Donald Trump is set to begin a trip to several East and South East Asian countries beginning at the weekend. His trip includes stops in Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Vietnam.
In many ways, Trump’s trip can already be consigned to the realm of useless predictability, simply because the countries of Asia are moving in such a way, that regional events are now far more impactful than any statements or actions, short of a war, that any US leader is capable of instigating.
The biggest disappointment for Trump will most likely be Philippines. In a short year, due to the epoch shifting leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines has shaken its tunnel-vision style relationship with the US and has opened up to new relations with countries across Asia and Eurasia, including China and Russia.
Russia is expanding security ties with the former US colony which saw Russia deliver thousands of free arms to Philippines as well as multiple military vehicles. The recent visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu to Manila as part of a Russian Naval flotilla, is a further sign of Philippines’ historically good relations with Moscow.
During Duterte’s first presidential visit to China, President Xi Jinping hailed Duterte’s rapprochement with Beijing as something that would usher in a “golden era” of good relations between China and Philippines. Already, Chinese firms are preparing to build new modern districts in Manila and China looks to play a vital role in the re-development of Marawi, the southern Philippine city that was recently liberated from the ISIS-Maute group after a five month long siege.
Against this backdrop, there is little the US can do to build new ties with Philippines. While the US still maintains a prominent presence in the country, President Duterte has frequently stated that he remains intent on breaking free of the colonial mentality, in spite of any offers the US might bring.
While Duterte personally loathed Barack Obama, once famously calling him a “son of a whore”, he has frequently said that he respects Donald Trump’s more straightforward rhetoric.
Because of this, it is likely that Duterte and Trump will have a good personal relationship. Leaked transcripts of a phone call between the two already indicates that they enjoy speaking to one another.
However, this will not likely translate into any new meaningful agreements between Washington and Manila, not least because the US Congress has steadfastly worked to undermine Duterte because of his anti-colonial and anti-drug policies.
Trump will end up leaving a country that the US once took for granted, with ultimately nothing to show.
2. South Korea
If his speech to the UN is anything to go by, Trump’s brief one day visit to South Korea may well become eventful in terms of Trump’s threatening rhetoric against the DPRK (North Korea). However, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is doing everything he can to turn down the tensions prior to Trump’s visit.
Seoul recently agreed not to install any more US made THAAD missile systems, after complaints from China. This indicates China’s rapidly expanding influence in East Asia, including over countries with deeply intertwined relations with the US.
Furthermore, President Moon stated that his country will never seek to develop its own nuclear arsenal, in a move that appears to be a sign that South Korea does not seek to waste its resources buying expensive US made military technology. Protests against Trump are already being planned by peace activists throughout the country.
Amid Trump’s threats to cancel a US-South Korea free trade deal, Seoul continues to move economically closer to Russia, while consolidating new economic partnerships throughout the world. During his speech at the UN, Moon even acknowledged his willingness to participate in economic cooperation schemes with the DPRK, something first touted by President Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia. President Moon and a delegation from Pyongyang both attended the forum in Vladivostok.
Beyond standard fraternal greetings and expressions of bi-national friendship, Donald Trump will be hosted by a South Korean leader, who unlike his imprisoned predecessor Park Geun-hye, is not sympathetic to militarism and a threatening stance towards the North.
Trump’s visit to South Korea will be largely symbolic of a relationship that South Koreans feel is one sided and increasingly detrimental to the long term interests of East Asian peace.
Right-wing (by Japanese standards) Prime Minister Shinzō Abe just won a snap election which many say he will try to use to abandon Japan’s constitutionally mandated pacifism. Although the US insisted on a pacific Japanese state after 1945, today, many in the US would like Japan to expand its military position in East Asia in order to present a rival force to China and also the much smaller North Korean military.
However, Japan’s legislative system and constitution makes it incredibly difficult for Abe to enact de-pacification. Additionally, there is little popular support for such a measure. Furthermore, while Abe’s victory is being hailed by many as a landslide, his party actually won six fewer seats than in the previous 2014 elections.
In this sense, while Trump and Abe may be speaking in similar tones, it is difficult to see what will come of the visit, especially since Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a would-be free trade agreement whose aim was to rival One Belt–One Road in the Pacific. Ultimately, Trump withdrew citing domestic concerns about offshoring industrial jobs.
