The U.S. president was in Vietnam for the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which he essentially wants to leave. Shinzo Abe’s Japan assumes leadership.
It is strange to hear the slogan “America First” in Vietnam, and specifically in a place like Da Nang, which was devastated by the war. In this very city, Americans employed chemical defoliants such as napalm and Agent Orange. Today’s Vietnam has moved on, to the point of becoming pro-U.S. (as protection against the looming threat of their Chinese neighbor). Now, Vietnam is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, through which the last great multilateral free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, originated, and which was strongly backed by Barack Obama.
Donald Trump has confirmed that he no longer wants to pursue that globalization. The TPP will be carried out by 11 countries without the U.S.; Shinzo Abe’s Japan is assuming de facto leadership (China was never included in the TPP). By repeating his election slogan – “America First” – here, Trump has indicated that from now on, he will follow the path of bilateral negotiations, like the one he has started with South Korea, and that he will defend the interests of American factories and workers more forcefully than his predecessors. Describing him as isolated is both accurate and misleading in this context. When he makes such statements, Trump isolates himself from the dominating neoliberal approach and from part of the international community, but not from the American public, nor from the metalworkers who voted for him.
Xi Jinping has shown up here in Da Nang at the funeral for half a century of American–led globalization to offer an alternative. That alternative is Chinese globalism, which he preaches by depicting himself as the new champion of open borders. It would be easy to describe China as the new superpower with a multilateral vision and a universal project, while America withdraws into protectionism. However, Xi praising globalization here in Vietnam sounds like a tiger extolling the virtues of a carnivorous diet. China is in the winners’ club; the West is not, at least not all of it. The exceptions are evident even among us. This is demonstrated by a considerable concession Xi himself made to Trump immediately after their bilateral summit in Beijing: making the Chinese financial market more open to foreign investors; a present to Wall Street and to Goldman Sachs in particular, which was well represented in the business delegation accompanying Trump.