Worry, doubt and indignation as Asia awaits Trump
BEIJING — Donald Trump vowed a more “unpredictable” foreign policy when he campaigned for president. Mission accomplished, if the mood in Asia ahead of his first presidential trip to the region is any indication.
Much like the prelude to a bruising typhoon, Trump’s upcoming visit has inspired fear, resignation, indignation, morbid curiosity — even, according to one South Korean politician, feelings of national disgrace.
During his first months as president, Trump, who will visit Japan, South Korea and China before attending regional summits in Vietnam and the Philippines, has blended moments of flattery with vows to rip up trade deals, destroy a sovereign nation with nuclear weapons and generally crash long-standing norms of diplomacy anywhere it suits his aims.
He has wined and dined the leaders of China and Japan, and been fawned over in return, and his shaky ties with South Korea’s leader have led to worries that Washington could take military action against North Korea without Seoul’s approval.
Looming over his entire trip is one of the strangest relationships in the world — an often surreal exchange of threats of annihilation between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Trump, who has also occasionally offered praise and dialogue.
It’s something of a marvel then that despite Trump’s unpredictability and the torpedoing of an Obama-era trade deal, there may actually be more continuity than change in Washington’s Asia policy.
“People joke that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds. The same can be said for Trump’s Asia policy and relationships,” longtime Asia analyst Ralph Cossa said, referring to the notoriously complex German composer. “This will be put to the test when he goes to Asia, but I think the visit is likely to be more successful than many fear or predict.”
IN NORTH KOREA
Unlike most of his recent predecessors, Trump will not visit the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone that looks out over North Korea.
Still, his quarrel with the North’s ruler will dominate the trip. Amid North Korean nuclear and missile tests and a standard barrage of belligerent rhetoric, Trump has veered from threats to unleash “fire and fury” on the North to calling Kim a “pretty smart cookie” and saying he’d be “honored” to talk, under the right circumstances.
Trump’s comments have caused both confusion and fears of war, especially in Japan and South Korea.