Asia Reacts to President Donald Trump's First Visit to Asia

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From November 5-13, 2017, President Donald Trump traveled to the Asia-Pacific for the first time during his presidency. He traveled to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, during which he discussed US alliances and partnerships with Asian countries, trade agreements, the need for a united front against the threat posed by North Korea, and attended the APEC, US-ASEAN, and EAS Summits. 

To learn more about the statements President Trump made during this trip, visit our resource President Donald J. Trump and US-Asia Pacific Relations.

Click on a country to jump down to its specific reactions: Australia, China, IndiaJapan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

To view additional topics in the Asia Reacts to... series, scroll down or click here


“Yet questions remain. Not only about the Quad's credibility as a counterweight to China, but how it overcomes a complex array of competing national interests among the four: over border disputes, trade and maritime tensions. For its part, the US, and this president in particular, can turn on a dime, potentially leaving Australia in the lurch. It has happened before.

“Paul Keating warns Australia's greatest challenge will be determined by how the relationship between China and the United States plays out over the next 20 years. ‘For Australia, there is no bigger threat than a breakdown of co-operation between the US and China,’ the former prime minister told the annual Committee for Economic Development of Australia dinner in Sydney on Tuesday. […]During this meeting Mr Trump referred to [Chinese] President Xi Jinping as a great friend and said the Chinese people should be proud to have him as their leader. Despite the appearance of a growing bromance, Mr Keating said there was no real evidence of progress on the key issues of the US's massive trade imbalance or North Korea's nuclear program.”

“The Pentagon had coordinated a major display of US military might to coincide with Trump's visit to Asia. Three US aircraft carrier battle groups converged on the Korean Peninsula on Monday in an obvious effort to awe and intimidate Kim. Then Trump called him short and fat. Which rather spoiled the effect. So it's hardly surprising that the region's governments, while outwardly courteous to the American President, refused to take him seriously.”

“Carl Thayer, an expert on South-east Asia at the University of New South Wales, said Trump's every word and action will have considerable weight in the eyes of regional leaders, who will be looking for answers to fundamental questions such as ‘can he be trusted? Can he provide reassurance that the US will remain engaged in Asia Pacific? Or will his chop-and-change brand of strategic uncertainty become the new normal?’ Will November 2017 ‘mark the moment the United States ceded leadership in the Asia Pacific because Trump lacks the experience and conceptual ability to think strategically rather than transactionally?’.”

“Australia's default position for most of the postwar era has been to contract out to Washington most of the thinking on foreign affairs and defence. Australia has automatically relied on the US alliance as the national insurance policy, and sent small contingents to support America's fights in the Middle East as payments to make sure the policy remained current. […]Donald Trump, it seems, has shocked Canberra out of this long torpor. Australia's political class has been forced to think about national strategy in a world without US leadership. […]This burst of thinking on a newly active Australian strategy would not have happened without Trump. Perhaps we can thank his America First for making us think about Australia First.”


“The quadrilateral ‘alliance’, which the United States, India, Japan and Australia plan to build to strengthen their "Indo-Pacific ties", however, would not affect the economic interdependence of Asian economies nor would it serve the purpose of containing China, if there is one. In fact, with more countries joining the Beijing-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, it seems an unwise move to miss the reciprocal nature of President Xi Jinping's vision and exclude China from regional economic governance.”

“There are four reasons why the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific failed. First, it wrongly hypothesized that China's rise was a threat. Second, it exaggerated the possible confrontations between China and the US while overlooking common interests. Third, the US needs to pay an enormous economic price to draw nations in the region to its side, which will backfire domestically. Last, the US' move to divide Asia and to produce confrontations didn't serve the interests of regional countries.  In fact, the US only wants to use India as a pawn to balance China without giving it actual benefits. If the US just changes the name of its strategy but pursues the same strategic goals, it will fail, just as its predecessor did.”

“Furthermore, China and the US can come up with initiatives to establish a global infrastructure investment bank, global interconnection and global development programs. This can align US advantages in industrial rules and standards with Chinese infrastructure development, and US security advantages with Chinese advantages in economy. It benefits bilateral cooperation in developing a third market and guarantees the security of sea lanes. It will prompt their economic transformation, develop a new type of major-country relationship and upgrade globalization forms. Some Americans worry that China's initiatives will challenge the US-led international order. But Sino-US cooperation is a mainstay of the world. Cooperative initiatives related to China and the US, including the Belt and Road, will serve the two nations' interests and benefit the world. What's more, functional participation and constructional cooperation has always been what Trump aims for.”

