The View From Asia

America matters, but Trump baffles

Asia News Network writers hope for better regional ties with the United States despite President Donald Trump's unpredictable behaviour. Here are excerpts.

Japan-US alliance vital

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The staunch Japan-US alliance is the foundation of stability and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region. By advancing close policy coordination, both countries must strive to increase their common interests.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with visiting US Vice-President Mike Pence. During the talks, Mr Abe emphasised that the Japan-US alliance is more solid than ever. Mr Pence said in response the US hopes to make the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific a reality.

It is praiseworthy that Mr Pence has reconfirmed the strong US commitment to this region, so that (President Donald) Trump's absence from these meetings will not be interpreted as Washington being dismissive of Asia.

During their meeting, Mr Abe and Mr Pence agreed that Japan and the United States will work together to offer assistance of up to US$70 billion (S$96 billion), combined, for infrastructure development projects in the Indo-Pacific region. Projects include the construction of energy-related facilities and manpower development.

Kept on their mind is China's Belt and Road Initiative, a scheme aimed at creating a huge economic zone. It has been pointed out that the scheme has led its partner countries - mainly in Asia - to fall into excessive debt, consequently destabilising the region.

Chance to settle China-US row

China Daily, China

Relations between China and the US are widely believed to be the most consequential of bilateral ties, so there has been growing concern as their interplay has become seemingly ever more intractable this year.

Thus, recent indications the two sides want to rein in their frictions have been met with huge sighs of relief.

In the latest move, Mr Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, and US National Security Adviser John Bolton met in Washington, and the two sides agreed to "strengthen communication and cooperation", and work together to ensure talks between the two countries' top leaders go well when they meet on the sidelines of this month's Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

This adds to the momentum of the rapprochement that has gained steam since the two countries' leaders had a phone conversation on Nov 1. The two sides' shared desire to manage their differences has since been demonstrated by the resumption of the second China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue.

All this has raised hopes the two sides will be able to find a way to resolve their trade dispute and put their relations on firmer footing. If progress can be made ahead of the G-20 summit, then the two leaders will be able to give good tidings for a better year ahead.

A 'surprising gift' for Asean

Kornelius Purba
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

For Asean leaders, US President Donald Trump's decision to skip their annual summit is bagaikan mendapat durian runtuh (an old saying about receiving a surprising gift). Mr Trump will not attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Port Moresby either.

Mr Trump gave no specific reason for his absence, but perhaps Singapore no longer interests him, because he was there in June for a historic bilateral summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Traditionally, the presence of a US president is perceived as instrumental for the success of an Asean gathering and the prestige of the host. But the US military hegemony and the country's economic might are lessening.

Mr Trump's unpredictable behaviour and outspokenness are sometimes disturbing and can even annoy his host and other guests. French President Emmanuel Macron had to endure such pain during the centennial commemoration of the end of World War I in Paris last week.

During the Paris event, Mr Trump criticised Mr Macron for proposing the establishment of stronger European military power to reduce dependence on the US. Mr Trump described the plan as "insulting".

By skipping the Singapore gathering, Mr Trump avoids any awkward group photo of summit leaders with the cross-body handshake that has become the trademark of Asean gatherings. Mr Trump reportedly complained about the photo session at last year's summit in Manila, where he needed two attempts to get it right.

Mr Trump is well known for his reluctance to attend multilateral meetings and prefers bilateral ones. He does not believe in multilateralism, while Asean and its dialogue partners are promoting multilateral cooperation.

Asean should be grateful for Mr Trump's decision to skip the Singapore summit.

Trump leaves us perplexed

Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation, Thailand

US President Donald Trump "and his political opponents" are seriously complicating the foreign policies of nations all over the world, let alone those of America.

How we engage with North Korea is one example.

One minute, Mr Trump has us on the edge of our seats with his crazy, wild-eyed belligerence, as his rivals back home scream "See? We told you so". But the next minute he is batting his eyelashes at Mr Kim Jong Un.

Now comes another dilemma: Should we support an idea for the European Union to have its own army?

A few EU members appear to favour the idea, but Mr Trump, offended by the French leader's remark - that an EU army would come in handy as protection against the United States - said the comment was insulting to America.

A Trump-led America is probably a scarier proposition than China - which in recent memory has not initiated wars or secretly aided regime change - or Russia, which has been busy putting its house in order. And Mr Trump will surely seek a second term, meaning the EU will possibly be stuck with him for six more years.

Analysts see the just-ended US midterm elections as a snub directed at Mr Trump. The bad news, for his opponents at least, is that presidents who suffer midterm setbacks often bounce back to claim a second term.

 • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline 'America matters, but Trump baffles'. Print Edition | Subscribe