‘Trump finds success in Asia’ screamed the CNN headline.
First, Donald Trump being called a ‘success’ during his tenure as President of the United States by someone other than himself or his White House staff.
Second, CNN, his most entrenched mainstream media enemy, being the ones to say it.
Yet what else could my old network say?
By any yardstick, Trump’s 12-day tour to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines has been a resounding triumph.
The main purpose of such a trip for any US president is to shore up relations with the countries you are visiting, and their leaders, and to represent America in a good, positive way.
Trump did all that. And he did it with an ease, confidence, respect and good humour. Trump’s also a political superstar of almost unprecedented proportions.
Hence the amazing scenes of excitement that have greeted him throughout the tour.
It’s been notable to see how much his numerous hosts have lavished him with extravagant praise and parades, just as we saw on his previous visits to places like Saudi Arabia and France.
They’ve worked out how to make Trump happy: treat him like the most powerful man in the world.
For a guy so widely reviled and scorned in his own country, this high level of ostentatious respect must come as a blessed relief from the relentless hour-by-hour war of attrition he wages at home with anyone and everyone from the media to grieving war widows.
On the first stop, in Japan, Prime Minister Abe played golf with Trump and a top Japanese professional star, gave him customized hats saying ‘Donald & Shinzo, make alliance even greater’
‘There has never been such close bonds intimately connecting the leaders of both nations as we do now in the history of the Japan-US alliance,’ said Abe.
In South Korea, where Trump’s had a frosty relationship with president Moon Jae-in, he was met with thousands of flag-waving children, military marching bands and hundreds of guards.
Moon told his guest he was ‘making great progress on making America great again.’
He added: ‘There is a special bond forged between President Trump and myself which is meaningful and I am grateful to be part of.’
Not to be outdone by Abe, he treated Trump to grilled Korean beef rib cooked with a 360-year-old soy sauce.
Next day, Trump was given 20 rousing ovations as he addressed South Korea’s National Assembly.
Chinese President Xi saw all this, and raised the bar ten-fold, unleashing the full armoury of Chinese 7-star hospitality and pageantry for the man who had spent his entire presidential campaign abusing and deriding China.
It included dinner inside the Forbidden City, where no foreign leader since 1949 has been invited to dine.
Trump proudly showed Xi a video of his granddaughter Arabella speaking Chinese.
(I first heard Arabella, Ivanka’s daughter, do this on the set of Celebrity Apprentice, when she was just two years old. It was even more impressive then).
Trump also praised China for out-smarting America in business.
They don’t hear that very often, and certainly not from US presidents.
But it’s true, they have, and Trump’s made it clear he’s not going to make it so easy for them going forward.
Knowing the Chinese mentality a bit from filming a documentary in Shanghai a few years ago, I’d say this a very good strategy.
They respond well to a respectful carrot-and-stick approach, as indeed does Trump.
State-run broadcaster CCTV said after he left that Trump ‘has given China what China wants, which is that respect on a global stage as the other preeminent nation.’ That’s a highly significant vote of confidence in the world’s new most important relationship.
In Vietnam, Trump offered to mediate in the South China Sea dispute, and made encouraging noises about ‘fair and reciprocal’ two-way trade deal, both vitally important issues for Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The US media were desperate to ‘gotcha’ Trump making a fool of himself during the tour.
Witness their lip-licking joy when they heard he’d chucked a whole bowl of food into a pool full of rare Koi fish in Japan.
Twitter blew up with a video clip displaying his apparently crass, potentially murderous stupidity.
Then a fuller tape emerged showing President Abe had done the exact same thing a few seconds before.
The only people to make fools of themselves over this were the US media, and it exposed the inherent weakness of their relationship with this President – they know that bad Trump news sells better than good Trump news, and it warps their judgement.
As he flew home, Trump predictably declared his Asia tour ‘tremendously successful’.
For once, the claim was justified.
He landed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of new trade deals, had important discussions over security issues like North Korea and ISIS, and got a chance to show off his world class schmoozing skills, honed from decades travelling the world doing real estate deals.