Trump’s Asia Trip–Of No Significance to ASEAN


October 31, 2017

Trump’s Asia Trip–Of No Significance to ASEAN

Despite a foray into Southeast Asia, his concerns are North Korea, Japan and China

by Asia Sentinel Correspondent

http://www.asiasentinel.com

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The Mueller Indictment  Captures Global Attention

Is there any Asian government looking forward to President Trump’s visit to Asia? With friends (if any) and foes alike baffled and worried about his next tweet or outburst, his friends seem to be a trifecta of deplorables: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who badly needs to take minds off his extrajudicial killing spree and squeeze the US with insinuations of ever closer ties with China, its invasion of Scarborough (Panatag) shoal notwithstanding. They includes junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, who in 2015 ended Thailand’s most recent elected government, and Najib Razak, the subject of the biggest kleptocracy investigation ever undertaken by the US department of Justice. Both visited the President in the White House. Duterte has yet to make the trip. Quite a crowd!

Such is Trump’s attention deficit disorder that it is understood that he won’t bother to stay around in Manila for the East Asia Summit, an event which grew out of the Association of South East Asian nations (ASEAN). This body, this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, was as much the creation of the US during the Cold War and the Vietnam war, as driven by the then-fragile common identity of its original five members: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. Only with the end of those wars could Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar join.

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 ASEAN of Lesser Importance to Donald Trump

ASEAN today may be in disarray politically, divided by China between those with and without conflicting maritime claims. Yet Trump’s absence during a symbolic anniversary is almost as much a demonstration of his isolationist mood as his earlier cancellation of America’s last major Asian initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Nor have Secretary of State Tillerson’s Asian visits done much to fill the gap in Trump’s knowledge and interest. His concerns in Asia, such as they are, have been dominated by North Korea and China, with some nod to India but scant interest in Southeast Asia despite it being such a focus of Chinese military expansion. Tillerson anyway evidently has limited influence over the President and has been as much preoccupied with trying to cut costs at the State Department as with diplomacy. He spouts management consultant jargon urging on his department “an evidence-based and data-driven process to enhance policy formulation and execution as well as optimize and realign our global footprint.”

 

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The New Game in Asia–Xi, Trump  and Abe– Overshadowed by Trump’s Domestic Problems

 

The Trump visit is all about China and Japan, but mainly China. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, recently strengthened by his election victory, will make all the right noises about the North Korea threat but his main aim must be to head off US protectionism and also to warn about China’s maritime ambitions. But the Tokyo visit is overshadowed by that with the newly-crowned Xi Jinping. Whether Trump’s extravagantly phrased congratulations to Xi will help on trade or nuclear issues seems unlikely. China’s agenda is not easily swayed by such trifles. Indeed they may make Beijing, still trying to figure out what to make of Trump, more wary.

They do know however that Trump is more concerned with appearance than substance. The Chinese also know that Trump admires strong leaders, however they got there and whatever they do. He thus wants to be pals with Xi and Duterte regardless of bigger issues. As for results, China hopes to buy time using Trump’s need for a trophy to bring home. Thus lashings of Chinese money will be directed to worthy infrastructure projects in politically important areas of the US. China can easily wear a few more anti-dumping imposts by the US such as just applied to aluminium products, and noises about protecting US technology firms from takeover by Chinese, provided radical anti-trade measures are avoided. Beijing will also point to Xi’s Party Congress speech as evidence of continuing economic reform and in particular the promise of national treatment for foreign enterprises. They are supposed to get that already and the remark means little in practice. But the show must go on.

The Chinese, like much of the rest of Asia, have good reason to be worried if the US effort continues to tear up the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), from which sprang other regional deals. So far Canada and Mexico have stood together and brushed off Trump’s provocations. But whether China and Japan can present a common front on trade is another matter when strategic rivalries are so clear.

