On November 5 – 14, President Trump made his first official visit to Asia, with stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. As part of his tour, President Trump attended international summits including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting, and the East Asia Summit (EAS). The two-week trip was one of the longest presidential visits to Asia in recent history. Although deemed “tremendously successful” by the President, media assessments of the trip were more critical, noting that the President came away with no real change in trading partners’ policies or practices.
The president began his trip by meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. Trump reassured Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In of the U.S. commitment to their respective countries with regards North Korea, while strengthening trilateral diplomacy between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea in order to apply international pressure on North Korean over its nuclear weapons program. In Japan, the White House touted an MOU between the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, who will collaborate on public procurement best practices to promote “quality infrastructure” development in emerging economies throughout Southeast Asia. While the agreement ostensibly deepens the U.S.-Japan economic ties, it is also squarely aimed at countering the influence of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative and is part of the broader Indo-Pacific strategy that is emerging as the Trump administration’s foreign policy framework for the region.
President Trump then visited China where he was accompanied by a business delegation of 29 corporate executives to unveil investment deals potentially worth $250 billion. Industry expressed concern that the administration was more focused on this figure than on substantive policies that pose challenges for U.S. companies. After the President’s visit, China unilaterally announced that it would take steps in accordance with their own timeline to reform its financial sector, including raising foreign ownership limits in joint-ventured involved in the futures, securities and funds markets. Industry remains cautious with the announcement, and is looking forward to seeing the details in the draft rules.
President Trump continued his tour by addressing the APEC CEO Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam on November 10. Almost half of the APEC member economies are still in talks to push forward the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and were in discussions on the sidelines of the APEC meetings, from which the U.S. was notably absent. Trump’s speech in Da Nang focused on the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, noting that the United States will make “bilateral trade deals with any Indo-Pacific nation that abides by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade.” President Xi had the final word at the APEC CEO Summit, a slot traditionally held by the U.S. President. President Xi laid out China’s vision for the region, reiterating many of the themes he focused on at the recent 19th National Party Congress, which included innovation, higher quality of growth, and the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to support regional infrastructure development. In Vietnam, President Trump also unveiled $12 billion in commercial deals, including the purchase of U.S. aircraft and MOUs on LNG and transportation.
On the final leg of his trip, President Trump met with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and nine leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Security concerns regarding the North Korean threat were central to their discussions.