Trump’s mixed mes­sages fail to re­as­sure U.S. al­lies

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Mark Landler Mark Landler is a New York Times writer.

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.

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