After about 11 Months on the saddle as US President, Donald Trump began a five-nation tour of Asia, the first since he assumed office January 20 and longest by an American president in nearly three decades.
The tour which kicked off November 5, took Trump, Wife Melania and officials to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines ending November 11.
Even before he left the shores of US, it was obvious that the North Korea nuclear tensions and trade issues would dominate discussions during the visits.
And Trump did not disappoint as he in-deed made the two issues the centre of his five-nation Asian diplomatic shuttle.
In Japan where he first visited, Trump was loud about his feelings on North Ko-rea, whose series of nuclear bomb tests have angered Trump and raised tensions and fear of possible conflagration in the Korean Peninsular.
“No dictator … should ever underestimate American resolve,” Trump was quoted as saying to troops gathered at Yokota Air Base, at the start of the trip in Japan ac-cording to agency reports.
Trump met with leaders of the five coun-tries Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Ja-pan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Viet-namese President Tran Dai Quang and Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte,
He capped his visit with participation in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit.
Trump’s address at the Vietnam Summit of Asian Pacific Cooperation(APEC) was quite tough on US trade interests as he made it clear America would not ac-cept”chronic trade abuses”.
His views came in sharp contrast with Chinese president, Xi Jinping’s who spoke strongly in favour of globalization say-ing it was irreversible.
“We should support the multilateral trading regime and prac-tise open regionalism to allow developing members to bene-fit more from international trade and investment, Jinping was quoted to have said.
“His speech was a direct attack on Trump who on assump-tion of office puled America out of existing trade arrange-ments with 12 countries in the APEC structure on the grounds that the relationships were hurting American eco-nomic interests.
It is rather ironical that the US actually midwifed most of the multilateral and free trade agreements for Asia. America induced most o the Asian economies to open up to international trade under the multilateral regime, all of which appears to have been jettisoned by Trump since assump-tion of office.
The vacuum has left China trying to occupy the space even though Chinese economy is not yet completely a free economy.
Trade specialists are still debating the eventual conse-quences of
Trump’s action since the 21 countries in APEC together make up about 60 per cent of the World’s GDP, making them a major economic bloc.
Trump’s biggest worry has been the trade deficit between America and China.
In 2016, the total volume of trade be-tween the two economic giants stood at $648bn while the US deficit stood at about $310bn.
Trump does not seem to have a strong Chinese policy yet to address the yawning trade gaps. His earlier threats to la-bel China a “Currency manipulator” remained one of his many rhetoric for which he has become infamous, just as his accusation that China was “stealing” US jobs. He has never gone beyond the threats to pursue any concrete ag-gressive policy and there is little hope he would ever do giv-en the many complexities in America’s economic ties with China.
But Trump’s message was not lost on the Asian countries. He made it clear America would engage in trade on he own terms and criticized multilateral trade arrangements under the auspices of the WTO which he accused of inefficiency in ensuring the rules were kept by countries.
While Trump was debating trade issues with Asian coun-tries, North Korea lampooned the entire visit the American President was “begging for nuclear war” just as Pyongyang described America as the “biggest destroyer of World peace” .Pyongyang was miffed that Trump was using the tour to seek support to increase sanctions against North Korea which has carried out at least six nuclear tests to the consternation of the World community.
Pyongyang was emphatic that nothing would deter the re-gime from pursuing its nuclear weapons programmes in spite of Trumps unmistakable warning of the dire conse-quences of continuing with the nuclear weapons pro-gramme.
Trump in a speech in South Korea warned Kim Jong-un nuclear weapon programme was “not making you saf-er”.
“They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face,” he told the regime.
The five – nation tour and Trump’s pre-occupation with trade issues explained why he chose Asia for his trip and not Africa.
In reality, Trump’s “America First” policy aim at maximizing his country’s economic and security interests than play “Father Christmas” as many would like America to do. In the pursuit of both legs of the policy, Africa features little as the continent does not rank highly in US international security concerns nor economic interests.
With the Asian tour over, one expects that the next time around, Trump would set out for Africa. If and when he eventually decides to tour Africa, it would be seen what would engage his attention and which countries he would visit.