even if his chummy rap­port with Abe, both on the golf course and be­yond, proves gen­uine, his re­la­tion­ship with Xi will be in­fin­itely more com­plex.

Trump has said he has “a very good re­la­tion­ship with Xi”, who he de­scribed as “strong . . . the most pow­er­ful Chi­nese leader since Mao Ze­dong”.

But it is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how the re­la­tion­ship will evolve in the com­ing years if ten­sions spike.

JIM WAT­SON/AFP

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pro­poses a toast dur­ing a state ban­quet din­ner with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Novem­ber 6.

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