The Trump report

Mr Trump leaving Hanoi on Sunday, and heading to Manila for the next leg of his trip. One expert says Mr Trump's performance was weakest at the Apec summit in Danang.
Mr Trump leaving Hanoi on Sunday, and heading to Manila for the next leg of his trip. One expert says Mr Trump's performance was weakest at the Apec summit in Danang.PHOTOS: AGENCY FRANCE-PRESSE
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last week. Mr Trump's visit had strengthened US alliances in North-east Asia, says one analyst.
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last week. Mr Trump's visit had strengthened US alliances in North-east Asia, says one analyst.

Asian leaders rolled out the red carpet for the US President on his first trip to Asia. The Straits Times looks at how he fared during his 12-day, five-nation tour.

United States President Donald Trump's first Asia trip gets a passing grade, but he was outshone by Chinese President Xi Jinping, US-based Asia analysts said.

Mr Trump exceeded expectations but "only because those expectations were so low", said Ms Shannon Hayden, associate director of the South-east Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

She told The Straits Times: "In his mind, he probably thinks the trip went very well - much pomp and pageantry, lots of attention on him, and opportunities to present his messages strongly."

However, she added: "He should not mistake the flattery of his Asian hosts with acquiescence, deference or even respect."

The decision of the 11 remaining signatories of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to pursue a new version of the trade pact without the US was a harbinger of an era of regional free trade architecture without the US, analysts said. The US pulled out of the TPP in January.

"Other countries are moving on and sending a message that the US will not derail the efforts that they believe are in their interest," Ms Hayden said.

McLarty Associates managing director James Keith - a former US ambassador to Malaysia who also served in China - said Mr Trump had strengthened US' alliances in North-east Asia with this visit.

SUPERFICIAL SUCCESS

In his mind, he probably thinks the trip went very well... He should not mistake the flattery of his Asian hosts with acquiescence, deference or even respect.

MS SHANNON HAYDEN, associate director of the South-east Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

But he added that Mr Trump looked to have ceded leadership on the economic front, offering little to succeed the TPP or to rival "the Chinese exercise of soft power through financing and construction of infrastructure in the region".

Ms Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, said Mr Trump mostly stuck to the script, and the messages in South Korea were particularly well received.

She added that Mr Trump's performance was "weakest" at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Danang, Vietnam. "Trump doesn't have a credible economic policy. Countries in the TPP who don't already have a bilateral free trade agreement with the US appear not to want one," she said.

Mr Xi's embrace of globalisation, and his "community of common destinies", resonated more than Mr Trump's "America First", she added.

Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College in Washington said the US had a chance to "emphatically state" that it was leading the region, providing collective goods and defending the rules-based order.

"Trump did nothing of the sort. It was totally transactional," said Prof Abuza.

Dr Richard Cronin, who is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Centre's South-east Asia Programme, said: "Even if the President's trip was more successful than many expected, one can only wonder how many in Asia were left troubled at the seeming incoherence of US policy, and anxious about their country's and their region's future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'The Trump report'. Print Edition | Subscribe