HE grimaced. He grinned. He gripped.
President Donald J. Trump is known for his long, at times aggressive, handshakes with world leaders. But at an international summit in the Philippines on Monday, he struggled briefly with a different kind of handshake.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nation conference in Manila kicked off with a group photo of world leaders. And then the announcer intoned that it was time for the leaders to take part in a “traditional” Asean handshake. It’s a cross-body exercise in which leaders extend their right arms over their left and shake the opposite hands of those on either side.
The announcer’s instructions appeared for a moment to baffle Trump, who, at first, simply crossed his hands in front of him.
Then, looking around, Trump turned to the leaders who flanked him—Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to his right, President Duterte to his left—and simply extended his arms outward.
That wasn’t quite right, either.
Trump laughed, crossed his arms and reached to the correct sides. He grimaced at first, particularly when bending down to reach the hands of the shorter leaders on either side.
And then, with an exaggerated smile, he vigorously gripped their hands. Trump ended his swing through Asia hailing progress in advancing his goal of reducing the United States trade deficit.
Trump took off from Manila on Air Force One after two days of meetings hosted by the Asean, the final stop on a trip that also took him to Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam. He encountered dozens of regional leaders, including formal meetings with the heads of Asia’s five biggest economies and met briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“After my tour of Asia, all Countries dealing with us on trade know that the rules have changed,” Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday. “The United States has to be treated fairly and in a reciprocal fashion. The massive trade deficits must go down quickly!”
The president spent the bulk of his public appearances emphasizing the need to reduce trade deficits, and also pushed for Asian nations to buy US military equipment. He publicly advocated his “America first” policies, warning US trading partners that he was ready to take more protectionist steps in a bid to help American businesses and workers.
Trump announced on Twitter that he will be making a “major statement” when he returns to Washington. But while Trump made rhetorical waves during his first visit to the region as president, questions about how much he actually achieved continue to linger.
Business deals announced by the president are tentative agreements that may not be fulfilled. And while the president railed against what he viewed as systemic flaws in the US trading relationship with its Asian partners, he neither publicly requested nor received specific assurances to address issues like market access and intellectual-property theft.
Instead, the president seemed to relish the efforts by Asian leaders to lavish him with state dinners and ceremonial welcomes. Each of his Asian hosts appeared eager to fete Trump with elaborate parades and entertainment, in efforts that solicited warm praise from the US president—without the expense of actual policy concessions. The president and senior White House staff say that the red-carpet treatment was itself a win, and underscored new deference and respect for the US in relationships they say were worn thin by former President Barack Obama’s efforts within the region. And they argue Trump will be able to capitalize the relationships in the future, parlaying his warm ties with Asian leaders into major concessions on trade, military sales and foreign policy.
“I made a lot of friends at the highest levels,” Trump said on Tuesday as he attended the East Asia Summit, where leaders discuss a range of regional economic and security issues. Praising himself for “a tremendously successful trip,” he said said things had gone well from the moment he walked off the plane. The president returns to Washington facing a battle over tax reform and more congressional hearings probing his administration’s ties to Russia.
“Excited to be heading home to see the House pass a GREAT Tax Bill with the middle class getting big TAX CUTS!” he said on Twitter.