“It appears that the US' strategy toward China may become more fragmented during Trump's time in office, which will be a new test for Beijing. The previous US administrations always tried to find a strategic position in Sino-US relations. But Trump's officials made it clear they will steer clear of any such propensity.”

“Mutual understanding is important because it would encourage the two sides to spend more time in expanding practical win-win cooperation rather than being overly obsessed with issues that won't be solved in a short period of time, or even a longer period of time. This is not to say that they should overlook the issues. Instead, they should try to manage and mitigate the challenges and not allow them to hold back the overall relationship. In marking his one-year anniversary, Trump has pleasantly surprised many who a year ago were deeply worried about a trade war between the two countries given his harsh campaign rhetoric. Today, few are worried about this anymore despite the fact that trade frictions might increase as the two largest economies become more interdependent. Trump has also surprised many for his relatively good handling of the US-China relations, including forging a close working and personal relationship with President Xi Jinping.”

 “‘Trump's popularity in China largely comes from his disdain for political correctness and defiance of traditional liberal western views, which many Chinese consider elitist and unrealistic, Chen said. His criticism of the U.S. trade deficit with China, for example, is seen by many in the country as standard U.S. political talk, some pundits say. ‘In China, realists hold a deep-rooted belief that the rule of the jungle means the strong prey on the weak,’ Chen said. ‘For them, the world is not split into right and wrong, good or evil, it is only success or failure, the powerful and the weak.’"

“Trump has always believed that the US is a victim of the current international trade system that must be corrected. The trade imbalance with Asian countries will be a topic frequently raked up by Trump. But given the growing protectionist tendency of the US, Asian countries are unlikely to heed Trump's ideas. It is more likely that Trump's resistance to multilateral trade and globalization would receive no response. One would not be surprised if Asia-Pacific countries come together to face off the US on economic and trade issues.”


“Four in ten Indians express confidence in Donald Trump to do the right thing vis-a-vis world affairs , with around 42 per cent considering him to be a strong leader and well-qualified to be president. More Indians (37 per cent versus 24 per cent) approve than disapprove of Trump's plan to restrict immigration from select majority-Muslim countries. However, ratings for Trump are lower than those of his predecessor Barack Obama, during whose term 56 per cent Indians held a favourable view of the US.”

“India, inexorably, will encounter the torments of Trump’s Asia. The palliatives Trump offers to avoid it are the stock-in-trade of the quack. Trump declared that his 12-day journey across Asia — the most expansive by any president in a quarter century — was meant to signal his support for the “pillars of the United States presence and explain what they mean in terms of policy”. Instead, he mainly used opportunities to hector his audiences, arguing that past arrangements had benefited Asia’s emerging economies disproportionately. ‘From now on’, he said in Vietnam, the United States would ‘expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules just like we do’.”

“Two, Mr Trump’s America has withdrawn from the vision of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the “pivot to Asia” (transferring 60 per cent of the US fleet to the Pacific theatre) in favour of “America First”, which is a way not to spend overseas in order to keep allies satisfied, but try to urge others to step up to the plate. Is India, then, being coaxed into participating in a military alliance? If so, the Narendra Modi government must do a reality check in Parliament.” 

“India has long been wanting to play a greater role in these waters. India has always believed it was the net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. China’s growing tentacles in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s coasts has been a matter of grave concern for India for it challenges this very notion. In much the same way if countries in Asia all the way from Japan to South Korea to South East Asia are going to refer to the Indo-Pacific it implies a greater primacy for India in these often-times choppy waters. Whereas the term Asia Pacific means China is very much central to its construct. […]But this can also cut both ways. The Chinese can use this new construct of ‘Indo-Pacific’ to legitimize their own growing presence in the Indian Ocean Region. This is a danger that India needs to guard against. Through One Belt, One Road China has already established deep physical connections in countries of the Indian Ocean Region. China being a player in the Indo-Pacific gives them a new terminology to justify OBOR.” 

“And what about the US? For all its talk of the “Indo-Pacific”, it refuses to associate with India on issues relating to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, two of the most important external areas for India. Shorn of the rhetoric, Indo-Pacific merely means an Indian military commitment to the US-led alliances in the Pacific Ocean. There is no reciprocal US commitment to issues of Indian concern relating to Pakistan and the dangers arising out of the highly volatile environment in the Persian Gulf area which the US has helped create.”


