Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out an unusually pompous and sumptuous welcome mat to visiting U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump’s visit to China started on Nov. 8 with a pleasant chat with Xi at Gugong, the storied Forbidden City, a palace complex in central Beijing with a history of 600 years dating to the Ming Dynasty.
As symbolized by this special gesture of hospitality made by China, the talks between the two leaders were all about a show of goodwill and friendship between their countries.
Constructive and in-depth dialogue between the two leading powers would contribute greatly to stability in the international community.
But the messages sent out by the two leaders contained little more than diplomatic rhetoric and flowery words, offering no insight into how they will actually tackle important challenges.
What kind of strategy for Asia is the Trump administration, whose “America First” agenda has raised international concerns, actually pursuing? Will Xi, who has been working hard to concentrate power in his hands, adopt a tougher foreign policy stance?
Japan and many other Asian countries have been looking for clues to these questions, worrying about the implications for them. But the Trump-Xi talks were short on substance, providing little reassurance to neighboring countries.
Trump’s tone concerning North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs changed.
During his preceding visits to Japan and South Korea, Trump talked about using America’s “unmatched military capabilities” and pursuing “peace through strength.”
In Beijing, however, Trump used more moderate expressions such as the “need to fully implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions” on Pyongyang.
Xi concurred, saying the two countries will continue to “fully and strictly implement” the sanctions.
But there is no denying the fact that the United States and China have widely different views about how pressure and dialogue should be combined in dealing with North Korea.
It remains unclear to neighboring countries whether and how the two leaders agreed or clashed over certain issues related to the North Korea situation to avoid military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Concerning trade, another key topic for the Trump-Xi meetings, it was announced that the two countries had struck $250 billion (about 28 trillion yen) worth of business deals.
But these deals will not lead to any substantial improvement in the bilateral trade imbalance.
Good working relations between Washington and Beijing don’t solve all problems concerning trade, in the first place.
The United States has an important role to play in prodding China toward reforms to create a healthy market economy.
In their joint news conference, the two leaders described their countries as leading powers with “great responsibility” to the world.
But they showed no signs that their countries are solidly committed to playing their vital international roles instead of focusing only on bilateral deals.
Washington and Beijing need to work together to develop and establish a stable framework for cooperation for the sake of peace and prosperity of the world.
From this point of view, what is most worrisome for Asia is the fact that the real intentions of the two countries remain unfathomable.
In particular, the Trump administration’s commitment to engage in playing active roles for all of Asia has been called into question because of its decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade agreement, negotiated during the Obama administration.
China’s influence in the region has been growing as if to compensate for the declining U.S. presence.
The Xi administration is stressing its goal of “the resurgence of the Chinese race,” showing few signs of willingness to respect such universal values as the rule of law and human rights.
It is hardly surprising that many other countries are concerned about the possible consequences of the inward-looking pursuit of power by the two countries–the traditional superpower and an emerging superpower.
If Trump is serious about restoring America’s prestige and leadership, he needs to send out clear messages about his administration’s forward-looking involvement in Asia during the rest of his Asia tour.