Too afraid to ask: Was Trump’s Asia visit a success?

    President Trump returned from a 12-day tour of Asia Tuesday, during which he hoped to clarify America’s vision for trade in the region.

    Trump used the trip as an opportunity to tout his accomplishments in global affairs and claimed its greatest outcome was the strengthening of his relationships with several Asian heads of state. He travelled to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, with the primary purpose of discussing America’s position on trade in Asia and the Pacific.

    “We’ve had a tremendously successful trip.” Trump said. “Tremendous amounts of work was done on trade.”

    Despite his self-congratulatory rhetoric, Trump returned without any new trade deals or negotiations. Furthermore, throughout the trip, Trump’s Asia policy appeared contradictory. In his early stops, he presented a relatively coherent “Indo-Pacific” strategy that would limit the power of China in the region. He then arrived in Beijing, where he was deferential to President Xi Jinping and emphasized the strength of the U.S. and China as movers of the global economy.

    In fact, despite his antagonistic rhetoric against China while on the campaign trail – such as his claim that China was “rap[ing] our country” with unfair trade practices – Trump declared that he did not “blame” the Chinese for taking advantage of the U.S. Instead, he railed at past administrations for leaving the U.S. vulnerable to exploitation.

    During the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, Trump spoke of bilateral trade deals, although he failed to secure the promise of negotiation with any other country. Ironically, at the same summit, 11 countries announced a tentative agreement for a new Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump terminated in his first days in office.

    Trump received harsh criticism for neglecting to discuss human rights violations in both China and the Philippines. On the last stop of his trip, Trump embraced Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-proclaimed murderer who has been accused of extrajudicial killings and broad human rights violations in his bloody war against drugs. Although they discussed the war, there was little to no discussion of human rights violations, and Trump boasted about his “great relationship” with Duterte.

    On the topic of North Korea, Trump made no gains apart from securing a verbal reassurance from Russia and China to honor existing commitments. He did, however, find time to tweet criticism at President Kim Jong-un.

    Upon Trump’s return to the U.S., Northwestern’s political science department highlighted an article written by graduate students Jacob Rothschild and Richard Shafranek published in Political Communication. The piece addresses the impact of communication and issue framing on foreign and domestic policy – an especially relevant topic in the wake of Trump’s Asia visit.


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