For 11 days, Trump is Asia’s problem, not ours
by Luis Gómez
Co-editor in Chief
Asia has been one of Donald Trump’s most common rhetorical targets since the campaign. Trump has repeatedly railed against China for currency gouging practices, and both China and Japan for taking manufacturing jobs away from the US. Trump also spent much of the campaign attacking the TransPacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement with several Asia-Pacific nations, which was the target of one of his first presidential orders.
When Trump announced an Asia trip, therefore, it seemed more consequential than previous visits to the region. International presidential trips are always hyper-complex tasks of planning, and they offer a chance for leaders to present, essentially, their thesis on international relations for their administration. The twelve-day Asia trip brought Donald Trump to Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Trump met with leaders from each country, partaking in bilateral meetings regarding trade and military strength.
Further highlighting the importance of this trip is Trump’s consistent attacks on the North Korean regime. Trump and Kim Jong-un have been sparring verbally for months, provoking one another into increased military action. Since Trump took office, Kim Jong Un’s regime has conducted over fifteen missile tests, and launched rockets over Japan. Tests like this have been common for the North Korean regime, especially since the country’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb in 2006. During the Obama administration, the regime performed at least a dozen missile tests, only some of which were successful. However, North Korea’s operational capacity has increased lately, as has their missile test success rate. Experts now believe that North Korea has reliable mid-range nuclear missiles, and that a long-range ICBM is not far off.
Trump also meant to visit the DMZ, the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea, but was derailed by bad weather.
One of the more notable moments during Trump’s visit to China was the lack of press access. Administration officials said that the press pool was not allowed to ask questions following a joint press conference between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping. In past visits to China, US officials have pushed for press access despite Chinese officials’ wishes to the contrary. The move to disallow press access was seen by many as acceding to the demands of a foreign administration with notoriously limited press access, especially for its highest leader. Some speculated that this move was part of Trump’s ongoing feud with the news media.
Trump also seemed ready to absolve Chinese leadership of their role in increasing the US-China trade deficit, even though said deficit was a major point of his campaign. In a tweet, Trump said that he “[doesn’t] blame China” but instead puts the fault on “the incompetence of past Admins for allowing China to take advantage of the US” and claimed that he “would have done the same.”
Press access was also limited during Trump’s visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2017 summit, a gathering of leaders from twenty-one Pacific Rim (the geological phenomenon not the movie) nations, including the US, China, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. Doug Mills, a reporter for the New York Times tweeted a black box, saying that there was “no coverage by the White House Travel pool photographers” from the event.
Trump also made headlines after running into Vladimir Putin at the sidelines of the APEC summit meeting. The leaders shook hands and spoke briefly. When asked about the content of their conversation, Trump stated that he had asked Putin once again if Russia had colluded in the 2016 election, and that Putin said that he hadn’t. Trump then went on to call several prominent members of the US intelligence committee, including the former and current directors of the CIA, all of whom agree on the fact of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, “political hacks.”
Also, there was that thing with Shinzo Abe and the fish food at a koi pond in Japan that became news for absolutely no reason.
While under normal circumstances a trip like this would likely consume the international news cycle for several days, Trump’s visit to Asia has struggled to break through. So, while Trump has made repeated promises during his trip that he will refuse any more multilateral trade agreements, these words have largely fallen on deaf ears back home.
The consequence of this is that Trump’s outright rejection of multilateral trade agreements signals the biggest change in the US’ economic strategy to date. During his APEC speech, Trump has made a point of showily dismissing what he described as “chronic trade abuses” by Asian trade partners. In the past, the US has promoted multilateral trade agreements as a key part of its international strategy, most notably via the signing of NAFTA in 1994. Trump’s choice to reject these agreements could upend nearly three decades of US trade policy.
And, really, how did the fish food thing become news?