Thursday December 3rd, 2020 12:15AM

Trump and China loom over a tumultuous year in Asia

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — To judge by the stream of extraordinary images on the Korean Peninsula, you might think 2018 marked the beginning of an elusive peace in one of the world's last vestiges of the Cold War.

Just months after a barrage of threats of missile strikes and personal insults had many fearing the worst, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strode toward each other on a sultry June day in Singapore and grasped hands, vowing to upend decades of animosity and pursue a nuclear settlement. About a month earlier, Kim walked across the cracked concrete block that marks the Korean border, the world's most heavily armed, and then, with a grin, guided a delighted South Korean President Moon Jae-in back into northern territory for a quick photo-op. Moon later flew into Pyongyang for a triumphant tour that saw him address a stadium of 150,000 North Koreans.

And yet, despite all the jaw-dropping images, any one of which would have stood out in sharp relief in an ordinary year, a sense of unease has taken hold in South Korea. There has been no substantial disarmament by the North, no grand peace deals, and many have the same old fears that North Korea will never give up its nuclear arsenal.

As 2018 draws to a close, the Korean Peninsula is not the only place in Asia looking ahead with apprehension.

Across the region, there are pockets of optimism but also a pervasive feeling of disquiet, a lot of which is linked to the twin political behemoths whose presence has been felt this year in every corner of Asia: China and Trump. That's especially true of a Trump-China trade war that has caused fears of a global economic slowdown.

Much of the news in Asia has been the typical scattershot fare of tragedy and triumph: there were catastrophic tsunamis, quakes and floods in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the return to office in Malaysia of a 93-year-old former strongman, and a fall from grace for the Nobel Peace laureate who now leads Myanmar over what many call a campaign of ethnic cleansing against hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya.

But if you want to mark a through-line in a region that contains more than half the world's population and boasts a stunning range of diversity, look to China and Trump.

China's increasing power has been impossible to ignore on the Korean Peninsula, where Beijing props up its ally in Pyongyang even as it serves as Seoul's largest trading partner. Beijing fires up feelings of both nationalist rage and avarice in Southeast and South Asia as it pushes its territorial claims, using huge sums of money, investment and diplomatic energy to promote its interests.

For his part, Trump has made himself felt in a way both modern and unorthodox, using his Twitter feed to repeatedly wade into Asia's biggest hot spots in a manner that for many here can seem intent on upsetting years of previous U.S. policy and precedent in the region.

His fraught diplomacy with North Korea and his high-stakes trade dispute with Beijing have drawn the most attention.

After testing the effectiveness of belligerent rhetoric, Trump has turned to action with China, hiking tariffs on Chinese goods over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

Trump's moves against Beijing, which denies any trade misbehavior, reflect broad American anxiety about Chinese competition and fears that Beijing's plans for the state-led creation of global tech champions might erode U.S. industrial leadership.

Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed Dec. 1 to postpone more tariff hikes for 90 days while they negotiate, and U.S. and Chinese envoys are preparing for talks in January. But penalties that have hammered Chinese manufacturers, American soybean farmers and other exporters remained in place.

Forecasters warn that with no resolution, the conflict could knock up to 0.5 percentage points off global growth through 2020. They say the loss to China's growth could be as much as 1.3 percentage points next year.

As Trump and Kim angle for another summit, there are growing doubts that Kim will ever voluntarily deal away the weapons that he likely sees as his strongest guarantee of survival. Several reports from private analysts in recent weeks have accused the North of continuing nuclear and missile development, citing details from commercial satellite imagery.

And analysts say that China, North Korea's main economic lifeline, has been loosening its enforcement of sanctions against the North following Kim's outreach to Beijing and amid the trade dispute with the United States.

China and Trump were also on the minds of officials in South and Southeast Asia this year.

India managed to avoid the worst of the Sino-U.S. trade spat, but even New Delhi, which Washington sees as a valuable ally and a bulwark against growing Chinese power, comes in for occasional criticism, such as when Trump blasted India's tariffs amid Harley-Davidson's decision to move production overseas.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is often more focused on Beijing than on Washington, watching warily as China's influence grows in countries like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, both of which India has long seen as within its sphere of influence. New Delhi was quietly relieved by the 2018 electoral defeat of former Maldives strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who had forged increasingly close ties to China.

In Southeast Asia, China, whose historical influence over the region used to be checked by projections of American force, has stepped up efforts to take advantage of a perceived U.S. vacuum and has, with little challenge, asserted its maritime claims in the South China Sea by building island bases in waters also claimed by four other governments, most notably Vietnam and the Philippines.

China's soft power, in the form of infrastructure investment, especially related to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, began to meet some pushback, as financial terms and prospective debt began to be seen as potentially onerous.

The region's most stunning political development came in Malaysia, where Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad united with former foes to oust his old long-ruling party. After taking over, Mahathir canceled plans for some major Chinese projects.

