Trump's Businesses Don't Follow His Strictures on Trade, For Good Reasons

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Donald Trump said Monday in the Philippines that he will make a "major" announcement on Wednesday at the White House about trade agreements and other diplomatic progress made during a "fruitful" 12-day tour of Asia.

There seems to be a push to replace "Asia-Pacific" with "Indo-Pacific", highlighting India's rise, in part to balance China, and broadening the scope of the region to include South and East Asia. Vietnam was one of only three Southeast Asian countries that has seen an increase in US defense assistance, albeit from low levels. Although there were few weighty deliverables from Trump's tour, for Asian nations looking nervously at China's increasing assertiveness, it may be welcomed as a sign that his administration is still committed to the region.

Trump has created a lot of uncertainty about the thrust of USA policies in East Asia.

Trump's "America First" message might go down well with his base back home, but it does little to reassure allies here that the USA is not turning its back on regional leadership and engagement, at a time when China is making its presence and its overseas investment felt. After declaring in Beijing that he did not blame the Chinese for chronic imbalances with the United States, he delivered a withering denunciation in Vietnam of regional trade pacts, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump has withdrawn the United States.

Of course this policy of economic nationalism and anti-multilateralism has already been generating adverse outcomes. Just contrast the rhetoric often heard in US political campaigns with that usually employed in reference to leaders in other countries. The Vietnamese prime minister made some early economic concessions in his Washington visit in May, announcing $8 billion in orders for USA products to reduce the trade deficit. In sum, it remains unclear at the global level how forcefully Trump wants to respond to China's challenge to United States power.

In other policy areas, the President Trump's Asia trip brought less clarification.

Trump, who is on a two-week visit to Asia, said in China that he felt US-Chinese trade relations were "very unfair and one-sided". Thus, he stopped accusing China of "raping" the USA economy.

If the U.S. has huge economic stakes in China, so has China in the USA, and in a sense even more as China has flourished through its United States connection and the process of globalisation promoted by America.

Trump's hosts responded warmly.

But if a trade deficit-especially a large, persistent one-is proof positive of unfair dealing, then Trump has some things to discuss with USA authorities about his own business empire, the Trump Organization.

During his visit to China, President Trump would have been well inspired to visit the futuristic library, shaped like a giant eye, that recently opened in Tianjin.

"China always prefers to couch state visits in ceremony rather than compromise on policy". But officials acknowledged that China had not budged on their No. 1 request on North Korea: to cut off all shipments of oil to the North.

In a speech before South Korea's national assembly last week, Mr. Trump warned North Korea not to "underestimate" the U.S.

"The North Korean situation continues to be a problem", Trump said on November 12 while in the Philippines.

"All nations must deny terrorists financing, territory, and any form of ideological backing", Trump said in his speech, which could have a direct implication on Pakistan. It was not pleasant for them, was it?.

This clear message against North Korea later turned into a competition between Trump and Kim. Vietnam is now in Trump's good books.

Instead, the President started talking about a deal and the possibility of Kim "someday" becoming his friend.

In China, he thanked China for its support in this case; however, again in Vietnam he asked for a collective enterprise to deal with this threat.

That attitude often seems missing among USA diplomats, more eager to please those in foreign nations than to do right by Americans.