Possible new provocation by Pyongyang sets stage for Trump’s Asian visit
US president will travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hawaii from November 3-14
The North Korean nuclear crisis will dominate the agenda of US President Donald Trump’s six-stop Asia trip in early November as Japan and South Korea’s top officials anticipate further possible provocations from North Korea on October 10 and October 18.
Trump likely will use his visit to discuss with China the full enforcement of existing United Nations sanctions against North Korea and call for more demonstrations with its allies, South Korea and Japan, of their trilateral defence capability against Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, analysts said.
Trump will travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hawaii from November 3-14, the White House said on Friday morning, seeking to reassure those nations of the US’s commitment to preserving security and its economic relationships in the region.
During the trip, Trump also will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in the Philippines.
The White House said the president will emphasise the importance of “fair and reciprocal” economic ties with America’s trade partners, and pursue international support for achieving the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
Bonnie Glaser, director of China Power Project at Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the South China Morning Post that North Korea would “dominate the agenda” with China and all the countries that he visits and at the APEC Summit.
Glaser said the US could discuss with Japan and South Korea additional steps for the allies’ trilateral defence cooperation against North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile threat. But she did not expect talks over the possible redeployment of the US’s tactical nuclear weapons.
With China, enforcing existing measures against Pyongyang in compliance with UN sanctions will likely be an important topic, Glaser said.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula rose as Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un traded threats and insults during the United Nations summit in New York this month. Trump described Kim as a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission” and said the US could choose to “totally destroy” the reclusive nation.
Kim responded by saying “US dotard” Trump would “face results beyond his expectation”.
On Friday, Japan’s defence minister Itsunori Onodera urged caution as further provocation by North Korea is anticipated on October 10, according to a Reuters report. Onodera said October 10 marks an anniversary for the founding of the country’s ruling Worker’s Party of Korea.
“I understand it is an important anniversary for North Korea. We would like to maintain a sense of urgency,” Onodera was quoted as saying.
South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who said in a meeting with his president, Moon Jae-in, on Thursday that he expected Pyongyang to act around October 10 and 18, but gave no details.
China’s 19th Communist Party Congress will start on October 18.
“Whether the US and China can indeed find sufficient common ground on North Korea is probably the litmus test of the relationship right now,” said Lindsey Ford, director of policy-security affairs at the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York.
Ford told the Post in an interview that there’s no way for the US and China to ignore the tensions that North Korea has escalated and “that’s a problem because in the past it would probably be preferable on both sides to ignore it”.
The Trump administration’s economic policy in Asia has not been articulated since Trump in January withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement that aimed to integrate 12 Asia-Pacific economies. Among Trump’s Asia stops, Japan and Vietnam are two of the previous TPP members.
Derek Scissors, a China expert at American Enterprise Institute, told the Post in an email that the Trump administration’s trade policy is not coherent, beyond asking partners to buy more American products and threatening their imports.
“It would be helpful if the President would highlight some trade practices of our partners we appreciate as well as those we most want to see changed,” Scissors said. “But to now he seems entirely focused on trade outcomes, not why the trade outcomes occur.”
China and the US in the past month have increased diplomatic activities as both sides prepare for a reset in their relationship following a reshuffling of the leadership in Beijing in October and Trump’s visit the following month.
US State Secretary Rex Tillerson flew to Beijing late on Thursday and will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jiechi on Saturday. His visit follows that of US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, which finished earlier this week.
At the White House, Trump on Thursday met Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong. Liu and Tillerson concluded the first round of the US-China Social and Cultural Dialogue in Washington. Trump said he was looking forward to his Beijing visit, adding he believed it would be “very successful”.
The two sides will also finish the first round of their Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue next week where they will discuss increased cooperation on repatriations, fugitives, counter-narcotics and also cybercrime.
After the dialogue is over, the four mechanisms that President Xi Jinping and Trump agreed to at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in April will be completed. The other two dialogues – Diplomacy and Security Dialogue, Comprehensive Economic Dialogue – had been held separately in June and July.
David Lampton, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, told a discussion on Sino-US relations at the school on Wednesday that Trump’s China policy has been disorganised.
Lampton said that after “a very transactional” Trump failed to achieve his primary goal of North Korea’s denuclearisation, the relationship became crowded with initially repressed issues in “boiling pots”.
Those issues include US freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, talk of steel and aluminium tariffs, weapons sales to Taiwan, threatened tightening of technology and investment flows, and unilateral sanctions on Chinese institutions and individuals with alleged ties to the North Korean nuclear and missile programme.
“Frankly, the US administration’s China policy has been all over the lot, leaving Americans, Chinese and the region confused,” Lampton said.