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Trump's Asia trip shows U.S. at risk of being sidelined in the region's economic future

Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

But no other country is lining up to sit down and bargain with the U.S. on trade.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for example, listened to Trump's expected criticisms of Japan's large trade deficit with the U.S. and his calls for Japan to make more cars in America and buy more U.S. military equipment. But Abe took no new actions.

"We had a lot of pronouncements, but there was not a move toward initiating formal bilateral trade negotiations. Prime Minister Abe again deflected, talking about a regional framework being best," said Mireya Solis, a Japan expert and co-director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

There were a lot of symbolic gestures in China too. President Xi Jinping welcomed Trump by shutting down the Forbidden City to give Trump a private tour and, for the first time for any American president, an official dinner inside the storied palace. As they've done in past presidential visits, the Chinese also announced billions of dollars in deals with American companies, including General Electric and Smithfield Foods, a Chinese-owned company based in Virginia.

But some of those deals were already in the pipeline, and Xi did not offer concessions on substantive issues on Trump's trade agenda, such as Chinese steel production or removal of barriers to U.S. imports to China. Tillerson said the "Chinese acknowledge much more has to be done. "

Xi, too, will make a speech in Vietnam, and could offer a stark competing vision in which the Chinese, not the Americans, will be portrayed as championing economic integration and engagement with the world, something considered unthinkable not long ago.

 

"I don't think the Chinese have to do very much. They're gaining strategic importance and geopolitical influence in the region by virtue of the fact that the United States is perceived, and, to some extent, is withdrawing from the region," said Nicholas Lardy, a China economy specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Trump, he said, "can talk about Indo-Pacific, blah, blah, blah, but we're not engaged in trade, we're not negotiating any new trade agreements with any country in the region."

The big worry for business leaders and trade analysts in the U.S. and around the world is that Trump will eventually follow through on his threats to take punitive measures against trading partners he believes have acted unfairly.

That could include imposing broad tariffs on Chinese imports, if only to inflict some pain to win concessions.

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