Asian leaders deliver pageantry-plus to woo Trump
BEIJING (AP) — Custom hats. Gauzy videos. Jumping children, declaring their love.
The first half of President Donald Trump’s whirlwind tour of Asia has been an exercise in the art of flattery, as world leaders woo the man who was introduced at the South Korean National Assembly as the “leader of the world.”
The pageantry-plus displays come as leaders across Asia and beyond struggle to understand the unpredictable American and search for ways to win his favor and avoid his wrath.
“They are not ignorant that this is a president who is particularly responsive to flattery,” said Lindsey Ford of the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, adding that the Chinese, in particular, “absolutely go over the top” trying to stroke the president’s ego.
The pomp and pageantry began in Japan, where Trump was welcomed to the grand Akasaka Palace with a welcome ceremony that featured a maze of red carpets, an honor guard and marching band.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has gone out of his way to strike up a personal friendship with Trump, also treated the president to a round of golf at Japan’s premier course, complete with a champion golf partner and a taste of home: a hamburger lunch made with American beef.
Abe also presented Trump with a hat signed by both leaders that read, “Donald and Shinzo, Make alliance even greater,” a play on Trump’s campaign theme.
At a banquet that featured another golf champion and a pop star admired by Trump’s granddaughter, Abe talked about the close relationship the two had forged.
“When you play golf with someone not just once, but for two times, the person must be your favorite guy,” Abe said.
In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in laid it on even thicker in what he said was the first state visit by an American president in 25 years. South Korea’s welcome ceremony at Seoul’s Blue House featured soldiers dressed in colorful costumes and a gaggle of children who shouted with glee upon Trump’s arrival, greeting him like he was Asia’s Justin Bieber.
There was more flattery in the meetings, where Moon celebrated the one-year anniversary of Trump’s election victory with plenty of praise.
“I believe it has not been one year yet, your time in office,” said Moon, “but you are already making great progress on making America great again, as you have promised on the campaign trail.”
Then came a banquet that had the feel of a campy wedding, complete with a custom logo that read, “We Go Together,” and a photo montage of Trump’s and Moon’s happiest moments together. No matter that most of the photos featured the same scenes, shot from different angles. As guests entered the ballroom, Trump’s inauguration song, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” played.
All presidents get red-carpet treatment abroad, but Trump’s welcome receptions have been especially grandiose. In Saudi Arabia earlier this year, Trump was greeted like a returning king, the roadways lined with his photo. In France, Trump was welcomed as an honored guest at the annual Bastille Day military parade. Trump liked the display so much he proposed holding his own military-style parade in the U.S.
But the most elaborate welcome may have come from China, which poured on the pageantry, beginning with an arrival ceremony that was lavish even by Chinese standards. Heads of state are usually given a low-key reception at the airport. Not Trump, for whom China’s ambassador to the U.S. promised a “state visit, plus.”
Trump and the first lady were greeted by Chinese and American dignitaries as soldiers stood stiffly at attention and a band played martial music. Dozens of children jumped up and down, chanting, “Welcome, welcome.”
Trump and his wife were then whisked to a private tour of the Forbidden City, Beijing’s historic imperial palace, where they clapped along during an outdoor opera. Children in colorful costumes at one point shouted to Trump, “Welcome to China! I love you!”
On Thursday came the piece de resistance, a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People that featured an honor guard of hundreds. The welcome left Trump wowed.
“The hosting of the military parade this morning was magnificent. And the world was watching,” Trump said, claiming he had received calls from around the world commenting on the spectacle. “Nothing you can see is so beautiful.”
Trump was also honored at a state banquet that included a video with highlights from Xi’s April visit to Florida and clips from Trump’s trip — along with the screening of a video of Trump’s granddaughter, singing in Chinese.
“The Chinese have figured out how to play Trump: Flatter him,” said Mike Chinoy, an expert on East Asia policy at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. “And there’s nothing the Chinese do better than wow foreign diplomats.”
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Trump and Moon had met three times, not once.