Trump in Asia: A ‘Very Epic’ Charm Offensive

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Trump in Asia: A ‘Very Epic’ Charm Offensive
President Trump in Manila on Sunday. “It’s been very epic,” Mr. Trump said of his 12-day trip to Asia. “There’s nobody that I can think of that I don’t have a very good relationship with.” Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

MANILA — The extravagant red-carpet welcome he received from President Xi Jinping in China, President Trump said, was one like no other American president had ever gotten.

America’s relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines — accused of a bloody campaign of extrajudicial killings in his nation’s drug war — was now “better than ever,” he proclaimed.

After a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, he said the two were developing “a very good feeling for each other” — despite what he later called efforts of “haters and fools” to drive them apart.

Like most things that Mr. Trump undertakes, the president treated the grueling 12-day trip through Asia that he wrapped up here on Tuesday as a test of his own personal charisma and stamina, a marathon charm offensive that he vowed would yield quick results.

Never mind that it is not at all clear what he actually achieved. Mr. Trump left China, a country he once lamented was “raping” the United States in trade, without any concrete agreements on opening Chinese markets. His unilateral “America First” message fell flat in Vietnam, where other nations moved forward on a Pacific trade deal that won’t include the United States.

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His go-it-alone approach may also undermine Mr. Trump’s own efforts, laid out in a forceful speech in Seoul, South Korea, to unite the world against the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Still, the president, citing the lavish receptions he received at every stop, treated friendly photo opportunities as goals in and of themselves.

“It’s been very epic,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s nobody that I can think of that I don’t have a very good relationship with.”

In Beijing, Mr. Xi treated his American counterpart to what Mr. Trump called a “state-plus-plus” visit, complete with a sunset tour of the Forbidden City and a grand welcome ceremony in front of the Great Hall of the People. Mr. Trump scarcely mentioned concerns about China’s poor record on human rights and democracy, nor did he insist that journalists be able to ask questions of the two leaders when they faced the press.

In Tokyo, Mr. Trump played golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who gave him gilded baseball hats that said “Donald and Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater.” They fed koi together at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, an episode that sparked a social media craze after video circulated of Mr. Abe tossing the last of his food at the fish and Mr. Trump, in turn, dumping his.

Through it all, Mr. Trump appeared to be making an effort to be a good sport. He joined other leaders in donning the matching, culturally appropriate shirts that are slightly silly staples of Asian summitry: an electric-blue silk one at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, and a white sheer embroidered one in Manila at the gathering of the Association of South East Asian Nations. In Manila, he grimaced while jostling with Southeast Asian leaders for an awkward cross-armed handshake that was captured in a group photograph.

Asked about the single biggest accomplishment of his trip, Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One on his way home: “I think we made a lot of progress, just in terms of relationship.”

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Trump in Asia: A ‘Very Epic’ Charm Offensive
President Tran Dai Quang of Vietnam welcomed Mr. Trump to Hanoi on Sunday. Mr. Trump’s “America First” message fell flat in Vietnam. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Trump will have you know he isn’t tired

It was Day 9 of his 12-day slog through Asia, and President Trump felt like gloating.

“Anybody that took the bet, pick up your money, O.K.?” he told reporters traveling with him from Da Nang to Hanoi, Vietnam.

“A lot of people said it’s almost physically impossible for someone to go through 12 days,” he added.

Mr. Trump, of course, is not just someone. He is a president who, at age 71, eschews physical exercise, covets his own bed and is a lover of junk food and red meat. Even some of the president’s own aides feared he might be laid low by a trip spanning five countries half a world away from home.

“Really hard,” Mr. Trump told journalists along for the ride.

White House officials, who had initially urged Mr. Trump to cut the tour into two separate trips to Asia, took pains to ease the load for the president. They built down time into his schedule almost every afternoon and made sure he had access, where possible, to familiar foods. Twice — as he was heading to Hanoi, and then from there to Manila — they diverted Air Force One on circuitous routes to allow Mr. Trump to depart earlier than planned from one stop and still stay on schedule for the next.

The president, though, did not take kindly to any hint that he might not be up to the journey. On Sunday, he chafed when North Korea’s state-run news agency responded to his Seoul speech by calling Mr. Trump a “lunatic old man.”

“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ ” Mr. Trump shot back on Twitter, referring to the North Korean leader.

Even as Mr. Trump showed the first signs of fatigue at summit meetings during the final two days, he made sure other leaders took note of his staying power.

“We’ve had 12 days — I don’t know, how many days have you had there?” he said, turning to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at the start of their meeting on Monday.

He also made a point of noting that the press corps traveling with him was looking somewhat ragged.

“My press — I feel so sorry for them, they’re exhausted,” the president said as he departed midway through the summit meetings in Manila on Tuesday, skipping a group photograph and plenary session. “Would you like to stop in another couple of countries? Because we can do that if you want.”

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Trump in Asia: A ‘Very Epic’ Charm Offensive
Melania Trump visited the Great Wall of China on Friday without her husband, who had moved on to Southeast Asia. Credit Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The first lady tours a big, beautiful wall

Melania Trump looked lonely.

Trading her trademark stiletto heels for a pair of nude flats, Mrs. Trump spent a solitary afternoon last week pacing the Great Wall of China without her husband — a lover of big, beautiful walls himself — who had skipped a visit to one of the Seven Wonders of the World to move on to several days of summit meetings in Southeast Asia.

So Mrs. Trump struck out on her own, taking a cable car to the Mutianyu section of the ancient structure, then striding along the top with only a tour guide, an aide and a clutch of Secret Service agents for company. As she gazed out pensively in the waning afternoon light, photographers snapped pictures of Mrs. Trump, a former fashion model, that looked worthy of a magazine spread.

Reporters, as usual for this first lady and others, were kept at a far distance.

“This is beautiful,” Mrs. Trump said according to an aide who was with her. “This is amazing.”

Earlier, she had visited the Beijing Zoo, meeting Chinese children and a panda named Gu Gu, who was described as the zoo’s “panda star.”

The Asia trip was not all tourism and spectating for Mrs. Trump, however. When the president set off on a surprise, ultimately aborted trip to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, he skipped a meet-and-greet with embassy staff in Seoul; Mrs. Trump spoke in his stead.

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