Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1368, (9 - 15 November 2017)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1368, (9 - 15 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump’s Asian tour

US President Donald Trump’s current Asian tour has raised fears on both the domestic and global levels, writes Gamal Nkrumah


Trump’s  Asian tour
Trump’s Asian tour

By the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China had soured. Meanwhile, Japan had metamorphosed from being a lethal enemy of the US to Washington’s most trustworthy ally in Asia.

US President Donald Trump deliberately commenced his Asian tour this week with the Yokota Air Base near Tokyo and did not head for the Narita International Airport, Japan’s official gateway. On his way to Japan, the president stopped in Hawaii where he visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour, the scene of the 1941 Japanese attack that drew the US into World War Two. At Yokota, Trump received a rapturous welcome from the 2,000 US troops permanently stationed at the Air Base.

Trump also took part in a briefing at the US Pacific Command. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, Japan was reduced to a poverty-stricken ruin. When Japan metamorphosed a decade later into a prosperous nation it was largely due to US largesse.

Trump’s intention in touring Asia is to cement US ties with allies such as Japan and South Korea and to declare that Washington’s “strategic patience” with North Korea has come to an end.

North Korea is Trump’s focus and China the most challenging leg of his Asian tour.

“No-one, no dictator, no regime... should underestimate American resolve,” Trump has warned. He had called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “the Rocket Man,” commenting that “being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed and Obama failed. I won’t fail,” Trump has vowed.

Trump’s foreign policy agenda is rooted in his “America First” programme, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy at the US State Department and now CEO of the think tank New America in Washington. “But the question is how well that works with the diplomacy he needs to engage in Beijing, Korea and Japan around subjects like North Korea,” Slaughter said.

Successive US trade deficits “have weakened American credibility and shaken allies’ belief in US staying power,” David B Shear, former US assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said.

Trump does not like to be on the receiving end of castigation, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proved a cordial and gracious host. Trump was served a giant burger with American beef on his visit to Japan as part of the longest tour of Asia by a US president in 25 years. He is scheduled to visit Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and Philippines on his 11-day trip to the region.

However, despite the welcome in Japan, the Japanese had earlier been concerned when Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade pact in the region, a deal which had been more than five years in the making and affected 40 per cent of the global economy.

“Bilateral negotiations are better for the United States than multilateral negotiations,” said US trade representative Robert Lighthizer. Trump is scheduled to participate in regional economic and security conferences in Vietnam and the Philippines while on his Asian tour.

Meanwhile, territorial disputes have pitted several smaller Asian nations against the regional giant China, which views the South China Sea as part of its sphere of influence and strategic domain. Small wonder Japanese and Filipino sailors have often clashed at sea with Chinese military vessels. The US, too, has had its own clashes with China in the region.

A US Navy destroyer collided with a merchant ship in the South China Sea last August resulting in 10 dead US sailors. A state-run newspaper in Beijing declared that the “US Navy has behaved arrogantly in the Asia-Pacific region,” and the USS John S McCain’s collision with the merchant ship was met with “applause from Chinese citizens,” the official Chinese state media disclosed.

According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, Japan’s welcome for Trump has also not been helpful. “The Japanese leader was inciting discord among countries and creating tension in the region,” he said, with Chinese officials reiterating that China does not favour a unified Korea because this would become a “protectorate of the US.”  

“If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so,” reported the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

A White House statement said the US and China had agreed North Korea must stop “provocative and escalatory behaviour.” If not, it “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump earlier commented.

The Japanese and American leaders played golf where they were joined by Hideki Matsuyama, one of the world’s top players, as the US president mentioned in a tweet. “Playing golf with Prime Minister Abe and Hideki Matsuyama, two wonderful people,” Trump tweeted.

Meanwhile, Trump’s Asian tour was the first major public appearance of US First Lady Melania Trump, who spent time in Japan with Akie Abe, the Japanese prime minister’s wife, who showed her Japanese cultured pearls in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

The Russians have expressed a keen interest in Trump’s Asian tour. “We urge all sides to exercise maximum caution,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted concerning tensions in the Korean Peninsula. “Given the arms build-up in the region, any rash move or even an unintended incident could spark a military conflict,” she added.

President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China are also gearing up to welcome Trump. China’s gross domestic product expanded by 6.8 per cent in the July-September period from a year earlier, decelerating from a 6.9 per cent gain in the first half of the year, China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced recently. But overall the data suggest that China will still easily meet its goal of at least 6.5 per cent growth in 2017.

It now looks unlikely that the economy will grow by seven per cent in the second half, a possibility put forward by Zhou Xiaochuan, the head of China’s central bank, earlier this week. All this will doubtless provide further food for thought for the US president.

Twenty-one world leaders, along with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are scheduled to converge on the capital of the Philippines Manila from 11 to 14 November. The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Manila Summit will be organised together with partners Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea as well as the US.

Trump is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with President Duterte of the Philippines and other leaders. Duterte has come under international criticism for his administration’s brutal crackdown on drug-trafficking, which has resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings, though this crackdown has been praised by Trump.

Trump is also scheduled to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Da Nang, Vietnam, while on his Asian tour.

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