By Snigdha Kalra
US President Donald Trump, on Friday, embarked on a 12-day trip to Asia, the longest tour undertaken by a US President in 25 years, the last one being in 1992 when President George W Bush fell ill in Japan. A primary concern during his visits is to deal with the very real, looming nuclear threat posed by North Korea’s missile tests.
The when and the where
The visit comes at a time when, for Donald Trump, all is not well in the US either. Investigations on Russian involvement in Presidential elections, the tax cut legislation introduced in Congress and the recent attack in New York are pressing issues. However, a lot is at stake in foreign relations as well.
In the course of this trip, he is set to visit five Asian countries: Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. Donald Trump began with a brief stop at Hawaii, with Melania Trump, on Friday, the 3rd of November, whereby he paid his respects at the Pearl Harbour memorial at USS Arizona. Sunday, 5th November, saw him arrive in Tokyo, Japan. On Monday, he will attend a banquet hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Japan’s major concern is the nuclear missile tests by North Korea, the target of two of which has been the island of Hokkaido.
The US President hopes to reach South Korea on Tuesday, the 6th of November. While he may not visit the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), he will stop by Camp Humphreys and conduct meetings with President Moon Jae-in, whereby again the focus will be on North Korea. The South Korean stance, however, is of open dialogue with North Korea, instead of enforcement. Trump will also address the South Korean national assembly.
From one leg to another
Wednesday will see Trump arriving in Beijing, where he will meet President Xi Jinping. China will prove to be a tough nut to crack, both with respect to trade deals and cooperation on the issue of North Korea. The US-China trade deficit has reached a precarious value of $300 billion a year. Trump may urge Xi Jinping to ease trade barriers in China, as well as take a harder stance on North Korea by enforcement of economic sanctions. That China will obey, seems unlikely.
At Vietnam, Trump will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on 10th November. Here, in his speech, he will discuss free and open trade in the region. He may also meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit. On 11th, he will go to Hanoi to meet Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. The trade deficit with Vietnam and cooperation on economic and security issues will be on his agenda.
In the last leg of the trip, Trump will visit the Philippines on 12th November, where he will meet President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, and attend the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. However, he will skip the East Asia Summit (EAS).
Issues on the home front
The past few days have not been good for Trump. Investigations on Russian involvement in 2016 elections have turned a new page. On Monday, 30th October, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were charged with generating huge sums of money through overseas shell companies. In response, Republicans have asked for the resignation of Robert Mueller from the post of special counsel, investigating the case.
Moreover, on Thursday, the Republicans introduced the much-awaited tax cut legislation in Congress, as promised by Trump. If passed, this will be his first major legislative victory. However, debates in the Congress may lose momentum in his absence. The alleged attack in New York by the ISIS on the eve of Halloween is also an issue that needs Trump’s attention.
While Trump is set to hold talks with major political leaders in Asia in his longest trip by far, his weak political position may pose a threat to a conductive trip. However, he may be impactful in convincing these nations to cooperate against the pressing nuclear missile threat that Kim Jong-un poses. In that case, the trip will be a success.
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