Donald Trump has ended a marathon trip to Asia by skipping an international summit after the event was delayed by about two hours.
The White House had added the East Asia Summit, an annual meeting of more than a dozen countries, to the president’s schedule after concerns were raised that missing it might signify a lack of US interest in Asia.
However, after a gruelling 12-day trip across five countries, Trump opted to get on Air Force One and fly back to Washington. His flight left more than 30 minutes earlier than had been planned and he also missed a group photo with other world leaders.
Trump told reporters on the plane that he had already delivered his “final remarks” during a lunch with other leaders and would send the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in his place.
Trump hailed a “tremendously successful” overseas trip, saying he had “made a lot of friends at the highest levels”.
“I think the fruits of our labour are going to be incredible,” he added.
He said the trip had resulted in sales of $300bn (£229bn) “worth of equipment and other things”. “And I think that number is going to be quadrupled very quickly. So that’s over a trillion dollars’ worth of stuff,” Trump added, without specifying the deals.
In his first official trip to the region, Trump pushed for unity against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions – and called Kim Jong-un “short and fat” – flattered China, and berated Asian countries he accused of “cheating” in trade deals.
A White House official had said that Trump was concerned about the mass exodus and killings of Rohingya Muslims in majority Buddhist Myanmar, but the president did not focus on the issue.
American allies in Asia, wary of rising Chinese influence and dominance in the region, have been concerned that a Trump presidency might end what his predecessor, Barack Obama, called a “pivot” to Asia policy.
Trump’s trip was pitched by the White House as a way to assuage those concerns, saying the visit demonstrated his commitment to the region.
Observers, however, warned that skipping the East Asia Summit would do the opposite.
Carl Thayer, an Asia expert from the University of New South Wales, had said missing the meeting would be an “act of political vandalism”.
“The United States claims the US is a resident power, China claims it is an outside power. Trump’s actions will speak louder than his words,” he said, speaking before Trump was confirmed to attend the summit.
The US president concluded on Monday that the trip had been a success and no American leader had ever been granted such a welcome in Asia.
“We very much appreciate it,” he said. “Red carpet like I think probably nobody has ever received. That really is a sense of respect, perhaps for me a little bit, but really for our country, and I’m very proud of that.”
However, Annelise Riles, a professor of far east legal studies and anthropology at Cornell University, said Trump did not fulfil his agenda in Asia.
“Historians will date this trip as a key moment in the decline of US power in the Asia-Pacific region, when Asian leaders stepped up and took the reins,” she said.
She pointed to the deal made on Saturday by leading Pacific Rim countries to salvage a trade pact without US involvement after Trump abandoned it in one of his first acts in office.
The president warned the same day against “large agreements that tie our hands” and said he would focus on country to country agreements.
But Riles said “Asian leaders largely ignored the Trump administration’s efforts to squash the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pledged to forge ahead on their own.
“Despite all the red carpet, Trump’s own agenda was largely ignored.”