After 12 days of daily summits in five countries on the Pacific rim, Donald Trump prepared to head home on Tuesday leaving behind a region largely relieved that the US president did not escalate existing relations but still confused about his administration’s policies in Asia.
Trump has said he will deliver his own verdict on the trip in what he promised would be a “major statement” on North Korea and trade, the headline themes of the trip. From past experience that is likely to be an upbeat assessment. Several times along the road he described his reception as unprecedented and claimed that “big progress” had been made on trade deals, though he gave no details.
In the region, the general reaction appears to be that the tour had gone better than expected, but in some cases that was set against very low expectations. In South Korea, for example, there were fears that Trump’s spat with Kim Jong-un could result in a flare up in hostilities while he was in the region. That did not happen. The US president did have one Twitter flare-up, after he left the Korean peninsula lashing out at Kim Jong-un who he said had insulted him by calling him old: “When I would NEVER call him “short and fat?”
However, he did conclude his tweet on a more soothing note, claiming: “I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”
On his visits to Japan and South Korea, where the challenge of containing North Korea was the focus of summit meetings, his tone was on the whole more measured and resolute than expected. In South Korea, where officials had worried about the lack of chemistry between President Moon Jae-in, and Trump’s previous threats to tear up a bilateral trade deal and make Seoul pay for US-made missile defence systems, his speech about the strength of the bilateral relationship to the national parliament, went down particularly well.
“The national assembly speech was surprise. It was really well received,” said Sue Mi Terry, the senior fellow for Korea chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “It showed Trump valued the alliance and he showed he knew the history. The Koreans bought it.”
Terry also said the Seoul government also welcomed the fact that Trump…