By Snigdha Kalra
Donald Trump completed his recent trip to Asia from the 3rd to the 14th of November, making it the longest such trip undertaken by a US President in twenty-five years. He visited five nations in the twelve-day period: Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The President claimed his trip to be a “tremendous success” in a speech given upon his return to the US and declared, “America is back”. Despite this, views regarding the impact of the trip differ from person to person. In his speech, Trump did not take questions from reporters but gave a detailed account of the success of his “America first” agenda.
Japan: Trade and North Korea
The two main areas on Trump’s agenda in Japan were trade and North Korea. William Hagerty, US Ambassador in Japan, claimed that Trump’s Tokyo visit was a big success. He said, “During his successful visit to Japan, the president strengthened his close relationship with Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe, and moved the relationship forward on both security and trade issues.”
While Trump pulled out of the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that had been signed with 11 other countries, he discussed a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan. A Japan-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will help the US in improving the trade deficit with Japan. The leaders also discussed pressuring North Korea to cease their attempts at nuclear testing. However, Abe did not seem as keen to implement either proposition as Trump did.
South Korea: Concerns about nuclear neighbour
The obvious issue of discussion in South Korea was the nuclear activities of its neighbour, North Korea. Trump, while addressing the National Assembly, declared North Korea to be a cruel leadership. Yun Duk Min, the former head of Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said, “The message was that the U.S.-South Korean alliance is solid and Trump and Moon share the position of maximum sanctions on the North Korean nuclear issue.”
Meanwhile, a major concern for South Korea is the declaration of war on North Korea by the US without their consent. Choo Mi-ae, chairman of the DPK, said, “President Trump often emphasizes that he put all options on the table. We want to make sure that this option of another war is not placed on the table. Under no circumstances should the US go ahead and use a military option without the consent of South Korea. We must seek a peaceful resolution of the matter in any manner that is available to us.”
President Moon Jae-in also expressed his apprehensions about the success of the denuclearization programme, owing to practical difficulties in its implementation.
China: A changing stance and trade deficit talk
China seems to be the one country where Donald Trump’s visit has had no positive impact. While the two countries had agreed on North Korea’s denuclearization during his visit, China now seems to have reversed its stance, instead preferring a freeze-for-freeze policy. This would mean that North Korea would agree to suspend its nuclear programme if the US agrees to suspend military drills with South Korea.
After Trump’s visit, China sent an envoy to North Korea. While Trump believes it is a good move on China’s part initiated after talks with the US, experts believe this move is born out of the same fear that has gripped South Korea—that the US may declare a war against North Korea.
The US has also got a massive trade deficit with China, which reached $347 billion in 2016. While the US has always blamed trade policies on China for encouraging imports, Trump said that it was the previous US administrations which are at fault for such a situation.
Vietnam: Trade and the South China Sea
In his address at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Donald Trump yet again pushed his nationalist agenda by emphasising his unwillingness to enter into multilateral agreements. He called forward all countries to enter into bilateral deals with America. However, on the sidelines of the summit, the eleven countries which are a part of the TPP were discussing negotiations for the implementation of the multilateral free-trade deal.
Trump supported Vietnam’s stance on the South China Sea, on which China has been carrying out expansion operations. He has offered to mediate the dispute on part of Vietnam, as the country lacks the power to take China head-on.
The Philippines: Avoiding human rights issues?
On his last stop, Trump visited the Philippines to attend the ASEAN summit. He also met with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Discussion between the two leaders revolved around combating terrorism and illegal trade in drugs. However, questions by reporters with respect to human rights abuses were avoided, and Trump was criticised for not taking up the issue with Duterte in hopes of building good diplomatic relations.
All in all, it seems that the trip has not been as much of a success for Donald Trump as he claims—not all countries believe in his convictions, with China standing in firm opposition. For all the publicity it garnered, the trip has failed to make a major impact. The United States no more stands at the central position it used to.
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