Trump in Asia: Break from the past but uncertain results
In his travels throughout Asia, President Donald Trump offered himself as a sharp break from presidents past. He pushed regional leaders to reshape trade deals to America’s liking, opted against spotlighting human rights abuses and cranked up pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear program.
But for all the pageantry and promises unfurled during his five-nation, 12-day trip, Trump returns to Washington with few concrete accomplishments in hand and leaves uncertain Asian capitals in his wake.
The president pushed a go-it-alone trade policy yet reaffirmed traditional alliances. He cajoled and flattered leaders in Tokyo and Seoul without eliciting firm commitments for a more balanced economic relationship. He opened the door to negotiations with North Korea, but such diplomatic overtures were overshadowed by a tweet that derided dictator Kim Jong Un as “short and fat.”
And as regional allies nervously watched for Trump to define the new U.S. approach to the Pacific Rim, the president muddied his message. During a summit in Vietnam, he vowed to keep rising superpower China accountable for unfair business and trade practices. Yet in Beijing, the president said, “I don’t blame China” for a growing trade gap.
Trump’s unscripted decision to publicly denounce the policies of his predecessors while flattering his Asian hosts underlined his unconventional international approach, one centered on personal rapport and strategic commitments while paying little attention to the guardrails that have long defined U.S. foreign policy.
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 economic relationships. The president soaked in the lavish welcome ceremonies at each stop and dubbed the trip “tremendously successful.”
“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.
Trump said he’d have more to say about the trip with a “major statement” this week at the White House. But across the Pacific, Trump was reminded of the challenges awaiting him at home.
As Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up their joint statements to the press in Beijing, they ignored shouted questions from American reporters. When they ducked backstage, Xi summoned his interpreter and posed an inquiry to Trump:
“Who is Roy Moore?” Xi asked.
That moment, described by two White House officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations, underscores Trump’s domestic challenges.
President Donald Trump gives a statement before leaving for the airport after attending the East Asia Summit on Tuesday at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila, the Philippines. He is accompanied by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.