Trump’s Asia Tour: Insights and Implications
By admin November 14, 2017

President Trump wrapped up his 12-day, 5-nation tour of Asia on Monday in Manila, Philippines, capping off a trip filled with new implications for what role the United States will play going forward in the Eastern Hemisphere. Monday’s visit also ended with Trump meeting Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte, a highly anticipated meeting due to Duterte’s bloody campaign to fight crime related to narcotics. Although the international community awaited statements regarding human rights, the issue was largely avoided as security escorted out reporters who prompted to query the subject matter. Instead, the talks focused mostly on criticism over North Korea’s nuclear program and calling on the international community to further downgrade their diplomatic engagement with that nation.

Trump’s praise of Duterte and avoidance of talks about human rights abuses present a break from the traditional diplomatic talks of past American presidents. Instead, Trump focused on his own style of diplomacy by dwelling on areas of mostly common ground, including combatting ISIS and trade negotiations in addition to denouncing North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump’s presidency followed by this recent summit could mean Duterte will re-establish stronger ties with Trump’s administration. In fact, since Duterte took office in 2016, he has distanced himself away from the United States and instead, favored China as a potential ally. Trump’s administration hopes to reverse this trend by improving relations with the Philippines, which has also had its share of troubles against the expansionist policies of China in the South China Sea. However, Duterte has also avoided this topic this week, stating that confrontation over the South China Sea is unnecessary since China is the top economic powerhouse.

Before Trump’s finale visit in Manila, he also toured the nations of Japan, South Korea, China, and Vietnam. His first trip in Japan also portrayed a similar theme where he indirectly warned North Korea through addressing servicemen of their resolve to fight tyranny and dictatorship. Perhaps his most important moment came during his Friday address at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nong, Vietnam. Criticizing “trade abuses” the United States have been subjected to, Trump called for an end to these unfair trades. He concluded with a point to “put America first,” cementing his resolve to refuse trade negotiations if they do not sufficiently serve US interest. His isolationist policy stood in stark contrast to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech only minutes later, where he embraced open trade policies and globalization, calling it inevitable and the trend of the future.

These assertions should come as little surprise, for China has further solidified the power of its central government under Xi Jinping, especially after last month Communist Party Congress. Xi has broken from his predecessors by pursuing a bolder and more assertive foreign policy. For Trump, although his assertions of trade abuses did refer to China, he stated he did not fault China for “taking advantage.” His statements merit truth that the US is at a large deficit when it comes to trading with China. However, his overall speech and tone may also point to a desire to compete for influence and control in the Indo-Pacific region, which the US has been experiencing waning influence. Trump’s rhetoric reflects his method to assert US influence over a region increasingly dominated by China’s expansionist policies. Although Trump has had mostly focused on domestic policies, we will await to see if he pursues more focus for issues abroad as he returns to Washington this week.

Further Reading:

Was Donald Trump’s fiery Apec speech a response to waning US influence in Asia-Pacific?

Trump Lauds ‘Great Relationship’ With Duterte in Manila

We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses’: Trump lashes out at China and others

Donald Trump warns ‘dictators’ as Japan visit launches Asia tour

Trump Wrapping Up Asia Tour Dominated by North Korea, Trade

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