In this sense, friendly stagnation may well be the atmosphere surrounding Trump’s time in Tokyo.
It’s something of an ironic fact that a US President may find himself more welcome in a Communist Vietnamese state that was the location of multiple US war crimes during the 1960s and 1970s, than in traditionally pro-US nations in Asia.
In spite of the past, Vietnam has largely embraced trade with the US as part of its post-Cold War economic liberalisation. Moreover, Vietnam is the country whose regional disputes with China continue to be felt most strongly and in this sense Washington and Hanoi have found common cause.
Even though China is Vietnam’s number one trading partner, the ancient and modern rivalry between the two states still factors heavily for the leadership in Hanoi.
In this sense, it will be interesting to see how much Donald Trump indulges the leadership of Vietnam in anti-Chinese rhetoric. As Trump continues to vacillate between patronising and insulting China, Beijing will be keenly listening to what he says when in Vietnam. If he takes things too far in respect of anti-Chinese rhetoric, China will be deeply displeased, especially if Trump comes out swinging in respect of Vietnam’s dispute with China over South China Sea territorial and maritime rights.
Thus, the only country on his visit where anything even slightly positive might transpire, is one where Trump ought to be more diplomatic and less excitable than in any of the others.
The foregone conclusion of failure which is all but implicit in Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, is not entirely his fault. Barack Obama’s once touted ‘pivot to Asia’ ended up with Asian countries moving further away from the US. By the end of Obama’s term, China was not only the uncontested king of the region, with many strengthened alliances as well as new partnerships, but Obama threw away a great deal of good will that had existed with China, even under the George W. Bush administration.
With China and Russia working to make Asia and Eurasia less and less dependant on the US Dollar, Washington not only has less to receive but less to give Asia. The gradual decline of America’s presence in Asia is already underway.
To cap things off, North Korea has published the following statement ahead of Donald Trump’s visit. It serves as a kind of ‘greeting card’ ahead of a trip that will bear few fruits for anyone:
“The mouth of Trump, master of invective ill-famed for spouting bellicose and irresponsible rhetoric, caused trouble again.
At a recent interview with Fox News, he said the U.S. is incredibly well prepared to cope with the “north’s provocation” and anyone will be “greatly shocked” to know about it.
It is nothing surprising as he reeled off the rhetoric calling for “totally destroying” a sovereign state at a UN arena, obliged to discuss peace issue, only to throw the world into consternation.
But what is worthy taking note of is his sordid wordplay before his Asian junket.
Maybe, he wanted to threaten the DPRK, embolden his stooges like Japan and south Korea and show off his “might”.
But this only proves that he has a serious headache and is pushed into the corner because of the DPRK.
Now he is introducing nuclear carrier task force and other massive strategic hardware into waters off the Korean peninsula while spreading such ambiguous phrases as “calm before storm” and “only one effective way”. He is, at the same time, making all desperate efforts to make the whole world join it in putting sanctions and pressure on the DPRK, only to see it proving ineffective.
Instead, he disclosed his true nature as a nuclear war maniac before the world and was diagnosed as “incurably mentally deranged”.
The CNN recently carried out an opinion poll and 63 percent of respondents denounced Trump’s DPRK policy as “imprudent one which escalates tension”.
There are strong assertions within the U.S. political circle calling on Trump to take his hands off Korea, and experts on the Korean issue are denouncing Trump for trying to settle the “nuclear issue of the north”, whose solution has been failed despite scores of years of endeavors, with a few improvised words. They comment that Trump is too incompetent to play the role of standing in confrontation with the DPRK as it becomes a hard challenge even to president possessed of abilities and judgment.
Yet, Trump behaves as if he will do something big, while bluffing about “full preparedness” and “big shock”. He absolutely needs medicine for curing his psychical disorder.
He even affirmatively estimated and encouraged “China’s participation in sanctions on the DPRK”, and said that “China is truly helping the U.S. over the north Korea issue”. These brownnosing words are utterly sickening and disgusting.
Trump’s wild outbursts are just the hysteric spasmodic symptom of his discomfort and fear after finding that his strategy does not work on the DPRK and the DPRK is getting stronger, instead.
Incompetent ones are apt to make a false show of power.
Now is high time that the U.S. pondered over the might of the DPRK’s state nuclear force”.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.