Trump in Asia: A break from the past but un­cer­tain re­sults

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared his first Asian tour “tremen­dously suc­cess­ful” as he hopped on a plane bound for Washington. But when he lands late Tues­day he’ll ar­rive 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 said, “I don’t blame China” for a 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 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 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?” 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. 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, 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 agreed-upon 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.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s trip a “flop.”

“He seemed far more in­ter­ested in pomp and cir­cum­stance — red car­pets, fancy meals, and the flat­tery of for­eign lead­ers — than ad­vanc­ing Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in a re­gion that is in­creas­ingly look­ing to China for lead­er­ship,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. “And af­ter the pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance, those coun­tries are go­ing to turn more to China. At least they have strength and di­rec­tion, even though China will take ad­van­tage of them for sure as they have taken ad­van­tage of us.”

Ever the show­man, Trump rev­eled in the im­agery of the trip, in­clud­ing a pri­vate tour at sun­set of Bei­jing’s For­bid­den City, golf with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and lav­ish state din­ners. But he was de­nied the dra­matic mo­ment he de­sired.

Trump planned a se­cret visit to the demil­i­ta­rized zone at the heav­ily for­ti­fied Korean bor­der. But with Marine One just five min­utes away, heavy fog forced his he­li­copter to turn around.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, right, and In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi shake hands dur­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing at the ASEAN Sum­mit at the Sof­i­tel Philip­pine Plaza, Mon­day in Manila, Philip­pines. Trump is on a five coun­try trip through Asia trav­el­ing to Ja­pan, South Korea, China, Viet­nam and the Philip­pines.

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