‘Japan a crucial ally’: Donald Trump begins Asia tour, expected to meet Putin | world-news | Hindustan Times
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‘Japan a crucial ally’: Donald Trump begins Asia tour, expected to meet Putin

US President Donald Trump says discussions on Pyongyang will figure prominently in talks with other Asian leaders as tensions rise over its missile and nuclear tests.

world Updated: Nov 05, 2017 11:39 IST
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive on Air Force One at US Air Force Yokota base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday.
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive on Air Force One at US Air Force Yokota base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday.(REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump arrived in Japan on Sunday defending his tough rhetoric on North Korea, saying discussions on Pyongyang will figure prominently in talks with other Asian leaders as tensions rise over its missile and nuclear tests.

Trump also said he expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during the Asian tour.

“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah. We want Putin’s help on North Korea, and we’ll be meeting with a lot of different leaders,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One.

The remarks were made aboard Air Force One en route to Japan, where Trump kicks off a 12-day Asian trip during which North Korea is expected to top the agenda in meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders.

Trump also hailed his host Japan as a “crucial ally”.

“Japan is a treasured partner and crucial ally of the US,” Trump told servicemen at the Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo.

Trump landed at Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo, where he will begin his trip with an address to American servicemembers. He’ll then head to a private golf course for an informal lunch and golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“It’s going to be very positive and very historic,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One during the flight from Hawaii. “It’s gruelling, they tell me, but fortunately that’s historically not been a problem for me. One thing you people will say, that’s not been a problem.”

Speaking to cheering military personnel at Yokota Air Base just west of Tokyo, Trump donned a bomber jacket and issued a threat that “no one, no dictator, no regime and no nation should underestimate... American resolve.”

“Every once in a while in the past, they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them, was it?” roared Trump.

“We will never yield, never waver and never falter in defence of our people, our freedom and our great American flag.”

The 12-day, five-country trip, the longest Far East itinerary for a president in a generation, 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.

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 North’s growing missile arsenal threatens the capitals Trump will visit.

US President Donald Trump addresses members of US military services and Japan Self-Defense Force at US Air Force Yokota Air Base in Fussa. (REUTERS)

“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 for whom he has expressed admiration. They include China’s Xi Jinping, whom Trump has likened to “a king,” and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, who has sanctioned the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers.

Trump and Putin could cross paths twice during the president’s lengthy Asia trip -- at a summit in Vietnam and later in the Philippines. It was unclear where they would meet.

Trump and Putin previously met along the sidelines of a summit in Europe this summer.

The White House is signalling 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. Fiery threats against the North could resonate differently than they do from the distance of Washington.

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 contends 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.

The White House said Trump would be undeterred.

“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 HR McMaster said Thursday. “I don’t think the president really modulates his language, have you noticed?”

At each stop, Trump will urge his hosts to squeeze North Korea by stopping trading with the North and sending home North Korean citizens working abroad. That includes China, which competes with the U.S. for influence in the region and provides much of North Korea’s economic lifeblood.

The White House is banking on the close relationships Trump has established with some Asian leaders to help make his demands more palatable.