Trump in Asia: A break from the past but uncertain results
President Donald Trump declared his first Asian tour “tremendously successful” as he hopped on a plane bound for Washington. But when he landed at the White House late Tuesday he arrived with few concrete accomplishments in hand.
As he jetted across the region, to five nations, six cities and three summits over 12 days, Trump pushed regional leaders to reshape trade deals to America’s liking, but he won no firm commitments from his hosts. He opened the door to negotiations with North Korea, but then seemed to shut it again by deriding the dictator Kim Jong Un as “short and fat.”
He did not try to push leaders to end human rights abuses.
Trump has said he’ll have more to say about the trip’s achievements in a “major statement” at the White House this week. The White House would not discuss the details in advance.
The trip did reveal much about Trump’s traveling style. He soaked up the pageantry and was well practiced at the art of flattery.
For all his tough campaign talk on trade, Trump appeared reluctant to take a confrontational stance. He cajoled and flattered leaders in Tokyo and Seoul without eliciting firm commitments for a more balanced economic relationship. At a summit in Vietnam, he vowed to hold rising superpower China accountable for unfair business and trade practices. Yet in Beijing, the president “I don’t blame China” growing trade gap.
In the White House view, Trump accomplished what he set out to do: strengthen relationships with world leaders and lay the groundwork for more equitable trading deals.
“I think the fruits of our labor are going to be incredible, whether it’s the security of our nations, whether it’s security of the world or whether it’s trade,” Trump said before leaving the Philippines on Tuesday bound for home.
But across the Pacific, Trump was reminded of the challenges that were awaiting him in Washington.
As Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up their joint statements to the press in Beijing, they ignored shouted questions from said, for a American reporters in the Great Hall of the People. When they ducked backstage, Xi summoned his interpreter and posed an inquiry to Trump:
“Who is Roy Moore?” asked.
That moment, described by two White House officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations, underscores Trump’s domestic challenges. He must grapple with the uncertain fate of his tax cut plan, face the threat of a government shutdown and decide whether to cut ties with Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama’s special Senate race, who is accused of sexually assaulting underage girls decades ago.
For most of the trip, Trump was able to leave domestic affairs behind, Xi though he did reignite the Russia firestorm by revealing that President Vladimir Putin had insisted to him in Vietnam that Moscow didn’t hack the 2016 election. Trump added: “And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it.” Trump later clarified that he was “with” the U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded Russia was behind the interference.
In Seoul, Trump delivered a sharp warning to North Korea, saying: “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.” But he also, for the first time, signaled a willingness to negotiate with Kim, though he didn’t elaborate.
Just as vital as the message Trump delivered to Pyongyang was the one he sent to China, which supplies most of North Korea’s economic lifeblood. His message to Beijing: It’s time to do more.
At each stop on his trip, Trump both bemoaned the current state of U.S. trade relations in the region and announced new business deals, including more than $250 billion in China. But most of those agreements were older, already agreedupon or only promises. In Vietnam, he scolded China for unfair trade practices and delivered a forceful advocacy for bilateral trade deals, only to have 11 nations strike a multinational agreement hours later.
Breaking with previous presidents, Trump largely abandoned publicly pressing foreign leaders on human rights. He said nothing about restrictions on civil liberties or press freedoms in China and Vietnam and, most notably, did not rebuke Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for overseeing a violent drug war that includes extrajudicial killings.
Leaders from left to right, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, U.S. President Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pose for a family photo during the ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Manila, Philippines on Monday.
President Donald Trump, center, gives a statement before leaving for the airport, an East Asia Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center, Tuesday in Manila, Philippines. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is seen at right while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is at left. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Demonstrators display a mock U.S. flag to protest the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump and the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits Tuesday in Manila, Philippines. Twenty one leaders from the ASEAN and their Dialogue Partners, which included Trump, are on a two-day summit which ends today.