World News

Trump to Skip Meetings in Asia as He Keeps a Distance With Allies

Posted August 31, 2018 8:37 p.m. EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As President Donald Trump hardened his stance on trade with Canada, one of the nation’s closest allies, the White House said Friday that Trump would not be traveling to Asia for a round of economic and security meetings with allies this fall.

Trump will not attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting, the East Asia Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation session this year, and will send Vice President Mike Pence instead, according to a statement issued by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

“The vice president looks forward to meeting with our allies and partners from across the region to advance security, prosperity and freedom for all,” Sanders said.

Trump’s decision not to attend the Asia meetings in November — he will travel to the Group of 20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and visit both France and Ireland earlier that month — underscored the degree to which the president is comfortable creating a political distance between the United States and some of its major allies. And it is all but certain to reinforce concerns among allies in that part of the world about the Trump administration’s ability to be a reliable and stabilizing force against China.

Trump, who has said for decades that countries around the world take economic advantage of the United States, has ramped up the “America first” message he delivered on his trip to Asia last year. The president has seemed to express a stronger desire to get along with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, than he has with a more traditional set of allied leaders, including Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada.

As the president appeared before supporters at several events in North Carolina on Friday, he continued his message: “China is ripping us off,” Trump said, “Japan is ripping us off. There’s nobody that’s not ripping us off.”

Analysts who study the region say Trump’s dedication to an “America first” economic stance is backward-looking compared with the vision offered at a summit last year by President Xi Jinping of China. At the time, stark differences between the two leaders played out as they unveiled policies on the world stage at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation session.

“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” Trump said. For his part, Xi delivered a spirited defense of globalization.

Since that meeting, a tense relationship has evolved into an all-out trade war, with Trump using a series of tweets this week to accuse China of undermining his diplomatic efforts with North Korea. (The Chinese state media responded by saying Trump’s missives were “messages from some alternative universe.”)

“There was a sense last year that President Trump at APEC was upstaged” by the Chinese president, said Robert Holleyman, who served as a deputy U.S. trade representative during the Obama administration. “This would’ve been an opportunity for a United States president to do a redo.”

Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who is a senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump’s absence this year would be viewed as further evidence of what she called a “lack of interest” in cultivating American allies.

She said Trump’s murky approach to North Korea would be a “lost opportunity” in tending to relationships with leaders who already may have come to view him as an erratic and unreliable ally.

“South Korea is concerned that Trump is too hard-line toward North Korea,” Terry said. “Japan is concerned he is too soft. Both worry he may not be a reliable ally. Attending these summits would have been helpful in tending to these relationships and buttressing unity against China, with whom Trump has launched a trade war.”