U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is “very proud” of his five-nation, 12-day trip to Asia, asserting lots of progress was made on issues such as security and trade.
In remarks delivered behind closed doors Tuesday at the East Asia Summit in Manila, Trump reiterated that North Korea remains a major global military threat.
“North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs threaten the entire world,” Trump said, and called on “all nations to join the United States in ensuring the complete, verifiable and total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump said he is still concerned about “China’s efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea,” and added the United States favors “the peaceful resolution of all territorial disputes.”
The U.S. is closely watching the “growing threat” of Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Southeast Asia, Trump said.
“As ISIS loses ground in the battlefield, we must remain vigilant about the threat posed by returning foreign fighters and terrorist operatives within our borders and seeking to cross our borders,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The president told reporters as he left the summit “at least $300 billion” worth of trade deals was done during the trip, “but that will be, I think, way triple that number in a fairly short period of time.”
A short while later aboard Air Force One as he left the Philippines for Hawaii, Trump told reporters the unconfirmed $300 billion number will “be quadrupled very quickly, so that’s over a trillion dollars’ worth of stuff.”
Trump specifically cited Vietnam’s $12 billion order from the aerospace giant Boeing, but it was not clear if he was alluding to a new deal or a nearly $11.5 billion deal between a Vietnamese airline company and Boeing that was signed while President Barack Obama visited Vietnam in 2016.
Trump again criticized past administrations for allowing the U.S. “to be taken advantage of” for agreeing to what he believes are unfair trade agreements.
“We’ve explained that the United States is open for trade, but we want reciprocal trade, we want fair trade for the United States,” Trump told reporters at the summit shortly before departing.
The president also said a major announcement about his trip will be made at the White House on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday.
Observers are giving the trip mixed reviews.
Trump “made clear that there can be no separating economic and defense issues. This remains true even as the one-time U.S. pivot to Asia gives way to a U.S. business pivot to Asia,” Curtis Chin, who was appointed by President George W. Bush as ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, told VOA.
Former Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice contends Trump’s trip leaves the United States “more isolated and in retreat, handing leadership of the newly christened Indo-Pacific to China on a silver platter.”
After a solid start in Japan and South Korea, “in China the wheels began to come off his diplomatic bus,” she writes in an opinion column in The New York Times. “The Chinese leadership played President Trump like a fiddle, catering to his insatiable ego and substituting pomp and circumstance for substance.”
Chin, now an Asia Fellow at the non-partisan Milken Institute, a non-profit economic research institution, sees it differently.
“Amidst uncertainty over how a non-diplomat, non-politician president might perform on the diplomatic stage, the U.S. president more than exceeded expectations,” Chin said. “In basketball parlance, this first Asia trip was a slam dunk for Trump. The challenge now remains for the United States to build on Trump’s visit to Asia by building on relationships and strengthening alliances in Asia, particularly amidst China’s continued rise.”
“There has been criticism that the trip was not actually substantial in terms of concrete output; but, that is not President Trump’s style,” said Nicholas Fang, executive director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “His bilateral meetings, for example, in Japan and China are largely intended to show incremental rapport and relationship building.”
Activists decry that Trump appears to have eliminated human rights as a core element of American foreign policy.
“By doing so, he’s decided to throw in with the likes of China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin for whom foreign policy only matters for what benefits they can extract from it,” Phil Robertson, deputy director in Asia for Human Rights Watch, told VOA. “The idea that somehow the U.S. had a special role in protecting human rights and democracy around the world is now as dead and buried as all of the Duterte drug war victims that Trump declined to discuss in Manila.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday told reporters the issue of human rights did come up in Trump’s talks with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte; however, Duterte’s spokesman insisted it did not.
Trump, shortly before departing Manila, said the U.S. relationship with the Philippines had been “horrible” but as a result of his visit “now we have a very, very strong relationship” for the Philippines.
He said that is more important for strategic relations than trade, calling the Philippines “the most prime piece of real estate from a military standpoint.”
A senior U.S. administration official told VOA News that “we didn’t come here to lecture like President Obama did,” adding that Trump, however, was assertive in private on several key topics in talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
East Asia Summit
At the last minute, Trump skipped the plenary session of the 18-nation East Asia Summit in Manila with events running behind schedule.
Trump instead headed to Air Force One, which departed Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, more than 30 minutes earlier than had been planned.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was called on to stand in for Trump at the summit.
White House officials explained that Trump said what he intended to say at the summit during an earlier lunch for leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
A major reason for adding an additional day in the Philippines to Trump’s schedule had been to allow him to attend the East Asia Summit, a key regional strategic dialogue.