Monday 16 July 2018

Trump kicks off tour of Asia with golf and a burger

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, with first lady Melania Trump, waves to the U.S. troops at the U.S. Yokota Air Base, on the outskirts of Tokyo
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, with first lady Melania Trump, waves to the U.S. troops at the U.S. Yokota Air Base, on the outskirts of Tokyo

Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin

US President Donald Trump's first trip to Asia began with a round of golf, a custom cap and a hamburger of American beef.

The president got a taste of home as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed him to Japan on Sunday with a display of friendship that will soon give way to high-stakes diplomacy. The two men have struck up an easy rapport.

The leaders played nine holes of golf at Japan's premiere course.

The low-key start was a prelude to the formal talks planned in Tokyo on Monday.

Mr Abe will be looking for a united front against North Korea and reassurances that the US will stand by its treaty obligations to defend Japan if attacked.

Mr Trump has praised Japan as a "crucial ally" and warned adversaries not to test America's resolve as he kicked off his first trip to Asia.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (4th R)
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (4th R)

He landed at Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo and was greeted by cheering service members.

He then donned a bomber jacket for a speech in which he touted American firepower and the US alliance with Japan.

"Japan is a treasured partner and crucial ally of the United States and today we thank them for welcoming us and for decades of wonderful friendship between our two nations," he said, speaking in front of an American flag inside an airplane hangar.

Mr Trump was expected to spend much of his 12-day, five-country Asian tour exhorting allies and rivals to step up efforts to counter the dangers posed by North Korea, which continues to move forward with its nuclear weapons program.

Both he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been engaged in an escalating war of words, with Mr Trump repeatedly referring to the North Korean leader as "Little Rocket Man" and threatening in a recent speech to "totally destroy" the nation if necessary.

Even before he landed, Mr Trump used the first moments of the trip to denounce the North as "a big problem" that must "be solved."

"There's been 25 years of total weakness, so we are taking a very much different approach" toward the North, he told reporters traveling with him.

During the speech, Mr Trump did not mention North Korea by name, but warned of the consequences of crossing what he called the "most fearsome fighting force in the history of our world".

US President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sign hats reading
US President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sign hats reading "Donald & Shinzo Make Alliance Even Greater" before lunch and a round of golf

"Together with our allies, America's warriors are prepared to defend our nation using the full range of our unmatched capabilities. No one - no dictator, no regime and no nation - should underestimate, ever, American resolve," Mr Trump told the troops.

Some regional analysts have speculated that Trump's presence in Asia may prompt North Korea to take provocative action, such as another missile test.

The president, when asked about that possibility aboard Air Force One, said "we'll soon find out".

After the speech, Mr Trump flew by helicopter to the Kasumigaseki Country Club about 20 miles outside of Tokyo for lunch and round of golf with Mr Abe and Japanese pro golfer Hideki Matsuyama.

At the club, the leaders signed white caps inscribed with the phrase, "Donald and Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater," a tribute to the US-Japan friendship and a play on Mr Trump's campaign slogan.

The White House has signalled that Mr Trump will push American economic interests in the region, but the North Korea issue is expected to dominate the trip.

He will forego a trip to the Demilitarised Zone, the stark border between North and South Korea.

All US presidents except one since Ronald Reagan have visited the DMZ in a sign of solidarity with Seoul.

The White House contends that Mr Trump's commitment to South Korea is already crystal clear, as evidenced by his war of words with Kim and his threats to deliver "fire and fury" to North Korea if it does not stop threatening American allies.

Press Association

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