Trump hails 'tremendously successful' Asia trip; analysts not so sure

MANILA — President Trump headed home Tuesday after concluding what he called a "tremendously successful" 12-day trip to Asia, but some analysts questioned whether the tour was a public relations show with few concrete achievements. 

"I think the fruits of our labor are going to be incredible, whether it’s security of our nations, whether it’s security of the world or whether it’s trade,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as the presidential plane departed Manila on its way to Hawaii and then Washington.

Trump said hundreds of billions in new deals had been reached and he spoke about the "many good friends" he made, but he offered no details on efforts to curtail North Korea's nuclear weapons development, a major focus of the trip.

Trump promised a "major statement" on the trip later this week at the White House. 
 
Richard Javad Heydarian, a Manila-based political expert, saw little in the way of tangible accomplishments.

 

He noted that the 11 remaining countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact that Trump withdrew the U.S. from, announced Saturday that they would push ahead with their own version of the deal.

Trump "essentially got nothing out of China. South Koreans are still extremely perturbed by Trump’s unpredictable statements. The TPP countries going forward with their own free trade deal was a very clear repudiation of the Trump’s 'fair trade' rhetoric," said Heydarian, author of The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt.

Heydarian said Trump’s "convivial hobnob" with controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was the most successful leg of the journey.
 
Trump extended his trip by one day to attend an economic summit here in the Philippine capital Tuesday. However, he left the East Asia Summit early because of delays in the schedule of the meetings. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended in his place. 

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In remarks to reporters before leaving Manila, Trump reiterated several of the points he has stressed throughout his trip to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, such as putting America first on trade issues.
 
"We've explained that the United States is open for trade, but reciprocal trade. We want fair trade,” he said, adding the U.S. has been taken advantage of by its trading partners. 

Trump said $300 billion in deals were inked during the trip. He predicted that this figure would soon triple. He did not provide details of whether these were previously negotiated agreements.

Trump campaigned for office on a promise to tear up multilateral trade agreements that he said have harmed the United States. 
 
Trump also underlined his positive rapport with Duterte, a leader who has waged a bloody drug war that has left thousands dead.
 
"It is very important that we get along with the Philippines and we do," he said, calling the archipelago in the South China Sea a "strategic location."
 
On Monday, Trump touted his “great relationship” with Duterte, who had a strained relationship with Trump’s predecessor, President Obama. Duterte called Obama a "son of a whore" for criticizing the Philippine president's human rights record.

After both sides were accused of failing to adequately discuss human rights issues this week, Duterte and Trump issued a joint statement late Monday saying their meeting "underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential."

The statement also said Duterte and Trump discussed the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. More than 500,000 Muslim-minority Rohingya have fled the country because of an army-led campaign of violence the United Nations described as "ethnic cleansing."
 
Reactions to Trump’s visit to the region were mixed.   

He largely avoided going off-script with verbal gaffes or antagonistic remarks with one notable exception: In a tweet, Trump bristled at being called "old" by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "I would NEVER call him short and fat," Trump countered. 

The president also raised an outcry in the U.S. by saying that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of meddling by Moscow in the 2016 election.
  
Still, Curtis Chin, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and Asia Fellow at the Santa Monica-based think tank Milken Institute, saw the trip as a successful engagement that underscored a new U.S. commitment to Asia.
 
“Amidst uncertainty over how a non-diplomat, non-politician president might perform on the diplomatic stage, Trump more than exceeded expectations,” he said. "The president made clear that there can be no separating economic and defense issues. This remains true even as the one-time ‘pivot to Asia’ gives way to a U.S. business pivot to Asia.”
 
Others, however, felt that the Trump administration’s “America First” trade agenda left a leadership void that regional leaders are filling.
 
“Historians will date this trip as a key moment in the decline of U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region, when Asian leaders stepped up and took the reins,” said Annelise Riles, director of Cornell Law School’s Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture.

"In both China and Japan, it was Asian leaders, not Trump, who set the agenda. Despite all the red carpet, Trump’s own agenda was largely ignored," she said. 

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