Trump’s Unpredictability on Trade and North Korea Opens a Door for China

 In U.S.

“The abrupt decision on steel tariffs and now the summit with Kim Jong-un will inevitably raise questions in Tokyo and other allied capitals about how decisions are made by this administration that affect their interests,” said Michael J. Green, a former Asia adviser to President George W. Bush who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and who met with Japanese officials in Tokyo on Friday.

The news that Mr. Trump wanted to meet with Mr. Kim did provide relief, at least in the short term, from months of growing fears that military conflict would break out on the Korean Peninsula.

“On the one hand, we’re buying time and Trump is not going to bomb in the spring,” said Gordon Flake, chief executive of the Perth US-Asia Center at the University of Western Australia. “That’s good.”

But, Mr. Flake added, Mr. Trump “demonstrated extreme capriciousness on something like tariffs. This is why everyone in the region is having the same reaction: equal parts relief and alarm.”

Mr. Trump’s seemingly unstoppable series of erratic moves has helped cast China as the more stable power in Asia. But it has also diverted attention from Chinese actions that would otherwise have raised much more alarm.


Mr. Trump’s moves in Asia have diverted attention from Chinese actions that would otherwise have raised much more alarm, like President Xi Jinping’s power grab, persuading China’s Communist Party to abolish term limits.

Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“One of the most underreported consequences of the last 18 months is that China has gotten a free pass,” said Mr. Flake, citing the country’s military buildup on islands in the South China Sea, its economic punishment of South Korea for cooperating with the United States on a missile defense system and, most recently, President Xi Jinping’s power grab, persuading the Communist Party to abolish limits on his time in office.

Under any other American administration, “the dominant narrative would have been Chinese overreach and internal crackdowns,” Mr. Flake said. “But that narrative has been completely washed away by the chaos that is Trump.”

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