By Tsuyoshi Nagasawa, Nikkei staff writer
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump seems to be taking notes from predecessor Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” as he prepares for his first trip there since assuming office, hoping for greater cooperation from key regional players on issues ranging from North Korea to trade.
Trump likely will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam on Nov. 10, followed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit and related meetings in the Philippines. Tokyo and Washington are discussing having the president go to Japan before the APEC meeting. Trump could visit China and South Korea as well.
The president’s first Asia tour is intended to restore a diplomatic focus on the region, especially amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. wants to cooperate more closely with Japan on the new sanctions passed Monday by the United Nations Security Council in response to North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. Washington also is pushing Beijing to fully abide by these measures to ensure they are effective, such as by placing sanctions on Chinese corporations and individuals who have dealings with the North.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Beijing’s top diplomat, met Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying his country is willing to work with Washington to ensure Trump’s visit there later this year achieves positive results. Tillerson responded that Trump looks forward to the trip.
China kicks off its twice-a-decade Communist Party National Congress on Oct. 18. The event marks the beginning of President Xi Jinping’s second term as party leader, and is expected to give him an even stronger grip on power. Trump looks to draw as much cooperation on regional stability from Xi as possible at this critical time.
Trump also will urge Beijing to exercise restraint in the South China Sea. The U.S. has conducted sail-bys, dubbed freedom of navigation operations, near disputed islands there to curb Chinese militarization in the waters. But Washington is using economic pressure as well, such as initiating an investigation into Chinese trading practices under Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974.
Trump considers trade imbalances with Japan and South Korea to be a major issue as well. He pushed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to open Japan’s auto market further at a July summit in Germany. The president also has hinted at scrapping the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. This tough stance on trade likely reflects an attempt to boost his low approval ratings.