The television images and reporting from the meeting of the 21 Asia-Pacific countries confirm the incomprehensible role reversal in global politics.
President Donald Trump is on a 12-day trip in Asia, and with every appearance he is confirming the abdication of the U.S. as a global protector of liberal democracy. We live in an upside down world, whose surreal characteristics are more and more evident these days. The television images and reporting from the meetings of 21 Asia-Pacific countries in Da Nang in Vietnam confirm the downright incomprehensible role reversal in global politics, demonstrated by the contradictory actions and confused pronouncements from the unpredictable president.
Against the backdrop of China's rapid rise as an economic, technological and military superpower, in Da Nang he confirmed Asian fears of the Trump policy of isolationism and protectionism with his "America First" rejection of openness, free trade and multilateralism. He painted a picture of a future of unrestricted national egotism. In contrast, Chinese head of state Xi Jinping shone in the role of defender of globalization, multilateral free trade and the fight against poverty. By withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump shocked the remaining 11 countries shortly before he took office. Now he is snubbing old allies with his confusing pronouncements on China.
Just a year ago, Trump considered China an archenemy which would "kill" and "tear apart" the U.S. In Beijing, he praised his host effusively as a "very special man,” said his feelings for Xi were "incredibly warm" and that the two of them would do "tremendous things … for China and the United States.” No critical words about human rights or trade problems. Trump did not stand up for democracy and freedom of speech, and even acknowledged that the Chinese state did not allow the press to ask any questions during his visit. The ceremonial signing of business contracts worth $250 billion cannot hide the fact that most were merely declarations of intent.
But it is not just about Trump letting himself be beguiled in Beijing by the Chinese charm offensive. In October, he congratulated Xi on Twitter for his "great political victory" at the Communist Party Congress, where Xi was confirmed for five more years as the most powerful party leader since Mao. In the same style, the most unpredictable and therefore potentially the most dangerous president in American history praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his large-scale purge of the royal family and government.
Trump's admiration of strong men and his craving for similar power is also demonstrated in his repeated declarations of admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin. The American system blocks the path to the exercise of total power. But the gaps that Trump is opening up across the world will be filled by two dictatorships, China in Asia and Russia in Europe.