“While his visit yielded some positive signs for rectifying the U.S. trade imbalances with Japan, China and South Korea, Trump appeared less successful on the security front in terms of aligning the three countries on the same page in dealing with the increasing threat from North Korea, which has test-fired some 20 ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth nuclear test this year, all in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

“Japan has been cozying up to the Trump administration to bring it onto Japan's presupposed track over the past year. Abe defined Trump's tour as a ‘historic visit’ and said that ‘there have never been as close bonds between Japan and the US.’ However, Trump's "de-globalization" and ‘America First’ policies demonstrate that Japan and the US are not as close as they appear to be. Although Trump did not mention the free trade agreement that Japan has strongly backed, the divergence between the two countries stands out as Japan attaches great importance to rule-making in the Asia-Pacific region. On the other hand, the two leaders' focuses differ. Abe focused on security issues while Trump cared more about business, urging Japan to reverse the trade imbalance between the two sides.”

“The defense of South Korea is imperative to the security of Japan. So is the U.S. security commitment on the Korean Peninsula. In facing the new dimension of nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, the prescription to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons is a controversial but reasonable choice for the U.S. and South Korea to make. Japan should be ready to say ‘yes.’”

“‘In the 1980s, Japan accounted for 53 percent of U.S. trade deficits, but the situation is totally different now,’ [Japanese Finance Minister Taro] Aso said. He added that his country now accounts for only 9 percent of the U.S. trade deficit, compared with China, which accounts for 47 percent of the deficit. ’We won't do an FTA to deal with the issue. We agreed we are going to discuss how we should rectify the U.S. trade deficit with Japan through our economic dialogue. There are various ways so we will consider’ how to proceed, he said.”

“Trump’s America is not seeing its influence dwindle in East Asia due to a decline of its military capabilities. The United States needs to realize that its presence as a superpower on the world stage is fading due to its flagging dedication to the democratic ideals, free trade, and moral authority that make America America. With lofty ideals and the force of its morals, the United States can be the sort of power that draws the young nations of Asia to its side. I hope that President Trump heeds the Asian voices delivering this message to him during his tour.” 

“Shigeo Iizuka, 79, the brother of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted when she was 22 years old, said the meeting with Trump was a big event and a chance to move forward strategically. ‘It was noteworthy that Trump said he would make efforts to proceed toward a resolution of the problem,’ said Iizuka, who heads the association of families of abduction victims. He added: ‘The abduction issue is a top priority for Japan. I would like Trump and the Japanese government not to consider today’s meeting just a special event but to properly follow up.’”


“But let me dwell on another aspect of the Asean summit meeting in Manila: the visit of and the series of mass protest actions against the visit of US President Donald Trump, including two march-rallies that the police forces effectively intercepted and tried to disperse, leading to violent clashes. These incidents were much commented upon, sometimes negatively, especially in the social media. […]Donald Trump is no ordinary “guest.” He has brought a peculiar danger to our nation. He wants to drag us into the [US] conflict with North Korea. He wants to restore the US military bases in our country. And to what end? Not to provide us protection or security but to enable his government to maintain American imperialist hegemony in the [Asia-Pacific] region. […] [W]e are not “anti-American” in the simplistic, shallow sense – the type who would burn everything made in the USA. We’re not like that. What we oppose is interference by the US government in our national affairs. We detest, we reject imperialist domination. We have many comrades and friends who are Americans. We watch US movies once in a while; we listen to their music. What we have been opposing are US government policies towards our country and people.”


“But as his address confirms, Trump doesn’t have a new solution to the North Korean nuclear issue, and he doesn’t appear to be interested in anything but pressure and sanctions. Just compare Trump’s address to the National Assembly with Moon’s speech in the same body on Nov. 1. Moon’s “five principles for realizing peace” are hardly in line with Trump’s “peace through strength.” It’s obvious that Trump’s greatest interest is creating jobs in the US. Putting pressure on North Korea and subsequently promoting weapons sales also correspond with that objective. That’s not a position that South Korea can get behind. And so the Moon administration is saddled with an even bigger burden after Trump’s visit. Seoul succeeded in having Trump publicly declare that there is no “bypassing Korea” (the alleged sidelining of South Korea in northeast Asian politics). Now Seoul has an even greater responsibility to use this as a launchpad for proposing a breakthrough in North Korean policy and for ensuring that the Trump administration gets on board.”

“There is no way to get around buying US weaponry if that’s what is needed for our self-defense. But there have been a few controversies in the past over South Korea being made to buy weapons that performed poorly or were unnecessary for us. Our motivation for purchasing weapons cannot be a matter of “strengthening the alliance” or “creating jobs in the US” – as opposed to our own practical security needs. […]Rather than simply not showing any differences with Trump on the alliance or North Korean nuclear issues, the administration needs to uphold South Korea’s interests in what promise to be tough negotiations on defense costs, the South Korea-US FTA, and weapon purchasing. It’s an unfortunate thing when the alliance and national interests are in conflict.”

