Trump in Asia: 'This Is a Speech That Obama Could Have Given'

President Trump's 12 day, five-country visit to Asia is his most significant foreign trip since taking office and one of the longest, most complex visits that any U.S. president has ever taken to Asia. Naturally, there were worries that the famously volatile American leader would ruffle feathers throughout by issuing errant tweets or impolitic comments.

Thus far, however, Trump has confounded his skeptics. In visits to Japan and South Korea — two stalwart U.S. allies whom Trump had once accused of freeloading — the president reaffirmed the importance of the relationship in strong, unambiguous language. Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations who is covering Trump's trip, even said that the president's speech to the South Korean parliament on Tuesday was one "that [former President Barack] Obama could have given."

"I must say I've been quite surprised that the president has acted in such a dignified way," said Schell, who appeared via video conference from Beijing, where Trump met Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. "His speeches have gone a long way toward reassuring our two major allies, Japan and South Korea. At the same time, I think he’s done a very effective job in wooing the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, and the new president of Korea, Moon Jae-in."

Following his visit to China, where Trump received an opulent reception, the president will travel to Vietnam for an East Asia Summit gathering that may include a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then conclude his trip in the Philippines. The trip may include difficult challenges ahead; but thus far, Schell says, the president has struck the right notes.

"What’s interesting about just watching him work is seeing a man who knows how to woo another leader because he himself has an inexhaustible need to be wooed, stroked, and courted," Schell said. "And I think this gives him a unique ability to understand exactly what it is that these allies who come from smaller countries that depend on the United States want."

Schell participated in a conversation on Wednesday at Asia Society that also featured former U.S. Ambassador to China Winston Lord and Asia Society Executive Vice President Tom Nagorski. You can read Schell's dispatches for ChinaFile here and here and watch the complete video of today's program below.




About the Author

Profile picture for user Matt Schiavenza

Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.