On November 3, 2017, US President Donald J. Trump embarked on his first official trip to Asia. This was his longest foreign trip as president. It was arguably his most important one.
First, President Trump, accompanied by the First Lady, stopped in Hawaii. This was the natural launching point for the Asia tour. It signaled that the US is a nation with links to the Pacific that it plans to keep.
The rest of his schedule was: Japan on November 5, South Korea on November 7, China on the 8th, Vietnam on the 10th and the Philippines on November 12. On all of his stops he met heads-of-state and other dignitaries and engaged in negotiations on critical policy issues.
Foremost on the president’s agenda was dealing with the North Korea threat and fixing the US trade deficit (bigger in Asia than elsewhere). President Trump also sought to reaffirm US commitments to Asia-Pacific countries, promote America’s defense ties with the nations in the region, establish rapport with important regional organizations in Southeast Asia, and more.
The American mainstream or liberal media, almost in unison, put a negative spin on President Trump’s trip. They pooh-poohed any notion of it being a success or that Trump made a good impression on Asian leaders and the peoples of the Asian countries he visited, or even that he advanced US national interests.
The Washington Post portrayed President Trump’s Asia sojourn as “successful only in his mind and full of gaffes even though it was highly choreographed.” It reported Trump made no mention of democracy or human rights and that he outraged Americans with his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also, Trump, said the official “paper of record,” ignored questions about the depletion of personnel in the Department of State and its diminished role during the trip.
The New York Times carried stories about China’s return to a tough authoritarian system that was the prelude cum setting to President Trump’s visit. An article penned by Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor, read that the trip “left the United States more isolated and in retreat, handing leadership of the newly christened ‘Indo-Pacific’ to China on a silver platter.”
USA Today reported that President Trump likes Asia because he idolizes the authoritarian strongmen there and that he is a wannabe despot. Further, the paper opined that Trump is “the kind of demagogue that the founding fathers warned of” and that “American democracy is now under threat.”
CNN declared that President Trump failed to fix US trade problems with Asian countries, as witnessed by 11 nations that were part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — that Trump had withdrawn the US from — that were meeting to renew the agreement without the United States. Further, Trump went back on several campaign promises about reversing the trade deficit with China.
CNBC declared that Trump had “begged for war” with North Korea during his trip to Asia, characterizing him a warmonger.
NBC News explained the reason for the trip was President Trump wanting to avoid or dodge nettlesome questions that he faced at home.
The Associated Press replayed Democratic Party Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer’s comment that Trump’s trip was a “colossal failure” and a “big embarrassment” to the United States.
Time magazine’s cover story was about Trump’s trip being a big, smart and sensational victory for China. The cover of the magazine displayed prominently the words “China won” in English and in Chinese. Time also carried details of Trump’s “awkward handshakes” with Asian leaders and his deliberately eschewing any talks about human rights.
The Economist magazine, a British publication with more readers in the US than the UK and conservative but fervently anti-Trump, reported that President Trump’s trip provided clear evidence America’s global influence has dwindled.
The Asian media’s account of President Trump’s trip stood in stark contrast to the US mainstream media’s reporting. It was largely positive and laudatory of the US president.
In Japan, The Japan Times, the country’s main English newspaper, referred to the visit as “tremendously successful.” Other Japanese media sources reported smooth talks on trade, President Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders’ great relationships, and Japan heartily supporting President Trump’s stance toward North Korea.
Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest Japanese-language newspapers, applauded President Trump’s appreciation of Japan’s importance as an US ally and his rapport with the US and Japanese militaries.
The Japanese press also described at length and in positive terms President Trump’s talks with Japanese families whose members had been kidnapped by North Korean agents and Trump meeting with Japan’s Emperor.
While in South Korea, the country’s largest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, lauded President Trump’s tough position toward North Korea, mentioning specifically his “moral case” against Kim Jong-Un. Another leading paper, Joongang Ilbo, called Trump’s speech to the National Assembly “eloquent” — noting there were 22 rounds of applause and two standing ovations during the speech.
The South Korean media cited “flexibility” on President Trump’s part toward reaching a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile tests and its war threats. News outlets praised Trump’s “Reaganesque efforts” to secure peace through strength.
South Korean reporters also wrote about President Moon Jae-in working with President Trump to bolster the nation’s self-defense capabilities, mentioning specifically South Korea’s plans to acquire the most advanced US surveillance equipment and possibly a US nuclear-powered submarine.
During his visit to China, China Daily described President Trump as “fully capable of anchoring US-China relations.” The paper also cited the “precious progress” made in Sino-US business. Other papers used the words “terrific” and “tremendous” to depict President Trump’s diplomatic performance.
Global Times, the main English-language paper that carries important news about foreign relations and which has sometimes been critical of President Trump, called his visit “successful and historic.” One reporter for the Times wrote that President Xi Jinping and President Trump had “reached a consensus on advancing bilateral ties to the next phase.”
Global Times also reported progress on the issues President Trump said were his foremost goals on his trip. Citing a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, it wrote that there was agreement on the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, and that China and the US would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power.
The liberal mainstream media in the United States spun their stories in a negative fashion on virtually everything related to President Trump.
The paper’s reporters also penned articles on resolving the trade imbalance, citing “furthering mutual beneficial cooperation” and “constructing a bigger cake.” They cited the USD 253.5 billion in Chinese pledges to buy American products as “building a wide foundation.”
