Trump Warns Against Challenging U.S. During First Stop in Asia

Updated on
  • President meets U.S. troops on first leg of five-nation trip
  • Pentagon says ground invasion would secure Pyongyang’s nukes
Bloomberg’s Stephen Engle reports on President Donald Trump’s 11-day Asia tour.

President Donald Trump warned nations against challenging the U.S. as he rallied American troops in Japan on the first stop of his 11-day tour of Asia.

Speaking to U.S. and Japanese military personnel on Sunday at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Trump said he’d push for freedom in the region and fair trade in meetings with other leaders. He also exuded confidence in the U.S. military as tensions rise with North Korea.

“We dominate the sky, we dominate the sea, we dominate the land and space,” Trump said. “No one -- no dictator, no regime and no nation -- should underestimate ever American resolve. Every once in a while in the past they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them, was it.”

Concerns over provocations from North Korea have risen as Kim Jong Un’s regime continues to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in defiance of international sanctions. Trump has threatened military action to stop Pyongyang from obtaining the ability to strike the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

“As long as I am president, the service men and women who defend our nation will have the equipment, the resources and the funding they need to secure our homeland, to respond to our enemies quickly and decisively, and when necessary to fight, to overpower, and to always, always, always win,” he said.

Trump’s comments followed a Pentagon assessment, made in a letter to lawmakers, that a ground invasion of North Korea would be the only way to completely locate and secure Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, on Sunday described that scenario as “bleak,” with the potential to kill “hundreds of thousands of people,” and called for stepped-up diplomacy.

“If he will stay the course and use diplomacy the way diplomacy can be used, it might be possible to work something out,” Feinstein said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The worst alternative is a war, which could become nuclear.”

After speaking to troops, Trump met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for nine holes of golf, accompanied by Japanese golf sensation Hideki Matsuyama. The two leaders earlier autographed white hats with the words “Make Alliance Even Greater,” a play on Trump’s campaign slogan. They had a private dinner Sunday night ahead of more formal meetings and a joint press briefing planned for Monday.

Missile Defense

A White House official who briefed reporters on Sunday said Trump is committed to helping Japan strengthen its defenses and will discuss ways to do that with Abe. Trump is also interested in boosting cooperation between the U.S., South Korea and Japan against North Korea in areas such as ballistic missile defense and the use of submarines.

A senior State Department official said on Sunday that Trump would press allies like Japan to start adding pressure on other countries to expel North Korean guest workers, a key source of revenue for Kim’s regime. Abe has taken a much harder line on North Korea than South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who Trump will see when he heads to Seoul on Tuesday.

But trade imbalances are never far from Trump’s mind, and he intends to bring up the fact that Japan has more than $400 billion in investment in the U.S., growing by about 9 percent a year.

Two-Way Flows

Trump, the White House official said, will be looking for two-way investment flows, without offering any details. The White House has not announced any pending business deals with Japan, even as it’s prepared to announce billions in planned deals by U.S. companies in China later in the trip.

Despite any friction over trade, Trump, in his remarks on Sunday, called Japan a “treasured
partner and crucial ally” of the U.S. He also spoke to troops more broadly about what he hoped to accomplish on his trip through Asia.

Here’s What Trump Must Get Done on High Stakes Asia Trip

“We will seek new opportunities for cooperation and commerce, and we will partner with friends and allies to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he said. “We will seek free, fair and reciprocal trade. But this future is only within our grasp because of you.”

During an interview Nov. 2 with Fox News, Trump said the citizens of Japan “should be worried” by their proximity to North Korea. “I tell everyone else that, listen, you’re going to have yourself a big problem with Japan pretty soon if you allow this to continue with North Korea,” Trump said.

‘Historic’ Visit

Abe on Sunday called Trump’s visit “historic” and that he welcomed him “from the bottom of my heart.” He said the two would discuss strengthening the alliance and dealing with North Korea.

Abe’s party was re-elected in a general election in October after pledging a hard line on North Korea and a push to change Japan’s pacifist constitution written after World War II. He has been one of Trump’s most reliable allies in dealing with Kim, emphasizing the need for pressure over dialogue.

“The president recognizes that we’re running out of time and will ask all nations to do more,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters Nov. 2.

The U.S. and Japan entered a security agreement in 1960, and an estimated 50,000 U.S. personnel are stationed in the country. Japan spent $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2015 as part of the cost of hosting the U.S. military.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called on Japan to significantly increase its contribution to funding American bases like Yokota.

‘Why Are We Paying?’

“Of course they should pick up all the expense,” Trump said in an interview with CNN in May 2016. “Why are we paying for this?”

Asked if the president stood by his assertion during a background briefing for reporters, a senior administration official said it would be up to the Japanese people to decide, but that the U.S. would seek continued burden sharing as defense systems to protect Japan were updated.

Trump has also hit out at Japan over a bilateral trade deficit that hit $69 billion last year, the U.S.’s second-largest behind China. Japan has sought to salvage the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that Trump withdrew from shortly after taking office.

— With assistance by Takashi Hirokawa, Nick Wadhams, and Catarina Saraiva

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