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Donald Trump’s Asian marathon

Expert: “This visit will turn out to be better than his trip to Europe...”
7 November, 2017 - 12:31
REUTERS photo

US President Donald Trump has started his Asian tour, which is the longest trip to the region to be made by a resident of the White House in 25 years, by visiting Hawaii on November 3. During the 12-day tour, which takes place during a tense period in relations with North Korea, the American president intends to visit five countries.

North Korea has recently been expanding its program of nuclear and missile tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions; the US has already warned that it does not rule out any measures in response to that.

When visiting the Hickam Air Force Base on the island of Oahu, Trump was briefed on confidential matters by leaders of the US military’s Pacific Command. After the briefing, President Trump and First Lady Melanie Trump went to Pearl Harbor and laid a wreath at the USS Arizona memorial, honoring those fallen when the ship sunk during an attack by Japanese aircraft on the American base on December 7, 1941.

Early on November 5, Trump arrived at Yokota, an American military base in Japan. Speaking to American soldiers, he stated: “No one, no dictator, no regime… should underestimate American resolve.” Later that day, he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for lunch, after which the leaders of the two countries played golf.

After Japan, Trump will visit South Korea to express support for its government. The resident of the White House is known to have talked sharply about North Korea because of the DPRK’s growing missile and nuclear test activities. Trump will not visit the demilitarized zone on the border between the South and North Koreas, but will appear at the US military base Camp Humphreys near Seoul instead.

According to media reports, Trump will call on China to take a tougher stance against the DPRK during his visit to Beijing. In addition, the US president told reporters midair that he hoped to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the trip. It is believed that his meeting with Putin could take place during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Danang, Vietnam, on November 10-11. In Russia, the possibility of such a meeting was mentioned already on November 3 by the Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“We want Putin’s help on North Korea,” Trump said after arriving at the Air Force base near Tokyo. He added that he would meet with a lot of different leaders. North Korea is a “big problem for our country and for the world,” and “we want to solve it,” said the US president.

In Vietnam, Trump will take part in the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Danang and will also visit Hanoi. The tour was initially scheduled to end with the US president taking part in a summit with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, on November 13. However, the trip was extended for one day so that Trump could also attend the summit of East Asian countries.

George H.W. Bush was the last American president to do such a marathon tour of the region. His trip occurred at the end of 1991.

According to the administration, Trump’s visit has two main strategic goals. First, to reassure allies and strategic partners of the US that its government remains firm in its opposition to North Korea testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Trump will also put pressure on China so that it puts additional pressure on North Korea to make the latter stop its activities including its nuclear proliferation program. The second goal of Trump’s Asian trip is to demonstrate that the US will continue to support the major multilateral institutions of the region, APEC and ASEAN. Interestingly, the two statements made by the White House on Trump’s Asian trip mention by name neither the East Asia Summit nor the abovementioned ASEAN-affiliated institutions.

“TRUMP’S FOCUS WILL BE ON RALLYING SUPPORT AGAINST NORTH KOREA”

The Day asked Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute Richard WEITZ, who is also an expert at the Wikistrat organization and Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and does research in fields including issues of regional security in Europe, Eurasia, and East Asia, as well as foreign and defense policy of the US, to comment on the American president’s visit to the region and the abovementioned White House goals.

“Trump’s focus will be on rallying support against North Korea, using his meetings in one capital to pressure the other (as he is already doing to China about encouraging a revival of the “warrior Japan” nation). He also presumably wants to distract attention from his problems at home, especially with the Russia investigation. There will be a tension between rallying Russian support regarding Korea, which requires meeting with Putin, and downplaying his Moscow’s ties. He may have economic goals but those appear to be of greater concern to his subordinates.

“Experts hope the visits go better than his trip to Europe – ideally as good as the Middle East one. Expectations are that the Japan and Korean trips will go well, but we worry about China, where Trump has been more volatile.”

On the eve of this Asian tour, some publications released articles which were headlined like that: “Will Trump’s Visit to Asia Mark the Moment US Leadership in the Region Is Irrevocably Ceded to China?” “Trump must show that he can think strategically and not just transactionally to avoid the worst,” The Diplomat weekly writes, while The Economist has published an article entitled “Donald Trump’s Agenda in Asia Is a Mystery, but He Gets a Little Credit for Showing Up.” And what is your opinion on this?

“When Trump was elected we thought his long-term focus would be on managing China, but since then he has become distracted by other challenges, like his predecessors. If the administration is most concerned about Korea, then they may continue to subordinate their concerns regarding China.”

Forbes writes that “Donald Trump is going to Asia to make defense deals all around the borders of China, but he will also need a deal with China to rein in North Korea.” What do you think regarding this speculation?

“The defense deals will be less than during his recent Middle East trip, but the Chinese may want him to reduce sales to Taiwan and Vietnam in exchange for concessions regarding Korea.”

By Mykola SIRUK

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