Trump, Xi and Putin: The new triumvirate

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YEN MAKABENTA

First word
IT would have been a photojournalist’s dream photo opportunity, posing the world’s three most powerful leaders—President Xi Jinping of China, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Donald Trump of the United States—for a major photograph that would rival the triumvirate photos in World War II, which helped seal the fate of Adolf Hitler.

Bringing Xi, Putin and Trump together would have vividly captured a rare moment in contemporary history when all three leaders were in the same place at the sametime and looking pleased to be together.

But the vision was not to be. Xi opted to have China represented by Premier Li Keqiang in the Asean and East Asia summits in the Philippines. Putin tapped Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to represent Russia in the historic meetings. Only Trump could make the trip to Manila himself.

Actually, the three leaders already had their chance for a three-way photograph.

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In Danang, Vietnam, they all attended the Senior Leaders’ Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. But no one thought of buttonholing them for a photograph for history.

Such a photograph would have been many times more valuable journalistically than the awkward souvenir photos where the leaders strain to link arms in an obligatory show of solidarity.

A photograph of the trio would have deserved a resonant caption, “the power of three.” Three has a long and honored place in rhetoric and literature as in, “Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered”), and “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Did Putin squeeze NKorea?
Putin is much missed in Manila because in a way, he may have set the stage for the success of the summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to the Daily Star in London, in a story which it headlined “Putin puts nail in North Korea’s coffin with shock move,” the Russian leader signed a decree that will cut vital supplies from entering North Korea.

He put pen to paper when a North Korean delegation touched down in St. Petersburg to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly.

Said the Star: “It effectively means Russia will cease to offer tech to Kim’s regime that can be used to develop nuclear and ballistic missiles.

“All vessels linked to the secretive regime’s nuclear program will be turned away from all Russian ports.”

Had Putin come to Manila, he would have been the cynosure of all eyes. Asia-Pacific leaders would have pressed him for confirmation and elaboration on the report.

Was this decision on North Korea the reason Trump was extra nice to Putin in Vietnam?

Trump had tried to have it both ways on the issue of Russian interference in last year’s presidential race, saying he believed both the US intelligence agencies when they say Russia meddled in the election and in Putin’s sincerity in claiming that his country did not.

“I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said Sunday in Hanoi.

“As to whether I believe it, I’m with our agencies,” Trump said. “As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

Yet, just a day earlier, he had lashed out at the former heads of the US intelligence agencies, dismissing them as “political hacks” and claiming there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their findings that Russia meddled to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton last year.

Former CIA director John Brennan, appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said Trump was deriding them in an attempt to “delegitimize” the intelligence community’s assessment.

“I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered. And also I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations,” Brennan said.

Brennan said Trump’s ambiguity on Russia’s involvement was “very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”

“I think he’s giving Putin a pass and I think it demonstrates to Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and play upon his insecurities,” he said.

Whatever the explanations of US intelligence officials, there will be little to cavil about if it’s true that Putin has moved to put the squeeze on Pyongyang. He will be a major player in resolving the North Korea crisis, just as Russia was decisive in resolving the crisis in Syria.

China is biggest economy
Xi’s presence in Manila would also have been very significant. It would be the first time that he would be visiting the country after his triumphant confirmation as China’s leader by the Communist Party Congress last month.

During Trump’s Asian tour, US media and analysts are reporting for the first time that Trump acknowledges that China is now the biggest economy on the planet.

There are no more qualifications about how America has been cheated due to unfair trade practices.

China is just No. 1 now on the economic scale. America has the edge in the military sphere. It is, as I explained in my previous column, the only superpower in the world today; the others are only second in rank, military-wise.

The world is steadily moving away from a unipolar world order, towards a new multipolar system.

From America first to America excluded
Trump began his Asia tour with the confident declaration, “America First.” Now, as he winds up his tour today and flies home to the US, his fellow summiteers in Vietnam and the Philippines are putting the finishing touches on a new free trade pact, featuring 16 nations, that will exclude America.

President Donald Trump’s sweeping plan to restore American primacy by replacing “unfair” multilateral trade agreements with a series of bilateral deals is meeting a grim reality: foreign trading partners are not taking the bait.

From Japan to South Korea to China to Vietnam, the president extended his offer to partner with the United States on a “fair and equal basis” outside of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multi-nation accord that Trump withdrew from on his first full day in office.

“I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade,” Trump said in Vietnam on Friday.

But in every country Trump visited, none of the leaders entered trade negotiations or offered significant concessions to the former real estate magnate and Art of the Deal author.

In Tokyo, no sooner did Trump’s plane leave the tarmac than the finance minister declared that “We won’t do an FTA.”

In Beijing, even the president’s own top diplomat conceded that the talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping achieved little.

“Quite frankly, in the grand scheme of a $300- to $500-billion trade deficit, the things that have been achieved thus far are pretty small,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told journalists on Thursday.

In Vietnam, the remaining signatories of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a group known as the TPP-11, moved closer to completing a comprehensive free trade agreement without the United States.

“The Trump administration’s plan of substituting bilateral FTAs for the multilateral TPP is going nowhere fast,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ironically, Trump’s “America First” vision is floundering in the country where the “great again” political slogan was invented and first used successfully.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos ran successfully for the Philippine presidency with the slogan, “This nation can be great again.”

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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