Trump’s Asian Adventure

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By Jason Coreas

November 4, 2017

Beginning November 4th, President Trump is embarking on a grueling 13-day tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Trump’s Asia tour is the longest by any president to the region in 25 years. The president is expected to discuss a number of topics with his Asian counterparts, including negotiating trade deals, addressing regional security concerns and deliberating on ways to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Here’s a brief look at each country the president will visit and the leaders he will meet.

Japan

Current relations with the U.S.

The United States and Japan enjoy strong relations. Both nations have very strong and active ties and collaborate politically, economically and militarily. The alliance has been especially active in the 21st century in the face of growing Chinese economic and military power and a belligerent North Korea. The U.S Department of State characterizes the U.S.-Japan relationship as, “the cornerstone of U.S. security interests in Asia and is fundamental to regional stability and prosperity.”

The United States is one of Japan’s largest trading partners, accounting for $270.7 billion in 2016. According to the U.S. Office of the United States Trade Representative, there was a trade deficit in U.S. goods and services with Japan of $54.9 billion in 2016. Trade deals involving the United States and Japan, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have become a point of contention for some U.S. politicians and economists who argue such deals hurt the U.S. economy and workers. Making good on one of his campaign promises, President Trump pulled the United States out of the TTP with an executive order in January, 2017 calling it a “great thing for the American worker,”. During his meeting with Abe, Trump is expected to push for a bilateral trade deal with Japan.

Prime Minister: Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe comes from a politically prominent family. Both his father, Shintaro Abe and grandfather, Kan Abe were politicians serving as a member of the House of Representatives and foreign minister respectively. Abe’s mother is the daughter of former Japanese prime minister Nobosuke Kishi.

Abe graduated from Seikei University in 1977 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and moved to the United States to study public policy at the University of Southern California. Abe returned to Japan in 1979 and began a successful career in the private sector with Kobe Steel before getting involved in politics.

Abe gained a seat in the National Diet and became popular for his hardline stances on issues such as North Korean aggression. Abe soon parlayed his popularity into a nomination as Prime Minister. He served his first term as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007, and was elected to his second and current term as Prime Minister in 2012. Abe was re-elected prime minister on November 1st, 2017.

Abe has been a staunch supporter of the United States-Japan alliance during his administration. As President Trump’s first stop on his five-nation Asia tour, Trump and Abe are expected to discuss the ever-increasing threat posed by a nuclear armed

North Korea. Abe has stated his full support for Trump’s policy on North Korea of leaving all options, including military operations on the table when dealing with North Korea.

South Korea

Current relations with the U.S.

The United States and South Korea have been close allies since 1950 when the United States help establish the nation. South Korea has been one of the United States’ most trusted allies, and soldiers from both nations have fought side by side in conflicts on the Korean peninsula, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

South Koreans however have bristled at President Trump’s assertion that the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, otherwise known as KORUS FTA is as the president describes, “horrible”. Politicians and analysts in both nations argue that terminating the agreement could force South Korea to form closer economic ties with China. South Korea is currently the 6th largest goods trading partner with the United States, accounting for roughly $144.6 billion in 2016, according to the International Trade Administration.

President: Moon Jae-In

Moon Jae-In is a former student organizer and activist. Moon joined the administration of Roh Moo-Hyun in 2002 after spending 20 years as a human rights lawyer. Moon became one of Moo-Hyun’s top advisors, and started a political career of his own in 2012, becoming a national assemblyman in 2012.

Moon ran for the presidency in 2012, and lost by a narrow margin to Park Geun-hye. In the wake of accusations of corruption made against Park in 2016, Park was impeached, and Moon became a frontrunner for the presidency in a snap election held in May of 2017. Moon won in a resounding victory to become president of South Korea.

Moon faces the growing threat posed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and like Shinzo Abe, has vowed his support for President Trump and his North Korea policy. The topic of discussion on Trump’s November, 7th visit to South Korea will assuredly be dominated by containing the North’s nuclear ambitions.

China

Current Relations with the U.S.

Relations between the U.S. and China remain complex. Both nations rely on the other to sustain economic growth while also competing for world economic preeminence. The White House frequently criticizes China’s provocative military actions in the South China Sea and China’s closed economic policies, yet seeks Chinese cooperation in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

China’s trade deficit with the U.S. is a point of contention for U.S. policymakers and economists. In a report released Friday November 3rd, The Department of Commerce stated that the U.S.-China trade deficit increased by 1.7 percent to $43.5 billion. Trump will look to remedy the deficit, as well as other aspects of the China-U.S. trade relationship he has deemed “disastrous”.

The president will look to build on the productive meeting he had with Xi at his Mar-A-Lago residence in August where the two reportedly formed a strong personal relationship. Trump will look to use his relationship with Xi to resolve economic issues, as well as strategies to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program and ease tensions in the South China Sea.

