The View From Asia

Asia to-do list for Trump

US President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One at Andrews Air ForceBase in Maryland, before departing for Greenville, South Carolina.
US President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One at Andrews Air ForceBase in Maryland, before departing for Greenville, South Carolina.PHOTO: AFP

Asia News Network commentators hold out hopes for US President's upcoming trip.

Areas of concern


The Korea Herald, South Korea

For Asia and the rest of the world, what the US President does and says on overseas summit trips counts. Such will be the same with Mr Donald Trump's first swing through Asia as President, scheduled for early next month.

Mr Trump and his aides have not yet outlined anything like Mr Barack Obama's "Pivot to Asia" vision, but his engagements with Asian leaders will certainly set the direction for US policy on the region which will last at least three more years.

So many will closely follow his (what-is-expected-to-be-furious) engagements with the leaders of South Korea, China, Japan and those in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and Asean.

For South Korea, Mr Trump's visit on Nov 7-8 will set up his third one-on-one summit with President Moon Jae In since they each took office earlier this year. The two also held two rounds of tripartite talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which focused on their joint stance on North Korea.

US officials made it clear that North Korea's nuclear and missile belligerence will be high on the list of topics Mr Trump will discuss with Mr Moon and other leaders in the region.

Mr Trump's itinerary is dotted with visits to US military bases in the region - Hawaii, Japan and South Korea - which will be the first to respond to contingencies in the region, including on the Korean peninsula.

Mr Trump's plan to meet with the families of Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime also indicates that he will try to highlight the dark aspects of the rogue regime that now threatens regional and global security with nuclear arsenals and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The US President is expected to highlight his position on the North Korea crisis - for which he often sent out confusing, mixed signals - in an address to the National Assembly in Seoul.

Given what we have heard from the President and his aides like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump is most likely to focus on pressuring North Korea with international sanctions.

One lingering concern is that such a hard-line stance of the Trump administration could conflict with President Moon's position, as despite all the rhetoric for pursuing both sanctions and dialogue, he prefers engagement with the North, as did his liberal predecessors Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun.

Another possible area of concern over Mr Trump's discussion with Mr Moon is the fate of the five-year-old free trade agreement between the two countries.

The White House statement announcing Mr Trump's Asian tour did not hide what's on the minds of the US President and trade officials. The White House spokesman said Mr Trump will present the US' vision for a "free and open" Indo-Pacific region and underscore the vital role the region plays in advancing "America's economic prosperity". The statement also said Mr Trump will emphasise the importance of "fair and reciprocal" economic ties with America's trade partners.

That means with South Korean and US officials already in discussions to revise the Korea-US FTA, Mr Moon may have a hard time defending the offensive of a man whose motto is "America First".

Three-way cooperation


The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

To deter North Korea from taking any reckless action, it is necessary for the three countries of Japan, the United States and South Korea to cooperate closely on both the military and diplomatic planes.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera held talks with US Secretary of Defence James Mattis and South Korean Defence Minister Song Young Moo in the Philippines. They issued a joint statement of the three countries, advocating the promotion of information sharing and joint military drills to deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile threat.

It is highly significant that the three countries have advocated their trilateral cooperation.

Last month, North Korea pushed ahead with its sixth nuclear test. North Korea has seemingly increased the range of its ballistic missiles steadily, while enhancing its capability to arm them with nuclear and other weapons. Vigilance is needed against an unforeseen event.

Next month, US President Donald Trump will visit Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines for the first time since he took office. The Japanese government should widely coordinate the Asian policies of Japan and the United States, including those related to North Korea. It is vital for both countries to divide their roles appropriately and pursue regional stability.

China's complexity

Zhao Huanxin

China Daily, China

The itinerary for US President Donald Trump's visit to China next month may already be ironed out, but Professor David Lampton, a senior China expert in the United States, would like it to go beyond focusing on policy issues.

For the President and any other political leader in the US or other countries who do not have much knowledge of China, it is important to get to know the whole picture of the country, said Prof Lampton, who has travelled numerous times to China since the 1970s and is director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

"This should be an opportunity to expose him to the complexity and diversity of China," he said.

The White House said Mr Trump will arrive in Beijing on Nov 8 "for a series of bilateral, commercial and cultural events", including meetings with President Xi Jinping.

It did not say if Mr Trump, a former New York businessman, will be travelling outside Beijing to get to know more about China and its people, or if he would, like his predecessor Barack Obama did in 2009, have a townhall meeting at a campus.

Early last month, the US Department of State said the US First Lady, Mrs Melania Trump, will travel with Mr Trump.

"I know the Chinese like to invite people and show them good things, modern things, all this kind of things," said Prof Lampton.

He said this is all to the good, but they should show Mr Trump the diversity of China, "show what it is to govern China, how big it is, how most provinces in China are bigger than European countries, and how heterogeneous it is".

If US leaders make policy assuming all of China is like Pudong then of course they're going to treat the country as a very powerful country with no problems, he said.

US leaders need to understand that, like themselves, Chinese leaders have a lot of things on their minds, Prof Lampton said. The country has its own problems to solve, and "Chinese leaders aren't spending all their time thinking about how to make life more difficult for Americans".

"They're trying to think how to improve life for Chinese people," he said. "So I would say a very important objective of the visit should be to give Trump a balanced understanding of what China is, not only what China is today, but what China wants to become."

Leaders who cuss

Alito Malinao

Philippine Daily Inquirer,

The Philippines

When US President Donald Trump visits Manila next month, it would be interesting to compare these two leaders who have a few things in common. Both are known to speak their mind and even to become ballistic when their views are contradicted by others. Both are also prone to use cuss words to emphasise their points.

Mr Rodrigo Duterte is now known internationally for publicly calling then president Barack Obama the equivalent of a "son of a whore" for claiming that Mr Duterte's war on drugs has resulted in human rights violations in the Philippines. Later, when Mr Obama snubbed him at the summit with Asean leaders in Vientiane in September last year, he said the American president could "go to hell".

Mr Trump has his own list of verbal slurs.

On Sept 23, at a rally in Alabama, he was cheered widely by some 10,000 people when he attacked North Korea, Mrs Hillary Clinton, and the National Football League (NFL). He received his biggest applause when he assailed any "son of a b****" of the NFL who refused to stand while the American national anthem was being sung.

In that rally, Mr Trump talked for about an hour and a half. When Mr Duterte speaks before an audience, especially his hometown crowd of Davaoenos, he rambles on and cannot seem to end his speech.

Both leaders regularly lash out at the media.

But there is one area in which the two leaders starkly differ: their popularity and performance ratings.

Despite, or because of, his bloody war on drugs, Mr Duterte continues to enjoy high approval ratings among Filipinos. In the latest Pulse Asia survey, he recorded a high trust rating of 81 per cent.

In contrast, Mr Trump has the lowest approval rating among recent US presidents. After his 100th day in office, a Gallup poll showed that just 40 per cent of Americans approved of the way he was handling his job, against 55 per cent who disapproved.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Asia to-do list for Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe