Trump’s visit highlights Asia’s week in spotlight
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