By Seima Oki in Manila
President Donald Trump has completed his first tour of Asia and returned home. While he was successful to a certain extent in strengthening the international encirclement of North Korea to stop its development of nuclear arms and missiles, it is doubtful whether he was able to present a clear Asian strategy. Issues also remain with regard to the U.S.’s distance from China.
During the flight back on the presidential plane on Nov. 14, Trump looked back on his 10-day trip that took him to five countries and told reporters: “It was a wonderful trip. We were able to bring everyone together in dealing with North Korea.” Although he had to skip the East Asia Summit (EAS) due to a delay in its starting time, he did not seem to mind.
Strengthening the encirclement of North Korea was “one of the most important goals” of the trip to Asia, according to a senior White House official.
Trump expressed strong determination to defend the U.S. allies Japan and the ROK, which are on the frontline of confronting the threat posed by North Korea, and gained the cooperation of China, which controls the DPRK’s economic lifelines, to apply stronger pressure on this country. He also obtained the commitment of the ASEAN states that have diplomatic relations with the DRPK to cut off their diplomatic and economic ties.
During this time, a major U.S. naval fleet with three aircraft carriers from around the world continued to apply silent pressure on North Korea to coincide with Trump’s Asian tour.
However, changes began to be observed in Trump’s statements on North Korea. While he had talked repeatedly about the military option and mostly emphasized pressure before, he hinted at the possibility of dialogue several times during this trip.
Trump indicated on Nov. 6 that if North Korea deals with the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals appropriately, the U.S. might agree to hold dialogue. He stated: “If Kim Jong Un sends them back, that could be the start of something very special.”
He tweeted on Nov. 12: “I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!” This was clearly a change from his previous attitude that talking to Kim would be a “waste of time.”
North Korea has not engaged in any provocations since it fired its last ballistic missile on Sept. 15. Trump must have been pleased with its restraint over the past two months.
Trump has said that he will make an “important announcement” as soon as he returns home from the Asian tour. Attention will be focused on what he will say about the North Korea issue.