Amidst tensions simmering in the Asia-Pacific with regard to North Korea’s rapid nuclear programme and the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, US President Donald Trump’s five-nation Asian marathon will be a testing time for American diplomacy under its unpredictable leader. Mr Trump, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump will be visiting Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and Philippines in one of the longest tour of Asia in 25 years by an American President.
Mr Trump kicked off his trip to Tokyo with a strong warning to “dictators,” a veiled allusion to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. “No one, no dictator, no regime and no nation should estimate America’s resolve,” said Mr Trump at Yakota Air Best, located west of Tokyo. A convergence of interest in confronting North Korea’s nuclear threat is expected to dominate Mr Trump’s talks with Japan’s re-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with an emphasis on strengthening cooperation in missile defence and the implementation of UN sanctions. The missile launch by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s regime over Japanese territory about a month back has kept the island nation on the edge. Mr Trump is also expected to lend support to Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands claimed by China as its own in the East China Sea.
While South Korea and the US have been engaged in joint military exercises to combat North Korea’s continued aggression, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has cautioned against any unilateral action by the Trump administration. The recent deployment of THAAD, an American anti-ballistic missile defense system, in South Korea saw loud protests from citizens who decried such a move that brings them close to Pyongyang’s retaliatory moves. The US president will visit Camp Humphreys, a US military complex south of the capital. However, he will not be visiting the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the South and North Korean border steering clear of any further provocations in what has already been a long fiery exchange between the Trump administration and the Kim regime.
All eyes in the region will be on Mr Trump’s maiden visit to China and his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has emerged as China’s most powerful leader in decades, after the recently concluded 19thParty Congress. Trade has been the thorny issue between China and US, as many in the American establishment have called out on China on its unfair trade practices and its expansionist ambitions. Trump’s “America First” clarion call aims at bringing jobs back to the US and is expected to be extensively discussed with Xi Jinping. On North Korea, the US will continue to pressure China to confront its ally. This has seen a limited success with China backing two rounds of sanctions by the UN against Pyongyang.
Mr. Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Danang after which he will be heading to Hanoi. On the economic front, a trade deficit with Vietnam will be the focus area as the US tries to make up for its abandonment of the TPP. On security partnership, the discussions will be around the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, Mr. Trump is not expected to touch on the issue of human rights abuses.
The final leg of the tour will see the US president attending the ASEAN summit in the Philippine capital, Manila. Mr. Trump has been very vocal in his support for Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte on his ruthless war on drugs which has drawn international scrutiny due to the human rights violations involved. Trade, North Korea and the Marawi crisis (the Islamic insurgency in southern Philippines) will major focus areas.
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