Trump sends many a mixed mes­sage in Asia

Star Tribune - - NATION & WORLD - By MARK LANDLER New York Times

MANILA, PHILIP­PINES – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vowed this week to re­claim the U.S. 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 U.S., 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 like-minded coali­tion to con­tain it, Trump was of­ten a be­wil­der­ing fig­ure to coun­tries that had al­ready viewed him 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 12-day Asian tour, 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 U.S.

“It was red car­pet like no­body, I think, has prob­a­bly ever re­ceived,” he added.

By some mea­sures, he was “If this trip were a high-wire act, Pres­i­dent Trump man­aged to get to the other side, ” said one an­a­lyst. Trump left Manila on Tues­day for the trip home af­ter his marathon tour of South­east Asia.

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.

But Trump’s en­ergy did not flag and he was ac­corded a lav­ish re­cep­tion at ev­ery stop, es­pe­cially Bei­jing, where Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping threw open the For­bid­den City.

“Like any Trump en­deavor, there were the in­evitable dis­trac­tions with tweets about the phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance of lead­ers and clear sig­nals that he prefers the com­pany of tyrants like Putin and Duterte,” said Kurt Camp­bell, a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian af­fairs.

Still, Camp­bell said, “If this

trip were a high-wire act, Pres­i­dent Trump man­aged to get to the other side.”

And yet there were sub­tler signs of ten­sion, which spoke to the con­flict­ing mes­sages Trump brought to Asia and sug­gested a level of dis­ar­ray in the White House’s pol­icy to­ward the re­gion.

Be­fore his meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan and Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull of Aus­tralia, Trump had a brief con­tretemps with Turn­bull over trade im­bal­ances af­ter he as­serted that the U.S. ran deficits with “al­most everybody.”

“Ex­cept us,” Turn­bull in­ter­jected.

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 he has with­drawn the U.S.

The pres­i­dent de­liv­ered that mes­sage in a speech that was sup­posed to ex­plain his con­cept of a “free and open Indo-Pa­cific” re­gion. The idea, which Trump of­fi­cials bor­rowed from the Ja­panese, is that the re­gion’s four ma­jor mar­itime democ­ra­cies — the United States, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and In­dia — will con­sti­tute a bul­wark against a ris­ing China.

But this theme was largely lost in the jeremiad on trade. Crit­ics said it tes­ti­fied to the stub­born di­vide within the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­tween main­stream for­eign pol­icy fig­ures like Matthew Pottinger, the se­nior di­rec­tor for Asia at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and eco­nomic na­tion­al­ists like pol­icy ad­viser Stephen Miller, who took a strong hand in writ­ing the speech.

“The Indo-Pa­cific framing is clearly the hand­i­work of his more ex­pe­ri­enced and in­ter­na­tion­ally minded se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity team, while the ‘Amer­ica First’ theme of de­mand­ing zero-sum con­ces­sions from all our trad­ing part­ners is not,” said Michael Green, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for Asia at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Trump’s in­vi­ta­tion for oneon-one trade talks with the United States, Green said, was likely to fall on deaf ears in Asian coun­tries, many of which went through fierce de­bates be­fore sign­ing on to the Pa­cific trade deal and now want to reap its ben­e­fits.

“That’s like a sher­iff squaring up for a show­down with the town out­law by an­nounc­ing to the posse that he wants a gun­fight with each of them at the same time,” said Green, who served as Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s se­nior ad­viser on Asia pol­icy.

In­deed, while Trump was preach­ing his go-it-alone eco­nomic mes­sage, the 11 coun­tries still in the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship made sig­nif­i­cant progress to­ward fi­nal­iz­ing the agree­ment with­out the U.S. They have given it an even wordier new name, the Com­pre­hen­sive and Progressive Agree­ment for Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

“I think this will be a strong mes­sage for not only Asia, but also other re­gions in the world,” Ja­pan’s econ­omy min­is­ter, Toshim­itsu Motegi, told re­porters.

DOUG MILLS • New York Times

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