The US president is about to embark on his first trip to the region. With tensions high over North Korea, and China asserting its ambitions, what will his ignorance and disdain for diplomatic subtlety bring?
This weekend Donald Trump embarks on his first trip to Asia as president, and his longest foreign tour since he’s been in office. Over a week and a half he will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. To say the region’s leaders are bracing themselves for potential displays of freakishness, provocation or incompetence is to put it mildly. If this is indeed the “Asian century”, the US president will nonetheless help determine how it unfolds. That can only be a cause for concern.
Mr Trump has cultivated a reputation for unpredictability – or more often sheer inconsistency, as much as he has cultivated his ignorance or disdain for much of what US diplomacy has traditionally been about. Intense China-bashing over trade in his campaign was followed by a show of awkward friendship with the Chinese leader in Mar-a-Lago and, last week, a fawning accolade to the man “some people might call … the King of China”. It will take more than crude flattery to balance competing interests. North Korea’s multiple firing of missiles and nuclear tests, combined with his own bellicose rhetoric, have placed the push for further cooperation from China at the top of the agenda. He has gone back on his threat to label China as a currency manipulator – having said that would be his first decision in office. Yet he still wants to show he can tackle the “horrible” trade deficit. Talk of a trade war may or may not be something of the past.
Link : The Guardian view on Trump in Asia: brace yourselves | Editorial