President: Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping is the son of the former deputy prime minister, and close confidant of Mao Zedong, Xi Zhongxun. Despite being a founding member of the Communist Party of China, Xi’s father fell out of favor, and was purged and imprisoned in 1962, just before the start of the Cultural Revolution. Xi as a consequence was sent to the Chinese countryside for “re-education” at the age of 15, and spent seven years toiling in a remote village.

Xi eventually tried to join the Communist Party, but was rebuffed several times because of his father’s legacy. Xi was eventually accepted and quickly rose within the ranks of the party elite. Xi graduated from Tsinghua University in 1979 with a degree in chemical engineering. Xi was elected to the presidency by the National People’s Congress in 2012, and has since become one of the world’s preeminent statesmen.

During Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has been recognized as a burgeoning military and economic superpower. The Economist recently dubbed Xi Jinping “The Most Powerful Man in the World”. Xi will look to leverage his global clout during Trump’s November 8th-10th visit to buttress China’s stances on trade and its territorial claims in the South China Sea.  President Trump will look to address what is perceived as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, and look to gain assistance on matters of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as well as look for more balanced trade deals.

Vietnam

Current relations with the U.S.

Once a longtime Cold War adversary, the legacy of the Vietnam War benighted relations between the two countries for twenty years. The Vietnam War was one of the lengthiest in American history and cost the lives of more than 58,000 Americans. Ties between the two nations were not re-established until the normalization of relations in 1995 under the Clinton Administration. Vietnam has quickly become an important ally to the United States, as Vietnam grows weary of China’s expansionist aspirations in the region.

Hanoi and Washington have begun to build strong defense and economic ties in recent years. In the face of China’s expansionist claims in the South China Sea, Washington has promised Hanoi routine visits to the country by U.S. Navy vessels, including aircraft carriers beginning in 2018 to potentially curb Chinese expansion.

Despite increasing collaboration between the United States and Vietnam in matters of security, Trade deficits remain an issue for the Trump Administration. Vietnam is South-East Asia’s largest exporter to the United States, however Vietnam’s trade deficit is the U.S.’ sixth largest according to the Department of Commerce. Vietnamese officials were also disappointed with the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership as Vietnam was to be a member of the partnership.

Prime Minister: Nguyen Xuan Phuc

Nguyen Xuan Phuc studied at Hanoi National Economics University and graduated with a degree in economic management before becoming a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1982.

Phuc held numerous positions within the Vietnamese government before becoming Prime Minister, including Director of Department of Planning and Investment, Deputy Inspector General and Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam among others. Phuc was named Prime Minister of Vietnam on July 26th, 2016.

President Trump’s will arrive in Da Nang to kick off his Vietnam visit on November 10th   to speak at the APEC Summit. Trump is scheduled on November 11th to travel to Hanoi to meet with Prime Minister Phuc. This will be the second time he will have met with the Vietnamese PM, as he previously met with Phuc at the White House in May of 2017. Trump will look to shore up Vietnamese support for his North Korea policy as well as negotiate to lower the trade deficit between the two nations.

Philippines

Current Relations with the U.S.

The Philippines and the United States have traditionally had a strong friendship. The Philippines has been a strategically important non-NATO U.S. ally. Relations with the Philippines began to sour once Rodrigo Duterte became president, and Duterte has stated he will initiate a “separation” from the United States militarily and economically and form alliances with China and Russia. According to the Department of State, the United States is one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines and is the Philippines’ third largest trading partner.

President: Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte’s father was elected governor of the Davao Province in the 1960’s. Duterte graduated from Lyceum of the Philippines University in 1968 with a degree in Political Science and went on to obtain a Law Degree from San Beda College in 1972. Duterte would serve with the Davao City prosecutor’s office until being appointed vice-mayor of the city in 1986.

Duterte served as mayor of Davao City from 1988 until 1998 when term-limits barred him from seeking reelection. Duterte then obtained a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives, and upon completion of his first term in 2001, sought and won reelection as Mayor of Davao City once again. Term-limits would force Duterte out once again before he could obtain the mayor’s office once more in 2013.

After successfully turning Davao City from a haven of lawlessness to one of the safest in the country, Duterte was dubbed “Duterte Harry” and “The Punisher” by his supporters for his tough stances on crime. Despite accusations by activists that his harsh treatment of criminals amounted to human right’s violations, Duterte used his track record as a successful mayor and prosecutor to win the Presidency on June 30th, 2016.

The garrulous Duterte has been critical of the United States and western governments in general for their criticism of his policies towards criminals. Duterte has dismissed criticism from the West as “double talk” and has made overtures to the governments of Russia and China to strengthen ties. President Trump is said to already have a warm relationship with the Filipino strongman, and will look to solidify his relationship with Duterte to improve U.S.-Philippines relations and contain China’s growing influence in the region.

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