Trump's China trip: Beneath the smiles, a harsh reality

Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte

The president will head back to Washington from his 12-day trip overseas on Tuesday. By the time he sat down in Manila today with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump was beginning to take stock.

In other policy areas, the President Trump's Asia trip brought less clarification. And then tomorrow we have the conference. Promises of US$250 billion of imports to China may well be built on sand.

After 12 hectic days in Asia, even Trump's critics acknowledge he projected an air of engagement. While such visits do not necessarily produce long-lasting results if differences are deep and structural - Barack Obama's meetings with Putin failed to mend US-Russia ties - their immediate objective is to manage and stabilise ties.

Standing alongside Xi Jinping, who is now presiding over China's most serious crackdown on human rights in decades, in whose state's custody a Nobel peace laureate died this summer, and whose widow remains missing, Donald Trump opted not to mention human rights.

The White House said they touched on the issue during private talks, Mr Duterte's spokesman said they didn't.

"My press - I feel so sorry for them". Trump even undercut his own cause by suggesting that China's huge trade surplus with the U.S. was the fault of the system, not China itself, saying "I don't blame China". You were able to hang in there. "And I'm really proud of that".

HORSLEY: Trump insists it's been a fruitful trip, and there's certainly been plenty of pageantry. In other words, should the US contain China as it once did with the USSR or, having distanced itself from multilateralism, should it resign itself to entering a multipolar world?

"It was a red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever seen", Donald Trump declared approvingly. But again Trump came home empty-handed on trade. President Trump made various statements sometimes at odds with his earlier positions.

PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL: We've got the same values and the same focus on ensuring that the North Korean regime comes to its senses and stops its reckless provocation. Trump was bizarrely deferential to President Xi Jinping, with the American president lavishing personal - and unreciprocated - praise upon his counterpart.

On the same podium, however, Trump called his relationship with Xi "excellent" and declared that he "liked him a lot". Presiding over tens of billions of dollars' worth of new commercial contracts for things like soybeans, aircraft engines and natural gas. Trump's vision has up-ended a consensus favouring multinational trade pacts whose regional champion is now China. He told reporters to stay tuned. "He blamed his predecessors rather than China for our huge trade deficits and hailed Mr. Xi's consolidation of authoritarian power". Over the weekend, though, Trump was back tweeting about crooked Hillary and suggesting the leader of North Korea could be described as short and fat. Extreme flattery seemed to have been adopted as the preferred tactic among Trump's hosts across the region, and it worked, with the President raving afresh each time about the reception he had received.

Both in Manila and throughout his trip, Trump championed his administration's policy of favouring "fair and reciprocal" bilateral agreements over large-scale multilateral deals, and sought to rally global support around increasing sanctions against the North Korean regime and the Islamic State terror organisation.

This is not to say that they should overlook the issues. "Through our actions and our words, the United States has made clear that we will not tolerate the use of these horrific weapons", he said. And that took place very recently.



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