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June 27, 2017

Analysis

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tillerson makes his debut in Asia about ‘the number one issue’

When President Donald Trump told an interviewer last month that former president Barack Obama had warned him of a grave “military problem from a certain place,” there was little doubt that the place was North Korea.
And that was before the military dictatorship launched missiles in a perceived challenge to the new Trump administration or allegedly ordered a bizarre assassination in a busy international airport.
The threat from North Korea — nuclear-armed, impoverished and deeply suspicious of a potential US attack — is the centrepiece of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Asia. It was also the main topic for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ Asia trip last month — his first as the Pentagon chief.
The top State Department diplomat for Asia, acting assistant secretary Susan Thornton, told reporters Monday that Tillerson would “discuss and coordinate strategy to address the advancing nuclear missile threat from North Korea.”
In Japan and South Korea, that means reassuring US allies most at risk from an unprovoked North Korean attack. In China, which is Tillerson’s last stop, it means leaning on the North’s protector and only ally to use its economic power to choke Pyongyang’s missile development.
“The number one issue will be North Korea just because it’s so present” for each of the countries Tillerson will visit, said Victor Cha, a former top adviser on Asia under president George W. Bush.
“We remain very concerned about the aggressive posture of the Kim Jong-un regime,” said Tamaki Tsukada, spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington. “We welcome the US announcement that all options are on the table. The recent provocations from North Korea show we cannot be complacent or have a business-as-usual scenario. We need to consider a new mode.”
North Korea won’t be the only topic, of course, especially in China, where Tillerson is charged with calming ruffled feathers from Trump’s repeated assertions during the campaign that China was cheating the United States on trade and stealing its jobs.
“It seems clear that when it comes to foreign policy, the Trump administration wants to make Asia first,” said Harry Kazianis, an Asia security specialist at the Center for the National Interest. “This is an administration that has been very clear since Day One that a tougher line on China was going to be a key part of their Asia strategy,” including on trade, he said.
Asian nations will be watching Tillerson’s engagement closely for clues to the new administration’s next moves on Asian trade policy after Trump, as promised, walked away from Obama’s signature Trans-Pacific Partnership omnibus trade package. Japan, especially, was rattled by the collapse of the TPP.
The United States is expected to seek new bilateral trade deals with some of the Asian nations that were party to the TPP, as well as outside Asia.                                    w

— Washington Post.
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