Trump’s mixed messages fail to reassure U.S. allies
MANILA — President Trump vowed this week to reclaim the United States’ role as a Pacific power. But as he wrapped up a marathon tour of Asia on Tuesday, Trump’s mixed messages left allies unsure of the United States’ staying power and fed a growing sense that China, not the United States, drives the agenda in the region.
Whether recruiting partners to confront North Korea even as he castigated them for trade abuses, or embracing China at the same time that he lined up a likeminded coalition to contain it, Trump was often a bewildering figure to countries that had already viewed the new president with anxiety.
“He’s seen as more personable than the figure on Twitter, but these internal contradictions have not been worked out,” said John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in South Korea. “Contrast that with the Chinese, who have this incredible consistency of message and are rising inexorably.”
In Manila, the final stop on his punishing 12-day tour of the region, Trump declared his visit a success.
“This has been a very fruitful trip for us and, also, in all fairness, for a lot of other nations,” Trump said here on Monday, at a meeting with the leaders of Japan and Australia, during which he lectured them on the need for “fair and reciprocal” trade with the United States.
“It was red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever received,” the president added.
By some measures, he was right. Trump made no major gaffes. The closest he came was calling the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “short and fat” in a tweet. He also faced criticism for failing to challenge Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is accused of ordering thousands of extrajudicial killings, on human rights.
But Trump was accorded a lavish reception at every stop, especially Beijing, where President Xi Jinping threw open the doors of the Forbidden City.
Trump made trade a major part of his message in Asia, and his tone grew more bluntly nationalistic as the trip wore on. After declaring in Beijing that he did not blame the Chinese for chronic imbalances with the U.S., he delivered a withering denunciation in Vietnam of regional trade pacts, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump has withdrawn the United States.
Indeed, while Trump was preaching his go-italone economic message, the 11 countries still in the Trans-Pacific Partnership made significant progress toward finalizing the agreement without the United States.