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President Trump Is Going To Asia: What To Watch For At Each Stop

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 11:58 am

Updated at 10:10 a.m. ET

With news from the special counsel's probe into Russian interference in the presidential election still swirling in Washington, President Trump is leaving Friday on his longest foreign trip to date.

The Asian odyssey will take him to five countries and two international summits. Trade issues and North Korea's nuclear threat are likely to dominate the discussions. Here's a quick primer on what to watch for at each stop:

Japan

After a stopover in Hawaii, Trump arrives in Tokyo where he'll meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as American and Japanese service members. He'll also meet with the relatives of Japanese citizens who have been held prisoner in North Korea. Japan is alarmed by the increasingly aggressive moves of North Korea, including tests of ballistic missiles that have flown over Japanese territory.

During the campaign, Trump said he'd be willing to see Japan develop its own nuclear arsenal, upending decades of nonproliferation policy. Since taking office, Trump has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend Japan, though aides say there is room for Japan to upgrade its own defense.

On a lighter note, Trump and Abe are both avid golfers, and they're expected to play a round together in Tokyo.

South Korea

Trump will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and deliver a speech to the National Assembly, where he'll urge other countries to ramp up the pressure to halt North Korea's nuclear program.

"President Trump will reiterate the plain fact that North Korea threatens not just our allies — South Korea and Japan — and the United States," national security adviser H.R. McMaster said in a briefing on Thursday. "North Korea is a threat to the entire world, so all nations of the world must do more to counter that threat."

Trump will also visit Camp Humphreys, a newly expanded military base 40 miles south of Seoul, which will eventually house many of the 28,500 U.S. troops in the country. South Korea paid most of the cost of developing the $11 billion base, and the Trump administration calls it a great example of "burden sharing."

During the campaign, Trump questioned whether South Korea and other allies contribute enough to their own defense, although South Korea's defense spending is relatively robust — about 2.5 percent of its total economy. President Moon has also called for eventually giving the South Korean military "operational control" of forces on the peninsula, including Americans, in the event of a conflict. The transfer of operational control has repeatedly been postponed.

Although U.S. presidents visiting Korea often tour the demilitarized zone, Trump will not do so. Aides cited time constraints and the president's visit to Camp Humphreys.

China

In China, Trump will meet with President Xi Jinping, who just concluded a Communist Party Congress that strengthened Xi's grip on power and enshrined his policies in the party constitution.

Trump will once again urge China to use its economic leverage to put the brakes on North Korea's nuclear program. Aides say the administration is pleased with steps China has taken so far — such as halting purchases of North Korean coal — but add that all countries need to do more. In September, China's central bank ordered financial institutions throughout the country to stop doing business with North Korea.

"China is definitely doing more. But obviously it's not enough," McMaster said. "This isn't the United States or anyone else asking China to do us a favor. China recognizes it is clearly in China's interest — and all nations' interest — to denuclearize the peninsula."

Trump also wants to press China for more balanced trade. He complained repeatedly during the campaign about the U.S. trade deficit with China, which topped $300 billion last year. The administration argues that China unfairly restricts imports from the U.S. In October, the Commerce Department ordered anti-dumping tariffs on imports of Chinese aluminum foil. Despite Trump's combative rhetoric, the administration has so far held off on imposing more severe trade penalties. Trump has suggested he'll look more favorably on China's trade moves if Xi cooperates on North Korea.

Vietnam

In Danang, Vietnam, Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which brings together leaders of 21 countries around the Pacific Rim. He'll also speak to a gathering of corporate executives being held alongside the summit. Trump is expected to discuss the important role Asia plays in the U.S. economy as well as the U.S. commitment to a free and open "Indo-Pacific region."

Those themes echo pronouncements from former President Barack Obama, who tried to boost America's profile in the region, both militarily and economically. In one of his first acts as president, though, Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 12-nation trade pact at the center of Obama's pacific agenda. Trump's APEC speech will be an opportunity for the president to offer an alternative vision for U.S. engagement in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will also attend the APEC summit. The White House has not said whether Trump and Putin will meet one-on-one.

On the fashion front, APEC tradition calls for a "family photo" of leaders wearing matching outfits based on the host country's indigenous garb. (You can see a gallery from past summits here.) Vietnam plans to stick to this tradition, though it's not known if Trump will actually don the local costume.