Global Times even quoted top Chinese officials saying China was not planning to take advantage of the Trump administration as the US media had suggested, as China would not forcefully influence the international division of labor.
Netizens in China showed an unprecedented interest in President Trump and the First Lady; millions made laudatory comments about them. Many referred to President Trump as a “hero” and as a “savior.” Millions more wrote about President Trump and the First Lady being given a state dinner in the Forbidden City, noting it was a first for an American president and the first for a foreign head-of-state since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
While visiting Vietnam, Radio Voice of Vietnam reported Donald Trump was the first US president ever to visit Vietnam during his initial year in office. The radio station also praised President Trump’s decision to attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Economic Leaders’ Meeting there, saying it demonstrated his commitment to strengthening US relations with Vietnam and the region.
Vietnam’s media also reported that its government was committed to the “Maximum Pressure Campaign” to denuclearize North Korea; that Vietnam and the US had concluded a Three Year Plan of Action for Defense Cooperation to increase joint naval activities; that the US transferred a Coast Guard cutter to the Vietnamese Navy; that a US aircraft carrier would visit Vietnam in 2018; that the two countries had reaffirmed their commitments to freedom of navigation, overflight and commerce in the South China Sea; and that commercial agreements had been reached that included USD 10 billion in US content. President Trump and Vietnamese leaders also spoke of the importance of promoting human rights.
Vietnam’s media, of course, played up the importance of President Trump’s visit and the glamor of state dinners and other social events that the American president attended.
In the Philippines, the media gave President Trump a hearty welcome. The Philippine Star, a paper of record there, mentioned that the two countries’ presidents held mutually supportive talks on ridding ISIS-inspired terrorists from the Philippines, the strategic importance of the Philippines to the US, and future US-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) maritime exercises. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte backed President Trump’s call for a unified tough stance to deal with North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile threats.
Philippine newspapers reported extensively on President Trump’s participation in the 50th anniversary of ASEAN and the 40th ASEAN-US Commemorative Summit while underscoring the “grace” of President Trump’s presence. They also expressed appreciation for Trump extending his visit to the Philippines by one day.
The Vietnamese and the Philippine press both cited the importance of the Trump administration increasing US defense spending that would include expanding the American naval presence in the area to preserve US influence and prevent any outside power from gaining military dominance.
How does one explain the utter disconnect between the US mainstream media’s reporting on the Trump visit and that provided by the local Asian media?
The US media is by culture, ideology, and its preference for political parties and their candidates liberal to very liberal. They championed Hillary Clinton for president by a large margin, gave donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and supported her by an unprecedented 90-some percent. In 2016 they, with great enthusiasm, wanted and expected her to win and become the next US president.
They reviled Donald Trump. They were shocked by his victory and didn’t accept it. They were subsequently obsessed with seeing him fail or removed from office by hook or by crook. They were literally overcome with hate. They suffered from what many have called “Trump derangement syndrome.”
Their reporting was also affected. The liberal mainstream media in the United States spun their stories in a negative fashion on virtually everything related to President Trump. They wanted to discredit him and his administration. This became a mission of their profession.
The US liberal media view Asia and Asians as traditional cum conservative. Indeed, this fits. Also, conservatives in the US, whom the mainstream media dislike intensely, have long had an affinity with Asia, whereas liberals have had a liking and an attraction for Europe. Worsening this situation is the fact that Asia is becoming the center of gravity of global economic growth and progress while Europe is heading toward irrelevance due to its economic sclerosis furthered by demographic and political trends.
Many in the US media, in their positions on various issues, reveal that they deride the people and the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Liberal Hollywood either portray Asians in movies and on television with negative stereotypes or shun them. (Asians do not appear in US movies or on television very often, in contrast to other minorities.) Liberals support racial policies which select Asians out of admission to America’s best colleges and universities. They favor immigrants from other areas of the world.
The US liberal media’s ill feelings toward China are especially pronounced. China is the dominant country in Asia and its phenomenal rise in economic, political, and military power enable it to challenge the Western-built liberal world order. The US mainstream media dreads the prospect of China realizing its dream of establishing its world order.
The China challenge cum threat was even more poignant in the wake of the just finished Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress. At that meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping promoted China’s role in building a new world order, one that would replace the old and out-of-date Western liberal world order.
Whose interpretation of President Trump’s visit to Asia is right — the US liberal media’s or that of the Asian countries the president visited?
The fact the US media is not in good standing with the population of the United States as reflected in various opinion polls (that rate them very low and declining) is telling. It suggests the public views them as biased and closed minded. So does the fact that liberal newspapers and television stations in the US are fast losing readers and viewers.
This is not the case in Asia. It is also noteworthy, even astounding, that the five Asian countries President Trump visited are profoundly dissimilar in terms of history, culture, language, politics, and policies, yet in contrast to the US mainstream media, all of them judged Trump’s visit as successful and productive.
Another takeaway is that in the US, the Asian media was quoted less, and thus different perspectives on President Trump’s trip were less available. This was also noticeable in Internet searches and social media. The consequence of all of this was that US news on the trip was less diverse and informative.
Finally, the conclusion is inescapable that the media in most Asian countries have become more objective and more professional. The opposite has happened in the US.