President tees up issues in trip to Asia
North Korea, trade, abductions and golf on agenda in visit to Japan
President Donald Trump kicked off his most grueling and consequential trip abroad Sunday by praising Japan as a “treasured partner and crucial ally” even as he stood ready to exhort Asian allies and rivals on the need to counter the dangers posed by North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Trump addressed service members at Yokota Air Force base outside Tokyo immediately after arriving in Japan on Sunday morning. He thanked Japan “for welcoming us and for decades of wonderful friendship between our two nations.”
Trump and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd. The president was given a bomber jacket that he quickly put on.
The 12-day, five-country trip — the longest Asia visit for any U.S. president since George H.W. Bush went there in 1992 — comes at a precarious moment for Trump.
Just days ago, his former campaign chairman was indicted and another adviser pleaded guilty as part of an investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russian officials.
Before he left Hawaii on Saturday, Trump had his motorcade stop at the Trump International Hotel Waikiki because, as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it, the president “wanted to say hello and thank you to the employees for all their hard work.”
Trump did not stay at the hotel during his two-day, one-night visit.
The trip presents a crucial international test for a president looking to reassure Asian allies worried that his inward-looking “America First” agenda could cede power in the region to China. They also are rattled by his bellicose rhetoric about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“The trip comes, I would argue, at a very inopportune time for the president. He is under growing domestic vulnerabilities that we all know about, hour to hour,” said Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The conjunction of those issues leads to the palpable sense of unease about the potential crisis in Korea.”
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe largely see eye-to-eye on how to deal with the vexing problem of North Korea’s weapons development, even if a solution remains elusive. America’s trade deficit with Japan could be a point of contention, though Trump has aimed his recent rhetoric on trade at China, not Japan.
The two leaders will meet on the golf course Sunday before formal talks Monday. A look at what’s on tap: North Korea: North Korea’s rapid advances in missile development are making the potential threat much more real for Japan and the United States. As it seeks to send missiles farther, North Korea has test-launched two over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean this year. While they were too high to be seen or heard on the ground, the Japanese government advised people to seek shelter.
Abe has pushed for stronger U.N. sanctions on North Korea, and joined Trump in saying China should do more to pressure its neighbor. Trump and Abe are likely to agree that what is needed is more pressure. Trade: One of Trump’s first moves as president was to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that had been signed with 11 other countries after years of tough negotiations —a blow to Japan and the other TPP members.
In line with Trump’s preference for country-to-country trade deals, Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso have been leading an “economic dialogue” aimed at forging closer ties. Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. is much smaller than China’s, and Japanese automakers, especially, have sought to mute criticism by setting up shop in the U.S. and hiring American workers. But Trump has complained about a weakening of the yen over the past five years that has aided Japanese exporters and other corporations with significant business overseas. After Japan: Trump is scheduled to leave Tuesday to Seoul, South Korea. But on Saturday, hundreds of South Koreans took to the streets of the capital in protest.
But not everyone was against Trump’s visit: Just a few blocks away from the main anti-Trump protest by the U.S. Embassy, a smaller pro-Trump demonstration was taking place.
The two events reflected the conflicting concerns in South Korea at a time when many feel the risk of conflict with North Korea is running high. Washington Post contributed.
President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, waves to U.S. troops near Tokyo.