Trump’s visit high­lights Asia’s week in spot­light

The Myanmar Times - - Views - NAREERAT WIRIYAPONG news­room@mm­times.com

IT was an event­ful time for many Asian economies last week. Of course, the most talked about de­vel­op­ment was the 12-day Asian tour by Don­ald Trump to five coun­tries – his first to the re­gion since he took of­fice in Jan­uary and the long­est by a sit­ting US pres­i­dent so far this mil­len­nium.

Mr Trump’s itin­er­ary in­cluded three events at which the eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity con­cerns of the re­gion typ­i­cally re­ceive a thor­ough air­ing: the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion lead­ers’ meet­ing in Danang, Viet­nam, on Fri­day and Sat­ur­day, and the ASEAN and East Asia sum­mits in the Philip­pines to­day and to­mor­row.

So far, North Korea has dom­i­nated the dis­cus­sions, but trade has been at or near the top of Mr Trump’s agenda, as China’s eco­nomic in­flu­ence in Asia is grow­ing while that of the US ap­pears to be eb­bing. In Seoul, the US pres­i­dent pressed his South Korean coun­ter­part Moon Jae-in to re­vise their coun­tries’ free trade agree­ment.

In China – North Korea’s big­gest trade ally – the bil­lion­aire pres­i­dent said China “must im­me­di­ately ad­dress the un­fair trade prac­tices that drive” a “shock­ingly” large trade deficit, which to­talled US$327 bil­lion (K446.3 tril­lion) last year ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund. Bar­ri­ers to mar­ket ac­cess, forced tech­nol­ogy trans­fers and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty theft also re­main prob­lems for the US in China.

Mind you, Mr Trump made his com­ments af­ter pre­sid­ing hap­pily with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping over the an­nounce­ment of new busi­ness deals worth $250 bil­lion be­tween Amer­i­can and Chi­nese com­pa­nies.

Else­where, work con­tin­ued in Danang to bring the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) back from the dead. Mr Trump pulled his coun­try out of the 12-na­tion TPP ear­lier this year but Ja­pan and oth­ers be­lieve the pact is still worth pur­su­ing to keep the spirit of free trade alive.

In Manila, the 16 coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), which is backed by China, were try­ing to find com­mon ground to get stalled talks go­ing again.

Even with­out the TPP and RCEP, ASEAN of­fers a pos­i­tive out­look for trade and in­vest­ment that the US can­not over­look, giv­ing Pres­i­dent Trump good rea­son to be in Viet­nam and the Philip­pines. With 630 mil­lion peo­ple and a com­bined gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of $2.6 tril­lion, ASEAN is the fourth largest trad­ing part­ner with the US, with bi­lat­eral trade tripling over the past two decades. The US is the fourth largest in­vestor in ASEAN, with $226 bil­lion com­mit­ted to date, sur­pass­ing US in­vest­ments in other parts of Asia.

In­trare­gional in­vest­ments have also soared markedly in ASEAN, paving the way for fur­ther re­gional in­te­gra­tion. At 18.5 per­cent of the to­tal, in­tra-ASEAN in­vest­ment is now the top source of in­vest­ment in the re­gion.

Look­ing for­ward, I hope re­cent talks and pledges of co­op­er­a­tion bear fruit in or­der to stim­u­late eco­nomic growth fur­ther. As global and re­gional economies still face un­cer­tain­ties, we all need a new deal to jointly se­cure fu­ture pros­per­ity. –

Nareerat Wiriyapong is act­ing Asia Fo­cus ed­i­tor at the Bangkok Post

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