In Myanmar, democracy activists' high hopes that the coming to power of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 would usher in enlightened civilian rule have died as the Nobel Peace laureate has failed to restrain, or even denounce, the Buddhist-majority country's violent military campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority. More than 700,000 Rohingya still languish in miserable refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh after being driven out of their homeland beginning in 2017.

But Southeast Asia also had what might have been Asia's most inspiring story of the year when Thai navy SEALs and cave divers from around the world staged a daring underwater rescue of 12 members of a boys' soccer team and their coach who'd been trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand for almost three weeks.

Maybe it's fitting that this rare feel-good story, unlike much of the rest of Asia, had little to do with either Trump or China.


Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Grant Peck in Bangkok, Tim Sullivan in New Delhi and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report. Foster Klug is AP's bureau chief for South Korea and has covered Asia since 2005. Follow at

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Business, AP World News - International incidents, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Financial Markets
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Trump and China loom over a tumultuous year in Asia
Across Asia, there are pockets of optimism but also a pervasive feeling of disquiet as 2018 closes, a lot of which is linked to the twin political behemoths whose presence has been felt this year in every corner of Asia: China and Trump
7:58PM ( 6 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump dines with aides as shutdown drags on
Trump dines with aides as shutdown enters 2nd weekend
7:54PM ( 10 minutes ago )
GOP and Democrats trade blame for shutdown, no deal in sight
Shutdown will almost certainly spill over to next year, when Democrats will control the House
7:45PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Acclaimed author Amos Oz dies at 79
Israeli media say renowned Israeli author Amos Oz has died at the age of 79. Oz, author of novels, prose and a widely acclaimed memoir, had suffered from cancer
6:54PM ( 1 hour ago )
UK honors cave rescue divers, Twiggy, Monty Python's Palin
British divers who came to the rescue of young soccer players trapped inside a flooded cave in Thailand are among those being recognized in Britain's New Year's Honors List
5:39PM ( 2 hours ago )
Lawyer: McCarrick repeatedly touched youth during confession
The Vatican's sexual abuse case against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has expanded significantly with a man's testimony that the retired American archbishop sexually abused him for years starting when he was 11
5:16PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP World News
The Latest: EPA shutdown keeps some workers on job
The Environmental Protection Agency will keep disaster-response teams and other essential workers on the job.
6:31PM ( 1 hour ago )
EPA targets Obama crackdown on mercury from coal plants
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering backing off of its regulation of toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants
5:19PM ( 2 hours ago )
NYC utility probes electric flash that lit sky in eerie blue
Utility Con Edison is working to figure out what caused a high-voltage equipment failure that unleashed an otherworldly flash of bright blue light in the night sky over New York City
5:08PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
Shutdown could block federal aid to farmers hit by trade war
Government shutdown could mean farmers must wait for federal payments to ease the burden of Trump's trade war with China
3:18PM ( 4 hours ago )
More volatility: US stocks extend gains after early wobble
U.S. stocks are rebounding after an early wobble, building on gains from a two-day winning streak in a week of volatile trading
2:38PM ( 5 hours ago )
Tesla names independent board members in SEC settlement
Tesla names 2 independent board members as part of settlement with US regulators
12:19PM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
Markets Right Now: US stocks open with modest gains
Stocks are opening higher Friday as U.S. markets try to maintain the momentum from a late-day rally on Thursday
9:43AM ( 10 hours ago )
Global stocks gain after Wall Street rally, Japan falls
Global stock markets rise after Wall Street's rally, Japan falls, oil prices rebound strongly
4:12AM ( 15 hours ago )
Japan falls, other Asian stocks gain after Wall Street rally
Most Asian stock markets gain, Japan edges down after Wall Street rally
3:10AM ( 16 hours ago )
AP Business - Financial Markets
The Latest: Trump dines with aides as shutdown drags on
Trump dines with aides as shutdown enters 2nd weekend
7:54PM ( 11 minutes ago )
GOP and Democrats trade blame for shutdown, no deal in sight
Shutdown will almost certainly spill over to next year, when Democrats will control the House
7:45PM ( 20 minutes ago )
In Vegas or LA, UFC 232 is a dynamite show to fans, fighters
Dana White knew the UFC would take some pretty big hits when he moved UFC 232 from Las Vegas to Southern California on six days' notice
7:11PM ( 54 minutes ago )
Dallas Stars CEO rips high-priced Benn, Seguin as 'terrible'
Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites ripped captain Jamie Benn and fellow high-priced forward Tyler Seguin, telling two media outlets their play has been "terrible" and saying owner Tom Gaglardi was frustrated as well
7:02PM ( 1 hour ago )
Mumia Abu-Jamal case could return to spotlight
A court ruling that could reopen the police murder trial of a former Black Panther brings the 1982 Philadelphia case back to the spotlight years after it drew the attention of Hollywood celebrities and death penalty opponents worldwide.
6:57PM ( 1 hour ago )