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Commentary: Ambitious Asia trip for a US president leaves region longing for more

3 7 114
18.11.2017

SINGAPORE: With five countries in 12 days, US President Donald Trump’s Asia visit was ambitious. He managed to check off some of the key items he wanted to address, especially on airing concerns about unfair trade practices and the North Korean crisis, but on the whole his visit fell short in providing a coherent vision on a number of important, strategic issues.

For starters, there was limited clarity on US leadership and what it stands for in this part of the world.

Although Trump had already signalled US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership before he entered office, he missed the opportunity to articulate and convey a credible alternative in this trip to reassure partners on how future trade relations with the region will be affected, and what a rules-based order for a more balanced economic partnership might look like.

The economic nationalism he championed did not square with the message that the US wants to engage Asia in an open and competitive manner. Righting the US’s trade imbalance will be difficult to accomplish in a relatively short period of time and will probably not come to fruition during his presidency. He gained points from his domestic constituents, but in so doing may have sacrificed US standing as a proponent for free and open trade in the region.

THE US-CHINA RELATIONSHIP

Trump’s visit to China had a lot of anticipation from external observers and those watching from the US.

Optics matter, and the fact that Trump was able to announce nearly US$250 billion worth of commercial deals and bilateral investments with China was an important achievement.

Where the US-China trade deficit ranks around US$500 billion last year, securing a deal that amounts to half of the trade deficit reflects his business acumen, as well as his promise to his base supporters and those affected by the hollowing out of manufacturing in the US rust belt.

But it is a pyrrhic victory at best, one that reflects a short-term, uncertain gain that comes with some cost.

This is a one-time deal with no guarantee of continuation into the future. It is also unclear how much of that US$250 billion will trickle back into the US economy or provide new employment opportunities for US........

© Channel NewsAsia