President Donald Trump will travel to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor on
Friday before kicking off the longest presidential trip to Asia
since George H.W. Bush vomited and fainted at a dinner with
Japan’s prime minister in 1992.
Trump leaves behind a wake of indictments and criminal charges
against his campaign officials and advisers, as part of Special
Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016
election meddling, and a fight in Congress over his proposed tax
In Asia, Trump will address security and trade concerns in Japan,
South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Between the US, South Korea, and Japan, the North Korean missile
threat looms large and Trump is expected to reaffirm the US’s
commitment to the countries’ alliance, though he has in the past
questioned if the Asian allies pay their fair shares.
With China, the emerging world power that Trump accused of
currency manipulation and “killing us” with a trade deficit, the
US appears to actually have made progress. China now cooperates
with the US on containing and limiting trade with North Korea
like never before.
China apparently dropped its opposition to the deployment of
THAAD missile defense batteries to South Korea and normalized
relations in a “reversal of an ineffective and costly
policy on the part of China,” Shi Yinhong, professor of
international relations at Renmin University of China, told the New York
Additionally, China’s concessions come at a time where
Trump has the US Navy routinely challenging Beijing’s excessive
maritime claims in the South China Sea, something that routinely
Importantly, Trump’s visit to China comes as its president,
Xi Jinping, consolidates power to a level never seen since
Chairman Mao’s decades-long rule. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe just won an election and reaffirmed his mandate to rule the
island nation as assertively as has been done since World War
In the Philippines, Trump will meet the popular populist
Rodrigo Duterte, who looks to wrap up a violent drug war that’s
killed thousand and crush an Islamist insurgency in
Duterte has at times been hostile towards the US, and the
Philippines, a US ally, can be seen as a bell-weather in the
shifting power dynamic in Asia. In March of this year, Duterte
lamented that despite US support, he couldn’t do anything to stop
China from building islands and militarizing the seas just
outside of the Philippines.
“What do you want me to do? Declare war against China? I
can’t. We will lose all our military and policemen tomorrow and
we (will be) a destroyed nation,” Duterte said at the time. Trump
may potentially try to reassure Duterte, whose country holds
massive US military bases in the Pacific.
Art of the deal?
On trade, Trump’s accompanying business envoy will include
mainly energy firms instead of tech or financial companies —
possibly playing to a US strength, and possibly covering up a
tech industry that’s unenthusiastic about the current
Tech companies face an uphill battle in China, where the US
maintains that the government favors domestic firms and can force
foreign tech firms to give up intellectual property only to find
those trade secrets leaked to Chinese firms. On the finance side,
some companies allege off the record that Beijing informs
domestic banks of important banking decisions before foreign
Trump’s rocky relationship with US industry leaders may
also contribute to the makeup of his business envoy, with an
unnamed member of the
business community telling Reuters, “very few want to stick
their heads up and be perceived as complaining directly,” about
China’s treatment of foreign companies, “and even fewer trust
this White House to do anything helpful on their issues.”
But the US remains competitive in energy prices and Trump’s
chief diplomat and former head of energy giant Exxon, Rex
Tillerson, will accompany him on the trip.
Penning a deal to sell off some of the US’s glut of natural
gas to Asian partners could be a possible trade victory for
Trump in Asia.
But with Trump a full 12 hours ahead of the US in China,
and similarly removed from the US time zone, expect quieter days
where Trump news comes after events take place, instead
of as a live show.