One cannot help but think that U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent trip to Asia was nothing but “a visit of Trump, by Trump, for Trump.”
After arriving home, Trump described his 12-day trip to Asia as “historic.” However, the presidential progress through Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines yielded no positive signs for Asia’s future.
It is significant that Trump has gained offers of cooperation from Japan, South Korea, China, Southeast Asian countries and other nations in responding to the North Korean issue, on which particular attention has been focused. Still, there is no prospect that the problem can be solved in the foreseeable future.
In particular, China’s intentions are hard to read. If the United States truly has not ruled out using force against North Korea, Trump should hold serious consultations with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over how they could urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and how the two countries should respond to any military action by Washington.
However, the U.S. and China apparently did not have in-depth discussions on these matters. While North Korea has recently refrained from provocations such as missile launches, it could resume such acts if Pyongyang were to deem that the U.S. has failed to work out a response strategy and that Washington and Beijing do not have a consensus on dealing with the situation.
Trump also avoided deep involvement in the South China Sea issue. The draft of his planned speech at the East Asia summit meeting expresses concerns that China is trying to make the area a military stronghold, but Trump skipped the conference. It is regrettable that he expressed no enthusiasm about maintaining order in the South China Sea based on a ruling handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, which was reportedly proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and supported by President Trump, is also hard to understand. The strategy of joining hands partly to keep China in check is not a new one. In 2011, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released an article calling the U.S., China and India “three giants” in the Asia-Pacific and Japan the “cornerstone of peace.”
Trump is apparently aiming to challenge his predecessor Barack Obama’s Asia policy. However, the summit speech that Trump ultimately never gave is short on specifics, and lacks a description of his overarching strategy for bringing stability to Asia.
Regarding the achievements of his trip, President Trump cited the lucrative deals he landed for the U.S. It is understandable that Trump, who is in a difficult situation because of the “Russiagate” inquiry, wanted to crow about reaping big profits for his country.
However, Trump should consider in a level-headed manner whether his profit-and-loss arithmetic based on his “America First” policy has damaged his country’s intangible assets — that is, the international community’s respect for and confidence in the United States.