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Trump in Asia: A break from the past but uncertain results

  • President Donald Trump, center, gives a statement before leaving for the airport, an East Asia Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is seen at right while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is at left. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • U.S. President Donald Trump waves goodbye as he enters Air Force One after participating in the East Asia Summit, Tuesday, in Manila. ap photo

  • Flanked by U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, U.S. President Donald Trump offers a departing statement after participating in an East Asia Summit, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • U.S. President Donald Trump arrive for a family photo during the ASEAN-U.S. 40th Anniversary commemorative Summit in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (Manan Vatsyayana/Pool Photo via AP) Manan Vatsyayana

  • U.S. President Donald Trump, left, walks past Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as they arrive for a family photo during the ASEAN-U.S. 40th Anniversary commemorative Summit in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (Manan Vatsyayana/Pool Photo via AP) MANAN VATSYAYANA

  • Leaders from left to right, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, U.S. President Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pose for a family photo during the ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Manila, Philippines on Monday Nov. 13, 2017. (Manan Vatsyayana/Pool Photo via AP) Manan Vatsyayana

  • President Donald Trump, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN Summit at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila, Philippines Monday Nov. 13, 2017. (Rolex dela Pena/Pool Photo via AP) Rolex dela Pena

  • Demonstrators display a mock U.S. flag to protest the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump and the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. Twenty one leaders from the ASEAN and their Dialogue Partners, which included Trump, are on a two-day summit which ends today. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) Aaron Favila

  • President Donald Trump smiles while speaking during the U.S.-ASEAN Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik



Associated Press
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

President Donald Trump declared his first Asian tour “tremendously successful” as he hopped on a plane bound for Washington. But when he lands late Tuesday he’ll arrive with few concrete accomplishments in hand.

As he jetted across the region, to five nations, six cities and three summits over 12 days, Trump pushed regional leaders to reshape trade deals to America’s liking, but he won no firm commitments from his hosts. He opened the door to negotiations with North Korea, but then seemed to shut it again by deriding the dictator Kim Jong Un as “short and fat.”

He did not try to push leaders to end human rights abuses.

Trump has said he’ll have more to say about the trip’s achievements in a “major statement” at the White House this week. The White House would not discuss the details in advance.

The trip did reveal much about Trump’s traveling style. He soaked up the pageantry and was well practiced at the art of flattery.

For all his tough campaign talk on trade, Trump appeared reluctant to take a confrontational stance. He cajoled and flattered leaders in Tokyo and Seoul without eliciting firm commitments for a more balanced economic relationship. At a summit in Vietnam, he vowed to hold rising superpower China accountable for unfair business and trade practices. Yet in Beijing, the president said, “I don’t blame China” for a growing trade gap.

In the White House view, Trump accomplished what he set out to do: strengthen relationships with world leaders and lay the groundwork for more equitable trading deals.

“I think the fruits of our labor are going to be incredible, whether it’s the security of our nations, whether it’s security of the world or whether it’s trade,” Trump said before leaving the Philippines on Tuesday bound for home.

But across the Pacific, Trump was reminded of the challenges awaiting him at home.

As Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up their joint statements to the press in Beijing, they ignored shouted questions from American reporters in the Great Hall of the People. When they ducked backstage, Xi summoned his interpreter and posed an inquiry to Trump:

“Who is Roy Moore?” Xi asked.

That moment, described by two White House officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations, underscores Trump’s domestic challenges. He must grapple with the uncertain fate of his tax cut plan, face the threat of a government shutdown and decide whether to cut ties with Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama’s special Senate race, who is accused of sexually assaulting underage girls decades ago.

For most of the trip, Trump was able to leave domestic affairs behind, though he did reignite the Russia firestorm by revealing that President Vladimir Putin had insisted to him in Vietnam that Moscow didn’t hack the 2016 election. Trump added: “And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it.” Trump later clarified that he was “with” the U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded Russia was behind the interference.

In Seoul, Trump delivered a sharp warning to North Korea, saying: “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.” But he also, for the first time, signaled a willingness to negotiate with Kim, though he didn’t elaborate.