Trump will also travel to Hanoi for meetings with Vietnamese leaders. He'll be in Vietnam on Nov. 11, when the U.S observes Veterans Day.

Philippines

Trump will attend a summit of Southeast Asian nations in Manila and meet one-on-one with President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippines leader has drawn international scrutiny for his crackdown on drug trafficking, which critics say includes thousands of extra-judicial killings. Last year, Obama canceled a planned meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader warned him not to raise the human rights issue and referred to Obama as a "son of a whore."

In addition to the 10-nation ASEAN summit, Trump is now also planning to attend a broader East Asia Summit that follows it. He had initially planned to skip that second gathering, which some observers saw as a missed opportunity for him to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region. On Friday, as he departed the White House to begin his journey to Asia, the president announced a last-minute extension of the trip so he could attend that summit after all.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is traveling to Asia this morning. And this likely will be the most consequential trip of his presidency so far. The threat from North Korea's nuclear program will be top of the mind for the president and Asian leaders he'll be meeting with. NPR's Scott Horsley is going to be accompanying the president on the trip, and he joins us.

Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Let's just work through the itinerary here. After a quick stop in Hawaii, where the president's going to visit Pearl Harbor, he continues on to Tokyo and then to Seoul - important places, obviously. What's on the agenda?

HORSLEY: Well, you said it. It's the North Korean nuclear threat. That's the looming cloud on the horizon for this trip. You know, back in the campaign, Trump was sometimes critical of allies, like Japan and South Korea, suggesting they weren't contributing enough to their own defense and that the U.S. taxpayer was having to make up the difference. But since he's come into office, Trump has taken a more traditional stance. He has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protecting those allies, especially in the face of Kim Jong Un's nuclear threat.

So I think you can expect a fairly friendly visit in Tokyo. He's going to play a round of golf with his buddy the prime minister, Shinzo Abe. And in South Korea, Trump is going to visit a newly expanded military base that the South Koreans mostly paid for. It's eventually going to house many of the 28,000 American troops on the peninsula. And it is just beyond the range of North Korea's conventional artillery.

GREENE: You hear - you say South Korea mostly paid for them. Might be something we could hear the president emphasizing.

HORSLEY: Burden-sharing is the phrase.

GREENE: Burden-sharing (laughter).

So then it's China. And what a moment - I mean, Chinese President Xi Jinping just solidified his grip on power, which wasn't a surprise at all. But it seems, you know, very important that now he is, you know, very solidly running that country and such an important country when it comes to the United States.

HORSLEY: Yeah. You've got Xi's platform now enshrined in the party constitution. And meanwhile, you have President Trump suffering some of his lowest approval ratings of his time in office. He's just endured a tough week with his former campaign chairman indicted, news that a onetime foreign policy adviser pled guilty to criminal charges.

Despite that somewhat unequal footing, though, Trump seems to get along well with President Xi. And his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, says while China has to do more to put the brakes on North Korea's nuclear program, the U.S. is actually pretty pleased with the steps China's taken so far.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

H.R. MCMASTER: China recognizes this isn't the United States or anyone else asking China to do us a favor. China recognizes that it is clearly in China's interests - and all nations' interests - to denuclearize the peninsula.

HORSLEY: China is North Korea's No. 1 trading partner. And the U.S. believes Beijing has considerable economic leverage that it could use against Kim Jong Un.

GREENE: Well, Scott - stylistically, I mean - you mentioned that Trump gets along well with Xi. When he goes on then to Vietnam and the Philippines, it's going to be more of these international summit meetings. Those are forums that the president doesn't like as much. Right?

HORSLEY: He prefers to negotiate with other countries one on one rather than these big, multilateral settings. But in Vietnam, he's going to be attending the APEC summit. That's a gathering of countries from around the Pacific Rim, many of which were party to that big trade deal that Trump pulled out of on one of his first days in office. Some of those other countries will be trying to revive that trade deal minus the U.S.

And then it's on to the Philippines, where Trump's going to be attending a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders and also meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte, of course, has been criticized by a lot of human rights groups internationally for his extracurricular - extra - extralegal crackdown on drug traffickers. But the White House says Trump and he have a warm rapport.

GREENE: And you're going on this trip. Right?

HORSLEY: I'll be on the way.

GREENE: All right, safe travels to you. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley - thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.