“Given Trump’s behavior during his visit to Japan, it is easy to predict what demands he will make during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Nov. 7. Now that South Korea has consented to American demands to renegotiate the two countries’ free trade agreement, trade pressure on South Korea and demands for it to purchase US-made weapons are likely to grow even stronger. Trump bluntly said that the countries of northeast Asia should purchase even more American weapons, noting that Japan ought to be ordering weaponry given “what's happening with one of your neighbors,” referring to North Korea. […]South Korea needs to treat Trump’s visit as an opportunity to reinforce its alliance with the US and to concentrate on working together to find a peaceful solution to the Korean Peninsula issue. It also needs to keep its priority on the national interest as it responds to Trump’s attacks on trade and demands for increased weapons purchases.” 


“Trump should raise the case of Lee Ming- che when meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping following his arrival in the Chinese capital on Wednesday, activists told The Associated Press. Lee, a university program manager and former employee of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, is accused of using social media since 2012 to teach mainland Chinese citizens about Taiwan’s multi- party democracy. He also managed a fund for families of political prisoners in China. ‘We think U.S. government departments and especially the president at the top should express their concern,’  said Chiu Yi-ling, a representative from an alliance of more than 10 Taiwanese rights groups that organized a campaign pressing for Lee’s release that kicked off yesterday. ‘The president should express his views.’ The 42-year-old Lee disappeared on a trip to China in March and showed up at a court hearing in Yueyang, near the major southern city of Changsha in September. Supporters in Taiwan say he was forced to plead guilty to subverting state power and faces up to 10 years in prison at a sentencing hearing expected later this month.”

“‘Because of Xi's elevation and strong leadership, the pressure continues,’ says Taiwan's Foreign Minister David Tawei Lee. ‘For us to remain free and democratic, we need not just U.S. arms sales but also moral support. We need it to allow us some international space.’”

“"We will clearly see the U.S.'s commitment to regional peace and stability, including maintaining stable relations with Taiwan" during Trump's trip to Asia, [Taiwanese President] Tsai [Ing-wen] said while in Hawaii.” […] [Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Andrew] Lee said the ministry has told the U.S. not to sacrifice Taiwan to improve ties with China during Trump's meeting with Xi.” 


“True, yelling about human rights violations at Asean meetings may not be fruitful and effective given that Asean nations have strictly followed their principle of non-interference in the domestic matters f their members. The deteriorating human rights situations in the five countries will thus not be on the agenda at the meetings of the 10-member grouping. But the US leader's addressing of the unprecedented level of human right abuses in the region can, at a minimum, remind Asean and world leaders that the very concerning trend needs to be improved. With a lack of American leadership, it is important that other world leaders, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres, take a lead in pressing the five Asean nations to uphold human rights principles.”

 “Mr Trump should use this opportunity to forge a personal rapport with all of Asean's leaders, as this is unlikely to be his last visit to the region. As long as he remains as US president, he will have to come to this part of the world each year. One caveat is in order: Mr Trump should not cause any more uncertainty to the Asean chair about his attendance. For the record, Chinese leaders have never missed an Asean-led summit, 19 in all since relations began in 1991. 


“From Vietnam's perspective, some of Donald Trump's administration's early moves raised alarm bells, especially its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was a major disappointment for Vietnam. Moreover, despite the Trump administration's continuation of freedom-of-navigation operations, there is a perception in Vietnam that the South China Sea issue figures relatively low in Trump's foreign policy priorities. […]Despite their concerns, Vietnamese leaders were proactive in engaging directly with the new US President. In May this year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first South-East Asian head of state, and the third from Asia (after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's Xi) to visit Trump after he took office. The meeting was considered successful and set a positive tone for the relationship.” 

Additional Topics in the Asia Reacts to... Series

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's Trip to India and the Philippines
Secretary of State John Kerry's Historic Visit to Hiroshima
Donald Trump's Comments on Possible Nuclear Armament of Japan and South Korea
 Nominations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump 
 Donald Trump's First Foreign Policy Speech
 President Barack Obama's First Visit to Vietnam
President Barack Obama's Historic Visit to Hiroshima
 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Fourth Visit to the United States
 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Deployment
2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions
President Barack Obama's Final Trip to Asia 
 First Presidential Debate of the 2016 US Election
Second Presidential Debate of the 2016 US Election
 Final Presidential Debate of the 2016 US Election
 Election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States
President-Elect Donald Trump's Talks with Asian Leaders
 The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump 
President Donald Trump's  Executive Order on the Trans-Pacific Partnership
US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord

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