Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump’s Asian Mammoth tour

The beginning of Trump’s Asian tour was the threat of North Korean nuclear ambitions, but the visit ended with trade talks, writes Gamal Nkrumah


Trump’s Asian Mammoth tour
Trump’s Asian Mammoth tour

United States President Donald Trump’s whistle stop tour of Asia provided an opportunity for critical reflection of American foreign policy under an unconventional and novel administration. First, Trump insulted North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, then, hours later, said he hoped the two could be friends in the future.

It is exactly the kind of contradiction that has typified his five-nation tour of Asia. The flurry of tweets by Trump is simply amazing. Neither age nor erudition seems to make much difference in the prevailing assumption that Asia, or the “Indo-Pacific” as Trump calls it, is an inescapable part of US foreign policy, trade and economy.
Trump came up with the curious expression “Indo-Pacific” but contrary to assumptions, he was amiable towards Asian leaders, especially China’s. The US president has certainly been treated like a king everywhere he has gone. He focused sharply on the most important trading partner of the US. And, it is obvious that he loves being feted and flattered, perhaps especially now, given all the criticism of Trump’s presidency now prevalent in the US.

During the last leg of his marathon Asian tour Trump was getting on swimmingly with Asia’s leaders. He played a video of his granddaughter singing in Mandarin, and called Chinese President Xi Jinping “a very special man”. Indeed, Trump seems to subvert certain globally prevailing values.
“Melania and I, thank you for an unforgettable afternoon and evening at the Forbidden City in Beijing, President Xi and Madame Peng Liyuan,” he proclaimed. China cannot come close to matching the US in terms of military might. But, Trump did not clarify if that fact was enough to ensure that America retains its sphere of influence.

Trump trumpeted the “America First” slogan. Or is “America First”, and indeed this tour of Asia by an eccentric and unconventional US president, ushering in an era of “China stepping up”?

But the skirmishes of left-wing demonstrators with police in Manila pointed to serious local resentment of Washington in general and Trump in particular.  Trump praised Philippines President Rodrigo “Rody” Roa Duterte, also known as Digong. Trump declined to mention the extrajudicial killings concerning Duterte’s war on drugs. Mrs Duterte, reminiscent of Imelda Marcos, was most gracious to Trump.

But Trump traded insults with the North Korean leader who called the US president an “aging lunatic” and a “warmonger” and Trump called Kim Jong-Un “short and fat”.
During his marathon Asiatic tour Trump chided Pyongyang. “Do not underestimate us. Do not try us.” He described North Korea as “a hell that no person deserves”. The South China Sea question cropped up. Trump urged China to further isolate North Korea. Yet, at times Trump seemed conciliatory. He said that “we will offer you a path for a better future”. Yet, Trump noted that North Korea was “a tragic experiment in the laboratory of history”. The White House sees China as pivotal in reining in North Korea’s nuclear aims and made it clear that the South China Sea was not China’s exclusive domain. 

Putting America First is Trump’s mantra. He vowed to reduce what he has called the “embarrassing” US trade deficit with China. US and Chinese firms have already signed $9 billion in deals as part of the visit.

The trip could not hide questions surrounding Russia’s role in last year’s US elections and allegations of collusion involving Trump’s campaign team have dogged his presidency. Legal action has already been taken against several of his former aides as part of a Justice Department inquiry.

Until now, Trump has refused to acknowledge US intelligence agency findings that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to the poll. Trump’s tweets, compounded by his convoluted syntax, complicate matters.

Nevertheless, a White House official has said “the president will tweet whatever he wants”. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and only major ally. Yet, China is the main trading partner of the US. And, as Trump wrapped up his 12-day tour of Asia on Tuesday, he said it had created $300 billion in sales to companies in Asia as well as leading to several major energy deals.

After succinct conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), Trump briefed reporters on what had been said about Russian interference in the presidential campaign. “Every time [Putin] sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump declared. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump expounded.
However, Trump could not resist castigating his predecessor, Barack Obama. He said Obama had lacked “chemistry” with President Putin. But, Trump got on with Putin smoothly.

Putin, in return, showered Trump with accolades. He told reporters in Vietnam: “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of a continuing domestic political struggle.” These statements only accentuated the universal suspicion that Trump’s presidency is due to manipulation by Moscow.

Nevertheless, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have already concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hack in the run-up to last year’s US presidential election. 

The contents of the DNC emails during the presidential campaign, passed on to WikiLeaks and posted online, were embarrassing to the Democrats and shook up the presidential campaign which ended in defeat for Hillary Clinton.

The “Indo-Pacific region” is being used by Trump to delineate America’s new geopolitical view of Asia. Yet, his pronouncements during his Asian tour amounted to little more than schoolboy playground rhetoric.

As Trump commenced his tour of Asia, one term “Indo-Pacific region” cropped up over and over again. Be that as it may, Trump’s presence in Asia was not altogether welcome. The effigy of Trump was ceremoniously burnt by anti-American and left-wing protesters in South Korea. Many South Koreans are angry about the US THAAD missile system and have been holding protests, some of which have turned violent.

A curious aside is that Ivanka Trump emerged as the “First Daughter” upstaging the First Lady Melania. Ivanka, who serves as an adviser to her father, visited Japan ahead of the US president’s first official visit to Asia.

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