TRUMP IN ASIA
A break from the past but uncertain results
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.
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.
President Donald Trump, center, gives a statement before leaving for the airport, an East Asia Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center, Tuesday in Manila, Philippines. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is seen at right while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is at left.