‘Trump finds success in Asia’ screamed the CNN headline.
Every part of that sentence is bordering on unprecedented.
First, Donald Trump being called a ‘success’ during his tenure as President of the United States by someone other than himself or his White House staff.
Second, CNN, his most entrenched mainstream media enemy, being the ones to say it.
Yet what else could my old network say?
By any yardstick, Trump’s 12-day tour to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines has been a resounding triumph.
Trump’s 12-day tour to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines has been a resounding triumph – even CNN agreed. Here he is about to leave for DC from Manila
The main purpose of such a trip for any US president is to shore up relations with the countries you are visiting, and their leaders, and to represent America in a good, positive way.
Trump did all that. And he did it with an ease, confidence, respect and good humour that often seems sorely lacking back home when he’s strutting around the White House in what seems like perpetual rage.
He may be one of the most divisive presidents in history, but in terms of his celebrity status, already very big before he even ran for office, Trump’s also a political superstar of almost unprecedented proportions.
Hence the amazing scenes of excitement that have greeted him throughout the tour.
It’s been notable to see how much his numerous hosts have lavished him with extravagant praise and parades, just as we saw on his previous visits to places like Saudi Arabia and France.
They’ve worked out how to make Trump happy: treat him like the most powerful man in the world.
For a guy so widely reviled and scorned in his own country, this high level of ostentatious respect must come as a blessed relief from the relentless hour-by-hour war of attrition he wages at home with anyone and everyone from the media to grieving war widows.
On the first stop, in Japan, Prime Minister Abe played golf with Trump (sharing this photo on his Twitter) and treated him to a steak dinner
On the first stop, in Japan, Prime Minister Abe played golf with Trump and a top Japanese professional star, gave him customized hats saying ‘Donald & Shinzo, make alliance even greater’, and treated him to a steak dinner, remembering Trump’s infamous claim during a trip to Japan in 1990 that he did want ‘f***ing raw fish’.
‘There has never been such close bonds intimately connecting the leaders of both nations as we do now in the history of the Japan-US alliance,’ said Abe.
Wow. Trump himself couldn’t have out-hyperbole’d that euphoric statement.
In South Korea, where Trump’s had a frosty relationship with president Moon Jae-in, he was met with thousands of flag-waving children, military marching bands and hundreds of guards.
Moon told his guest he was ‘making great progress on making America great again.’
Landign in South Korea, where Trump’s had a frosty relationship with the president, Trump was met with thousands of flag-waving children, military marching bands and hundreds of guards
He added: ‘There is a special bond forged between President Trump and myself which is meaningful and I am grateful to be part of.’
Not to be outdone by Abe, he treated Trump to grilled Korean beef rib cooked with a 360-year-old soy sauce.
Next day, Trump was given 20 rousing ovations as he addressed South Korea’s National Assembly.
Chinese President Xi saw all this, and raised the bar ten-fold, unleashing the full armoury of Chinese 7-star hospitality and pageantry for the man who had spent his entire presidential campaign abusing and deriding China.
It included dinner inside the Forbidden City, where no foreign leader since 1949 has been invited to dine.
In return, Trump avoided attacking China’s human rights record, and proudly showed Xi a video of his granddaughter Arabella speaking Chinese.
Chinese President Xi invited dinner inside the Forbidden City, where no foreign leader since 1949 has been invited to dine. Trump didn’t attack China and then proudly showed off a video of his daughter speaking Chinese
(I first heard Arabella, Ivanka’s daughter, do this on the set of Celebrity Apprentice, when she was just two years old. It was even more impressive then).
Trump also praised China for out-smarting America in business.
They don’t hear that very often, and certainly not from US presidents.
But it’s true, they have, and Trump’s made it clear he’s not going to make it so easy for them going forward.
Knowing the Chinese mentality a bit from filming a documentary in Shanghai a few years ago, I’d say this a very good strategy.
They respond well to a respectful carrot-and-stick approach, as indeed does Trump.
State-run broadcaster CCTV said after he left that Trump ‘has given China what China wants, which is that respect on a global stage as the other preeminent nation.’ That’s a highly significant vote of confidence in the world’s new most important relationship.
In Vietnam, Trump offered to mediate in the South China Sea dispute, and made encouraging noises about ‘fair and reciprocal’ two-way trade deal, both vitally important issues for Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
In Vietnam, Trump offered to mediate in the South China Sea dispute, and made encouraging noises about ‘fair and reciprocal’ two-way trade deal, both vitally important issues. Here is Trump and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in front of a statue of Ho Chi Mihn. The President managed to not criticize his hosts
Throughout his tour, Trump avoided publicly criticizing any of his hosts.
For a man who delights in criticizing absolutely everyone, this must have taken quite extraordinary self-control.
But it paid off. The press coverage from this trip, both in the countries concerned and in the US, is the best Trump’s enjoyed since becoming President.
The only time he strayed off message and sparked controversy was when he tweeted that Kim Jong UN was ‘short and fat’, despite, ironically, this being one of his most undeniably truthful public statements.
The US media were desperate to ‘gotcha’ Trump making a fool of himself during the tour.
Witness their lip-licking joy when they heard he’d chucked a whole bowl of food into a pool full of rare Koi fish in Japan.
Twitter blew up with a video clip displaying his apparently crass, potentially murderous stupidity.
Then a fuller tape emerged showing President Abe had done the exact same thing a few seconds before.
The only people to make fools of themselves over this were the US media, and it exposed the inherent weakness of their relationship with this President – they know that bad Trump news sells better than good Trump news, and it warps their judgement.
As he flew home, Trump predictably declared his Asia tour ‘tremendously successful’.
For once, the claim was justified.
He landed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of new trade deals, had important discussions over security issues like North Korea and ISIS, and got a chance to show off his world class schmoozing skills, honed from decades travelling the world doing real estate deals.
On his last night, equally controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte sang Trump a love song after dinner in Manila
On his last night, equally controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte sang Trump a love song after dinner in Manila.
One of the verses was: “You are the light in my world, a half of this heart is mine.”
It would take a heart of granite not to smile at that footage, nor to recognise that this moment typified the spirit of this whole trip: one of reconciliation, inclusion and mutual respect.
Not one of scoring cheap political points, which is Trump’s preferred option from his Washington bunker.
Even during the absurd mass crossed-hands leaders’ handshake on Sunday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, when Trump at first looked completely clueless, he soon got into with commendable enthusiasm and even looked like he’s learned how to laugh at himself.
Donald Trump showed on this Asia tour that he has it in him to be fun, charming, dignified, on-message, self-aware and a proper statesman.
Dare I say, he was thoroughly presidential.
Not only was her husband at his most presidential, but Melania – here with children in Beijing – continues to be a very impressive First Lady
I hope he can bring this presidential Donald Trump back to America now and show it on the domestic stage
(I should also point out his wife Melania continues to be a very impressive First Lady who rarely puts a foot wrong).
The question now is can he bring that same Donald Trump to the US domestic stage?
I hope both that he can, and that his hysterical shrieking US enemies calm down a bit to meet him half way.
I’m not suggesting that I expect to see Trump-haters singing him soppy love songs. But I do think it’s time they reminded themselves that he is the President of the United States and that office commands more respect than many have been showing him.
Just as the office demands the President also shows more respect than he has been affording to many fellow Americans.
As the Asia trip proves, Trump can be a very different, far less aggressive and dislikeable beast if he’s shown respect.