Asia learns to live with Trump rhetoric, but unease remains

Declare China a currency manipulator? Hasn’t happened. Make Japan and South Korea pay more to host U.S. troops? Hasn’t happened. Unleash fire and fury on North Korea? Hasn’t happened — at least not yet.

Asia is getting used to living with Donald Trump’s broadsides, though it can’t shrug them off completely. Many people are unnerved, but not panicked, by his latest exchange of threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The U.S. president dialed up the rhetoric last week at the United Nations, saying his country would “totally destroy North Korea” if forced to defend itself or its allies.

“If (German leader) Angela Merkel were U.S. president and she said those words at the U.N., then I would have been worried,” said Huh Doo-won, a 38-year-old South Korean school teacher in Seoul. “But this was Trump, so I am not. Trump clearly likes to make bombastic comments to please his domestic supporters. … It’s similar to the talk about building a wall on the border with Mexico. You doubt whether his words will ever be put into action.”

Trump has followed through on at least one promise: to pull the United States out of a 12-nation trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But his talk of demanding more for U.S. base costs has given way to administration pledges to uphold America’s commitments to defend both Japan and South Korea. His suggestion of using U.S. policy on Taiwan as leverage with China evaporated after it was roundly criticized.

Chinese and Japanese officials have generally avoided comment on Trump’s combative words, while South Korea has sought to play them down. The language may have been more heated in the U.N. speech, but the thrust of his message on North Korea was unchanged, and…

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