US President Donald Trump has officially started his maiden visit to Asia. This trip to Asia is considered one of the most significant ones for President Trump as he will visit the three Northeast Asian powerhouses of Japan, South Korea and China, and then Vietnam and the Philippines in Southeast Asia. He made a stop in Hawaii, an important point in the island-chain defenses in the Pacific, before arriving in Japan.
Top on the agenda of all these visits are foreign policy issues such as the denuclearization of North Korea. In his tour, President Trump will emphasize the need for the international community to work with the US on the North Korean nuclear standoff. The US narrative will counteract against North Korea’s self-declarations at the August 2017 ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in the Philippines that they will become a responsible global nuclear power (like the much coveted “nuclear club” of nations), despite North Korea’s repeated threats to strike at the US, Japan, Guam, South Korea, and other US allies.
The crucial countries will be Japan and South Korea which are ironclad US allies in the standoff with North Korea. President Trump will also meet with his Chinese counterparts to ensure that more pressure is added on Pyongyang to step down from its nuclear and missile programs.
In Northeast Asia, President Trump will have opportunities to assure Asian audiences of US presence in the region for peace and stability. The two most powerful leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are no strangers to meeting President Trump since they were entertained and hosted by President Trump in his Mar-a-lago resort previously.
In Japan, President Trump carried out informal diplomacy like playing golf and eating hamburgers made with US beef with Prime Minister Abe. Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, attended the World Assembly of Women. In South Korea, President Trump will visit Camp Humphreys, an army base south of Seoul and address the South Korean legislature. In China, President Trump will discuss ways to de-escalate tensions in North Korea and all options are on the table. In terms of US-China relations, there are some preliminary positive signs as President Trump praised China quite recently. He also seems to have some affinity with strongman leaders like President Xi.
President Trump will then attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit (November 8-10, 2017) in Da Nang, Vietnam. The economy is the main issue on the mind of President Trump as he seeks to solidify economic cooperation with East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Some economic wheeling and dealing is likely to accompany the visits by the Trump administration to Asia.
Some of the agendas in the APEC summit include economic growth that can benefit everyone, training human resources to be ready for the digital age, emergence of small and medium sized enterprises and businesses, etc. Other factors affecting the economy, like the aging population, increasing productivity and softening commodity prices will also be tackled. APEC as a region is still growing (and growth is above the world average) despite challenges in the global economy and it is important for the US to seize this opportunity as an engine of growth.
President Trump’s visit to Asia is an untypically lengthy one; it is the longest Asia trip by a US president in more than 25 years. Some media are already calling it a “re-pivot” to Asia.
President Trump and other world leaders will attend the ASEAN (Association of the Southeast Asian Nations) summit (November 10-14, 2017) in Manila in the Philippines. As it is the 50th anniversary of the organization, President Trump’s visit will reflect the importance he placed on the ASEAN region. President Trump has extended his trip, adding an extra day in the Philippines to attend the East Asia Summit. He had come under fire for his previous plan to miss the summit and send Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his place.
Visits to Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines will highlight to Trump the importance of regional countries that are friends of the US. Pro-regionalism and pro-constructivist advocates have been trying very hard to persuade the Trump administration to become aware of the value of these US friends in Southeast Asia. ASEAN started off as an anti-communist containment vehicle and now it has become an important institution for economic regionalism, possibly one of the most important if not the most important in East Asia (the “ASEAN in the driver’s seat” concept) because of its potentiality for neutrality amongst major powers.
President Trump’s visits would continue the important precedent set by his predecessor Barack Obama to pay special attention to constructivist multilateral organizations. Past US presidents had an inconsistent record in attending such gatherings, something addressed firmly by Obama.
President Trump’s visit to the Philippines will be closely watched by the media as he and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are both known to be tough talking and strong leaders who are no strangers to controversies. They both also have electorates that are loyal supporters of their political agendas and views. Trump was an early supporter of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs in the Philippines. President Trump’s visit indicates a return to the traditionally strong bilateral relations that the two countries had enjoyed despite criticisms of Duterte’s strong-armed tactics in the war on drugs.
The US is also a supporter of the Philippines’ fight against terrorism and has provided armaments to assist the Filipinos in ending the Marawi siege against an ISIS-linked terrorist group. Duterte and his team want to acknowledge this fact. They also want to acknowledge the historical relationship that the Philippines enjoys with the US, including their joint destiny in the Pacific War during WWII.
President Trump’s visit to Asia is an untypically lengthy one; it is the longest Asia trip by a US president in more than 25 years. Some media are already calling it a “re-pivot” to Asia. Regardless of characterization, the visits will be an important one for major Asian economies and countries, as they will relish this opportunity to forge closer ties with the Trump administration.