Trump meets Abe at start of five-nation Asia tour
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President Donald Trump started his five-nation Asian tour in Japan with hamburgers and wagyu steak, nine holes of golf, and an indirect yet blunt warning to North Korea, which will be the focus of his trip to the region.
“Together with our allies, America’s warriors are prepared to defend our nation using the full range of our unmatched capabilities,” Mr Trump told American troops at Yokota air force base outside Tokyo after arriving in Japan on Sunday morning. “No one — no dictator, no regime, and no nation — should underestimate, ever, American resolve. Every once in a while, in the past, they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them.”
Minutes later, Mr Trump departed on his Marine One helicopter for a golf course where he and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe signed white trucker hats emblazoned with the words “Donald & Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” before the pair hit the fairways with Hideki Matsuyama, the world’s number four golfer.
The 11-day tour of Asia — the longest trip to the region by an American president since George Bush in 1991 — will also take Mr Trump to South Korea and China. Later in the week, he will fly to Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, before heading to the Philippines for two other Asian regional summits.
General HR McMaster, US national security adviser, said Mr Trump would focus on three goals, including promoting an open and free Indo-Pacific region and boosting US prosperity through fair trade. But the third goal of “strengthening international resolve to denuclearise North Korea” will get the most attention, coming less than two months after Mr Trump said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “on a suicide mission”.
Speaking on Air Force One en route to Japan, Mr Trump stressed that he wanted to solve the North Korean problem, saying: “There’s been 25 years of total weakness, and so we’re taking a very much different approach.” But during his Asia tour, he will have to navigate differences with Japan, South Korea and China.
Japanese officials welcome his approach towards Pyongyang, which involves tough unilateral and multilateral sanctions, but some worry that his rhetoric could spark a miscalculation. South Korea and China, on the other hand, want him to match the sanctions with more talk of negotiations. He will also face the reality that relations between the two main US allies in Asia — Japan and South Korea — are fraught, as evidenced by the fact that South Korean officials were frustrated that Mr Trump would spend more time in Tokyo than in Seoul.
Robert Hormats, vice-chairman of Kissinger Associates, said it was crucial that Mr Trump used his visits to Seoul and Tokyo to demonstrate “strategic unity” between the US and its allies. “Differences of opinion, or even the appearance of such, would signal to Pyongyang that it can drive a wedge between the US and these two countries,” said Mr Hormats. “The more doubts he casts on the reliability of the US as a protector of these countries, the more they will likely turn to making deals with Pyongyang.”