DONALD Trump has hit out at critics of his recent Asia trip while committing to a global campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea and taking a veiled swipe at China.
Speaking a day after his return to the United States following his 12-day trip, the US President also spoke of a free and open Indo-Pacific which was vital to the security of all nations.
Referring to his visit to the Philippines and his meetings with President Rodrigo Duterte, Mr Trump said the US made one point clear at ASEAN.
“At ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we made it clear that no-one owns the oceans,” Mr Trump said in his 25-minute speech from the White House.
Park Strategies senior vice president Sean King, an expert on Asian politics, told news.com.au it appeared the comment was directed at China, but that he was confused by this remark.
“He also fawns over (Chinese President) Xi Jinping so, what gives?,” Mr King said.
“It’s kind of confusing to me, to be honest.”
Mr King also applauded President Trump’s more aggressive freedom of navigation operations but said he felt the South China Sea, in practical terms, might already be lost.
“Beijing’s apparently already bought off Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines while Vietnam’s now hedging its bets with mainland China after we left Hanoi high and dry by ditching TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership),” he said.
“America’s not a claimant while Beijing’s militarising artificial islands after having poured sand and concrete into features and reefs.”
Mr Trump’s comments come on top of earlier remarks he made in Manila where he said he remained concerned about China’s efforts “to build and militarise outposts in the South China Sea.”
Speaking to world leaders at the East Asia Summit in the Philippines on Tuesday, Mr Trump said the dispute is one of four security challenges that must be addressed to achieve his vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region.
He said his vision required all nations “to respect freedoms of navigation and overflight, and other lawful uses of the sea”.
Mr Trump and the Philippines leader both criticised the “militarisation” of the disputed South China Sea during their first bilateral meeting in Manila.
Mr Trump offered to mediate in a territorial dispute over the resource-rich South China Sea, after years of Chinese island-building in the contested waters. But the President’s proposal risks a backlash from China, which has repeatedly said the US has no role to play in what it insists is a series of bilateral issues.
China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, through which $5 trillion in shipping trade passes annually. It is also believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the sea, and the dispute has long been seen as a potential trigger for conflict in Asia.
Mr Trump also used today’s speech as an opportunity to reaffirm that the US had successfully galvanised opposition to North Korean proliferation.
“I made clear that we will not allow this twisted dictatorship to hold the world hostage to nuclear blackmail,” Mr Trump said in the televised statement.
Mr Trump said the red carpet was rolled out for him in Asia which showed “America is back.”
“Everywhere we went, our foreign hosts greeted the American delegation and myself included with incredible warmth and hospitality and most importantly, respect,” he said.
The comments come as Mr Trump and his supporters fight critics and suggestions that the trip was a failure and achieved little, AFP reported.
However, the Trump administration pointed to a series of Asian investments in the US and the release of three American basketball players on Chinese shoplifting charges, after presidential intervention, as evidence it was a success.
Mr Trump himself said that he had won a commitment from Mr Xi to use Beijing’s economic leverage to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
The US President also suggested that Mr Xi — who will send a special envoy to Pyongyang later this week — had ditched a proposal to freeze US military manoeuvres in exchange for a freeze in North Korean proliferation.
However, Democratic Senator Edward Markey said Mr Trump failed to “make meaningful progress” on “critical economic and security issues during his trip to East Asia”.
“Rather than building on the messages in Japan and South Korea on the importance of trilateral unity in the face of the North Korean threat, President Trump tweeted about how hard he has tried to be North Korea’s friend and called Kim Jong-un ‘short and fat,’” he said.
— with AFP/AP