Donald Trump’s twelve day Asian tour drew to a close last Tuesday as he boarded Air Force One and headed back to the United States. The eyes of the world watched with great attention, especially given the recent escalation of tensions with North Korea. Despite the odd ‘gaffe’ or two, the tour largely went off without major incident.
The tour came during what is a period of great uncertainty and upheaval in US-Asian relations. Since assuming office earlier this year, Trump has handled US foreign policy very differently to his predecessors. His withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has shed doubt over the future of US trade with nations such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. His interactions with China have also been mixed, often dithering between admiration and condemnation. This relationship is often considered the most important in global politics, thus his Beijing visit was bound to attract international attention.
Then comes the obvious topic of North Korea. Over the summer, tensions with Kim Jong-un have escalated to new heights as the US President adopted a much more aggressive stance. Trump’s presence on the peninsula undoubtedly brought the Korean dilemma once again back to the forefront of people’s minds.
The tour itself consisted of five countries all in the Pacific Rim – Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. All states offered a very warm welcome and Trump seemed to enjoy the positive attention. Avoiding issues of democracy and human rights in favour of trade and militaries, Trump spoke in broad terms about protecting American interests, whilst also aiming to bring reassurance that he was a reasonable and necessary ally.
Trump will undoubtedly label his trip a success, and in comparison to his wild campaigning rhetoric that would seem reasonable. However, critics would suggest that the tour actually brought into focus the contrast between American and Chinese ambition. Trump’s lavish praises of Xi Jinping were not reciprocated to anywhere near the same extent. America’s overwhelming message of self-promotion stood in stark contrast to a timely Xi Jinping speech on innovation, unity and climate change. It is widely seen that China, and Xi in particular, are seeking to extend their global presence as a leader as the USA struggles to unite behind Trump and his agenda. Then in a spat of high-profile twitter engagements, Trump used the words ‘short and fat’ in relation to Kim Jong-un, whilst simultaneously urging him to ‘be his friend’.
Despite their childish nature, these tweets do portray a wider sense of contradiction and ambiguity. Twelve days of talk have drawn to a close, yet the world remains on edge about what the future could hold for America, China, North Korea and the region as a whole.