WASHINGTON/CLARK, PHILIPPINES – U.S. President Donald Trump will affirm a robust alliance with Japan, vow “maximum pressure” on North Korea and underscore the importance of promoting “a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” when he meets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next month in Tokyo, a senior White House official said Monday.
During a three-day visit to Japan starting Nov. 5, Trump will focus on ways for the allies to “work together to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the official said, apparently taking aim at China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China seas, as well as Beijing’s increased military presence in the Indian Ocean.
Trump will also “affirm the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of regional peace and security,” the official said, amid heightened tensions over the rising nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea.
The official said all countries in the region — including China, the main economic lifeline of North Korea that accounts for about 90 percent of its external trade — “have to do quite a bit more to bring maximum pressure to bear on North Korea.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he briefed journalists about Trump’s five-nation Asian tour, his first trip to the region since taking office in January.
Trump will speak to U.S. forces and members of the Self-Defense Forces at Yokota Air Base in the suburbs of Tokyo, according to the official.
Aside from a bilateral summit, Abe, whose ruling bloc scored a resounding victory in Sunday’s general election, will also host a meeting between Trump and the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight have died and the other four never entered the country.
Abe and Trump are planning to play golf, joined by professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama, at a course outside Tokyo on the afternoon of Nov. 5, according to Japanese officials.
During his 12-day trip to Asia plus Hawaii, which will begin in the U.S. state on Nov. 3, Trump will underscore his commitment to long-standing U.S. alliances and partnerships and reaffirm U.S. leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, the White House official said.
Meanwhile, on Monday in Clark Freeport Zone, the Philippines, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and his U.S. and South Korean counterparts, James Mattis and Song Young-moo, agreed to work to strengthen international cooperation to increase pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
At their meeting on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related gathering, the ministers also agreed to support diplomatic efforts to have the reclusive country abandon their development efforts.
They shared the view that North Korea constitutes a grave threat to not just the three countries but the entire world.
Prior to the three-way meeting, Onodera and Mattis had bilateral talks and confirmed that their countries will maintain close cooperation while visibly adding pressure on North Korea.
Onodera stressed that Japan and the United States need to hold intensive talks to be ready for a coordinated response to any situation.
Mattis reiterated his country’s strong commitment to the defense of Japan.
They also agreed to step up operational cooperation between the countries’ defense authorities.
Following an accident involving a U.S. CH-53E military helicopter catching fire in Okinawa Prefecture earlier this month, the Mattis vowed to make safety a top priority.
Onodera also had bilateral talks with the South Korean minister. They agreed to advance their countries’ defense cooperation, including by steadily conducting exchanges of defense personnel and reciprocal visits by vessels and aircraft.
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