President Donald Trump leaves Friday for a 12-day, five-nation Asia tour, seeking better trade deals and regional cooperation to curb North Korea’s nuclear program. “We’ll be enlisting the help of a lot of people and countries. We’ll see what happens,” he said before his departure.
Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday, followed by stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum in Vietnam on Nov. 10 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, summit in the Philippines on Nov. 13.
Trump does not plan to attend the East Asia Summit in the Philippines on Nov. 14, though a U.S. delegation will go. He also is not expected to visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea as other U.S. officials have done this year.
Focus on North Korea
The trip comes as Trump is considering putting North Korea back on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, said national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Thursday at a White House briefing. “It’s time for a really concerted effort to do everything we can, short of military action,” he said.
Past approaches of negotiating with North Korea have not worked, said McMaster. The United States will respond with “all of its capabilities” to North Korea’s aggression, he said.
The Asian nations likely will seek clarity on which conditions will prompt U.S. military action, said Frank Aum, senior expert on North Korea at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “There’s a lot of unease in the region based on North Korea’s accelerated missile demonstrations and the sharp rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.”
So far, U.S. officials have said they would endorse military action in defense of the homeland or its allies, Aum said, but what about pre-emptively, such as if North Korea places an intercontinental ballistic missile on a mobile launcher or if the U.S. feels that diplomacy has run its course?
The White House, for its part, will be looking for an articulation of broad international support for increasing pressure on North Korea, especially from China, to demonstrate that it’s not only a U.S. responsibility, Aum said.
Trump plans to build on his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping to get China to do more enforcement of sanctions, said McMaster. “China has a great deal of economic power,” and on this matter, the U.S. and China’s interests are aligned, he said. “China recognizes it is clearly in China’s interest and all nations’ interest to de-nuclearize the (Korean) peninsula.”
Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said she expects Japan’s Abe and Trump to reiterate their strong cooperation on North Korea. Eyes also will be on whether the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership will come up, or China’s building of islands in the South China Sea, she said.
Abe has continued to advocate for the TPP trade deal, and he has reached out to the European Union about reducing or eliminating tariffs, in light of the U.S. action, she said.
Will Trump address human rights?
Along with other leaders in Asia, Trump will meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has dismissed concerns over human rights in his ongoing war on drugs.
When asked by reporters if Trump would bring up human rights violations on this visit, McMaster said that Trump has proven to take a “very strong” stance on human rights, as he did for Syria and Venezuela. “He does it quietly. What does it help to yell about these problems? The president has done quite a bit and will continue to do more.”
Will Trump meet with Putin at the summits?
That has not yet been determined, said McMaster. Trump’s associates are under investigation for possibly coordinating with Russia on efforts to sway the 2016 election.
“There was no collusion,” Trump said on Friday before leaving on his trip. Of the Russia investigation, he said, “It’s a disgrace. You ought to look at Hillary Clinton. … A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.”
Will Trump tone down his tweets?
When asked if Trump will be less inflammatory on Twitter during the trip, McMaster said, “What’s inflammatory is the North Korean regime and what they’re doing to threaten the world.”