 

Abe will make a big deal of standing together against North Korea and the need for intensifying military preparedness. But avoiding trade conflict must be his primary aim. As it is, the North Korean “threat” can be seen both to justify his proposed amendment of Japan’s constitution and to draw more US forces into the region. This is a major discomfort for China but Beijjing has itself largely to blame. It will also go well in most of Southeast Asia, which has been feeling exposed by Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. Even Duterte’s anti-US emotions are being blunted by the realities both of domestic sentiment and military and elite interests.

The US military and Defense Secretary Mattis are natural opponents of isolation and Pyongyang has given them cause to argue that “making America great again” doesn’t mean abandoning fifty years of using open trade as a carrot for other nations, with the military stick reserved for recalcitrants.

In short, the Asian trip could be a defining moment in determining whether or not Trump the would-be isolationist is brought back into line with mainstream foreign and defense policy makers. More likely, however, it will be an anti-climax, with a jet-lagged Trump on his best behaviour and not upsetting a well- choreographed series of photo opportunities and platitudes before hastening home to the comfort of his own golf course.

4 thoughts on “Trump’s Asia Trip–Of No Significance to ASEAN

  1. It will be a good idea of the WH canceling the Trump Asia trip.Keeping the 71 years old man in adult diapers in the WH daycare center will save the United States of America the embarrassment of seeing the groper in chief aka lame duck/pariah snubbed by his Asian hosts when he visits their countries.

    Donald Trump,with the arrests of his three former aides,and the latest revelation that one of them,a thirty year old have pleaded guilty and co-operating with the Mueller team.Admitting that he was okayed by top Trump campaign officials to meet operatives of the Russian intelligence.A supposedly professor in London and a Putin niece.

    It would indeed be a miracle if Trump family members are not indicted before the middle of next year.Unless Trump inner circle members are willing to take the fall,risking jail terms in case a pardon by Trump is blocked by congress,Trump will most probably be out before the midterms elections.

    Either way,Democrats are poised to take back the house and senate.Voters are not going to forgive the Republicans for being dogs in Trump’s dog pound.There are two scenarios.One is Trump is snared by Mueller’s team before the midterms,the second is impeachment if the democrats controlled congress after the midterms.Either way,Trump is roasted turkey,not for this coming thanksgiving,but next year’s thanksgiving.

  2. So many words are in the article, and yet nothing of insight is said. Nothing of important is said because the basic assumptions of the article are not in alignment with reality: describing Trump using superficial labels such as isolationist, having deplorable behaviors, attention deficit disorder, concerned with appearance than substance, admire strong leader, and golf course.

    I casually wrote a prediction short text on Trump’s impact to the world right before Nov 8, 2016. You can understand what President Trump would do at the international level with that casually written text than with the above article constructed with verbal nimbleness:

    ———Beginning of old post——————————————-
    Trump’s presidency will influence the world (beside to USA) in this direction:
    1) Nations, taking the cue of Trump’s nationalism, will be acting for the good of their respective nations. Globalism will be considered good only for selected areas of world affair. Supra-national organizations such as UN and OIC will take a back seat. This will stabilize the world.
    2) Cultures that are antithetical to modern world norms (which is of image of western civilization) will be confronted, not cuddled. Beheading video will be stopped very soon. Caliphate will become a dirty word.
    3) Fundamental American values such as freedom of expression will be promoted again. We will no longer be seeing Clinton attending OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) supporting UN resolution 16/18 which undermines freedom of expression under the guise of Islamic blasphemy law.
    4) As Europe goes down and US goes up, the world will again re-affirm their belief in self-government, and will again reject good-looking socialism, a time-proven failed system of government.
    The above are good enough for the world while they start to learn straight-talking of Trump.
    —————–End of old post—————————————–

  3. Trump’s Asia trip is mainly about China. But he appears to have no idea what’s going on, as he knows he’s going to China, but he doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, and doesn’t seem to care. He told this in an interview with Lou Dobbs of Fox News on October 25:

    Given the new developments in Washington that the Russia investigation is closing in on him, I believe the flaws of the Trump presidency will show up in the highly anticipated meeting with his powerful and astute Chinese counterpart, and major issues of contention are unlikely to be resolved. Avoiding the worst may be the best we can hope for.

