Trump sets off on high-stakes Asian tour

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Hawaii was President Donald Trump’s first stop on Saturday as he embarks on a 12-day, five-country Asian tour. He will arrive in Japan on Sunday.

The President is looking to present a united front with the Japanese against North Korea in the wake of Pyongyang’s defiant nuclear and missile tests.

Trump is scheduled to speak to U.S. and Japanese forces at Yokota air base shortly after his arrival, likely to stress the importance of the alliance to regional security.

During his visit, Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Trump’s tour of Asia will be the longest by an American president since George H.W. Bush in 1992. Besides Japan, he plans to visit South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He will be joined by first lady Melania on part of the trip.

Trump’s tour was extended by a day, since he agreed to participate in a summit of East Asian nations in Manila.

“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 in Washington. “The conjunction of those issues leads to the palpable sense of unease about the potential crisis in Korea.”

The trip will also put Trump in face-to-face meetings with authoritarian leaders China’s Xi Jinping and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. He might even have time to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam.

The White House is signaling that Trump will push American economic interests in the region, but the North Korean threat is expected to dominate the trip. One of Trump’s two major speeches will come before the National Assembly in Seoul.

Trump will forgo a trip to the Demilitarized Zone, the stark border between North and South Korea. All U.S. presidents except one since Ronald Reagan have visited the DMZ in a sign of solidarity with Seoul.

The White House points out that Trump’s commitment to South Korea is already crystal clear, as evidenced by his war of words with Kim and his threats to deliver “fire and fury” to North Korea if it does not stop threatening American allies.

“There’s a danger if there is a lot of muscle flexing,” said Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. “Trump has been going right up to the edge and I wouldn’t rule out some sort of forceful North Korean reaction to Trump’s presence in the region,” he said.

The White House said Trump will conduct himself as he sees fit.

“The president will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously. That’s been of great reassurance to our allies, partners and others in the region who are literally under the gun of this regime,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Thursday. “I don’t think the president really modulates his language, have you noticed?”

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