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Trump heads to Japan with North Korea on his mind

Reuters Honolulu | Updated on January 09, 2018

US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive aboard Air Force One at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, US.   -  Reuters

US President Donald Trump arrives to receive a briefing from US Navy Admiral Harry Harris (L), commander of United States Pacific Command, at its headquarters in Aiea, Hawaii, US.   -  Reuters

The 12-day trip ending on Nov 14, takes him out of Washington at a time when he has been beset by several issues.

US President Donald Trump heads to Japan on the first stop of his five-nation tour of Asia on Saturday, looking to present a united front with the Japanese against North Korea as tensions run high over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.

Trump, who is on a 12-day trip, is to speak to US and Japanese forces at Yokota air base shortly after arriving in Japan on Sunday and looked to stress the importance of the alliance to regional security.

Ballistic missile tests by North Korea and its sixth and largest nuclear test, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, have exacerbated the most critical international challenge of Trump's presidency. Aerial drills conducted over South Korea by two US strategic bombers have raised tensions in recent days.

In a display of golf diplomacy, Trump is to play a round of golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders also played together in Florida earlier this year.

(Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and US President Donald Trump are seen at Trump International Golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, US on February 11, 2017. Photo: Reuters)

Trump will also have a state call with the Imperial Family at Akasaka Palace during his visit. Abe and Trump will meet families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Joined by his wife Melania on part of the trip, Trump's tour of Asia is the longest by an American president since George H W Bush in 1992. Besides Japan, he will visit South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Trump extended the trip by a day on Friday when he agreed to participate in a summit of East Asian nations in Manila.

His trip got off to a colorful start in Hawaii. He was taken by boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial, where lies the World War Two ship that was sunk by the Japanese during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

The Trumps tossed white flower petals into the waters at the memorial in honor of those who died at Pearl Harbor.

(US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump scatter flower petals in the water at the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo: Reuters)

Trade, North Korea

Trump's trip is to be dominated by trade and how to muster more international pressure on North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

“We'll be talking about trade,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “We'll be talking about obviously North Korea. We'll be enlisting the help of a lot of people and countries and we'll see what happens. But I think we're going to have a very successful trip. There is a lot of good will.”

Trump has rattled some allies with his vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States and his dismissal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man" on a suicide mission.

White House national security adviser H R McMaster, briefing reporters on Friday, defended Trump's colorful language. “What's inflammatory is the North Korean regime and what they're doing to threaten the world,” McMaster said.

Trump will seek a united front with the leaders of Japan and South Korea against North Korea before visiting Beijing to make the case to Chinese President Xi Jinping that he should do more to rein in Pyongyang.

Trade will factor heavily during Trump's trip as he tries to persuade Asian allies to agree to trade policies more favorable to the United States.

A centerpiece of the trip will be a visit to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, where he will deliver a speech in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, which is seen as offering a bulwark in response to expansionist Chinese policies.

China and Pyongyang

Trump's plan for an extended absence from Washington has alarmed allies who, after seeing a healthcare reform bid fizzle, worry the tax effort could suffer without Trump to keep momentum going.

On Saturday, Trump is to fly to Japan and later visit South Korea in search of a united front against North Korea before going to Beijing, where he will push Chinese President Xi Jinping to get tougher with Pyongyang.

In the Fox interview, Trump was asked if he planned to be tough on China over thorny issues including trade, intellectual property theft and subsidies. “You have to understand something - very important,” he responded. “We have a problem called North Korea.”

Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping “has been pretty terrific” in cutting Pyongyang off from banking and oil systems. He added that Japan had reason to be worried about North Korea and alluded to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign for a military buildup against that threat.

“Well, you know Japan is a warrior nation,” he said. “I tell China and I tell everyone else that, listen, youre going to have yourself a big problem with Japan pretty soon if you allow this to continue with North Korea.”

Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, make a state visit to Hanoi and end his trip with the Association of South East Asia Nations summit in Manila. Trump told reporters before leaving on Friday that he would spend an extra day in the Philippines.

Trump's 12-day trip ending on Nov 14, takes him out of Washington at a time when he has been beset by several issues.

These include an intensifying federal investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election, New York's recovery from an attack earlier this week that killed eight people, and debate over a Republican tax-cut plan that if approved by Congress would be Trump's first major legislative victory.

The trip began just days after Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was indicted in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and after his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, faced Democratic calls to appear before Congress again to clarify his previous testimony about the campaign's Russia contacts.

Published on November 04, 2017

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