Donald Trump In Asia: An Astonishing Journey
There has been some relief within Washington policy circles following Donald Trump’s Asia tour, which took the U.S. President to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He did not go too much off script after all, although on trade a number of questions remain. Countries that were attacked verbally during the 2016 presidential campaign, China in particular, were spared frontal verbal statements. Trump did not focus too much on the “trade unbalances” imposed on America. Instead, he targeted the mistakes of “previous U.S. administrations”. “It is normal for China, or for any country” to defend its own interests, he added.
Impressed by China’s welcoming in the Forbidden City in Beijing, he paid his respect to his Chinese host, Xi Jinping. In Vietnam, he repeated his comments in front of the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit. “We will not let other countries take advantage of the United States, and I assume that your countries will act accordingly.”
Strengthened bilateral relations
It is difficult to assess what the United States obtained concretely in exchange for these kind words. In China, the $250 billion bilateral economic package included mainly memorandums of understanding, or confirmations of already mentioned energy or aerial transportation deals.
However, the opening by China of its financing sector could be real news. From now on, foreigners will be able to take major participations in Chinese banks and investment companies. But Beijing skilfully made the announcement the day after Trump departed.
On the political side, it can be noted that the American President used the expression “Indo-Pacific” previously mentioned by his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The “Indo-Pacific” is a region which includes India and Japan, China’s two rivals. Brought together, and with help from the US, they will able to compete with China, according to such a narrative.
From an American point of view, Asia remains a priority. But at the beginning of 2017, the new President decided to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have given America a reinforced presence in a region worried by China’s increasing hegemony. In Danang, Vietnam, the remaining eleven countries signatories of the TPP decided to move forward without the US.
With Trump, America's global strategic perspective has been replaced by bilateral relations. Meanwhile, XI Jinping has been standing as a clear advocate of globalization and free trade. He has also called for the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement… the latter which has also been criticized by the American President.
As for the security situation in the Korean peninsula, it is hard to say whether any progress at all has been achieved during the 12-day visit. China has been asked again to use all the powers it has to pressure Pyongyang to halt its nuclear program (very unlikely), but in the end the Chinese leadership will do whatever is in its own interests.