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Trump’s Asia tour to test his negotiating skills

Donald Trump is said to not like travelling very much. He could be in for an uncomfortable 12 days.

By admin , in USA , at November 4, 2017

Donald Trump is said to not like travelling very much. He could be in for an uncomfortable 12 days.

The president's five-country Asia tour is perhaps the most significant diplomatic test of his presidency so far.

Even if Kim Jong Un hasn't got a surprise "welcome to the region" up his sleeve, there are challenges every step of the way.

The headlines are that he will seek to enhance American prosperity and its national security.

In effect, it means wrangling over trade and reinforcing the regional will to confront North Korea.

But the way Trump has done business as President creates a fundamental problem in finding a way forward.

Image:Trump rants about China ripping off America but he needs them to pressure Pyongyang

Because at the same time as he rants about China ripping off America, playing unfair and creating massive trade imbalances, he needs Beijing to be pressuring Pyongyang.

The White House believes China is playing nice with Trump on North Korea at the moment but what happens if he goes off-script on trade in President Xi's backyard?

Similarly, those most directly in Kim Jong Un's sights want some reassurance. Japan and South Korea need to know that Trump has their back if things turn nasty.

Any hint of discord between Washington and its Asian allies will be absorbed with interest in North Korea.

US-Asia analyst David Kang says Trump's policies on North Korea are – 'flamboyant' language aside – not too dissimilar to those of Barack Obama's era of "strategic patience".

Both leaders said a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable to America but found preventing it impossible.

So what are they left with?

Mr Kang said: "American alliances with Japan and South Korea can be strengthened.

Trump and Abe handshake
Image:Japan needs to know that Trump has their back if things get rough with North Korea

"The long-term, 3 to 5 year play here is North Korea going down this path, isolating itself further and enhancing America's position in the region.

"One of the key elements is how does the United States deal with China on this and that's where the diplomacy is going to matter."

But a President with a tendency to say what he thinks, on a long trip to a complex region at a sensitive time, has the potential for some awkward moments.

He says that he is "the one that matters" in terms of diplomacy and that puts the responsibility squarely on him during this trip. It will be a test of his skills as a great negotiator.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump lay a wreath at the USS Arizona Memorial on November 3, 2017, at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii
Video:Trump's Pearl Harbor stopover will have reminded him of the consequences of war

He has certainly promised great things from the visit but, like many foreign leaders, those in Asia are still trying to fathom out what a Trump presidency will mean in real terms.

The White House has said he will not visit the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea – it has become "cliched" they say – but will visit troops instead.

For him, getting away from Washington and the noise about collusion with Russia might be a welcome break.

Until, as he might, he meets Vladimir Putin at the APEC summit in Vietnam.

The headlines then might be the kind he doesn't want.

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