A year on from his election, the self-confessed sexual assaulter is touring Asia. At Slow News Weekly, I try not to focus on Trump unless his actions directly impact the lives of most Australians. But his tour around Asia is a neat opportunity to throw the spotlight – very quickly – on some key issues currently caressing the continent.
As always, I will commit monstrous acts of reductionism is rendering complex foreign policy into just a few short paragraphs – but hey, this is why you’re reading Slow News, isn’t it?
Trump began his week in Japan. He made headlines when he commented that he was confused as to why Japan, a country of “samurai warriors” did not shoot down the missiles that North Korea had sent their way.
Back in August and September, North Korea had indeed shot missiles in Japan’s direction, scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Japan’s defence force calculated that these missiles wouldn’t hit the Japanese mainland – and they were right.
Apart from this, Trump played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and tried to encourage Abe to buy more arms from the US.
The Prime Minister is fresh from an October landslide victory in Japanese elections. It’s generally thought that his hard-line against North Korea led him to victory, in spite of a number of scandals where he’s promoted his mates to places of authority.
Apart from the North Korea face off, Abe’s also known for his desire to re-write the Japanese pacifism constitution. In the wake of World War 2, Japan’s constitution put strict pacifism sanctions on its military. Among other things, the constitution forbids Japan from using force to settle international disputes. Abe wants to completely change the constitution, as no longer believes it’s relevant to the 21st century international stage. He’s recently said he’ll put the revisions off to 2020 as Japan goes into deeper debate on the issue. It’s an issue that regularly splits polls in Japan 50/50.
Such changes would disturb Japan’s Asian neighbours, particularly China, who has voiced discomfort at Abe’s re-election.
Trump spent last Tuesday and Wednesday in South Korea. For the first time, Trump’s language softened around North Korea. While in Seoul, he said they were “making progress” with the North, and a diplomatic solution may be possible. (By the end of the week, however, Trump had called Kim Jong-Un fat and short and fat on Twitter, after North Korean media said Trump was old. So…you know…high quality debate here.)
South Korea and the United States are particularly chummy, as they have been for a long time (check out our break down of Korean relations and history for more), because Seoul is buying plenty of arms from the US to protect itself from the North. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is a vocal fan of Trump, congratulating him for “making America great again”.
Trump’s plans to visit the DMZ – the no man’s land between the North and South – were de-railed by a fog. They couldn’t land the helicopter.
Also, Moon and Trump had dinner with a 360 year old soy sauce. As a side, obviously, not…you know…as a guest.
Trump was famously critical of China in his campaign, accusing them of “raping” the US economy. But Trump praised Chinese president Xi Jinping repeatedly, and said the “unbalanced” trade between the two countries was the fault of previous US administrations, not the Chinese. United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to clarify the comments back home – describing them as “tongue-in-cheek”. (This is the same Secretary of State who apparently said Trump was a “fucking moron”… at what point does this just become a Marx Brothers film?)
The two leaders announced new trade deals, and Trump praised Xi’s moves against North Korea – saying that the Chinese should do more to restrict North Korea’s economy. (The Chinese currently have a great deal of trade sanctions against North Korea, which is hurting them greatly. Again, our break down has more.)
The warmth between the two leaders was uncomfortable for many, including United States experts who wanted Trump to take a harder line. Many are saying the bromance was superficial and performed through gritted teeth. Malcom Turnbull himself recently warned that tensions between the two economic superpowers could greatly undermine global economic stability. In addition, of course, is China’s long list of human rights abuses. Just a fortnight ago, China passed new laws that could land citizens three years in jail for ‘disrespecting the national anthem’.
Next on the agenda: Vietnam. Trump famously dodged being drafted into the Vietnam War due to a letter from his doctor. At the end of last week he visited the country for an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Leaders Summit.
Here, he shook hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, once again sparking endless conversation about the leaders relationship. The CIA and FBI have ongoing investigations into Russian election interference. The CIA has said that Russia definitely had some part to play in the campaign. Trump has accepted these terms, but has also said he trusts that Putin had nothing to do with it.
As a part of APEC, Australia played an important role in salvaging the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal aims to eliminate trading barriers and tariffs (a tax) on industrial and farming products between countries. Trump famously abandoned the deal just two days after becoming President, as he felt it was a ‘bad idea’ for US manufacturers. The TPP was championed by Obama and took seven years to negotiate. It was made in part to minimise China’s dominance in Asia. Japan and Australia are big fans of the deal and want it to go ahead.
The agreement is still being negotiated and is yet to be signed.
Turnbull walked away from APEC with a secured agreement with Peru. The elimination of tariffs will boost Australia’s sugar industry and farming and mining services.
South China Sea
As part of APEC, Trump offered himself as a negotiator and mediator between countries that want a slice of the South China Sea – a critical trade route that hosts about three trillion worth of goods each year. Five countries oppose China’s domination of the route. Vietnam is the most vocal opponent. China has built seven man-made islands in disputed territory. The opposing countries and China are entering into a negotiating framework to try and peacefully resolve the issue.
Trump’s ending his Asian tour in the Philippines, where frankly things just get fucking bizarre.
President Rodrigo Duterte is sometimes referred to as the ‘Trump of the East’. Just last Friday Duterte claimed that he had once stabbed someone to death. It was a confession designed to help promote the idea that drugs are ruining his country. He has campaigned on the notion that he will get rid of all illegal drugs. He said last year he’d be ‘happy to slaughter’ 3 million drug addicts, and called Obama a ‘son of a whore’ for criticising his policies.
At a dinner in Manila, Duterte sang a love song to Trump. I’m not even kidding. Trump apparently ‘ordered’ him to do it. He took to the microphone and sang “Ikaw” (‘You’) in a duet with a local pop star.
Duterte’s drug policies have killed 3,900 Filipinos. According to the government, the police are acting in ‘self-defence’, but critics are saying executions are happening with no accountability.
Trump has praised Duterte’s drug policies and says he’s solving a big problem for his country.
We’ll be back at the end of the week with the news summary. The result of the same-sex marriage survey are due to be announced tomorrow (Wednesday).
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