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Why does Trump go to Asia

The American president embarks on a long voyage against the background of a weakening rear

On Friday 3 November, US President Donald Trump went on a twelve-day tour of Asia. This is currently the longest foreign trip of the US president, during which he will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. On a journey to help him solve complex political and economic problems in relations with the countries of the region will be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and trade representative Robert Lightheiser.

Why does Trump go to Asia
Photo: Michael Candelori / Shutterstock.com

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
Among these problems, the most urgent is the problem of North Korea, since, according to foreign experts, the country is on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the main territory of the United States. However, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is concerned about Trump's tough approach to Pyongyang and is looking for opportunities for dialogue with the North Korean regime. China also opposes the oil embargo on the DPRK or a preemptive strike against it, arguing that this will fundamentally destabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump's top economic priority is to reduce the huge US trade deficit. He pulled the country out of the projected regional economic bloc - the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This block was supposed to include 12 countries of the Asia-Pacific region and become the largest single market in the world. However, according to the American president, the United States should build economic relations with the countries of the region in a one-on-one format. This causes great concern in Japan and other states of the Pacific Ocean basin, since, in their opinion, it gives Washington an opportunity to "pressurize" its trade and economic counterparties one by one.

In particular, Trump will demand that Japan open its market to American beef and cars. In South Korea, he is expected to push for the cancellation of the five-year free trade agreement between the two countries. He called this agreement "how bad for the United States, so good for South Korea." As for the PRC, he intends to conclude a number of important trade deals with it worth several billion dollars. According to foreign analysts, China, for its part, would like to achieve Washington's refusal from its demands for wider access of American goods to the Chinese domestic market and the need for structural reforms in the Chinese economy.

The most important goal of Trump's long trip is also to reaffirm American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. The struggle for this leadership is literally unfolding before our eyes between Washington and Beijing. Trump intends to reaffirm his loyalty to the course to turn towards Asia, proclaimed back in 2011 by his unloved predecessor as president of the United States, Barack Obama. At a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the American president will discuss the problem of North Korea, the so-called Chinese naval expansion in the South China Sea, as well as the problem of Chinese opioids.

The latter have recently become another irritant in US-China relations. Recently, the United States has flooded Chinese painkillers, which, according to US officials, have given rise to an opioid epidemic in the country. They also believe that China is the main source of opioids, which can have a negative impact on the country's pharmaceutical industry. Trump at the meeting with C is determined to make the problem of opiodion the most priority.

The aim of C, as foreign experts are sure, is to create an impression in Trump that he was accorded appropriate honor and respect in Beijing. However, they predict, Trump's visit to China will be filled with symbolism, but poor in essence.

The Chinese representatives, for their part, on the eve of the visit, say that the United States should keep aloof from territorial disputes in the South China Sea, since they have no territorial claims there. Western commentators foresee that at the meeting with Trump the leader of China will act from a position of strength, as he managed to consolidate his power in the country at the recent congress of the Communist Party of China. In contrast, Trump will go on a long journey, leaving behind his weak domestic political back. According to the idea of ​​an American businessman who suddenly became president, the success of an Asian voyage should just strengthen his position on the political scene inside the country.

According to statements by representatives of the White House, one of the important goals of Trump's trip should be to demonstrate American leadership in maintaining freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region. During the APEC summit in Vietnam, he will present an American vision of the situation in this region. There he will also meet with the heads of state of ASEAN, which today is the main engine of economic integration in the region.

However, in connection with Trump's decision to ignore the East Asia Summit, which will be held in the Philippines on November 14, Asian observers may have questions about the seriousness of Washington's commitment to Asia and raise concerns about the possibility of expanding China's influence in the region. Such sensations are gaining strength not only in the capitals of Southeast Asian countries, but also in Tokyo.

In the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun, Trump is particularly impatiently awaited by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has just triumphed in parliamentary elections. First of all, he intends to enlist the support of the American president in defending the so-called North Korean threat, which Tokyo is currently elevated to the rank of an unprecedented danger to the country. For his part, Abe, no doubt, will once again express his full support for the statements of the American leader that to solve the North Korean problem, the United States has “all options on the table,” including the possibility of a preemptive strike on the DPRK.

In Japan, an American figure is also awaited for a return game of golf with the country's premier and a concert of a Japanese pop star. However, in the light of the US withdrawal from the TTP in Japan, there are voices that Abe should assume the role of leader in the Asia-Pacific region, and not just be an assistant in the region with his American patron.
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