Asia is a very important region of the world. It hosts the second and third largest economies of the world as well as five of the eight most populated countries. Two of the most serious nuclear threats, i.e. North Korea and the Chinese-Indian-Pakistani standoff, also make Asia an important destination, among many other things. Consequently, a visit from the US President to Asia should capture the attention of both Asians and Americans, but Donald Trump’s first visit to the continent largely lacks any true significance. Unfortunately, Trump’s five nation tour lacks importance, because the Trump Administration lacks a meaningful foreign policy agenda, especially toward Asia.
Donald Trump has criticized China for its predatory trade policies. He has continually agitated North Korea for its antagonistic ways and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Trump has also opposed the deeply flawed TPP free trade agreement. There is a climate change summit in Bonn, Fiji, but Trump has no interest in the subject of climate change. In other words, Trump has gone to Asia with no real agenda or objective. Accordingly, the world can only focus on how well Trump navigates diplomatic decorum as well as what controversial things he might say or do to aggravate relations with America’s rivals and allies alike. Quite frankly, Trump’s Asia trip is largely a missed opportunity, yet it could actually serve as a catalyst for political change.
When it comes to Trump’s visit to Japan, North Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam, the lack of specific policy objectives or a broader guiding agenda means there is no real upside. Because Mr. Trump’s controversial, outspoken ways create the potential for a major foreign policy gaff, there is a great deal of downside to his visit. The American People and his hosts can, therefore, only hope that any insulting remarks made on behalf of the US President will be taken with a grain of salt by the Peoples of Asia. It is important to remember that most Asians are not accustom to an unpolished US President. Unlike US voters, who found Trump’s politically incorrect ways to be refreshing, Asians are simply likely to see a disrespectful US President. As long as any Trump controversies can be spun as a cultural misunderstanding, however, his trip to Asia can be considered a success.
That said, Trump’s trip to China may well prove to be somewhat more fruitful, especially if it ends in controversy. Chinese President Xi Jinping likes to frame himself as an equal to the US President and frame China as a world leader like the United States. On substance, Trump cannot compete with the highly groomed Jinping. Not to be disrespectful to Mr. Trump, but Donald Trump is no where near as refined or scholarly as Mr. Xi Jinping. In terms of optics, Xi Jinping looks far more like the world’s powerful man when compared to Donald Trump. Even if Trump manages to behalf himself perfectly, he will look backwards as he stands beside a man like Xi Jinping, which offers the world a premonition of a International Community dominated by China with the US a junior partner.
On the one hand, pageantry is Trump’s downfall. On the other hand, his brute force honesty is his greatest strength. In contrast, Asians tend to be fairly ritual and rigid in their nature. This quality helps oppressive leaders silence dissent and maintain control over their populations. As a high-profile event featuring the Chinese President, it would be very difficult to censor Trump’s visit. Most US Presidents hold their tongues during their visits to China when it comes to sensitive topics, such as free speech, open dissent, and political prisoners. Mr. Trump could inadvertently do a great deal to force China’s leadership to confront key issues by simply talking about taboo subjects. A Trump visit to China is almost assuredly going to offend the Chinese government in some way, but a worse-case-scenario of a major diplomatic gaff could also help empower democratic forces in China.
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