During his marathon visit to Asia earlier this month, U.S. President Donald J. Trump at least demonstrated to Asian allies that he is not going to ignore the region. His trip was the longest by a U.S. president to Asia in over twenty-five years. In several stops on his trip, the U.S. president also had pleasant interactions with Asian leaders, clearly trying to use charm to build personal ties. He also (at least at times) offered somewhat reassuring rhetoric about his administration’s position on the most dangerous regional challenges, like North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Unfortunately, the White House did not deliver many substantial accomplishments from the president’s trip. This is not necessarily a fault of Trump’s personal diplomacy or deal-making—although in several instances, he made concessions to Asian leaders that seemed to make no sense. Rather, much of the trade, strategic, and political measures for Asia envisioned by the Trump administration simply does not mesh well with Asian nations’ desire for greater trade integration, and many Asian nations are hedging away from the United States on strategic issues, though they are looking to their own mechanisms to prevent being dominated by China. In addition, with Trump almost completely ignoring human rights throughout his visit, and in his policies toward Asia, he risks alienating large, pro-democracy segments of the population in many developing Asian nations.
For more on my assessment of Trump’s trip, see my new World Politics Review article.