How Trump deals with Asia
The 12-day Asian tour of President Donald Trump has been an example of transactional approach within the paradigm of international relations. We saw a similar direction during his initial tour that took him to Saudi Arabia and later to different countries in Europe and also to Israel.
This trend was also evident during his meetings in Washington and New York with heads of government from different countries who came to call on him after his victory in the presidential election. In a manner of speaking, it has been “America first” all the way.
Through this procedure he has underlined that if any country desires a higher degree of US partnership, then they need to find out ways as to how they can purchase more US products and through such measure reduce existing balance of trade advantage that they might possess vis-a-vis the US. This may also be interpreted as a functional step aimed at enhancing employment opportunities in the US.
This Asian journey came amidst a growing vulnerability of the Trump administration within the domestic front. This evolving political scenario back home gave Trump’s trip a sensitive dimension.
Analysts have observed that during his visit to Japan, Republic of Korea, and Vietnam, President Trump has tried to reassure these countries that the US, according to Edward Luce, “will remain a steadfast Asia-Pacific power in the context of an increasingly ebullient China.”
This has, however, been slightly awkward given the fact that the US, after Trump assumed his office, pulled out from the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional trade deal.
Trump through his trip to Japan and South Korea has directly underlined the reinforcing of America’s alliances with these two countries
The other focal point has been a sustained effort by the US to convince China to dismantle North Korea’s “metastasising nuclear weapons program.” This has gained urgency because intelligence agencies have determined that Pyongyang might have the capacity to strike the US mainland within 18 months.
Accordingly, as a pre-emptive gesture, he reminded the North Korean dictator at Yokota Air Base — “we will never yield, never waver and never falter in defense of our people, our freedom and our great American flag.” Fortunately such inflammatory language was replaced during the course of the visit with greater restraint.
In Japan, Trump retained a hardline approach on the North Korean issue and expressed the need to further cement the Japan-US alliance, based on trust. He also expressed hope that Putin would help contain North Korea and solve that emerging “big problem.”
In Seoul, the North Korean issue persisted. Trump had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “appeasement” overtures towards North Korea, but this time he had a more toned-down approach.
This was reflected in comments made by Lt General R McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. In remarks given to Yomiuri Shimbun, he emphasised that Trump now feels the need to “consult with leaders across the region to understand better what more can be done to resolve this crisis short of war — which obviously everyone needs to avoid.”
Gideon Rachman in this regard has observed that Chinese President Xi has also tried to usher in some degree of compromise. He has urged the restarting of the diplomatic process where North Korea would stop its development of nuclear weapons and in return the US would freeze military exercises that alarms Pyongyang.
This effort to reduce tension ended with Trump, urging North Korea on November 7 to “come to the table” and discuss giving up its nuclear weapons — which, as he put it was “the right thing, not only for North Korea but for humanity all over the world.”
Trump through his trip to Japan and South Korea has directly underlined the reinforcing of America’s alliances with these two countries — partnerships that he had previously discounted and belittled during his election campaign. This time round, there was a conscious effort to underline, before arriving in Beijing, that both these countries were clearly on the side of the US and its geo-strategic parameter regarding security and trade
Beyond foreign policy, Trump’s Asia tour, as expected, placed special emphasis on promoting the prospect of trade potential for US industries. A large group of US corporate leaders accompanied US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to China. Here they sought and subsequently struck deals related to the concept of open markets and addressing abuses in bilateral trade.
Trump was astute in his approach. Instead of just criticism, he offered praise — not condemnation — of China’s trade practices, a remarkable stance for a US president on his first official visit to Beijing. “I don’t blame China,” Trump said. “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for benefit if their citizens? I give China great credit.”
China, after consultation, agreed to open parts of the Chinese market that are closed to outsiders. It has also been indicated by the Chinese foreign ministry that China will further lower entry barriers in the banking, insurance, and finance sectors, and gradually reduce vehicle tariffs. It was also indicated before Trump’s departure from Beijing that deals worth $250 billion had been agreed between the two countries.
This also included an agreement whereby state-run China Aviation Supplies will purchase 300 planes from Boeing at a cost of $37 billion. This was a set-back for its European rival Airbus which has also been jostling for market share in China. This has been seen as a step forward because of existing difficulties that are still being faced in China by US companies like Facebook Inc., Google, Ford Motor Company and General Motors.
Analysts are considering these bilateral agreements between the two countries as a positive step forward. This is also being interpreted as greater reciprocity in market access and competition. The US is now looking forward to greater access within the Chinese financial services market.
In this context, US entrepreneurs are looking forward to openings in credit research services and, possibly, credit-card marketing.
One needs to conclude by pointing out that despite many existing challenges, the business-man in Trump, once again, was more or less consistent. His transactional approach remained the flavour of his trip. In its own way, it will generate employment in the US.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]