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Trump in Asia
November 15, 2017

President Trump spent Wednesday morning tweeting about "our successful trip to Asia," although many regional experts were not so quick to share his characterization. "The principal takeaway from Trump's big Asia trip: virtually zero progress on any issue that matters to the Americans," wrote the president of the Eurasia Group consultancy, Ian Bremmer. "Ultimately, that's the biggest win for China."

Trump is expected to further highlight his accomplishments this week in a speech, although Politico points out that ultimately no new measures were forged regarding North Korea and almost a dozen Asian countries collectively pressed forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the U.S. And although Trump announced billions in new business deals, "most of those agreements were older, already agreed-upon, or only promises," The Associated Press writes.

Additionally, Trump broke with his predecessors by avoiding confrontation with leaders on human rights records. "Trump's critics fear the president has been blinded by the constant flattery," Politico writes. "And they are aghast that the president didn't strike a stronger tone with China."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added that Trump "seemed far more interested in pomp and circumstance — red carpets, fancy meals, and the flattery of foreign leaders — than advancing American interests in a region that is increasingly looking to China for leadership." Jeva Lange

November 13, 2017

On Monday, President Trump said he and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "had a great relationship," before the two men held their first bilateral meeting on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila. Neither Trump nor Duterte answered questions, and Trump laughed as Duterte half-jokingly called reporters "spies" and Philippine security personnel "jostled some of them roughly" before ushering them out of the room, The New York Times reports. The two leaders did not discuss human rights much or at all, depending on who you asked.

After their 40-minute meeting, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "the conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs, and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs." Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said "the issue of human rights did not arise; it was not brought up." Duterte had discussed his country's "drug menace," Roque said, and Trump "appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter and was merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we faced on drugs." Duterte had faced international criticism for encouraging the extrajudicial killings of at least 6,000 drug users and dealers.

Also attending the meeting was Jose E.B. Antonio, a Duterte trade envoy and and real estate developer who is also Trump's partner on a $150 million luxury tower in Manila. The meeting highlighted Trump's much warmer relationship with Duterte than Duterte had with his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Still, Roque said that Duterte's main focus is improving relationships with other Asian nations, especially China. Duterte had politely rebuffed Trump's offer to mediate the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea, explaining, "Today, China is the No. 1 economic powerhouse, and we have to be friends." Peter Weber

November 10, 2017

On Thursday, President Trump told Chinese business leaders that he doesn't blame China for its "very one-sided and unfair" trade relationship with the U.S. "Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?" he added. "I give China great credit." Hours after arriving in Vietnam from Beijing on Friday, Trump told business leaders at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang that he is "not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first," adding, "From this day forward we will compete on a fair and equal basis."

Trump said that in Japan, South Korea, and China, he has had the pleasure of sharing the "good news from America," arguing that "the whole world is lifted by America's renewal." Trump will spend two days in Vietnam, where 58 percent of the population says it is confident in his ability to guide world affairs, according to a Pew poll. The Vietnamese are wary of China, their expansionist neighbor to the north, and especially disappointed at Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Peter Weber

November 9, 2017

Either Asian leaders really like President Trump or they've learned that he likes and isn't embarrassed by immoderate amounts of flattery. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rolled out an elaborate welcome ceremony at Akasaka Palace, partnered him with a golf champion for a round at Japan's top course, gave him a MAGA-inspired hat, and suggested that Trump was his "favorite guy." South Korea introduced Trump as "leader of the world," welcomed him to the presidential residence with joyously shouting children and colorfully costumed guards, and President Moon Jae-in told Trump that he was "already making great progress on making America great again."

"They are not ignorant that this is a president who is particularly responsive to flattery," Lindsey Ford of Washington's Asia Society Policy Institute told The Associated Press, adding that China would "absolutely go over the top" trying to stroke Trump's ego.

That started at the airport, where Trump was met by Chinese and American dignitaries, a phalanx of soldiers at attention, and flag-waving children yelling "welcome!" "Heads of state are usually given a low-key reception at the airport," AP notes, "with the real pomp and circumstance reserved for arrivals at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing." Trump got that, too, plus a private tour of the Forbidden City by President Xi Jinping, an outdoor opera, and gleeful children shouting: "Welcome to China! I love you!"

Trump was clearly impressed with the pomp, but he was also "a cooperative partner for Beijing's sweeping efforts to control the message of his heavily choreographed visit to China," AP reports. Trump and Xi took no questions Thursday at an event billed as a news briefing, at China's insistence, and Chinese censors excised or blocked comments about Trump from China's irreverent social media forums. Peter Weber

November 3, 2017

On Friday, President Trump leaves Washington for a 12-day journey to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, with a brief stop first in Hawaii. He is scheduled to return to the U.S. on Nov. 14. Trump's goals, according to his advisers, are to show a hard line on North Korea's nuclear threat and what he views as Asia's unfair trade practices with the U.S., and signal his commitment to open Asian seas in the face of Chinese maritime aggression.

This will be the longest trip a U.S. president has taken to Asia since George H.W. Bush visited in late 1991 and early 1992, a visit mostly remembered for Bush getting sick and throwing up on Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa at a Japanese state dinner, Reuters notes. When Trump arrives in Japan on Sunday, he will join Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a round of golf, The Japan Times reports, then in the evening, go out to a dinner including "beefsteak, a favorite of the U.S. leader, at a high-end Tokyo restaurant" chosen by Abe himself. Presumably, well-done Wagyu beef with ketchup will sit better with Trump's digestive system than whatever Bush ate. Peter Weber

October 25, 2017

President Trump will spend 12 days in Asia in November, traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Vietnam, and ending his visit Nov. 13 in Manila to meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a National Security Council spokesman tells Josh Rogin at The Washington Post. But Trump is not traveling the 52 miles from Manila to Angeles to attend an East Asia Summit on Nov. 14 with the leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations plus Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, and South Korea.

"The president's trip to Asia is extremely lengthy and will be his longest to date — his return to the U.S. on the evening of Nov. 13 is entirely schedule-driven," the NSC spokesman said. "You should not read anything into his being absent on the 14th." But Asian leaders will read a lot into it, Rogin says, viewing it as a lack of interest in the region, multilateral organizations, and using U.S. power to check China's expansive foreign policy. Former President Barack Obama had the U.S. join the East Asia Summit starting in 2009, and he attended every year from 2011 on except during the government shutdown of 2013.

"Multiple administration officials told me there was a lengthy debate inside the Trump administration about the summit," Rogin reports, "but officials close to Trump were concerned the president did not want to stay in the region for so long and worried he could get cranky, leading to unpredictable or undiplomatic behavior." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may attend in Trump's stead. "Tillerson can sit in the president's seat, but the symbolism of that will be the headline of the day," says Southeast Asia expert Ernest Bower at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Peter Weber

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