What we learned about Trump during Asia tour

What we learned about Trump during Asia tour

For the President personally, this has been a good 12 days.

He has cut a more restrained figure, shown that he can stick, for the most part, to the script, and managed to avoid any major diplomatic incidents, not least the fate of the last US leader (George HW Bush) to spend this length of time in the region – vomiting on the Japanese prime minister.

For the US position in Asia, however, it has been less of a success.

Trump’s ‘America First’ message might go down well with his base back home, but it does little to reassure allies here that the US is not turning its back on regional leadership and engagement, at a time when China is making its presence and its overseas investment felt.

So what else did we learn about Donald Trump during his travels in Asia?

Not a shock, granted. Extreme flattery seemed to have been adopted as the preferred tactic among Trump’s hosts across the region, and it worked, with the President raving afresh each time about the reception he had received.

Special mention here must go to South Korea, where the presidential limousine was escorted, on foot, through the streets of Seoul by a ceremonial guard, and he was introduced as the leader of the world.

President Moon also publicly congratulated him on his great progress on making America great again.

China also scored highly in this category, laying on what was described as a state visit plus, with dinner and private opera inside the Forbidden City, and ranks of jumping, cheering children.

It was a red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever seen, Donald Trump declared approvingly.

Again, not exactly news, but as he was questioned by reporters on Air Force One about how he would deal with the newly empowered leaders of Japan and China, Donald Trump interrupted Excuse me, so am I.

Overlooking his record low approval ratings and domestic political troubles, Mr Trump cited gains on the US stock market and unemployment numbers, in what would become a regular refrain throughout the trip.

This inability to let insults lie reared its head again in Vietnam, as the President unburdened himself in a blaze of tweets, lashing out at Kim Jong Un as short and fat after being called an old lunatic by North Korean state media, and attacking haters and fools over his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Having seized upon this good news story on the outbound leg, President Trump proceeded to tell what seemed like every person he encountered about it.

He did it during bilateral summits with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, President Moon of South Korea, on stage in Vietnam, and even while sitting down to lunch with American troops at a military base.

In all cases, the audience appeared to nod along politely, while presumably wondering what this had to do with them, or indeed, Donald Trump.

The story was so easy to believe – President Trump, during a photocall with Mr Abe, had lost patience while carefully feeding the palace koi, upending his container into the pond.

Further video evidence showed the Japanese PM had tipped his fish food out first, and Mr Trump was simply following his lead.

There had been fears that Trump might stoke tensions on the Korean Peninsula during his visit, or that Kim Jong Un might take the opportunity to test a missile nearby. In the event, neither transpired.

We will never know what might have happened had heavy fog not forced President Trump’s helicopter back during his attempt to visit the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone), but his rhetoric in the region has been substantially toned down from his previous threats of fire and fury.

Instead, the President started talking about a deal and the possibility of Kim someday becoming his friend.

The strategy seems to vacillate between personal insults, threats of force, and now talk of negotiations, while insisting China could solve this quickly and easily if it wanted to, which remains untrue.

China could cut off oil supplies and cripple the economy, but there is no evidence this would solve the problem and every danger this would cause the Kim regime to cling even tighter to its nukes.

Three US aircraft carriers conducted exercises in the Pacific during the visit, for the first time in a decade, but defence secretary James Mattis said there was no big message.

After my tour of Asia, all countries dealing with us on TRADE know that the rules have changed.

That might be what Donald Trump said, but what many countries here will have heard was that TRADE with the US is about to get harder, and that under his leadership, the US will never sign another multi-national trade deal.

Meanwhile, the 11 remaining signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which President Trump withdrew from in his first days in office, announced they would continue to pursue the free trade deal without the US.

Standing alongside Xi Jinping, who is currently presiding over China’s most serious crackdown on human rights in decades, in whose state’s custody a Nobel peace laureate died this summer, and whose widow remains missing, Donald Trump opted not to mention human rights.

We would have asked him about it, but the US had acceded to the Chinese insistence that no questions from the press be allowed.

This continued in Vietnam and the Philippines, where there was no public mention of the thousands of people, including scores of children, who have died so far in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

The White House said they touched on the issue during private talks, Mr Duterte’s spokesman said they didn’t.

There seems to be a push to replace Asia-Pacific with Indo-Pacific, highlighting India’s rise, in part to balance China, and broadening the scope of the region to include South and East Asia.

The term has been used sporadically in diplomatic and academic circles previously, and mentioned by Hillary Clinton at least twice.

But despite the President’s repeated efforts during this trip, there is no evidence thus far that it is catching on.

Just ask Shinzo Abe, the Japanese PM, who managed to tumble into a bunker, climb back out again and dust himself off, as Trump strolled ahead on the fairway, apparently oblivious.

For many in the press corps, this remains the enduring image of the trip.

News Source SkyNews

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