    Trump is going to China to meet a greatly empowered counterpart who has a strategic vision. Trump has very little knowledge of China. He’s put his Secretary of State in his doghouse and much of his foreign policy bureaucracy still not in place 10 months into his presidency. And Trump is heading to Beijing to deal with an interlocutor who knows what he’s doing and coming off his coronation as China’s supreme leader. And Trump doesn’t even know where he’s going in China. I believe the Chinese are going to drag him around to get him so exhausted and keep him so torpid with food and drink that his faculties will be dulled and he’ll be stuffed with the right doctrines. And yes, the Chinese know Trump loves to be flattered. Believe me the Chinese know how to flatter. The Chinese will not let Trump go home empty handed; they’ll give him some minor trade concessions.

    China is heading in new and profoundly important directions internally and externally. The US and China need a serious, strategic, discussion of the actual content of these new directions. Where do Chinese and American interests converge? How can the two sides maximize cooperation and minimize contention? Where do their interests diverge, and how can these differences be managed? But that’s not Trump’s diplomatic cup of tea, and this trip is unlikely to address these fundamental issues. Trump is only interested in trade gains and more pressure on North Korea. And Xi Jinping will take advantage on Donald Trump’s narrowness and nearsightedness.

    Apparently the presidents of the two countries get along, with Trump having said: “We have great chemistry together.” But Xi Jinping is more cautious and calculative. He’s seen the inconsistency of Trump administration in which subordinates fight among themselves and the president mercurially intervenes; there’re very few clear, consistent messages out of the Trump administration, whether they’re on trade and economic issues, the balance between threat and negotiation on the Korean peninsula, the one-China policy, or even the degree to which America supports its own allies. Beyond this, Xi may think that Trump needs a “success” more than he does. Thus, Xi may concede on some trade issues and nothing major. Indeed, resisting Trump’s demands may constitute success for Xi to the Chinese people.

    Regarding North Korea , China does what China does. Trump may think he’s convinced the Chinese into cooperating with him on the North Korea problem, but that’s what China wants to do with or without Trump asking. But since Trump asked, the Chinese play along like doing him a favor. The Chinese have been angry with the erratic behavior of the North Korean regime for some years and the Trump administration gave them the excuse to take some actions. But over the past two decades, China has shown that it’ll live with a nuclear North Korea if the alternative is destabilization and conflict on the Korean peninsula. We can expect, therefore, talk about further tightening the screws on Pyongyang but no fundamental changes – unless Trump loses all restraint and moves towards a military option. The latter would be a disaster. Based on the great number of troops China and Russia have mobilized along their North Korean borders, I believe both China and Russia are prepared for Trump to take military action on North Korea. They already have plans to mop up the dirty work done by the American, to take control of the nuclear facilities of North Korea before the American got the chance. You do your own dirty work you created, dude.

  4. Representative Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the Republican chairman of the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, announced on Tuesday that he would retire from Congress at the end of 2018, marking a long list of Republicans exit of Congress:

    Sen. Jeff Flake, (Arizona)
    Sen. Bob Corker (Tennessee)
    Rep. Charlie Dent (Pennsylvania)
    Rep. Jimmy Duncan Jr. (Tennessee)
    Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Kansas)
    Rep. Sam Johnson (Texas)
    Rep. Raul Labrador (Idaho)
    Rep. Tim Murphy (Pennsylvania)
    Rep. Kristi Noem (South Dakota)
    Rep. Steve Pearce (New Mexico)
    Rep. Dave Reichert (Washington)
    Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida)
    Rep. Pat Tiberi (Ohio)
    Rep. Dave Trott (Michigan)

    Thanks to Donald Trump, Republicans are choosing flight over fight. The Democrats have a good chance to flip these seats in the midterm election next year.

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