The president travels to Northeast Asia this weekend to begin a ten-day trip that will take him to South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. During the trip, he will also be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits. Harry Kazianis previews the trip:
While some of the rhetoric coming out of the White House has been unhelpful and sometimes downright inappropriate, Team Trump has just the right mix of national security pros to keep the president focused on what could very well be the biggest foreign trip of his presidency — if he heeds their wise counsel. This is clearly a make or break series of visits, with the president visiting South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and senior officials in the White House I have spoken to in the last few days get it. As one senior State Department official put it to me: “We plan to go over and impress — mark my words.
If the president can contain himself for the duration and avoid making any major diplomatic blunders, that would be something of a small triumph for this administration. I don’t expect the president to heed “wise counsel” because for the most part he has shown no ability to recognize wise counsel when he hears it. Based on his past behavior, it is more likely than not that the president will get into a public quarrel with at least one allied government during the trip. Trump has criticized South Korean President Moon specifically for his “appeasement” of North Korea, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he said something similar or resumed making threats about the trade agreement.
The president has already alarmed and alienated allies in the region with his bluster and threats, and he has used up a lot of whatever goodwill there may have been, so the trip needs to be an exercise in repairing damaged relationships. The trouble is that he doesn’t have a good track record of doing that. Trump is very susceptible to being manipulated by flattery and praise, and he doesn’t handle disagreements well, so the trip could become a repeat of his first foreign trip in which he embraced the worst, most abusive governments while insulting our closest allies. We shouldn’t expect much progress on any major issues.
Trump probably hasn’t helped himself with regional governments by choosing not to attend the East Asia Summit scheduled for the middle of November in the Philippines. The U.S. will still be represented at the summit by Tillerson, but many regional governments will view the president’s absence as an indication that he doesn’t take their concerns all that seriously. While Trump has tended to perform poorly at multilateral meetings, it can’t help the U.S. to advance its interests with other governments when the president doesn’t bother showing up at these events. The length of the trip doesn’t bode well for a president famous for his short attention span and volatile temper. It is longer than any Asia trip that his last two predecessors took, and Trump is likely to get bored and irascible the longer that he is abroad.