SEOUL – For the second consecutive day on his trip to Asia, President Trump boasted Tuesday about a newly-announced purchase of U.S. military hardware.

“South Korea will be ordering billions of dollars of that equipment, which frankly for them makes a lot of sense, and for us it means jobs, it means reducing our trade deficit.”

But dig deeper into the announcements today, as well as yesterday in Japan, and the military purchases are largely either old announcements polished off for ceremony or prospective deals too vague to nail down.

Jonathan Miller is a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs:

“If you look at the way he kind of framed the defense deals in both places – very similar language – I mean I think some of it is actually a little bit aspirational and hopeful.”

Hopeful indeed, because moments after Trump’s remarks, South Korea’s president took the mic and seemed more focused on signaling to China that buying arms from the U.S. wasn’t such a big deal after all.

Here he was President Moon Jae-In through a translator:

This is not about our stance vis-a-vis the United States and China. We are trying to bring a solution to the nuclear problem.”

John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow for Asia at the British think Chatham House, says that as Trump’s Asia visit wears on, he should prepare himself for less and less meaningful deals, especially when he heads to Beijing on Wednesday

“Is it going to get harder? Definitely, it’s going to get harder. Trump has invested a lot in getting the idea that the Chinese to deliver some real agreement that will put pressure on the North Koreans. Even if we’re optimistic, sanctions are going to take a long time to have effect – months, if not years.”

The Trump administration may he heralding the President’s trip as the most intensive U.S. diplomatic visit to Asia in a quarter-century, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. is the biggest fish in this pond.


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