Trump talks about trade, North Korea in Japan, South Korea

President Trump at Yokota Air Base in Japan on the first full day of his Asia visit. Photo: AP

US President Donald Trump began his first Asia trip on November 5, with Japan and South Korea, the most important allies of America in the region, being his first two stops.

In a speech after Air Force One landed at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo on November 5, Trump called for building a "free and open Indo-Pacific" region. "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," Trump said in the speech. "We will seek free, fair and reciprocal trade."

Trump's new approach to Asia is seen by some experts as a challenge to China. "China should be cautious (about the new approach to Asia). At first, (China) should know the US bottom line and intentions (of this new policy)," Zhu Feng, head of the Institute of International Relations at Nanjing University, told

Economic and trade cooperation, regional security and issues on the Korean Peninsula will be the key discussion points during Trump's tour of Asia, said Diao Daming, an international strategy researcher at Renmin University..

Focus on Indo-Pacific region

Trump's Indo-Pacific strategy has attracted close attention from Chinese media and experts.

Ahead of Trump's Asia trip, Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster described the building of a free and open Indo-Pacific region as one of the three major tasks for the president's Asia trip.

Xiakedao, the WeChat account of the People's Daily's overseas edition, has run an in-depth article, which said that Trump's Indo-Pacific policy weakened China's regional influence and put maritime activities under the spotlight.

"To some extent, the Indo-Pacific policy shows the continuity of Obama's pivot to Asia strategy aimed at containing China," said Diao. If India can join the Indo-Pacific bloc, the US would be better able to contain China, which has great political and economic say in the region, noted Diao.

Zhu said that Trump's policy toward the Asia-Pacific region would take shape after this Asia trip, which he said will serve as a good opportunity for Chinese policymakers to learn more about America's foreign policy.

Some analysts believed that Japan would become an important chess in Trump's new foreign policy, as Yokota Air Base in Tokyo actually plays a role in coordinating the two allies' troops in case of conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region.

In his speech delivered at the military base on November 5, Trump reiterated the great importance of Japan as an American ally in the region.

Unclear attitude toward North Korea

Trump seemed to take a vague stance on North Korea, compared with his previous hardline stance toward the isolated country.

In his speech in Japan on November 5, the president did not directly criticize Pyongyang for its nuclear ambition. Instead, he just said "no one — no dictator, no regime and no nation — should underestimate, ever, American resolve."

In South Korea, the second stop of his Asia trip, Trump urged North Korea to "do the right thing, not only for North Korea but for humanity all over the world". "I do see certain movement, yes, but we will see what happens," Trump said at a joint news conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on November 7.

The rhetoric was interpreted by the media as a sign that Trump is taking a softer stance on North Korea.

Before starting his Asia trip, Trump said that he is "open" to sitting down with Kim-Jong-un, in a sign of goodwill.

Thorny economic and trade issues

Both in Japan and South Korea, Trump reiterated the unfairness of trade, vowing to build free, fair and reciprocal trade.

However, Japanese media reported that there were still many differences between Japan and the US in the areas of bilateral trade agreement, trade deficit and imports of beef and automobiles.

Trump pressed Japan to lower its trade deficit of almost $70 billion with the US, and urged South Korea to buy more US military hardware to reduce its trade deficit with the US.

Some Chinese experts said that trade imbalance would also be an important issue to be discussed during Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"The US understanding about US trade deficit with China needs to be corrected during the Xi-Trump meeting, because the two countries have different positions in the global industrial chain," Teng Jianqun, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, a non-governmental think tank in China, told

"The China-US relationship has entered the phase of 'new normal', in which the two countries should explore new markets in areas of tourism, immigration and investment," said Teng.

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