President Trump returned this Tuesday night from a 12 day trip Asia, his third major international trip after visits to the Middle East and Europe earlier this year. Trump spoke to leaders in Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, with a focus on reining in the North Korean threat and forming “free and reciprocal” trade deals.


Meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump managed to make small steps towards his proclaimed goals in the region in the form of new Japanese sanctions on North Korea. The sanctions will freeze the assets of nine organizations and 26 individuals. Commenting on the recent North Korean missile tests over Japanese territory, Trump proclaimed that “The era of strategic patience is over”. President Trump also secured a verbal agreement from Abe to purchase more US military equipment, meaning, in his words, “A lot of jobs for us and a lot of safety for Japan”. This move is intended to help close the $69 billion trade gap between the two countries.

South Korea

Following a similar agenda in South Korea, Trump announced that the country had agreed to order “billions of dollars worth of equipment”. After declaring at a joint news conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that the US was prepared to use a “full range” of military options if necessary, Trump headed to Camp Humphrey, which is set to be the largest overseas US military base when it finishes its expansion project in 2020. Trump also thanked President Moon for “instructing trade negotiators to work closely with us to pursue a much better deal, a deal that frankly has been quite unsuccessful and not very good for the United States”, after previously threatening to drop out of the deal altogether.


In China, Trump was promised an increase in purchases of American products, including soybeans, aircraft engines, and computer chips. Trump complained about China’s tendency towards unfair trading practices, such as theft of intellectual property and closed markets, but these concerns went unaddressed. In response to this history of issues, Trump said “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit. In actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow.” While Trump did claim that China could fix the North Korea problem “easily and quickly”, he did not manage to gain anything more than a general verbal commitment to increase pressure.


In Da Nang, Vietnam, Trump met with 23 other world leaders as part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Here, Trump insisted that he was “not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” and pledged to pursue bilateral over multinational trade agreements. Due to Trump’s decision to back out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal in his first week in office, the summit continued with the eleven remaining members of the agreement forming a new trade agreement which excluded the United States. After meeting with Putin at the summit, Trump responded to reporters’ questions about Putin’s involvement in the 2016 election by insisting that “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’. And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it. I think he is very insulted by it.” He later clarified his statements, saying that “What I said is that I believe [Putin] believes that. As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership.  I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies,” While in Vietnam, Trump also tweeted a strange insult at Kim Jong-Un, saying that he would “NEVER call him ‘short and fat’” and forecasting that they may someday be friends.

The Philippines

In the Philippines, Trump declared to now have a “better than ever” relationship with the controversial President Rodrigo Duterte. At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, Trump asserted that “We want our partners in the region to be strong, independent and prosperous, in control of their own destinies, and satellites to no one,”. Keeping with this mentality, Trump avoided reporters questions in regards to the human rights crisis surrounding the Philippine government crackdown on drug trafficking, which has led to as many as 9,000 extra-judicial killings. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte, said: “There was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.” Despite this, spokespeople for the US and the Philippines later issued a joint statement saying that they “underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs.”


Despite the nearly two weeks spent overseas, Trump, writer of “The Art of the Deal” returned home with little to show from his negotiations. In leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the US has reduced its significance in eastern trade, leaving little reason for Asian economic powers to make concessions on our behalf. While an enormous part of Trump’s 2016 campaign focused on China’s abuse of trade agreements, even going so far as to say that China was “raping” our country, Trump was quick to forgive, and seemingly even compliment, now that he is in a position to make a change. After insisting so often that it would be a simple matter to fix the uneven economic relationships the United States is involved in, it’s going to be hard for him to convince his voter base that a moderate increase in sales of military equipment and other goods have made a major impact once elections come around.

Trump also seems to be running out of steam with the issue of North Korea, falling back on his Twitter insult staple. He has had little luck in pushing our allies towards concrete policy changes towards North Korea, despite their greater threat of attack. China has no intention of changing the current arrangement, and South Korea has no interest in pursuing more of a militaristic approach.

Fitting with his surprisingly docile nature outside of our borders, Trump seems unable to speak ill of any authoritarian leader who compliments him. Just as he complimented Erdogan and ignored Saudi human rights issues, Trump continues to fawn over Putin and can’t seem to take a stand against the clear state terrorism occurring under Duterte’s rule. His eventual acceptance, however, that US intelligence agencies are correct in regards to Putin’s interference suggests he may be feeling the pressure from recent arrests back home.

Engagement Resources

  • Donate to United for Peace and Justice: United for Peace and Justice is an international group working to promote an end to war and the abuse of human rights. Last Saturday they organized a series of protests against war in North Korea. You can donate on their website.
  • Stay up to date with Karapatan: Karapatan is an alliance of individuals, groups, and organizations working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines since 1995. You can learn more about current campaigns on their website.
  • Read more about Trump’s visit to the Philippines: Here is a Washington Post article taking a more in-depth look at Trump’s failure to confront the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact



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