President Trump embarked on a twelve-day trip to Asia on Friday, November 5th. His itinerary outlined his first stop to be Japan, followed by South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. His main diplomatic goals for the trip were to form an alliance against North Korea’s nuclear threats and establish bilateral trade agreements to compensate for America’s departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Trump kicked off his trip in Japan by landing at the Yokota Air Force Base outside Tokyo. There, he indirectly addressed North Korea’s belligerence by telling American soldiers, “You are the greatest hope for people who desire to live in freedom and harmony and you are the greatest threat to tyrants and dictators who seek to prey on the innocent.” He emphasized the importance of an American-Japanese alliance by signing white-and gold baseball caps that read, “Donald and Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.” He then spent a leisurely time with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during which they played golf together and invited the world’s fourth best golf star, Hideki Matsuyama, to play. People on Twitter fueled a non-troversy when Trump emptied a wooden box of fish food into a koi pond, promptly after Prime Minister Abe emptied his. The media exaggerated the event as only Trump had poured all the food at once, and a sample “meme” that resulted from the coverage is shown below.
After his stop in Japan, Trump ventured on into South Korea. There, Trump held a joint news conference with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, saying that the U.S. was committed to finding a diplomatic solution with North Korea but willing to use the “full range” of military options if it became necessary. He called for China and Russia to force North Korea to end its missile programs, citing the strong strategic position the U.S. has in relation to North Korea. This contrasts from Moon Jae-in’s view, as he supports peaceful negotiations, because any violence would likely kill millions of South Koreans in Seoul. The presidents also discussed trade in their meeting. Trump had threatened to pull out of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS, because he said that it is creating an economic disadvantage for the US. He was very vague about any negotiations during the trip, but thanked Moon for “instructing trade negotiators to work closely with us to pursue a much better deal, a deal that frankly has been quite unsuccessful and not very good for the United States.” In contrast to several presidents before him, Trump did not visit the demilitarized zone on the border given time constraints, as President Trump would only be able to visit either the DMZ or Camp Humphreys, a U.S. overseas military base, which the Trump administration saw as more important. Camp Humphreys, upon its completion in 2020, will become the largest overseas United States military base in the world.
Trump also ate lunch with Moon along with U.S. and South Korean troops at Camp Humphreys, which, following an expansion that will be complete in 2020, will be the largest US overseas military base in the world.
In China, Trump spoke at the Great Hall of the People and sought to alleviate tensions with China by blaming the US for its own annual $300 billion trade deficit. “I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its own citizens?… But in actuality I do blame past [US] administrations for allowing this out of control trade deficit to take place and to grow,” Trump said. He also encouraged President Xi Jinping to “act faster and more effectively” against North Korea, as China is one of North Korea’s most prominent economic suppliers due to their bilateral trade agreements. Trump also allowed Jinping to dictate whether the media could ask questions or not. After Trump’s depart, Jinping told Beijing reporters that he would try to relieve pressures with North Korea through “dialogue and negotiation.” He also acknowledged his communist state’s and the United States’ differences in policy and government. Jinping admitted that “our two sides may have different views or differences on some issues. This is only natural. The key is to properly handle and manage them.”
Trump’s presence in Vietnam both enforced his fans’ love for him and infuriated those who despised his nationalist rhetoric. His appeal to the Vietnamese was evident prior to his arrival since many of his books are translated into Vietnamese. Most importantly, they hold beliefs that Trump will assert dominance over China because Trump both vaguely and explicitly addressed China for stripping the US of jobs and factories at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Da Nang, Vietnam. These remarks were conveyed merely a day after his praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump’s toughness on China attracts Vietnamese attention because China and Vietnam have been engaging in constant disputes over certain islands in the South China Sea. However, Trump’s “America First” rhetoric made the Vietnamese uneasy ever since his decision to pull out of the TPP, which Barack Obama had enacted during his presidency to improve economic relations within America and East Asian countries by lessening Chinese economic dominance in the region. With the US out of the Asian sphere of economics, Vietnam has to rely largely on China instead of the US. Unfortunately, according to USA Today, Vietnam is losing hope in rejuvenating a trade partnership with America due to Trump’s boasts about domestic economic progress.
Trump’s final stop on his trip was to the Philippines. Prior to the trip, each country that he would visit was polled for confidence in Trump, and Philippines gave the highest confidence, with 69%. In the Philippines, he met with president Rodrigo Duterte, who has been extensively criticized throughout his presidency because of his harsh anti-drug policies that practically eliminate due process for those accused of drug crimes. Nevertheless, Trump said he has a “great relationship” with Duterte, and according to the White House, only sparingly discussed human rights in their meeting. Instead, the two focused on fighting the Islamic State, drug trafficking, and trade issues. With Duterte, Trump attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, where he said that a new trade policy would soon be unveiled, which would benefit America far more than the prior ones.
Overall, Trump’s primary focuses in his trip were free trade and North Korea. For now, it remains relatively unclear whether either of these issues resolved in a way favorable to Trump and America. Trump was criticized throughout the trip for allowing himself to be influenced by boosts to his ego, especially in the case of Duterte, who is accused of many human rights violations. Trump also seemed to be escalating tensions with North Korea when he began a Twitter dispute with dictator Kim Jong Un. As the results of Trump’s negotiations trickle out, it will become known whether his trip was, in fact, a victory for America. The general lack of conflict during the trip seems to be a positive for President Trump, given his unprecedentedly low approval rating for this point in his presidency.
By Aditya Achara and Will Henson, Staff Writers